This is the third battle from our medieval campaign titled Crown of England. We played the campaign using Piquet/Theatre of War and the battle using modified Medieval Warfare rules.
Dear Robert ... have you not noticed that almost all men in our army have mules to ride now? I agree that the mules cannot charge like horses do, but they can get the men into tactical positions quickly, which is what we want
Prologue: Drills in Gamrie
"At the beat of the Drum! Turrrrn left!" "Boom..." "At the best of the Drum! Turrrrrn right!" "Boom..." The sharp shouts of the drill captain mingled with the dull boom of the drums which sounded after each command. He stood atop a tall platform made of logs erected for the express purpose of giving him a commanding view of the troops assembled. Accompanying him were two sturdy looking drummers selected for their skill to do the monotonous job for hours without fatigue. About fifty feet below his vantage point stood hundreds of Scots who milled around in a confused fashion when the drums sounded. They cursed as the dry wind parched their throats and their brains tried best to figure make meaning out of the garbled drill commands echoing from the platform. "What the hell does the Sasacas have in mind?" These were hardy warriors who could march for hours and still put up a fierce fight; whose loyalty to their leader was unquestionable, who would die and kill for their honour. What they were not accustomed to, however, were the fancy drill parades which the Earl Sarath Sasix 'The Sasacas' seemed to be bent upon making them do. "Boom..." went the drums again. The men cursed and marched on.
The spectacle which had drawn all of Gamrie to the hilltops as spectators had begun a week back when Sarath Sasix 'The Sasacas' erstwhile Earl of Kent and current leader of Scots had arrived shaken but determined in Gamrie after the debacle of McGregor's Hill. The disastrous meeting with the Rus seemed to have changed the man. He looked shaken and became permanently brooding. The Rus had left the Islands altogether after thrashing the Scots, but Sarath's fear remained. "Thank God!" he would say to himself as he made the sign of the cross and simultaneously the sign of the evil eye. He didn't want to ever face the Rus at least while the Devil Mohanus still lived...
While his changed habits went unnoticed among Scot warriors, the changes he instituted to the troops came as a surprise. Sasix had introduced a rigorous daily drill for the Thegns. Riding their mules for hours was bad enough, but standing in the open every day for hours doing crazy "ballet moves" was proving to be a nightmare for the Scots. The Commander had given a grand speech before the whole exercise began in which he stressed that the Scots needed to develop battlefield manoeuvres if they wanted to win over the English or any other disciplined army. No amount of advice could persuade him otherwise. The Scots were going to perform some precise moves in the field when the time came. "All ye pessimists can go to hell!"
Watching from the a hill top nearby, Sarath Sasix seemed satisfied. He tuned to his aide, Robert McFry leader of the Thegns. "Look how well they march Robert. I am confident that these men will not let me down when we march for York." McFry remained silent. The antics of the soldiers scarcely interested him. His worry was how to feed all the men and their mules once they got to England.
In the court of the King
Several weeks later, several hundred miles from where the Scots had cursed and sweated, the Master of the English Throne was enjoying the company of his guests over a cool drink. His majesty Lord Renjith was in a pleasant mood. Though besieged from all sides, his kingdom was safe for the moment - the Normans had been defeated in Milton Keyenes, and the Rus had gone home after thrashing the Scots. He was not afraid of the Welsh, and he had no intention to intrude into the lands of Scots. That, thought Renjith, can wait. "You are lucky Lord Sasix, for my men are tired. Give me another summer and you'll rue the day Scotland went to war against me! This I promise!" The matter of his brother, Jolly 'The Talker' Mottengad was another matter. Having been denied the English Throne, Jolly had enlisted the help of the Vikings against him. "But dear brother, with all due respect I think that I am the smarter and faster of the two of us; if you doubt look who sits on the throne in London now! Ha!" Lord Renjith laughed involuntarily and choked on his wine, startling the guests. He smiled at them and waved away questions of concern. "Enjoy your drinks, dear friends! Ti's but a passing thought such as Kings who rule England might have".
The party would have gone ahead merrily but for the untimely entry of a Royal Guard. He looked embarrassed and hastened with his apology. "Beg pardon Mi Lord, but there is a messenger out seeking your audience. And half dead he is too." Renjith looked up in displeasure. "Can it not wait?" The guard hesitated, but his instinct told him that this was one message which the King might not want to be delayed. "It won't take a minute, sire" Renjith gave up. "Bring him in".
In walked a unshaven, tired straggler of a messenger with clothes torn and bloody. "Mi Lord", he started to bow, "The Scots are in York!" and collapsed in a heap. The guard bent down in vain to raise him. The man was dead.
