Near Viadaza, northern Tilea, Winter 2401-2
Biagino found it difficult to keep up with Ugo. Not that Ugo, a coachman by profession, clad in a long, thick, leather coat over a mail shirt and carrying the heaviest looking firearm Biagino had ever seen, was particularly fleet of foot, rather that he was less wary about making a noise.
Biagino hated being so close to someone who seemed wholly intent on advertising their presence to all and sundry within five hundred braccia. This was without a doubt neither the time nor the place to be so loud. Three times Biagino had pleaded with his companion to be quiet, only to be answered by an instruction to hurry up. Ugo wanted speed, the priest wanted quiet. While Ugo crashed through the undergrowth, Biagino picked his way through, fighting the urge to turn around and go back.
They agreed about one thing, however: neither wanted to be there at all.
They had been sent to the woods north-east of Busalla, close to where the road branched to Viadaza, due to reports of enemy movement thereabouts. Up until now the Viadazan undead had stayed within the city bounds. If they were moving further a-field then it could prove a dangerous hindrance to the activities of the last remnants of the Morrite crusader’s army. Indeed any moment now, the enemy could prove very dangerous to Biagino. While there was concealment for him and Ugo in the many shadows, there was also concealment for anyone or anything else. For all he knew these woods could be bursting with night terrors and grave-horrors, with a murderous fiend waiting behind the very next tree. Perhaps only dumb luck had kept them alive so far?
It did not help that in his mind’s eye every third tree adopted the guise of some ghoulish creature, the branches transforming into ragged limbs reaching out to claw at him.
At long last and quite suddenly, Ugo began to move cautiously, bringing his boots down softly and carefully. Stifling the urge to vent his annoyance by pointing out that Ugo had obviously been capable of silent movement all along, Biagino instead chose to give thanks to Morr that his companion had finally seen sense. The feeling of satisfaction was short lived, however, as it now occurred to him there must be some pressing reason for the coachman’s sudden caution. One look at Ugo’s wide-eyed face confirmed this suspicion.
“What is it?” Biagino whispered.
Ugo put his finger to his lips. It was an action which in light of his previous carelessness would have much exasperated Biagino if it were not for the manifestation of a fear so strong as to override all other emotions. Ugo removed his finger, and very slowly – as moving his arm suddenly would in itself be dangerous – reached out to point through the trees. Once Biagino turned to look, Ugo hefted his dwarf-made, iron and steel monstrosity of a blunderbuss, and peered, wide-eyed, through the trees himself.
“There they are,” Ugo said, in words made of little more than a breath. “This is as close as we go, and we don’t stay long.”
Biagino was not going to argue with the last instruction at all. As for the first, although he was happy to go no closer, he did move cautiously and quietly a few yards to the left, to where could see a little better. Having taken all the risks he had so far, it would be very foolish indeed to waste this opportunity and fail to learn everything he could. Ugo frowned at first, but when he saw Biagino halt, simply mouthed,
“No further, please!”
One look and Biagino could see they had almost stepped into a nightmare.
He was no innocent. He had faced the undead in battle. But then, he had an army about him, strong in their beliefs and firm in their ranks and files. Now there was only him and Ugo, alone in the woods, mere yards from a veritable legion of undead. “Reports of enemy activity,” General D’Alessio had said. At any other time the insufficiency of that comment might have brought a wry smile to Biagino’s face, but here and now, faced with the full truth, it was a sob he had to stifle.
Skeletal warriors lined both sides of the road, two ranks deep, their bones entirely fleshless, and thoroughly washed by the rain of earlier that evening. The nearest ones, stood only a matter of yards away, clutched spears, and but for an eerie twitch here and an uncanny twist there, they could have been statues. The only sound was a strange creaking and scraping, emanating from bones grinding in sockets and spear-shafts rubbing against the rusted rims of ancient shields.
Then there was another sound: the slow beat of drums, of the kind that might go before a convicted felon on their last journey to the scaffold. Neither Ugo nor Biagino could bring themselves to move, such was the new layer of trepidation conjured by that sound. Biagino wondered if they were about to witness some poor souls being led to their doom, their blood to be drained by vampires or their bodies twisted and corrupted by necromantic magic. Yet he knew that was not likely. The undead were arrayed as if to welcome a prince, to show their strength and be inspected at one and the same time. This was more like a welcoming parade.
Moments later, a pair of drummers marched by, followed immediately by three torch bearers.
Their drums, however, accounted for only a part of what Biagino could hear. There must be a bigger, louder drum somewhere else.
Next came some nobly attired riders. The first of these was a lady riding side-saddle upon a mount barded in flowing, blood red silks. Her skin was deathly pale, and she wore a headdress and diadem of an archaic style Biagino had seen in books of ancient history. In her right hand she wielded a brazen staff topped by a silvered serpent’s head with red-jeweled eyes.
She was clearly a vampire. Her appearance was proof enough, and the potent aura she exuded washed away all hopes that she might be anything else. Biagino had felt the exact same deathly chill before, on the field of battle at Pontremola, where no less than two such fiends had commanded the enemy host. As she rode by Biagino’s vantage point, he could see her much better, although the experience grew worse.
His insides churned as dizzy fear washed through him. She did not look at him, but fixed her eyes ahead as if too proud to study the skeletal warriors lining her route. Or perhaps too focused upon her cruel intentions?
Just as it seemed impossible to be more afraid, he became so. He knew her face. He had seen it before in his nightmares.
And he had met her in waking life too. Since then her flesh had blanched, her mouth become distorted by the fangs curling from her upper lip, and her cheeks had sunken so that bony ridges now framed her huge, dark eyes. But her expression was one he had witnessed before, for she had used it upon him. She wore only a hint of it in life, but in his dreams she had given that same scornful, wicked and proud look full vent.
It was the Duchess Maria!
His knees weakened, threatening to bring him down. He stumbled backwards a step. Luckily, the rustling sound thus made was hidden by the noise of thudding hooves and clattering armour from the road, and loudest of all, the kettle drums Biagino had known must be present. Even Ugo failed to notice.
The Duchess Maria had been corrupted. She had turned, then returned. And here she was being welcomed by an army of undead into Viadaza.
He realised now it all made sense: The Duchess’s miraculous – impossible – escape from Ebino; the strange companions with her that Gonzalvo had described, perhaps here now among the several companies of riders behind her?
Also, her lack of effort in convincing Lord Adolfo to support the crusade; and Lord Adolfo’s uncharacteristic, dreamy fascination in her; and the way Viadaza had fallen to the undead almost immediately the Morrite clergy had left.
Everything now made horrible sense – and fitted neatly together. The duchess never did escape Ebino, but had become a secret servant of evil, no doubt sent to sow the seeds of Viadaza’s destruction. She beguiled Lord Adolfo to fatally weaken the crusade, whilst simultaneously ensuring the priests of Morr still left the city. The fall of Viadaza was her doing.
Biagino’s nightmares had been a sign. Morr himself had no doubt sent them to reveal the truth, yet so many times Biagino, in his ignorance, had woken, drenched in sweat, simply to dismiss the lingering images from his mind as quickly as possible. He thought them a weakness arising from his own self-doubts, when in truth they were nothing less than an inspired vision of the truth, presented starkly and boldly. Here was the duchess exactly as she had been in his divinely gifted dreams, the true self she concealed behind a sorcerous disguise.
The Vampire Duke Allessandro Sforta was no more. Now there was the Vampire Duchess Maria Colleoni.
And lining the road, and riding behind, she had an army to do her bidding.
The curse upon Tilea had not been diminished at all. If anything, it waxed stronger, threatening to conquer more cities and towns and to swallow ever more souls.
