Monday, May 9, 2011

[Solo GPC] 518: The Battle of Badon Hill

All player knights should be at Badon, for it is one of the greatest events in Arthur’s history. Gamemasters should be prepared to emphasize the desperation and chaos by killing off about half of the player knights; such ruthlessness will make everyone remember the event, and when someone says, “I was at Badon,” then everyone will understand. Gamemasters do not have to make special exceptions to do this: the tables below will ensure desperation.
This entry's taken me a while to write, and not just because of real life distractions getting in the way. As the quote above (taken from the GPC) indicates, this is a big year. A watershed year. There's only one other year in the GPC that mandates the presence of every character involved, and that's the Battle of Camlann, the one that brings down the final curtain on the whole shebang.

I've run Badon Hill once before. It was for my 2006-2008 campaign, which started out in 516, a couple years before Badon, so the characters were all newbies. I took pity on them and they all survived through careful pacing and liberal interpretation of the First Aid rules. Des was a player in that campaign too, so she'd been through this before. Neither of us had any illusions about the brutal reality of the battle if run full tilt. Still, from a purely objective standpoint, I was inclined to give Herringdale better than average odds. Despite being in his mid-50s, he'd been extremely lucky on his aging rolls and was boasting top-notch statistics and skills. I had a plan in mind for what to do if he survived, and a plan for if he didn't. It only remained to be seen how this particular Battle of Badon Hill would play out...

We picked things up, as always, with Winter Phase. We had left things off with Herringdale separated from his home and family by advancing Saxon armies under the command of King Cerdic of Wessex. The king's son, Prince Cynric, had guaranteed the safety of Herringdale's family, but Herringdale didn't trust the word of Saxons further than he could throw their severed heads. There was clearly little to do but answer the summons of King Arthur, based in Carlion, with the remainder of Salisbury's home guard. Sadly, Herringdale's uncle, Sir Loren, would not be joining the column marching west. The old warrior finally succumbed to age at Sarum Castle. His actions during the attack on Broughton Hall were instrumental in seeing its inhabitants to safety, and he was interred in the tombs below Sarum Cathedral as a token of respect. Meanwhile, other events dictated by the Winter Phase rolls were taking place at occupied Du Plain Castle, but details would have to wait until  such time as communication was re-established. Herringdale rode for Carlion not knowing if his wife and daughters were still alive.

At Bath, the Salisbury column met and joined a force led by Sir Brastias marching up from the south. That evening, in the old knight's pavilion tent, Brastias caught Herringdale up on the events that had transpired since Earl Robert had departed Sarum the previous year with the balance of Salisbury knights to march north under the High King's banner.

"The Pendragon was well wroth when he discovered the young Earl's order to leave you behind," Brastias said to Herringdale's barely repressed delight. "'The Round Table transcends petty squabbles of lords and princelings, and it is a brotherhood in arms that answers to the High King's summons if able,' is what the Pendragon told Earl Salisbury, or so I've been reliably informed. King Arthur, you know, never upbraids a man in public if it can be helped."

"A wise and just liege," Herringdale said, raising his goblet in salute.

Brastias returned the gesture before continuing on.

"We'd beaten the Saxons the year before but had been forced to withdraw in the face of superior numbers. Arthur was determined not to let that happen again and he mustered a mighty force. We met the combined Saxon armies as they were coming south through Lindsey. We fought them not far from Lincoln, in fact."

As always, mention of the northern duchy and its ancient capital sent a swoop of recognition and longing through Herringdale's heart as memories of lost afternoons long ago spent in the company of Sir Jordans flooded his mind. It felt like several lifetimes ago since he had last gazed upon his bosom companion...

"It was a mighty clash," Brastias was saying, "but evenly matched. The turning point came about four hours into the fight. Had I not witnessed it with mine own eyes, I'd scarcely believed it.

"A great horde of chanting Saxon warriors was bearing down on us when suddenly, like a lightning bolt from a clear sky, a knight sprang forth. Accoutered all in white he was: white tabard, white helmet, white caparison on his white horse. This White Knight fought with the strength and bravery of 20 great knights, and nearly single-handed put flight to the whole flank of the Saxon army. There was little for it after that but the pursuit and plunder of the fleeing Saxon dogs."

