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Battle scenes, part 1.4.1: Defense of Kel Fimmaril, the play-by-play (part 1)

Not very long ago, I went ahead and looked up online articles about writing battle scenes for fiction writers. One piece of advice that I hadn’t considered, but seems painfully obvious now, was to diagram the battle and its various stages. I first sketched out a basic set of diagrams, then drew them up on MS Paint. (P.S. if anyone can recommend a good free software for building maps and battle diagrams, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!)

At any rate, here’s the battle diagrams with the play-by-play discussion. (For previous battle discussion, see here, here, and here.) Blue denotes defending forces, red denotes attacking forces. Distance from beach to city, just over a quarter-mile. Diagrams only sort of to scale. Click on diagrams to see a larger version.

Key characters:
Kel Fimmaril (defenders)
Queen Viarra
General Derron (infantry commander)
Captain Vola (cavalry commander)
Captain Kellor (archer/skirmisher commander)
Elissa (queen’s handmaid)
Andivel (attackers)
General Varic (first in command)
General Willot (second in command)
Captain Bevran (hoplite captain, third in command)

Map key:
1) Heavy infantry (hoplites)
2) Archers
3) Skirmishers (javelins, slings)
4) Cavalry (spears and javelins)
V) Denotes Queen Viarra’s position in the army

map1Stage 1: While the defenders’ initial strategy was to wait out the siege from safely within the walls of their city, while Captain Vola’s cavalry harasses the besiegers from the island’s wooded areas, just hours before the attackers arrive, Queen Viarra suddenly orders the entire army outside the walls into defensive position just up the beach.

Attacking warships arrive in Kel Fimmaril’s harbor, several minutes ahead of the troop transports. Larger ships are trireme war galleys, smaller ships are biremes. Warships contain mainly hoplite marines in heavy armor.

Defenders have their light troops (archers, skirmishers) in position to harass the attackers while they unload from their ships. Queen Viarra commands one of the archer units. Unknown to the attackers, the defenders have “seeded” the beach with broken glass, pottery shards, caltrops, briars, fishhooks, and other manner of sharp debris. Bear in mind, hoplites usually fought barefoot. Also unknown to the attackers, the defenders have around a hundred cavalry hidden in the woods to the north and south of the battlefield.

The warships touched several minutes ahead of the transports, spreading out across the quarter-mile of shoreline stretching south from the docks. Willot felt a chill as the prow and keel scraped sand, slowing the trireme to a halt.

“Everybody on the beach!” he heard Captain Bevren bellow. “Let’s show these sons of bitches how we do things in Andivel!”

A cheer went up among the marines as they started bailing off the sides of the ships into the knee-deep water.

As the hoplites started to touch down, so did the enemy arrows. Willot leapt over the side into the water, crouching amongst his men. He felt an arrow thud against his shield as he stood up. A hoplite next to him went down with an arrow in the throat. Another dropped up ahead, screaming as a bronze-tipped missile shredded his calf muscle. For the most part, though, the arrows seemed to be inflicting minimal casualties against the heavily armored hoplites.

“Out of the water!” he heard Bevren order. “Start setting up shield walls, go!”

map2Stage 2: While the transports with the bulk of the troops are still arriving, the hoplite marines from the warships storm up the beach and start setting up shield walls, staggering their shields high and low to create portable barricades against the defenders’ slings, javelins, and arrows. The sharp debris on the beach causes numerous foot injuries among the attackers and slowing their advance. Unable to retaliate right away, the attacking hoplites hunker behind their shields until the transports arrive with their own archers and skirmishers. General Varic is slain by a defender’s arrow, placing General Willot in charge of the attacking army.

Once out on the beach, hoplites began to cluster together, kneeling and crouching in places where the beach debris was thinner. As they’d been trained, they overlapped their shields, staggering them high and low to create portable barricades for their comrades to crouch behind. Willot ran up and slid to a crouch behind where a dozen or so men had set up their makeshift wall. The man directly behind him fell, screaming, with a javelin in his chest.

Arrows, javelins, and stones continued to hail amongst his troops, some punching through shields and armor, some not. Field medics—hoplites with bandage packs and basic experience in wrapping wounds, staunching bleeding, setting bones, and pulling arrows—began scurrying around behind the shield walls, checking for injuries.