The whole assemblage went silent at the word of this ominous news. Renjith was the first to recover. "Harness my charger! Sound the alarm! We ride at once!" And he was off, shouting orders at the captains standing in attendance. The guests waited for a while expecting instructions but when none were forthcoming, they silently filed out of the room. The festive mood was gone, the keep had become a beehive of activity all around them. Lord Renjith was going to war.
The Lord save us all if Sasix thinks that we can fight English horsemen in the open with half naked spearmen mounted on mules" He pictured his Thegns charging away on mules and shuddered. "Why did I ever embark on this campaign?
Meeting on the Church Spire
The rolling plains and low hills of the English country side stretched away for miles wherever he looked. Standing atop the tallest church spire in York, Sarath Sasix savoured the view. His dream was coming true at last. Here was a Scot army who had entered England proper unmolested and now were in possession of the vital town of York. His tactic of giving mounts to most of his men had worked well. A significant portion of his army had arrived too quickly for the town to put up a defence. And the nearest English Army was in Leicester. "But not for long" said Sasix to his companion Robert McFry, the leader of his Thegns. "We will fortify York and march for Leicester. There is no fitting way to beat the English than besting them on their own turf." McFry looked skeptical, but Sasix rambled on "For years it has been said that the Scots fight only in defence of their land. That there has not been born a leader who could rebel against the English yoke. I, Sasix the Sasacas, shall prove the nay sayers wrong. And when the pennant of the lion flies over the keep of London, the very same sceptics will praise me as the best of the all English Kings." What he did not mention was that he still feared that the Rus would come back to help the English as some rumours said. "God forbid!"
McFry nodded sagely and managed to hide the look of disdain on his face. For days now he had been trying to discuss tactics to be adopted in the event of battle. But Sasacas just did not have the time for any discussion. Such levels of frustration had driven McFry to wake up early and make the risky climb to the top of the church spire. He had to make himself heard before the court gathered and Sasix became busy in more mundane matters. "He thinks he is in the bloody Hall of Leicester" muttered the burly Scotsman.
But the task had to be done and McFry interrupted the monologue with a cough. "Lord Sasix, would it not be wise to consolidate in York and let the English offer battle here, nearer to Scotland?" Sasix waved his hand in a dismissive fashion which indicated what he thought of McFry's ideas. "Dear Robert, you fret too much. For one thing, the English armies are tired after their battles with the Normans, which of course was my plan. Besides, our allies the Vikings will arrive in Plymouth any day now, which will further strain Renjith and his men." Ever since the news of the Norman defeat had spread, Sasix had gone around remarking how wise of him it had been to advise the Normans to give battle so as to distract the English. Of the fact that they had been routed he said nothing; those of his courtiers who wondered as much were wise enough to keep their own counsel.
McFry cleared his throat again. The last thing he wanted was another monologue. He did not trust the Vikings and had no hopes that their fabled long ships would arrive anywhere in time for the Scots. "But sire, our troops cannot fight the English Knights in terrain which favours horsemen. Besides, our own cavalry are inferior to theirs in numbers and weapons." Sasix turned and gave Robert a peculiar look which suggested that the Scotsman was mad or on the verge of going mad. "Dear Robert", said he putting a lean arm on McFry's shoulders, "Have you not noticed that almost all men in our army have mules to ride now? I agree that the mules cannot charge like horses do, but they can get the men into tactical positions quickly, which is what we want"
"As for our cavalry, well, I do not intend to use them as a striking force. There is no better answer to a Knightly charge than a dense wall of spears. The Thegns and spearmen can give us just that, and anywhere we want thanks to their mules. You see Robert, it is all thought out. Take my advice, stop bothering about it. Your prime concern should be to keep the army well supplied. Now if you will excuse me, I have to meet the council and discuss taxes for the year."
Robert McFry, veteran of many wars and bearer of far too many scars. stood open mouthed staring at the wake of Sasix's cloak. He had just been given one of the most illogical arguments in all his life. "The Lord save us all if Sasix thinks that we can fight English horsemen in the open with half naked spearmen mounted on mules" He pictured his Thegns charging away on mules and shuddered. "Councils and tax meetings! Why doesn't he simply sack the town? Why did I ever embark on this campaign?"
Two days after the meeting on the Church Spire, the majority of the Scots left the town of York for their march south. Three hundred men had been left behind to garrison the town which Sasix insisted on preserving intact for revenue under his upcoming "empire". If anyone wondered why Robert McFry had spent a small fortune to buy himself two more English horses beside the pair he already owned they did not ask. The ever prudent McFry was being very careful. Just in case.
