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Battle scenes, part 1.4.2: Defense of Kel Fimmaril, play-by-play (part 2)

Continued from part 1.

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, killed in part 1)
General Willot (second in command)
Captain Bevren (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

map5Stage 5: Once the attackers are a good distance from the beach and fully engaged with the queen’s forces, Captain Vola’s cavalry charges from the trees to the north and south of the battlefield, ambushing the enemy skirmishers harassing the defenders’ flanks. In loose formation and unprepared for a cavalry attack, the skirmisher formations crumple and retreat behind the hoplite lines. However, it is important to remember that ancient cavalry was not heavy enough to break a tightly-packed infantry formation, regardless of if the footmen had spears or not. Against a phalanx, the horsemen would quickly lose their momentum, making them easy to dispatch by the heavily armored hoplites. Once the skirmishers scatter, the horsemen retreat back out of range of the archers.

As always, Vola led the cavalry charge. Atten rode behind and to her right, lowering his lance as they approached the enemy skirmishers. He aimed the weapon at a retreating back as he closed on a doomed skirmisher. When the spearhead was just inches from the man’s back, Atten gave it a quick push for extra momentum, piercing the skirmisher’s linen armor and breaking the weapon off as the man collapsed. The cavalryman whipped the spear back around, pointing the bronze spike on the lower end forward.

Ahead of him, he could see that Captain Vola had kept her spear intact, slaying one running soldier and knocking down another. Atten threw his broken spear into another skirmisher, then drew his kopis, swinging it at retreating heads as he crashed deeper into the disintegrating enemy formation. As he was at the front of the cavalry squadron, his horse was more likely to knock men out of the way than to trample them, but this tended to knock them off balance to be run down by other horsemen.

Moments later the horsemen emerged out the other side of the retreating formation. Atten followed his captain as she veered left, circling out and away from the battle. He looked back at the routing skirmishers, estimating that they’d killed or wounded close to half of the sorry bastards.

Once back out of arrow range, he slowed his mustang to a trot as the rest of the cavalry reformed around him and the captain. The cavalry squadron gave their horses a minute or two to rest. “Break’s over,” Vola ordered. “Form up and we’ll go fuck up those chicken-shits with the short bows!”

Atten and the others gave a cheer as they spurred their mounts from a trot to a gallop, then from a gallop to a charge.

map6Stage 6: Seeing the damage done to his skirmisher lines, General Willot orders measures taken to protect the archers and the rear of the phalanx. He has 50 or so hoplites taken from the back of the phalanx form two walls of spears, one on each side of the archer formations.

The defenders’ cavalry pull off their charge, not wanting to risk horsemen against armed hoplites. Instead the cavalry on the right flank ride behind the defenders’ lines and join up with the cavalry on the left flank. The combined cavalry force starts riding in a clockwise circle, throwing javelins into the unshielded right flank of the enemy phalanx.

Meanwhile, the defenders continue their fighting retreat back to the city.

General Willot ran to the back of the formation and grabbed a pair of hoplites. “You,” he ordered one, “take fifty hoplites from the back of the phalanx and form a spear wall to protect the archers. You,” he turned to the other, “run down to the other side and do the same.”

Both hoplites rushed to comply. Willot watched as the horses broke off their second charge at the sudden presence of spearmen between them and the archers. The general grinned a bit as the horsemen retreated back out of arrow range. Moments later, he frowned again when the cavalry from the far side of the battle rode behind the enemy formation to join with the horsemen on Willot’s side. The combined group of nearly one hundred cavalry began riding in a clockwise circle, hurling javelins into the unshielded side of the attacking phalanx.

Willot was starting to fucking hate these people.

map7Stage 7: Exhausted, inexperienced, and under-armored, the hoplites on Kel Fimmaril’s left flank break and rout, fleeing back toward the city. It’s important to note that in ancient warfare as much as 80% of an army’s casualties could come during the retreat if routed. Staying in formation provided soldiers with the greatest amount of safety during combat, once those lines broke, it became every man for himself. Meanwhile, the victorious army had the choice of staying in formation or breaking phalanx to pursue their routing foes. Often, driven wild by adrenaline and stoked at seeing their foes flee, the victors would pursue blindly, ignoring orders to stay in formation. Lost in their battle frenzy, Andivel’s hoplites break phalanx to pursue the routing defenders, despite General Willot’s orders to stay in formation.

It was a truism of phalanx warfare that the worst side of the formation to fight on was the left flank. Since the left arm was the shield arm, the left side of the army was better protected from missile attacks—thus it made sense to position the elite hoplites with the heaviest armor on the right flank, to keep that side better protected from arrows and javelins. And thus the poor bastards on the left flank had to face off against the heavier hoplites from the enemy’s right flank. As battles progressed, the left flanks of phalanxes always tended to press inward, giving battle lines a slight s shape when seen from above.

A first-time hoplite, Arriven had heard this, but had never expected to see it demonstrated so graphically. The lanky weaver’s apprentice stood on the left flank of Kel Fimmaril’s army, facing off against the elites on Andivel’s right flank. All he could hear around him was the clash of arms and the screams of wounded and dying. The soldier at the front of his line died screaming, making Arriven second in his line of soldiers.

“Piss yourself?” a veteran named Feddin asked from next to him.