Captain Bevren crouched in next to the general, bleeding heavily from a shoulder wound. “Wrap this!” he ordered a nearby medic. “The transports have finally landed, General,” the captain updated him as the medic dressed his wound. “We should have archer support any time.”

Willot nodded, watching hoplites, archers, and skirmishers dislodge from the transports. The light-armored skirmishers and unarmored archers would suffer more from the enemies’ missiles, but would also provide missiles of their own against the defenders.

map3Stage 3: Once the troop transports arrive, the archers, skirmishers, and remaining hoplites begin disembarking to join the marines already on the beach. Once enough troops are in formation, the attacking hoplites band together in a solid phalanx and begin their advance toward the defenders’ phalanx. The attacker’s phalanx contains approximately 3,000 spearmen stacked eight men deep, while the defending phalanx contains around 1,800 spearmen stacked 5–6 deep to match the attackers’ length.

Meanwhile, the attacking archers form up behind the phalanx to offer cover fire, while their skirmishers move to the ends of the army to harass the defenders’ flanks with javelins. The defending archers and skirmishers fall back through their phalanx and reform behind the heavy infantry.

“You heard the general, men—phalanx formation!” Bevren bellowed to the soldiers. “Let’s get out of this fucking sand-trap! Form phalanx!” The hoplite captain could hear other officers passing the order along to form phalanx.

From all along the beach, hoplites converged to form the phalanx, a solid line of heavily armored soldiers, eight men deep. The archers fell back to form a firing line behind the infantry, while the skirmishers broke off to the right and left of the line, intent on harassing the enemy’s flanks. Arrows, stones, and javelins continued to rain down as the front line of hoplites brought their shields up, holding their spears waist high. The second row held their spears overhand sticking between the shoulders of the men in front. The remaining rows of soldiers held their spears straight up, creating a forest of poles above the formation. This spear-forest offered another layer of protection in that enemy missiles lost most of their momentum when they clipped one of the protruding poles.

Once the hoplites were more or less in formation, Captain Bevren used his booming voice to its best advantage once again. “Hoplites, forward, march!” he bellowed down the phalanx. Beginning at a walk but eventually speeding up to a cautious jog, the formation started toward the defenders.

The enemy archers and skirmishers began falling back before their advance.

map4Stage 4: The attacking phalanx moves off the beach to clash with the defenders’ phalanx. The archers and skirmishers on both sides continue to harass each other’s troops with missiles. several minutes into the battle, the defenders’ phalanx backs off in sort of a defensive “bounding overwatch,” where the back line opens up to allow the remaining lines to retreat between them. The phalanx then reforms, making the back line the new front line. The phalanxes reengage once again for several minutes, then once again the defenders’ line retreats. This process continues for about an eighth of a mile.

General Willot fought on the right flank of his own formation as his phalanx slowly drove back the defenders. He was surprised for a moment when a whistle sounded and the enemy ranks suddenly broke formation, quickly giving up ground. Without that pressure against their shields, several attacking hoplites in the front rank stumbled forward. The defenders’ back line turned sideways, holding their shields and spears close, thus opening up their formation to allow the rest of their ranks pass quickly between them. Once the rest of the army was safely behind them, the back line reformed to become the new front line. The ranks then reformed the phalanx, shields and spears ready.

Though difficult to perform, it was a common and effective leap-frog tactic that gave the defenders three advantages. First, it allowed them to give up a good twenty-five feet of ground without sacrificing troops. Second, it forced the attackers to tire themselves slightly, having to close the distance quickly or expose themselves to enemy missile fire. And thirdly, it gave the soldiers in the defenders’ front ranks a chance to rest up from their exertions.

Despite himself, Willot was impressed that even the rookie hoplites with light or no body armor had the discipline to perform this tricky maneuver. They’ve been practicing this, Willot thought to himself. Interesting.

His own hoplites in return jogged forward and reengaged Kel Fimmaril’s soldiers. The clash of arms resumed. Several minutes later, the defenders’ line broke again to reform another twenty-five feet back or so. It was an interesting tactic, but Willot couldn’t see what they gained from it. A smart commander would have just kept the whole army inside the walls, rather than risking losing it to a superior force in the field. The thought troubled Willot: from everything he’d heard General Derron of Kel Fimmaril was a smart commander.

To be continued…

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