On the Road to York
The hooves of the Knights chargers bounced against the hard ground of the well trodden road to York, their shadows lengthening against the setting sun. The English had been riding hard ever since the news came in from York. Lord Renjith was at the head of the column, his eyes blood shot from days of exertion. How he longed for a mug of cool ale! But affairs of the land took precedence over matters of personal taste and he urged himself on ahead. York was but a day's march away. Renjith looked at the sun and raised his hand to call a halt. The day's work was done. They would rest, regroup and ride at first light.
Later in his tent Renjith mulled over the events of the past few days. He was sipping unconsciously from the pitcher in his hand. Wine had at last been found but somehow his thoughts were not allowing him to enjoy it to the fullest. For as soon as they pitched camp reports had come in that the Scot army had left York and were headed in the same direction. Scouts expected them to arrive within a few miles of the English camp by sunrise. Renjith knew that his army could not afford to evade or resist giving battle. Too much pride was involved for that. But by St Peter, they were in no shape to fight either. Sitting beside him, Lord Nishant sensed his restlessness and ventured to speak. "Sire, the night grows old. Should you not rest?" Nishant and Renjith were known to share their drinks ever since they first tasted wine together in their youth. This gave Nishant a rare insight to Renjith's thoughts and freedom to talk openly. Renjith grunted. "Dear friend, I worry about the fate of the men on the morrow. For ti's sure that we will have to give battle once the sun rises; the men are tired even though they are too proud to show any of it"
Lord Nishant sought to alleviate his fears. "Sire, with your plan and our brave men we cannot fail. I'll have the master of the horse review the dispositions if your majesty wishes so" Renjith waved him away. "That will not be necessary" The plan they were referring to was the one which had been hurriedly made and agreed upon when the news of the Scots march had come. The most possible battlefield was a slightly sloping vale a mile away, with two looming woods separated by a small 'alley' in the centre. A fairly deep stream flowing out of one of the woods offered some kind of protection on the left flank for the English. The Scottish flanks were marked by hills, one on each flank. In addition, more trees took up space on the Scots right flank. The English could only refuse a flank near the stream at the cost of space for the cavalry to manoeuvre. To add to all the woes, there as a natural defile right in the Scots frontline, which could very well be put to use as an anti cavalry defence.
Renjith's plan called for him to put most of his foot behind the stream in defensive positions. The Cavalry was expected to bear the brunt of the fighting, but they would be crowded on the space available on the right flank. While the English needed their Knights desperately Renjith too many of those crowded in the same place could spell disaster. This was the dilemma. He had not scouted the terrain well enough to try any other moves without informing the enemy. Both of them knew it, and silence prevailed. If only they could gain ground on a Scottish flank...
A clamour outside the tent got the attention of both Renjith and Nishant. The curtain parted and in marched Renjith's two of sergeants half dragging, half carrying a terrified peasant between them. Renjith looked up with a quizzing eye. Both his men were beaming. "Beg a thousand pardons Sire, but this man here says he knows a hidden vale next to our right flank where to assemble without being sighted." Renjith took in the news, a smile dawning on his face. If what this man said was true, he had a destination for his Knights. "Leave us" the guards bowed out. Turning to the peasant Renjith smiled warmly and offered him a mug of wine "Tell me my man, will this vale of yours take horses...?"
The Scots deploy
The rising sun witnessed both the sides in an upbeat mood. To the Scots it looked as if they were getting a chance to fight a battle on favourable terrain after all. All they had to do was to anchor between the hills and the woods and stay put. The English lacked effective rough terrain troops and would be forced to attack outside the woods. And they had just too many spearmen to be defeated by a Knight charge or two. If they could stay in good order when the first charge came, the game would be theirs. Unsupported by the Knights, the English foot would be made mincemeat of by the fanatic Galwegians and Islemen who could put up a mean fight.
As the sun rose higher, Sasix gave out orders for deployment which went as expected. Some men however thought that the Scottish right flank, facing the stream and the English left was scarcely defended while the Scottish left was getting crowded. Sasix had his own ideas and the deployment went ahead against such objections. Most of the troops on the left were mounted. Led by the Thegns, they lined up in rows behind a thin screen of skirmishers. Galwegians stayed back on the reserve in the centre, while the Islemen walked up the hill in the right flank and took position. Whatever cavalry could be spared was split in two and kept behind the front lines. These were lightly armoured and no match for the mail clad English in a head to head fight. But they were mobile and could be put to use to harass the flanks. The Scot heavy cavalry was missing. Sasix would not say where they were, except to make a short announcement that the horses would reach the battle when they were needed the most. McFry tried to guess the possibilities. Either the horses were being held back, or they were marching around the flank. Sasix did not bother to inform McFry or his men about the intricacies of his plans ever since their meeting on the church spire.
