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
A chat with Gaston
Location: The Badger's Set.
A day ago Sir Nigel had confronted Sir Gaston in his camp at the southern side of Hexham. This was a matter between knights, so we left them to it and went back to the forest.
Now, the next day had come. Dawn sunlight glinted off the dewy landscape and cast long morning shadows as we marched northwards out of Coucy forest and through the heathland to Hexham.
Sir Nigel's forces were nowhere to be seen and it seemed as if Sir Philippe and his men had departed. Something must've occurred yesterday. Upon entering Gaston's camp, we were confronted by guards. After showing them Lady Margaret's ring, they granted us access to Sir Gaston.
Gaston was curious, he wanted to know how we came by this ring. We replied that Lady Margaret had gifted it to us after we helped to recover her wedding gown and foiled Conrad's poison plot. He was surprised as he thought Clugney had recovered the dress, however he seemed satisfied by our answers.
Now that the small talk was out of they way, we asked Gaston what had happened to Sir Nigel. Gaston explained; after Nigel had issued him a challenge, Philippe had taken it upon himself to attack Nigel. They exchanged several volleys of arrows, which resulted in Philippe's death. Nigel had also been struck down by an arrow and his men retreated, carrying him off. Gaston was unaware of Nigel's fate. Following this, the majority of Philippe's men had packed up, left and headed east, some had stayed and joined Gilbert's or Gaston's camp.
Next, we spoke at length about Sir Michael Somerville. Gaston was aware that Michael was at Hexham's north gate. He was unsure of Michael's motives and feared that if he attacked Hexham, Michael might wait for him to do all the hard work, then sweep in to finish the job, seizing all the glory. Gaston was considering attacking Hexham tomorrow.
Quietly, Gaston confided that he would not be unhappy if Michael were to meet with an accident. He promised to pay us a thousand coins apiece and make us officers in his army if we took care of matters.
We agreed to his terms, in truth we were undecided about how to deal with Sir Michael, but felt there was no harm in complying with Gaston, at least for now.
Where is Sir Nigel?
Since there was no news about Sir Nigel, we decided to learn whether he still lived or not. This took us along the road through The Forest of Coucy and past the Knavesmire ruins.
It was a quiet journey. Once this leafy forest road had carried a small but constant stream of travellers and peddlers, then it became host to bands of roaming soldiers, now it had become all but unused. The only people we encountered were our own diligent outlaws, dutifully but vainly watching the road for potential targets.
Soon enough we reached The Fork and decided to go to Wedgemore first. Wedgemore was the same as always, fortunate to survive this conflict unscathed. We found a small number of Nigel's archers in Wedgemore, they informed us that Sir Nigel did indeed still live and was convalescing at Wenham Castle, on account that Wedgemore Castle was still uninhabitable. So to Wenham we went.
Crossing the River Scarmore we entered southern Wenham and approached the castle. The damage suffered by Wenham was still in evidence everywhere, but the oppressive gloom that had been cast by the Teutons and Osric had evaporated. People were slowly returning and the residents were now busily going about the tasks of repairing and rebuilding Wenham.
More of Sir Nigel's men were guarding the castle gates and even though they recognised us, they denied us access.
"Sir Nigel is not seeing any visitors at this time," they told us.
There was nothing more that we could achieve in Wenham, instead we decided to observe the Sir Michael's army north of Hexham.
A cunning plan
Leaving Wenham behind, we entered the forest once more and headed eastwards to its furthest reaches.
Sir Michael's besieging army was unchanged. Whilst observing them, we noticed that various foraging parties had been sent out to feed the camp. Once again, the farms of Little Wenham were forced to endure the pillaging of an invading army. Foragers were also moving west along Coucy's northern border, they did not venture very deep into the woods though. As we were watching them, we concocted a plan.
Marching back south across the Scarmore, we searched for some of Sir Gaston's own foragers from the shady confines of the forest. It did not take long to find a foraging party of seven and we ambushed them. The battle was short, after unleashing a couple of volleys of arrows upon the unsuspecting foragers, we prevailed. Quickly, we hid their bodies and their cart in the forest. Then we searched them, the cart was filled with food, but more importantly, the dead men all wore Sir Gaston's colours, so we took their badges.
Once again we marched, this time back to the north edge of the forest and once again we watched for foragers from the shady confines of the trees - this time for Sir Michael's men.
It did not take long to find some and we ambushed them. This time it was different though!
We were wearing Gaston's colours and tried to speak with French accents when we attacked! We took down four of them and allowed the others to flee, deliberately missing them with our shots. Hopefully when they reported back to their camp, they would say that they had been attacked by Gaston's men.
