Dark Days in Borsetshire

Following the eruption of civil war after the abdication of Edward VIII, the notorious Archer family of Ambridge has used the subsequent turmoil to extend and increase its violent criminal activities. Operating from its ramshackle stronghold, the clan has extended its depredations beyond the immediate locale and has openly defied the Lord Lieutenant of Borsetshire, no less than Sir Rufus Pitt-Bulstrode himself. The final straw was the recent unspeakable humiliation visited upon Constable Smallbottom as he attempted, on Sir Rufus’ direct orders, to arrest Phil Archer, youngest son of family head Dan. Details of the scandalous treatment of the Constable have not yet been made public but it is understood that he is still severely traumatised. Meanwhile, Dan Archer and his gang have been pictured, flaunting their weapons and defying authority.

Archer senior is flanked by his common-law wife Doris with his youngest son Phil to her left, waving a pistol. On Dan’s right is his eldest son Jack “The Knife” Archer, now a resident of Detroit and on a visit to his father. He is accompanied by two of his Detroit friends, Loquacious Lovelace and Miranda Hazebutt. Also pictured are various gang members including Bert “Sizzler” Fry, Walter “Angel’ Gabriel, Tom “Deadwood” Forest, Ned and Clarrie Larkin, Mrs Perkins (aka Mrs P.) and Silas Grundy.

But the forces of law and order (and, let’s be honest, privilege) are not prepared to take these provocations without answer. Oh dear me no, not by a long chalk. Sir Rufus Pitt-Bulstrode, Squire of Much Rampling and Lord Lieutenant of Borsetshire is not a man to be trifled with. His immediate concern is the looming threat of a socialist-lead invasion of Borsetshire, spreading red revolution through the peaceful hamlets and villages. He cannot ignore the threat to his own person either. Leaflets have appeared in the major towns of the county declaring the invaders’ intentions of marching on Borchester, the county town,, hanging the town council, putting the running-dog Lord Lieutenant up against a wall and raising the red flag over the town hall. 

Despite these and many other challenges and duties, Sir Rufus is determined to rein in the Archer clan and administer salutary punishment for the heinous crimes and atrocities committed against Constable Smallbottom. The resources of the county are stretched to the limit so Sir Rufus has decided to use his own resources which means his family, friends and trusted servants. The Archers feel powerful and invulnerable being a close-knit family unit. Sir Rufus plans to challenge them with his own formidable clan.

Despite his Colonel Blimp bluster, Sir Rufus is a canny old bird. It just so happens that staying at the manor as a houseguest is an old Cambridge chum of his daughter Anticipation. This is Miss Temerity Ping. Miss Ping is an employee of the SIS, the Secret Intelligence Service. In fact, let’s not be coy, she’s an agent in that curious organisation. When Sir Rufus outlined his plan to use the family to eradicate the Archer threat, Miss Ping immediately volunteered to travel to Ambridge and gather as much intelligence as possible about the Archers’ strength, disposition and plans. She has now returned with much valuable information. 

Miss Temerity Ping. She never knowingly allows herself to be photographed face-on (she’s a secret agent!)


Based on Miss Ping’s information, Sir Rufus has decided to split his forces. One group, led by his wife Lady Ferocity and named the Distaff Group, includes his five daughters along with Miss Ping and Audacity Bunty-Thimble, his wife’s secretary.

Lady Ferocity with her doberman bitch, Bitch. To her left, Audacity Bunty-Thimble. Behind her, the five daughters and behind them, trying to look inconspicuous, Temirity Ping

The other, led by himself will include his son Freddie, his nephew Cecil de Leominster, Cecil’s particular friend Baron Dietrich von Strepsil, head gamekeeper Renfrew McGruel, Sir Rufus’ valet Stirrup, the butler Wrench and, without much enthusiasm, indeed with great reluctance, Constable Smallbottom.

Sir Rufus with his afghan hounds Esmeralda Golightly VII and Sinbad Restitution II. To his left, his son Freddie. To his right, his nephew Cecil de Leominster, accompanied by (in the feathered hat) his particular friend, Baron Dietrich von Strepsil. Behind them and suitably out of focus, from the left Stirrup, Wrench and McGruel. Lurking at the back, an unenthusiastic Constable Smallbottom

Miss Ping discovered that, on a certain date, Jack “The Knife” Archer, accompanied by his two Detroit friends and including Silas Grundy, will be travelling in the Archers’ van to the area of Waterly Cross to attempt to persuade some local criminal elements to join the Archers in their assault on the Lord Lieutenant and the established order. At the same time, Dan Archer is planning a pre-emptive strike on Much Rampling itself. The plan is that Jack will join him with any recruits he may have enlisted. Dan’s thinking is that, if necessary, the family members he will have with him will be sufficient to defeat Sir Rufus in a surprise attack. If Jack can join him, so much the better but it’s not vital.

Acting on this intelligence, Sir Rufus and Lady Ferocity decide to send the Distaff Group, to set up an ambush on the Ambridge to Waterly Cross road to eliminate Jack’s group before it can be reinforced while, at the same time, Sir Rufus leads his group to intercept the rest of the Archers and arrest them.

Before we follow the fortunes of these various armed and determined groups, it is appropriate to turn back time to delve into the outrage that has sparked such a dramatic response. It is time to recount:

The Degradation of Constable Smallbottom

Sir Rufus Pitt-Bulstrode and Family

Sir Rufus Pitt-Bulstrode has released some charming family photos. He feels that if the threatened socialist invasion of Borsetshire should eventuate, it may be some time before the whole family will be together in one place.

Here we see Sir Rufus, as head of the family, prominent. He is accompanied by his two Afghan hounds, Esmeralda Golightly VII and Sinbad Restitution II.
Behind him is his Good Lady, memsahib etc – Lady Ferocity Pitt-Bulstrode with her Doberman bitch, called Bitch.
Behind her ladyship are the Pitt-Bulstrode children, now all adults. From the left, oldest to youngest, they are;Lady Anticipation Pitt-Bulstrode; Lady Recreation Pitt-Bulstrode; Lady Persistence Pitt-Bulstrode; Lady Reality Pitt-Bulstrode; Lady Acceptance Pitt-Bulstrode and the Hon. Freddie Pitt-Bulstrode.
Sir Rufus wanted a son from the outset and it is thought that his daughters’ names reflect this long-thwarted ambition.
Here, Sir Rufus and Lady Ferocity look down fondly on their assembled brood whilst wondering when are the builders going to get the windows in?

