Phaedra's Gate

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A Classic Lesson (Duncan Faramach MacLeod)
Phaedra's Gate - Estrella 16 - A.S. XXXIV (Fernando Rodriguez de Falcon)
The Battle Pit
The Castle
The Scenario
The First Battle - Attacking the Castle
The Story.... The Legend....
Saint Barbatus' day (Duncan Faramach MacLeod)
It Takes a Kingdom to Raise an Army (Fernando Rodriguez de Falcon)
From HRM JoeAngus, King of Calontir (JoeAngus)

A Classic Lesson

"Prevented by the throng at their backs from dodging, side-stepping or retreating from the blows or thrusts directed at them by their English opponents, the individual French men-at-arms must shortly have begun to lose their man-to-man fights, collecting blows on the head or limbs which, even through armor, were sufficiently bruising or stunning to make them drop their weapons or lose their balance or footing, Within minutes, perhaps seconds, of the hand-to-hand fighting being joined, some of them would have fallen, their bodies lying at the feet of their comrades, further impeding the movement of individuals and this offering an obstacle to the advance of the whole column."

from The Face of Battle -John Keegan Agincourt, October 25th, 1415

A classic lesson that has been re-taught, has it been re-learned?

Duncan Faramach MacLeod

Phaedra's Gate - Estrella 16 - A.S. XXXIV

I will try to find time to write about more of the battles later, but the great victory at Phaedra's Gate is a story begging to be told (and written of, and sung of, and told again.) But, before I can tell the tale of this great battle a bit of background is needed. But if you want to shorten this long tale a bit, skip forward to "The Story....The Legend...."

The Battle Pit

The Battle Pit is a scarred wasteland sunk some 30 feet below the fields of the Estrella Site. It is reached by several steep ramps cut into the sides of the pit. The floor of this pit is a mix of dried dirt, stones, gravel and silt which gives way quickly to steep slopes of loose dirt and rock. The overall impression is that of the badlands shown in countless westerns.

The Castle

Due to the labors of a number of the folks from Atenveldt, a castle stands on one end of this wasteland. It is set into/onto the hill on the south side of the pit, and is divided into a lower bailey and an upper motte. The outside walls of this castle were surrounded with heavy canvas fastened onto telephone poles sunk into the ground, such that it was difficult to see what troops on the other side of the wall were doing, or where they were massing.

The bailey perhaps 40 - 45 yards wide and 20 yards deep sits at the bottom of the hill and can be entered in several locations. The main entrance, known as Mathghamhain's Gate (Named after Duke Mathghamhain of Atenveldt and pronounced just "Man" by the way) faces north. It is approximately 12 - 15 feet wide and is fortified by walls made of railroad ties set into the earth - these walls extend about 6 feet into the castle, and about 6 feet along each outer wall. Each of these walls is pierced by a 4 foot wide opening roughly 4 feet off the ground through which men could attack but not enter. An elevated earth platform on the inside of each of these corners gave the defenders some advantage, but standing on them was still very dangerous as spearmen on the outside could reach anyone on them.

As you stand in the bailey, looking out Mathghamhain's Gate, to your left and somewhat behind you is a section of wall which can be breached by siege engines. This entrance, approximately 10 to 12 feet wide is blocked by a large wooden "wall" which can be removed by the marshals once it is hit 5 times by a siege engine. Once the wall is removed, the opening is flanked by a steep dirt hill to the left, and a telephone pole to the right.

Again looking out Mathghamhain's Gate, behind you to the right is 10 -12 foot wide ramp leading uphill to a gate to the upper motte. This gate is flanked by 2 telephone poles.

The motte itself is not as deep as the bailey, but somewhat wider. In addition to the gate to the bailey, it has a gate and a sally port on the left as you look out towards Mathghamhain's Gate. To the left is the entrance knows as the Duke's Gate. This gate is perhaps the most defensible. Leading to it is a bridge perhaps 10 feet wide and 20+ feet long which leads slightly uphill. Stepping off this bridge is death. This bridge is flanked by 6 or 8 telephone poles set into the ground, and for later battles was covered by a canvas top. Last year, Calontir held this gate against a large number of Aten attackers.