We then hid the bodies and cart of Michael's men and took their badges too! During the remainder of the afternoon, we harried all of Michael's foraging parties that we encountered. Never intending to kill anyone, but to convince them that they were under attack from Gaston's forces. We hoped to provoke Michael into attacking Gaston.
As the day began to close, we did not see any response from Michael's army. We had to learn if we had been successful, remembering that Gaston might attack tomorrow, time was not on our side. We needed those answers now!
We had badges in Michael's colours and one of his carts, so we disguised ourselves as foragers and approached his camp.
Sir Michael's camp was well guarded, but no one suspected anything and we easily infiltrated it. Even so, we had to tread carefully, we were now surrounded by three thousand soldiers who would not hesitate to kill us if they ever discovered our identities.
The onset of night was nearing, the day's colour was fast draining out of the sky. Numerous campfires had been lit and their hazy orange glows held back the twilight in illuminated spots throughout the camp. Food was being cooked and men were gathering round, turning their hands and feet to the warmth. It was a perfect opportunity to hear some gossip and we were not disappointed.
Talk of attacks by Gaston's men was rife in the camp. 'We were supposed to be in it together' was a common sentiment. Soldiers also questioningly spoke of how Gaston had managed to get his men on this side of the river and navigate through the forest. We realised that no one in the camp was aware of the two fords in the forest that crossed the Scarmore.
Finally, men spoke of Michael's reaction: Upon hearing of the attacks, he was now considering attacking Hexham without delay in the morning. We had indeed provoked Michael, but not in the intended manner.
This was not the best of news. Could Hexham resist the advance of both Gaston and Michael at the same time? This could not be left to chance.
The untimely end of Micheal Sommerville
Finding Michael's tent was not hard, it was the only tent in the camp with guards. They did not however, guard the rear of the tent.
We waited until night came, Mopsa slyly went to the back of Michael's tent. Slowly and quietly she cut an opening in the tent wall and crept in. Michael was asleep and undisturbed. Silently, Mopsa approached, slit Michael's throat and took his signet ring as proof. Then, as a sign that Gaston was the culprit behind this. Mopsa took Lady Margaret's ring and dipped it in Michael's cooling blood, then pressed the seal against his forehead. After this, she left the tent, no one was the wiser.
If we remained in the camp when Michael's body was recovered, the guards would prevent anyone leaving and then, sooner or later we would be found out.
The long, long hours until dawn passed uncomfortably, we were restless, wary and on edge. Eventually after an interminable wait, smudges of pale light began to appear in the eastern sky.
We returned to our cart and headed out of the camp, telling the guards that we needed to make an early start on our foraging, they were not unduly suspicious and did not hinder our exit.
Time to enter Hexham
Once the camp was out of sight, the cart was abandoned and we turned south and headed back to Gaston's camp.
Dawn had come and gone by the time we arrived, there was a noticeable bustle as soldiers were up and about, busying themselves with various tasks.
Gaston himself was easily found, shouting commands to the scurrying soldiers. When we gave him Michael's signet ring, he seemed most pleased and ordered his paymaster to give us three thousand coins. He then went on to yell even more orders and commands at his men. Gaston explained now that Michael was out of the picture, the siege at the north gate would end. This meant that Sir Roland would be free to leave via that route. Gaston said he had no choice but to attack soon.
It seemed that no matter how hard we tried, the assault on Hexham would proceed. We politely refused Gaston's invitation to join his army and left them mobilising for war.
We had to find a way into Hexham and warn them of the impending attack. Hexham was a city built on both sides of the River Scarmore, which travelled its way through the heart of the city. The defensive walls of Hexham only reached as far as the riverbanks, riverboats could freely travel through Hexham. This could be the way in we sought.
We followed the river upstream into The Forest of Coucy. Dotted along the banks and close to the easternmost ford lived some fishermen who eked a living out of this stretch of the river. We found one and paid him some coins for the use his boat.
From here, the waters flowed downstream into Hexham, with the fisherman's boat we took to the river and allowed the current to bring us to the city.
Some of the besieging forces were close to the Scarmore, but they paid scant attention to the sight of a mere three commoners in small boat on the river passing into Hexham.
Once we had drifted beneath the bridge, we began rowing to the riverside and found a place to moor. Our landing had not gone unnoticed and after tying up the boat, a band of Hexham's guards came down to the river and demanded that we state our business. We told them that we bought important news about the army outside the city gates. They agreed to take us to the sheriff.
As we walked through Hexham, it did not seem as despondent as we expected. None of the buildings appeared to have been boarded up, there were no dead-carts plying their trade through the city.
Soon enough we arrived at the sheriff's office at the East Gate, we spoke with the sheriff and he explained to us that there was no plague in the city, it was a rumour that had been spread to misinform the besieging forces.