The importance of the ditch had not escaped Sasix. But contrary to expectations, he sen his men into the defile rather than having them to stand in defence behind it. Several skirmishers went into the woods accompanied by one of Sasix's commanders to ensure that there no one deserted their positions once the battle ensued. In spite of its potential to surprise the enemy ambush remained a tricky business but for the best commanders commanding the best men. Surveying the dispositions, even the skeptical Robert McFry looked satisfied. The Scot position was not bad. He said a silent prayer. "Hope Sasix sticks to common sense!"
The English make the first move
A scant mile from where McFry stood praying for the Scots, Renjith was overseeing the placement of the English men at arms and Knights. His constant companion Lord Nishant was conspicuously absent. Only Renjith and a select few men knew why Nishant had left the camp in the early hours of the morning with the best of the Knights. Lord Nishant and his men were already in place on the English right flank hidden from sight but ready to ride into the battle at short notice. For now it gave the impression that the English right flank was wide open...
The English apparently trusted the security of the stream. Most of their foot stood behind the stream or the forest ordered to lock shields and wait. A lone company of Knights served as a rear guard and reserve behind the stream. Their position looked dubious at best, for there was precious little ground for manoeuvring the horses with all the foot intervening. In any event, the depth of the stream made a charge across it impossible. Things looked better on the right. A good part of the Knights were retained there, all of them formed up in wedge. Hardy welsh archers went ahead of the Knights, preceded by a scattering of skirmishers. The ground was open all the way to the Scots ranks. This was the best Knight territory in the entire battlefield.
Renjith retained his own unit of guardsmen behind the Knights. He expected to join the Knights once the fight began, but for now he had to coordinate the movements. To one side stood a dozen trumpeters, their instruments held at the ready. Their call would be the signal for Nishant to pounce. The stage was set. Renjith raised his hand and waved. The English skirmishers let out a staggered shout and jogged forward.
The Ballet Begins
Sarath Sasix cooly watched the English skirmish screen start forward. His own skirmish archers had started moving in response but he did not seem to notice. With a flourish, Sasix proceeded to unfurl two flags which his servant handed to him. Beside him, Robert McFry took in this new development with a surprised look on his face. Was Sasix going to cheer his men? But Sasix did not seem to notice the bewildered look on his companions face. One of the flags was green, the other red. The great man proceeded to climb atop his horse and wave them, first both to the front and then the red to his right and the green to his left. In response, the mounted Scots - watched by an astounded McFry - started leaving their position between the hill and the woods. The Thegns went straight ahead, while the spearmen behind them turned formed column and started marching East parallel to the front lines of of both armies. McFry stifled a scream. "Mi Lord, what are then men doing?!" "If the English Knights charge now, our men will be slaughtered! Their mules cannot outrun the English horses!" Sasix gave him a pitying giving him the appearance of an indulging father listening to his stupid son. "Dear Robert, why do you think i trained them for?" "The moment has come! They will now wheel like Romans of yore, and form a strong line across the battlefield which no Knightly charge can ever break!" Further entreaties by Robert to stop the advance fell on deaf ears. Sasix was going to execute his plans whether McFry liked it or not.
Watching from a distance, the English could not at first make sense of what was going on in the Scots lines. Renjith sent a runner to the skirmishers asking for a report. When the first news came in about the strange parade happening in the Scots liens, he was bewildered. "Get me another report! This is no dumb move, I feel that Sasix is playing a trick or two on us." Runner after runner came and reported the same thing - the second line of the Scot army was forming a mighty column and marching eastwards. Renjith lost his cool. "To hell with Sasix and his tricks! This opportunity cannot be wasted! Knights, move!" The Knights complied and set forth in a trot. The line of the Thegns was fast approaching. And unbelievably, they were still mounted, their spears held upright! the English nobles could not believe their good luck. They lowered their lances and broke into a gallop...
Robert McFry might have been denied a say in the state of affairs, but he was not defeated yet. He sent his servant at the gallop to the Thegns. The commander in the field, Mathew McConnoully was his best man and Robert was determined to warn him. The servant stirred his masters brand new horse and approached the lines. He had barely finished delivering his message when the English charge developed. Startled by the quick succession of events, McConnoully shouted out the command "Diiiissssmount!!!" Shaken to action by the urgency in their leaders voice, the Thegns jumped out from their mules and ran to form up. The rear ranks were still forming up, in full view of the Knights who were approaching with deadly speed. Just as the last man fell in, the first of the lances hit home.