How are the Mighty Fallen (A Battle Report)
Tursi, Southern Tilea, Winter 2401-2
Approx. 3200 pts of Tilean mercenaries versus 3300 pts of greenskins. (A mixture of original game photos and re-posed scenes.)
The mercenary army of the Vereenigde Marienburg Compagnie’s (‘VMC’) Tilean enterprise had been busy. Their establishment at Alcente had been granted in return for providing much needed defence against the Badlands’ orc warlord, Khurnag. Now they had to make good that promise, for Khurnag had turned his attention toward the south-west and was approaching the watchtower at Tursi with the greatest part of his ‘Waagh!’, close to his entire strength.
So it was that the VMC soldiers had incorporated the watchtower into the defensive perimeter of hastily thrown-up fortifications. The work was incomplete, but nevertheless, substantial, as they had piled up earth to create a parapeted perimeter and palisaded bastions.
Here you can see the eastern portion of those defences, where the tower itself stood.
The tumbledown ruins of an ancient stone shrine to forgotten gods formed one side of the eastern gate, while an earthen bastion bristling with sharpened poles sat upon the other. The tower itself was typical of the southern region of Tilea, constructed of local stone (unlike the ancient ruin), plastered and painted, with tiles of red clay atop its buttresses and crenelations.
The watchtower’s recently installed garrison, a company of mounted handgunners who had been assigned the duty of regular patrols throughout the area between Sussurio in the north and Alcente in the south, now formed part of the army awaiting Khurnag’s arrival. As the enemy hoved into sight, the horsemen moved off as if to attempt to outflank the foe, ensuring they were spotted in the act, but it was a mere feint to fool the enemy into an unnecessary deployment, for they soon doubled back and settled themselves behind the incomplete wooden defences south of the tower.
(Game Note: Ant used his general’s mercenary skill of ‘Tactician’ to redeploy this unit and his heavy horse, first putting them outside the fortified camp and thus luring me into placing several important greenskin units on that flank in the hopes of engaging them. And then, to my surprise, they were gone. It seems men are subtler than greenskins. Who would have thought it?)
Two companies of locally raised brigands, armed with longbows, defended the same stretch, one behind the double fence (yet to be filled in with rubble and earth), the other occupying the tower.
The VMC’s main strength was deployed on the other side of the tower. A twenty-strong firelock company, until recently employed separately to the rest of the army, manned the first stretch of earthwork. They were clothed in grey broadcloth and more than half were armed with long barreled, but light pieces of a novel new northern design inspired by the latest dwarfen lock mechanisms, which did not require slow-match for ignition. Well drilled and battle experienced, these mercenaries now flashed their pans, adjusted flints and frizzens, then (to speed up the act of loading) stuffed lead balls into their cheeks, ready to spit into the muzzles after each charge of powder.
A brass-barreled saker was placed next, then the regiment of Estalian rodoleros (sword and buckler men). The orange and blue VMC colours fluttered above them, carried by the young ensign Anders van Rooven, a man of as worthy a descent as one could have in the city of Marienburg (his family being not only of noble blood but also very successful in their mercantile interests). By his side stood a Myrmidian priestess, the Tilean noblewoman Luccia la Fanciulla, whose presence much inspired the rank and file soldiers about her. They had found it very easy to embrace the god of war when her mortal agent took such an attractive form.
Another saker broke up the line of foot, and then next stood Captain van Luyden’s company of shot, in which each man was also busying himself with preparing his handgun and passing burning matchcord around to ensure every man’s was lit. The archmage Johannes Deeter, whiskered wholly in white while clothed entirely in black, stood with them. Unusually, he was not attended by his apprentice Serafina – she was inside the watchtower, sent to support that wing with whatever magics she could muster.
Colonel van Hal’s Tercio, the ‘Meagre Company’, guarded the gate, consisting of a phalanx of pike with two sleeves of shot. Unusually, one of the little companies of shot stood in front of the pike, while the other stood at its side, flanked itself by a ribaudequin attended by the VMC’s Master of Works and artillery commander, Captain Singel.
Out on the far left flank was the army’s Lord General, Jan Valckenburgh, clad in black lacquered cuirassier armour, accompanied by Captain Wallenstein and his company of heavy horse. While their bred-for-war mounts snorted and champed at their bits, the riders spanned their wheel-lock pistols, knowing that they would without doubt be using them very shortly and so need not worry about weakening the springs. Their heavy maces, the perfect instruments for bashing in thick, orcen skulls, hung from their saddles besides the pistol holsters.
Warboss Khurnag, or ‘Mighty Khurnag’ as his own warriors called him, had chosen to ride his wyvern to battle, the better to be seen by his boys, and to terrify the foe.
Ever since he had refused to fly the beast over the walls at Monte Castello (in the knowledge of what the batteries of guns would do to it) there had been tittle-tattle amongst his lesser servants, which had only the previous night been foolishly voiced within his earshot. The speaker was now dead – in fact he died only the merest moment after he realised, with horror, his mistake – but Khurnag’s pride had been dented. So now he sat atop his green-scaled, monstrous mount at the rear of his force, squinting against the afternoon sun to see just what in the way of guns this new foe possessed. It seemed that the goblin big boss Gurmliss had not been exaggerating when he said that the army of Alcente was almost exclusively armed with black powder weapons. Not that knowing this would have changed Khurnag’s mind regarding his choice of mount, for if he was to regain the respect of his army and ensure they continued to call him ‘mighty’ then the wyvern was the only choice he could make. Known only to him, and perhaps his mount, Khurnag did not like what he saw, and somewhere deep inside his raging mind there was a gnawing doubt telling him that he had made a mistake; a big mistake.
(Game note: A discussion between me and Ant during set up certainly made me wonder whether my “Got the model, so will use it” attitude was going going to prove somewhat foolish!)
On the greenskin’s left flank, amassed there in the mistaken belief that the foe had deployed several bodies of horsemen outside the walls, were not only Khurnag, but two orc boar chariots (a third left behind with a broken axle) …
… two bolt throwers and three maneaters Khurnag employed on the march to guard the baggage from thieving goblins.
There were also almost eighty missile troops, arrer-boyz and gobbos, the former having the longest range due to the larger size of both the bows and the warriors wielding them.
Just the sort of troops to weaken then smash the enemy’s light horse. If, that is, they had still been there!
Now they faced the walls and a tower, manned by enemy handgunners and bowmen – not exactly the ideal opposition for chariots, and sufficiently concealed by the fences to mean many arrows would be wasted.
Luckily, the greenskin right, where Khurnag decided the important hand to hand fighting would surely take place, seemed perfectly strong enough to deliver a fatal blow. Eighty or so orcs marched in two large bodies …
…with a brace of stone throwers ready to hurl huge rocks behind them. Boar riders …
… and wolf riders came up on the far right, along with two wolf chariots and a pump wagon to add to the enemy’s discomfort.
“It’ll ‘ave to do,” thought Khurnag. Once he cleared this lot away from their piles of dirt and shiny tower, he could sate himself and his warriors by looting the city of Alcente and all the settlements around. He gave no thought to what he would do after that, having never really considered anything much that far ahead, and besides, right now he was trying to fill his mind with eagerness for battle. Hefting his heavy, serrated choppa, he prepared to give the sign to advance.
As ‘Mighty’ Khurnag raised his blade to give his signal, the VMC’s gunners were already touching slow match to powder to fire their two sakers directly at him. One piece’s barrel shivered immediately, burning the crew to send them reeling away in agony. But the other gun sent a six-pound roundshot which first tore a chunk of scales from the wyvern’s neck and then ploughed right through Khurnag’s belly. Lifted out of his saddle, he was dead before he hit the ground.