"To the White Knight!" Herringdale cheered, his cheeks flushed with wine. "Who was this man?"

"That's the devil of it," said Brastias. "He refuses to give his name. He's a holy personality, no doubt of that. Eats only bread, fish, and water, and never so much as a passing glance at a woman. Despite his mysterious mien, he has agreed to travel on with Arthur for the big push. The entire Saxon army has mustered, and they’ve called in all their friends from overseas. We Round Table knights will make the first charge if I have my way."

"Hear, hear!" exclaimed Herringdale, thumping the pommel of his dagger on the wooden sideboard. The remainder of the evening passed in increasingly sanguine predictions of the fate that awaited the Saxon foes once Arthur's army got to grips with them.

On the road the next day, Brastias, nursing a splitting headache, nevertheless managed to recount the remainder of Arthur's northern campaign the previous year. Having shattered the Saxon army at Lincoln, Arthur rode his army hard in pursuit. With skillful maneuvering, Arthur got his army between the Saxons and friendly ports in Deira. The Saxons pressed north, looking for an opportunity to slip away that never presented itself. The two armies crossed Hadrian's Wall and passed through Gorre before Arthur finally managed to corner the Saxons in a narrow valley.

Inspired by the Wall they had recently crossed, and knowing that a cornered enemy fights with twice the strength and tenacity, Arthur ordered a great wooden palisade constructed across the entrance to the box valley and sat down, content to wait his foe out.

"After three weeks, the Saxons were eating the bark off the trees in that valley," said Brastias. "They finally rushed the wall, trying to break through. They failed. Arthur took a hundred hostages against the promise of their king, Cheldric, to take his forces and sail for the mainland, never to return."

Two days later, as the column approached Carlion, they saw what had become of Cheldric's hostages. Hanging from trees and gibbets lining the road into the city were one hundred Saxons swinging in the gentle breeze, crows pecking at their rotting flesh. The explanation for this gruesome tableau was provided by Sir Gawaine, who sat atop his warhorse at the city gates, grimly surveying the arriving columns and the forest of Saxon dead.

"Those oath-breaking Saxons!" he said as Herringdale and Brastias drew near. "They turned right around and joined their cousins after swearing to leave our land! Arthur has hanged all their hostages," he finished with a sweeping gesture of his lance.

The trio took up the rear of the arriving column as it entered Carlion. They proceeded to the palace of King Alain, where Arthur was holding court. The great Roman courtyard, lined with dozens of marble pillars, was packed with knights and courtiers. Sir Kay, as always, was busy and flustered, barely keeping above the chaotic tide of arriving lords and ladies. As founding members of the Round Table, Herringdale and Brastias were quickly ushered forth to be presented before Arthur.

"There stands the White Knight," Kay whispered maliciously in Herringdale's ear. Herringdale marked him out; even dressed in courtly garb, his fabrics were of white and ivory. His hair, too, was so fine as to be nearly white. The only bit of color seemed to be his eyes, which were a piercing ice blue. "Impressed? He is certainly a fine young warrior, if knight he is. Yet he guards his chastity like a girl! Let’s see if he acts the part of a real man in the coming battle with the Saxons."

Herringdale barely acknowledged Kay's gossip with a grunt as he bowed before the High King. Arthur inclined his head in acknowledgement, smiling.

"Sire, I have brought the balance of Salisbury's fighting men to march under your banner. Half our county is under the Saxon boot heel, including my own lands, but we march with you wherever you may choose."

At this point, Herringdale saw someone moving forward out of the crowd of courtiers. It was Earl Robert, but he no longer looked the impetuous boy he had the last time Herringdale had seen him, nearly two years ago. To the collective surprise of the court, and none more so than Herringdale, Robert strode forth, fell to his knees, and kissed Herringdale's signet ring.

"Forgive me. My actions were rash," said Robert, his eyes fixed on the mosaic floor.

"Arise, my lord. In times like these, old feuds are like water under the bridge," said Herringdale, slightly embarrassed. The court applauded as the Earl and Marshall of Salisbury embraced, their differences forgotten in the face of the Saxon threat.

As Herringdale stepped away from Arthur's throne, he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. It was King Alain of Escavalon, his old comrade in arms. Beside him stood Herringdale's daughter Heledd, Alain's wife and Queen of Escavalon.

