Jest of Great Western War IX
Continued from Highland War A.S. XL
Great Western War IX
We had spent a week preparing the field for battle, setting up the camps, bringing in supplies, and moving equipment. Ships sailing up river, fleeing the siege on the Newport, were slow in coming as they pushed against the current with unfavorable winds forcing them to tack back and forth. The La Villa A Broka had established a blockade at the river outlet with the Skull and Compass, and the crew had lugged her aft castle guns ashore to protect the camps. Dreiburgen pitched camp overlooking the lake, and the baronial artillery was pointed to the water to guard against any ships that might run the blockade.
It was Friday morning and I was escorting a caravan of supplies to camp when “BOOM!” the quiet of the morning was broken. “Thunder?” I wondered, when “BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!” the thunderous noise repeated in succession. No not thunder, that was the sound of many 12 pound Culebrinas being fired—the La Villa A Broka was engaged!
I spurred my horse to a canter as I heard the return round; not as loud, probably 6 pounders. It was answered by the much louder retort of the La Broka’s 24 pounders. When the lake came into view the seen unfolded: The Skull and Compass was maneuvering back into its position in the blockade. The La Broka was holding its position firing on two ships attempting to run the blockade. One enemy ship was in the lake, and another of our ships was setting sail out of the dock loaded with soldiers.
It was all too obvious what had happened. The Skull and Compass had pulled out of the blockade to allow friendly ships to pass, a necessary but strategically vulnerable maneuver presenting enemy ships the opportunity to take advantage of the opening. Only one had succeeded in getting through, while two others had been stopped in the river. By the time I reached the lakeshore I could see that the blockade was secure, and the two ships were engaged in the middle of the lake. Boarding hooks were secured and planks were run out. I could make out the red surcoats of the Fifth Brigade on the deck, and took out my spyglass for a better look.
It appeared to be a stalemate, with both sides bottlenecked on the boarding planks. I could see His Lordship Killian; he had been taken off his feet and sat on one plank, knocking enemy marines into the water, preventing them from boarding our ship, but we were making no progress in taking their ship. That was when Sir Edward turned the tables. He jumped up onto the railing, ran up it, and in one mighty leap cleared the ten foot gap between the ships to land on the enemy’s aft castle. There were only a few sailors on that deck and he quickly dispatched them, then called for support. Prince Dirk followed his example and made that great leap; together they started to fight their way down the stairs to the main deck while Her Ladyship Teka and Her Ladyship Mora employed their deadly crossbows to provide cover fire.
The enemy marines were caught by surprise, astonished by the bold boarding of their ship and scrambling to address this new threat. Realizing that the enemy was in a sudden panic as they struggled to defend two fronts, Lord Ian led a decisive charge that crashed through their defenses. I watched from a hill overlooking the lake, as a flood of red surcoats poured onto the deck of the enemy ship. It was only a matter of minutes before the prize was secured and surrendering noblemen were negotiating ransoms for their return home.
That was when an earth shattering boom that nearly rocked me off my horse forced my attention back to the river outlet. At first the smoke was so thick that nothing could be seen. All the guns had stopped, leaving an eerie silence broken only by the sound of creaking and splitting wood. This combination gave me a very uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Then suddenly there was a thunderous roar of men cheering as the smoke started to clear. Through my spyglass I could make out the Skull and Compass and the La Broka; the men on both ships were dancing and waving their hands, hence the source of the mad cheering. Just beyond them I could discern two masts sticking out of the water—obviously that ship was sunk. Beyond that I spied another ship, her for and aft masts leaning in so far that they crossed each other. As the smoke continued to clear, I could make out that her bow and stern were sticking up at angles to match the masts, and the main deck was under water. Her back was broken and she was sinking, not that she had far to go in the shallow waters of the Saint Ann. As I turned to ride back to camp, I noted that the crew of the La Broka was rigging a diving bell. I only hoped that the barony’s percentage would be enough to cover the cost of clearing the wreckage.
That evening I conferred with General Gregory and Sir Edward concerning the recent scouting reports and at what hour in the morning they planned to muster the Fifth. Then I met with Captain Conner on his ship. He shared his finest drink as we discussed profits, expenses and tactics. His divers confirmed that the wreckage in the river was impossible for a ship of threatening size to navigate. That, in combination with our scouts’ reports that the remaining enemy ships had dropped anchor down river, their men coming ashore and taking over one of our watchtowers along the Saint Ann, meant that the navel part of this battle was most likely over. With that Captain Conner agreed to send the bulk of his men ashore to help me provide back up for the Fifth Brigade.