The Grey League of Morris

The Grey League of Morris is a secret chapter of Morris Dancing. They are the military wing. Dressed entirely in Grey, they seek out enemies of Morris, redress slights to Morris and avenge hurt to Morris. Their secret headquarters is situated in the ruined warehouse mentioned below. It is located in a bleak, urban area, far from the usual places associated with Morris dancing. The  core of any Grey League operation is the 4 man group, armed with an assortment of weapons. Operatives choose their own weapons; the choice being limited to what they can afford. So pistols, shotguns, rifles and specially weighted Morris sticks are the most common. When on a mission, Grey League groups may recruit irregular helpers from the darker realms of rural England who become willing participants in combating those who threaten the Being of England.

From their nondescript, seemingly run-down warehouse, somewhere in England, four grey-clad men emerge. They are a fast response team of the Grey League of Morris. They are needed in rural Borsetshire where a Morris man is in danger. But first, they must not miss the 8.50am X049 bus to Borchester otherwise they will miss their connecting bus to Much Rampling. Such are the tiny margins between success and failure to the men of – 
The Grey League of Morris. What devilry awaits these brave men in Borsetshire….? Time will tell

The first problem to be solved is, where is the bus stop? Opinions appear divided as to whether they need to go left or right.

Having successfully caught the X049, the Team arrived at Borchester and transferred from the majestic splendour of a double-decker Routemaster to the more bucolic pleasures of a number 80b, Grey Cars country single-decker. The fact that the bus company is called Grey Cars is a coincidence- perhaps……

As they approach Much Rampling at speeds sometimes in excess of 35mph, the Team, ever conscious of the need for secrecy, lie down on the floor of the bus. Disconcertingly, they appear to have persuaded the driver to follow suit. In the time remaining before arriving at their destination (and still observing strict security protocols), they check their weapons, review their instructions and pass round the cider flagon.

As the 80b rumbles towards Much Rampling, we switch our attention to the pub in that village, The Green Man.

This is where a thoughtful bus company have established the bus stop for the greater comfort and convenience of passengers.

Waiting almost furtively at the frankly crude, crap and embarrassing bus stop is a Mysterious Stranger, recently arrived in the village. This is Giselle Cas de Pression. The Cas de Pressions are distantly related to the old Devonshire family of Snapcase – something to do with over-hearty celebration after Agincourt.

Anyway, the 80b has finally arrived at Much Rampling:


After their long, tiring journey, the Team erupt from the bus with an excess of energy, passing round the cider flagon enthusiastically.

At the same time, who should emerge from the pub but Stupefaction Queeg, last seen wandering the moors as Sir Rufus Pitt-Bulstrode and his followers battled the cultists of the Worried Throppet.

He bids a “good day” to Henrietta Ferkin who stops and enquires whether he can explain the arrival of these four boisterous, armed strangers on the 80b from Borchester? “Don’t ee know, Mistress Ferkin? Well I’m blowed; these are members of the highly secret and discreet Grey Morris – them as do search out and exact revenge on those disrespecting Morris Dancing. They do operate from a secret lair located no-one knows where. Dear oh dear, fancy you not knowing that…!”

“But, responds Mistress Ferkin, if they’re so secret and discreet, how is it that you……..oh, never mind. Good day to you Farmer Queeg.”

Meanwhile, Giselle has, not surprisingly, attracted the attention of the Team Leader…….

The Team Leader (Agent Herefordshire, to give him his operational name), after the first moments of bus disembarkation euphoria, recovers his natural authority and, unsurprisingly, takes note of Giselle. She in turn recognises his natural authority and moves sinuously into close contact with him. Speaking perfect English, without a trace of an ‘Allo ‘Allo accent, she says “Follow me to my room in the pub. Tell your men to wait in the bar and have a drink. They can charge it to my account; I ‘ave, sorry, have, something to show you…..”

With that, she abruptly but gracefully turned and stepped into the pub, leaving a faint but delectable hint of perfume hanging in the air. 

Agent Herefordshire, after a moment’s delicious contemplation, rallied his men and told them to wait in the bar and “mind your manners and don’t drink the place dry….!

“No further encouragement was needed, within seconds, the Team were sampling the delights of The Green Man’s bar whilst Herefordshire accompanied Giselle to her room.


Once Herefordshire and Giselle were in her room with the door safely closed, she put her map case on the table, opened it and withdrew – a map. More of a rough sketch really. In fact, quite a disappointing article considering the speculation as to what the case may have contained.

“Agent, I have a map. On reflection, possibly a rough sketch would be a better description. Before I continue, let me introduce myself. I am Agent Salisbury of the Grey Morris Intelligence Section. And you are….?”

Finding himself unaccountably self-conscious, Herefordshire coughed, went red in the face, fiddled with the clasp on his holster flap, then, pulling himself together, introduced himself. “I am Senior Agent Herefordshire, Team Leader.”

Giselle, aka Agent Salisbury, nodded “I have heard of you before; your reputation comes before you.”

Agent Herefordshire was not too sure which part of his chequered reputation she may be familiar with so decided to assume it was to do with his efficiency and courage. Maybe it was.

“So. Our task is the rescue of Ephraim Hardstanding, a stalwart Morris man, violently kidnapped by a group of crazed cultists for purposes unknown but almost certainly depraved and murderous. We know that these villains are somewhere in the Wild Moorlands of central Borsetshire, a stark and lonely place. 

They are thought to be on their way to the village of Ambridge which, to all intents and purposes, is an ordinary, respectable place. However, beneath this peaceful facade, it is a hell-hole of dark deeds, cult depravity and general wickedness. We must rescue Ephraim before he disappears into the miasma of evil that is Ambridge.” Giselle paused for breath and Herefordshire pondered on what he had heard so far.

“Could they already be at this dreadful place?” He asked. “It’s been a few days since the abduction.”

“No. There has been a stroke of good fortune which has helped our cause. The doughty Ephraim managed to escape whilst crossing The Wilds. He was recaptured but only after a day and two nights had passed. He had been able to retrace the route they had come and had reached the edge of The Wild before recapture. We know the group is now resting before starting again on their path across The Wild. I had a message from one of my informants this morning telling me what I have just told you and giving me a reliable indication of the group’s current whereabouts.” 

Here she paused as the sound of several bumps or maybe thumps, followed by what may have been breaking glass or crockery, came from the floor below. She looked quizzically at Herefordshire who responded with what he hoped was a puzzled frown.

The Team members were enjoying the delights of the Green Man and if their frolicking round the fireplace caused some unintended breakages and minor damage, well, the Grey League treasurer would foot the bill; hopefully…..

“Perhaps, Agent Herefordshire, we should now invite your men up here to bring them up to date and also to spare the bar any accidental damage.”

“Probably too late,” he thought whilst nodding agreement. He hurried to the top of the stairs and gave the special Grey Morris whistle. Within seconds his men appeared at the bottom of the stairs, looking suspiciously innocent but also guiltily dishevelled. They clattered up to him and he directed them to Giselle’s room.

