The Merry Badgers of Billige
Our merry band consists of:
Calder Winterbourne a.k.a Mouse Eater - played by Mark.
Swift footed and skilled with the bow.
Mopsa Hiems a.k.a Mopsacle - played by Michaela.
Silver tongued and sharp-eyed.
Randulf the Red - played by Kevin.
Handy with both fist and mace.
Wystan Blackbourne a.k.a. Black Stan - played by Giro.
Wilderness traveller, well-informed and keeper of this chronicle.
The county of Hexhamshire
The first poisoning of Thorbjorn Neilson
Location: The Badger's Set.
We had successfully liberated Billige from the yolk of The Black Company and defeated Matterson the Cruel. After some discussion, we decided that we should press on against The Black Company. Their leader, Thorbjorn Neilson, had assumed Clugney's seat in Wedgemore, this is where we decided to go.
We instructed The Crows to watch the road and 'relieve' any passing supply convoys or soldiers of their possessions.
Taking the Welshmen with us, we journeyed through the forest uneventfully, but we stopped short of leaving the tree line and observed from the safety of the shady foliage.
Wedgemore was as prosperous as it had always been and the residents went about their business normally, seemingly unaffected by the violence that had afflicted all the other local settlements.
As we watched, we could see small groups of soldiers patrolling, each consisted of about half a dozen of Clugney's men begin lead by a man-at-arms from The Black Company.
Wedgemore Castle was still uninhabitable and the tent camp was still in use. we spotted Thorbjorn, he was residing in one of the signature black and white tents favoured by The Black Company. The other black and white tent was occupied by his retinue.
The direct approach here was not much of an option, there were too many enemies. Instead we discussed our next step. That next step, it appeared, would be a devious one. Mopsa still had the poison given to her by Mother Benevolence. We knew that the servants in Thorbjorn's retinue would provide him with food and drink at mealtime. We came up with a plan to poison his drink.
The best time to poison him was at breakfast we surmised. So we waited until the fall of night and in the hours between midnight and dawn, Mopsa slyly entered the camp.
It was quiet in the camp, there was no movement. Shrouded by darkness, Mopsa crept between tents, making her way until she found the servant's tent. Quietly, Mopsa entered the tent. Inside it was pitch black, Mopsa couldn't even see her hand in front of her face.
It was too risky to have any kind of light, Mopsa had to very slowly navigate the tent in the darkness. Eventually, by touch alone she discovered the serving jug. Mother Benevolence had told Mopsa that there was enough poison to kill about six people. Mopsa poured half of the poison into the jug.
The servants would not pay any attention to such a small amount of liquid in the jug when they filled it with beer in and handed it over to Thorbjorn in the morning. He would drink it, the poison would do its thing; job done.
Mopsa now had but to leave the tent and return to the forest. As she made for the exit she stumbled over something. There was a splutter and a grunt, one of the servants had woken.
Mopsa lay on the ground, holding her breath. In the dark she could hear the rustle of clothing and blankets, still she waited, breath held. The movement and rustling continued for a few more moments. Then Mopsa heard the recognisable sound of someone flopping back down to sleep.
Mopsa waited a few more moments, there were no more sounds of movement. Mopsa made for the exit again - this time even more cautiously. After making it out of the tent, Mopsa returned to the sanctuary of the forest. Now all we had to do was wait and watch.
The second poisoning of Thorbjorn Neilson
Dawn was still a thin rosy band along the eastern horizon when the Teutons rose at five o'clock. As the camp stirred, we watched the servants bringing food and drink to Thorbjorn.
An hour passed as we continued to watch. We saw one of the servants come out of their test, he was coughing blood and collapsed! The wrong person had been poisoned. There was alarm, but nobody seemed suspicious at the cause of his demise as they carted off his corpse.
Not be deterred, Randulf came up with a possible solution to our dilemma: Now that the servant was dead, he would need to be replaced. Randulf disguised himself as a resident of Wedgemore and approached Thorbjorn's remaining servants and asked for employment. The servants seemed quite happy to employ Randulf: He spent the day as their general dogsbody, they worked Randulf quite hard through the day whilst they relaxed. Randulf did however get the opportunity to search their tent in the afternoon. He found several serving jugs, including one that was particularly well made, this must have been the jug used to serve Thorbjorn. Carefully, Randulf tipped the remaining poison into this jug.
As the day wore on, the servants prepared Thorbjorn's evening meal. Randulf saw that they filled the poisoned jug with beer and took to him. When no one was looking, Randulf nipped back in the tent and stuffed the now empty vial into a servant's sleeping bag.
