Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Combining passions together.

As I have mentioned in previous entries in this blog, I love a back story, a reason for the troops on the table to be there, some justification for the battle that is about to unfold in miniature on the landscape before me. With the painting of my Wars of the Roses armies now coming to an end. I only have a single box left to paint now, before I move onto pastures new, or old in my case. As I will be returning to my English Civil War, or more correctly The War of the Three Kingdoms. I have Scottish and Irish units to assemble and paint, to join their English brethren.

But I digress. My Wars of the Roses troops were always intended to be painted up for fictional leaders to fight out battles on an abstract map based on the North of England. As more and more troops received their paint, the more I was convinced that I may as well go the whole hog and simply create a country for them to fight in. An imagi-nation, no less, it has been done oft times before. I was already half way there. The whole could then become a campaign in a fictitious mid 15th Century England type setting.

As the troops were originally intended for the Wars of the Roses, between the Houses of York and Lancaster and we have the counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire, I simply did what I had done with the names of my fictitious towns and took bits from the front of some and spliced them on to the ends of others. This gives me YOrk LAncashire shiRE or Yolare. It will be a narrative driven by what occurs on the tabletop with these newly completed tiny warriors, so The Saga of Yolare was born.

I have begun the narrative on my own blog, but thought it may be of interest to other members of the Table Top Commanders. Please bear in mind, I am not a writer, just a happy scribbler, creating a back story for my battles in the hope of making them more interesting and have a reason for being.

The Saga of Yolare

A Plea for Help.

Walter de Cobham, Thrang of Thorngarth stood atop one of the towers of his castle. The icy wind pierced his heavy clothing, stabbing cold fingers at his skin as if he was stood naked. Flurries of snow blew into his face, settling on his moustache, beard and eyelashes making him screw up his face to protect his eyes. A sentry, in a heavy fur cloak and clutching a spear, had silently moved away to a respectable distance from his thrang, giving the ruler of this very castle and of the whole Dominion of Thorngarth, his privacy.

Walter looked down upon the town outside of the castle walls, the snow covered roofs of the houses, shops, inns and animal sheds blended into the surrounding countryside. Wisps of smoke from warming fires instantly torn away by the wind. Barely a soul could be seen in the narrow streets, the people sensibly staying close to a fire in their humble abodes, their animals, for the most part, living with them.

It had been a bad Winter, the second in a row. It was now early April, the fields should now be in plough ready for sowing, not buried under a thick layer of snow, the soil frozen solid beneath. His dominion was blessed with rich fertile soil which produced a heavy yield of whatever crops were planted, but last year's crop, also late into the ground, was fast running out. The granaries were almost empty and soon they would have to start consuming the very seed they needed to sow for this season. Once that was gone the people would butcher and eat their animals, or at least those that could afford to own any beasts, after that it would be famine.

A movement from the sentry caught Walter's eye. The man had placed his spear resting on the battlements and had cupped his hands, tilting his head down to shout to an unseen colleague far below in the gatehouse.

'Armed men approaching!'

Walter looked beyond the town, and sure enough his eyes rested on the large group of figures making their way along the Burn Howe road toward the town and castle, he had not seen them. Damn his failing eyes. He even knew they were approaching, scouts had already warned him.
A voice from below acknowledged the sentries warning, though the words could barely be heard, being snatched away by the wind. Walter nodded to the sentry before moving to the spiral stone staircase and making his way down the tower. His forty five year old eyes maybe losing their sharpness but his body was still as athletic as any man alive, he descended with the speed and agility of a mountain goat.

The initial alarm caused by the approach of soldiers was quickly dispelled when the colours of Egton Low Moor could be identified. Townspeople stood at their doors to watch the group of spear men and archers, led by two mounted knights pass by, braving the wind and snow that was even now laying a new layer on top of the old, outside their doors.

