All our Piquet - Band of Brothers battles have been fun; yet Al Kasba turned out to be one of the most entertaining battles which we have played. Sriram had come down from the US where he is studying, and Anand Mohan had managed to get a rare vacation. To the satisfaction of the players and the audience, the battle turned out to be time well spent. Thanks again to Gonsalvo (aka Peter Anderson) whose simplified army lists we used for the game. Thanks to Ravi Mohan and Manoj E. Govindan for their help.
Prologue: Cypriot Quarrels
From the book "Brotherhood of the Holy Bolt: Legends" by Brother Irenicus: In the year of the Lord 1572, there raged the most bitter of quarrels in the Royal Household of Cypriot Knights, otherwise known as the knights of St. John. The King of the realm had grown old and the Crown commanders Theophasis and Anandos were fighting for the hand of the princess and therefore the Crown itself. In the end Theophasis won out and Brother Anandos lost his love and the all important battle of Al Kasba.
There is no denying that Brother Anandos was a brave and honourable man. But as any student of history would tell you, these qualities do not always translate into victory in the Battlefield.
At Camp Hosur
Brother Anandos scrolled through the parchment handed to him by the Royal Courier. He was inside his office with his aide de Camp and close Friend, Lord Rajes "the straight". Lord Rajes watched as the Commander in Chief of the Knights of St. John read through the message. Anandos's expressions kept changing as he read through, satisfaction giving way to apprehension and anger. When Anandos threw down the parchment with a grunt and started pacing the tent, Rajes knew that it was time to intervene. He signaled the courier to leave, and cleared his throat. "My Lord, Is all well in the Royal Household?"
Anandos stopped. "Blast the Royal Household! The Teutons are gathering in our borders, and the only thing they are concerned about is the well being of the Royal Relatives!"
Rajes sighed sympathetically. He knew that Lord Theophasis had been campaigning against Anandos in the courts of Cyprus. "But My Lord, are we not prepared to tackle the Teutonic marauders? We cannot but win under your wise guidance."
Anandos grumbled again. "It is not the army I am worried about, dear Rajes. I am worried about the command for the King insists that I take Theophasis along for the battle." Rajes was alarmed. Theophasis was a military dullard, better suited to tackling social battles than military ones. "If I may venture so", said Rajes with some hesitation, "Could you not inform the Princess and enlist her support to stop Theophasis from gaining command?"
Anandos went silent. After a few moments he replied "My dear Rajes, things are not well between the Princess and myself of late. To tell you the truth, I have begun to doubt the usefulness of staying on here, rather than seeking knowledge and glory outside the realm". It was Rajes's turn to be silent. The decision was not his to make.
Anandos continued "What has happened, has happened. I need your help in devising a plan to accommodate Theophasis in the army in such a way that he can cause the least damage". Rajes bowed. Summoning the guard, Anandos asked for a map of Al Kasba. There were more important things to worry about than the fancies of the Royal Household.
"Here is our plan for the battle. Rajes, yourself shall command the left wing. Take all the musketeers and some knights. The new Organ gun is worth a try, take it also. You shall advance past the Holy Rock and turn the flanks of the enemy. I'll be in the right wing with most of the knights, some heavy foot and the guns. Signal me when you have advanced sufficiently - I'll then begin my advance. We'll hold Theophasis, Damn Him!, with the rest of the foot in the centre. Make sure that he stays there and out of any trouble."
Rajes thought it over. Not a bad plan. All it remained was to execute it with precision. "May fortune bless us!"
Seekers of Knowledge
From the book "Brotherhood of the Holy Bolt: Legends" by Brother Irenicus: It would not be inappropriate to describe the people of the realm of St John as "makers of music". For several centuries until the Spaniards established themselves as the chief makers of the Guitarra, Cyprus was the chief exporter of quality musical instruments. While most invaders were drawn to Cyprus by a need to plunder riches, history can narrate the tales of a few invaders who came seeking the music of Cyprus.