"Good to see you're still up to old tricks," said Alain, his face cracked in a wry grin. Herringdale smiled back. "Come, you have a seat of honor at my table," said Alain, who led Herringdale up to the high table. He was seated next to Heledd and his other friend from Cambria, King Lak of Estregales. As the feast got under way, conversation turned to the subject of Merlin and his whereabouts.

"In this time of need, the help of Merlin the Enchanter could scarcely be more welcome," Herringdale mused between bites of his meat tiles.

"His absence does not bode well," said Lak sadly. "There are dark rumors swirling that he has died."

"I've heard he is not dead, merely ill," said Heledd. "He is being nursed by that Lady of the Lake who he took as apprentice. What's her name?"

"Nimue, I believe," said Alain. Herringdale nodded affirmation.

"Aye, Nimue," said Heledd. "Some say she's his lover," she said, then blushed at realizing her father was present. "As if a man of his age would still be interested in such matters," she said quickly.

Herringdale was about to make a rejoinder about "men of a certain age" when the courtyard was filled with trumpet blasts. From the south entrance came the sound of horse hooves on tile, then none other than King Pellinore came riding in amongst the tables, shouting and laughing in his usual grandiose manner.


"Excellent Pellinore!" said Arthur, rising from his throne. "Please, make a place for yourself at my table."

As Pellinore, still mounted on his horse, began to eat, Alain leaned over Heledd to address Herringdale and Lak. "It will be nice to have those wild hillmen and their long knives on our side for once."

As the feast wound down, Arthur again rose to address the assembly.

"My lords and knights of the realm. In one week's time we march for destiny. It is perhaps sometimes easy to forget that we exist in a mutual relationship with those below us. They provide us with the fruit of their labors on the understanding that when it comes time to defend their homes, we will ride forth. That time is now if ever that time was. Do not look to yourselves or your own vain interests, but instead to the defense of those who have put their trust in your swordarms. If we can defeat the Saxons in battle now, we may well end their threat for good. But it will not be an easy task. Every Saxon army in Britain marches under the banner of Aelle bretwalda. We expect 30,000 of them."

On those grim tidings, the feast broke up amidst earnest whispers and worried conversation. The mood around Carlion did not improve markedly over the next week as the last of Arthur's vassals trickled in. It was a mighty host indeed, but did not approach the estimated number of Saxon warriors due to face it. At a council of war two days before setting off, Herringdale learned that the plan was to march back east, making for the city of Silchester, which was still besieged and desperately holding against the Saxons.

"I've received a message smuggled out of the city sealed by Sir Uffo, Duke Ulfius's son. He informs me the old duke is dead, killed defending the battlements. A grave loss indeed," said Arthur, looking truly agrieved. "Uffo begs us to send a relief force, and I see no reason not to oblige him. We will march proudly cross country, flying our banners as a challenge to Aelle and his army to come meet us in open battle. If he does, so be it. If he refuses, then the besiegers of Silchester will scatter like leaves before a storm and the city will be liberated."

All present agreed it was a sound plan, and two days later the great host of knights set off, banners fluttering proudly under summer skies.

The vast host made its way east out of Cambria and thence south, down through the Marlboro Downs. At Mildenhall, the army turned east again, following the royal road towards Donnington. Skirting the south end of the Lambourne Downs, the army had just to cross the Kennet and Endbourne Rivers before coming out on the final approach to Silchester.

It was midday and Arthur's army was marching in a long narrow column over the Roman bridge that spanned the Endbourne when breathless scouts came galloping up from the south. "The Saxons! The Saxons!" All was thrown into chaos, and Arthur barely had the chance to order a halt when Saxon banners appeared over the southern ridge that paralleled the Endbourne. As lines frantically formed up, the vast entirety of the Saxon host revealed itself for the first time. Rank upon rank of snarling Saxon warriors clad in chain and furs and wielding spears and great axes stared down at Arthur's army. The beating of war drums signaled the Saxon advance and they began to run down the slope, trying to catch Arthur out before he could organize a proper defense.

