Battleshed Diaries

Friday, 23 June 2017

Cattle Raid!




It's only been a few weeks since an exorbitant ransom was grudgingly paid by the Scots to the Anglo-Danish for the release of their captured warlord, Fearghas MacCoinnich. As he rode back through his lands he could barely endure the silent censure of his impoverished levy and their gaunt families as he and his small escort of Hearthguards passed by. Later, as MacCoinnich slumped deep in his cups and brooding in his Great hall, his retainers and servants were chary in his presence, fearing MacCoinich's irascible black mood. Suddenly, the hall's doors burst open and a breathless messenger hastened in. The alarm had been raised. A large group of warriors were approaching the outlying fields!

This is a follow up SAGA scenario from the recent game played between my Scots warband and my opponent's (Jamie M) Anglo-Danish, led by the audacious warlord, Ubba. In that scenario, Captured! (from The Crescent & The Cross), Fearghas MacCoinnich found himself an unwilling 'guest' of the Anglo-Danes. For our follow up game, we've scrolled forward a few weeks, after the Scots failed attempt to rescue their humiliated chief and, after tense negotiations, a sizable hoard in gold, metals and supplies was handed over to Ubba for the the release of the Scots warlord. But it appears Ubba's ambitions were not sated, as he now mercilessly presses his advantage over his Celtic rivals by leading a surprise raid into one of their outlying villages to purloin livestock and plunder.

The scenario is 'Cattle Raid' taken from the Aetius & Arthur supplement. We played with standard 6 point warbands and the game lasted 6 turns. Six 'loot' markers (cattle, sheep etc) are alternatively placed by the opponents in a 'loot deployment zone' at the start of the game. The Attackers, Jamie's Anglo-Danes, have to capture and recover at least 3-4 loot markers and return them to within L of his table edge to claim a draw. If Ubba's lads steal any more, then they can claim a victory. For my Scots defenders, they not only have to stop the livestock rustlers, but the warlord and two points of his warband only arrive as reinforcements from their table edge whenever the first loot is captured!

Unfortunately, I was far too distracted blethering with other club members whilst setting up so only registered the 'leaving two points' for reinforcements part. So I duly elected to leave eight foot Hearthguard in reserve and, unbelievably, 8 warriors - making 3 points left inadvertently in reserve! I then proceeded to deploy my warlord as normal. Doh! It wasn't until turn 3 that Jamie noticed and pointed out the complete guddle I'd made of deployment!

Luckily, as MacCoinnich had only spent his time up until this point urging the reluctant levy with the pointy end of his sword, he sportingly let me continue. I offered to roll for which reinforcement unit would eventually come on - either the Hearthguard or the loitering warriors - which I duly did. The Hearthguard eventually got the call, leaving me effectively a five point warband to 'protect the livestock'. Hopefully this was some recompense for having the warlord's saga dice available from the start. Its all the confusion of battle you know! Anyway, back to the fields...
The Anglo-Danish rush to nab the Scots livestock
The Anglo-Danish rush to nab the Scots livestock

The nearby village was in a state of panic as the hastily assembled Scots warriors arrived and pushed out into the grassy, undulating pastures. The local archer levy, disillusioned and belligerent in their penury, trudged woodenly after the warriors, compelled by a bellowing MacCoinnich. As the Scots crested the low hills dotted with grazing cattle and sheep, they could see armed men emerging from woods in the far distance. To MacCoinnich's utter dismay, he recognised the banner of his mortal enemy. That bloody Ubba!
Ubba's Ceorls advancing
Ubba's Ceorls advancing

Adhering to Ubba's plan, Anglo-Danish warriors and Huscarls, hurriedly but as noiselessly as possible moved towards assigned clusters of the placidly grazing livestock. The Scots defenders raced to intercept them but by the time they deployed into a ragged line their men were winded and blown. The levy archers were so exhausted they could barely lift their bows. The Scots had managed to reach about half of their livestock, urgently ushering the beasts behind them as they formed up and anxiously watched the glinting swords and spears of the approaching enemy ranks.
Scots levy archers looking more impressive than effective
Scots levy archers looking more impressive than effective

MacCoinnich was still barracking his disordered archers to form up when he received word that Ubba's men on the Scots right flank had reached the livestock in the fields, but hadn't stopped to round up the animals. Instead, they were still coming on. MacCoinnich hawked bitterly. What is that old bastard up to? Is he after the cattle or my men? As he appraised his warriors, he heard the distinctive battle sounds of clashing men and metal from his few warriors on his extreme left as they were engulfed by a larger unit of taunting Anglo-Dane Ceorls.