Arriven just shook his head, trying to ignore the warmth down his legs.

“Don’t worry, it happens,” Feddin told him.

Tonniv, the soldier in front of Arriven, died from a spear thrust to the neck, suddenly placing Arriven at the front of the formation. To his left, Feddin took a spear in the eye, collapsing to the ground thrashing and screaming. With an open-faced helmet and shield as his only protection, Arriven felt naked there at the front of the line. Before him, the heavily-armored Andivelians pressed in.

A spear thrust against the top of his shield slammed the bronze rim up into Arriven’s face, breaking his nose and bloodying his lip. To his right, another hoplite caught a spear in the teeth, gurgling as he screamed and died. Panicking and wanting the fuck out of there, Arriven dropped his spear and turned to try to muscle his way through the remaining two rows of infantry.

His back fatally exposed to the enemy, he felt a spearhead enter through his tunic, just below his ribcage. Arriven fell against the shield of the next hoplite in line, throwing up blood across the man’s leather cuirass. The man screamed, dropping his own spear and turning to retreat.

Arriven was barely aware of the sound of spears being dropped around him. He collapsed to the ground amid a churning forest of legs and feet.

map8Stage 8: Seeing the lines breaking, Queen Viarra orders her archers back into the city while she draws her sword and rushes toward her fleeing soldiers. She ditches her helmet so that her soldiers can see it is her, then charges the enemy line, forcing her retreating hoplites to come to her defense or face the ultimate disgrace of seeing their ruler killed or captured by enemy soldiers. The queen’s gamble works, as nearly the whole left flank rallies about her as do many of the skirmishers, bringing the enemy charge to a halt.

The queen tore her helmet off and used her xiphos to cut the straps to her quivers, letting them fall behind her. Stepping directly into the path of the lead retreater, the queen squared her shoulders and blasted the man in the head with her forearm shield, laying him out cold. The impact of her shield against his helmet rang out down the formation, the noise and sudden act of violence toward one of her own hoplites causing the others to slow their pace in surprise.

Wasting no words, the queen shrieked out one of Captain Vola’s battle cries and continued to run toward the enemy line, shoving past the retreating mob. Elissa ran behind, following the copper mane that she loved so dearly. It took a moment to realize that the soldiers around her were doing the same, turning and drawing their swords.

Once out the other side of the group of defenders, Queen Viarra led the charge against the enemy lines. She grabbed the spear of the first foe she met, pulling him off balance and shoving her sword through his t-visor. Releasing her sword, she tossed the captured spear over to her right hand and faced off against the attackers like a member of General Derron’s elites. Around the queen, her fellow soldiers re-engaged the attacking hoplites, both battle lines out of phalanx.

Elissa watched over the shoulders of her fellow soldiers as the queen lunged forward, dropping to one knee and gut-checking the next enemy with her shield. Though his bronze armor absorbed the blow itself, the impact slammed him back into two of his teammates. Her majesty then stabbed her spear to her right, catching another attacker in the armpit.

But even with the renewed fervor, Elissa could tell that her majesty’s charge wouldn’t be enough. The handmaid panicked as the enemy line pressed in around her queen.

Then far to the left, Captain Vola’s battle horn sounded once again.

Meanwhile, seeing the attackers breaking phalanx, Captain Vola’s cavalry charges the right flank, hitting the out-of-formation hoplites hard and allowing their fellow defenders the chance to rally and reform their lines. Captain Vola personally rides down and slays General Willot as he attempts to bring the phalanx back into formation.

General Willot gave a cheer of victory as he watched Kel Fimmaril’s left flank turn. The enemy phalanx curved in on itself, hoplites dropping their spears and retreating back to the city gates, forcing the archers, slingers, and skirmishers to run ahead of them. He could hear the victorious shouts among his soldiers. Suck on that, General Derron, Willot thought silently.

His elation turned to dread as he realized that his own soldiers were breaking phalanx to pursue the fleeing defenders. “No, you fucking idiots!” he screamed at them. “Don’t pursue! Don’t pursue! Reform phalanx! Their cavalry is still intact! Reform the phalanx!” He ran along beside them, pointing at the hundred horsemen on their right flank.

Willot’s cries fell flat as the entire formation continued their reckless charge, perhaps only a dozen soldiers slowing to comply. Screaming triumphantly and lost in their excitement, the soldiers of Andivel never heard his orders. With the phalanx in formation, the enemy horse couldn’t even effectively attack the flanks or rear, as they’d quickly lose momentum against the tightly packed, heavily armored hoplites. Without that mobility, they’d be quickly and easily dispatched by the heavy spearmen. But with the phalanx scattered, the cavalry could smash deeper into the formation before having to fight their way out. The battle horn and rumble of hooves behind Willot told the general that the enemy cavalry commander had come to the same conclusion.

He turned around in time to see a cavalry soldier in bronze scales riding down upon him.

Aftermath: Captain Bevren, third in command of the attacking army, manages to get the phalanx back into formation. He orders the phalanx to disengage from the defenders and leads the withdrawal back toward the beach. The defenders gather what wounded they can find and retreat back into the city. While the battle is essentially a stalemate, both sides losing about the same number of soldiers, Captain Bevren and the remaining attackers soon discover that they’ve lost the siege thanks to Queen Viarra’s trickiness…

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