An hour later, a bellowing roar came out of Thorbjorn's tent. The Teutonic knight came staggering out coughing blood, he walked a few swaying steps before toppling to the floor. He was dead.
The Black Company men-at-arms were highly suspicious now, they had seen two people die in the same way on a single day. They suspected poison - and they were right to do so.
The men-at-arms rounded up all the serving staff, as Randulf was the newcomer, suspicion immediately fell on him. But as fate would have it, one of the soldier returned from having searched the servant's tent. He had a vial in one hand and and some blankets in the other.
The servants were questioned and the one identified as the owner of the blankets was dragged away. Without delay, the men-at-arms began torturing the poor servant. He squirmed and screamed but did not admit to the poisoning. Meanwhile, the remaining servants - including Randulf were still kept in custody.
The torture continued for some time, but still the servant vehemently protested his innocence. The soldiers were less convinced of his guilt now and some of them were beginning to give Randulf sidelong glances. It was only a matter of time before the men-at-arms came back to Randulf. We had to get him out of there and fast!
There was no time for a clever solution, instead we had to use the direct approach. Along with the Welshmen, we launched a volley of arrows at the soldiers keeping the servants in custody.
Our aim was true and we landed several arrows on target, thinning their numbers. With alarming skill, the men-at-arms reached for their weapons, turned to face us and immediately formed a shield war and began advancing on our position at the edge of the forest. We loosed a second volley into the shield wall, it was much less effective, but it kept their attention firmly fixed on us.
This gave Randulf the opportunity he needed to make good his escape. As he did so, one of the servants tried to hold him back, but Randulf simply swatted him away and being swift footed, easily fled into a different part of the woods.
The rest of us also retreated into the woods. We all met up soon enough and returned to The Badger's Set.
Poisoning was a rather nasty way of meeting your fate and it had been a messy end to Thorbjorn but the deed was done and that was what counted.
The fate of Wenham
The next day came. We decided to travel to a place we had yet to see; Wenham and Wenham Castle. We were certain that the road to Wenham would be guarded at the bridge. Instead we decided to cross the Scarmore River at the western forest ford.
Once again, we took the Welshmen with us, the others would be left watching the road. With Knavesmire abandoned and The Crow Folk leaderless, the forest of Coucy north of the road had become a quiet, somewhat remote place. We marched along the woody trails and verdant winding paths in an unremarkable journey. We emerged from the trees somewhere between Wenham and Little Wenham.
Little Wenham had suffered the encroachment of The Peasant's Army, we thought it prudent to check on the settlement first.
Farmers had returned to their homes and fields, they were busy repairing the damage and vandalism done to the land. Crops and been stolen or churned up, farmland would need reseeding.
The Peasant's Army's advance had been halted before they reached Little Wenham and it had been was mostly unchanged.
Turning south, we saw small bands of people and families walking north out of Wenham with whatever belongings they could carry. It was a scattered but definitely constant stream of people. Stopping some of these people, we asked them what the situation was like in Wenham, Their answers were not good.
Once the defences at the bridge had fallen, the Teutons and Clugney's men had swept in, sacking Wenham, killing, burning and looting at a whim. Among the invaders was a man dressed entirely in black, he took it on himself to destroy Wenham's church and persecute the parishioners. They had no choice but to flee. We gathered together as many of the refugees as we could and told them that they could find safety at Billige if they chose to go there. Most of them found this agreeable and we instructed the Welshmen to lead them through the forest to Billige.
Continuing south, we came upon Wenham's northern gate. It was a typically walled town, guarded by Clugney's men, they seemed very relaxed and paid us no attention as we came into the town.
It was obvious to all that Wenham had endured an attack. From broken windows and sundered doors to burnt and blackened ruins, seemingly every building showed evidence of damage. Smoke still rose from the southern half of the Wenham.
The town was surprisingly free of corpses considering the attack it had so recently experienced. Even though much of Wenham's population must had fled north, they were still a few brave souls solemnly going about their business.
We decided to investigate the smoke, this took us into the southern parts of Wenham, once again we passed the guards and they completely ignored us. The southern half of Wenham was a lot more densely built up than the north. The houses and buildings here were a lot more tightly packed together and generally closer to each other. Even so, the southern half was a lot less populated than the northern half. The town square was closed, shops were closed, streets were practically empty of people and an eerie quietness had settled on the south.
