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What-Matters-art - 4/16/11


"What Matters - A War Tale" by Conde Fernando Rodriguez de Falcon. A story of the Calontir Shieldwall at Pennsic.


NOTE: See also the files: An-SCA-History-art, SCA-stories1-msg, melee-tactics-art, shields-msg, Women-Battle-art, Calontir-hst-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.


Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

   Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                         Stefan at florilegium.org



From: Fernando Vigil <Fvigil at AOL.COM>

Date: February 5, 2010 3:22:13 PM CST

To: CALONTIR at listserv.unl.edu

Subject: [CALONTIR] What Matters - A War Tale


Well, thinking about Estrella, and a discussion on the Huscarl list got me thinking about battles. So I decided to share this story. Some of you probably read it a few years ago - feel free to hit delete.





"Get ready!"

I don't know who is shouting – but it doesn't matter...


Our bodies react. Our knees spread a bit. Our shoulders push into our shields, and brace the wall. Our hands tighten on our swords.


In some situations, "Get ready!" might not be enough information to tell you much. But here and now it's all my comrades and I need. With just minutes to go in the battle, we know the enemy will be throwing everything they can at the banner just a spear length behind us. We're all tired. I'm damn near exhausted - but it doesn't matter...


Adrenaline kicks in, and I smile.


I can't see what is happening. To the front my vision is totally eclipsed by solid wall of metal, and to the right (the only direction I can turn) by the back of my shield brother and the legs of our polearm and spearmen - but it doesn't matter...


But it does means I'm not alone. It means I'm in the Calontir line! I shift a bit to let the greatsword behind me get his foot a little closer to my scutum.


Suddenly, the sound of battle changes. There is a sort of a rumble and rattle, then a score of shouting voices. Beneath the scutum it gets a darker as the polearms push close to their shieldmen and block out the sun. It's coming! We know we're about to be slammed into by fifty or more men determined to kill us, to crush us and push us back. All hell is about to break loose – and it sure as hell matters. It's all that matters...


It's Wednesday afternoon at the Pennsic War and we're defending a mountain pass.


We had been on the field for about five hours by the time this battle started. It had already been a long day, but thanks to the heroes of the Fourth Company who kept us fed and watered, we were ready for another solid hour of battle.


Our army was well arrayed. Sir Jean Michel, Their Majesties General, had directed that we space our scutums to leave a series of doors for our spears to move forward through as needed. Each scutum had been carefully placed and artillery (spears and polearms) were set behind and between each shield.


Our commander had given us our target - a portion of the line just to the left of a simple banner pole set in the ground indicating control of our portion of the pass. When the horns sounded, Calontir set off across the field at a trot - A line of purple and gold. A Marshal, standing in the middle of the field, later told me, that as we advanced towards him he was very impressed by the discipline and spacing of our line. He then said, "You guys almost look like professionals or something." As I smiled, he said something even cooler, "Oh yea, I guess you are."


Our shields reached our destination, but not the enemy -- for a skirmish line had instantly formed with neither side ready to charge. Spearmen stepped forward through the carefully placed gaps in our shields and began their dance of death with the enemy line. In moments it was clear who had the advantage, as Calontir and Outlands' spears wreaked havoc on the enemy before them. A few minutes into the battle and our spears had pushed the enemy back five feet...  Then ten... Then twenty...


Each scutum, polearm and greatsword wanted to step forward, but the command had come to keep the line formed where we were, and discipline held. But even as the shorter range weapons held our place, more spears from the back ranks and from nearby allied units worked their way through our spaced shields. Before long we had another fifteen or so spears scattered between the shields and the fighting line just hoping for a chance to step into the fight.


Finally the enemy had had enough. Their rear ranks had gathered for a powerful charge angling in from slightly to our right, and even as that column roared towards our spears the rest of the frustrated enemy shields across their line charged forward as well.


This was what we scutum fighters had been waiting for. This was what our polearms and greatswords had been waiting for. For fifteen minute we had stood still, out of range of the foe, letting our spears have all the fun. But with a charge like this it was time for us to earn our pay! As one our waiting forces lunged forward leaving the carefully prepared gaps in our line for the spears to run back through.


But our spears did not back up! If anything the front rank took a step forward into the charging enemy. The spearmen in the loose second rank also advanced - leaping into the spaces between our front rank spears. Before we scutums could even reach the line the enemy charge was stopped cold – by spears.


With a solid rank of spearmen between us and the foe, we looked for ways to reach the fray, but to little avail. Within seconds the charging line had died or fallen back out of our reach. Amazingly our spears had stopped and slaughtered the charge -- without us!