Herringdale, riding with the other Round Table knights under Arthur's banner, hefted his lance, his jaw grimly set in anticipation of the breaking storm, his steady, deep breathing amplified inside the confines of his helm. Although the unit was still a disorganized mass, a trumpet blow signaled a countercharge, and Herringdale was among those knights in the unit who were able to jump off. Ahead, running to meet their charge, was a unit of grunt spearmen, poorly armored but wielding the 12-foot-long spears that Saxons favored for countering mounted charges.

The moment of impact was signaled by a blur of spear shafts and iron points, crashing, screaming, thundering. Herringdale's lance buried itself into a spearman, but he was going too fast to see if the blow had been fatal. The next hour of battle was little more than a massive scrum, with more Round Table knights pouring into the fight and quickly getting bogged down by the swarming levy. At last, the spearmen broke and fled, and Arthur and his men rode in pursuit.

As was typical of Saxon tactics, the screen of grunt spearmen had been deployed in the front rank to wear down and disorganize the knights. As the screen melted away and Arthur's banner rode in proud pursuit, a wave of Saxon warriors clad in chain and swinging great axes crashed over the royal battalion. In the course of the next hour's fighting, Herringdale took a terrific blow to the head that sent his helmet flying. He had to retire momentarily to sop blood from his eyes and receive his recovered helmet from his redoubtable squire Baldrick.

When Herringdale rejoined the fighting, Arthur's unit was still outnumbered but now fighting against a unit of deceptively slight-looking Saxons. For such diminutive warriors, they acquitted themselves ably, but Herringdale was anxious to avenge his wound. He did so, splitting the skull of one of these strange "Little Guys," contributing to the overall push.

Arthur's unit broke the Saxon line after an hour of fighting and began moving towards the rear of the army. In a desperate move to plug the gap, a unit of peasant archers was ordered forth. A hail of arrows rained down, but none of the deadly points penetrated Herringdale's armor. His armor and the caparison of his charger resembling a pincushion, he charged, swinging his sword in a broad arc. With his Round Table brethren presenting a thundering wall of steel, the ceorl archers took flight, flinging their bows and quivers to the ground in headlong flight. Their pathetic attempt to save their hides was, of course, in vain, and they were ridden down to a man.

A trumpet blast signaled a halt to redress the line and allow the horses to recover their wind. Unfortunately, this allowed Saxon spearmen to move up and plug the gap that the Round Table knights had opened up. Further, although the Saxons were hard-pressed on this part of the battlefield, they were making steady advances elsewhere. There was little to do but keep up the pressure and hope to snap the Saxon lines where they were weakest. And so once again Herringdale spurred his horse forward into a wall of great spears.

>Perhaps this was the same unit the banner had driven off at the start of the battle, or simply a reserve unit of miserable levy, but the line barely held in the face of the valiant knights' charge. Saxons died in droves, including many under the flashing blade of Sir Herringdale. By the time the slaughter was complete, Herringdale's legs were dripping with Saxon blood, crimson as the western skies under the setting sun.

Yet, to the east, more Saxon banners could be seen appearing over the ridgeline. The already massive horde was being reinforced!

"We are over-extended!" Arthur called to those around him. "We must pull back and reorganize! Signal a fighting withdrawal!"

The trumpets sounded and gradually the army of the Pendragon began to disentangle itself from the Saxons. Sensing a moment of potential weakness, Aelle ordered his elite reserves forth. Herringdale spent the final hour of the first day of the battle in a hard-fought rearguard action against a unit of howling Saxon warriors emboldened by their hatred of the Cymric knights. Finally, as darkness fell, the two armies disengaged, leaving a blood-soaked field strewn with thousands of Saxon corpses and hundreds of dead knights and horses.

Meeting in Arthur's grand pavilion, the great knights and nobles of the land listened to their High King as he outlined plans for reorganizing the lines and striking against the weakened Saxon right flank. As he spoke, however, a great peal of thunder sounded overhead. Almost simultaneously, rain began to fall with such furious intensity that the beat of raindrops on the tent roof sounded like a battalion of Saxon war drummers.

Hours passed as attempts were made to carry out Arthur's orders in the driving rain. Finally, seeing the weather conspiring against him, Arthur ordered his army to fall back towards Donnington. Drenched to the bone, Herringdale rode in miserable silence through the dark night, his way lit by pages carrying hooded lanterns. Two hours before dawn, still in the midst of the driving rain, Arthur's army reformed its lines outside Donnington. The watch fires of the pursuing Saxons could be seen through the steady downpour.