The town's church was devastated, it was burnt and ruined, a dead husk of a building. Workmen were busily ripping its stony corpse apart, taking away the brickwork and masonry, apparently to rebuild houses elsewhere in Wenham.
Worse than that; the corpses of a number of clergymen had been strung up around the ruined church.
There we saw Osric; the 'man in black', he did not see or perhaps recognise us, he was fully occupied with directing the gutting of the church.
Wenham Castle was also located in the southern half, the black and white Teutonic flag fluttered atop the castle. The walls and battlements were surprisingly undamaged, it didn't look like the castle had put up much of a fight against the invaders.
Further to the south, smoke still rose. We continued towards it until we discovered the gruesome truth behind it.
Piled high were the bodies of the dead townsfolk, here was where the dead had been taken. Victims of the fighting had been gathered into some sort of huge pyre. But this was no ordinary pyre, no funeral pyre would ever burn this long. Wood was being used to keep the fire going and the occasional newly-found corpse would be heaped upon it. The sight of this, chilled us to the core. What could be the purpose of this?
We spoke with some of the few townsfolk that still lived in this part of Wenham. They provided us with several answers. They said that they had been told it was supposedly a 'German tradition', or was being done to 'stop the spread of the plague'.
The orders to slowly burn the bodies had come from Osric. Some of the townsfolk also swore blind that Osric had 'turned into a bird, flown into the castle and opened it up for the attackers'!
Well, it would at least explain why the castle had been taken without sustaining damage!
Finally, they told us that they had heard rumours that another army was attacking Hexham from the north. This was significant. We knew that Gaston, Gilbert and Philippe were on the southern of Hexham, who could be on the north?
Further south, past the pyre, the southern gate out of Wenham was locked and had been barricaded. There was no way out through there.
The end of Osric
Our options were limited: We could not conceive of any way to get into the castle. Osric however, was without guards, busy supervising the workers at the church. He would be our next target.
First we scouted out the area around the church and devised an escape route. Fortunately getting over the town wall would be easier from the inside. During this time, we were approached by two men in black. Reflexively, we assumed that they were Crow Folk - and we were correct. They meant us no harm though, they had heard that following the deaths of their leaders, we had recruited some Crow Folk. They asked to join our cause too, we chose to accept them.
Now that we had an escape route, we had to deal with Osric. There was no time to devise a clever scheme, instead we just shot him with arrows, except for Randulf who charged Osric, yelling.
The strange black robed priest was made of sterner stuff than appeared. Several arrows had hit their mark, Osric was staggered but still standing. He tried running into the ruined church for cover when Randulf intercepted him.
Osric whipped out a pair of wicked looking daggers, Randulf and he exchanged blows for a few moments. Then our two new recruits both landed their shots on Osric. It was too much for him and he crumpled to the ground, dead.
After a few moments of yelling and fighting, a calmness had settled on the ruined church. The workers had wisely fled at the first sign of trouble, looking round we realised that we were alone. This wouldn't last; Randulf searched Osric and found some knuckle bones and runic pendants. He took all of them, along with Osric's two daggers.
Sir Nigel Loring
After this, we fled. There were no problems as we followed our escape route out of Wenham and made for the safety of the forest. From there we returned to The Badger's Set. When we arrived, we learnt that the refugees had successfully reached Billige.
The next day came and deciding our next step was easy. It was agreed that we should investigate this mysterious army north of Hexham. We marched north through the forest, across the road and over the river, after some hours we reached the northernmost edge of the trees.
From our position, we could see that there was indeed another sizeable army besieging Hexham's north gate. Three or four thousand in number. Their colours were 'vert a tree or', I recognised it as the livery of 'Sir Michael Somerville', a powerful lord from the north.
In our estimation, Sir Michael's forces were greater the combined French forces south of Hexham. This new obstacle was a significant one. As we watched and deliberated the predicament, we spotted some movement, further north past Sir Michael's army, on the horizon.
It was a column of some sixty riders led by a knight, they had stopped well away from Sir Michael's army. They lingered for a minute or two before heading off in the direction of The Devil's Cut, they were skirting the army by going cross country.
This would bring them close to the tree line, as they drew closer, their colours became clearer.
'Argent three sparrows sable', these were the colours of 'Sir Nigel Loring' a well known knight with some renown for fighting the French.
Looking as unthreatening as possible, we stepped out of the relative safety of the trees and waved down the column.
They halted and the heavily armoured knight at the head of the column cantered up, upon reaching us he flipped up his visor and identified himself as Sir Nigel Loring.