When the whole group was assembled in that quite small area, a certain amount of shuffling, buffeting and shoving occurred as the agents tried to find space for their guns, sticks, cider jars and potted meat sandwiches. When all were settled, Giselle clapped her hands to gain their attention.

Would you be kind enough to introduce your companions.” This latter remark she addressed to Agent Herefordshire.

“Certainly, Agent Salisbury. In the corner, nursing his rifle, is Agent Staffordshire; the handsome fellow with the cider jug is Agent Shropshire and completing our Team is Agent Worcestershire. Lads, this is Agent Salisbury of the Intelligence Section.”

The team gave Agent Salisbury a hearty welcome although there was some muttering along the lines of “Intelligence Section? Didn’t know we had one of them.”

Giselle, indicating Herefordshire, said “your team leader will update you on the mission. I’m expecting a messenger with more information then we can start our operation. I’ll see you all downstairs.”


Hello, hello…..! What’s going on here then? Who is this, exiting the grounds of Sir Rufus Pitt-Bulstrode’s manor? And why the reckless velocity? (Sir Rufus being the squire of Much Rampling and the Lord Lieutenant of Borsetshire, let us not forget). 

Why, it’s none other than Lady Persistence Pitt-Bulstrode, the middle of his five wilful and determined daughters.

Where can she be off to at such a breakneck speed, a danger to herself and any innocent (or, indeed, guilty) person she may encounter? Could it be that she has a part to play in this epic adventure?

Leaving the Team to finish their beers, pay for incidental damages and visit the Gents, Giselle makes her way out to the front of The Green Man, anxiously scanning the road. Could this be the messenger she’s waiting for, approaching at an illegal speed?


Indeed it is, so a minor mystery is solved. The purpose of Lady Persistence’s wild escapade was to meet Giselle- she is the messenger that Giselle has been waiting for. The two intrepid ladies have a brief discussion which, we can be sure, will have important consequences.


The message that lady P had brought for Gisselle was that the cultists had stolen a steam-driven lorry and chugged their way over the Wild Moorlands and had reached Sweaty Man Crossroads (actually a Y junction but country folk sometimes have strange ideas) when their vehicle literally ran out of steam. Whilst they were attempting to fix it, Ephraim was taken by John Bellator to the nearby Cringing Peasant Inn (said to be the highest hostelry in Borsetshire). The landlord, under duress, agreed to allow John to lock Ephraim in the Inn’s store room.


After their pell-mell dash across the Wild Moorlands, sometimes reaching speeds approaching 12mph they have now started the descent into less bleak terrain but the problem with the lorry has allowed the Grey Morris, alerted by Lady Persistence, to catch them up.

So, groups of armed men and women are abroad in Borsetshire. There is a grave risk of deadly violence. Can anything stop a sanguinary clash. NOT A CHANCE………!

Some random shots by the retreating cultists have led to the Morris debussing and, as Agent Herefordshire says after a few ciders, “going tactical”. 


The cultists have Martin Bellator trying to repair the lorry and John Bellator guarding Ephraim in the inn. Sumus Bellator Adiutor is covering the right fork of the junction while Rodney Bellator moves into concealment behind the hedge to guard the left fork. At the centre of the road junction is Steve Bellator, lovingly nursing his flame thrower. Throppetus Summus Bellator (the chapter leader) remains further back in what he calls a Command and Reserve rôle (when he says this, he says it with capitalisation). We are all set.

So, a clash is imminent. Scenery is laid out and the all important character cards are placed conveniently and we’re ready to go.


Acting on Lady Persistence’s information, the Greys know where the cultists are and where they are heading. With the benefit of her local knowledge, the team has arrived on a side road which gives them the opportunity of cutting off the cultists’ escape route. The photo shows the route the cultists need to take (red arrow) and the intended advance of the Greys. Herefordshire and Staffordshire will charge down the road, hoping to surprise the cultists while they are trying to repair the lorry and to rescue Ephraim (black arrow). The other two are to cut across the field to block the cultists road north (yellow arrow).

I’m using Pulp Alley as the rules for this game but with modifications. A couple that spring to mind are:
1. Instead of selecting which side has initiative each turn, I’m going to rotate it on a turn-by-turn basis. The cultists will have it on the first turn, the Morris on the second etc etc. 
2. The cultists won’t be forced to activate in the sequence outlined in the Solo rules.


TURN 1: The cultists will go first (see above regarding Initiative). Rodney, Steve and the Adiutor (the three guarding the road approaches) are Hidden. Things don’t start too well for them. As Rodney noisily attempts to gain maximum cover from the hedge, he disturbs a sleeping adder. The reptile is disgruntled and relieves its frustration by sinking its fangs into Rodney’s leg. He, in turn, shrieks, collapses and goes into shock. He is Down and Out. <he failed a Challenge and the subsequent Health rolls>.Throppetus Summus Bellator reluctantly accepts that, as he is in Reserve, he’d better move up and take Rodney’s place (carefully avoiding adders). As Martin has not been able to repair the lorry, that completes the cultists’ turn.


The Greys set off with Herefordshire and Staffordshire racing up the road hoping to surprise the cultists by a display of daring coupled with élan (and maybe a hint of recklessness). Staffordshire manages to get his legs entangled with his stick but recovers without any damage done <survives a Peril played on him by The Adiutor who drew the relevant card>.


Meanwhile, Shropshire and Gloucestershire have set off at a fast pace across the fields towards the road north. Herefordshire and Staffordshire can be seen racing up the road in the background. Giselle is standing in a field by the van and appears to be singing.


TURN 2: Morris to go first. As the adversaries of both sides steel themselves for what is to come, a strange, inexplicable lassitude affects all present. Everyone slows to walking pace, looks vacantly around and has no thoughts of doing anything as energetic as shooting, running or fighting <the card CALM was drawn which has the effect outlined above. This only lasts for 1 turn>. 
Agent Staffordshire is still having trouble with his stick and this time manages do himself a painful mischief <he fails a challenge and his Health drops a level>. Nevertheless, he manages to keep pace with Herefordshire who, whilst feeling the same strange ennui as everyone else, manages to spot Steve Bellator although he can do nothing about it.
The other two Morris men amble across the fields and reach the hedges bordering the road to the North. Giselle is still “singing”?


The cultists are feeling just as inexplicably chilled as the Morris. The Adiutor stays put. Steve stroll over to take cover behind a wall having seen the approach of Herefordshire and Staffordshire and the Summus Bellator takes cover behind the lorry having been made aware of the approach of the two Morris men by Steve.

The turn is ended by Staffordshire making a failed Recovery roll. His Health remains reduced

TURN 3: Cultists start and things immediately hot up. The Adiutor opens up on Herefordshire and Staffordshire with his tommy gun. They Dodge out of range. The road they were advancing on is now a Perilous area. The Adiutor loses control of his gun during the prolonged burst of fire and wrenches his shoulder. He loses a level of health <a failed Peril and Health roll result>. The hail of fire also blocks the line-of-sight of the rest of the cultists so they do nothing. Martin has not been able to get the lorry going yet.

