Prologue: Digging in the Dark
Midnight, in a field near Florence. 15?? AD: The pale light of sheltered torches threw eerie shadows of those assembled. The effect was bizarre and unnerving. Loose folds of their robs covered the faces, making identification difficult. Yet a close inspection of their eyes revealed the sense of danger which gripped them. And they had good reason to be afraid too. It was not every day that one got to make midnight visits to the middle of a chosen field of battle in the dark of the night. And a trip to dig a ditch at midnight was beyond their wildest nightmares. But General Sejanus 'The Black' had insisted on their going; he had even sent two of his bodyguards to ensure that the task was accomplished to his satisfaction.
A few more yards of digging and they were through. The torch bearer held his torch high and inspected the ditch which was several yards long and several feet deep. The man was clearly one of the bodyguards, his face had that chiseled and hardened look. Satisfied with what he saw he nodded at the relieved workers. "Sejanus will be pleased indeed. Get your tools together. It's time we headed back to the camp."
Ahhh, the Ditch. It appears that the divine presence of his honour the Bishop" the General gave a curt bow in the direction of his cousin, "has caused the Earth to shatter and crack to provide us with an unexpected advantage
The Divine Ditch
Sometime after midnight, Camp of Sejanus The Black, near Florence. 15?? AD: Sejanus the Black ushered his commanders into his tent, the expression on his face as grave as ever. He nodded at all of them but one; the object of his displeasure was his own cousin. The Church Council had insisted that one of their men be present at the war councils. Owing to his blood relation to Sejanus it fell upon Bishop Moronius to undertake such duties. All he and Sejanus had in common was their shared heritage, for the Bishop was a military nobody and was known to be 'rather slow on the uptake'. Sejanus silently thanked God for his other commanders. These were reliable men who could be trusted with any tasks.
"Men of St. john" The General began. "As you know the Italians are marching to the field under the guidance of Manoj Casiano, our friend of old. As far as I can see, the man changed only in name. He still plans his battles and campaigns just like he used to before he lost to us at Daria. This makes it rather easy for me to plan for tomorrow. I wager fifty coins that Manoj Casiano will put all his cavalry on our right - facing our hill"
"This means that we will mostly be looking down upon the Italian Famiglia and the Elmeti from the hill. Therefore" he turned to look at one of his men, "I require you, Lord Blackhouse, to put your guns on top of the hill and keep them ready to fire at the earliest". Blackhouse nodded. Artillery on the hill was something he knew and understood.
"I will personally lead our Knights and arquebusiers from near the hill. We will abandon the left flank lest the Italians try to pull any quick moves on us there. Let the horse archers stand guard there with any skirmishers who can be spared. Besides, we do not have enough commanders to go around". At this last remark, all heads turned towards Bishop Moronius. The Bishop completely missed the sarcasm of the looks and was surprised to see so much attention suddenly focused on him.
The Bishop addressed himself to the General. "Lord Sejanus, may I offer my humble services to lead the centre? I daresay that I can be of use with the Arquebusiers and crossbowmen". Sejanus was expecting this. He pretended to think for a while and then accepted. "Your honour would do well to guard the Artillery with some arquebusiers; I recommend that you deploy your men behind the ditch"
"The Ditch?" Asked Moronius with surprise. Many brows furrowed at this; the Bishop was not the only one surprised to hear about an unknown ditch. The field had been inspected thoroughly by the men earlier that day and was noted for being exceptionally even.
"Ah, the Ditch" said Sejanus with a straight face, "It appears that the divine presence of his honour the Bishop" the General gave a curt bow in the direction of his cousin, "has caused the Earth to shatter and crack to provide us with an unexpected advantage"
All but the Bishop and Sejanus fell about laughing. Sejanus maintained a straight face; the Bishop was greatly puzzled. On that note, the party broke up for the night. One by one the commanders filed out still chuckling over the the "divine ditch".
The General and The Scribe
Early Morning, Camp of Manoj Casiano, near Florence. 15?? AD: Manoj Casiano looked at the civilian sitting nearby. The man was a literate priest recruited by Manoj for taking down his plans and orders. Ever since his defeat at Daria (he was loyal to the Teutons then) the General had made it a point to keep records of his thoughts and convey his orders in writing to his commanders. "Father Goldoni, can we start?"
The priest nodded "yes, Senor General"
"Write, 'To Duke Antonio, commander from Florence'. 'Your are hereby ordered to put your best troops in the centre of the battlefield; This would include of course, those guns which you have hired from Milan, and your own arquebusiers and halberdiers. You and your men should proceed to get the guns ready in time for action to begin. I expect you to make sufficient use of the arquebusiers to cover your guns'"
The cleric scribbled furiously.