Outside the castle are three 50' square redoubts, each with canvas walls covering three sides, and a dirt berm defending the fourth side which faced the castle. Gates pierced the walls opposite the berms.

The Scenario

Now that you understand the terrain, let me tell you about the scenario. The defenders stared in the castle, while the attackers started in the three redoubts. The attackers had unlimited resurrections, while the defenders would be allowed only 300. The battle was to last one hour. Every fifteen minutes, two points would be awarded for each redoubt held, and three points for each half of the castle held. Thus a force holding either the castle or the three redoubts for the entire hour was assured a tie, but no more. Effectively a force had to not only hold its starting points but take at least some part of the enemy holdings and hold it past one of the 15 minute scoring times.

During the commanders meetings we had discussed these battles, and quickly come to the conclusion that the way for the attackers to win was simply to kill all the defenders and force them to use up their limited resurrections - even if they had to die repeatedly to do so. The attacker's unlimited resurrections meant that sacrificing three or four men to kill one would pay off over time.

The First Battle - Attacking the Castle

The last battle on Friday afternoon was our chance to attack the castle. Though we were already tired from a long day of fighting, and we were badly outnumbered by the forces of Atenveldt and Caid, we were confident we could win this battle. The tactics appeared obvious.

Calontir was tasked with attacking the Duke's Gate. Our specific orders were to not break in, but to simply kill the enemy forces aligned before us - sacrificing as many men as necessary to do this job, but always maintaining enough of our strength to prevent the enemy from breaking out. The forces of the Outlands would attack the bailey, while Artemesia, the West and the other allies would assault the far entrances to the motte.

When we arrived at the Duke's Gate we discovered that, as we had predicted, the enemy had formed a killing pocket on the inside of the castle. They had a unit of heavy shields lined up 8 -10 feet inside the gate and lots of polearms and spearmen on both sides. Since we were forced to attack up the narrow bridge, the enemy would always have a numerical advantage and could bring weapons to bear on any attacker from several directions.

It proved an effective defense against our first several charges. Our scutum line would charge forward, and the artillery that tried to follow would either have to turn and fight the assembled poles and spears on the sides (abandoning the charging shields), or would be killed from the side as they advanced. To some degree we expected this. Charging a static shield wall is typically a foolish mistake. As Dongal would say "Rock breaks scissors." So why did we charge? Because we did not need (or want) to break through, and we did not mind losing troops. We wanted pulse charges that might kill a few, while not committing us completely, or crushing our friends in needless pileups. Still their losses were much fewer than ours, and the walk to resurrection point was tiring at the end of this long day of fighting.

But after the second charge we noticed that the sides of the enemy pocket had almost no shields while the artillery cover for the shieldwall was light. It was time for a change in tactics. With our army in spear dueling range, and a few of our spears and poles out front, behind the cover of our line I gathered a couple of scutums, a secondary or two, and a handful of hard hitting poles and greatswords. I told them to run out the left side of our line and then as soon as they were off the bridge (in the killing pocket) to turn hard to the left and charge the enemy spears and poles there.

Led by Sir Rolf, it was a beautiful column charge! The two scutums ran diagonally up the spears, turning them all aside long enough for our secondaries to close. Before they could finish reacting to that our artillery was upon them and for a few moments, in that limited area, we had the advantage. The column died (as expected), but a fair number of enemies retreated to resurrect as well. For the next 25-30 minutes we repeated this tactic on one side of the pocket or the other. Each time another group of the enemy was killed, and their returns from resurrection slowed, while ours returned after a visit to the wonderful Calontir waterbearers at the resurrection point.

