Journey back to the Middle Ages, when superstition, ignorance and a robust approach to hygiene hold sway over the isolated community of Bassethwaite, gripped in unnatural winter and civil strife. In Winter of Discontent, the Age of Reason is far in the future, and the Renaissance a mere glimmer in a visionary eye. Nobles, tradesfolk, guildsmen and of course the omnipresent peasants throng the streets in protest or cower within, fearing the end of the world may be at hand. Will the deathly chill ever end? Will St Kevin intercede to protect his beloved people? Will Sir Humphrey return from the Crusades to depose the wicked Sheriff of Basset? Will the lake thaw in time for the villagers' annual Ferret Rolling? Find out all this and more, as you take the role of a character in Winter of Discontent. And may God have mercy on your soul…
The sleepy town of Bassethwaite has nestled alongside Basset Lake since the earliest days of time, when giants walked the land (and carved the Wide Woman chalk figure still clearly visible on the heathland above the valley). The Romans came and went, leaving little mark on the locals' sleepy ways: the Normans have left even less. Lord of the manor Sir Humphrey de Basset is a light-handed master, and it seemed as though peace and contentment would be the lot of the Basset folk – until the Pope and the Kings of Christendom called their grand Crusade, and Sir Humphrey departed for the Holy Land to overthrow the proud Saracen.
Since then, things have gone to rack and ruin. Lady Gertrude is no kind of administrator, and has left matters to her Steward and to the Sheriff, Rickard FitzAlan, a tough and some say rather unfair taskmaster. The Sheriff, despite his despotic attempts at oppression, has proved entirely unable to halt the depredations of the notorious outlaw band led by 'Robin Wood', who plague Basset Forest and all folk of substance who would venture forth on the King's roads. The trade of Basset Abbey, a few miles outside the town on the heath road, has been particularly badly hit, although it is thought that this fabulously wealthy establishment can well afford the loss of a few gold-laden donkeys.
This year, though, has been the worst of all. The ice of winter still holds the valley in its deathlike grip, although here we are now at Easter – which this year coincides with Ostara, the old Pagan festival of the spring equinox. Father Crilly, priest at St Kevin's church, is organizing a prayer procession this very evening to request God's grace to remove the curse, involving the holy remains (long reputed to have healing powers) of the good saint himself – and no doubt those superstitious villagers who still cherish a fondness for the old Pagan ways will be active too. But whispers have it that all these salutary preparations may yet be overtaken by the hot breath of rebellion, with rebellious peasants rising up to strike against the Sheriff's tyrannical rule…
Violent death is already hard at hand – just two days since, the body of the tavernkeeper Anne Fillicks was found on the forest road, hewn down by a sword. There was no clue as to the identity or nature of the killer: the Sheriff has the body in cold storage pending further examination.
Even in these dread times, though, visitors still come to Bassethwaite from the warmth of the South. An envoy from the Pope, an Inquisitor no less, arrived the day before yesterday – Father Urbain Grandier, accompanied by his varlet. What his purpose is, none can say save he, yet surely all guilty folk should look to their consciences.
A visitor from yet further-flung fields arrived the same day – the Saracen Khaled El-Nasir, with his slave Zinnira, is here to trade in exotic spices and religious relics form the Holy Land. Although his people are at war with we goodly Christian folk, and indeed his swarthy skin suggests he be a very demonic figure but recently emerged from Hell, yet Basset folk are hospitable by nature and are making him welcome – even unto his cheeky pet monkey.
If the lake should by some miracle thaw, the tradition has it that at this time of year the folk of the town go a-Ferret Rolling. Nagel and Hobbs are the two rival captains, both seeking to recruit team members. All can take part no matter what size or shape, as long as they don't mind getting muddy (and, probably, nipped).
Bassethwaite is further blessed in the presence of its wise hermit woman, the anchoress Annora. From her cell in the wall of St Kevin's Church, she dispenses advice and prophecies to all who have mouths to ask or ears to hear. Some of her recent utterances, though, have verged on the disturbing:
What any of these may signify is anybody's guess, and as yet Father Crilly has been wary of declaring an official line on whether they are indeed Divinely inspired, as Annora claims.
Premiere: GenCon UK 2004
Subsequent run: Consequences 2012
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Last update: 17th September 2012