We exchanged pleasantries and Sir Nigel told us that he, along with Sir Michael Somerville, had been tasked with pursuing The Peasant's Army on its march south. When The Peasant's army was dispersed, word reached Sir Michael that Hexham was being besieged and he abandoned the pursuit in favour of personal gain. Sir Nigel was not impressed with Sir Michael going against Roland, 'The King's man'.
In turn, we explained to Sir Nigel what had passed in this Parish in the last few weeks. How Wenham and Wedgemore were in the hands of Teutonic knights and how French forces were besieging Hexham. Sir Nigel was not pleased to hear of the encroachment of French soldiers and particularly the Teutonic knights. He decided to set things right.
We looked at his men and when we explained to Sir Nigel that he would be matching his sixty against Gaston, Gilbert and Philippe's hundreds, he did not seem perturbed. Instead he ordered his men on to Wenham.
Sir Nigel had no quarrel with us accompanying him, so we did.
Sir Nigel Loring rides to war
Sir Nigel rode into Wenham and up to the castle. Shouting loudly, he challenged whoever was inside to single combat, announcing that everyone inside was a cowardly cur.
The Wenham castle gates opened and out rode 'Vortingeld the Black', last knight of The Black Company.
Sir Nigel and Vortingeld lifted their visors in salute to one another as a crowd began to gather, news of their fight had spread fast, the crowd continued to grow as they prepared.
Once these preparations were completed, they met in battle.
Sir Nigel and Vortingeld charged each other with lances, the result was a tie, they wheeled round and had a second pass, again it was indecisive, they were quite evenly matched.
They had a third pass and Vortingeld was finally unseated, toppling head over heel and crashing to the ground.
The battle continued on foot, here it was clear Sir Nigel had an advantage and Vortingeld was quickly dispatched. A roar of approval rose from the watching English crowds.
Vortingeld was the last of the three knights, perhaps it meant an end to the Teutons.
Having won the fight, Sir Nigel demanded The Black Company vacate Wenham Castle. Despondently, most of them left the castle.
A handful of the men-at-arms belligerently decided to stay on in the castle, among them was Bjorn Ironhand.
We remembered the time when Bjorn had boasted of burning The Three Stoats and a Weasel inn down to the ground and the bodies that we had found strung along the road next to the ruined inn. Randulf stepped forward and shouted his own challenge to Bjorn. Luckily for Randulf, Bjorn Ironhand was happy to acquiesce.
Randulf waved Matterson's warhammer at Bjorn and they met in battle. Bjorn was outmatched and he soon fell to Randulf's blows, he had failed to land a single blow on Randulf. Seeing that Bjorn too had been bested, the last remaining Teutonic soldiers fled the castle.
Sir Nigel ordered his men to secure the castle and took command of Wenham. The day was late and the sun was crawling towards the horizon, Sir Nigel decided to spend the night at Wenham and continue on in the morning.
He invited us to stay in the castle as well, but we declined. Instead we returned to the forest and to The Badger's Set after telling him we would return in the morning to lead him and his men to Hexham.
The end of the Black Company
We rose early and with the low morning sun blazing at our backs and travelled through the forest to Wenham. The morning was quiet save for our marching and the energetic birdsong. We arrived at Wenham without mishap.
After exchanging pleasantries with Sir Nigel and his men, we took the lead and set out for Hexham. It did not take long to reach The Fork, we had to stop short, it was barricaded and manned by Clugney's men.
We had forgotten that The Fork would still be under control of The Black Company. Sir Nigel did not seem concerned though.
He called over one of his men.
"Samkin, it's your turn," he told the man.
Samkin ordered the men to dismount and organised them into a formation, they then loosed a volley at the soldiers manning the barricades. Several soldiers fell to the arrows, those remaining realised that they could not hope to resist the archers and retreated. The archers remounted their horses and we continued past the fork.
It was decided that we should visit Wedgemore before heading to Hexham. Whilst the forces at Wedgemore were fairly insignificant, we did not feel like having them at our backs as we advanced eastwards.
When we arrived at Wedgemore, the townsfolk came to watch us reach the town. We talked with Sir Nigel and told him we should give the soldiers an opportunity to surrender or retreat. He did not protest this and said that we should speak with them ourselves, if that was how we felt.
So we went into Wedgemore and addressed the soldiers, there were no more than twenty of Clugney's men and Teutons.