The mighty Khurnag was no more. Not one sword had been bloodied, no arrow had been loosed, nor any lead-shot fired. Just one, single iron ball – and already the Waagh’s commander, the entire driving force behind the greenskins’ presence in Tilea, was slain!
His mount lurched ungainly, badly wounded by the more than glancing blow to its serpentine neck. Those greenskins who failed to witness his demise were nudged and nipped by their comrades so that within a moment or two nearly every Waagh warrior was aware that Khurnag had fallen, if not that he was dead. Upon reflection (admittedly not that much) hardly any of them thought this was reason enough to feel dismayed; certainly not to retreat. The enemy looked weak, and they felt strong. The momentary distraction was, however, enough to subdue their otherwise perpetual squabbling, and so it was that the entire army began its advance as one, just exactly as Khurnag had intended they should. (Game note: i.e. no animosity fails.)
A weak wave of magical summonations sputtered from the line of green, while a pair of huge stones landed with a thump, nowhere near the men of the VMC. Only one handgunner succumbed to the orcs’ first volley of arrows.
The little artillery piece the Waagh’s goblins had looted from Scabscar’s camp by the sea did kill three rodoleros, but this was the only substantial harm of any kind caused. Not that the greenskins were really trying yet – they were more concerned with closing the distance between themselves and the enemy. Keenest of all were Thagger the Spoiler’s boar riders, their pace matched only by the Waagh’s lone surviving pump wagon.
Thagger was one of the few orcs who remained ignorant of Khurnag’s death, and none among his warriors were foolish enough to disturb him while he was riled up for battle.
The pump wagon was ‘Loony’ Loyt’s latest creation.
He had chosen to ride this one, while using the opportunity (somewhat rudely) to show off the gold ring he had been paid for the engine’s manufacture.
On the greenskin’s left, the boar chariots, uncertain as to what or who they should charge, nevertheless rolled around either side of the maneaters, while the dazed but angry wyvern hopped over to land between them.
Behind the defences no-one moved from their position, being instead busy with loading, determined to launch as much lead and iron at the enemy as possible before meeting whatever survived to reach their protective palisade. The VMC’s wizards and priests conjured a Net of Amontek upon Thagger’s boar riders, as well as killing one of the same with a Banishment spell. Pha’s Protection embraced several many of the defender’s units, while Shem’s Burning Gaze felled one unlucky goblin. This magical assault was a mere taster, for now a hailstorm of arrows, bullets and balls burst outwards. Goblins and orcs across the line fell, including half of the boar riders. The wizard’s ‘ethereal dissipater’ shook Loony Loyt’s pump wagon to pieces, and the sight of this sent one of the wolf chariots fleeing from the field. Not everything eant the VMC’s way, however, as their ribaudequin blew itself up and their saker’s shot simply buried itself into the earth.
Knowing his lads must surely now be wondering if they would even reach the foe alive, Boss Thagger gave vent to a furiously defiant cry, urging his riders on.
“Go faster, ya Slugabeds. Go faster. Now!”
What he had not reckoned with was the cruel power of the Net of Amontek. Another of his boar riders was killed by its etheric barbs and none of the rest could free themselves from its grip. And they were not the only regiment to grind to halt. Someone in the massive regiment of orc boyz had already cracked a joke about Khurnag’s death – something about him now having iron guts.
The ensuing mix of mockery and laughter, anger and brawling held them back as the rest of the army surged onwards around them (Game note: failed animosity).
Once more the greenskin magic failed to get to grips with the foe, while the magical protection of a Banner of Respite meant that the stone throwers caused no harm either. As for missiles, only the goblin cannon caused any real hurt, felling two of the heavily armoured cuirassiers with the VMC lord general. Perhaps to prove that they were not dismayed by such treatment, General Valckenburgh ordered his gentlemen to advance. They were the only VMC unit to move.
The VMC’s handsomely mounted gentlemen fired a pistol volley at the wolf chariot, joined by volleys from both detachments of handgunners to their right. The chariot did not have a chance. Witnessing its destruction, the wolfrider boss Booglebor, one of the few survivors of the last battle against the VMC, was reminded of the very similar fate of the entire Little Waagh. What remnant remained of his resolve after Khurnag’s demise, now crumbled, and as he tugged at the fur of his wolf mount to halt the beast, the rest of his riders took this as a sign to shift for themselves, and so turned and fled away. (Game note: Failed panic test.)
Meanwhile the Net of Amontek now ensnared the goblin archers …
… and Shem’s Burning Gaze delivered a coup de grace on the wyvern. Perhaps distracted by their magical entrapment, the goblins did not panic at the sight of the wyvern’s death, but the orcen archers’ courage failed them and they fled away in disarray.
A good number of orcs and goblins fell amongst the ranks of several different units, brought down by lead-shot and arrows, but the VMC’s only surviving saker was not to join the fun, for it too blew itself up. (General Valckenburgh would later order an investigation into the self-destruction of his three artillery pieces, suspecting sabotage at worst, or perhaps culpable negligence.)
At last, some of the greenskins were within potential striking distance of the foe – although nowhere near as many as they might have had if it were not for their tendency either to squabble or run away at the slightest provocation. The smaller regiment of orcs, led by big boss Malkey the Fist, who carried the army standard…
… attempted to reach Captain van Luyden’s company of shot, but, having lost five of their number to a volley in the attempt, failed to do so.
Only the goblin archers, breaking free of the magical net binding them, and losing four of their number in the charge, successfully reached the foe – hurtling themselves at the earthen bank upon which the grey coated firelock company stood. Of all the greenskin regiments, as well as being the least likely to first engage the enemy, they were probably the least well equipped for such a fight.
Thagger’s attempt to support this pathetically weak assault had already failed, for when his boar riders lost two more of their number to the Meagre Company’s forlorn hope of hand-gunners, they turned and fled, pelting past the wolf-riders also leaving to their left.
Of course, the goblin archers, despite bringing down several of the enemy, suffered badly at the hands of the VMC’s mercenaries, their attack much weakened by the fact that the foe was protected by substantial defences (Game note: No charge bonus and no rank bonus – home rules due to fact that these earthworks were something considerably more than a mere fence, being built with battle in mind.) No-one, not even themselves, was remotely surprised when they fled.
So far, the greenskins had done nothing but bicker, stumble, retreat or bounce. Yet with numbers still on their side …
… most of those left alive had still to realise their cause was surely doomed.
As General Valckenburgh’s cuirassiers turned a little, with equal calmness the garrison handgunners simply trotted back a few yards from the defences. Two volleys of arrows laid low one of the Maneaters, while salvoes from the several companies of shot wounded another ogre, as well as felling a smattering of orcs and goblins elsewhere in the Waagh’s increasingly ragged lines.
With a bellowed roar of frustration Thagger halted his last surviving riders.
Next to him the wolfriders had also come to a halt, and began bickering over what they ought to do next, with their captain Booglebor’s voice lost amongst their chorus of shouts and insults. On the left of the greenskin line the last two maneaters charged the tower and set about hacking at the defenders. Both sides gave as good as they got and the very bloody assault resulted in the demise of the maneaters as well as five defenders. Nearby the boar chariots hurtled at the incomplete (and thus less troublesome than it should have been) palisade, partly smashing through and partly bouncing over it, killing or fatally wounding all ten of the defending archers, then loudly rattling into the yard within. On the right, big boss Malkey the Fist …
… led his boys into Captain van Luyden’s company of shot, losing four of his orcs to a handgun blast just as they began to climb the earthen bank. Malkey badly bloodied the VMC’s venerable archmage Deeter, and the old man could do little but cower back and hope the men around him could defend him against further harm. With four orcs falling and one handgunner, the fight broiled on, with neither side yet ready to break. (Game note: -1 to hit as fighting over defences, no rank bonus) At their side the big mob of orcs moved up close to the foe, urged on by Big Mosher.