"Start a fresh scroll 'To Duke Fabrisio, commander from Naples. You are expected to hold our left till such time as necessary; Pray take some of the Elmeti and all the Stradiots to shore up your lines. Have a second line of Pikemen. See to it that you find the appropriate use for the mounted archers'"
"This, is for Manoj Casiano" The General had a habit if referring to himself in third person when dictating "'You shall put the bravest and the best in the right; Have some Elmeti back up the Famiglia. Guard the flanks of your advance with muskets, let the swordsmen stay behind as a last resort. Together, you shall proceed to force the enemy's left against the forest and smash him then and there'"
A few minutes later, two rolls of parchment made their way out of the tent in the hands of swift couriers. The Italians were ready for battle.
Tiiime, is one my Siiide...
Mid to Late Morning, in a field near Florence. 15?? AD: Blaring trumpets and rising clouds of red dust proclaimed the arrival of hundreds of soldiers, mercenaries and the few civilians to the battlefield. The St. John army looked as if they had crowded themselves into a corner, while the Italians were spread out right across the length of the field. First sight of the foe came as a surprise to both the protagonists. Sejanus was relieved in a way. The soldiers facing his best troops numbered but a third of the entire enemy army. If he could smash them rapidly, the battle would be his.
Unlike Sejanus, Manoj Casiano was not encouraged by the sight of the battlefield. More than two thirds of his troops faced open ground devoid of any life save a stray farmer or two who had gathered to watch the battle. His own command was far from the enemy and would have to walk a long distance before they could even engage. If Sejanus's right arm reached his left before his own right reached theirs, the battle would end in disaster. Manoj and his Italians needed more time. Time and speed.
Suddenly, shouts were heard. Duke Antonio and his men were arriving on the field. To Manoj's horror, the enthusiastic civilians had towed his precious guns halfway up the steep hill and on the wrong side! There was little he could do about the guns now. "Curse the wretched Milanese!" The General pointed his finger at Antonio and his guns and barked a quick order to the priest. "Ask them to get off the hill. Now!"
The Grand Race
Sejanus wasted little time in putting his plan into action. Orders were repeated across to all units by 'shouters' posted at intervals. On the St. Johns' right, the Brethren began to head straight for the Italians. On the right, the horse archers and the skirmishers raced ahead. Theirs was not to fight but to delay the enemy when he got near. From the look of it, such an event seemed a long time away.
Duke Fabrisio, commanding the Italian left took things easy. While Manoj fretted and fumed Fabrisio remained content to watch the enemy advance. He did not seem worried at all. At length, a messenger from Manoj reached him with a message "Lord Casiano humbly requests that the Honourable Fabrisio move his troops ahead to delay the enemy". The message seemed to annoy Fabrisio. With great reluctance he ordered his cavalry to wheel left, thereby facing their flanks away from the oncoming enemy. The messenger took note and rode off.
Duke Antonio in the centre was far more receptive to the Manoj's message than his compatriot. He nodded his agreement, and ordered the Milanese to limber the guns. That done, he turned to address the messenger. "My regards to Lord Casiano. Inform him that the guns have started rolling downhill"
Both the messages dispatched, Manoj began to move his own Command ahead. All this business of having to send messages for every little thing was making him angry. "Fabrisio and Antonio had better do what they are told!" Ahead of Manoj, the Famiglia and the Elmeti got their orders and began a slow advance. The heavy plate was encumbering the men more than expected. To his impatient eyes, they seemed to take an eternity to advance a few yards.
Time flew. Sejanus's Brethren quickly reached half way across the field and halted to form up. The field was quiet for a brief moment.
Tell that man that if his Noble Head is not seen moving ahead in five minutes I'll personally chop it off! There! No compliments this time.
It was a while later that Manoj Casiano found time to analyse the situation again. He found to his shock that Fabrisio and his men were still where they stood! He summoned his courier in a frenzy. "Tell that man that if his Noble Head is not seen moving ahead in five minutes I'll personally chop it off!" There! No compliments this time. The messenger hurried to deliver the message. In his mind, he did not have the slightest doubt about what the Commander in Chief would do if the message was delayed.
The orders reached Duke Fabrisio in time. Fabrisio's jaw dropped when the message was read out. His face turned crimson from the insult. Nevertheless, he stiffly gave the necessary orders "You there! Shake a leg! Advance right ahead, you lazy fools!" The troops were surprised at the tone of the voice, which was in fact meant for Manoj Casiano. They shrugged, and stirred the horses ahead. The Elmeti and the Stradiots soon drew level with the St Johns Brethren. They nervously faced each other. The unspoken question lingered: Who would charge first?
Sejanus took it upon himself to answer it. He ordered the Brethren to charge.
The Brethren obeyed with enthusiasm. Anything was better than idly facing the enemy. Hooves thundering, they collided head on with the Italian horsemen.
Across the field, Manoj cursed profanely at the sight of the charge. "Mama mia! Why did this have to happen now?"
But the melee was on; it could not be stopped now until one side broke and gave up. All heads turned to watch the stunning events as they unfolded in rapid succession.
The Results of the Charge
The response to the charge varied. The Italian horse archers fled at first sight of the fierce Brethren heading towards them. They retreated a safe distance, and turned to watch their compatriots stand and meet the onslaught.