Morris. Herefordshire runs to the left to outflank The Adiutor. He opens up and misses…! The Adiutor responds and also misses…! Staffordshire, unsettled by the smg attack, is slow to follow his leader <card effect>.

The other two reach their objective on the North road and set up their ambush, facing south.

Giselle is singing.

Recovery. Both Staffordshire and The Adiutor fail their Recovery rolls.


TURN 4
The Morris draw cards. Oh dear….! Agent Gloucestershire (he of the cider jug) has obviously had too much. Put simply, he falls over  <fails a Challenge on the card he drew>.

Agent Shropshire remains Hidden in ambush.

Things are still working against Staffordshire . He gets totally tangled up in brambles and takes all of the turn to extricate himself <fails a Challenge on the card he drew>. Herefordshire shoots at The Adiutor who returns the fire. Both score two hits. Herefordshire decides not to cancel any of the hits on him so both must make two Health rolls which they do successfully. Herefordshire then moves out of sight. Giselle is singing. End of Morris turn.

Cultists’ turn. Martin Bellator is still toiling over the lorry without success. The Adiutor and Steve decide to go after Herefordshire since he’s the only one who has actually attacked them and they know where he is. Steve attempts to climb the outcrop that Herefordshire ducked behind. Encumbered by his flame-thrower fuel tanks, he fails. This ends his turn although he doesn’t suffer any other negative effects. The Adiutor follows Herefordshire and sends another hail of tommy-gun fire at him. Once again, Herefordshire Dodges successfully. 
Herefordshire is helpfully circled in red to show his position. Staffordshire, wrestling out-of-sight with brambles, is circled in blue.

Summus Bellator (the Leader – remember?) stays close to the lorry, protecting Martin and guarding the road north. He feels he’s doing two vital and dangerous jobs while all his men are having an easy time just doing one. 
Things may be improving for Staffordshire – he makes a successful Recovery Roll. Alas, Gloucestershire can do no more than babble drunkenly; he’s still down. Similarly, The Adiutor has no luck and remains on reduced Health. End of Turn 4.
<Note: I forgot to take the Adiutor’s reduced Health into account during his gun battle with Herefordshire. Lucky old Adiutor….!>

Turn 5
Whoa…..! What’s this? I’ll tell you what it is. The cultists reinforcements have arrived <they’ve been trying to get them since Turn 3; it’s all decided by a die roll which has now been successful>

They are a Team of the Worried Throppet Cult Assault Warriors. This is a problem for Agents Gloucestershire and Shropshire. They have positioned themselves to interdict any move north along the road by the cultists at the crossroads. Another group of cultists advancing south along that road was not expected. Add to that Gloucestershire keeling over, the worse for drink and it’s obvious that Shropshire has a problem.

Cards are drawn for the cultists. As a result, Bellator Impetum Derek, responding to a cry of “Watch out, someone’s hiding behind the hedge”, pulls the trigger on his pistol and shoots himself in the foot – Down and, indeed, Out….! It was Bellator Impetum Kevin who had shouted; he’d spotted Agent Shropshire. There’s an ineffective exchange of shots. The Throppetus Princeps Impetus (circled in blue) orders the rest of his men to the flanks. He himself bursts through the hedge to the right. Peculiari Cultum In Secundo Gradu fails to follow him whilst Bellator Impetum Primus Genus (circled in red) leaps over  the fence to the left and advances towards Shropshire. 

Back at the crossroads, meanwhile, The Adiutor, opens up on Herefordshire who again Dodges out of danger. Steve Bellator again fails to manoeuvre his flame thrower gear up the hill. End of the cultist’s turn.

It’s the Morris’ turn and once again it’s Whoa…..!…What’s this? You know what? It’s déja vu all over again. 

More new arrivals and this time from the south and these are new arrivals with knobs on. On the prosaic side, we have Farmer Silas Grundy; you probably wouldn’t have expected him to turn up in the middle of a gun fight but not beyond the bounds of possibility. But his companions? This is getting strange. Not to string it out, they are scarecrows; walking; apparently alive. Hmmm…? So far, no-one has noticed them.

Herefordshire takes a shot at the Adiutor who replies and both miss. Staffordshire, for once able to do something, opens up on a surprised Adiutor and once again, he responds and once again there are no hits. To round off the action (action? Are you kidding me?), Shropshire and Bellator Kevin exchange ineffective shots. 

Health rolls are made resulting in Staffordshire returning to full Health; no-one else succeeds in regaining lost Health. Gloucestershire is Out and removed from the scene <this should have happened last turn after he failed his Recovery roll but I, er, forgot>.
Giselle has stopped singing.

TURN 6

Towards the south, the scarecrows lurch forward, followed by Farmer Grundy. None of the cultists appear to have noticed them

Scarecrows lurching whilst Herefordshire and Staffordshire wreak havoc

Herefordshire for once has the drop on The Adiutor and makes no mistake. His accurate shooting sees The Adiutor Down and Herefordshire unscathed…! Agent Staffordshire, now in the best of Health, storms round a clump of trees, spots Steve Bellator and opens fire. Steve responds <not with his flame thrower – Blast can’t be used to counter-attack>, hits are scored and when the smoke clears, Steve is Down. 

Meanwhile, at the north end of the action, Bellator Impetum Primus Genus is fired upon by Agent Shropshire. In the exchange of fire, its Shropshire who comes off worse and takes a hit. His Health is reduced but his opponent escapes injury.

Tremendous excitement at the beginning of the cultists turn. First, there’s a couple of loud-ish explosions, then a great cloud of steam and then a clutch of interesting mechanical noises – yes; Martin has got the steam lorry started…! Meanwhile, the recently arrived cultist group at the north end of the table is having mixed fortunes. Bellator Impetum Kevin has been seized by the same over-enthusiastic attitude as Derek and has succumbed to a self-inflicted wound. However the Primus Genus has succeeded in Downing Agent Shropshire and, along with the other surviving members of the Assault team, is advancing quickly up the road towards their comrades who are also having mixed fortunes.

Agent Shropshire is Down…!

With The Adiutor and Steve both Down as a result of the Morris attacks and the advance of the scarecrows, only the Summus (he’s the Leader – do keep up) is active (apart from Martin but he’s in the lorry). Summus sprints round the back of the inn with the intention of getting John Bellator to bring their prisoner round to the lorry so they can escape.