Dawn came, heralded by the pitch-black night turning slightly lighter, just enough to make out the vast, steaming Saxon horde encamped on a nearby rise. Some hours passed as both armies sat and waited.

"Curse this driving rain!" Gawaine raged, stalking back and forth in the deep mud.

"It's no use trying a charge in this muck," said Brastias lamentably.

"Then we will fight as best we can, and devil take the hindermost!" said Herringdale, mounting up atop his charger.

"Hear hear!" cried Arthur. "We are knights of Britain, and even in these conditions we are each worth ten of those Saxon dogs!"

A ragged cry rose up and so Arthur's army lurched forward, not with the blasting trumpets and thundering hooves typifying the charge of chivalry, but like a great tide, slowly rising. The two armies clashed, or rather bumped, their edges slowly intertwining amidst pouring sheets of rain. Herringdale and his compatriots were once again obliged to hack their way through a screen of miserable Saxon peasant levy who died in droves beneath flashing blades and iron-shod hooves.

As the second hour of the battle approached and the last of the ceorl levy melted away, Arthur's banner was counter-charged by a wave of Saxon berserkers. Mostly naked and frothing at the mouth, these dire warriors swung massive bearded axes with deadly effect. Herringdale's nerve held in the face of their screaming assault, however, and he clove many a berserk's head in twain amidst the downpour.

Yet still the Saxons kept coming. A hail of arrows joined the rain pouring down from above as another wave of howling warriors crashed into the ranks of the Round Table knights. Like his brothers in arms, Herringdale held his ground and even pushed back against the foe. Then another wave of berserkers came and Herringdale could scarcely see a friendly banner or shield amidst the sea of wild, drenched Saxons.

As Herringdale hacked left and right, soaked in water, blood, and mud, a trumpet fanfare could be heard over the pouring rain. Arthur was again signaling a fighting withdrawal. The Saxon berserks hounded Herringdale's trail as his unit gave ground. It was only thanks to the continuing downpour and rapidly gathering darkness that Arthur's army was able to disengage and regroup.

Later, inside the royal pavilion, the sound of rain hammering on the canvas overhead was drowned out by the uproar within.

"Will this infernal weather offer us no surcease?" stormed Sir Griflet, his head bandaged with a bloody strip of his own surcoat.

"IT IS NO USE FIGHTING IN THESE CONDITIONS!" boomed King Pellinore, his voice carrying over the general tumult.

Standing at the center of the torrent was King Arthur, his hands held up in a gesture of conciliation.

"I feel your frustration, good sirs!" he shouted. Gradually the assembled lords and commanders quieted. When at last all was silent save for the noise of the rain, Arthur continued. "Our scouts have brought back alarming news. The boundaries of this storm extend but a league beyond the battlefield. I suspect we are victims of fell Saxon sorcery."

The room again erupted into outraged shouts and general indignation. Again Arthur raised his hands for silence, and again the room fell gradually quiet.

"We must decamp again. Immediately. I hate to ask this of you, but as you say: we cannot hope for victory in these conditions. I know this is our second march in as many nights, but we must seek for dryer, better ground."

It was a sign of how desperate the situation was that Arthur's command met with general approval and enthusiasm. Quickly, the assembled lords dispersed to summon their banners and begin the march west. Herringdale, as part of the High King's own banner, remained behind.

"Where do we march, my liege?" he asked.

Arthur unfurled a map on his mahogany camp table. It showed Salisbury County and surrounding environs. He stabbed a finger down on a point just north of the Marlborough Downs.

"To Badon Hill," he said.

Again Arthur's army marched through the night. After covering a mere three miles, the rain finally let up and a blanket of stars could be seen in the inky night sky overhead. Relieved to again be marching on dry ground, the procession made good time with many squires (and more than a few knights) passing the time singing bawdy camp songs. But as the hulking mass of Badon Hill loomed up in the darkness, everyone turned their minds to the task ahead.