Grand Meister Sriramius of Teuton was one such. Born in The Holy Roman Empire, he had migrated to Teuton seeking knowledge and fortune. Having gained considerable knowledge, he set forth on a campaign to fulfil a dream of his - to procure the best Guitarra in the world. Joined by adventurers of all kinds, Sriramius set forth with his trusted ally, Ozywas the Turk. Soon, the Teutonic army found itself in Al Kasba, the gateway to St John territory.
What was known only to Sriramius was that his finances were not in good shape. Even though procuring a Guitarra was his primary aim, any chance to plunder was very welcome.
Camp Lubboh, Al Kasba
Wherever he went, Sriramius insisted on naming his camp after his alma mater, the Cathedral of Lubboh. It was in such camp in Al Kasba, in a decorated tent that Ozywas the Turk found him one evening, seated deep in thought. Sriramius came out of his reprieve when he heard Ozywas enter. Without preamble, Sriramius questioned his friend about the looming battle. "Ozywas my friend, do you see any promises for the Teutons in Al Kasba?"
Ozywas was quick to reply. "My Lord friend, vain as I may sound, I foresee our men thrashing those miserable followers of St John. We are ready, our Knights are in high spirits, our gun powder is dry and well cared for, morale is high. All that remains is for your Lordship give us our orders"
Sriramius smiled. "Indeed, Ozywas. What you said is true. But it remains for us to channelise the valour of the men in the right direction. Look here" said Sriramius pointing at a crude map, "and tell me what is it that makes Al Kasba important?"
Ozywas did not hesitate to reply: "The Roads. The so called Holy Rock of Al Kasba dominates the approach to the hinterland". Sriramius grinned yet again. "Trust Ozywas to be prompt", he thought. "My orders to you, are simple enough. Seize and hold the Holy Rock. For therein lies our prize, our chief target". He continued "We will arrange the army in classical fashion. All our foot in the centre, with the knights in the wings. Skirmishers should be ready to advance to the hill and seize it at short notice. I'll command the left, yourself in the middle, we'll put Lord Berfisher in the Right." Sriramius ended with a flourish.
Ozywas was satisfied. The plan sounded good enough. He bowed and left the command tent. On his way out, something struck him - The plan ended with their seizing the Holy Rock. Automatically, he stopped in his tracks. "What happens after that?" He asked himself. Hesitantly, he turned back and retraced his steps to the command tent. But the oil lamps were already being extinguished - Sriramius was preparing to sleep. Reluctantly again, he forced his doubts away and turned back. He would need a good night's sleep. Better to leave the thinking to Sriramius.
The Armies deploy
The Sun rising above the hills and plains of Al Kasba revealed a commotion going on in the St John camp. Commander in Chief Anandos woke to the noise of soldiers murmuring outside his tent. Voices were raised, it appeared as if there was a crowd outside the tent. Coming out, Anandos found out that there was indeed a crowd of his men before the tent with Lord Rajes in the front, trying to control them. Seeing Anandos, the soldiers fell silent, and Lord Rajes drew him aside.
"What is going on here?!" demanded Anandos. Rajes seemed embarrassed "My Lord, it is the soldiers. They say that Lord Theophasis your ,er.., commander, takes bad luck with him wherever he goes. Those assigned to his command are the most vociferous; they want to be transferred". Anandos was surprised. He found the soldier's opinion of Theophasis amusing, and would have smiled had it not been for the gravity of the situation. But as it was, he could not allow such beliefs to affect the army. "Assemble the men as planned. I'll speak to them". Rajes nodded and left, but he had doubts. He wondered if the speech might only aggravate the situation.
Lord Rajes gave the orders to the various clan leaders. They had been told the plan the day before, and deployed quickly enough. The soldiers under Theophasis command obstinately stayed where they were, while his Lordship was nowhere to be seen. Rajes decided to go around and see for himself how the speech was coming along.
Up with the Cross!
From the book "Brotherhood of the Holy Bolt: Legends" by Brother Irenicus: Brother Anandos was not known to be a skillful orator. But on the fine morning of March 26 1572, He delivered a speech which was to be sung about for years to come. Given Anandos's past record of oratory many scholars doubt the origin of the speech. But experience has shown that men under extreme stress can deliver stellar performances in stage, battle or elsewhere. In any event, the speech excited the army, who praised the name of St. Crispin and fought like they were all heroes.