Mopsa told them that we intended to take control of Wedgemore and behind us were sixty archers. If the twenty of them left Wedgemore now, they would be allowed to leave unharmed. They did not spend much time deliberating, they were outnumbered three-to-one and left without causing trouble.
The Black Company were now well and truly vanquished and their grip here was broken.
From here we set out for Hexham once again.
Passing The Fork once more, we soon entered the gloomy stillness of Coucy Forest. As we passed the burnt out, gutted remains of Knavesmire, Sir Nigel could see that this destruction had occurred recently. He turned to us and asked who had done this. We replied that Conrad had destroyed the village, but the inn had been attacked by The Black Company. Sir Nigel shook his head and commented that the world had gone mad.
The column continued east until it reached Hexham.
As the forest fell away, giving way to open field and pasture, we could see the forces arrayed out against us.
Sir Gilbert held the green with his men.
Sir Philippe held the area further east of Hexham, including Drumclog Moss Road.
Sir Gaston was on the crossroad itself, he was in a commanding position there.
Unperturbed, Sir Nigel and his men rode straight into Gaston's camp and he issued Gaston a challenge.
Gaston however, refused the challenge, stating he had no wish to fight another English knight. Sir Nigel then give him an ultimatum; fight or leave.
We decided to leave them to it, there was little we could do here. Instead we had another idea and went all the way back to Wedgemore. The town was as pleasant as always and quieter now that it was empty of soldiers.
Wedgemore Castle was equally as quiet when we returned to it. Previously we had seen pigeons arriving at the castle from the direction of Hexham. It was likely that whoever was sending them would not be aware that Clugney was dead and his castle had fallen.
We found the castle's dove cote, as luck would have it, there was a messenger pigeon here.
It read: 'R getting worried, will strike tomorrow. M'.
'M' had to refer to Lady Margaret. What was she planning, was she planning to kill Sir Roland? We discussed what we should next, ultimately we decided to send a reply.
'Stay your hand for two days.' it read,
After this we returned to The Badger's Set.
Thus ended the eighth adventure of The Merry Badgers of Billige.
You can buy your own copy of Merry Outlaws here:
These write-ups by Giro can be read on his excellent website Three Spellcasters and a Dwarf before they appear here.
In this RPG, players follow in the footsteps of Robin Hood. Robbing the rich to pay the poor, fighting the injustice and corruption that persists in sunny England.
Merry Outlaws is definitely a 'lite' RPG. It runs to just over twelve pages - including evocative illustrations. The rules are well laid out to view on screen and simple to understand.
Everything is handled by rolling one or two six sided dice, the higher the better. When rolled this will produce one of four results that are analogous to; very good, good, fail, and critical fail.
Combat is handled in the same way.
Character creation is as simple as can be roll for (or pick) a personal code, two abilities and two starting items and a weaon.
If a PC has a pertinent ability or some other advantage, they have an edge. Conversely, if a PC has a disadvantage, then they have a setback. This is a advantage/disadvantage mechanic.
Finally we have character progression, this is where the game stands out. Merry Outlaws eschews the usual XP or level-up paradigm. Instead players are forging their own legend through the creation of a ballad!
At the end of every adventure each player creates a stanza - a four-line poem to add to their ballad.
As players continue their adventures, their balled will lengthen. Additionally, as they accumulate stanzas, they will acquire new abilities.
Once a character has ten stanzas in their ballad, they retire.
All in all a short, sweet and simple RPG. Worth trying if that's your cup of tea.
This is a continuation of the situation set up in last the last episode so there's no new information this time around.
Here's a list of all the NPCs for reference.
Because of lockdown, we're playing over Skype.
The Ballad of Mopsa Hiems 'Mopsacle'
Rumble rumble in the village
We shout and perform in little Billige
Down the road and through the woods
Defeating great Giles, who thought we could?
Father and daughter reunited,
To save poor Alice we can’t be short-sighted
Back at the mill, held against their will
“Here they are, the real witches"
"Come Mr Merick and smack these bitches”
Wedding gown stolen,
Three feathers in its place
We rushed through the forest
There was no time to waste
Traps nor Crows could not stop us
We’d get it, come what may
400 gold for the dress returned
Priceless to save her day
Announced as outlaws
A friend sentenced to hang
To save his life,
We’ll go out with a bang
A nun walks into a jail
Three friends walk out free,
Face off at the dye guild
A crow lets out his final plea
An ambush by the inn,
The crows flock once again,
A plot to poison a friend,
A dastardly deed orchestrated by men.