Once again, the greenskins’ magic proved incapable of harming the soldiers of the VMC, as their wizards channeled away its effects with dispelings and wardings. A huge stone crashed amongst the rodoleros, instantly killing five, yet they proved both brave and loyal, and simply reformed their ranks and files.
Now the rodoleros, champing at the bit for a fight and no longer willing to stand passively whilst dying to enemy fire, leapt over the barricades, the army standard of the VMC streaming above their heads, and charged into the flank of Malkey the Fist’s orcs to the front of the bastion.
Unwilling to risk receiving a charge from the boar chariots, the tower garrison’s mounted handgunners did what such troops do best and galloped around the foe’s flank. The sound of gunfire came from the other side of the tower as the firelock guard felled another eight of the goblin archers they had just pushed from the wall. Out on the VMC’s left the two detachments of foot handgunners combined their firepower with the cuirassier’s pistols to cut down ten of Big Mosher’s orcs. (Game note: 10 was not quite a quarter of their strength, they needed 11!) Big Mosher was not dismayed, but instead grinned, for at last – at long last – he was about to draw the enemy’s blood. He raised his choppa and gulped in the breath necessary to bellow the order to charge. But it was not to be. For in that instant, Malkey’s orcs, battered to a pulp by the foe attacking them on two sides, unable to surmount the defences, finally broke and fled. Seeing this, and being neither as confident nor careless as their leader, Big Mosher’s orcs joined them in flight.
It was effectively the end for the greenskins, although one might argue that the beginning of the end had occurred upon the very opening shot of the battle, when Khurnag was killed. As the goblin archers set to squabbling among themselves over who got what from their fallen comrades, Mosher’s boys rallied.
Every greenskins’ will to fight had been fatally sapped. The survivors of the smaller mob of orcs continued their flight, while the rest just stood and watched as the now isolated regiment of rodoleros …
… turned and climbed back over behind the defences.
The warriors of Khurnag’s Waagh now began to fall back, some in silence and a semblance of order, most in a frantic, pell-mell flight. Goblins squealed as they ran …
… while orcs grunted.
Their ears were ringing from the umpteen thunderous black powder volleys that had been launched in their direction, their skin was peppered by splinters of bone and teeth torn by leaden bullets from the bodies of those once standing with them.
The two chariots trundled aimlessly through the enemy camp …
… until one was run down and destroyed by the enemy horsemen. The other careened around and smashed its way back out of the enemy’s camp, taking the firelock company with them!
As the fleeing handgunners skittered about to avoid the chariot’s scythes and its draught animals’ tusks and hooves, the rest of the soldiers of the VMC watched as the greenskins withdrew. Of course, they reloaded in case some madness caused the warriors of the Waagh to attempt one more assault. The goblin big boss Gurmliss, who had cunningly contrived a way to remain far in the rear of the Waagh throughout the battle so far, watched as greenskins poured past him on all sides …
… having already witnessed Booglebor’s departure. He wondered if they were a Waagh at all now that Khurnag was no longer leading them.
What he did not know was that Big Mosher was also considering the matter. Could he could make them his own Waagh? And would he want such a broken force?
The VMC’s drums and horns sounded, their colours were waved aloft, and the handgunners let loose a salute to victory, to be joined by cheering all along the defences. The Meagre Company’s pikemen could not believe the battle had been won without them having to engage anyone, yet cheered all the harder for it.
And General Valckenburgh rode through his army to give and accept salutes, to offer and receive praise, and joyously revel in the defeat of such a mighty foe.
Battle of the Princes
First Prologue: Regnans in Excelcis (Ruling from on High)
Remas, Winter, 2401-2
The Archlector Calictus II of the Holy Church of Morr commanded that the following be proclaimed by his priests throughout Tilea (and it was). In Remas, he himself delivered the speech, appropriately flanked by two artillery pieces.
“I hereby address all Tileans, whether noble or common, rich or poor, young or old. We can tarry no more, nor is there even time to pray, for a doom is upon each and every one of us. All that we hold dear, and everything else, will be most certainly destroyed, if we do not act now. Not soon, nor later, nor ‘by and by’, but this very hour of this very day.
“In summer, I spoke to you concerning the dire threat in the north, and demanded that all faithful servants of Morr, and of every lawful god, must immediately take up arms to defend Tilea against the undead. I asked all city states and princes to put aside any differences so that they could march forth together to end the terror before it devoured Tilea. Yet my words were not heeded, and the brave people of Viadaza stood alone against the foe. Such was their fearless faith that they were victorious in battle, and yet still, their city fell – for the foe is numerous, many and more, and will rise to fight again and again unless beaten utterly, their bones broken and burned to ash. But what does Tilea do? Even now wars are being fought over petty matters of trade and pride, concerning who governs this and who owns that, while still others languish in indolence or ignorance, believing the evil that has swallowed the north cannot reach them.
“If this enemy is not defeated, then there will be no rest eternal for any one of us. Instead of peaceful repose in Morr’s garden, you, your family, your friends, all those you love, all those you know, will become corrupted, tortured and enslaved to the will of vampires. This is no idle speculation, nor mere presumption, for this is exactly the fate of nearly every living soul who only last year dwelled in the realms of Miragliano, Ebino and Viadaza. And still the evil grows, engulfing ever more of Tilea.
“I do not now ask that you muster your own forces, look to your own defences and cease squabbling with your neighbours. Rather, I order you now to do all those things and more. You must obey Morr’s will, the will of his church, indeed the will of the Three churches, to act both promptly and fully.”
(This proclamation was read in every Morrite church and temple, by clergy of every rank. In Remas the archlector stood before the hill top church of Saint Taroscio the Horribly Martyred. Clergymen attended him, with one priest holding the written proclamation for the arch-lector to read. Behind him stood several-many of his personal guards, one of whom held his own standard, ornately depicting the keys to Morr’s Garden and the Triple Crown of the Three Churches:)
This is the proclamation he read, adding only a few words of his own:
“By the seal MMM, in full agreement with High Priest Flavio Tognazzi of the Church of Mercopio and Arch Priest Luccino de Sicca of the Church of Myrmidia, I hereby declare a Holy War against the wickedness in the north. Each and every able bodied, free Tilean is to muster in arms immediately, to be guided by our priests, and to assemble into armies sufficient to save our realm. Every ruling prince or council must do all they can to support this cause, raising all militia and soldiers available to them in order to support the holy war (keeping only those forces vital to the safety of their own realm) and providing all necessary supplies to maintain the marching forces in the field. Furthermore, every prince and council is ordered, for the greater good of the entire realm as well as in dutiful obedience to the will of the gods and their representative churches in this mortal realm, to respect their neighbours, cease any and all petty squabbles and actions, and to allow free passage of all gathering forces either to Remas or the north.”
Looking up from the text, the arch-lector continued.
“Even now, the able-bodied men of our city state of Remas, are girding arms. The city’s bells ring before dawn each day, so that they may gather to practice their postures and drill. Let no other city or town, nobleman or militiaman, shirk this holy duty.
“Assemble. March. Fight. Perhaps die. But do so safe in the knowledge that your soul will be most worthy of reward, to reside undisturbed for all eternity in Morr’s heavenly garden.”