After this, we tried to convince the sheriff of what was coming, that we needed to speak with Sir Roland, we even showed him Lady Margaret's ring. He refused to listen and this was evident when he ordered a score of his men on us. They did not attack us directly, instead they kept us at arm's length en masse with their spears and we were forcibly herded down the stairs into a familiar dungeon and locked up!
Two long hours passed until we received a visitor. The face of a man we did not recognise appeared in the door's small window. He spoke to us and asked us several questions, finally asking us what we had to do with his wife? Sir Roland! It could only be him.
It was no time to be coy, we told him everything we knew. We even showed him the note that Lady Margaret had sent to Clugney about how she was about to strike. It was surprising then, to see that he found it all quite amusing. It was enough to convince him of something though, as he ordered the watchmen to unlock our cell. Then, under the watchful eye of his own guards, we were taken to Hexham Castle and down into the dungeon.
Sir Roland led us to a cell, within it we saw Lady Margaret! When she saw us, here eyes widened, perhaps she was hopeful we would help. She silently mouthed 'help me'.
Sir Roland could not conceal a smirk, he waved her note to her and said. "These fellows seem to think you sent this!".
It was staggering, if Lady Margaret hadn't sent the messages... Then he had to have been Sir Roland.
We had thought that Lady Margaret had been 'playing' Sir Roland, instead he had been playing her!
Returning upstairs, Sir Roland explained that he had been sending the messages, spreading false rumours and misinformation, spreading inaccurate stories of the plague. It had been good enough to give the besiegers second thoughts on attacking. Sir Roland went on; all Hexham had to do now was hold until tomorrow, then all these matters would be resolved.
Sir Roland the thanked us for our service and invited us to stay and to help defend Hexham. We had no love for Roland, but the welfare of Hexham's population did concern us. If Gaston's forces broke through, the people would be the ones to pay the price. So we decided to take Roland up on his offer.
Before we took up our posts, we sought out Friar Nicholas and gave him the money that Gaston had given us.
Gaston did not disappoint and soon enough at three past noon, his forces attacked. Fighting was fierce and the clamour of battle loud. During the fight Gaston would attack and be driven back, regroup and attack again. Hexham's defences held steady as assault after assault broke like so many crashing waves against the defences.
As the day grew long, Gaston ordered his men to build gigantic bonfires and lit by flame, fighting continued into the night.
Eventually though, Gaston's forces had to fall back for the remainder of the night.
Having earned our respite, we slept fitfully and too briefly. Just before dawn we were woken and took up our posts. In the dimness and from our vantage point we could just about make out the activities beyond our defences.
Gaston had gathered all of his soldiers into one formation, it looked like he was planning on one final massive push.
As the dawn broke, his soldiers gave a bellowing roar, the ground seemed to tremble from their charge. Gaston held nothing back and struck at the defences with his full force.
This time they did not fall back, nor could we push them back. As time passed, our defences weakened and finally broke. We flew to the streets and fought Gaston's men face-to-face. They were outnumbered and could press their advantage, however in this war of attrition, we could not hope last forever.
It was midmorning when when beyond the melee, along the Knavesmire Road we saw another sizable army approaching, they displayed no colours. The column stopped at The Green and began to form up into battle order.
Word had reached Sir Gaston that something was up, he had ordered his men to pull back, returning to The Green, to confront this new arrival. As Gaston's men were regrouping, the new army revealed their colours, unfurling The King's banner.
This changed everything. Gaston could not hope to win against The King, who also blocked any route of escape, nor could he retreat into Hexham. He was stuck between a rock and a hard place and was left with only one option.
Gaston and Gilbert surrendered to the King's men. It was over, Hexham had prevailed. The pair of them were marched off in shackles.
Sir Roland quickly set about organising a feast of victory - and to thank The King for saving Hexham! It was a feast of grand size that emptied Hexham of much of its food, leaving the residents low on supplies. Some things we could not change.
To Sir Nigel, he gave Wenham and Wedgemore.
To Sir Michael's army which still lingered at Hexham's north gate, The King appointed a new Warden of the North. Soon after, the army left Hexham and returned north.
Finally, as a reward to us, The King rescinded our status as outlaws and gave us Drumclog Castle and the freedom of Billige. We were now free to live in these places unmolested.
Perhaps in the annals of Robin Hood, the deeds of The Merry Badgers of Billige would only warrant a footnote.
Even so, a fine summer day had dawned for the simple peasant folk who were now free from the threats, violence and machinations that they had suffered. Billige and the surrounding settlements no longer felt the yoke of corrupt and oppressive lords. At least for now; who could know what the future might hold.