The fight was not a fight at all. In their deadly wedge formation, excited by the sight of poorly armoured opponents, the Knights just cut into the thick line of Thegns like an axe into soft wood. The impact created such a shock that the whole unit was pushed, dragged or kicked backwards with awesome force. Spears broke under the compression of flesh and metal and in some cases even dug into their owners under the brute force. McConnoully was dead on first impact lanced though his heart. Those in the rear were more fortunate and held on to their weapons their heels literally digging the ground. But they could not hold for long. Soon the English wedge broke and spilled over the sides and soon the Thegn formation was almost enveloped and assailed on both flanks. Lances and Swords arced through the air, pinning and chopping their targets. Those who had not fainted in terror at the destruction broke, and fled. The Knights had made their first kill.
A forest of spears
The events had occurred in such quick succession that Sasix had not the time to issue any orders. He stood open mouthed, his flags forgotten. McFry's face gad gone white. His Thegns had scattered to the last man. But there was no time for grief. The victorious Knights were reforming, and he could not allow them to form wedge again. Turning to Sasix, he half shouted "Ask the Skirmishers to fire, sire! Those horsemen have to be stopped now!!!" Sarath mutely nodded. In a daze, he later recalled giving out the necessary orders exactly as McFry had wanted them.
In the field, the Knights wheeled to find that the column of spearmen was too far away for them to mount a charge; Taking a lesson from the fate of the Thegns, the column was already dismounting and forming an angled line keeping the Knights in their view. To their immediate right, the Scot skirmishers were notching up arrows. When the scots ;et fly, the English skirmishers disintegrated. There was but open space between the line of spearmen and the Knights flank. Suddenly the rest of the English army seemed a long distance away.
Lord Renjith saw the aftermath of the charge, but was slow to react. His messenger had just started when the angled line of spearmen wheeled decisively and slammed into the open flank of the Knights. Hit on their unshielded flank, the line of Knights was torn apart by the spear points of the Scots yelling for revenge of their fallen. In a reversal of fortunes, the Noble Lords found themselves being served the same nasty dish of wood and steel which they had themselves fed the Thegns just moments ago. As Renjith and Sasix watched from different sides of the battlefield, the horses neighed, reared high and fell speared. The unlucky rider was often thrown off the mount to be trampled under feet and hooves, or if he was lucky, felled instantly down by a thrust of a spear aimed at his heart. Frantic cries of humans and death cries of animals could be heard from afar, soon drowned in the cacophony of hundreds of Scots shouting in battle lust. It looked like a forest of spears had walked over the Knights; no Englishman or horse was left standing when the dust settled and the 'forest' halted to regroup.
The Man from Valhalla
Sasix and McFry had regained their composure after the new developments which favoured the Scots. The battle was far from decided and the immediate threat in the form of the second 'Wedge' of Knights was approaching fast. Sasix once again raised the flags. But McFry did not have to look again to realize that this time around it was not for any crazy manoeuvres. Sasix had learnt his bloody lesson only too well. In response to the orders, the Scot skirmish cavalry began to round the hill, while the just victorious spearmen began to form up to resist the inevitable charge. Miles to the East, the Scots Heavy cavalry heard the noises drifting down from the battle field and hurried to reach their destination.
Lord Renjith was not sitting idle either; he let fly orders in quick succession with the result that the Knights in wedge wheeled and advanced towards the spearmen. At the same time, the welsh archers spanned out to cover the flank of the advancing Knights so as not to repeat the events which had transpired earlier. No flank would be left open for any marauding spearmen!
As time rushed by, a deadly race developed. The Knights, trying to charge the Spearmen while the Scot skirmish cavalry tried to race around the hill and reach their comrades in time to distract the Knights. But timing and distance proved against the Scot cavaliers. They were beginning to cross the ditch, still hundreds of yards from their focus of attention when the Knights halted, gave their horses a breather, lowered their lances and charged. A popular Irish man by the name Stuart Murphy was leading the horsemen. He had allied himself with the Scots early in the campaign. He had just led his horse out of the ditch when the rising dust and echoing sounds proclaimed the beginning of the charge. The sights were followed in an instant by the sounds of trumpets blowing, war cries being shouted, and the dull noise of shields being locked. The steady rhythmic sound of pounding hooves formed a steady background. for an instant Murphy felt that he was in peace and serenity of the Hall of Dublin, listening to the travelling artistes narrate the story of William the conqueror to the beat of horse skin drums. But the illusion left him as soon as it had come, for there was nothing even remotely peaceful or serene about the charge of four hundred mail clad, furious Knights on their galloping mounts.
I saw that he had been a cut across his neck and his chin. Blood seeped through his shirt of mail, and I could almost hear the man curse. That sight somehow served to dispel the fears. This was no resident of Valhalla, he was a mortal too. And unlike soldiers of Thor and Odin, mortals die.