Down below at the gates to the Bailey the Outlanders were doing about the same thing. Column charges - each designed to kill a few enemy. Finally, the Atenvelters and Caidans we killed quit being replaced at all - they were out of resurrections! Enemy troops were shifted from the bailey to strengthen the enemy's hold on the gates to the motte, and the Outlands changed tactics and assaulted hard. After a few minutes of pitched battle, they had entered the bailey and were fighting their way to the gate to the motte.

Hard pressed, with their numbers diminishing, the enemy desperately tried to hold their ground. Now we too changed our tactics and fought for a foothold in the motte where we could eliminate the killing pocket and fight more evenly. Spear duels, pulse charges, and hard polearm work, drove the foe before us towards the Outlanders attacking the lower gate, and the Artemisians on the far side. With perhaps 15 minutes left in the battle the last Atenveldt defender was driven over the dirt walls of the castle and slain. Victory was ours! We had proven that the castle could be taken fairly easily, even though we were badly outnumbered. In fact, once we had taken the bailey, all we would have had to do was hold it and bottle up the enemy for a sure victory.

And while this is the tale of a fine battle, it pales in comparison to that which came the next day.

The Story.... The Legend....

Saturday we fought three battles in the open and several battles for control of the battle pit, but those are tales for another time. After the first of the battles in the battle pit, I asked the army to use "Phaedra" as our battle cry as we fought that day for Her Majesty. From that inspiration comes the following battle.

The final battle that day was over the castle once more - but this time we would be the defenders. We had already proven that a much smaller force could take the castle given the unlimited resurrections - and worse, we had showed the foe how to do it. Outnumbered three to two, with limited resurrections we knew we had no chance for victory. But we would take the field and deny the castle to the enemy for as long as a Falcon tabard remained on the field.

Calontir was given the honor, and the difficult task of denying the largest entrance to the enemy - Mathghamhain's Gate. I promised Sir Sean, the battle commander, that we would hold it as long as we could. We would try our best to keep the enemy out for the hour. A delaying battle was our only hope. Killing the enemy meant nothing to us, but every Calontir loss would hurt us sore.

The Falcon host was arrayed behind the gate. Eight feet inside the gate we built a short line of five scutums. Then anchored to the corner posts of the gate we placed two more scutums on each side. Between these sets of scutums and the main line we left a five-foot gap. A place where we could invite the enemy to charge and die. A few feet inside of each of these gaps was another scutum and a skilled secondary or two waited to stop the charging foe where our poles could crush them. With our artillery heavily weighted towards long poles and greatswords we waited and we sang. As the lay on came we saw a large force of the enemy coming towards us. (We later learned that we received the honor of facing the bulk of the Atenveldt army.) From the back of our lines, I could see the setting of shoulders and the settling of weapons as our forces waited for the Aten army to reach us. Just outside the gate they paused, and the weight of their numbers appeared unstoppable. Several of our spearmen went through the gaps to poke at the enemy - to stall for time by keeping the main unit from attacking. For a few moments it worked, then with a terrible roar the foe charged. In the lead were House Staghold, and a unit of mercenary troops dressed in maroon and black whose name I know not though we faced them many times that day.

Forward into the pocket they charged. The crash as they slammed into our scutums was deafening. From where I stood it was a terrible sight. Every one of our scutums in the front line seemed buried beneath the charging foe, and for a moment I thought all was lost. But our valiant shieldmen were not slain, only pushed over backward into narrow wedges protected by scutum above and earth below. After that first frightening moment the storm of rattan intensified and polearms and greatswords began to rain death upon the hapless Aten warriors. Pinned by scutums in front and pushing friends in back they could scarcely move and they died like wheat beneath the scythe. Soon every enemy within range of a polearm was dead and our spears began to reap their own grim harvest.

I had rarely before seen such a charge, and none like it in recent years. But, it was only the first of many that day. The foe were stacked like dominoes, each lying the same direction - facing down across the backs of their friends before them. Bodies were soon piled four deep and a hold was called to clear them, and the way was clear for more foes to reach us.