(And yet …)
Battle of the Princes
Second Prologue: Busy with their Own Affairs
Prince Girenzo Medizi of Trantio had never intended to ride to battle with so few men. With exactly this concern in mind, he had hired what he had been led to believe was the best mercenary company in Tilea, to do his fighting for him in the first instance, and, if it ever proved necessary that he himself fight, then he would command a mighty army made of both his own soldiers as well as those he had purchased. Now, however, despite their promise that a raid against Pavona would be easily accomplished, the mercenaries of the Compagnia del Sole were close to failing him.
After a hesitant start, they had eventually begun the work of looting and burning with vigour.
Their initial delay, however, meant they tarried just a little too long in the enemy’s territory, allowing them to be caught. Now they had been badly mauled in battle and were being pursued back towards Trantio, slowed sufficiently by their precious haul of plunder that they were unlikely to reach the city if left entirely to their own devices.
As a consequence, Prince Girenzo had to choose: either rush to their aid or lose the mercenaries and the plunder (a significant portion of which was, by the terms of the contract, his). As it had come to open war between Trantio and Pavona, he needed both the mercenaries and the loot, which meant his hand was forced. He must ride out, no matter how risky it was.
Still, there was every reason to be optimistic. The relief force he commanded, despite its diminutive size, at least consisted of men he could trust.
He had personally overseen their thrice-weekly drilling in the fields outside his city walls, satisfying himself as to both their competence in arms and their dedication to his service. What they lacked, however, was numbers – paying the mercenaries had drained his coffers and strained his ability to borrow further from the banking houses. Recruiting his own subjects might not be as expensive, but it still required expenditure. One somewhat unsubtle solution to the meagerness of his forces – an idea suggested by the commander of his gentlemen-at-arms, Sir Gino Saltaramenda – was simply to give the impression, at least at a distance, of being a larger army. Prince Girenzo had mused that it was more the sort of tactic a brute orc would use than the kind of tactical cunning a Myrmidia worshipping, Tilean general might bring to bear, but Sir Gino had replied that the enemy were only men, and that nervous ears could befuddle scouts, then their hastily delivered reports unsettle their army. Despite his misgivings concerning the almost childish nature of the trick, the prince had agreed. After all, it would cost nothing, and if it made no real difference, then there was no real loss.
And so it was that at the head of the army four foot-soldiers marched with brass horns, blaring out shrill notes as harmoniously as they could.
It was not the most awe-inspiring of sounds, but when mixed with the tooting calls of yet more horns strung out behind the actual marching body, and the rolling rumble of several drums, it gave exactly the impression Sir Gino had suggested it would. The Prince had to admit that were he sneaking around upon the other side of a hill, or squatting in some undergrowth several hundred braccia away, afraid to venture closer for fear of being spotted, he might well surmise that a veritable host of regiments was marching along the road.
Behind the trill-foursome rode a vanguard of Trantio’s gentlemen at arms …
… led by the prince himself and his captain Sir Gino. The Medizi family coat of arms was emblazoned upon the white flag born by the company: a golden crown, chain and shield, sporting blood-red spots and fleurs-de-lys. The yellow and purple feathers piled thick and high upon the standard bearer’s helm added suitably to the impression of princely authority.
Both Girenzo and his captain were silent. They had attempted earlier to converse over the concocted blare, then quickly given it up as a bad job. The prince held his heavy helm in the crook of his arm as he pondered what lay ahead of him. Beneath his breastplate, pressing with heavy yet welcome weight against his chest, was the magical talisman his father had sworn by.
“I’d call it potent. That’s the word for it. Not once, nor twice, nor even three times,” the old prince had said to his son, then, after a delay apparently for silliness’ sake alone, “not even four times, nor five, but six – I tell you – six times this prettily carved bauble has saved my skin. Blades brought down in such a way that ought, without question, to have pierced me deep and deadly, born by warriors both strong and skilled, did little more than slip away as if they were broomsticks clutched in the trembling hands of feeble, old crones. Not every blow, mind you, as my scarred flesh and jarred bones do protest, but enough that I have lived to a ripe old age despite having taken what for anyone else would be six risks too many.”
The old prince had been nothing like his son, prone to long-winded pronouncements over the pettiest of matters, whilst countering serious concerns with jests and tomfoolery. Such behaviour was a species of bravery, Girenzo did not doubt, but it was not for him. Nevertheless, in the case of the talisman, his father had not been jesting, for Prince Girenzo had examined witnesses to learn that if anything his father was playing down its power. Girenzo now wondered whether today was his own, first ‘risk too many’, a thought that soon turned into worrying whether the magical power bound up in such a thing might wane over time, and then finally settling upon a doubt concerning whether it would work against lead or iron-shot. His father had only spoken of blades.
Of course, he showed not the slightest hint of his concern. Those who looked upon him would have presumed him to be lost in stern and studied contemplation, not troubled by the matter of self-preservation.
Behind the prince and gentlemen marched his foot soldiers – a large regiment of the city’s militia, every man bearing the pike he had practiced with time and time again.
At their head they carried two standards: the army’s battle standard, bearing the Medizi coat of arms bordered in yellow, and the city militia standard bearing the emblem of Trantio – a red fleur-de-lys prettified up with curlicues and flourishes.
Of course, not one but two drummers beat the march at their fore, all the better to augment the ominous sound of the force’s passage.
At the rear marched a company of crossbowmen, being a part of the Compagnia del Sole that remained in Trantio while the rest set off on the raid. They too had a drummer, but just as loud were their conjoined voices, casting the words of their soldiers’ bawdy songs to echo off the rocky hills all around.
Between them and the pike trundled the Compagnia’s horse artillery piece …
… which one might suppose ought to have gone with the raiders, but Prince Girenzo had wanted it to be at hand so that it could be dispatched quickly to wherever it was needed. The gunner was a dwarf, mounted on a pony …
… while the matross rode behind him, and the rest of the crew walked along side the piece and draft horses.
‘Light relief’, Captain Gino had called the column.
Hopefully, thought Girenzo, sufficient to add backbone to the mercenaries, rather than a mere crutch!
(Campaign list – modified from the ‘Treachery & Greed’ Warhammer Empire forum campaign list)
Prince Girenzo (Tilean Noble) 177 pts; Warhorse, barding, full plate. Talisman of Preservation, Biting Blade, Enchanted Shield
Special rules: Hold the Line.
Condotta Captain 84 pts; Mercenary skill – Hopelessly stubborn: Character, & any unit he joins, is stubborn.
Condotta Captain 79 pts; Battle Standard
8 Knights 209 pts; Full Plate, Warhorse, Shields, barding, lances // Full command (Champion = Sir Gino)
30 Militia Pikemen 265 pts; Light armor, pikes. Full Command
16 Condotta Marksmen 115 pts; Light armor, crossbows. Full Command
Horse Artillery 85 pts; 1 machine, 3 crewmen. As cannon, except range 24“, S7 & causing D3 wounds. Grapeshot S4, armour piercing. Cannon & crew can move 8”, can march, & can even move & fire (tho’ not march & fire). May flee charges, even tho’ war machines may not usually do so. May not stand & shoot.
Total Cost = 1014 pts
Battle of the Princes
The very western spur of the Trantine Hills, Winter IC2401-2
For most seasons the bridge over the Little Carrena was only used by wagons and coaches – those on foot or horseback found it just as easy to cross the almost dry, stony river bed. During the months of late autumn and winter, however, it ran somewhat deeper, occasionally requiring a traveller to wade waist-deep to cross it. So it was that most of those in the fleeing remnant of the Compagnia del Sole had been forced to cross the bridge, an action which slowed their progress and made many amongst them fearful of being overtaken by their pursuer, Duke Guidobaldo.