The command came for the shields to step back and reform the line. And somewhat sadly we did so – filled with a sense of awe (and perhaps a bit of annoyance) at the spears ability to survive and conquer without us. I remember looking at Alan of Darkdale who held the scutum to my left and asking, "So why exactly are we here... "


But in time that question was answered. For more charges came, and our spearman were tired and started to die more often. Finally we got into a nice groove. Charges would come, and our shield line would countercharge with our spears dropping back into the gaps we left between each scutum. As the shields slammed into the foe, shortswords thrusting from below, greatswords and polearms close behind cut at the leaders of the charge from above. And as they died and the bodies piled, our spears would turn and have their way with the next rank of enemy, often pinned in place by the ranks behind trying to push them forward.


This was glorious combined arms work at its finest. Every few minutes our commanders would have to pull the entire army line back five or ten yards to keep us near the center of the field rather than give the Tiger's forces an ever-shorter walk to the res point.


But in time everyone began to tire and the lines both thinned some as more and more warriors took longer to resurrect. No more did we see lines of men hurrying (or even running) to the res points, grabbing a quick sip of water and turning instantly back to the fight. More and more fighter paused to catch their breath, to sit down, to pull of their helms, or even to flop exhausted in the grass before returning


Worse, as the lines thinned a bit, the enemy began to improve their charges - focusing them tighter and tighter, and powering them harder and harder in their desperation, and the battle began to surge back and forth.


No matter how well we had fought at the beginning, it meant nothing, for this battle was to be decided only by which army controlled the central banners when the final cannon sounded. If a banner was contested, the Marshals would let all those within a spears length of the banner fight it out. Even if we outfought them for 59 minutes we could lose to a well-timed charge just prior to the final cannon. Just shoving enough men into the nine-foot circle at the right time would do it, and this is a tactic the East has proven expert at.


With perhaps eight minutes left a major push from the East pressed back the Midrealm forces on both sides of the banner pole. If they could hold that line, their final push would not be fighting for contention, but to shove the Midrealm force well clear of the banner circle. Lets just say this was "not good."


As I marched back from the res point, planning catching my desperately needed breath in the rear ranks before jumping back into the fight, our commanders started gathering resurrecting troops and preparing for a new offensive. Damn. No rest for the wicked!


With a series of hard pulse charges, skilled spear advances, stepped lines, and occasional desperate struggles, Calontir and our allies pushed forward and to our right until the banner pole was in a bubble a few feet behind our line. More hard fighting, and the banner was twelve to fifteen feet behind our bulged out line.


Once more I staggered back from the res point again and leaned my head face down on the top edge of my scutum, once again planning on resting there a moment to catch my breath. But it was not to be. "Ferd," came the command, "we need a solid line of scutums in front of the banner." I lurched upright and stagger-ran to the line once more calling for the scutum fighters to form on me. From up and down the line our remaining scutums disengaged and joined me behind the fighting line, forming a short wall of overlapping shields. Artillery streamed in behind us and in moments we had build we hoped would be an immovable object to stand against the near irresistible force we knew would come from the East in the last moments of the battle just seconds away.


Six to eight feet in front of us, and on both sides of the protruding bulge in the line our advance had caused the fighting continued, and my last view of the outside world was the Prince of Ansteorra directly in front of me. Then I was back behind the wall of aluminum, staring at Sir Eric's knee cop, hand locked tight around the handle of my shield, and sword pommel braced against the corner of the shield.


"How far are we from the banner?" I remember asking? "Twelve feet" came the response. Damn. Our scutum line only covered the front of the line - if the charge came from the side and bypassed our shields we would be outside the nine-foot fighting circle if the banner was contested. But there was not time to worry about that.


"Get ready!" comes the command, and there's no time to remember how we got here – but it just doesn't matter...


I'm trapped in the moment. The enemy is coming.


I brace against my shield, neck bent back to watch for hooks, hands clenched so tight they start to cramp, muscles tightening, thighs burning. I can't hold this position long - but it doesn't matter...


I know I won't have to, as the roar of the charge carries down to me.


Can I stop them? Wrong question! Can WE stop them? Because that's what matters...


But I know my comrades are there, I know a scutum is covering my back from the pressure his shield puts on the left edge of mine. I know Sir Eric is there with his greatsword as he steps even closer to my shield. I know there is someone beside Eric as a body leans into the back of my head. But the shield wall is not alone.


We've got more friends surrounding us. Our brothers of the Outlands stand in our ranks as they have so many times before. The Sable Star of Ansteorra covers our left and part of the line in front of our shields. And Ealdormere, the second of the Midrealm Dragon's three sons stands to our right. And that matters too...


Can we stop them? Damn straight WE can stop them!

Off to the front and right I hear the sounds of battle starting as armored forces collide. A second later my scutum is slammed into, and I'm pushed back a bit, the scutum angled closer to the ground, and pushing the artillery back a step. "Thank God I was braced!", I think.


