Official Twisted War Story of Pennsic XXII
By Master Hector of the Black Height
No kidding, there we were, at Pennsic XXII, fighting the Woods Battle. The Woods were the sixth War-point of an eleven point War and the Middle was down 5-0 already. To be blunt, after ninety minutes or so our morale sucked. You see, the East seemed to have found a wonderful speedway through the woods to the hill overlooking the Middle’s resurrection point. Every time we advanced from our start point into the woods, we were met by many friendly Easterners who wanted to meet us. Or at least they wanted us to meet their swords and axes. It was a very convenient arrangement for our slain; to resurrect after being killed, you merely had to cross the road at the foot of the hill. The Easterners met us at the top of the hill, clubbed us and let us roll to the bottom of the hill. two bounces and you were at the bottom of the hill, ready to step across the road, step back and go for more.
I have fought in many, many Woods battles, starting with Pennsic XV. My rule has always been to go into the woods, fight, die and resurrect three times in the two or so hours of the battle. Three trips in and out of hilly woods in armour are about all I can take on a humid August day. Not at Pennsic XXII; I lost count of my trips in at seven.
So there I was, dead again, sitting at the bottom of the hill, with about fifteen minutes left in the battle. Some mates were sitting there with their helmets off, getting a drink. I was well-watered, determined to make another trip into the fray, and I remembered the lessons of experience. Kings reign and generals command but, in the Woods, Murphy rules. If I waited for my mates the battle would be over, so I started back up the hill again. As is my wont I was wearing my old red helm, my ratty Septentrian bear tabard and carrying a battered pole-arm.
You have to understand the organisation of the Midrealm during this battle. Duke Sir Talymar had been named General of the Midrealm Army. He had reconnoitred the Woods site and was pretty sure he knew where the East would plant its Queen’s Banner, the main objective of the Midrealm forces. When the battle started, His Grace strode half-way up the hill, wearing his gleaming steel helm with gilt ducal coronet (a.k.a. his “hit-me” hat). He wore his belt and chain as a Knight, and he carried a sword and his shield, blazoned with a black field and silver stag. Yes, it was definitely Talymar, a real legend of the Society (and an outstanding general).
Duke Talymar stood on the side of the hill and, as the fighters streamed towards him, he told the columns to halt and kneel. “Wait here. When we gather three hundred fighters” (for he knew the East would deploy about 150 fighters as a banner guard and Talymar likes at least 2:1 odds in the attack) “we’ll advance, attack the banner guard, take the Eastern Queen’s banner, win the battle and turn this War around.”
So His Grace stood there and watched his column assemble. 100 fighters; 150; 200; 250. He was getting ready to move them out when a runner came from the flank. “The King needs two hundred men over here NOW!”. So two hundred of His Grace’s fighters stood and followed the runner. Duke Talymar started assembling another column. Soon he had 100 fighters; then 200; then 250; then another runner arrived. “The Prince of the Middle needs one hundred swords over here NOW!” So another hundred fighters stood up and disappeared into the woods after the runner, and His Grace started to assemble his column again.
This happened all afternoon. His Grace stood on the hill-side assembling armies for other leaders. Finally it was about fifteen minutes or so to the end of the battle. Talymar had no more time; he’d need every minute remaining to cross the woods and reach the banner. There were only 150 fighters assembled, but with no time left to gather troops they’d have to suffice. His Grace stood, raised his sword, and cried to the fighters before him, “I am Duke Talymar, commander of the Midrealm Army. We have fifteen minutes to cross the woods, attack the Eastern banner guard, seize their Queen’s banner, win the battle and turn the War around. Follow me!” And he turned and led his column into the woods, just as I trudged by.
Now I was tired. I was at the stage where I had two speeds, go and stop. As I plodded up the hill, I happened to be marching by His Grace as he roused his column with stirring words. Frankly, I was too beat to pay attention to the speech. All I knew was I was carrying a pole-arm, His Grace had a large shield behind which I could hide when we met our Eastern friends yet again, and he had just yelled “Follow me!” So I fell in behind His Grace and kept plodding up the hill.
So there we were; His Grace, me, and behind us 150 fighters (to be fair, His Grace’s version would say “There I was, myself and 151 fighters”. But I digress) as we marched up the hill. As I hadn’t taken notes and was somewhat weary, I decided I’d like to hear the plan again. So I scuttled up close to His Grace and said, “Your Grace, I beg your pardon, but what’s the plan?”
His Grace responded “It’s simple. We march in, break through the East’s banner guard, seize the Eastern banner, hold it ’til time runs out, win the battle and turn the War around.”
No pressure. I said the only thing I could, “Cool,” and fell back in behind His Grace.
So there we were, marching up hill and down dale. There was a rustle in the bush, off to our right. Four dozen Eastern fighters appeared. One hundred of His Grace’s column turned on their heels and charged the foe, who disappeared into the brush. Our hundred fighters followed them and were never seen again. And on we marched.
Suddenly there was a rustle in the bush to our left. Two dozen Eastern fighters appeared. Fifty of His Grace’s column turned on their heels and charged the foe, who disappeared into the brush. Our fifty fighters followed them and were never seen again. And on we marched.