A Dozen Badgers plan a heist,
Drumclog few get in on the fight,
Burning confusion within a village,
We stand proud an' strong at great Billige.
The day before battle they gather,
Foreign knights and uprising peasants,
Midnight and Dawn we struck,
Their leaders last breath, unpleasant.
A rivalry comes to an end,
Badgers verses Crows,
With new found friends,
Happiness through Billige flows.
One by one the dark knights fall,
Master disguise and infiltration,
With an army by our side,
We shall bring Salvation.
Now there is one
The deed is done
They begun deep in the forest,
The Set amongst the trees
They retire up in Drumclog
Peaceful and at ease.
The Ballad of Black Stan
Fine Alice from Billige, accused.
Blodwin gone, was kidnapped.
A witches trial we denied.
And thus, Giles got slapped!
A horrific sight encountered.
Three feathers up the arse!
By crows, the bride's gown was stolen.
Saved, reward to folk, passed.
Emlyn unjustly imprisoned.
A pal not forsaken.
A crow and dyer conspire.
Justice and coin taken.
The errand squire we did find.
Poison plot uncovered..
To a Priory we did go.
An ally discovered.
Gilbert's coins, a generous gift.
Knavesmire 'tween a fight.
Conrad thwarted, Clugney attacked.
His keep we set alight.
A Peasant's Army encroaches.
Ploughwright stabbed in the face.
A Black Company advances.
Clugney kissed Randulf's mace.
'Ware, Drumclog Moss Road, we do rule..
Neilson learnt the hard way.
Defeated Matterson the cruel.
Billige ended his day.
Badgers did poison Thorbjorn.
On the road, a knight met.
Vertingeld slain, and the way.
To Hexham we were set.
The Ballad of Randulf the Red
Stand and listen gentlefolk
A giant cometh across the land
Let us speak of a grappling God
Randulf the Red, brute of his band
With a grin he wrestled the best
Tankards of mead followed a great draw
With sweep of his arms, bandits were battled
Until the ghastly one was no more
He climbed great oaken trees
To take the crow men by surprise
To save a maidens wedding day
He became the master of disguise
Loyal friends are captured
Rescued by friar and nun
Once three birds of a feather
One crow down, a traitor undone
A poisonous plot
And the swoop of the Crow
For such heroics toward Our Lady
A token of friendship she did bestow
A raid on the rich, a parley struck
Beside fellow outlaws, sorely deformed
As tension flamed, villages did burn
Against the oppressors, The Badgers then stormed
As Nobles prepare for war
Ironhanded knights join the fray
As Northern rebellion is halted
An arrow at dawn ensures Clugney’s last day
"Stand and Deliver"
The Black Crows finally flayed
With Randulf's new hammer
Foreign Knights were outplayed
By stealth, by bludgeon
Our enemies all fell
In chivalrous duel
Was the last Teuton sent to Hell
The ballad of Calder Winterbourne
It is unclear where or when the ‘Ballad of Calder Winterbourne’ originated. No copy exists with provenance earlier than the mid-fifteenth century (and that only a fragment). It is likely that early versions have been adapted by others over the centuries and sections re-written or entirely new text added, perhaps to add contemporary references, incorporate unrelated fragments or cover situations likely to be familiar to new, later readers. There is, for example, an oblique reference to a possible act of enclosure in the prologue, which must either be a poor transcription or later addition to a supposedly ‘medieval’ text. No reference to Calder Winterbourne exists in the historical record and it is therefore likely that, if he ever existed, his story has been greatly embellished or his tale is a combination of several stories combined in a convenient narrative thread.’‘It is unclear where or when the ‘Ballad of Calder Winterbourne’ originated. No copy exists with provenance earlier than the mid-fifteenth century (and that only a fragment). It is likely that early versions have been adapted by others over the centuries and sections re-written or entirely new text added, perhaps to add contemporary references, incorporate unrelated fragments or cover situations likely to be familiar to new, later readers. There is, for example, an oblique reference to a possible act of enclosure in the prologue, which must either be a poor transcription or later addition to a supposedly ‘medieval’ text. No reference to Calder Winterbourne exists in the historical record and it is therefore likely that, if he ever existed, his story has been greatly embellished or his tale is a combination of several stories combined in a convenient narrative thread.’
Calder Winterbourne, archer bold
Born afar in Blackmore Vale
Full man o’war, full man o’peace
Far-sighted, swift and hale.
Served his lord full time in France
Gave all honour and duty.
Came back with naught but empty hands
Nowhere a sign of booty.