The column made it's way up the hill and came to a halt before the open gates of the castle. Two sentries wearing the black and amber colours of Thorngarth, and bearing spears stepped forward to block the narrow entrance. One of them shouted to the now stationary, and exhausted looking soldiers, to state their name and business.

'I am Owen, son of Richard Wadham, Thrang of Egton Low Moor!' yelled back one of the mounted knights. 'I carry a message for the Thrang of Thorngarth, which I have to deliver personally and so request entry.'
Of course it was all a formality, the identity of Owen was known as soon as he entered the town below, and this fact had been passed up to the castle in plenty of time, should the gates have needed to be closed. The two gate sentries nodded their heads in acknowledgement and stood aside to let the weary men pass.

Walter met the son of his good friend in the castle courtyard, he ordered that the men of Egton Low Moor be fed and given a place to sleep that evening, before leading Owen to his own private chambers. Owen had expected the chamber to be richly decorated and furnished to impress, but the opposite was the case. A fire blazed in a grate, positioned in front of which were two wooden chairs, both had thick cushions placed upon the seats. A pair of tables, some tapestries adorned the walls, candle holders placed strategically to give good light and a couple of plain animal furs on the floor, more or less completed this modest chamber.

'I don't care for finery or filling a room with useless items. Walter smiled, it was as if he was reading the mind of his young guest. Your quarters are through there, he nodded toward a now opening door, a boy of about fourteen years, stood and bowed to the two men. You can get rid of that armour and mail and then rejoin me for a bowl of hot broth.'

As the boy assisted Owen to remove the heavy armour and chain mail, he noted his saddle bag was on the table, unopened, beside a large bed. He smiled to himself, there must be another entrance to this room, as yet still hidden from him, probably behind one of the numerous wall drapes that adorned this room. Obviously, the Thrang of Thorngarth saw fit to make his guests more comfortable than himself. His father had always spoken fondly and with great respect about this man, Owen was beginning to understand why.

Later, he sat contented by the fire in the humble chamber, two bowls of hot, tasty broth and bread had filled his belly and he felt warm and relaxed for the first time since leaving Egton Low Moor nine days before. The journey through drifts of snow, waist deep or higher, had been a nightmare, add to that the howling wind, which never seemed to stop and would blow directly in their faces no matter in which direction they headed. But it was a journey he had no option but to make, if the people of his father's dominion were to survive.

'You have a message for me from Richard I believe?' Owen almost jumped, so wrapped up was he in his own thoughts.

'I am sorry my lord, he said rising to his feet, I will fetch it immediately.' Walter placed a hand on his arm.

'Sit down my boy, Is it written or do you have it in memory?'

'Both my lord.'

Walter nodded, 'Then I would prefer to hear it from your lips, the damn words on parchment swim before my eyes anyway now.'

Owen had memorised the contents of the letter exactly as it was written, his father had insisted on it. What Owen didn't know was that his father was one of he few people aware of Walter's failing eyesight. Walter listened to the words spoken by Owen, the boy was his father's double at that age he thought, and as he listened he could hear the voice of his old friend.

My dear friend,

I am once again in need of your help. This damn Winter coming on the heels of the last, has emptied my granaries and flour stores. Half the sheep were lost and frozen to death on the moorland before the shepherds had chance to gather them in. It will take three or four years to make up that loss alone. My people are now going hungry, rationing has been in force now this last two months. I fear they will perish if this snow persists. The sheep we have left are now almost out of fodder, they being just little more than skin and bone themselves now.

If you could supply me with flour and fodder, enough for thirty days. This weather cannot go on like this and may well have already broken by the time you receive this request. If there is still snow on the ground in May, well then we are all done for!

My son has forty men with him to protect any supplies you can spare my old friend, alas I have no pack animals and again have to beg for you to supply them also. The boy was instructed to come directly to you and attempt to bypass Knapton, you will know if this was achieved. I need say no more on that score.

My son has some gold to pay for part of what you can spare, though even that is in short supply in these parts, as you well know.