As expected, the Italian Elmeti stayed and fought on. They braved the lances of the Brethren to reach closer and thrust their own weapons to deadly effect. But despite their best efforts, the Elmeti could not contain the fury of their aggressors. They broke and took flight, chased all the way by the brethren. The chase did not last long. Deprived of capable leadership and broken in spirit the Elmeti succumbed to the rigours of the chase. They routed and dispersed.
Opposition for the Brethren came from unexpected quarters - the Stradiots! Under the leadership of a rather brave young native of Florence, the Stradiots put up a fierce display of melee skills. Taken by shock, their attackers gave ground and retreated. Fabrisio tried to hold them, but the Stradiots went after their enemy with a vengeance. The Stradiots repeatedly pushed back the Brethren until Sejanus himself came forth to rally his men. The combatants were soon locked in a furious fight and neither side showed any signs of giving up.
What would have happened if the fight raged on remains a theoretical debate. For at that precise moment fate intervened in the form of Bishop Moronius. Having been sidelined for long, the Honourable Servant of The Lord had chosen to make a mark of his own. Deciding that the artillery could look after itself, he advanced his arquebusiers right up to where the melee raged. They reached shot range just in time for Sejanus to decide the melee. Sejanus saw the arquebusiers approach with relief. He ordered them to fire.
Fire belched from a hundred guns as the eager soldiers obeyed instantly. After a few hours under the Bishop, the men were ready to do anything for Sejanus! When the smoke cleared, only a lucky few were left standing in the Stradiot ranks. The fury that held them seemed to vaporize with the arrival of musket balls. Those left of the Stradiots quickly scattered. The melee was won.
The Charge of the Skirmishers
The Italian horse archers watched from a distance as cheer after cheer went up from the St Johns side when the melee was decided. The more they watched it, the more their frustration grew. Lightly armed, there was nothing they could do to help in a frontal melee. A frontal melee. But an enemy offering an unprotected flank was an entirely different matter altogether.
Right to their front stood the celebrating brethren, unaware that the horse archers path lead straight to their open flank. The leader of the horse archers looked at Duke Fabrisio for orders. Fabrisio followed the mans gaze, and saw what he meant. He nodded grimly. And of went the skirmish cavalry! They galloped all the way, past other troops, past fleeing Stradiots and Elmeti, surprising all who watched with their speed and daring. Then they smashed into the Brethren.
The gaiety of the men turned to shock in an instant. Abandoning all bravado, the Brethren fled from mortal fear. They did not stop until they had ascended the hill, such was their terror.
The Horse Archers gave a whoop of joy, for the first time in their lives, they had routed a mighty foe without melee. They did not pursue; the sight of the Stradiots getting cut down for their folly was still fresh in their minds. They turned to fall back ... and found themselves staring down at arquebuses propped up on supports. The long barrels mocked them. A cry of surprise went up. And then the light of life went out the eyes of the horse archers in a blinding flash.
Smoke on the Ground, Fire from the Guns
Far away from where his skirmish cavalry had fallen, Manoj Casiano stood immobile. He was in shock. He did not notice what happened around him. Duke Antonio's men had finally pushed their Guns down the hill. They were lobbing cannon balls across the expanse to the Brethren. The Halberdiers and Pikemen had dropped their weapons and were backing off. His own Famiglia and Swordsmen were waiting for orders...
Sejanus had advanced his guns down to the plains. His men were busily unlimbering them as the Arquebusiers wheeled to give way. The whole St. John army swelled forth in the urge to kill. Victory was inevitable.
At length, Manoj recovered. He had but one order, duly taken down by the loyal priest. "Retreat". The Italians had lost the battle.
The wily Florentines made peace with Sejanus his Knights. In return Florence gladly withdrew support for Manoj Casiano and supplanted him with a grateful Duke Fabrisio. Manoj was proving expensive anyway. Sejanus headed back to Sicily. Local legend has it that he is studying to become a priest.
Manoj Casiano disappeared, having gone into exile. It was rumoured that he had taken it upon himself to learn to read and write.
Duke Antonio continued in service of Naples. He was on man who neither benefited nor lost anything from this battle.
Bishop Moronius was greatly impressed with the Divine Ditch in spite of himself. He had the place declared as a Holy venue by the obliging Florentines. Pilgrims from Florence and nearby towns still make yearly trips to the place to celebrate what is locally known as 'The Year of the Holy Ditch'.
A typical fun battle played using Piquet/Band of Brothers rules. The armies used were Knights of St. John and Italian Condotta. Many thanks to Piqueteer Gonsalvo (aka Peter Anderson) for the army lists.
There is an interesting anecdote behind one of the scenes from the Report. Tired of Manoj's habit to deviate from pre planned tactics, Ravi (who was the game master) insisted that Manoj write down his orders and plans in advance. His troops would have to follow these to the word for two full initiatives and could only be changed if the situation really warranted a change of plans. This move was so effective and sensible that Manoj has decided to follow it in all his games!