Jest of Estrella A.S.XLI
The Conflict at Canyon Moon
February 13 AS XLI.
It is interesting how allies and enemies change. It was only two years ago to the week that I was on the eastern borders of Dreiburgen with the Compagne de la Rose. Our mission was to stop the supply ships of the invading armies of Artemisia that were attacking our Atenveldt allies — from sailing down the river of the Colorado. The following spring I found myself fighting alongside the King of Atenveldt on the southern borders of Calafia in the struggle against an army of the undead. Today I am leading the Dreiburgen column deep into Atenveldt. Not as allies against Artemisia, but allied with Artemisia against Atenveldt!
Times change and so do kings. Promises made by one set of monarchs are not always honored by their successors. Arguments about trade agreements and the use of the Colorado had led us down the road of conflict and into treaty violations. The situation became intolerable for Caid when Atenveldt closed all river traffic.
The Crown claimed it was their right, asserting that from the little fishing village of Calzona to the farms of Palo Verde they own both banks of the river and thereby the water passage in that same territory. This claim was based in the fact that many years ago, Atens had crossed the Colorado and taken land deep inside Dreiburgen just short of our Desert Center, east of our Stronghold of Steinsee. At the time the seated territorial baron did not challenge this invasion, as the vast desert would have made enforcing our claim to the area difficult and far too costly. With the only real loss to the barony being some dry lakes plus a small farming and fishing village known as Blythe, the land was let go.
Today I would dispute Atenveldt’s claim to this land, since none of the sun king’s troops are posted on it and many Dreiburgundians roam and work it freely. None the less, this was the claim that was now being cited to uphold the disruption of the river trade, greatly reducing necessary commerce for Starkhafn and leaving Artemisia landlocked.
This intolerable situation forced His Majesty King Edric Aaron Hartwood to form an alliance with Artemisia, muster the Caidan army, and move against Atenveldt. The river blockades were poorly defended and easily removed, but Edric wanted to make the point to Atenveldt not only that they should not control traffic on the river, but that they could not control it. As a show of force he ordered our army to march into the heart of the kingdom, to keep pushing in as far as we could until we met with significant resistance. It was time to humble Atenveldt.
The trek was long and slow as our allied army marched eastward across foreign soil. We penetrated far deeper than we expected, actually passing through one of Atenveldt’s capital cities with only light resistance. We had reached the base of some high and rather jagged superstitious looking mountains when our scouts reported that the Atenveldt army was massing nearby.
Making camp in a place called Canyon Moon we started to prepare for battle, however our plans were delayed by weather. Storms rolled over the sky as we pitched camp, and then returned again during the night. High winds felled a number of tents. We were fortunate — our tents withstood the storms. Thanks to the Dreiburgen corps of engineers, the baronial pavilions are built to take far worse. The second night the winds rose again and the air turned cold. As the temperature dropped so did camp moral; fortunately I had possessed the foresight to arrange with Master Donal O'Brien and Lord Jason le Mad Brewer to provide liquid courage.
I instructed the men to build a fire inside the main tent, and Jason taped a number of barrels. With shelter, warmth, and beer, happiness ensued. Men started boasting of their deeds on the field, Master Quinn regaled us with stories of the effectiveness of the Royal Artillery, and Magnus and I discussed the intricacies of bronze casting.
February 15 AS XLI.
Preparations for battle resumed. While men such as Fearghus MacLochloinn fixed their armor and trained for battle, Lord Ránulfr and I assisted the Caidan Royal Artillery Corps in preparing and testing the balistas and trebuchets. I conferred with the scouts; a good place for our initial engagement had been found. Canyon Moon was a long, twisting canyon with many pockets and rock formations. At the far end in the mountains there was a ridge of rock forming a high wall with two openings, which the Aten army would have to pass through to reach us. With the plan set, I helped House Strong Bow build a siege tower that we rolled up to this natural rock wall so that their archers would have the advantage of height.
February 16 AS XLI.
Nature takes no sides in conflict, and the weather had also slowed down the Atenveldt army. It was not until early Friday morning that our scouts reported that the opposing troops were on the move. With our plan in effect, the Caidan army formed up at the wall of rock. I positioned the Dreiburgen Irregulars such that we could provide defense for the Royal Artillery and we waited… and waited... and waited.
The Atenveldt Army had formed up at the wall and held position just within archery range. There we both stood for what must have been hours sniping at each other, but not fully engaging. The artillery was the most effective. The C.R.A.C.’s trebuchets and balistas had the power and the range. The Atens had brought a number of smaller balistas, but these could not match our siege engines. Their bolts fell short while ours inflicted severe damage.
