Guest Contributor Gary Haines provides background and new rules for Saxon Warlords using Shield Wall, a Hail Caesar Supplement.
‘Poisoned Point and Ancient Sword’
The searovers faced him and roared their insults. The eoldorman Byrhtnoth, the white haired one, ignored them and encouraged his men, young and old as he rode along the line. The young of the fyrd were nervous, he could see it in their eyes and he shouted encouragement. The old looked resigned. He tried to ensure the young were placed next to veterans. He did not want the line to break. Leof of his hearthweru realised his hawk and it circled in the air above the lines of men lining up near the estuary. Vikings, the searovers, the invaders on one side and his men on the other. The invaders had already raided elsewhere. ‘Forkbeard’ was their leader. To the dismay of some of his men he had let them cross the estuary rather than just hold the crossing. Byrhtnoth knew he had to defeat them in such a way that a message would be sent. ‘Forkbeard’ had already called him a coward if he would not dare to battle with them. He was still angry at ‘Forkbeard’ asking for tribute. He had given his reply shouted across the estuary;
‘Hear you, searover, what this folk say? For tribute they will give you spears, poisoned point and ancient sword. It seems to me too poor a thing that you should go with our treasure unfought to your ships, now that you have thus far into our lands.’
These invaders wanted the treasury at Maldon to add to their plunder. Byrhtnoth glanced across at their lines, they were numerous, his scouts had estimated around 4000 men in over 90 ships. He knew his faith was being tested, he knew they were outnumbered but he had let them cross. They had crossed the estuary like wolves on the hunt. Berserkers in front screaming and men behind, with the sun glinting off thousands of helms and axes, shouts and curses cutting through the air along with spears. He knew they were currently out of range. He had fought many times before.
His hearthweru acknowledged him as his rode past with the banging of their scarred shields with their spears. He could barely see their eyes behind their helms, many showing scars of past conflict. Byrhtnoth knew every pair of eyes would be on him. He patted his horse as he dismounted and headed for the front and centre of the line joining his hearthweru, slapping their shields and a few backs and smiling as he did so. Holding a spear aloft he turned and pointed at the invaders, the heathweru roared their defiance and a primal sound emerged, a sound of defiance – Byrhtnoth added his shout to the roar.
The searovers were forming a wedge, closing the ground rapidly, more spears were being thrown and screams were filling the air around him, his men slammed their shields together and braced for the impact, spears were thrown in return from behind the shieldwall and satisfying screams were heard from the invaders lines as they made impact with flesh.
Ancenned was scared. This was his first battle. He was cursing himself. He had thrown his first two spears in panic and they had fell into the mud of the estuary, he just had his fighting spear left and his sword. He looked to see ‘Bright Courage’ who was in the centre of the men, even in the mass of men he was easily viewed as he was tall of leg. He could see the wedge of the men from the north heading directly for the eoldorman. He jostled forward passing men, and it was then the wedge impacted with the shieldwall.
The line shifted, men were pushed backwards, screams of hold the line filled the air along with sounds of wood clashing. There were other sounds, a sound of wetness as axe, sword, dagger and spear made their mark and a ringing and clashing of metal on metal. Ancenned’s vision was clouded with redness as sprays of blood erupted around him. In the confusion he found himself next to the eoldorman.
Byrhtnoth knew that he was marked for death, that is why the horde had come for him. The first two he had dispatched easily with his spear, spinning and thrusting aiming for the flesh that was not protected, These invaders were just men, he never believed the tales, and would die as easily as others. A sharpness in his hand made him aware that he had been wounded, the axe wielded by an invader had glance off his shield catching his spear hand, he knew better then to look at the wound, he needed to keep focused on the old warriors eyes in front of him. He was obviously a skilled fighter how he wielded the axe. Unlike many of the warriors around him he did not waste his breath on insults but concentrated on one thing, killing. The battle axe crunched into his shield once more and he thrust forward with his spear, a grunt meant he had caused a wound. He was aware of his hearthweru fighting around him. The initial clash had broken down now into combats mostly between individuals. He moved forward and stumbled, he automatically raised his shield above his head but not before the axe blow had rung off his helm. Blood trickled down his face, He was getting slow in his old age. As he knelt he thrust upstairs with his spear and pushed hard when it encountered resistance. The invader fell breaking the spear haft as he toppled over. Byrhtnoth reached for his sword and beheaded the searover charging towards him with a simple twist of his body and wrist. His sword danced in his hand as it had done many times before.
Ancenned saw the spear thrower but his shout of warning was lost in the screams and grunts around him. He had killed now, he did not know how many, but he knew he could. He moved towards the eoldorman but was too late. The spear found its mark and the white haired one sunk to his knees as the weight of the spear in his side pulled him down. Ancenned reached his side determined to protect him. Byrhtnoth pulled off his battered and bloodied helm, his white hair seeming to blaze in the light, he looked at the spear and at Ancenned. A grin formed on his lips.