But before I can do more than start to push the scutum back, another far more powerful charge crashes into our line like a fright train, and I'm slammed down to a 45-degree wedge. It's all I can do to hold against the awful pressure as the thunder of rattan on metal washes down from above. I know that if I'm pushed any further back I'll go over and have no hope of getting back up


"Support" I shout as I desperately push upward on my scutum. Adrenaline is all that give my exhausted body the strength to hold. Seconds or hours pass - time doesn't mean much anymore, as our artillery swings pole and greatsword into the helms and shields of our foes. I can hear them, but from my position, I can't see anything anymore. Can anyone hear me? Is anyone still there? Is this panic?


My arm is about to give. My back can't take it. "Support!", I cry. I'm going over any second! That's it. It's over!


Then a knee-cop slams into the back of the scutum next to my face and Sir Eric's leg takes up part of the strain. Oh sweet relief! I'm not alone!

Of course, I'm not alone!


Now I can hold on. I use his knee as a fulcrum and begin to push with my shoulder and together we pry back a few more precious inches. I'm...  not...  going...  anywhere! I can see more of my comrades now. WE'RE not going anywhere. Artillery crashes overhead. Each crash seems to say, "This is OUR ground!


"Together we'll hold off anything!


Booooooom! The final cannon sounds! Its over and time stretches back to normal as the weight is slowly removed from our scutums.


A Marshal passes a spear over our line, holding one end to the banner pole marking out the circle. Somehow I'm now in the circle. The sheer pressure of the enemy charge pushed the grounded shields back two to three feet, but couldn't break through. Not a single foe is in the circle. A counter charge from our right had deflected the enemies trying to go around our line. The banner is ours and uncontested! Word comes that victory is ours! And that victory is sweet, but really, that's not what matters...


What matters is that our spears, our poles, our greatswords, our shields, Fourth Company, and our allies. We all worked together to hold that line. I think that's what matters... . I know that's what I'll remember.


General Jean Michel asked me the first day of the war to write up a story of one of the battles when we got home. I told him I would try, but there were two problems – first that something cool had to happen, and second that I had to see it. Well, from behind a shield I really didn't see a lot of this, but I hope the story will still do.





From: Rob Howell <rob at KOTN.ORG>

Date: February 5, 2010 4:28:56 PM CST

To: CALONTIR at listserv.unl.edu

Subject: Re: [CALONTIR] What Matters - A War Tale


I watched that battle from the best spot possible. JM had tasked me to play traffic cop, so I was watching and directing people and occasionally playing middle linebacker.


I remember watching Ferd, and many others, trudge back to the res point, barely able to hold onto their weapons. I remember looking back at one point to see who was coming and seeing a line of 3 or 4 scutums, dropped by exhausted scutum drivers extending their stamina stretching from the res point to just behind me, in a direct line to that banner. They kept lining up Tuchuks and a variety of other units, sure that this time, this one time, their 20 people in a column would blow throw the 2-3 person thick line that stretched along the front and which was all we could consistently keep together.


Yet time and time again, they'd charge in and the line would step up and stop the charge, always seemingly with no margin for error, but consistently nonetheless. Each time, there was at most 1 leaker of the 20 or so that threw themselves at us. Each time a leaker did get through, they would stumble out grateful not to face the shieldwall anymore and so be a sitting duck for my polearm.


There was one point at which I was a little nervous about our ability to hold the point. We were at the banner 2nd from the right and to our right was a Midrealm unit which was at least half again as big as the combined Ansteorra-Calontir-Ealdormere force on our banner. Near the end, the Eastern general shifted all of his reserves for a huge push at the two banners on my end. They slammed into both our section and the one to our right. They pushed us back and wasted their entire energy shifting the line to where they had control of the banner, but they never broke our line. However, the unit to our right wasn't so effective. For while there I was throwing all of our reserves to help the larger unit to our right just to keep our right from shattering while watching our line get thinner and thinner yet never failing. I seem to recall Ashir charging like 89 bazillion times into the unit at our right just to keep them intact.


Eventually, the Midrealm unit to our right managed to get themselves into a semblance of order and begin covering their banner effectively, and that's when JM called for the big push to regain the line of the banner poles. Finally, we were able to commit all of our resurrecting fighters to *our* portion of the line, not simply the generic right side of the entire battle.


Given that time was running short I was really hoping we'd be able to make the last fight inside the 9ft radius to be even, but our charge was incredible. We didn't regain the banner line, we blew through their line and JM had to stop the army from going too far. Like many charges we were a bit stretched immediately following the charge, and the East sent another unit at us, but JM was amazing in getting the line reformed. At the same time, Ealdormere arrived with a unit to support our left flank and give us just a bit more time to get good old rock in place.


And you've read from Ferd's perspective what happened then. They, too, knew that time was about up and threw everything they had at us, but we had, finally, our flanks supported enough, time to get the shieldwall locked down, and the geographic advantage of 10 feet of dirt in front of the banner.


At that point, it was all over but the chicken soup.




<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org