Summus – sprinting

The end of turn Recovery rolls do not go well for the cultists. Kevin is automatically Out; The Adiutor and Steve both fail so are also Out. To complete the tale of woe, Agent Shropshire succeeds and is back on his feet.
END OF TURN 6 

TURN 7 It’s  the Cultists to go first.  The Assault team leader clambers back over the hedge and sprints up the road towards the Inn. The Peculiari Cultum In Secundo Gradu (his title is more impressive than his abilities which are meagre) is ahead of him.  


Meanwhile, Martin Bellator engages the drive on the lorry and moves on to the road to await the Summus who has gone to fetch John Bellator and Ephraim, their captive from the Inn.


 Ephraim has been allowed to keep his accordion and has been keeping John entertained with a medley of his favourite tunes. He has been allowed considerable freedom by his captors but John has taken the precaution of tying the prisoners ankles together, just in case. With the Summus yelling at him to “get a move on” he makes a meal of untying the knots – it takes him a Full Action and leaves no opportunity for him and the prisoner to move this Turn. 


Over to the combined Morris/Scarecrow side. Agent Staffordshire takes a flying leap at the low stone wall with the intention of taking a shot at the lorry. He misjudged his jump and takes a tumble. He manages to jump straight back up with no harm done but that completes his turn. Herefordshire runs to the road and spots a cultist running up it towards him. He scores 2 Hits but they’re ineffective. In return, the cultist shoots and misses. The Scarecrows lumber off in the vague direction of the lorry but Farmer Grundy yells, to no one in particular, “that’s Ephraim’s accordion I can hear….! I’m coming for you, cousin. Hang on…!”

Dashing into the Inn, he runs headlong into the Summus. Taken by surprise, the Summus is unable to use any of his powers it’s not his turn> so can only fight back or attempt to Dodge. He is not built for brawling. He decides to Dodge. He is surprisingly agile for a sixteen stone man but nevertheless takes a shrewd blow and his Health is reduced. 

Recovery. The Summus is the only one carrying an injury. He fails his roll.

TURN 8
The Morris/Scarecrow side (hereinafter called “The Morris”side) goes first and, immediately, the Initiative passes to the other side…! <this is caused by a “Surprise Twist” card being drawn> So the Cultists get to have their turn first, except, they don’t…! <the final card is drawn by the Assault Team leader and he gets “Quirk of Fate” which cancels any immediately any effects caused by previously drawn cards. So the Initiative returns ato the Morris side>. 
The Summus did not successfully Dodge from the enraged onslaught of Farmer Grundy so he is forced to receive that worthy’s Attack again. Farmer Grundy is fighting mad and gets 3 Hits. The Summus fails to block any. He saves 2 with his Health roll but the 1 failure reduces his Health level by one; he’s teetering on the brink and is locked in combat.

Agent Shropshire attempts to Dodge away from the Primus Genus but fails although once again, he is able to take a couple of Hits without suffering any injury. 

Of the scarecrows, Turnip Treader and Wheat Wanderer lurch down the road, past the lorry and head towards the members of the Assault Team who are approaching from the north. Cornstalker, their Leader, clambers over the low wall and follows. Barley Blunderer finds the wall too taxing an obstacle and fails to get over it. Agent Staffordshire moves up to the lorry and looses off a fusillade of shots. All miss. Martin Bellator, the driver, returns the fire and scores a Hit but it is ineffective. 

Agent Herefordshire vaults the wall with ease and moves alongside the lorry. End of Morris side turn. 

First up in the cultists turn is the Primus Genus and he’s going at poor old Agent Shropshire again who, again, fails to Dodge and again, suffers no injury. Boring….The Peculiari Cultum In Secundo Gradu gallops up the road to take on Wheat Wanderer (cultists aren’t fazed by wandering scarecrows – far from it). Too late, Peculiari realises that Wheat Wanderer is altogether more capable in a fight than he is. Luckily, although he loses the Brawl, he suffers no injury. The Throppetus Princeps Impetum (Assault Team leader) follows the Primus up the road and directs a curse at Agent Staffordshire. Apart from being aware of a slight undefinable unpleasantness, Staffordshire is unaffected.  The Princeps Impetum follows up more prosaically by opening fire. Staffordshire returns the compliment with the result that The Princeps takes a hit which he fails to save and thus is reduced in Health. Staffordshire is unhurt.

 Meanwhile, in the inn, Bellator John is in a quandary. On his Leader’s orders, he untied Ephraim. Then Farmer Grundy burst in and started lashing out at the Leader. Ephraim took advantage and escaped from John’s custody. John decides he must regain control of Ephraim. Having been captured by the cult, dragged across the Wild Moorlands, escaped, re-captured, driven at more than 15mph in a steam lorry and then incarcerated in an inn with his ankles tied but no offer of alcohol, Ephraim has reached the limit of his legendary patience. With controlled fury, he wallops John with his accordion and drops him unconscious with one blow. Meanwhile, the Leader is still engaged, much against his will, in a fight with Farmer Grundy. Unable to use any of his dark powers, he is no match for the enraged Farmer and soon measures his length at the feet of that stalwart yeoman. Finally, Martin Bellator, sitting in the cab of the lorry waiting for his Leader to reappear, takes a shot at Staffordshire who returns fire. The result is a hit on Staffordshire and he takes damage – Health reduced again.
Recovery phase. The only injured characters are the two cult leaders and Staffordshire. He rolls first but fails to recover; still injured, therefore but not down. Next, the Assault Leader and he also fails to improve his Health. Finally. The Summus who is down. He succeeds and staggers to his feet again, to meet the baleful stare of Farmer Grundy.
End of turn


TURN 9

Cultists to start. Primus Genus is first and he’s continuing his struggle with Agent Shropshire who, again, fails to Dodge but this time receives an injury, reducing his Health.

 Peculiari Cultum in Secundo is still fighting Wheat Wanderer. Against the odds, he causes damage without suffering himself. Wheat Wanderer, however, being an animated scarecrow, shrugs off a mere single Hit. The Princeps Impetum charges with a wild yell straight at Agent Staffordshire, who Dodges with ease. Finally, the Summus Bellator, having failed to subdue Farmer Grundy with a Dark Presence curse, decides to put his own safety above securing Ephesians and flees from the wrath of Farmer Grundy through the inn’s back door.

End of cultists turn.

Now it’s the Morris turn. Agent Shropshire has had enough of trying to Dodge away from his formidable opponent so decides on an all-or-nothing attack. Sadly for him, it’s nothing. No damage to his opponent but a painful blow to him – he’s Down…!

Next, the scarecrows and Barley Blunderer manages to get over the low wall and lumber towards the lorry. Wheat Warrior continues his battle with his improbably named opponent but fails to land a blow. The Peculiari Cultum, realising he’s taken on something quite tough, Dodges away from the fight. However, he’s not in the clear yet. Turnip Treader stomps past his comrade and bashes into the Peculiari. This time the savage straw man makes no mistake and the Peculiari is Down…!