The standoff ended when both sides ran low on arrows and many of the Atenveldt balistas lay in ruins. Their army moved on the openings in the rock and mayhem ensued. They pushed through, we pushed back; we pushed through, they pushed back, and so it went. We attacked and retreated again and again much like the waves on the shore. I lost count of how many times Ránulfr and I pressed our way in, only to be pushed back.
Then the charge came! It looked as if our line would break, as the enemy had pushed their way in so far they were under our artillery. Ránulfr and I moved in to help hold the line. I looked back to see the men of C.R.A.C. abandon their engines to join the line since it seemed certain their positions would be overrun. It was then I realized that the press had been stopped! The line was holding, but the artillery was unmanned.
“Turn back”, I called out to the last soldier who I saw coming up from the artillery. “The line’s holding! Lets get back to the engines!” I did not know his name, but later he introduced himself as Lord Bjorn Zenthffeer. Running to the nearest ballista (a highly accurate one named Widow Maker), Bjorn and I quickly dragged it back to firing range and cocked her. By this time some of the other artillerymen had responded to my call and scrambled back to help.
We loaded Widow Maker with four bolts, aimed for the center of their line, and let fly! One bolt tumbled and fell short, but the remaining three hit true. Many Atens fell dead and a large hole opened in their line. Our soldiers took full advantage and charged through. Within seconds the Atenveldt line was decimated and their army was in full rout. With the falling of night and our troops exhausted, we decided not to pursue the fleeing host and pulled back to rest and wait until dawn.
I returned to camp and saw to the lighting of the cook fires. With the Atenveldt army still out there, we prepared our food and ate in shifts so that a number of our troops could stay on duty. Around the fire we discussed past campaigns, glorious victories, agonizing defeats, what tactics worked and which failed.
February 17 AS XLI.
With the coming of the dawn I saddled my horse, took up the banner of Dreiburgen, and led the Irregulars out to rally with our King. We marched up the canyon past the wall. It opened to reveal a river where we found the Atenveldt army regrouping on the far side.
There were two bridges on the river, and immediately our fastest units charged in to take them. With the bridges secured we had time to position the engines. The royal artillery was short on men, so Baroness Mora de Buchanan and Her Ladyship Teka Turmanov volunteered to man one of the trebuchets. I left the Irregulars to guard the artillery and rode across the left-hand bridge to the battle line to serve as a forward observer.
The armies were fully engaged by the time our first artillery rounds descended. I spurred my mount and cantered back to report that they were landing short and left of the target. I continued riding back and forth, so that the C.R.A.C. could effectively pummel the center of the enemy army.
The Atens were taking heavy casualties, which seemed to increase their motivation. They were pushing us back across the bridges, and some of their units were taking to wading across the river. It was at this point that I realized I must have been suffering from fatigue, because I would swear that I saw their soldiers walking on water! Knowing that was impossible I vigorously rubbed my eyes and tried to shake off the illusion, then focused my attention back to targeting the artillery.
The lines were pushed back too far for me to observe where the ballista bolts were hitting. Turning to Ránulfr and Fearghus for help, together we fought our way forward enough for me to see the artillery strikes. It was during this push that I saw an Atenveldt knight move in on Lord Fergus. It was his first campaign, and I remembered how nervous I was on my first campaign way back in A.S. XVI, so I was keeping an eye on him. I wanted to give Fearghus cover but I could not reach him before the knight engaged him. Before I knew it swords swung and blood splattered, but to my surprise it was the Knight that fell and Fearghus’ sword that was blood-covered. “How do you like that”, I mused to myself, “His first battle and he gets himself a knight.” We managed to fight our way forward and observe three more artillery barrages before we lost the bridge completely.
Our army continued to hold them on the bank of the river until the artillery’s ammo was spent. It is at this point that I must offer my deepest apologies to the men of the Dreiburgen Irregulars and the families of those who will not be coming home. As we tried to maintain control of the riverbank, I held the Irregulars in reserve waiting to see where we were needed most. When I noticed that the line was weakening at the bridge on the right, I committed my men to that part of the line. In doing so I condemned them to the actions of an incompetent officer.