Their fear, however, proved unfounded, for not only did they cross in safety, but they then met with Prince Girenzo of Trantio and his relief force. After brief consultation, it was decided to array as one army upon the northern side of the river, there to make a stand against the foe.
The prince did not want the Pavonans to approach any closer to his precious Trantio, and the mercenaries were tired of running (and lugging their loot). Besides, as Prince Girenzo and General Fortebraccio agreed, the decision was tactically sound: they both knew that attempting a retreat while an enemy was close gave one’s own men the distinct impression that they were fleeing. Once soldiers got such a notion into their heads, then all order and cohesion could be quickly and easily lost, so that what they believed would indeed become the case.
General Fortebraccio still had some tricks up his sleeve, and by clever use of concealment, some old planks, an unimportant cart or two and a few broken and useless horses …
… he successfully misdirected the Pavonans into believing his Compagnia del Sole had deployed with its precious baggage strung out on the far left of the line, and that his heavy horse was clustered in the centre by Prince Girenzo’s gentlemen.
The trick worked … (Game Note: Army list mercenary skill – ‘Tactician’, meaning two units can redeploy after all deployment.) … for this was exactly how the deployment was reported to Duke Guidobaldo. And so he arrayed his own army accordingly. In truth, however, the Compagnia’s horse were out on the far-right flank, and the baggage train (of course) was tucked safely behind the centre of the Trantian army’s line.
Duke Guidobaldo had not tarried at Astiano. Once the enemy was broken and fled from the field, he halted only long enough to reform his fighting companies, allow his lightly wounded soldiers to recover sufficiently for the march, and to ensure that the more seriously injured would be tended to when left behind.
He knew that if he had been willing to wait just a few days longer, he would receive reinforcements from both Astiano and Pavona, but he was keen to catch the remnant of the Compagnia del Sole before they escaped his clutches, and so retrieve the plunder looted from his newly built settlement upon the Via Aurelia at Casoli. Many amongst his soldiers reckoned he also wanted the world to know that he was not afraid of a fight; nor the sort of man to allow hesitation to rule his actions.
Upon drawing within sight of the foe, the duke ordered his army to array itself among the loops of the stream, as if they cared not a jot about slippery rocks nor being soaked by cold, winter waters. His pistoliers had acted as outriders guarding the right flank, until eventually drawing close to the little bridge just as the army completed manoeuvring into line of battle. The duke and his son rode with their last few knights, carefully crossing the stream behind the artillery so that the duke could see for himself that his precious pieces were well-placed.
He wanted them to do well, for if they proved worthless it would make his choice to allow them to slow the whole army down during the pursuit look foolish. The regiment of swordsmen was next in line, flanked by a company of hand-gunners. Two bodies of halberdiers, separated by a tiny group of archers, came next, while a large regiment of hand-gunners occupied the far left. His own baggage was safely tucked behind the hill upon which his largest regiment of halberdiers was standing.
The pistoliers wasted no time crossing the bridge …
… and came wheeling boldly from its northern end to ride at a pace. Most sported blue and white cloaks or feathers, so that none could mistake them for anything other than Pavonans. (At least on this field of battle – the soldiers of the coastal city of Campogrotta also happened to be clad traditionally in blue and white!)
They galloped directly towards the petty, forlorn hope of mercenary crossbowmen isolated upon the hill on the far left of the Trantian line.
This bold move, however, was not matched by the rest of the Pavonan army, as nearly every other unit simply stood, waiting. Only the small detachment of archers crept up behind the central hill …
… while the company of handgunners on the far left found a way to be even more cautious – by falling back a few yards. The Pavonan wizard’s magical conjurings harmed no-one, merely forcing Luchino Janecci, the Compagnia del Sole’s battle wizard, to read his dispel scroll. At this range not much could be done with the artillery, big or small, and apart from the three crossbowmen who fell to the pistoliers’ close range volley, only two pikemen and one of Prince Girenzo’s knights were killed by a cannonball.
The Trantine army responded somewhat more aggressively, advancing their four main fighting bodies without delay. Yet they too displayed elements of caution, due mainly to two reasons: none were keen to allow the enemy to bring their full firepower to bear (especially the vicious looking volley-gun) and, more importantly, the Pavonans were arrayed in such a way that a considerable portion of their fighting strength might close upon the rather exposed left flank of the Trantian line, most likely supported by their pistoliers. Consequently, while the rightmost regiment of horse (Captain Scarpa’s mercenary men at arms) moved as fast as possible …
… to close the gap between themselves and the hesitant regiment of hand-gunners, the prince’s own body of gentlemen moved in such a way as to be concealed by the central hill, and the halberdiers on the left – led personally by the condottiere General Fortebraccio – slowed and wheeled away from the line to angle themselves more towards the enemy threatening from the left.
Wizardry and shooting brought about nothing of any real consequence, something Prince Girenzo had thought might well prove to be the case. As he rode in the left of the front rank of his gentlemen-at-arms, he now understood that to defeat this foe he would have to close with them and fight hand to hand. Glancing to his left he wondered if his well-drilled but inexperienced militia pikemen would prove capable of such a task.
He already had his doubts about the Compagnia del Sole – after all, he was only here because they had earlier chosen to flee instead of fight a full battle. Yet he needed the mercenaries – his own meagre force could not fight this battle alone. In light of this, the halberdiers’ movement away from his otherwise fairly neat line of battle was worrying. He would have to lead by example, and hope that the mercenaries were suitably reassured. If not that, then perhaps they would fight if only to ensure their employer remained alive, and so able to pay them what they were owed.
Some way behind him the crew of his galloper gun were attempting to line up their piece’s muzzle on the pistoliers, knowing a lucky shot now could prove crucial to the safety of the army’s left flank.
Their shot, however, fell short. (Game Note: My extensive pencil notes say nothing about the actual shot, which means it is in fact possible, though unlikely, that I forgot to take it. My excuse is that battles are distracting, and I am easily distracted.) The pistoliers took the cannon’s failure as a sign to do something immediately or suffer the consequences of a better placed second shot. So, while the crew of the cannon hurriedly re-loaded, they ignored the three surviving crossbowmen on the hill and hurtled directly towards the gun, headlong to their potential ruin.
Duke Guidobaldo and his eldest son Lord Polcario had got themselves and their few remaining knights stuck behind the army’s artillery pieces. Considering this, and that there was no immediate target for the volley-gun, the multi-barrelled gun’s crew were ordered to drag it out of the way.
As soon as there was space enough, the heavily armoured nobility thundered forwards to the rear of the hand-gunner detachment. The rest of the foot began an advance, with the three main regiments moving obliquely.
As they did so, and even though the winds of magic were currently weak, one of the Pavonan battle wizards summoned a flame storm to pour death upon the Trantian pikemen, killing a dozen and leaving the rest reeling, sickened by the foul stench of burnt flesh arising from the charred corpses.
With their prince so close, however, the survivors somehow found the courage to march on, despite their horrible loss. The Pavonan wizard was exultant, but his expression of joy was misjudged as some uncontrolled wisps of magical energy had remained coiled around him – these now burst to send a ripple of destruction through the swordsmen he was marching with, causing no less than eight Pavonans to fall dead.
The wizard did not let it show, and was secretly thankful that the soldiers seemed to believe that the harm was some curse conjured by the foe, not realising it was entirely his own doing.