Please spare me what you can my old friend.

Richard Wadham.

Walter stared at the dancing flames in the hearth as he listened to the words of his good friend and fellow Thrang. Egton Low Moor, as the very name suggests, is a poor part of the country, its hills and moorland make for poor agriculture, it was however, perfect for raising sheep. It was from this that the Dominion made the bulk of its living. The people of Thorngarth were feeling the pinch of this run of bad Winters, Walter could only imagine what the people of Egton were suffering.

'Where you spotted as you passed through Godfrey Lovell's lands?' Walter asked, his eyes still gazing at the flames, already knowing the answer. No Thrang worth his salt, would be unaware of a large band of armed men in his dominion. Lovell was a cruel and greedy man, but he was no fool.

'We were shadowed as soon as we entered his dominion sir.' Owen replied quietly, before continuing, 'They may have thought we were a band of raiders, after corn or cattle my lord, but they never approached us closely and disappeared once we entered the Dominion of Burn Howe.'

Walter looked at the young man, 'It is of no matter, if you had travelled by Garthdale it would have added more days to your journey and the words of your father clearly speak of haste. He got up from his chair. Come, I shall provide you with all I can spare and the pack animals to carry it, they have spent the last three months doing nothing but eat and shit in their stables. Some exercise will do them good. I shall not let your people starve when we have food in reserve.'

Walter had already decided to send his son with archers and bill men on the return journey. Lovell would be able to guess the mission of Owen and his band and would no doubt have a substantial force blocking his passage back to Egton Low Moor. The people of Knapton would too be suffering and any extra rations that could be stolen or captured would be most welcome. It was too great a prize for Lovell to ignore and he would also gain the satisfaction of knowing he was eating produce from Thorngarth.

The two men made their way down a stone staircase to the great hall of the castle, there was much to organise before the morning.

                                                                        * * * * * * * * * *

To Rob the Poor to feed the Rich.

The crowd in the market square of Knapton became hushed as the two prisoners, with hands bound behind their backs, were led up to the customary place of execution. Both were still boys not out of their early teens, each looked wide eyed at the crowd and shuddered at the sight of two nooses hanging from the wooden gibbet. The younger boy started to cry and struggled against the ropes binding him, but the grim faced guard who was leading him simply smashed a gauntlet clad fist into the youngsters face, breaking teeth and nose in one blow. The boy staggered his face a mass of blood, but he was silent and his struggles ceased. Once on the platform a noose was placed around the neck of each boy. The second was now sobbing too, but trying to control it, lest he suffered a similar blow from his guard.

Godfrey Lovell was watching from a nearby balcony, with members of his household and Thrang Host surrounding him. With the condemned boys now in position, the crowd and the executioner turned to look up at him. Godfrey remained seated, his chin resting on his hand which in turn rested on the arm of a chair. He loved being the centre of attention, he always had since childhood. He could hear the whimpering of the two boys, who at his command, would fall kicking and choking on the end of a rope. He would savour the moment of anticipation a little longer. He was quite comfortable where he was, unlike the townspeople who had been called out of their homes and forced to witness the execution in the bitter cold and snow.

Godfrey finally stood to address the crowd.

'Loyal subjects!' he began. 'You are about to witness the fate of thieves. I will impose the same fate on any of you who choose to take the same path. Let it be a warning to you all. We are all short of food, the Winter has once again been long and cruel. This does not mean you can take the food of others.'

With a mere nod to the executioner, the boys were hauled up by the neck, no quick drop and broken neck for them, Oh no! Godfrey liked his victims to suffer. Horrible sounds of gagging and choking came from both victims, legs kicked uselessly in the air and eyes bulged in their sockets. The macabre sights and sounds lasted for over two minutes, until finally the boy with the broken nose gave a final twitch and his body hung limp, joining his partner in crime who had succumbed a good thirty seconds earlier. The crowd remained standing, some weeping others making the sign of the cross, others just looking at the snow covered ground before them. They would stay there until Godfrey had vacated his position on the balcony, but he had once again sat in his chair. It had been over too quickly, not enough time to enjoy the agonies of the two boys. Such a shame, he thought they would have lasted longer, to prolong his enjoyment and pleasure.

