Eorl Hrothgar Godwinson had pushed his men hard throughout the day. The columns of smoke rising from burning thatch clearly showed the raiders path across the countryside. Sometimes it was the hated Normans exacting revenge for an ambush or perhaps showing what happens to those who will not swear fealty to William. But this time he knew it was the Danes of Snorri Ragnarsson.
Fleeing villagers had brought tales of how three longboats packed with Vikings had pulled up on the coast to the south and begun raiding far and wide. At Swyneford none were left alive save those taken as slaves. At Byrnsege, Ealdorman Aethelwold and his men had bravely fought off the attackers. Aethelwold had perished but Snorri’s Danes were dealt a severe blow with many of his men now wounded. But more ships had arrived, the rest of Snorri’s army in fact, and the Danes continued to ravage the countryside. They came for gold, silver and slaves. Hrothgar’s plan was to reach the Danish ships and burn them before the raiders returned. At least the warm spring sunshine had meant that the roads and paths offered good going.
“My Lord!” called Aelfric, his most senior Housecarl, pointing northwest, “Beyond that wooded ridge the path winds down to the coast. We should reach the ships within the hour.”
Hrothgar gave orders for a short rest and walked amongst his men, greeting old friends here, making rough jokes with others there. Above all he took care to appear calm and confident. Men produced flasks and skins to take long swigs of ale or mead. Others chewed on pieces of bread or dried meat. Some of the younger men in his force, just boys really, were obviously nervous about the coming fight. To supplement his small number of trained warriors he had called out the local fyrd. Some came well equipped with long spears, large shields and perhaps a helmet. A few even had swords. Yet others had nothing but a sling or a hunting bow. He did not doubt that he would have the advantage of numbers, but Snorri’s men would all be hardened warriors; fierce Hird or capable Bondi, all eager for battle.
If he could reach the ships then he was certain he could overwhelm the small force that would have been left to guard the precious vessels. A long horn blast brought him from his thoughts. Some of the farmer’s lads had arrived on horseback; although they were of no use as fighting cavalry they could cover a wide area far more quickly than men on foot. So Hrothgar had sent them to locate the bands of Danes ravaging the area. Now they were pounding back across the meadows to the West. Emerging from the woodland paths behind the riders Hrothgar saw men; men equipped for battle. The sun glinted off armour and spear points. The Danes had arrived to save their ships!
“Aelfric! The Danes! Form the Shieldwall!” Hrothgar roared.
This is the setting for a medium sized game (approx 1,500pts per side) of War & Conquest that continues the story of the Three Kingdoms campaign. It also demonstrates that W&C is perfectly suited to both large and smaller scale battles. The forces are listed below.
Jarl Snorri Ragnarsson
Erik Long-Axe (Hersir)
18 Hirdmen + 1 Beserker
20 Veteran Bondi + 1 Beserker
12 Bondi Archers
** These were the survivors from the skirmish at Byrnsege, our previous game. We agreed that as the unit would be a mix of Thegns and Bondi, we would consider them as Hird until they reached 50% then they would be Bondi. This would make them initially quite tough, but potentially rather 'brittle' as the battle went on.
Eorl Hrothgar Godwinson
Ealdorman Osric of Baðon
12 Gebur Archers
14 Gebur Slingers
The victory conditions were simple, slaughter the enemy Warlord!
Now for a few pictures and some notes from the game. By the way - apologies for the poor quality of some of the pictures. My new man cave has some unresolved lighting issues. Plus my camera isn't exactly ideal for these sort of shots (and maybe I'm not a very good photographer! ;o)).
Deployment with the Saxons at the bottom of the pic.
The Saxon plan was to hold up one flank using the Ceorls whilst the hammer blow was delivered by the Huscarls and Thegns on the other flank. Whereas the Danes have formed a solid line in Shieldwall. Hmmm...
A (slightly over-exposed) view along the Danish lines.
Battle is joined. The Thegns, led by Osric of Baðon, plough in to the Jarl Snorri's Hirdmen, whilst Hrothgar leads his household's finest against the veteran Bondi. It was essential that Hrothgar broke the Bondi in one turn otherwise the other unit of Hird would be on his flank tearing the Saxons in to bloody ruin.
Next turn and the results of the combats have been quite dramatic! As planned, Hrothgar's elite warriors have crushed the Bondi, but alas a wounded Osric and a very battered group of Thegns are forced to flee from Snorri's wrath. Those two units of Ceorls are now really going to have to earn their turnip ration if the Danes are to be defeated.
Now, I'm afraid that the rest of the pics were a bit too blurry to be even vaguely blog-worthy. So I'll briefly outline what happened in the following turns... The Hird and Bondi (on the right in the pic above) fell upon the Ceorls in front of them. To their credit the stout shieldwall of the Ceorls proved a tough nut for the Danes to crack, even with the help of a Beserker, but eventually the Danes prevailed. The Thegns never rallied and left the field. The other Ceorls failed to form a shieldwall in time and were hacked to shreds by Snorri's men in one blood-soaked round of combat.
This left Hrothgar and his Huscarls in the centre of the field (having finally dealt with the veteran Bondi who rallied, fought then fled). In a desperate gamble, Hrothgar engaged the smaller unit of Hirdmen in the hope of breaking them and giving his men space to reform before Snorri's Hird charged them in the rear. The combat was hard-fought, with the Huscarls winning, but a good Morale roll for the Hird saw them stand firm. Thus Hrothgar's fate was sealed... Surrounded by ferocious Danes, his Huscarls drew up around their Lord and fought to the last man as night fell across the field.
This was a fantastic game that came down to the last combat of the final turn, and could easily have been a dramatic victory for the Saxons. Whilst the Danes were victorious they took a significant number of casualties; clearly their menace is much reduced for the time-being.