I was later told by a marshal who was watching from the side, that in that first charge the enemy lost approximately 40 men, and then 30 more moments later in the second, while Calontir lost perhaps three men between the two. 23 1/3 to 1. Of such stuff legends are made, but there was still 55 minutes to go in the battle - we had scarcely begun. As the battle wore on Calontir stood - but not alone. Friends from the Outlands, Sir Jax, Sir Rorik, Sir James and more, fought with us - not as another army, but behind our shields and in our ranks. His Majesty Finn of the Middle, Duke Kane of Meridies, and Viscount Dafydd of Northshield each served within our lines. If they were needed on a spear or pole, behind a scutum, or as a secondary in the front ranks they were there. Our friends honored us greatly that day.

Time after time the foe charged. Thirty or forty times they came. Each charge designed to break us once and for all. Each charge planned to take that gate for the forces of Atenveldt. And each time Calontir stood firm and killed and killed. Like butchers at a bloody work, our weapons fell upon charge after charge. And each time hold was called to allow the hordes of Atenveldt dead to leave, we would catch our breath, shrug our shoulders, and return to our grim duty.

After their early charges I gave perhaps the strangest orders I will ever give in combat - to slow the killing down. Once we had a carpet of dead before us, the enemy could not reasonably advance. This was protection for our castle. If we killed too many, they would call a hold and clear the bodies allowing yet another charge. We needed to kill the first wave quickly then slow down to stave off the holds for as long as possible. And while this worked to some extent, the desperation of the enemy to take our gate would not be held back, and they climbed over the dead to reach us, forcing us back to our grim duty and holds to be called.

As charge after charge was driven home they did have one effect upon our line - they slowly drove us back a few inches at a time. After 30 minutes we had been pushed back 6 or more feet, opening larger gaps to the side that the enemy tried to push through - but each time they were refused, and the enemy corpses piled against the castle wall. Finally at a slight lull we advanced the scutums back forward and closed the largest gap. But we purposely left one on the left side of our line long enough for the enemy to see it and try to push through. Before they did I shifted extra secondaries and artillery to that side, out of sight of the gate where they would not be seen until the enemy had turned the corner. The next charge was clearly informed of the gap by the dead and sure enough they entered and charged that side - only to die horribly in our new secondary pocket, which we closed after the next hold.

At the thirty minute point we were getting somewhat tired. The scutums had been fighting hard, and most of them replaced by this time, but it was still crushing work. The polearms and spears had been swinging as often as men felling trees and arms were tired. Then we got the word that we had used only 60 resurrections thus far. My grin almost split my face when I heard this, and I could see the word spread as soldiers laughed and returned to work with a new determination. By God, we could hold this castle!

At the resurrection point, the army commanders were given orders to ration the resurrections carefully. Only Knights, or other upper level (GOA) fighters, or those with a particularly needed weapon would resurrect. But this was waived for Calontir. A Falcon tabard was all that was needed to clear the res. point and return to our lines. Such was the job we were asked to do, and such was the respect they gave us.

As the battle wore on the Aten forces, though clearly tired, grew even more determined. One charge with perhaps 10 minutes left had a unit trying to jump over the scutums, or knocking them down and attempting to fight from atop them. But even this did the enemy little good. They just had farther to fall when they were cut down.

I was privileged to see many deeds of courage and resolve: Albrech staying behind a scutum for the entire battle; Spearmen dropping their weapons to take up scutums; Rorik with a secondary in the front rank for charge; Hufta stopping a charging column cold; Arial and Cora behind scutums on the left; Dongal stopping two chargers with a spear held sideways till greatswords could remove the threat; and so many more. Just the deeds I witnessed would take pages to tell and only serve to hide others, which I did not see personally.