The Pavonan cannon sent a ball directly at Prince Girenzo, who very fortuitously moved out of its path in the last moment. The ball killed the man next to him, spattering blood and splinters of bone on the prince’s bright armour. His face blanched, though none saw as it was hidden behind his visor. The handgunners, threatened by the Compagnia del Sole’s heavily armoured horsemen, brought down two with a volley, then re-loaded sufficiently rapidly to fire another volley as they were charged. Agitated and rushed as they were, this second volley was launched a little too high, and the Compagnia’s yellow and white striped lances hit them hard.
The large company of mercenary crossbowmen upon the hill to the right of their baggage now turned to face the pistoliers, as did General Fortebraccio’s halberdiers. Prince Girenzo narrowed his eyes as he watched the latter move further away from him. Trust them to think only of protecting the loot in the baggage! He had intended to hit the foe as one line, the halberdiers on his immediate flank and the crossbowmen supporting the attack, and cared not a jot if the enemy played a while with the baggage – as long as victory was his in the end. This decision by the halberdiers, prompted by the approach of a single enemy company, had effectively broken his little army into two.
The Compagnia del Sole’s heavy horsemen smashed through the hand-gunners, running down all those who fled.
What they did not know was that the enemy’s cannon crew had spotted them, and were already lugging their piece around to aim it. Had they known they might have foregone the satisfaction of hacking down an already broken foe and instead reformed in such a way as to minimise the harm the cannon could do to them. (Game Note: Almost as soon as I declared my pursuit I realised the mistake. Such is the heat of battle!)
Prince Girenzo led his gentlemen forwards, while the men of the shattered pike regiment matching his move were glad of the concealment the hill in front of them provided. Both flew his brightly hued personal banner, and both were garbed brightly. One might think by their appearance that they were the sort of warriors unconcerned about being spotted by the enemy’s guns, but one would be wrong to do so, for both had spotted the serried muzzles of the organ gun earlier, and heard the blast of the enemy’s other artillery piece twice already. They were only too aware of what might await them when they ascended the hill betwixt them and the foe.
(Game Note: For the purposes of this battle, set in a hilly region of Tilea, we had a scenario rule that TLoS did not count for the hills – they were to be considered real hills rather than slight mounds. Certainly sufficient to hide men, whether on foot or mounted.)
The mercenary wizard Luchino unleashed a magical blast of chain lightning on the pistoliers, killing four. As they turned and fled, the cannon killed another and cheers went up from the crossbowmen and halberdiers watching. General Fortebraccio allowed himself to smile, but then suddenly wondered whether his order to turn his men to face the now-beaten foe was an over-reaction. He stepped from the ranks …
… to look towards his employer, the prince, and was forced to accept that he had indeed broken what had been a fairly solid line. Still, he thought, the Pavonans were not exactly rushing towards them. Surely there was yet time enough to restore a fighting formation? Behind the general, Lucchino the wizard looked not at the lines, but at him, considering a rather different assessment.
The Trantian mercenary crossbowmen and halberdiers watched as the few surviving Pavonan pistoliers found the courage to rally.
At that moment, Duke Guidobaldo at last gave the signal to his army to advance at the double to attack the foe in bloody combat. Swordsmen, knights and halberdiers now all came on, glad to see their enemy had divided itself in two.
The Pavonan gunners on the hill could not believe their luck as they aligned the barrel of their piece to aim down a line of the Compagnia del Sole’s mounted men at arms. Lowering the linstock to touch the burning matchcord to the trail of bruised powder dribbled behind the touchhole, they sent a roundshot through no less than five of the armoured riders. The survivors were stunned, their shock quickly turning into anger, at their own stupidity as well as at the foe. (Game Note: Boy, was I cursing. Those figures took me ages to paint!)
Unwilling to allow the Pavonans to gain all the initiative, and hoping somehow to buy some time for the prince’s knights and the mercenary halberdiers to get themselves into the fight, the Trantian militia pikemen now charged the blue and white swordsmen before them. As the two regiments clashed, the banners flew thick above them, for each side carried both their own regimental and their armies’ banners. The fight became instantly a bloody, furious melee, in which seven swordsmen and six pikemen died, while the commanders fought frantically in their midst. (Game Note: Annoyingly, I forgot to direct any of up to six possible, re-rolling ones, attacks against the enemy wizard, who would surely have perished had I done so!)
General Fortebraccio, commander of the Compagnia del Sole, knew full well what was required of him, and gave the command for his regiment to reform as swiftly as possible so that he could march them up rapidly in support. His men, however, proved distracted, and it was all he could do to get them to face towards the massed foe instead of the pistoliers. (Game Note: A pretty critical ‘swift reform’ failure!) He knew he would be hard pushed now to get into the fight quickly enough to swing the balance.
The wizard Luchino conjured a harmonic convergence to bless the pike and the crossbowmen …
… then, deftly directing the winds of magic swirling around him, he sent flashes of chain lightning tearing into the second regiment of Pavonan halberdiers, killing six, then lured it onwards to strike at the Duke’s own knights, killing two of them also. The last few searing bolts strayed towards the hand-gunner detachment to kill another two men. The sound of thunder followed, as is normally the case with mundane lightning, but it was actually the Trantian artillery piece spitting a hail of grapeshot into the pistoliers.
Two more pistoliers died. The surviving pair, apparently too exhausted, battered and bruised to comprehend fully the awful damage done to them, simply spurred their horses away from the smoke that wreathed them and galloped back towards the centre of the field.
Prince Girenzo, leading his gentlemen-at-arms, began now to swing around towards the enemy flank. As he himself rounded the hill, he could see that his militia pike were much reduced in strength and that not only were the enemy’s own heavy horsemen launching into a charge into the isolated pikemen’s flank, but a regiment of halberdiers were about to hit the other flank.
As the chargers went smashing in …
… the prince signalled to his men to follow him. If the pike could hold just a little longer against the foe, even though outnumbered and surrounded on three sides, then he would be leading his knights into the enemy’s rear and would surely do great harm to them.
There was another small regiment of enemy halberdiers unengaged behind the melee …
… but Prince Girenzo reckoned he and his knights could still prevail. All hinged upon whether his militia stood their ground, despite overwhelming opposition, including the enemy’s general and his valiant son.
Far to the rear the last surviving Compagnia del Sole mounted man at arms accompanied Captain Scarpa as he splashed over the Little Carrena towards the Pavonan baggage. The two of them intended to kill the peasants tending the horses and mules, then gallop up the slope beyond to the cannon, there to avenge the brutal slaying of their comrades.
The Pavonans’ attempts at conjuring magical harm proved weak, while their cannon shot at Prince Girenzo’s knights simply buried itself into the earth. The last two blood-spattered Pavonan pistoliers brought down two of the Compagnia del Sole’s baggage guard with their shots and a volley from the handgunners maimed one of the Prince’s horse artillery crewmen.
The melee in the centre of the field proved to be costly, with more than half a dozen men killed on each side. While Lord Polcario struggled to get to grips with a surprisingly nimble-footed champion, the Trantine battle standard bearer – made more deadly by the magical Harmonic Convergence still blessing him and the regiment – slew the cowering Pavonan wizard and wounded their own battle standard bearer. Just like his son, Duke Guidobaldo could not find purchase for his blade. Perhaps the brightly coloured enemy standard fluttering in his face, six foot by six foot, distracted him?
Within moments, before most the men fighting had taken more than two or three strained breaths, the ground was strewn with the dead and dying.
(Game Note: An enforced break in game-play allowed me to do some posed shots, a luxury not normally open to me.)
A little way behind, the mercenary general Micheletto Fortebrachio watched. For a brief moment he too wondered if the pikemen might hold. If so, then he could lead his veteran halberdiers into the enemy knights’ flank. Such an action would win them the battle, for if Prince Girenzo cut into foe from the other flank, then both Pavonan lords, the duke and his son, would surely be utterly overwhelmed and perish in the ensuing melee.