The next day I awoke to a fabulous breakfast of eggs, beef, and unleavened bread with butter and syrups, after which the call to arms was given. I marched out joined by many nobles of the barony, including Captain Ránulfr, Lord Mathias and Lord Hrothbeorht. Baron Darius met us on the field, and it was not long before Lord Damashi arrived with the privateers from the La Villa A Broka.
The horns were sounded and we formed ranks, our baronial shield men closing ranks with the Fifth Brigade. I took up a position behind Captain Ránulfr and Lord Mathias; to my left was Baron Darius and behind me were Lord Damashi and the privateers. Our first battle was simplicity itself. An advanced unit of enemy soldiers was marching up river. The army swung around them to cut off their retreat, then we advanced on them. They offered very little resistance as they died and retreated. It was obvious that our drills on the greens of Redlands were paying off. The remaining men retreated to the only defendable position they could reach, a cottage with a garden wall about five feet high and gates on all sides. Once inside they defended the gates and held us back for a time. General Gregory led some members of the Fifth to force one of the gates, and the Dreiburgen Irregulars held back in reserve.
Image courtesy of the Hospitallers of St. John of Caid
This dragged on for a bit, and I started to get bored. Looking over the wall at the enemy fighting to hold the gates, I realized that some of the men fighting at the south gate were just in reach of my pike, but at an extreme reach. I doubted I could hit with enough force to penetrate their armor. Then I got an idea. Since I was on the east wall and they were fighting at the south gate, they were turned away from me and were not paying me any attention. I slid my pike over the wall, reached out, and tapped a solider in the very last rank lightly on the side of his helmet. He turned to look and I drove my pike as hard as I could into the open face of his helm. I felt it hit the back of his helmet and jerked back on my pike quickly. It came free and he fell dead. Since he was in the back no one saw him fall, so I shifted my position and took out another. “Going fishing?” I heard Ránulfr’s voice behind me. “Just a trick I learned from a sergeant named York” I replied, as I reached to touch the next one. Needless to say, it was not long before the Fifth forced their way in and cleaned them out.
The Caidan army reformed as the scouts rode in with new reports. For those of you who have not traveled upon the Saint Ann, there is a series of watchtowers all within signaling distance of each other. Each one has a defensive wall around it, breach loaders pointed out towards the river, and a small garrison of soldiers. These towers serve as lookouts and as defense for the river, as well as relay stations for messengers. I mentioned earlier that the enemy had taken the next one down river. Our scouts reported that a sizable group from the anchored ships had joined up with the main army making the overland march from Calafia, so this was large force—marching to meet us.
The decision was made to secure the nearest watchtower and prepare it against a siege. It was crowed within the defensive walls around the tower. This small fort was definitely not made to house an entire army. The breach loaders were fixed towards the river; with no time to move them they were useless to us. With no guns or engines, it would be up to soldiers and steel to win the day.
The enemy brought a ballista, which was responsible for many casualties. It was not long before the gate started to crack. Before it went down Sir Edward called for shield men to form up in the gateway, two rows low and high, making a very formidable wall. Many good men of Dreiburgen and the Fifth volunteered to make that wall, thus taking the first wave. The gate caved in and our line was hit hard, but we held for a long time as the enemy smashed against our men again and again. Finally, after many charges and the casualties mounted by the ballista, our line broke. It was a chaos of weapons, bodies and blood, but we managed to push them back again long enough to extract some of our wounded.
I watched as many men in blood covered Fifth Brigade surcoats were removed to the rear. I took note of Lord Ránulfr being pulled out with an apparent leg injury. Just then another charge came, and I felt a searing pain in my right leg that dropped me to my knees. I looked around at the situation thinking, “I’m wounded I must move to the rear”, but as I looked to the gateway I saw that most of our men were now gone and I was in what was now the front line. There were only two shield men in front of me and one beyond that. We all were wounded and on our knees. The lone man that was most forward was against the wall and curled up behind his shield, still trying to take out the enemy standing before him. “He’s a goner”, I thought as I looked for a way to extract myself. I turned back to him, noticing that it was a Fifth Brigade shield under which he hid, and looking closer realized that it was Lord Viridovix, the man that had saved my life on more than one occasion. The two wounded shield men could not provide any assistance, and there was no one else nearby with a weapon long enough to give him cover, so I stayed and fought long and hard to keep the enemy off him, hoping for a chance to extract him from his peril.