I will however tell in brief one tale - that of Sir Rolf's stand. Fighting with a centergrip scutum he had been the plug behind one of the gaps, when in the midst of a charge, his shield was ripped from his grasp. A lesser man, perhaps a saner man, would have stepped back - perhaps to return with another shield or weapon, but Rolf instead pressed forward, armed only with his gladius. Prying open an enemy shield he quickly killed its owner, and as he fell, the man beyond him as well. Though I almost lost sight of him at that point, I believe he killed one more before he bent to retrieve his shield and retake his place in the line. Why do I tell this particular tale? Because for this, and his actions in the Duke's Gate one day earlier, he was awarded a Sword of Calontir.

Though standing firm before each crushing charge was surely enough labor for any of us that day, there were countless more examples of determination and bravery. We have often said "No heroes here!", but this day proved the lie to that phrase. There was not a man or woman within that line who was less than a hero that day!

After one final charge the end of the battle was sounded and Calontir still held the gate! They said we could not hold the castle. We said we could not hold the castle. But we did! As Calontir had done at Mathghamhain's Gate, the Outlands had done at the Duke's Gate and the breachable wall, and the rest of the allies had done at the Sally Port and the East Gate. And we still had 20 resurrections left! Where we had killed a thousand the day before they had killed less than 300.

What's more we discovered a few minutes later that in the final minutes of the battles at the Sally Port or the East gate, where the enemy forces had been much weaker, a lone Trimaran had managed to get out past the enemy. Somehow he was forgotten about, and made his way behind the enemy lines to a redoubt which was very lightly guarded (No one? One man? Two? Stories differ.) Killing the guard (or just moving in) he took the redoubt and sat down to await the end of the battle. Thanks to his ploy, we did not only tie the battle, we won!

This battle is the stuff songs and legends are made of. In days of old, at Pennsic's past, the shield wall had withstood charges like this. But never had a foe continued to throw charge after charge at us like this. Even the Tuchux learned better over time.

So great was our defense, that Their Majesties Atenveldt, and Duke Mathghamhain himself agreed to allow us to rename Mathghamhain's Gate. A plaque shall be carved and placed there next year, and from this day forth the front gate of this castle shall be known as Phaedra's Gate, in memory of our inspiration that day.

To Their Majesties Joe Angus and Phaedra who granted me the honor of commanding Their army, I owe a debt I can never repay. I have received wonderful awards from Crowns of Calontir, but never one with memories like this attached. The view of the Calontir Army as it came over the rim down into the pit behind us. The respect given Calontir's forces by His Majesty Martino of the Outlands. The smiles at the end of our victories and the rueful grins of our opponents. The words of my fellow soldiers.
And so many more.

To my unit commanders: Marcus, Nazir, and Dietrich and their subcommanders; to the men and women of the Falcon Host who followed us on the field to defeat or to victory; to Kirk, Rolf, Ariel, and Dongal who acted as advisors; to all those who ensured the army was well fed and well watered; and to each and every one of you who made the trip to enrich our presence at this war, I also owe a great debt. Calontir, I salute you!

Sir Fernando Rodriguez de Falcon General of the Falcon host by the Grace of Their Majesties Joe Angus and Phaedra

Saint Barbatus' day. .

They just kept coming....

Wave after wave of soldier that could not be killed; was.

Each was sure that they would break the wall that sealed Phaedra's gate; they were wrong.

So great was their zeal that they thronged to enter the gate, we never saw the sky behind them and we often lost track of the sky above them as the bodies piled higher and higher.

The dead could often not be told from the living, as sometimes the dead kept moving and the living were simply buried underneath the piles of the dead.

So great was their urgency that they denied themselves the room to attack, we had the space we needed.

Happy they were to die on the altar of Calontir's war cathedral, and great was the mass.

They screamed and charged, we held the line and sang Non Nobis. They charged until they died, we killed until we could kill no more, and then we sang.

They could not lose, they did.
We could not win, we did.

If we had used steel, their blood would have watered the desert soil, so that Phaedra could walk amongst a beautiful garden next year, and would gently explain to the children that there had once been castle there.

Duncan Faramach MacLeod Survivor of the Phaedra's Gate Massacre

It Takes a Kingdom to Raise an Army

The following is a response to a message Jenna sent me by private e-mail. I hope she will forgive me for posting it publicly, but I think the point should be made for others as well.