Men of St John! We are here to fight and to win! I swear before all of you in the name of St. Crispin - if that fool Theophasis makes so much as a move to wreck my plan, I'll personally chop off his head, Royal orders or not!
The Teutons Have it
Grand Meister Sriramius was busy with the deployment of his army. His forward scouts brought the news of Anandos making a speech, but he dismissed it as irrelevant. He was more worried about protecting his camp than about the speech even though the camp was flanked by the woods. To add to his woes, an old battle wound in his leg throbbed, making it difficult to ride or walk. Irritated by his leg, Sriramius summoned a litter. Soon, the Teutonic army formed up, their commander directing them from his litter.
Even while Anandos was giving his speech, Sriramius gave orders for his men to advance. The Knights on either side of the army moved out, wheeling to protect their flanks. The steel clad Knights found it hard to wheel unlike their mounted crossbow escorts. Ozywas the Turk, with the centre command, was having a hard time putting his troops in order. Most troublesome were some of the coastal levies whom they had enlisted en route. These men were getting nervous at the sight of all the steel around them, and Ozywas had to cajole, coax and threaten them to get to stay put. "Ya Allah! If keeping calm is so much of a problem for these idiots, what would they fight like?" He hoped that things wouldn't come to that.
On the Teutonic right flank, Lord Berfisher stood atop a makeshift platform and studied the Holy Rock hill before him. Skirmishers, followed by their only artillery piece were ready to move and awaiting his signal. Berfisher waved at them, and five hundred skirmishers began marching in an orderly column towards the hill. Behind them, the gun moved forward, its wheels creaking with the weight. Everything was going according to plan. Forgotten in the heat of the moment, the Brethren Knights and and the Sergeants supposed to escort the gun waited and chatted with each other. Issuing orders was Lord Berfisher's problem, not theirs.
After a while, Lord Berfisher realised his mistake. But not before something interesting happened. The skirmishers, advancing rapidly along the road soon found out that they had no flank cover. Orders were to wait at the bottom of the hill, but the officer in charge lost his cool. "Men," he shouted " change in orders - advance to the hill! Now!" The men were surprised but did as they were told. All in all, the Teutons reached the hill earlier than they expected to. Lord Berfisher was surprised, but kept quiet. Better to have the CinC see the skirmishers in place earlier than learn that he had delayed orders.
Soon, the Brethren Knights and the Sergeants had advanced to near the pool.
Even as the Teutons advanced, the Knights of St. John waited. Brother Anandos had just finished giving his speech, and the senior officers were busy congratulating him for the brilliant speech while the rankers chatted about the speech. Finally, Anandos realised that the enemy were moving, and dashed off to his steed. Hardly had he mounted it when a voice urged him to stop. It was Lord Theophasis. Anandos halted and waited. "Dear Anandos, my man! I can see that your speech has done the troops well. Unfortunately though, I couldn't hear parts of it after you said my name - all this cheering, you see. Perhaps you would care to enlighten me?"
Anandos was irritated. "My Lord Theophasis, all I said was that we are here to win, and that nothing would stop us from attaining victory this day. Of course, I mentioned your name in passing, for I know how useful you can be in a crisis. Now if you'll excuse me, my troops wait". Anandos spurred his horse away, cursing Theophasis. Their exchange had taken up a good few minutes, and the army was waiting for orders.
Reaching his pre planned position, Anandos drew his musket and was about to fire it in the air as a signal to advance when he heard his name called again. Lord Theophasis had followed him, and was shouting at him. Outraged, Anandos leveled the musket and pointed it at Theophasis. "By St John , Theophasis, can't you leave me alone?"
Theophasis looked offended. "You hurt me, My Lord. All I want is to seek a clarification about the speech. If you had said my name in passing, why such a cheer from the soldiers after you said it?" By this time, Anandos shouted his answer "To hell with the speech Theophasis! I told the troops that I would kill you if you tread my path - don't force me to do it right now. Your Lordship's body would look gross with a musket ball through the head".