Camp was hurriedly set at the summit of the hill, and those who could caught a couple hours' sleep. Many sat awake, staring into their campfires or else engaging in mindless busy work like sharpening their blades or combing down their warhorses. As dawn broke, all eyes turned east; marching along the King's Road, flowing like a great ink stain, was the Saxon host. Cries of alarm drew all eyes to the south: coming up along the ancient trace that ran through the Marlborough Downs was the army of Wessex under King Cerdic!

Trumpet blasts blasted out the call to mount up and prepare for battle. Herringdale donned his helmet and hoisted himself into his saddle. As Baldrick handed him his lance, the two exchanged a silent look of farewell should one or both of them not make it. The wait began. Archbishop Dubricus, accompanied by Bishop Bedwin swinging a censer, made his way up and down the lines, intoning holy rites and blessings. As he passed, Herringdale saw Arthur kiss the icon of the Virgin painted on the inside of his shield.

As if in answer to this pious display, the newly combined Saxon armies began to make a great ruckus on the plains below; hundreds of war drums beat out a steady rhythm as the Saxons raised their voices in a great chant to their bloodthirsty gods. As they roared their chanting song, the clouds above their army seemed to slowly form together into the shape of a great dragon - hardly a promising omen! Perhaps sensing the dispiriting effect this vision might have, Arthur immediately ordered a charge.

With another great fanfare of trumpets, the entirety of British chivalry poured down Badon Hill like a great steel tide. The impact was terrible indeed, unlike anything ever seen before in the world. Whole units of Saxons were instantly obliterated, annihilated, atomized. Herringdale drove his charger forward, letting the momentum of his downhill gallop carry him through the customary screen of peasant levy. Great spears whipped around him, but none harmed him. The screams of the Saxons dying beneath his horse's hooves could not be heard over the thundering gallop. Herringdale and the rest of his unit tore straight through the Saxon ceorls and slammed into a unit of screaming warriors, heorthgeneats wielding spear and shield. Directly over the heads of Arthur's host, a great red dragon flew sinuously through the air and engaged the great white cloud dragon above the Saxon horde.

On the ground, this awesome sight went unnoticed by Herringdale as he set to the grim work of slaughter. All thought of advance or retreat was abandoned as the battlefield turned simply into a great swirling morass of death and dismemberment. More Saxons poured in. Only a few minutes passed, or maybe it was an hour. Herringdale found himself alone, an island of chivalry among a sea of barbarians. Javelins rained down from one direction as grim-jawed warriors advanced, swinging great bearded axes.

Then Sir Brastias and Sir Gawaine were at his side, and the veteran Saxons were driven back. But more came to take their place, wealthy heorthgeneats clad in mail and gold. They were no mere noble dandies, though, and they fought like devils. Overhead, the two dragons, silent and dreamlike, continued their struggle...and gradually the red dragon seemed to gain the upper hand...

The flow of battle moved to and fro. Again Herringdale was surrounded, this time by a crashing wave of naked berserkers, their skin stained red from the blood of slain foes. Desperately, Herringdale wheeled his charger around, swinging his own blood-drenched sword in every direction. Then he felt a great blow land in his side. He felt several ribs splinter beneath his chain armor and he was falling from his saddle. He hit the ground hard. His helmet flew off. He could feel the ground, turned muddy with spilled blood, much of it his own. His vision was dimming. A berserker was rushing towards him, his axe raised, ready to strike the killing blow.

Dimly, Herringdale was aware of a knight stepping in front of the onrushing berserker. The knight was clad in old-fashioned armor of the sort Herringdale had worn when he was a young knight on the make. The mystery knight buffeted the berseker with his shield, then felled the Saxon with a well-placed blow from his mace. Herringdale blinked as the knight turned to face him. Beaming down at him was none other than Sir Jordans, alive and well!

"Back on your feet, sir knight. The fight is not yet through!" said Jordans, a smile playing around his mouth. With that, he turned and waded into the sea of Saxons.

"Jordans, wait!" Herringdale croaked. He struggled back to his feet. Remarkably, his ribs felt mended, although there was still a nasty wound seeping blood through his armor. But he couldn't bring himself to care about that now - Jordans was back! Herringdale rushed forward. He felt rejuvenated. He felt like he hadn't felt since he had fought alongside Sir Jordans over two decades ago. Those who saw Herringdale fighting over the next hour would have, after the battle, sworn upon a Holy Bible that he had the appearance and mien of a young man, clean shaven and vital once again.