Murphy felt time crawl to a near standstill. He had born witness to many battles in his time, but the spectacle which he saw presently was chilling. Years later an enlightened and wise Murphy would describe the charge in one of his popular volumes about the events of that fateful year thus: "The Knights looked as if they were headed right for me. It was true in a way, but there were six hundred spearmen between us. Even at that distance, I could see the sun glinting on the lances clearly. As they drew close, the faces of the leading horseman became clear. His face hidden eerily behind a metal helm the point man of the wedge looked like one of Thor's henchmen straight out of Nordic tales. I watched intently, fascinated beyond myself. The rest of the Knights ceased to exist for me, only the man of Thor was out there. He kept coming riding down those standing in his way, their spears cracking and splitting like firewood under an axe. When both his lances were spent he merely unsheathed his sword and chopped down all with the same disregard. The helm blotted out any trace of humanity in the man, he was a demon of death. Time gathered speed as his charger gradually came to a halt amidst all the carnage. My eyes and ears began to fill with the sight and sounds of the other people who were equally part of the bloody mess. Cries for mercy were heard, intermingled with shouted orders and yells. I could see that the Scots had broken. He just stood there, surveying the carnage which he had helped create."
One would expect the Scots Skirmish cavalry to flee. But not when Stuart Murphy was in charge. In his own words, the fear lifted when "the point man of the now non existent wedge raised his helm and wiped sweat and blood off his face. I saw that he had been a cut across his neck and his chin. Blood seeped through his shirt of mail, and I could almost hear the man curse. That sight somehow served to dispel the fears. This was no resident of Valhalla, he was a mortal too. And unlike soldiers of Thor and Odin, mortals die. My decision was quickly made. I ordered my men to charge."
The cavaliers charged right at the surprise Knights. Murphy himself led the dash. But unlike the charge of the English, his men had no intention to melee. They wheeled their horse when within javelin range, aimed their missiles as best as they could, lobbed them and fled. Murphy almost stopped his horse. He wanted to take careful aim. All his effort did not go in wain. The javelin found its intended target. The lead man of the Knights keeled over, pierced between the eyes. He was on his way to join the dead in the halls of Odin and Thor.
The Knights did not have any idea about the metaphor which stirred Murphy into action, but the sight of javelins dropping some of theirs was not something which they would take quietly. Even as Lord Renjith's runner approached and deplored them to halt, the Knights galloped headlong after the fleeing Scots in a headlong chase. The Scots reached the ditch, rode across and continued their flight. The Knights reached the ditch, jumped in with fury, and ran straight into the wall of hidden spears.
A Wall of Spears
Sarath Sasix let out a yell of joy in spite of himself when the English Knights crashed against the ambush which he had set. The lose of six hundred spearmen in the process seemed not to matter for such was his hatred of the very Knights whom he had once commanded as the Earl of York. He spurred his own horse forwards and led his own unit of bodyguards ahead. "Robert, stay here! I am needed where the action is!" Leaving McFry behind in charge of giving out orders, Sasix led his men to the base of the hill.
In the English command group, the adjutants to the King were shocked to see His Majesty Renjith tear out his hair and curse in the most foul language imaginable. There were no ladies around to swoon, but the Lordly gathering found the Kings usage highly objectionable. But Renjith was in no mood to observe etiquette, august courtiers or not. He raced his horse ahead. The Knights were in the distance, and he could see the fight develop. But he did not have to go far. The "wall of spears" had dissipated any steam which the avenging Knights had, and the nobles were now in a headlong rout. Renjith only had to halt and wait, the fleeing horsemen would soon reach where he stood!
Sasix reached the breathless ambushers and shouted his words of encouragement. "By the Lord, you have shown those nobles what stuff you are made of! Do me proud, my men! March ahead, and finish the task we have started!" And the unit filed out of the ditch. They formed up, shouldered their spears and began an orderly walk. The English right flank was now wide open, and Sasix had just spotted the standards of his flank marchers waving in the distance. The play was moving towards its end. Things had gone as planned, but Sasix knew that the English could not take any more losses whereas he still had troops to spare. "Quick March!"
Almost all of the Scot army was on the move headed right towards the English ranks on all fronts. In the middle of the battlefield the forest erupted with flurries of arrows as the skirmish screens fought off each other. Deprived of cover and fired upon from opponents in the woods, the English skirmishers found it prudent to withdraw. The battle was rapidly approaching the English turf.
Shame on you! Look at you flee like a two penny wh**** in the gutters of London at the sight of the guards! Oh yes, you let them f*** you too! But the wh**** does not don a helm or insist upon being bowed to!!