Cornstalker, the Leader of the scarecrows, goes in hard against the Princeps Impetum but despite energetic flailing on both sides, no harm is done. However Agent Staffordshire, seeing the Princeps is visibly tiring after two bouts of combat this turn, returns to face the opponent he only a few minutes ago Dodged from. The Princeps, in turn, successfully Dodges; he hopes to buy time to regain his energy. However, seeing his discomfort, Agent Herefordshire abandons his plan of leaping into the back of the lorry and charges straight at him – the two main leaders in a hand-to-hand, knock-’em-down and drag-‘em-out struggle. 

Farmer Grundy, leaving a slightly bemused Ehphraim to enjoy his freedom, pursues The Summus and catches him in the inn courtyard. The Summus fails to Dodge and is whacked mightily by the Farmer – Once; Twice; Thrice….! And amazingly, suffers no injury.

Recovery. Staffordshire returns to full Health. Shropshire fails and joins his companion Gloucestershire-  Out. The Princeps returns to full Health. The Peculiari recovers and stands up and the Summus also regains a level of Health. The cultists are looking strong again after a turn which may have seen them lose several members. However, they have lost there hostage, Ephraim. Will they fight on and try to regain him? Or have they had enough?
End of turn.


TURN 10

Whether the cultists want to fight on or not is irrelevant- the Morris side does and it’s their turn to go first. Barley Blunderer goes first and draws a card which means that every character must draw one before taking their turn. Oh ‘eck- this is going to cause chaos.Staffordshire goes next and shoots at Martin in the lorry who returns fire. No hits are taken. Herefordshire goes next and renews his battle with the Primus. He scores a hit and the Primus is injured…! Can the scarecrows capitalise on this with fresh attacks? Turnip Treader goes next but can’t move…! <card effect>. Is the Primus going to escape from further attacks? Not if Cornstalker has any say in the matter. Lurching into an unsteady run, he assaults the enemy leader. The Primus staggers back as a telling blow lands whereas Cornstalker is un affected. Now it’s Barley Blunderer. Shrugging aside a card Peril, he joins the melee round the Primus. No injuries on either side but the Primus is exhausted. If attacked now, the best he can do is Dodge. But can anyone or thing reach him? Responding to a yell from Herefordshire, Wheat Wanderer ignores the Peculiari and heads for the Primus. Crash…! He barges the battered cultist. He hits and the Primus fails to Dodge and is hammered to the ground…!

Finally, Farmer Grundy attempts to attack the Summus but before he can, the ethereal calm that affected everyone earlier strikes again. End of Morris turn.

Martin kicks off for the cultists and his mandatory card sees him fail a Peril and subsequent Health check. After all his valiant work on the lorry he’s Down, Out and rather awkwardly blocking access to the lorry driving seat. Next is Peculiari and the malign effect of the drawn cards continues. He also fails a Peril and Health check and is Down. The Primus Genus draws a card which prevents him from moving. Will this torture never end…? The only one left to move is the Summus. He at least gets a No Effect card.

Recovery. All the surviving Morris side are at full Health. The Peculiari is successful and gets up but that success is vastly overshadowed by the failure of the Princeps who stays Down and is now Out. When The Summus also fails to recover any Health, it’s obvious that the joint cultist teams cannot win. They have the Primus in good shape, the Peculiari just about upright and not very powerful even at full strength and a weakened Summus. And that’s it. They’ve lost Ephraim and the lorry. It’s time to…..
Run Away…..!

Meanwhile, unnoticed by everyone, a free and relaxed Ephraim leaves the Inn by the front door and plays a merry jig on his accordion. The work of the Grey League of Morris is, for today at least, done.

Ehphraim tastes freedom and finds it to his liking

As the men and woman of the Grey League gather to assess the days events, tend to their wounds and prepare to return to their secret base, events in the wider world threaten to engulf Borsetshire as the rivals in the ongoing civil war cast covetous eyes over this so far untroubled county.

The Caper – The Game (continued)

Here is the board; quite simple but with enough visual appeal to keep me playing. Sir Rufus and minions have arrived near the circle and have parked their vehicles inconsiderately blocking the main Much Rampling to Nether Winslet Road. They are about to take the footpath through the fields on to the moor and up to the circle. Who knows what awaits?

The 4 black counters on the table are plot points and will move randomly each turn. Along the bottom edge are the two leagues.


Looking from the end Sir Rufus arrives from towards the stone circle. The soon-to-be participants are lined up on their character cards on the right of the table.


The cultists, resplendent in their standard issue, cultist purple robes, head towards the stone circle

At the opposite end of the table, Sir Rufus` group has the same intention

Wandering about the moor are various innocent bystanders including morris man `Ephraim Hardstanding. He is unlucky enough to fall in with Summus Bellator Adiutor who decides to take him hostage. Ephraim, impressed by the sub-machine gun, complies.

Another wanderer on the moor is Tilbury Pigeon, the leader of the Morris side. He is not a violent man but recent events have tested him to the limit. so when 2 cultists make separate attempts to capture or injure him, he resists most effectively. Both cultists are battered senseless by repeated blows from Tilbury`s bladder-on-a-stick. Then, incandescent with rage, Tilbury stalks off in search of more victims.

Both sides advance towards the stone circle but first to arrive is Lady Ferocity. She spots the Throppets Hentilaget, the object of the search and thoughtfully placed in a barrel, on the opposite side of the circle.

More members of Sir Rufus group, including the man himself and Sinbad the Afghan hound, arrive in the circle. Sir Rufus is ready to use his Mk3 bristling moustache if any nonsense occurs. No sooner has the thought crossed his mind when nonsense does occur. Some sort of damn fool magic sort of nonsense, easily warded off by the moustache. At least thats Sir Rufus opinion and that`sg what counts.

Tilbury Pigeon, still blind with fury, spots another adversary and advances upon him. Actually, it’s Sir Rufus’ butler, Wrench and he is sort of on Tilbury’s side. However, the manic Morris man is in no mood for making nice distinctions and launches an unprovoked and violent assault on the unfortunate Wrench who, beaten repeatedly by the bladder-on-a-stick, is rendered unconscious.

Emboldened by his success, Tilbury makes a threatening move towards Lady Ferocity; a decision most sensible people would consider reckless and foolish; Tilbury is in a reckless and foolish frame of mind. Her Ladyship had noticed that he was somewhat overwrought and had assaulted Wrench so she seeks to calm him down first “Stand still and surrender you silly little man” she commands in a voice which has been trained to carry great distances. This has the effect of terrifying Tilbury into swinging his bladder more wildly than ever. The end of the stick catches her ladyship in the eye and she falls to her knees. In game terms, she takes a Hit and fails her Health roll. She is reduced to D6 Health.