Having said that, Anandos left an open mouthed Theophasis behind and fired the musket in the air. "Advance!"
The Cypriots catch up
Upon receiving the signal, St Johns advanced fast. Under the command of Rajes, the St Johns' left wing marched straight ahead, unmindful of the fierce Teutonic Brethren and Sergeants facing them. They hailed St. Crispin, and were soon within extreme musket range of the Teutonic knights. Lord Rajes struggled to keep his command in formation. To add to the trouble, the wheels of the organ gun had jammed, and was lagging behind as the civilian keepers tended to it.
Leaving the Organ gun behind, Rajes advanced to the front. His command faced the most ferocious of Teutonic Knights, but thankfully his troops were in good spirits and had saved their fire until now. After a moment's deliberation, Rajes gave a curt order: "Advance!". The musketeers strode forward, now within point blank range of the Knights and planted their gun rests in the ground....
The whole Teutonic command watched bewildered as the musketeers advanced. Lord Berfisher had seen them advancing earlier, but could not believe his eyes when he saw them march at the double almost into the front rank of his Knights. He reacted quickly. The time for finesse was past, and there was but one option now. "Chaaaaaarrrrgeee!"
And Lord Rajes cooly responded with an order to his troops. "Steady..., Fire!"
All the Muskets in all the three units fired simultaneously, something of a rarity in a battlefield. The fire was deadly, and the results catastrophic. With an accuracy unheard of in musketry, the volleys cut through the mail, plate and bard, felling men and horse alike. The worst hit were the Brethren Knights. What had begun as a charge became a massacre and the unit was almost entirely destroyed. A handful of bleeding survivors fled in mortal terror, their Knightly valour forgotten. For once, the fearsome Knights had met their match.
The Sergeants were luckier, and managed to charge home despite heavy loses. The charge had lost some of its impetus, but was more than enough to cause severe damage to those on foot. For all the punch their muskets packed, the musketeers stood no chance once the riders contacted them. The charge broke a musketeer unit, and punched a hole in the firing lines through which the Sergeants pursued their fleeing foes. None of Lord Berfisher's frantic cries or orders reached them, and the pursuit raged behind the St John lines.
O' Sriramius, doth thou not see the blood and tears of our fallen? My blood boils at the thought of their fate; Pray order us to avenge our brothers in arms...
Theory: Chaos feeds itself
From the book "Brotherhood of the Holy Bolt: Legends" by Brother Irenicus: Eye witnesses of the war agree whole heartily upon one point - the St John musketeers were truly awesome on that day. The Brethren were completely destroyed, and it was years before the group could be replaced to its former valour. The rout and pursuit worked both against and for the Teutons. Sriramius's incomplete battle plans had forced the advance to grind to a halt after the skirmishers occupied the Holy Rock hill. When the other Knights heard of the Brethren's fate, they were enraged. They were spoiling for a fight, and Sriramius had twice stopped an advance by reaching their ranks and ordering them to stay put. The third time it happened, Sriramius failed to stop them and they began the charge which decided the battle. Momentum was regained, but cohesion and control had been lost at an inopportune moment.
Ozywas the Turk fared better than Sriramius. His command too surged forward when the Knights charged. But weighed down by heavy mail and deprived of any mounts the foot could not advance as far as the Knights did. It is said that Ozywas was forced to use all his skills and experience to regain control. The Levy frustrated him and almost withdrew. They finally decided to stay on the battle field after being told that their side was winning.
Revenge of the Teutonic Knights
If firepower had helped the St Johns earlier, it failed to do so again. The St John left flank lacked in mobile guns- all that was there were two artillery pieces which were ineffective at long ranges. When the Teutonic Knights advanced, Brother Anandos lost his cool and ordered his own command to advanced. He failed to take note of the fact that his men blocked the sight of one of the guns. Away in the left flank of the St Johns, Lord Rajes was desperately trying to contain the Teutonic Sergeants who had broken through. The Organ guns were still unlimbered, the frenzied Sergeants were reining in their horses and forming up to charge the Gun. He looked around to find support. Theophasis was not to be seen, and to his surprise he found that Anandos had advanced. "But that is NOT what we had planned" thought a dismayed Rajes. The flank of Theophasis's command now lay wide open.