It's true that no summer could last forever, not even an English one. Autumn will come and it too must yield to winter, but for now; there are days enough left to enjoy the summer.
So ended the ninth and final adventures of:
Calder Winterbourne, the wise and mouse-eater.
Mopsa Hiems, Mopsacle
Randulf The Red
Forever known as The Merry Badgers of Billige.
My Final Thoughts
Matakishi's campaign perfectly blended together the 'Merry Outlaws' rules and the style of play he used for this campaign.
Merry Outlaws is a straightforward, unobtrusively light set of rules, there are no feats or special moves and never at any time did we feel like supermen. For most of the campaign I was no better at fighting than any guard. The only advantage we all had over our opponents were our hit points and to be honest; a couple of bad rolls and they would easily be whittled down to a dangerously low level.
All of this served to give the rules a grounded feel.
Meanwhile, Matakishi's campaign felt well researched and authentic (Not necessarily realistic which is arguably a different thing.). There was enough flavour to make it feel like a medieval setting, but not so much detail that it felt bogged down. The campaign was plotted in such a way that our influence and decisions had impact. Sometimes our actions influenced events, sometimes they spiralled out of our control, the mixture of the two felt compelling.
All of this served to make us feel invested in the setting and campaign, which I think is very important, maybe the most important thing. I noticed that as a result we generally always remembered the names of NPCs, we remembered because we had a stake in the narrative.
This combination of these two different factors led to a very enjoyable and memorable campaign.
As a final final note, I'll add that we spent a lot of time learning how to write bloody stanzas!
My thoughts on being a gamesmaster for Merry Outlaws
This was a surprisingly good campaign. From the barest of bones grew a story of brave outlaws and a tale of high adventure. Very little of it was down to me.
Running the game was easy. I started with some introductory scenarios to explain the setting and characters and to give some sort of guidelines to the players on what they were able to do within the milieu. This involved a certain amount of work on my part.
By the end of the second episode, the return of the wedding gown, everything was trotting along nicely and I had very little to do other than to react to their decisions. This involved virtually no work on my part which I liked better. I implimented some changes based on the discussions after each game.
Originally I had planned Clugney to be the downtrodden but noble knight who cared for his people but the players decided (with absolutely no evidence) that he was a "wrong 'un" so I made him a villain.
Lady Margaret could possibly have become a Maid Marian type but (again with no evidence) she was labelled a scheming harridan and possibly a witch. So be it! She began scheming.
The French arrived, always good villains, and later the Teutonic knights- historically a famously unpleasant lot of rogues. Both these gave the players some unambiguous enemies to fight against.
At least the Crow Folk, planned as a rival outlaw band from the start, managed to fulfil their destiny.
The players took it upon themselves, with no prompting from me, to relieve the locals of the yoke of feudalism and began the culling of the upper classes.
Osric, set in place as a pagan with influence and a possible ally in case the players decided the church was an oppressor, fell with the rest of them.
The Peasants' Army was beheaded and sent on its way home (against the advice of some players sympathetic to the cause) rather than recruited and led to victory on the open field of battle. I provided it in case this was a preferred option. It was not.
The county of Hexham grew around the player characters and responded to their actions. Very occasionally I fed in some new characters and watched to see what would happen. Mostly I just listened to the out-of- character discussions between the players and went with the flow. They manufactured their own plots, compications and solutions. I sat back and enjoyed the results. I played in their game.
Mechanically I had some help in developing our world for Metty Outlaws. Originally I turned to medieval maps and gazetters but the information was too dense and overwhelming. I wanted something simpler that everyone could get a mental picture of and hold in their heads without our usual table props of maps, scenery and miniantures.
Hexham was copied from the Avalon Hill Robin Hood boardgame map with the names changed. All the NPCs were named from the character counters from Standard Games' Cry Hacoc and Siege boardgames which inadvertantly led to many of them being Welsh. I did keep a one-page potted history of King Henry III handy and an introductory article on heraldry nearby so I could insert some choice historical facts. I made sure all knights were introduced by their heraldic devices. I found this added a disproportional sense of versimilitude, well worth the effort.
Each week I updated the map of the area and the cast list of characters and sent it to all the players. In return they diligently wrote their ballads, each adding to the texture of the game.
In conclusion, this may have been the best campaign I've played in in my 40 years of roleplaying.
One version of the Avalon Hill Robin Hood map
Cry Havok counters
Some of my scribblings
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 began 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.
Lords corrupt, may rule the land, but.
Defeat at Badger's hand..
Calder, Mopsa, Randulf the Red.
Friends, loyal to Black Stan.
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
By boat and by cunning
Was Hexham freed from pillage
Through Royal decreed
All hail Randulf, free man of Billige
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