The end of the turn sees Sir Rufus standing bristling in front of the Major Plot Point, supported by the ever faithful Stirrup; Lady Ferocity confronting Tilbury Pigeon and Esmerelda wandering pointlessly round the circle.

The cultists are everywhere in retreat or down and Sir Rufus has the main objective.. Here he is, gazing like a constipated warthog, at the magnificent prize, The Throppets Hentilaget……

 Meanwhile Lady Ferocity attempts to pacify Tilbury again “if you don’t come to heel immediately I’ll horse-whip you” is her chosen gambit, drawing on her experience as a stress counsellor. This gains Tilbury’s attention (in game terms, she passes the random challenge). Tilbury hastens to obey but in doing so, trips and, to coin a phrase, “measures his length” at her feet. She recoils involuntarily, also trips and sits down heavily and painfully but with no lasting damage 

;D

The securing of the hentilaget and the retreat ofvthe cultists marks the end of the game.

Summary: 
Sir Rufus’ group:
Plot Points Secured – Major
Casualties (Down & Out) – Esmerelda; Sinbad; Smallbottom; Wrench

Cultists
Plot Points Secured – 1x Minor (Ephraim Hardstanding)
Casualties (Down & Out) – Rodney; John; Martin

Down & Out Characters will not be available next time these Leagues are in action but will recover.
Other casualties from both sides recovered at the end of the game.

Three Minor Plot Points were not secured by either side. They were:
Mysterious Stranger
Tilbury Pigeon
Stupefaction Queeg

These may appear again

As a result of the successful taking of the Throppets Hentilaget by Sir Rufus, the imminent defeat of the Cult of the Worried Throppet is confidently anticipated by the citizens of Much Rampling and the surrounding villages of Nether Winslett and Blanchett-cum-Hither. 

Regarding Ephraim Hardstanding and his abduction by the Cultists, forces other than Sir Rufus and his local helpers are already aware of this outrage and action is expected in the near future…….

The Caper – The Game

Right, down to serious business; let’s not forget there’s a game to be played here. 

First, Sir Rufus’ League:

I’ve played a little fast and loose with the strict Pulp Alley rules here. However, since it’s a solo game, I think that’s acceptable. So, there’s two sidekicks and I’ve invented a none-standard ability for the Afghan Hounds. As well as being an unofficial addition to the rules, it also contravenes the rule which states that followers can only have 1 ability.

This is Afghan Peril and reflects some of the breeds notable characteristics. It’s effect may be beneficial or detrimental to the League the dog is part of and mainly concerns the controllability (or lack of) of the dog. More on that as the game gets under way.

Next the cultists’ League.

THE CAPER part 3

Sir Rufus has assembled his band of cult hunters (be careful how you say that). In the photo below, we see them leaving The Manor at Much Rampling (the ancestral home of the Pitt-Bulstrodes) on their way to deal with the cultist outrage. In the foreground, Sir Rufus is flanked by his Afghan Hounds Esmerelda Golightly VII and Sinbad Restitution II. Afghans Hounds have three qualities: they are affectionate, they are beautiful and they can run like the wind. When it comes to intelligence and obedience, they are less blessed. Although they have “command” names (Sin and Smel) once they start running they are oblivious to command. However, they are amongst the very few animals that have a hope of catching a running Throppet, albeit over very short distances.

Behind Sir Rufus is his butler Wrench, conveniently armed with a Lewis gun and next to him, Sir Rufus’ wife, Lady Ferocity Pitt-Bulstrode. Behind her is Sir Rufus’ nephew’s man, Stirrup. He favours a Thompson sub-machine gun. Finally, PC Roland Smallbottom appropriately brings up the rear. On the balcony of The Manor, Persistence Pitt-Bulstrode (one of Sir Rufus’ daughters – he can never remember how many he has got) waves a fond farewell as, yet again, her parents depart, armed and highly dangerous.

Interlude – on Throppet Lore

At this point I feel it may be valuable to enlighten readers on some aspects of Throppet lore with particular reference to some of the most informative publications on the subject. Reference is also made to some of the more “popular” works. I am grateful to Mad Lord Snapcase for his work in drawing together this information. Lord Snapcase is a well known, but reclusive, polymath and his work in other spheres may be found here: http://madlordsnapcase.blogspot.com/

Abridged Version of Recent Exchanges on the Subject of the Throppet:

SNAPCASE

As a distinguished member of the Ancient Order of the Quaking Snark, I have access to that rare volume, ‘Doctrina et Ritus Autem Throppetus-Exercitus’, which gives many insights into the lore of Throppet Worrying and how to proceed against these dangerous creatures!

MYSELF

I am very jealous that you have a copy of the ‘Doctrina’. Although many of its assumptions have been exploded by modern research, it is still the first work to consult for anyone conducting serious Throppet research. For a more conversational approach in the modern style, may I recommend the engaging (if occasionally flippant) ‘Throppets – Gotta Lurve ‘Em’ by Katie Price and the somewhat turgid late nineteenth century volume ‘With Gun and Mule, an Examination of the Throppet Legend’ by St John Probity Foulenough (foreword by Miss Gertrude Hiss). Many other works, of varying utility, are available….

SNAPCASE

Well, of course the Doctrina does hold to the old theory that Throppets are best worried by poking their giglets with a very sharp stick. As science has now revealed in Dr. Rupert Startling-Grope’s seminal and ground-breaking work ‘Give It To Them In The Clackers’, they are best worried by using a cattle-prod on their clackers, as the title indicates.
I can recommend ‘Travels in the Back Passage’ by G. Cecil Chinstrap. Chinstrap is somewhat shaky on the geography of Throppetania but is very solid on the facts when discussing their politics and religion. Katie Price’s volume, I have to say remains a closed book to me!
Of course, in the vein of Throppet fiction, Captain W. E. Johns cannot be bettered.

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VAGABOND

I’ve searched my library of Biggles books because I was sure I had a copy of ‘Biggles Worries a Throppet’ from my childhood, but I can’t find it. Maybe the Dewey System has let me down, or Rotherham Library sent a Snatch Squad to reclaim their lost volumes.
Amazon have a leather-bound copy for £532.32 plus postage which I’ve placed on order.
I cannot find a copy of any of the books you refer to on Throppet Law for sale anywhere, although I thought I was close with the Gun and Mule volume that was referred to, but it turned out to be ‘Travels with a Donkey’ by R. L. Stevenson, a complete red herring. It seems I shall be at a very severe disadvantage with my lack of Throppet Law and Behavioural Practices in the coming tussle, something I shall have to overcome with my trusty old blunderbuss Bess, that is if Throppets don’t eat blunderbusses for breakfast, or maybe high tea.