In this moment, the fate of the whole of central Tilea hung in the balance. If the lord of Pavona and his heir died here, then Trantio would become the major power. If the Trantians failed, Pavona was very likely to swallow yet another state in into its growing empire.
Yet, despite the heroic actions of their commanders and the close proximity of their prince and general, it was at that moment that the last of the Trantian pikemen broke and fled, to be hacked down by the pursuing Pavonan nobility. (Game Note: I had a re-rollable 6 or less break test. And failed. What a difference a pass would have made! Still, I am the campaign GM not a player so I don’t actually care who wins. The authentically unfolding story is everything to me!)
Now, General Fortebraccio had time enough merely to shout the command to brace, before the Pavonan knights hit him and his halberdiers at full gallop.
Despite this turn of events, Prince Girenzo saw that the battle was still not lost for certain. While the Compagnia del Sole’s halberdiers held the Pavonan knights, he and his gentlemen could conceivably cut a swathe through the foe, so that he himself could fight Duke Guidobaldo. And as he thought this, he realised it was what he wanted all along – to face his enemy in personal combat and to cut him down with his own sword.
It was time to order the charge.
If he was to reach the duke, however, the prince would have plough his way through several intervening units. This he was entirely happy to do, itching to begin the horrible excitement of sword play in a life and death melee. The first body in his way was a company of swordsmen, so with a thunder of hooves he and his men set off. The swordsmen had seen the prince’s approach, however, and promptly fled away long before he could reach them.
This left the prince and his gentlemen staring at both the wide muzzle of the cannon and the multiple mouths of the helblaster volley gun.
In that moment, the prince’s previous excitement was entirely and instantly snuffed out. (Game Note: For years now I have had the bad habit of forgetting to take into account the fact that a charged foe can simply opt to run away, which can be critical if the charge is a long one. I am beginning to wonder if my opponents have long since cottoned on to this deficiency in my thinking.)
The Duke and his son hit the Compagnia’s halberdiers hard, slaying eight of them, including the wizard Luchino, while Lord Polcario bloodied General Fortebraccio in a personal combat.
The men of the Compagnia seemed to understand that their reputation and any chance of future success lay upon this combat and stood their ground defiantly. Once again, however, the Pavonans were readying themselves to charge against a Trantian regiment’s flank, and the orders were already being shouted to the battered but intact body of halberdiers close by. And so they charged, led bravely by their stout champion wielding a bright steel, flamberge bladed bastard sword.
The last surviving pair of pistoliers now hurtled headlong into the left flank of the large body of Compagnia del Sole crossbowmen on the hill, who had only recently reformed away from the pistoliers in the assumption that they no longer represented a threat! The men guarding the baggage were glad not to be receiving pistol shots, but unnerved by the fact that the enemy was riding so freely close by. Witnessing the blue and white halberdiers crashing into the flank of General Fortebraccio’s guard hardly reassured them either.
The last surviving Pavonan wizard, having spotted the prince and his knights …
… now wove a powerful spell indeed out of the winds of magic gushing about him. Once satisfied he had bound as much power in as possible, he dispatched a magical blast of searing heat at the heavily armoured band, the sort of assault that their layers of steel not only failed to provide protection against, but actually made things worse.
Three of the prince’s six companions fell screaming from their saddles as their mounts bucked, reared and squealed horribly, their hide burned by the now super-heated metal enclosing their upper bodies. His flesh singed sorely, the prince tore his helm from his head and gave vent to a loud curse, something which was for him so unusual that two of his surviving gentlemen at arms turned to look at him rather than their badly suffering comrades. They even failed to notice as the cannon on the low hill …
… sent an iron roundshot just above their plumed helms, but then were cruelly snapped out of their stupor as the helblaster sent a very loudly clattering hail of leaden balls into them, one of which went through the slit of a visor to shatter the head inside.
Prince Girenzo, blood pouring from his ear which had been grazed by lead-shot, his sword hanging limp from a leather strap tied to his wrist, his own personal standard flying ragged above his head, and his body blistered in a dozen places from the magical heat that cooked his armour, found his voice had abandoned him. So, silently, but with great haste, with wisps of smoke trailing behind them, he and his last companions yanked their reins, turned their horses about and fled from the field in the direction of Trantio city.
For him at least, the battle was over. His army was destroyed, and his mercenaries were surely in the process of being so. His city, however, still survived. There he had a garrison force, and even some artillery pieces too heavy to be brought to this battle. He did not intend also to lose his home to the Duke of Pavona, and it was with this stubborn aim in mind, rather than anguish or fear, despite the pains wracking him, that he rode hard and fast away from the battlefield. He had work to do.
The two pistoliers managed to shoot one of the crossbowmen, but the foe lost no time reforming to face them and bring their strength to bear.
At the rear of the field, entirely unaware of how ill the battle fared for the Compagnia elsewhere, and having slaughtered all those accompanying the Pavonan baggage train, Captain Scarpa’s angry rage failed to dissipate, and he rode on to attack the crew of the cannon that had felled so many of his men.
In the midst of the field, surrounded by scattered corpses and wounded men writhing in agony, the combat continued. General Fortebraccio rained blows upon Lord Polcario, yet was unable to harm him.
The Compagnia del Sole’s halberdiers fought bravely and skilfully, killing another knight in the Duke’s retinue (so that only one now remained with Duke and his son), as well as an enemy halberdier. At another time, with more enemies threatening, this might have broken the Pavonans, but even as they were bloodied and pushed back, they could sense the enemy’s desperation, and besides they knew full well that the battle was nearly won. They were not going to run now.
The Trantian’s light artillery piece’s barrel now shivered, maiming both men still crewing it, while near the Compagnia’s baggage the pistoliers broke and fled away from the crossbowmen. In the middle of the field Lord Polcario and General Fortebraccio could still do each other no harm, but the halberdiers brought down the last Pavonan knight.
The Duke now redoubled his efforts, which had been mighty before, and cut down two of the foe, just as two more fell to his own halberdiers fighting on the flank. This was the end for the mercenaries, who now, finally, turned to flee, only for each and every one of them to be trampled or hacked down. General Fortebraccio lay dying amongst them, so battered and bloody that he was barely recognisable, just another broken corpse in the pile.
As the Duke and Lord Polcario, accompanied now by the last few survivors of the halberdiers, came galloping and running past them, the pistoliers rallied yet again. They halted momentarily to see that the crossbowmen who had just sent them running were now marching away from the hill and the battlefield, then realised that the two noblemen and the soldiers they had just encountered were cheering as they closed upon the baggage train, killing all those who cowered there.
With the merest of glances at each other, as if to ask: “Have you anything left?” they spurred their mounts and rushed on to join the looting.
The Battle of the Princes was over, another victory for Duke Guidobaldo of Pavona. Despite how close the struggle had been, he was certain it was another sign that his war was just (despite what the Reman priests were saying). His army had frightened Prince Girenzo off the field, almost wholly destroyed the Compagnia del Sole and re-captured the loot plundered from his own realm. And all this had been done with him and his son at the fore, in the thickest of the fighting, earning glory and honour in the eyes of his men.
There would be no stopping him now.
(Game Note: I nearly began writing all about what else is going on, the Duke’s plans and expectations, whether or not he is to be reinforced, and what he intends next. But then I remembered this is a campaign, the Duke is a player character, and the player in question would not thank me for revealing such things. Ah well, I will have to make do with an epilogue from an NPC’s perspective, which follows at the start of Tilea Campaign Part 7)
Next Installment: Part 7