Fight on the Via Claudia
In his dark, cheerless hall Cyddic had endured the summer, calling upon his pagan Gods to send him assistance from his Saxon homelands, for he could be sure that the dark boats that crossed the wide sea would bring with them more of the vile spawn which so blighted Britain’s fair lands. And come they did.
For five long months Cyddic plotted until the day when, with the first frosts of winter making the earth hard, he donned his vest of mail and set forth to bring destruction and death to our people. With him Oswic the Jute, swelling his ranks with mercenaries. Like a plague they defiled the soil upon which they stood.
It was as Bishop Acrimonicus prayed before the tomb of the martyr that news of Cyddic came to the Cives of Verulamium. Once more the Tribunus Comes Maximus Boicicus was called upon by the council to lead a force to sweep this cur from our lands and forth went he with his band of bucellarii, marching south along the Via Claudia towards the ruins of Caer Llundain.
It was but a few miles to the south of our walls that the Tribune saw the raiders, for such is what they were. So late in the year it was clear that their intent was to carry off what goods and chattels they may acquire rather than to conquer and vanquish our people.
Amongst our men the cry went up for my Lord Bishop to call upon the Almighty for his assistance. I had brought some items from the shrine and with them he was able to assure us that we could depend upon Him to assist us in overcoming the pagans, as the Lord smote down the enemies of the Hebrews. Yet despite such assurances there was some disquiet in our ranks. Morgan ap Cesti led a contingent of foederati, a party of Saxons now in our employ (in their own language they claim to be Anglii), and amongst their ranks there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth as, in their heathen manner, they sacrificed some poor creature and found its innards contained portentous signs of doom. Indeed across the valley we could see the Saxon Wicca calling on their deity Thunor to assist them amid much celebration.
From our ranks then stepped Mullard ap Artor, the champion of our people who had bested the Saxon Wulfstan at the fords of the Colne in the month of Maius. To meet him came Eckfrith, a lithe boy who wore the badge of champion for the first time. On the Via Claudia they met while the assembled throng looked on, seeking a sign of favour from their God, divine or pagan.
With one mighty blow Mullard ap Artor smote Eckfrith, red were the stone blocks of the road, yet the Saxon responded with a spear to the side of the Briton before a blow to his arm saw Cyddic’s champion dragged from the field, near to death. God had favoured the Britons and amid their ranks there was much rejoicing.
Now stepped forward Maximus to deliver an oration to inspire his soldiers, but the Tribune’s words were stale and cries of dissent went up from within the ranks. Across the valley Cyddic could be seen, striding among his men and despite their loss of a champion their cheers could be heard ringing across the valley. It was to no avail. Our Tribune’s words were cut short as the Saxon horde came on.
The Saxon plan was plain and without embellishment. Their mercenaries were to make for the farmstead in the hope of drawing off our troops to protect those who lived there, whilst in their centre Cyddic would bring his household troops to face our shieldwall. On their left they would face our own foederati and the levy of Numeri were stationed under Morgan ap Cesti, and Cadwalladr the Brave.
In our centre Maximus’ Palatini, his personal guard, were stationed in Testudo with his Milites under Gaius Ambrosius. The broken ground to the west of the road channelling any attack against their spear-points.
First came on the Saxon left to be met by Morgan ap Cesti and his foederati who checked their advance, before Cadwalladr the Brave brought forward the Numeri to complete the victory. Yet no sooner had they despatched the enemy than another band of pagans fell upon them driving back some of our peasants in disorder. It was only the actions of Morgan the Broad and Bounteous that restored order and halted the heathen advance.
From the farm there was the clamour of Oswic’s mercenaries dealing with those poor souls, their screams told a tale of woe, yet Maximus Boicicus held firm against the temptation to go to their aid; to do so would have left the road free for Cyddic to divide our force in two, yet still that barbarian would not come on to our spears, still he goaded and shouted, promising the most terrible revenge for his defeat five months prior.
No longer could the Tribune stand while Britons suffered, and on came the Testudo with measured tread, their shields locked, their spears gripped firm, their plumbatae at the ready. Before their advance Cyddic did flee, running back only to turn and shout insults all the more vile.
Then, darting forward and hurling their axes, the Saxons hit the left of the Testudo while their comrades goaded the centre. Yet Cyddic was quick to fall back again as Maximus lead forward the centre, their darts breaking Saxons shields as their spear points follows.
How the Saints in the Heavens must have wept, and one wonders what sins we Britons must have committed in order for our Lord to abandon us so. For at that moment the vile pagans emerged from the farmstead, their arms red with blood from the slaughter, their eyes burning with hatred and love of death, and upon our flank they fell. For a moment the shieldwall held, then a group of Milites fell back. Now the Saxon wolves were amongst the fold and it was all that our great Count and Tribune could do to hold them. Falling back before them his men fell around him. Morgan ap Cesti came from the right where he and Cadwalladr the Bold had bested their foes, and here they stood to face the triumphant foe.
It was now that my Lord Bishop commanded that we flee from the field to secure the relics of our holy Saint. We gained the city walls before dusk to find the plebeians in tumult. Yet within the hour the Tribune had returned with the best part of our Army still intact.
I cannot pretend that I, a simple servant of the Lord, have knowledge of the ways of war, but I am told that Cyddic had been on the very edge of defeat when his mercenaries emerged from the farm. It was the shock of their falling upon the flank of our Testudo that led to our defeat, yet this was but a raid, and Cyddic’s men had won their victory and were keen to take their spoils back to Caint where the pagans now rule the land. Our force was preserved and over the winter we shall be able to regain our strength from the Britons who still join us from the ruins of Caer Llundain, yet we can be sure that next year, the four hundred and seventy fourth since the birth of our Lord and the five thousand seven hundred and thirty-third since the world was created, will be a hard one for the Britons.
And so it was that Cyddic snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Yet this was to be a bitter sweet win as using mercenaries as he had reduced his victory points to a big fat zero, so any loot has gone with Oswic and his men, whilst Cyddic’s hall is cold and cheerless through the winter. Both sides will be able to restore their numbers in time for the spring and in Verulamium it is anticipated that the new year will see Cyddic attempt to seize their lands. Meanwhile there are concerns that King Cynfelyn of Catchwynned on his throne in Durocobrivis might be looking to snatch up the orphan city himself.
This was the second playtest of the rules and at this stage we are focussing on the combat and movement mechanisms rather than on some of the more sexy force characteristics which will come with the card hand-management system. That said, the game was very enjoyable and historically plausible in its results. The Shieldwall in the centre was goaded into advancing forward by terrier like attacks from the Saxons that were causing it pain but couldn’t deliver a mortal blow. Making the most of the difficult terrain they lured our Maximus and his men and were then blessed by Oswic’s mercenaries finishing their looting at precisely the right moment to fall on the flank.
Missile troops are annoying to face rather than effective killers, but they can harass, which I feel is right. The British Numeri, essentially a levy of peasants impressed though necessity, were able to hold their own when leavened with a unit of foederati who, despite their concerns about the omens, performed reasonably well.
Mullard ap Artur is still a level 1 champion, but after two victories he has an increased chance or seizing the initiative in subsequent single combats. He’s turning into a good man. In the first round last evening he simply splattered his opponent in the first round, making it almost impossible for Eckfrith to do much damage, one light wound allowed Mullard to play his role in the subsequent battle whilst Eckfrith was lying bleeding on a bier under the trees.
Next week will be the last playtest before we introduce the card hands which should add much flavour to the basic game. I also hope we’ll be meeting a new character, the Druid from Clwyd.