MacCoinnich gave orders for his main warrior contingent, under his personal banner, to advance in the centre but as they moved down the lee of the gentle hill, struggling to keep a tight formation as they swerved around disturbed cattle, they were met by Ubba's Huscarls.

The Anglo-Danish warlord and more Ceorls were supporting them. By now the crescendo of battle had increased as most of the Scots line was engaged. MacCoinnich could support his embattled men with the tired levy and a small unit of uncommitted warriors accompanying them. Or he could hope his line would stand whilst he led his remaining men forward to try and hold up the rest of Ubba's men. At least until the Scots reinforcements made an appearance. It was clear by now that Ubba was shrewdly ensuring his units were all in position to purloin the cattle in a single, coordinated move, before the Scots could bring up any numbers.
Scots Warrior, "Yer nae huvin mah sheepie!"

MacCoinnich knew that this raid was all about timing for the Anglo-Danes to be successful. And the fierce battle in the centre had unwittingly bought the Scots precious time, at the terrible cost of their own warrior's lives. As the last remnants of the central Scots unit finally broke and staggered into retreat still bravely protecting the banner, Ubba and his men, winded and reeling from the enemies fierce resistance, were dismayed to see the Scots Hearthguard rapidly advancing nearby. And with two smaller Scots warrior units and the levy still threatening, Ubba abandoned the attempt to capture the livestock on his right flank. The beasts were not worth the blood of his men.
The Scots hastily forming up with the enemy advancing in the far distance
The Scots hastily forming up with the enemy advancing in the far distance
Instead, Ubba and his retinue withdrew to support the Ceorls still herding the remaining beasts on their left flank, hopefully before the Scots could organise enough men to give chase. For Ubba, there was still a chance of at least enacting another severe blow to the wavering morale and advocacy of MacCoinnich's people. But the Scots warlord had other plans. MacCoinnich guessed what his counterpart was up to, and, with his Hearthguard finally drawing close, he energetically pressed them and the apprehensive levy onwards. The sight of the Scots Hearthguard rushing ahead must have inspired a surge of mettle in the farmer archers as they followed emboldened in the guard's wake.
MacCoinnich urges his levy and Hearthguard to a decisive charge against the Anglo-Danish Ceorls
MacCoinnich urges his levy and Hearthguard to a decisive charge against the Anglo-Danish Ceorls

The outcome of the raid would now be decided. If the remaining Anglo-Danes could get away with half the livestock then MacCoinnich knew he'd be facing open rebellion, should he survive the day. But his loyal Hearthguard, without any apparent regard for their own fatigue, surged ahead and soon closed with a splintered formation of enemy Ceorls. At close range, they launched their spears like javelins before drawing their swords and charging in amongst the Anglo-Danes.

It was slaughter. The frenzied cattle bolted, trampling many Ceorls, leaving them either broken under stampeding hoofs or cut up by the battle- frenzied Scots. One unit of Anglo-Danes was completely decimated, whilst a supporting enemy unit faltered at witnessing the ferocious enemy charge. The Scots levy were now screaming towards them, apparently so enthralled by their warrior brethren that they forsook their bows to fight hand-to-hand.
The Scots Hearthguard reclaim their sheep after defeating a unit of Ceorls
The Scots Hearthguard reclaim their sheep after defeating a unit of Ceorls

With battle hardened experience and seasoned pragmatism, Ubba commanded his chiefs to start withdrawing his warband. Men from two of his formations were still herding stolen cattle and sheep between them. It was time to leave MacCoinnich's lands for now. Although the Anglo-Dane warlord and his men had not achieved the livestock bounty they had planned for, at least he'd thrust another spear of doubt into the hearts of MacCoinnich's people. It would only be a matter of time before the Scots lands would be his. He was sure of it.

Fearghas MacConnich stood atop a low rise, surrounded by a small coterie of his sweating, bloodied fighters. The levy farmers, still consumed by the adrenalin of battle were issuing brisk instructions to the villagers steaming into the fields attempting to chattel their livestock. Warriors saw to their wounded and fallen comrades.

For the first time in weeks, MacCoinnich felt an ember of optimism. Maybe fate had relented from twisting her seer knife. Even though the Danish devil and his men had got away with some of his livestock, he had somehow grappled a stout defence of his lands. And his Hearthguard were still loyal and true at least. He was proud of them. There will be feasting tonight, he thought, eyeing the cattle nearby.