I scuttled up behind His Grace and said “Your Grace, I beg your pardon, but where’s your army?” For there we were, deep in Eastern territory; His Grace, myself, and seven Midrealmers. So we stood there in a circle, facing inwards, as His Grace considered our position.
And there was a rustle in the bushes.
Three Easterners appeared. The last seven of His Grace’s column turned on their heels and charged the foe, who disappeared into the brush. Our fighters followed them and were never seen again. I looked at His Grace. His Grace looked at me.
When we stopped laughing, I said to His Grace, “What would you like to do now?”
Duke Talymar said “Y’know, I’ve spent the last two hours assembling armies for other people in hope of attacking the Eastern banner guard. I’d like to see their Queen’s banner.” I had no other plans, so off we went, His Grace and I, seeking the Queen’s banner of the East.
We went up hill and down dale, with His Grace’s shield hanging at his side and my pole-arm slung over my shoulder. Everyone in the woods saw a pair of relaxed fighters walking along, assumed we were dead and ignored us. His Grace spent most of his time checking on tired Easterners resting at the foot of various trees, actually.
Finally we reached the boundary of the Woods site. His Grace turned to me and said, “Nuts. I’m a little bit off on my azimuth. It’ll be over the next hill that way.” So we turned around and plunged back into the brush. Suddenly there was a rustle in the bushes, and out stepped a young Eastern squire named Michel de Coucy. He levelled a spear at His Grace’s abdomen and asked, “Are you dead?” From around Esquire de Coucy stepped another half dozen Easterners. It appeared that life was about to get interesting for His Grace and me.
His Grace opened his arms wide, walked up to the spearman and said “Hi! I’m Duke Talymar and I command the entire Midrealm army. We can fight now” (I started looking for escape routes) “but I’ve had a long afternoon. Can I see your Queen’s banner, please?”
Young Esquire de Coucy stepped back into the bushes for a few seconds, to do whatever it is Easter
n squires do in the bushes. When he returned he stepped up to His Grace, peered intently into the face-plate of his helm and said “Truce?”
“Oh yes, truce!” agreed His Grace, and the half-dozen Easterners insisted that this was Duke Talymar, Knight of the Society and general of renown. Of course he’d honour a truce! They all ignored me, but that was okay. And I really didn’t have any other plans. So forth we went, His Grace and I, in the centre of a ring of seven Easterners, up that next hill. At the crest of the hill we looked down and there they were; the Eastern Queen’s banner and 150 of the most bored fighters you’ve ever seen. The 150 fighters saw us and, in beautiful, seven-part harmony, asked the only possible question: “Are you dead?”
His Grace walked down the hill alone, and closed to within eight feet of the Eastern line (remember, a spear is nine feet long). He threw open his arms again and shouted, “Hi! I’m Duke Talymar and I command the entire Midrealm army, and NONE OF YOU CAN HIT ME” (pause) “until HE gets his shot.” For that was the condition of the truce; Michel de Coucy would have the first chance to kill Duke Talymar.
Michel de Coucy jogged down the hill past His Grace, towards the Eastern banner guard. The Eastern shields opened like a door and de Coucy fell in behind their wall. He couched his spear and engaged His Grace. His Grace adopted a defensive stance, batted the spear-thrust aside and, almost single-handed, charged the Eastern line. I say “almost” because I had nothing better to do… I fell in behind His Grace and followed him in, and the Eastern foe were terribly impressed with how I sang Duke Talymar onto their sword-points (especially the extemporised last line):
“One more battle, one more day,
“One more sword-stroke, one more fray,
“One more arrow flying free,
“One more charge then — OOOOF!!!”
as a spear-thrust caught me in the muscle right above my cup and I folded like a house of cards.
So His Grace and I charged. I took that spear shot (good; no doubt about it) and went down. His Grace took a good shot a few seconds later and fell onto me. And that was that.
The Easterners were nothing but chivalrous. They brushed the Hector bits off Duke Talymar and brushed the forest floor off me. Their line parted like a door and His Grace walked up to the banner. He reached out, touched it, smiled a little smile and said, “I knew it was out here,” and then the cannon fired and the battle was over.
At this stage His Grace went into (there’s no other term for it) shmooze-mode. He worked his way through the Eastern fighters patting backs and shaking hands, congratulating one on a good fight and another on a new white belt. As for me, I was on the far side of the Woods site, had no clue how to get home and stuck close behind His Grace on principle as he pressed the flesh.
As His Grace and I worked our way through the throng, His Grace and I both heard some unknown fighter ask his companion, “Who’s that guy with the white belt, black shield and hit-me hat?”
“That’s Duke Sir Talymar, commander of the entire Midrealm Army.”
“Cool. So who’s the guy in the ratty bear tabard, red helm and beat-up pole-arm?”
— Pause —
“The entire Midrealm army?”
So there you go. I, Hector of the Black Height, have been acclaimed by my foes to be a one-man army, and Lord Bjarki ap Owen of the Kingdom of Aethelmearc (and a steadfast friend of Ealdormere, by the way) has been celebrated since that day as the man who with his spear slew the entire Midrealm army.
By the way, His Grace and I both heard the “entire Midrealm army” remark. Like all the best stories of the Pennsic Wars, every single word here is true.