Returned to see the Vale closed down
The villagers all evicted
Saith he ‘I served ignoble lords
Now shall I never more’.
Calder has taken to his travels.
He wanders near and far
Trusts not the rich, befriends the poor,
Takes all men as they are.
To hear a blacksmith’s tale of woe
His daughter held by Giles
Another woman held for trial
A witch? A slander vile.
Four foresters guide to Giles tower
Outside henchmen in force.
All take stock and arrows nock,
A bold rush is the course.
Calder’s arrows fly and two men die
Giles slain in dreadful fight.
His henchmen turn and see the light
The blacksmith’s daughter is aright.
A witch is held for loss of flour,
The miller is distraught
The cause is naught but pilfering
Yet from a bloodstained thought.
A forester’s been done to death
His friends the guides are grieving.
A blackmailed man is stealing flour
To hide innocence with thieving.
Now truth is out and witch is freed,
No charge in any eyes.
Loot found, restored, in easy shares
And a new-named Calder Wise.
Now safely camped in de Courcy
They look t’ward easy living
A blameless life, an end to strife,
Days of gathering and giving.
But Black Crows are in the meadows
Wat Taylor’s going to burn
The Crows have stole a wedding dress
All honour do they spurn.
At Knavesmire side Wat’s wounds they bind
Carter Emlyn aids them.
They take their rest and full refreshed
By Odo and Crispin’s singing.
The village fills with gentry’d folk
To Hexham their road winds
A missing dress? Oh woe! Distress!
All are commanded ‘Find!’
Great search ensues as trouble brews,
For Mannering’s men are slacking.
Courcy’s crew their search renew
They need no other backing.
They track their foes, the evil Crows,
Black Stan has heard their calling,
And Mopsacle undoes their traps,
At all points Crows are falling.
To search Crows’ nest without arrest:
How, in a camp this size?
A simple feat for crew includes
Randulf, Lord of Disguise!
Now Mopsacle has found the dress,
To Hexham heroes hurry.
Return of gown lifts bridal frown
And frees her mind from worry.
In gratitude, reward is made
Wedding party is delighted.
Crew bids adieu and melts from view
Now troths can all be plighted.
The cost of dress drawn with duress
From common folk to vex them
A shadow falls within town walls:
Sheriff Rolfe, the curse of Hexham.
“Reward’s not ours – the people gave,
Now we can make amends.
Money goes to those in need
Through Friars and our friends.
News cross the land: all wake, all stand!
A holiday in season!
But dreadful word; for no good reason,
Emlyn will hang for treason.
To cast more dark on happy Saint’s Day
The friends are now all outlaw.
It frees their hands to make a stand
Fight injustice as they saw.
In Hexham town Emlyn is bound
And lies in reeking bower.
Stan and Wat are took by Sheriff’s crooks
All held in Eastgate Tower.
Their friends rush in to break them out,
There’s close and nasty fighting
All are now saved, rope’s end denied!
Now to Wat’s home, for hiding.
The Dyers Guild sold Wat to Sheriff:
They are due a reckoning.
The crew close in on Guildhall door,
Trader’s entrance is a-beckoning.
Calder holds the staff enthralled,
Speaking words of honey.
Friends search the house, creep cat and mouse,
All following the money.
Guildmaster Lister speaks in whispers
Dealing with Edward Crow.
Crow brethren leader mocks and jeers –
Ranulf fells him with one blow.
“Tis done, Crows hate no more or less
Than when that man was living.
Good Friars still take what we gain
And see the poor are shriven.”
Carter and all the Taylor folk,
Subject to lies unseeming,
Must leave the town and join the camp
Beneath the oak trees greening.
And what shall be this brave band’s theme?
All sett – the Billige Badgers?
Clad in simple Hexham Green, their role –
A knee in the Sheriff’s nadgers!
Notes from the expanded second edition of the renamed ‘English Folk Songs, Ballads and Verse’ (1895):
‘The author (or authors) now appear to regret the choice of third person as the voice of the ballad, with the appearance of apparently direct speech from Part 2 onward. Almost inevitably this will be complete fiction and should not be taken as reporting of actual conversation. Part 3 ends on a rather coarse and vulgar note, possibly reflecting the limited range of rhyme available for ‘badger’ and the author’s frustration at possible future limitations. If inclined toward sympathy, readers should note first the (unverified and probably apocryphal) comment attributed to Christina Rossetti: ‘At least they weren’t a French gang living in Orange’
The world is in a turmoil
Badgers seek and snuffle round.