‘Pull it out and throw it back. Show them our strength’.
Ancenned had no time to think and acted on instinct. He pulled and twisted the spear and felt it release its grip on the eoldorman’s flesh. He threw with all his strength and the spear thrower went down grasping at his throat as the spear found its target.
Byrhtnoth pulled himself to his feet, he would not fall. He could feel his life going from him. His reactions were slow. A axe found its mark and he realised distantly that his sword arm was gone. The searovers, the wolves were all around him. He could hear his hearthweru fighting to get to him and this boy was protecting him as much as he could. He could not stand up any longer and sunk to his knees although he was screaming to himself to get up, not to fall. He looked up and saw the hawk still circling in the air, it was time;
‘I thank thee, Ruler of Nations, for all the joys I have met with in this world.’ The white haired one stared at the sky when he finished speaking, tasting blood in his throat, as the hawk dived and circled in the summer breeze and the axes slashed towards him.
The vikings screamed their triumph and held Byrhtnoth’s head aloft, the white hair now stained red. Ancenned found himself fighting with the hearthweru, beating back the invaders trying to reach the body of their leader. The men felt the line disintegrating around them and no shouts or curses would hold the fyrd. Amongst the noise and the screams there was a silent agreement amongst all of the hearthweru. They would stay. To do anything else was dishonour. Each was protecting the other, cutting and thrusting using spear, sword and shield. They would fight. The searovers massed towards them, axes and spears hungry and grinning. The hearthweru locked shields bracing for impact. A nod was all it took for Ancenned to join them. His shield in place he waited for the impact, flexing his hand on the hilt of his sword. They would stand . . .
Saxon Warlords in Hail Caesar
We know a lot of information about the Battle of Maldon fought in 991 AD and how Byrhtnoth met his death due to the defeat being immortalised in the Battle of Maldon poem. This poem commerotates the heroic stand of Byrhtnoth and his hearthweru against the norse invaders. Although the majority of the fyrd fled when Byrhtnoth was killed the hearhweru fought to the last man against overwhelming odds. It was said that they inflicted so many casualties on the Vikings that they could barely man all their ships.
The figure of Byrhtnoth is available in a pack of three saxon warlords and armed with his spear and shield. Alongside him is Raedwald of Anglia. Raedwald was a 7th century King of East Anglia and is not strongly documented. He is thought that he was the king buried in the famous sutton-hoo ship burial and the beautiful helmet that is made famous through that archaeological discovery is worn by the Raedwald figure making him an imposing character,
Finally in this pack of three ancient heroes we have Osric King of the Hwicce and probably ruled at one point with his brother. Hwicce was situated in the modern day counties of Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. Osric was a man of battle but also of religion, he is documented as being involved in the founding of two monastic houses at Bath and Gloucester. These evolved into Bath Abbey and Gloucester Cathedral.
Any of these men would be a fine figure to add as a leader in a game of Hail Caesar using the Shield Wall supplement. Let them once again defend the land with sword, spear and shield.
The following is a guide to incorporate these men into your game:
Active: c. 940s AD – 991 AD
Fighting Value: 3
Special Rule: ‘We Stand, We Die’. ‘Byrhtnoth’s hearthweru (Huscarl: Heavy Infantry) were incredibly loyal to him preferring death to fleeing the field with their lives. Byrhtnoth’s heathweru never break and automatically pass any break test.
Raedwald of Anglia
Reigned: c. 599 – 624
Religion: Christian and Pagan
Fighting Value: 3
Special Rule: Raedwald was an imposing figure and would have looked spectacular with his ‘Sutton Hoo’ helmet and armour. In this instance he himself acts an ‘Icon’ under those rules in the Shieldwall supplement. Once per turn each unit that can see the commander can reroll an attack. This gives his units great strength but of course makes him a stand out target for the opposition as all leaders were in this period.
Osric King of the Hwicce
Reigned: c. 670s AD
Leadership: 5,6,7 (see special rule)
Fighting value: 2
Special Rule: Compared to others Osric is not so documented in the records so one can assume his impact on the battlefield was not as noteworthy as others. Therefore his leadership and impact on the battlefield can vary. A roll of a d6 during set up will establish what sort of day he is having. Die roll of 1, 2 = leadership of 5, die roll of 3,4 = leadership of 6, die roll of 5, 6 = leadership of 7 a great day for him and for his men who may just survive!
Shield Wall is a supplement for Hail Caesar which introduces the main battles, armies and personalities of the Dark Ages in the British Isles from around 400AD up to 1000AD.
In addition to the traditional Hail Caesar massed battles the supplement introduces rules for smaller scale engagements between warbands as reflects much of this period. Shield Wall also contains campaign rules and several linked scenarios – from Badon Hill to Brunaburh.
The army lists are included for Limitanei, early and late Saxons, Romano-British, Welsh-Cymru, Irish, Picts, Gaels, Vikings and Irish-Norse.