Gradually, though, Herringdale began to feel the weight of years again. The wound in his side was sapping his wind and his sword felt like it had doubled in weight. Amidst the turmoil, Baldrick somehow tracked him down, found him surrounded by a pile of dead Saxons. His faithful squire was leading a fresh charger who had lost its rider. Herringdale thanked Baldrick and remounted. He had never managed to find Jordans among all the slaughter.

The sun set behind the horizon, but still the fighting went on. Herringdale fought on as well, no longer part of any unit but simply killing any Saxon that came within reach. He seemed to drift across the battlefield, periodically forming ad hoc units with other displaced knights. Over the next three hours, he fought alongside knights from every corner of Arthur's realm and beyond. Finally, it grew too dark to fight any longer. The day's struggle came to a stuttering stop as the two armies drifted apart, receding back towards their camps.

Nearly unconscious, Herringdale limped back to his tent and collapsed into his cot. Baldrick tended to the wound as best he could, but it was serious and required greater care than a mere squire could provide.

"Don't worry, sir," Baldrick said, his eyes bloodshot, his face streaked with dirt and dried blood. "The Lady Meleri is skilled at chirurgery. She'll be able to tend to you. And the Lady Jenna, too."

Herringdale smiled, choosing for the moment to believe that his family might still be alive. His eyelids fluttered shut and he fell into a bone-tired sleep.

He dreamed the High King was speaking to him. Then he woke with a start and realized it was not a dream. Pre-dawn light was filtering in through the canvas sides of his tent and Arthur was standing in the tent flap.

"All who would defend their families and land come to the front."

Just as quickly as he had come, Arthur was gone. Had it all been a vision? Then Baldrick appeared through the tent flap.

"The battlefield is a terrible sight, sir," he reported. "But the Saxons are not giving up. Those what survived are assembling for a final charge!"

Muttering oaths and curses, Herringdale rolled out of bed and had Baldrick help him into his armor. Cursing still further, he mounted his charger and rode towards the front. All around him, other wounded knights were riding to answer the call of their king. It seemed to Herringdale that the majority of Arthur's army was in little better shape than he, but when he cast his eyes on the Saxon foe he saw they were far worse.

Across a sea of carnage stood the sad remnants of the once-mighty Saxon host. There were no war drums or chants today. They stood in complete silence, staring at Arthur's own battered army. Arthur raised Excalibur, then signaled a general advance.

Herringdale could see approaching at a walk a great host of chanting Saxon warriors, their hands held high in the air. Their song was not defiant or warlike, but quiet and mournful.

"Charge!" came the call. Was it Sir Hervis? Or perhaps Griflet, fired by youthful passion? Whoever gave the cry, it was answered with a rush of galloping hooves. The Saxons died in droves under the crushing onrush, not even bothering to fight back.

Scarcely had the slaughter ended than Herringdale and his unit was beset by a horde of screaming, half-naked Saxon women. These were not warrior women such as Herringdale had seen in the past, but ordinary camp followers. They had picked up great spears and swords and charged into battle, perhaps determined not to be captured, perhaps outraged by their husbands' cowardly deaths. Whatever the reason, they fought like savage beasts and Herringdale had no choice but to defend himself as he was attacked by three women at once.

It was ugly business, but it was over soon enough - the women wore no armor and perished in droves beneath the blades of Arthur's knights. But no sooner had this threat ended then a further wave of desperate Saxons hit.

It was another pathetic display; this time it was old men, their hair and beards white and scraggly. Many were bandaged and bloody. Some limped along on improvised crutches made from shattered spear shafts. All were howling with rage, brandishing great axes and long spears. Unlike the first wave of Saxon men, these geezers had come to fight.

Under normal circumstances, they would have been no match, but with Herringdale hovering near death still [down to a single Hit Point, to be precise!], every exchange of blows was potentially lethal. Still, he weathered the storm well enough and emerged from the slaughter in time to see a most striking and pathetic sight.

