The Battle of Coln Fields
September of 480AD saw Cynewulf raid again into the lands of the Britons, sacking a village and leaving with sufficient plunder to pay his dues to his Overlord Hengist in Ceint and still feast his men through the winter. At Yule his men hoisted him upon their shields and declared him a great leader in war, a Warlord in the finest Saxon traditions. For Cynewulf and his men it was clear that Woden had guided them and that in the coming year British land would be theirs.
Meanwhile in Cynwidion’s Senate the King met with the Decuriones and his military leader Praefectus Constantine. The outlook for the new year was bleak. On the border, around Verulamium Constantine had begun construction of border towers to warn of the approach of raiders, but worse was feared. Already it was clear that the Saxon plague was attempting to take hold of land and Verulamium, Caer Mincip as the British were increasingly calling it in their own language, was likely to be a target.
In April of 481 Cynewulf attacked, not this time to raid but to seize land. His men tore through the British levy who were caught out of shieldwall, and the remaining Britons were encircled on a patch of high ground and called upon to surrender. Constantine responded by launching a charge with his Comanipulares and a band of warriors which shattered a Saxon force that had come too close, routing them from the field and killing a Saxon Noble. Despite outnumbering the British the Saxons were so shocked by this small defeat that their entire force fled the field in disorder.
Some said it had been a miracle, yet in truth the victory was a pyrrhic one which took the Britons months to recover from, allowing the Saxons a free hand to raid with impunity, although fortunately the shock of their defeat had been sufficient to limit their inclination to cross into Cynwidion too often. That remained the case until July when once again Cynewulf came in search of battle.
To the south of the old Roman municipality, on the Coln river, the Saxons crossed into the land of the Britons. Prafectus Constantine once again led his men into the field. By now his military prowess had bought him small wealth and, more importantly, his constant drilling and no shortage of war had seen some of his levy fully trained as Warriors in his force. Yet despite this his men’s morale was not high. As they looked across the valley towards their foe the Praefect stepped forth. “Here we stand and fight for our land, for civilisation and for our families…” His speech was eloquent and well measured, his men cheered to hear such words spoken and then, his sword in hand he formed the shieldwall and lead it forward.
Cynewulf the Silent had attempted to rouse his men with speech, but so dire was it that he was met with cries of disgruntlement from his men. In desperation he slaughtered a calf, yet all could see that the entrails spelled disaster. But no man could dwell too much on that, for the Britons were advancing. Forward went the Saxons, intent on proving to their Gods that they could fight and make their own luck. On their left Cynewulf ran forward, in the centre Hinga loitered with malice in his heart at the wounding words his Lord had clearly spoken of him. On the right Aetelstan the Just commanded his Lord’s Hearthguard; no loitering there. The malice Asthelstan held was not for his Lord but for the Britons who he despised for their weakness.
On his right the Levy stood back as though afraid of the fight, their right flank anchored on thick woodland. In the centre Constantine advanced with three Groups of Warriors and his Comanipulares. He had surrendered his position atop the hill and was intent on taking the fight to his foe. Their shieldwall braced itself as Aethelstan charged forward with his heartguard and shields clashed, metal rang on metal.
The Gods may not have been with them, but outnumbered and against a Shieldwall Aethelstan’s Hearthgaurd fought like men possessed. Men fell on both sides, but then the Shieldwall broke. Now was the time for killing, now was the moment when the Britons would be overwhelmed. But all control had been lost. Instead of overlapping the remnants of the wall and cutting them down the Saxons rushed forward though the gap intent on chasing their fleeing foe. And Aethelstan went with them.
The British Comanipulares now pushed back the remainder of the Saxon Hearthguard, suddenly leaderless and confused, and the shieldwall broke to surround Aethelstan and the men who had broken through in order to destroy them. Men who moments before had been certain that victory was theirs. Could this be the Gods abandoning their cause? Could Woden have truly deserted them?
Of the hearthguard who had broken through only Aethelstan fought free from the scrimmage and ran towards his own folk. On the hill Constantine called for order. If he could reform his men on the hill in shieldwall to face the advancing Saxon Warriors he could win a famous victory and, hopefully, keep the Saxon plague from this land for months or years to come.
But it was a false hope. Hinga and Cynewulf, now seemingly resolved to act in concert, swept past Aethelstan and fell upon the disordered Britons and routed them from the field. A Thief’s Horde in plunder was taken from the battlefield yet no pursuit was possible. A shame, for had such occurred the defeated Britons would have been thrown into greater disorder. As it was Cynewulf and his men found themselves besieging the Roman city of Verulamium, one of the wonders of Britain where the fountains still flowed and the Curia debated. What was clear was that the city had men to man the walls, but only sufficient food for three months. How long would it be before Constantine could take to the field again?
This was the first of two games we played last night, one after the other, and provided for an incredibly exciting game. Unbelievably the Saxon Hearthguard broke the shieldwall but then potentially threw it all away with a disorderly pursuit of the remnants. Had the British been able to re-form and re-organise before Cynewulf hit home they could have won a huge victory, but fate dictated that it was not to be, and they fled the field. Fortunately for them their casualties were relatively light, but even so their most wealthy city is under siege. A real see-saw game which we played in just over an hour and a quarter, so plenty of time for a second game, more of which later.
Here’s a look at southern Cynwidion which is the heart of our campaign. We have decided to go with the a-historical option of having the Saxons attacking the kingdom from the south as this allows us to focus on our club locality, so to make that more fun for us we have annexed Verulamium a bit earlier than we should. And why not?!