Of Surprises and The Surprised
Lord Renjith was not what one would call slow on the uptake. Not by long shot. As soon as he saw the spearmen file out of the ditch and saw the pennants of the Scot cavalry approach he got wind of what was in the offing. Immediately he became busy. Standing atop his snow white mount, he placed his horse squarely in the path of the routing Knights. The sight of their King stopped the routers, his harsh words sobered them in a jiffy. "Shame on you! Look at you flee like a two penny wh**** in the gutters of London at the sight of the guards! Oh yes, you let them f*** you too! But the wh**** does not don a helm or insist upon being bowed to! Listen, you noble bodies, you will fight until the last of you is dead! Is that understood?!!" Any signs of hesitation vanished and the Knights quickly formed up as if there was nothing amiss. A casual observer would have been hard pressed to believe that these valiant looking men had moments ago fled for their lives.
Satisfied, Renjith turned and ordered for the trumpets to be sounded. "Dear Lord Nishant, you are needed!" Without wasting another second he was gone, riding at a gallop towards the welsh archers who now formed the frontline.
Their mood upbeat at the sight of the fleeing Knights, the Scot Heavy Cavalry slowed down to allow their column to form up into line. Shouting wildly, Stuart Murphy and his skirmish horsemen passed them waving their javelins triumphantly. Murphy and his men wheeled, faced west and lined up. They were forming a kind of 'cup' which would soon contain the English. The tide seemed to have changed for the better.
The sudden blare of the trumpets from the English lines made Sasix and his men look up. As the echoes died down, a new sound was heard. Dust clouds rose, and the Scots craned their heads to see. The Kings pennant was seen in the distance, milling around amidst the routed Knights. As the Scots watched, the Knights stopped, turned around and re grouped. In all this, they sensed no immediate threat. The Knights were winded and in no shape to charge. Murphy and his men shouted insults at the rallying Knights and did not notice Lord Nishant's men as they entered the periphery of their vision. In fact, thanks to the attention drawing spectacle of rallying Knights, only those on top of the hills did spot the hidden Knights emerge before it was too late. Nishant took one look at the situation and knew what he had to do. The exposed flank of Murphy's skirmish cavalry looked just enticing. Beyond them stood the heavy cavalry presenting their flanks! This was Knightly fare, and Nishant was going to enjoy it to the fullest. No need for orders. Any Knight worth his salt knew what orders would be given. The six hundred horses broke into a gallop.
I came, I Saw and I Charged
Lord Renjith was whooping fiercely when he saw Nishant's crack men charge the unwary Murphy on his flank. Unlike the earlier instances where the impact of the charge could be felt even by bystanders, there seemed to be no sound as the Knights hit the flank of the skirmish horse. A dark wave crested by shining lances and waving pennants washed over the Scots and there just was no more Skirmish cavalry. Murphy was among the handful who survived the blow which took them by deadly surprise. As Murphy later admitted, "it was as if Thor had marked me for his vengeance. I heard nothing, I saw nothing. One moment my unit was booing, the next moment my men were dead or dying. The dark horses of Nishant just rode us down."
The collapse of the skirmishers had a galvanizing effect on the Scot heavy cavalry. They abandoned attempts to dress their lines and spurred their mounts frantically to get themselves out of the path of the rushing Knights. The level of alertness gained by years of experience raiding in the frontiers came to their aid. The horsemen under Tuck McFrere gained temporary respite by racing straight ahead. But a determined Lord Nishant would not be deprived of his prize by tactics such as these. His men heeded his call and wheeled with a precision which made McFrere's hope plummet they now gained space on the rear of the Scot cavalry. Cursing under his breath, McFrere and his men tried to turn around in time to face the charge. But it was too late. McFrere caught sight of Lord Nishant's lance as it pinned the man ahead of him. The lance broke but Nishant cooly unsheathed his sword and served a blow which went straight through the mail of the Scotsman like it was made of paper and sent him to Kingdom come.
More than seven hundred men and as many horses had fallen, yet the trail of destruction was not over. Wiping away the blood and gore from his eyes, Nishant let out a savage yell as he caught sight of even more Scots, who were once again presenting their rear to his lancers!
The End Game Cometh
The sight of their skirmish cavalry and heavy cavalry being moved down in quick succession came as a shock to the valiant spearmen who had marched triumphantly out of their ambush. Ignoring Sasix's wild entreaties to hold, they quickly turned tail and retreated. The ditch seemed the right place to be. Praying that the new bunch of wild English Knights would not choose them for their next targets, they headed right for the ditch.
Sasix was frantic with a fear. He failed to comprehend how the battle had so suddenly slipped from his hands. Emotions welled in his heart which ranged from fear to shame to desperation. In the end, anger and shame took over. Half crying, half shouting, he led his bodyguards in a charge. His target - the newly rallied English Knights whom Renjith had sent forward to plug the gaps. The shaken Knights were scant hundred yards away. "Chaaaaaargeee!!!"