Anandos barely got the time to arrange his troops in the way he wanted. His spearmen were in the centre, reinforced by Knights on either flank. He had but finished giving orders, when he heard it - the sound of hundreds of voices raised in anger, of galloping hooves hitting the ground, of metal hitting metal. The Teutonic Charge had begun. If he had looked carefully, he could have spotted the litter with a dismayed Sriramius inside, his hands raised in a signal, his shout lost in the tumult.
The Knights rammed home against each other. The mounted crossbow escorts of the Teutonic knights slammed against the Turcopoles accompanying the St Johns. Some knights hit the spearmen. In a moment, they were all in hard pitched melees. The Teutonic Knights out classed and out fought the Knights of St John - who were thrown back, pursued, charged again, and finally routed. The Turcopoles stood no chance against the mounted bowmen who fought with great valour, as if inspired by the Knights. Chasing the Turcopoles, they stopped only after hitting the St Johns camp. Lust for plunder replaced their lust for battle and there they stayed until the end of the battle.
The other unit of mounted bowmen were not so lucky though. In search of a quick kill, they rounded the Holy rock hill and charged Theophasis's command...
...and provided what was later described by the mocking enemy as "target practice" for the musketeers. In yet another display of "fireworks and smoke", the mounted crossbow men were cut down by musket balls and were forced to flee without completing their charge.
The Teutonic Knights were not entirely victorious though - the flower of Teutonic Chivalry got yet another unpleasant surprise that day when the one of the spear armed units inflicted heavy loses to them in melee. Confused and hurt, the Knights fled.
On and off, the fights raged. By this time all units save the guns and some spearmen of Anandos's command were either routing or destroyed; eventually, the Teutonic knights became visible to and in range of the Guns atop thimble hill. Flames sprouted from the guns, and the first volley went unnoticed by the Teutonic knights. Desperate now, the gunners aimed as best as they could, and fired again. Cannon balls rammed into rows of horse and man, many were cut down, many more fled in terror. According to one witness, fire power repeated the story all over again. But this time, there were enough of the Teutonic Knights left to flee, some even survived and managed to reach the base of thimble hill.
Lord Rajes managed to hold his command in control until the very end. The Organ gun had been lost to the charging Sergeants, who were still chasing the fleeing gunners. Ordering the musketeers to cover the approaches, he began to retreat the troops. The retreating musketeers fired a few shots at the Lord Berfisher's Gun without any effect. While the shots caused no damage, it did force Berfisher to stop his advance and unlimber the gun.
The end of the Battle
In a matter of minutes, months of planning and preparation came to an end. Teutonic might had carried the day. Both the armies were in disarray, and the commanders were more concerned with regaining control than chasing the enemy. Sriramius and Ozywas finally managed to get their commands together, while Lord Berfisher had to wait for days before the stragglers could be rounded up and re formed. Strangely enough for the St Johns, only Theophasis's command had managed to come out of the battle intact. Lord Theophasis made special mention of this in the Royal Court.
From the book "Brotherhood of the Holy Bolt: Legends" by Brother Irenicus: Brother Anandos was thrown out of the Royal court. A tearful Princess apologised to him and bid him adieu. A sad but determined Anandos was later spotted at the post of Al Kasba, he was last seen boarding a ship for Italy where he had procured a job in the gun makers smithies.
Lord Rajes lost his command, and left Cyprus. He is said to have take up residence with his brother in Spain. "I have decided to seek knowledge, my friend" he wrote to Anandos, "at whatever cost, from wherever it might be found". And Sriramius? He had found his Guitarra, and met his old friends. Plunder had not been bad either. Despite his success however, he chose not to spend a moment further than was necessary fighting the likes of Lord Theophasis. Within a few days, the doughty warrior was on his way back to the Cathedrals of Lubboh.