SNAPCASE

I understand from my sources that there is a secret snatch-squad of Throppet sympathisers travelling around the country stealing all Throppet-related material in a bid to redact all knowledge and lore of these mysterious creatures. All maps of Throppetania (such as they were) have disappeared from the British Library recently. It does feel like some portentous event is about to take place and our ability to fight back is seriously threatened!
Sales of cattle-prods have trebled in the last month, so obviously even the general public understand the gravity of the situation. We in the Ancient Order of the Quaking Snark are at DEFCON2.
On the news this morning, I hear that Dr. Rupert Startling-Grope (author of ‘Give It To Them In The Clackers’ and Throppet expert) has mysteriously disappeared from his office in Railway Cuttings, East Cheam.
Something is definitely afoot!
Pip, pip,
Snapcase
(Grand Poobah of the Ancient Order of the Quaking Snark and High Muffler of the Flange and Trunion Club).

MYSELF

Vagabond – forgive me if I draw your attention to a minor error in your previous notes. What we are currently discussing is Throppet Lore. Throppet Law is an altogether different matter and frankly, should you ever find yourself subject to it, you are already doomed…
You are not the first to be caught out by the Stevenson book and you certainly will not be the last.
Snapcase, you raise some pertinent, nay, disturbing issues. It is time for caution to translate into action…!
My contacts have told me that The Cult of the Worried Throppet are inflamed by the fresh interest in the disastrous work of that infamous charlatan Rasputin Wilson (he who claimed to have raised a number of Throppets in captivity). The recent publication of a book which once again denounced this fraud (‘The Seven Throppets of Wilson’ by Lawrence of Belgravia) has reignited interest in all things Throppet, to the dismay and fury of The Cult…..There is a whirlwind approaching which threatens to engulf us all. The safety of mankind currently rests in the liver-spotted hands of Sir Rufus Pitt-Bulstrode.

SNAPCASE (postscript)

I have discovered (or rather Old Scrotum, the wrinkled family retainer found for me) in a rather dusty part of the Library at Snapcase Hall, some of the valuable and rare tomes referred to earlier.

 

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The Caper Part 2

B8C5DA77-BF4B-42E8-88A4-76642A267691Things are starting to move. PC Roland Smallbottom has had a somewhat peremptory summons from Sir Rufus:
“Get over to The Hall right away, Smallbottom. There’s devilry to deal with. And don’t forget to bring your damned truncheon this time!”

PC Smallbottom hastens to comply but not before sprucing himself up. Indeed, he has been so vigorous in his sprucing that he appears to have polished his uniform as well as his boots.

Above, we see Smallbottom leaving the Much Rampling Police-house on his way to the rendezvous.

 

 

 

The Throppet Hentilagets Caper

Sir Rufus Pitt-Bulstrode, Squire of Much Rampling in Borsetshire and Lord Lieutenant of that county, had just moved to the toast and marmalade stage of his extensive breakfast when he noticed that his nephew’s man, Stirrup, had entered the room and was conversing discreetly with Wrench, Sir Rufus’ butler.

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“For Gods sake man” Sir Rufus bellowed, “Say what you’ve got to say. Does it concern me?”

Sir Rufus, a choleric man at the best of times, did not take kindly to interruptions at breakfast. He reached for the decanter, poured himself a generous malt and sat back.

“Well..! What is it?”

“Sir Rufus”, said Stirrup “Mr Tilbury Pigeon is without.”

“Eh..? What..? Without what…? Oh I see, yes of course. Pigeon..? Isn’t he the tinkling balls man?”

“With respect, Sir,” interjected Wrench “I believe you mean tinkling bells. Sir.”

“I know what I mean, dammit” muttered Sir Rufus grimly “What the devil does he want at breakfast time?”, he added.

“Sir” said Stirrup “Mr Pigeon appears somewhat agitated and requests an urgent interview.”

“Very well”, sighed Sir Rufus. “There’ll be no peace until I’ve seen him. Show him into my study. Offer him refreshments. I imagine he drinks tea. We must have some in the house, eh..?”

And so Tilbury Pigeon, leader of the Much Rampling Morris side, found himself in the disconcerting company of Sir Rufus. Overcoming his understandable nervousness, he poured out his tale of woe.

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The Morris men were at The Stone Circle, practicing for the mid-summer Much Rampling Churl Baiting and Produce show (Churl Baiting was no longer part of the show, being restricted in modern times to only a few of the less liberal parts of Yorkshire. However, that was no reason to change the name of the show from what it had been time out of mind). As was their custom, the Morris men practiced at dead of night. They claimed this was to keep their routine secret until the performance at the show and who are we to contradict them?
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It was a full moon; the weather was warm and fine and the dancing was proceeding splendidly when a low, unearthly moan, succeeded by a series of high-pitched shrieks shattered the night’s calm. The dancing stopped. Fear was instantly every dancer’s companion and, at the precise moment when Ben Trellis turned to Walter Flange and began:

“Walter, that was a Th……!”, two fully grown Throppets raced out from the moonshadows, circled the dancers three times at supernatural speed and disappeared behind the stones.

 

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Walter Flange fainted clean away as did several other members of the side and Ben, his voice uncertain and unsteady said “Four times means Death…..!”

“Aye, said old Ephraim Hardstanding, and three times is mild rheumatism and asmall pustule so don’t ‘ee go wellekin like old women.” Ephraim’s calming (and, indeed, contemptuous) words settled the nerves of the Morris men and they were all congratulating themselves on their steadfastness when Walter, having regained consciousness, let out an unearthly shriek and with hand trembling and eyes wide in terror, pointed to the edge of the circle. Everyone turned that way and instantly all steadfastness vanished. To a man, the dancers took to their heels and fled in all directions.

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RUNAWAY….!

“And so, Sir Rufus, that is why you see me here”, concluded Tilbury. “I ran as fast and as long as I could and when I regained my wits , I knew I had to come straight here.”

Sir Rufus was no towering genius but he knew instinctively when to offer tea and when to offer brandy. After Tilbury had been fortified, he ended his account although Sir Rufus had already guessed what it would be. He made a determined effort to display suitable interest in Tilbury’s excitable denouement but the most calculating part of Sir Rufus’ brain was examining mental lists of available weapons and ammunition. As has been said, he was no genius but when it came to weapons and ammunition, he was without equal – well certainly not in Much Rampling at least.

Tilbury had still not finished his tale but Sir Rufus had heard enough and interrupted unceremoniously.

“Yes; yes, I see, I see. You are telling me The Cult has returned.” Tilbury looked crestfallen to have had the climax of his account so rudely snatched from his grasp but Sir Rufus was beyond compassion. Brusquely he sent Tilbury home with gruff expressions of thanks and reassurance and then he sank back into his huge leather armchair, lit his pipe and began to construct a plan of campaign.

“Well, well. The Throppeteers had returned had they? This time I’ll settle their hash once and for all. Hooded cultists in Borsetshire? NEVER….!