Several things happened in parallel thereafter. Sasix set the game afoot by charging the Knights. Already shaken, they crumbled like a house of cards when the Sarath's elite guards unit rammed them in the flank. Within seconds, they were in an un ralliable rout. The field was now clear for the Protagonists to face of each other. Facing Sarath's unit were the Guards of Lord Renjith, all of them clad in mail from head to foot. The soldiers on either side sensed what was about to happen. Fighting came to a halt elsewhere. The moment of truth was here.
Sarath took one look at his erstwhile King, current enemy and immediate foe in the field. He lowered his visor, and saw Renjith do the honours by initiating the charge. The black horses crashed into the Scots. The carrier of the Lion of Scotland was cut down by Renjith himself. He deflected a deadly thrust of an enemy lance with his shield and parried another blow with his lance. But he was searching. Where was Sasix? And in the end, the Master of all Scots was found. He lay dead amidst a heap of English Knights. To his side was the broken axe, the one which he carried always. There would be no more raiders from Scotland. And of course, York was won.
Lord Nishant did not need to charge all the Scots whom he saw. The death of Sasix accelerated the collapse which his heroics had initiated. The entire Scot army took flight. Even such fanatics as the Galwegians and Islemen thought it wiser to retreat.
Lord Renjith headed for York with the intention of defeating the Scot garrison there. He needn't have bothered. The bad news reached them before the English did and the garrison fled after some haphazard looting. The English army camped in the outskirts of the town for a well earned season of rest.
Lord Nishant returned to London. In spite of all his valour in the battlefield, he preferred life in the city to the harsh campaigns. Moreover his several businesses awaited as did a certain Lady who looked forward to dining with him.
Stuart Murphy, the mercenary Irishman who led the Scots light cavalry retired from active warfare. He retired to a quiet farm near Dublin with the proceeds of the many battles. The world heard of this man several years later when he published vivid accounts of his days spent riding with Kings and King makers.
And the Sceptic Robert McFry? His spare horses did him well. Two days of hard riding got him past the frontiers of England and back among his trusted Thegns. He died several years later of old age, his dream of seeing a free Scotland unrealised.
We used a heavily modified version ofTerry Gore's Medieval Warfare for this game. The key changes were derived from a set of rule sets which we found enjoyable. Details are given below:
1) Movement: We used the variable impetus system adopted from Bob Jones' Piquet. Both sides used 1D20, with the side rolling higher getting the difference in rolls as their impetus. Each side had their own sequence deck which specified which actions they could take. Again, the sequence deck was not typical Piquet/Archon style. We used generic cards such as "Move" ,"Fight", "Rally" etc. instead of "Cavalry Move" or "Infantry Move" as is traditional in Piquet. The number of cards per side were decided before battle using common sense. For instance, a side more war prone such as Vikings would get more "Fight" cards in their deck than others. Movement rates also came from Terry's MW rules.
2) Command and Control: Leaders were chosen MW style, by rolling a 2D6 per leader. All rallying had to be preceded by the appearance of a "Rally" card from the sequence deck. The calculation was done using MW's excellent mechanics. Commander radius was as prescribed in MW. (Another change which is being planned comes from The Perfect Captain's Spanish War rules . According to the system, each sub commander will "interpret" the commands he gets before acting upon them. This proved to be tremendous fun is our limited play testing!)
3) Melees and Firing: All melee and firing calculations were done using the mechanics suggested in Medieval Warfare. However, players had to wait until a "Fight" card appeared before initiating melees, and until a "Reload" card appeared before they could effectively fire again.
4) Morale and related Features: Morale 'chips' were borrowed from Piquet. Each rallying action had a cost in Morale as did each rout, loss of melee and loss of stand. One of the conditions which we disliked in Medieval Warfare was the way the battle was decided after a certain fraction of an army was lost. Using the Piquet-ish mechanism we were able to have more realistic games where an army was able to make a comeback even after losing key units in the beginning.
5) Army Lists: We devised a system for generating a "probable" army using Terry Gore's basic lists as a starting point. A percentage probability for all kinds of troops was devised beforehand depending on the suggested numbers in the original list. A percentage dice was then thrown to determine how many stands of each type actually made it to the roster. The cost of each was deducted against a set total (more on this set total below) In the end, a player would be left with x stands of Knights, y stands of spearmen and so forth. He was expected to form them into units according to his preference.
Since the battles were part of a campaign, the "Set Total" was calculated using Piquet/Theatre of War rules and mapped into Medieval Warfare points system. For instance, every advantage or "Strength" card gave the owner an army bonus of 50 + 1D100 points. Every "Strategic Reserve" card gave him 100 points and so forth. So a person with a strong army group could end up with 400 + as many 50 + 1D100s as his "Strength" cards allowed him to. If both sides had equal number of such cards, they got cancelled.