We remained like that until another charge came in, a large unit of Grecian warriors. I lifted my pike and swung it 90 degrees, driving it hard into the hip of their point man. I slammed him into the far wall. My pike stretched across the open gateway, and before I could pull it back more Greek soldiers ran into it. The first few doubled over the shaft, and the rest were stumbling towards me guided by my pike. All I could see were eyes red with anger and steel swinging at me. My pike was hopelessly stuck; all I could do was use the butt end of the shaft to block the attacks. I knew it was only a matter of time before I failed to block fast enough or their swords chopped through the shaft.
Suddenly there was a crash and the Greek warrior standing over me fell on top of me, his body totally limp. I was completely pinned as another soldier stepped up, turning his sword readying to drive it into a gap in my armor. At the top of my vision I saw a large mace crash down on top of his helm. It caved in and was reduced to one half its former height, the head inside turned into red mush. His body fell on top of me obscuring my vision. “I know that mace”, I thought to myself as another body fell on top of me, “that’s El Bonk”, Lord Damashi’s poll mace. It turned out that he was right behind me all along, and when he saw that I was in trouble he did the only thing he could do: killed the enemy quickly one by one, allowed the bodies to fall on me, and affectively gave me cover by burying me with enemy bodies. Lost count of how many he dropped on top of me, all I really knew was that they were heavy.
It was a long while before the enemy was pushed back far enough to allow our men to dig me out. I retired to the back wall, where I was able to take water and have my leg bandaged. By the time I had re secured my armor, the enemy’s numbers had been reduced low enough that the generals called for a mop up. Our men charged out of the gateway killing every one in their path; those who remained, routed in fear. We let them go while we reformed ranks, counting the dead and wounded. I was pleased to see that Lord Viridovix was still among the living.
We then moved down river to the next watchtower where more enemy troops were holed up. As we advanced on the gate I remember thinking that this time I was glad that the breech loaders were fixed towards the river. Once the gate was forced open we charged in wave after wave of attacks, but they kept us out with grim determination. I heard General Gregory and Sir Edward discussing the fact that we were not making any headway, when reinforcements arrived in the form of the Caidan Royal Artillery Corps. The C.R.A.C. was instructed to knock down the wall to the left of the gate. It was a necessary action, but I was not happy about it; all the towers on Dreiburgen soil are the barony’s responsibility to maintain, so I knew our treasury would be covering the repairs.
Once the wall was down, Gregory led the charge over the debris into the gap. The enemy’s resolve did not last long after that. We managed to push our way in, and our victory was inevitable; those who remained sought to escape. I do not know whose men were fighting at the gate, but they failed to hold as our enemy forced their way out and united with reinforcements who just then emerged from the brush to aid them. Our army pursued them outside the wall, and quickly formed ranks. A charge was called, our lines clashed and confusion ensued. The arrival of reinforcements had strengthened their morale, but it was too little, too late; our victory was at hand. That over confidence plus fatigue is probably why I made my mistake.
I was not watching the line in front of me when it broke. A charge surged upon me, and I felt a sword hit me in the ribs. It did not penetrate my armor, but the impact made me turn away. Then I felt a severe blow to the back of my head. I saw stars, followed by a brief moment of black, then a wave of nausea. Staggering back behind the lines to safety, I dropped to my knees, threw off my helm, and fell to my hands. I stayed there and waited for the world to stop spinning.
(Authors Note: This moment was captured on video and can be viewed on You Tube, Great Western War IX at second #51, considering the concussion I’m amazed that I actually only drop to one hand and kept the banner up.)
When I found my feet again I took some water to wash the bile from my throat and stumbled back to camp, where I placed myself in the trained medical hands of Her Ladyship Marie and Lord Hrothbeorht. They determined that I had a mild concussion; after looking at the dent in the back of my helm I was not surprised. Unfit to return to battle, I was forced to lie up in camp and depend on battlefield reports.
As it turned out, that was the last conflict for the day. Scouts reported there were more enemy troops marching in our direction that should reach us by the morning. In the camps we celebrated the day’s victories, and toasted the many acts of bravery and valor that were witnessed throughout the day’s battles. His Lordship Killian had so proven himself upon the field that early in the evening His Majesty offered him the accolade of knighthood. The next morning our army mustered for the final mop up operation, successfully crushing the remaining brigades and cutting off their retreat.
With this final victory we can be assured that no one will be able to mount a significant attack on Caid’s borders before spring, but I urge those who read this to remain vigilant. These past few years we have repelled attacks from the south, northwest, and the northeast, and there are no signs that our enemies will let up. Be assured that they will use this winter to rebuild their armies. Do not forget that we did not have a clear victory in Darkwell last summer; we only held until their supplies were exhausted, resulting in their tactical decision to withdraw.
Maintain your armor, hone your fighting skills, and build your stores. Spring is coming.