Eventually he stood and left the balcony, the townspeople returned to their homes and the two corpses were left dangling from the gibbet as a reminder to all.

After all, half a loaf of bread was half a loaf of bread!

There was considerably more than half a loaf of bread on Godfrey's dinner table that evening, indeed a good deal more than his hungry subjects could even dream of.

'Any sign of Wadham's runt and his little army yet?' he asked stuffing another piece of chicken breast into his mouth.

Luke Brann, his banner bearer, shook his head, 'No my lord, but if they come back this way it will not be for another two or three days. They may even travel back through Garthdale.'

His fingers and lips dripping with chicken fat, Godfrey shook his head and grinned. 'Oh no, they are in a hurry or they wouldn't have passed through my dominion in the first place. They will come back this way of that I am certain. No doubt they have gone to Thorngarth with a begging bowl and that fool of a Thrang will fill it for them at a great cost to himself and his people.'

Godfrey downed the contents of a wine goblet and tore off another chunk of breast, sticking his knife into it. 'If de Cobham wants to weaken himself, well that is fine by me. Only we shall be taking whatever he has supplied to the runt from Egton.' He lifted the knife with the piece of meat wrapped around its blade, 'Forty men, he must have armed every damn shepherd in his dominion, well they will have to pass a force of more than double that number if they want to return home.'

The piece of chicken disappeared into his grinning mouth.

                                                                           * * * * * * * * * *

A Venture begins.

The following morning a blue sky with barely a cloud greeted the residents of Thorngarth, the bone piercing wind and and sleet of the previous days had disappeared as if it had never been. A warming Sun shone down, and even at this early hour water dripped from roofs, trees and battlements, as the snows began to melt.

In the castle courtyard it seemed like a disorganised, noisy, chaos, human voices mixed with the calls of animals. Loaded mules, horses and men filled the open space inside the castle walls and towers. Guy de Cobham and Owen Wadham, the eldest sons of the Thrangs of Thorngarth and Egton Low Moor, sat on their mounts wearing full armour, each had a mounted banner man beside him carrying the respective colours of the two dominions.

Owen's father had stripped the granaries and barns of Thorngarth to load upon the now waiting supply train. He had kept barely enough to keep his people fed until this years crops could be harvested and hunters could get out into the fields and woods, to take some of the abundant game that inhabited his land. His good friend Richard needed those supplies desperately and he, Walter de Cobham, would never let an old friend down.
He looked up at the two young men and smiled.

'See, even the weather has changed for your journey, though the melting snow will probably prove as difficult going as was the wind on the journey here.'

Owen grinned back.

'I will take melting snow and the warm Sun on my back every time my lord, your kindness in providing so much as well as troops to escort it, can never be repaid by my father and our people, I understand now why he instructed me to come directly to you.'

Walter nodded and shook the boys hand followed by the hand of his son. He stood back to allow the convoy to move off before giving one final piece of advice.

'The two of you will decide the best route to take, going via Garthdale will add extra days to your journey, but would be safer. Try and give the town of Knapton a wide berth, stay well off the road, head South East until you hit the road into Egton. Godfrey Lovell is a tyrant and hates me dearly and would love nothing better than to take what you carry. He knows you will have to return through his dominion and no doubt has men placed to watch, and possibly even intends to intercept you. That is why the extra men are with you, hopefully you will not need to use them!'

After final farewells, the convoy moved off, spear men, archers and bill men, mixed in with heavily laden mules passed out of the castle gates and down the hill to the town. The people were out in force to cheer and wave as the men and animals passed by. Some wept, as their son, brother or husband, now in the contingent from Thorngarth moved by. At the head of the column rode Guy and Owen, each fully aware of the responsibilities that their respective fathers had placed upon them.