In her message Re: Phaedra's Gate! - Long dated 2/22/2000, JennaSW writes:

> Sir Fernando,
> I thank you for your report. I thank you also for your thanks, to the
> support crew. I am near tears, that I was not at the Battle of Phaedra's
> Gate. There are times when not being a fighter, means not being shit. In
> Calontir, these are rare, but this is plainly one of those times. *sniff*

No! You were there. Perhaps not physically, but you and each of the soup kitchen folks and waterbearers were with us nonetheless. Every one of us who continued fighting because we did not dehydrate, or fought the next day because we got food in us in time to not be wiped out completely the day before were there in part because of you.

Pavel also felt bad to have missed this tremendous battle, but he too was there. Tactics he developed were what we used that day. Without him what chance would we have had? He trained several generations of fighters like me in the tactics we used, and many of us who today are in command positions. Without his training what mistakes would we have made?

Jenna, don't ever think you have to be a fighter on the field with us to be part of the Falcon Host. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a kingdom to raise an army. You each may not have been there to swing a stick, but you are definitely all part of our army. This was a victory for that army.

Again my Thanks!


From HRM JoeAngus, King of Calontir

Baron Fernando's accounting is an incredible retelling of the actions at Phaedra's gate. We cannot hope to duplicate his fine ability, only hope to enhance it.

At the lay on I was in the very back of the formation. I roamed around the outside jumping in different places when it was needed. Everyone in the wall was doing an excellent job. The allied troops stepped in and followed orders, kudos to the Outlands, Artemesia and Drachenwald for supporting us. I played on the right hand side for a while with HRH's squire, Karl. We killed a few spearmen trying to get to the corner scutum from the window.

All this time, charge after charge occurred. It looked gruesome, but after each hold, 30 or 40 enemy would go back to res., but only 1 or 2 of Calontir and allies. It was amazing. Some old time scutum fighters were there, like Drx, Ellie, and Ariel, but the majority of the scutums were fairly new, people like Cora, Aidon, Wilhelm. (I apologize if I leave people out, the list is too huge to finish.) Albrecht of Trier stayed under a scutum for the entire battle. It is great to see the new generation of scutum fighters get a battle like this under their belts. The wall meshed together well and the results were legendary.

About 20 minutes in I grabbed a pole and bellied up behind Sheridon and Drx. I had Sir Jaxx with a secondary to my right and HRM Finn with a pole to my left. From here my awareness of the battle focuses on the 9' x 9' patch of earth around me. With the firepower near me, that part of the wall was never in real danger. We repulsed attack after attack, swapping out fresh scutum fighters when relief was needed, singing when we could. At about this time I heard Ferd yell about having 100+ res. left. It was at this moment that the army appeared to fight with a renewed vigor. People realized that we were going to make it to the time limit. It was no longer, "When are they going to breakthrough", it was "They are NOT going to breakthrough." The longer we fought the more energized we became. The faces of grim determination were supplanted by smiles of hope.

With about 3 minutes left I was killed by an Aten spear, my first death in the battle. I walked up to the res. point and, from a hilltop, I watched the Calontir threshing machine deal out horrendous damage in the last minute of the battle. The cheer from the army was deafening. The impossible had been accomplished and a cry of "Phaedra" rang in the bailey. A very emotional scene. I will never forget it.

On the way back to camp, the army was still charged with excitement. The songs were loud and cheerful, the tales around the purple pavilion were full of laughs and merriment, the soup seemed especially good. His Majesty Aaron of Atenveldt came by and after some consultation with Duke Mathghamhain agreed to allow the gate to be renamed Phaedra's gate, in honor of the Queen we fought for that day and as a time stamp of the year Calontir held against incredible odds.

Thank you Calontir for a very special war and many special memories.

JoeAngus King of Calontir "The Greatest Kingdom in the Known World."

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