Prince Cynric, heir to the throne of Wessex and long-time burr in Herringdale's side, was being led forth onto the battlefield. Literally led, for a blood-soaked bandage covered his eyes. The young prince was blind, his once striking features mutilated by a cruel sword blow delivered sometime the day before. Herringdale thought of his family. Of his young bride. Of his daughters. Perhaps all dead now. Of his home, burned at the orders of the prince. Who knew if Sarum, that great ancestral stronghold of his people, now lay in ruins?

Howling with rage, Herringdale spurred his mount forward. Cynric's guard scattered at the approach of the enraged knight, but the blind prince stood his ground, the crusted blood on his cheeks cracking as he smiled. He drew his sword and listened for the moment to strike.

Herringdale came up short, bringing his sword down in a terrific blow that had his full weight behind it. The blade sunk into Cynric's shoulder, slicing through collarbone and shoulder blade, burying itself deep in his torso. But Cynric was still smiling. Herringdale looked down; the prince's blade was buried deep in Herringdale's side. Slowly, both warriors sank to the ground. They died, lying in a tangled heap surrounded by British and Saxon alike.

[As I've discussed before, I use a house rule that tied Criticals deal 1D3 damage direct to Hit Points for both combatants. Herringdale and Cynric both Critted. Both had a single Hit Point remaining.]

Some months later, Lady Meleri visited Badon Hill. The battlefield had been turned into a monument in the wake of the British victory. The hilltop had been turned into a mass grave. Her father had been laid to rest there, along with the hundreds of other knights and thousands of footmen killed in the fighting. The grave was surrounded by a ring of swords, buried point-first into the ground. Her father's sword was among them. In accordance with their own funerary practices, the Saxons had been burned in a massive pyre that took a full week to fully reduce to embers.

The Saxons had been smashed once and for all at Badon Hill. King Aelle and most of the other Saxon great men were dead. Those that survived, like King Cerdic of Wessex, had sworn fealty to Arthur and renounced their royal titles. Arthur had given most of the survivors of Badon land in the former Saxon territories. Sir Hervis, one of the battle's great heroes, had been made a full Duke and given all of Anglia to oversee.

In the wake of Badon, the Saxon lands had suffered greatly at the hands of Arthur's pillaging army. The White Knight alone moved among the conquered foe as an ambassador of peace and succor. Many knights who encountered him in the midst of their rapine were shamed into following his lead, but far many more took what they could, killing Saxon women and children indiscrinately. Meleri was filled with great sadness; time would tell if the conquered Saxons would ever forgive their great humbling humiliation, the loss of their wealth and prestige.

Meleri was sad, too, for the loss of her father and mother-in-law. For Lady Jenna had indeed died as Herringdale had feared, although not at the hands of any Saxon. She had died in childbirth, for she had become quick with child shortly before being parted from Herringdale for good. If there was any consolation, it lay in the fact that the baby she had fatally borne was at last the son Herringdale had always wanted. Meleri stood and surveyed Badon Hill for a long time, silent and reflective. Then she mounted her cream palfrey and turned east. All of Salisbury was rebuilding in the wake of Saxon pillaging, and Broughton Hall's burnt timbers awaited her...

[A note on the "Jordans vision" of Day Three: reading over the notes on running Badon Hill in the Book of Armies, I took special notice of the section that talked about this being the time to roll out miracles, visions, and other supernatural phenomena (and of not being afraid to bend the rules). I was struck with an idea: although I was prepared to see Herringdale die if that's how the dice rolls went, I wanted if at all possible to see his death come towards the end of the battle. So I concocted a trip-wire scenario: if he was knocked down to zero Hit Points or took a Major Wound that would render him Unconscious, I'd have Sir Jordans show up, save his skin, and magically restore 2D6+3 HP.

This worked out beautifully, as it gave Herringdale just enough HP to keep on fighting for the next day and a half but wasn't so much of a boost that it made him invincible. I also had him fight the battle round subsequent to seeing Jordans with his 24-year-old-self stats - which was actually a bit of a penalty, since all his Stats and Skills were lower then! At any rate, it was a really powerful moment and I'm glad I had a chance to see it play out.

Herringdale's death was also so dramatically appropriate, and I really couldn't have timed it better if I'd tried. A perfect end to an epic character arc, one of the most remarkable I've seen in my two decades of gaming. He will cast a long shadow over the remainder of the campaign, no doubt. Requiescat in pace, good Sir Herringdale.]
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