No sooner had we joined ranks when the idiot officer in charge yelled out the suicidal order “FORM A KILL POCKET!!!” loud enough for the entire Atenveldt army to hear. My stomach twisted as I watched our walking dead men follow the order; bending our line into the formation of the pocket that dictated our demise. The Atenveldt line stayed straight. Their pike men remained covered by their shield men while our pike men, in an attempt to reach their targets, overextended and left themselves open and vulnerable. Meanwhile the men at the ends of the pocket were easily within enemy range and not at all adequately protected.
The results were disastrous. Within seconds most of our pike men were dead and our line was decimated. The Atens swarmed over us. It all happened so fast that there had been no time to give any counter-orders. My only thought was to save as many lives as possible. I ordered a retreat. Charging over the bridge, the Atens flanked our main army. Soon the entire Caidan army was in rout.
Why Most Kill Pockets Fail
X = Atenveldt Army
O = Caid Army
First the idiot officer yells at the top of his voice FORM A KILL POCKET!!!
The Caid line forms a pocket
The Atens attack the vulnerable corners
The Atens move in to holes in the Caid line
Now who is in the pocket?
I do not believe that there is any moment scarier for an officer than to see his men routed. If a routed army cannot be rallied quickly the men are likely to scatter, resulting in their total destruction. With this in mind I retreated to a safe distance, halted my horse and turned to face the enemy. I held the banner of Dreiburgen high and called for my men to form on me. As the Irregulars rallied ‘round, His Majesty King Edric rode up to us.
He briefly explained that in his need to rally the main army he had spied me holding our banner aloft and had given orders for the army to form up behind it. He then bade me to hold my position and keep Dreiburgen’s banner raised high until his banner could be brought forward.
We were successful in our efforts; the army swiftly reformed. Once the ranks were in line Edric cantered his destrier out in front of the line and gave the order to advance on the enemy. By taking the lead His Majesty accomplished his goal of inspiring the troops, however it was a dangerous tactic, for it left him vulnerable to attack. As we started marching Lord Ránulfr asked, “What are your orders your Excellency?” “Stay with His Majesty, he will need cover real soon”, I commanded.
I hate being right! As our lines drew close an enemy unit turned and charged Edric’s left flank. Ignoring the fact that the unit vastly outnumbered our Irregulars, I called a charge. Our lines collided and bodies scattered everywhere. I myself was tumbled from my horse, but we achieved our goal. The attack was arrested and our king was safe.
I dragged myself with the other wounded to the back of the ranks to check my injuries. A soldier looked up at me and smiled. “I witnessed your charge”, he said, “I thought you were a goner for sure.” I smiled back. “Haven’t you heard?” I quipped. “I have a pact of non-aggregation with the Four Horsemen. Death can’t touch me.”
I glanced back to the line. Our warriors were stretched too thin and it was obvious that if we stayed as we were, we would loose this fight. By the time my wounds had been treated our army was retreating to a more defendable position in the maze of passages and pockets in the canyon. I gathered what was left of the Dreiburgen Irregulars and formed them with the men of Castle Starkenburg.
We took a position in a side canyon that was wide enough to fit our army, but which had a narrow access. We stood firm at this position for a time, but it eventually became evident that we would not be able to hold our ground. One by one units were sent further down the canyon to find better ground or a way out. Luck was with us; in the maze of canyons one turned back behind the Atens. We were able to hit them from the rear, thus forcing them to retreat down another side passage into a box canyon.
Now they were ours. Closed in with no escape, they had to contend with our archers who were effectively using the higher ground in the canyon to their advantage. It was clearly evident that we could now take them all, but it was slow work and there were reports of an Atenveldt relief column on the way.
Edric decided enough was enough. The goal had been accomplished, we had bloodied Atenveldt’s nose. Now it was time to call a truce and discuss a new treaty. A messenger was sent to the King of Atenveldt with an offer to discuss terms. Not wishing to lose any more men or see the land ravaged, he agreed to negotiations. That evening amid much pomp and circumstance the kings and their allies met. After what seemed like an eternity filled with much grandstanding, a treaty was agreed upon.
With the battles over and safe passage home guaranteed, the rest of the night was given up to revelry filled with feasting, music, song, drink and lies about prowess on the field. The next day His Majesty King Edric held court to tell us the outcome of our efforts and to thank the troops for their loyalty and service. Her Ladyship Teka was awarded the Corde de Guerre for extreme valor on the field.
That evening I sat by the fire in quiet reflection, thinking over what our service had gained for Caid and what it had cost. Mostly, though, I found myself wondering about the strength of a treaty that is written and signed under duress of an invading army. I fear that Atenveldt will only honor this treaty until they feel prepared to change the terms.
For now we beak camp, head home, rebuild and repair.