There’s money in the villages
Noses to the ground!
Where’s the money coming in from?
Why are maypoles growing here?
Which lord is up, which lord is down –
Let’s think on’t over beer.
Why is Conrad’s squire in Knavesmire?
A physick for Lady M?
For she has the morning sickness
It’s a panacea for them.
But the potion is of hemlock
Just a foul Socratic brew
Badgers know a milder herbal
Goodly Alice tells them true.
Badgers now in Wenham find
The potion brewer’s lair
But they dally and they tarry
Deal in nothing but hot air.
So they’re off to Lady Margaret
Nought must upset the borning
She grants them all her favour
In gratitude for warning.
But why are Gascons in the bailey?
Why did Klea take a fall?
Foreign cash abounds for Clugney –
Will the outlaws hear it call?
So the Badgers make a plan to seize
The treasure train from France
Coin here will feed the poor once more
Badgers prepare a merry dance!
Badgers lurk on Drumclog Moss
‘Til treasure train appears.
Their eyes are fixed on mule-packed gold:
All ready, no-one fears.
But the trap is sprung by a ragged band,
A mob that no-one knew.
A starving group down on their luck
The undaunted Drumclog Few.
Hugh is the leader of The Few
Badgers challenge, Hugh defiant.
The quarterstaffs spit fire, and then
After hurricane, the quiet.
The treasure shared, all part as friends
Money now with friars to share.
But Wenham’s full of stranger tales
Almost too much to bear.
Lady Margaret’s Clugney’s friend
And will not hear of Conrad.
More shrines appearing all round town
Must drive good Churchmen mad.
Now down the road Knavesmire’s alight,
Black Crows defend it stoutly.
Badgers shepherd the villagers
To Billige for their safety.
Horsemen from Hexham harry home
Billige is all a-fever.
Badgers stand, protect their friends
And help defeat the reivers.
In Wedgemore’s where it comes together
Waiting for Chatsworth’s presence.
Though shrines are found all round the town
None can explain their essence.
(Editor’s note: there appears to be another stanza, or possibly two, here but the only existing copy of this section is badly damaged. It appears to mention a raid on castle, but the text is near illegible.)
In Wenham, world turned upside down;
Retinue poor but people wealthy.
Now Clugney's brought in Teuton knights -
They're brash and never stealthy.
They come to aid in Clugney's fight
He says 'gainst unjust king,
But here local lords oppress the folk
And cause balladeer to sing.
A northern host of unwashed rage
Closes on the county
Demagogue fans flames of war
With promises of bounty.
The rabble to north, Clugney's to south,
Conrad's in a vice.
The innocent poor of Wenham town will
Be those that pay the price.
Can Badgers few stem the tide alone?
Could they be a small town's saviour?
They'll try by landing careful blows -
Not bludgeon but a rapier.
To northern host in dead of night,
A stealthy undertaking.
Calder finds their leader's bed, and
He'll never more be waking.
All of a dither now south of the river
Black Company falls on Wenham.
To thin their ranks, ease townsfolk's lot
Badger arrows fly from woodland.
Now Clugney rides in sight of all
And the shooting heeds the call.
Sebastian-like he's pierced by shafts
But no martyr, a tyrant falls.
Weham's taken, town is sacked,
Misery for Badgers' friends.
O where is justice, where the right?
And who shall make amends?
The Mystery of Calder Winterbourne
Scholars who have followed the campaigns and ballads of the outlaw group infamously known as "The Badgers of Billige" have noted several missing stanzas concerning one of the founding members - Calder Winterbourne. For many years it was believed Calder's sudden absence from the tales of the group was due some heroic death whilst attempting to liberate the townage of Wedgemore prior to the Siege of Hexham.
However recent archeological digs have found a mysterious set of incomplete stanzas that refer to the leader of a previously unknown peasant uprising far to the South in Dorset.
Many leading scholars note similarities between the subject (and style) of the ballad and the erstwhile Winterbourne and believe Calder - having liberated Little Wenham from the Peasant Army of the North and assassinated their leader - had seen fit to take command of the thousands strong group and lead them safely away from the armies of Sirs Nigel and Somerville for revolutionary glory in the South.
Whilst much of the stanzas remain fragmented and Calder's involvement remains in dispute, a recent dredging near Christchurch discovered a mysterious wreck - The Curlew of Avon. Little of value lay within the ship after so many centuries, but in an old chest deep within the Captain's cabin was found two strange artifacts.
A friar habit and a single arrow fletched with black feathers