The Sun did indeed warm their backs as they left the town on the road to Burn Howe.

                                                                          * * * * * * * * * *

Wise Words.

The prophesy of the Thrang of Thorngarth came to pass. The melting snow, now an ice cold slush that made walking treacherous, was causing man and beast alike to slip and slide on the road. The snakelike column had taken to trudging along beside the road, where although the snow was deeper, it was firm enough still to take their weight. The Sun had continued to shine and its warmth cheered the men, though their feet were cold and wet.

In the late afternoon of the third day, the column entered the town of Burn Howe, much smaller than Thorngarth and nor did it have a mighty castle standing like a sentinel on a hill. However, Richard Pierrot, the Thrang welcomed Guy and Owen into his hall as honoured guests, the men and animals also being found accommodation in houses, barns or simply pitching their simple tents in the grounds of the hall.

The people of Burn Howe had not been spared by the Winter either, their stocks too being very low both in food and fodder. The dominion was a mix of agriculture and sheep farming, the latter being the mainstay, and like Egton, they had lost numerous sheep to the bitter cold and snow, though not on the same scale. Richard was full of admiration for the gesture Walter had shown to Richard, explaining that even though Guy's father was one of the richest and largest landowners in the whole of Yolare, he would help the poorest and smallest of his neighbours. It was a great pity other thrangs did not have the same attitude. After a modest but filling meal in the hall, Richards wife and daughters left the men to talk.

'So do you intend to head south on the Knapton Road?' Richard asked as he gestured to three chairs placed by the fire.

'That is our plan my lord,' Guy replied stretching his long legs out to allow the fire to warm his feet. 'It would be safer, but longer to go by Garthdale and then head south on the road to Egton Low Moor. We do not have the luxury of time.' He went on to explain his father's instructions for bypassing Knapton and staying off the road.

Richard stroked his dark beard between his thumb and forefinger before replying.

'Lovell will know you have entered his dominion the moment you set foot across the division between his lands and mine. He takes little enough notice of the division anyway, his people, spies and troops are continually to be seen within the boundaries of my dominion, though he challenges anyone who crosses into his. I have no doubt, just like your father, that he will attempt to disrupt your journey.'

'But we are simply passing through!' snapped Owen angrily, 'It is the most direct and so the quickest way to my home, why should he interfere in something that does not concern him?'

Richard waited for the young man's anger to subside, placing another log onto the fire, sparks flying up the stack as he did so.

'One day you will become Thrang of Egton Low Moor,' he said quietly. 'Your word will be law, ultimate power lies in your hands, how you choose to administer that power within your dominion will not be challenged or questioned. Both of you have fathers to be proud of, noble men who are both warriors and wards at the same time. It is a lonely and difficult job, trust me I know, and the two of you will learn too in the years ahead.
Lovell is cruel, callous and rules his dominion by fear, he is not alone either, other thrangs are just as bad if not worse. However, it is his dominion and you are passing through it, and not just as a humble traveller but with a small army!

'But my lord, the troops are merely for protection of our supplies, we mean no harm to anyone or anything in his dominion.' Owen answered, 'Surely he must know that?'

'Indeed he does, of that I have no doubt,' Richard continued. 'He probably has no need of what you carry, but will probably demand a portion of it as a right of passage through his land. It is his way of showing your fathers that he is the power in his own dominion and they can do nothing about it, lest of course they declare war on him.
He will cause you trouble because he can and will certainly enjoy it at the same time. A way of testing two future thrangs, your strengths and weaknesses are what he will be looking for, a chink in your armour that he can exploit at some future time. How you deal with him when the time comes, will tell him all he needs to know.'

The two young men gazed into the fire, deep in their own thoughts.

                                                                           * * * * * * * * * * 

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