Cynewulf and the relics of St Barnabas
By June of 480AD Cynewulf had successfully raided the lands of Cynwidion twice, amassing riches amounting to a Patrician’s purse. With just little more gold he would be able to declare himself King and seek lands of his own. He was keen to do this before the year was out as in December he would have to pay a tribute in gold to his over-lord Hengest who ruled Kent. Thus far his raiding had made him a small reputation, gaining him two new recruits to his warband and he now hoped to attract more followers with further success.
The raid table in Dux Britanniarum is designed to generate a number of variable scenarios; an attack against a convoy, a raid for livestock, a raid on a border fort and raids against farms, villages, religious buildings and the likes. The table set up is generated semi-randomly, with the players selecting and placing the terrain item before they know precisely what their objective is or where they will be deployed (last week the British player amusingly placed a marsh precisely where his force then entered the table, much to our amusement and his disgust!). Once that is done we roll to see where the objective of the raid is placed, where the raiders enter the table and where the British defenders arrive. The premise is that the border towers that ring the kingdom will report the incursion and the British will then send a force to intercept them.
This week we diced for our scenario and determined that the Saxons would be raiding a church in search of gold. The British player won the initial roll to place the large terrain items (up to 12” x 24”) and placed two hills and a large wood on the table. The Saxon player now placed four small terrain items (up to 6” square) including a barn, a hall, a pond and some areas of ploughed land on the table. Next we diced to see where the Saxons entered the table and where the objective was in relation to that. As it turned out the church was at the far end of the table, however a further roll determined that the British would not be arriving for four turns, giving the Saxons a head start.
The Saxon plan was to advance their main force to the centre of the table to form a blocking position which would stop the British placing themselves across their line of retreat. A small force under Henga, two Groups of warriors, would then rush to the church and one group would ransack it while the other group covered the door.
The British entry point was diced for, putting them directly opposite the Saxon table edge but, fortunately for the Saxons, some distance away from the church. The British decided to divide their force into two halves, with Tribune Constantine and Maelgwyn the Impaler leading the Milites and his Comanipulares to face the Saxon main body and the Levy under Coroctacus heading for the church.
The British and Saxons both advanced aggressively at first, squaring up around the village, however the Saxons attempted to work their way around the flanks of the shieldwall with some fancy footwork.
Faced with this threat Constantine pulled his shieldwall back – a risky manoeuvre in the face of the enemy, but their formation held.
The Saxons, it seemed, were happy to simply face off the British while Henga’s men looted the church, a wise strategy for raiders seeking wealth not battle. However soon it became clear that the men in the church were not going to be just a few minutes, by the sound of singing it appeared that they had found the communion wine.
Meanwhile outside the church Henga was facing off the Levy shieldwall with his six warrior. The Levy are not the most nimble of troops when using this formation and for several turns they advanced at a snail’s pace until finally they launched their attack.
Levy are not good troops, they die easily before a warrior’s sword, however in shieldwall they can protect themselves. A truly dreadful roll saw Henga’s men scythed down and obliged to withdraw. The men in the church were now cut off with the Levy covering the door but disinclined to go in. If they left the shieldwall and attempted to enter the church the Saxon warriors would be defending a narrow entrance and would be a very tough nut to crack, so Coroctacus settled down to wait. Sooner or later they would have to come out!
In the centre Cynewulf saw that his moment had come. Constantine had broken one Group of milites off from the shieldwall to deal with Athelstan’s men on his flank. Now against a divided enemy the Saxon Heathguard and their Lord attacked. It was a fight of which men will sing for generations. The Saxons were first beaten back, but then rallied by their Lord and led back into the fray. Brave Tribune Constantine entered the front rank and fought with his men, but when the shieldwall was broken defeat was inevitable. The comanipulares broke and fled, bundling their Tribune along with them.
Yet the victory had been hard fought, many Saxon dead littered the ground and on both sides men looked to their leaders for inspiration. Morale was low with both parties (indeed the British force were only still in the field due to a remarkable run of 1’s rolled on their force morale rolls) and Cynewulf’s men eyed the British Levy with some trepidation. If they stood firm the men in the church would be trapped and Cynewulf would be obliged to abandon them and return to his hall defeated and with his reputation in tatters. He prayed to Freya, Tiw and Woden, and a miracle occurred.
Having won their first fight against Henga’s men Coroctacus was sure that he could defeat the rabble that remained. Leaving the church unguarded he advanced on Cynewulf.
“Leg it!” The cry went up from within the church, and six men ran carrying bags of gold. Cynewulf fell back before the Levy, keeping their attention fixed on him for valuable moments, then Coroctacus let out a shout, for he had seen the glint of the gold cross from the church. Now he ran with one group of peasants to try to cut off the Saxons’ line of retreat. In the rush he overran a group of Saxon archers, dispersing them, and as Henga’s men ran up a hill he caught them.
Coroctacus was a brave man, and while Levy in shieldwall can stand against Saxon warriors his small group stood little chance. They died like lambs under the butcher’s knife. Yet their sacrifice had allowed time for two fresh groups of Levy, hot on the heels of Cynewulf, to draw near. Henga’s men had dropped their loot as the Levy approached, and now coins and plate were strewn across the bloody grass. Frantically the remaining Saxons stuff what cold they could find amid the long grass into their purses before the cry went up and they ran from the field.
The British, however, were keen to pursue, so we now compared the number of Retreat and Pursuit cards in the players’ hands. The British had only one Pursuit card whilst the Saxons countered that with a single Retreat card so this was no rout. In the end Saxon losses meant that this was the narrowest of victories, with Cynewulf gaining a beggars bowl of coins. His losses, however, mean that he will not be able to raise sufficient forces to mount his next raid for three months, so by then, September, the leaves will be starting to fall and his chances of claiming his own lands this year now seem hopeless.
The game was great fun to play and saw the Saxons attempting a clever hit and run game, however the party sent to the church took AGES to find the loot which obliged the main force to get engaged in a really rough fight which, in truth, Cynewulf probably wishes he hadn’t got caught up in. He did come out of it with a few coins but his losses are such that he has really lost any hope of avoiding the end of year “taxes” paybale in Kent. In truth he has JUST scraped together enough cash to shower his hearthguard with gifts and get himself declared a King, but that would take every penny he has and an unsuccessful raid in September would potentially leave him unable to pay his dues and thereby be declared an outlaw. This would end his campaign, so he needs to make sure he has got some cash in hand ready for December. Strategically Cynewulf will want to have a good raid next time with small losses in order to get both cash and attract new followers. Next year he’ll then be ready to launch an early all-out attack on Cynwidion and look to seize some land in the campaigning season.
Foot note: The stand-off with the Saxons in the chuch and the Levy outside was a scene that would have graced any western or modern police drama. The best quote of the game came when the British called on the Saxons in the church to surrender or they would force their way in. “Touch the door and the relics get it”. came the response.