Yesterday, I wrote the first of my mini-series on weapons through the ages and promised you all an excerpt today which had something to do with those weapons.
I'm not entirely sure that Brennus, in my Celtic fervour Series, would call what happens below as thrills. This scene is taken from near the end of Book 3 of the series, After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks. The amassed Celtic tribespeople, headed by the charismatic Celtic leader - Calgach - face the huge armies of Rome led by Agricola at battlegrounds opposite Beinn Na Ciche.
Swords, spears, chariots, shields as mentioned yesterday...
A short rousing clamour followed, the battle chants taken up by the frontline troops before Calgach whirled around again to face the enemy. His spear rose to jab high up towards the sky. One…two… three…
The whistling sounds of Roman ballistae rent the air as the missiles flew high over the space between the opposing armies.
It was the moment Brennus had been waiting for!
He blew his ocarina; three practised notes which rent the air in a much higher tone than the lugubrious sound of the Celtic carnyces, one long hoot of the huge horns echoing around the valley. He blew for Tuathal; for his king Venutius of the Brigantes; for every Celt he had known who had been injured, or had died under a Roman gladius. He also blew to avenge Ineda’s incarceration by the Roman tribune. Blew for the woman he would now gladly die for but hoped that he would live to share more incredible love with her. The instrument dropped back to his chest – its clarion call over as he readied his spear.
A black hail of them flew from the poised fists of the spearmen on the now charging Celtic war chariots, and from the cavalry around him. Brennus watched the toppling of the front rows of Roman auxiliaries, the sheer volume of Celtic weapons successfully hitting many of their marks. A fierce pride raged through his blood. His fellow Celts were repelling the Roman scum who dared to claim Celtic lands. The forces of Calgach were going to stain the ground red. Agricola and his Roman usurpers would be routed.
He had waited so long for this day!
Return volleys of Roman pila pinged towards him though the javelin count was not so numerous. Celtic broadswords and shields rose up to intercept and deflect the deadly points, many of his fellow warriors successfully evading the first throws as he did.
The Celtic front line continued to surge forwards. More Celtic spears felled the foot soldiers of Agricola. More and more toppled as stray pila were picked up and fired back at the original owners. Screams and cries were all around, some of the squeals those of terrified animals. Opposing armies came head to head, the sheer mass of Celts flattening the metal clad Roman auxiliaries before they even had time to group with their defensive shield formations.
Brennus sought out the mounted Roman cavalry to engage with but they were few amongst the foot soldiers of Agricola who rushed towards him. He abhorred the advantage he had atop his horse when he came up against the auxiliaries – but this was war – and each man of the opposition was calling the Roman tune. There would be time to wonder where the mounted Roman cavalry were but, at that moment, all he focused on was ridding the area around him of living and breathing Romans. Mail clad soldiers fell under his broadsword swipes, their vulnerable necks more open to his blade. Soon the ground was littered with then.
He constantly fought to control his mount which was terrified by everything it came into contact with: rushing blades, bumping stunned bodies, the flanks and rear ends of other horses and careering chariots. Avoiding his own fellow Celts became almost impossible, the melee of both armies so thick and confused. The only thing he was sure of was that the Celts around him had the upper hand according to the amount of bodies strewn beneath the hooves of his horse.
Utter satisfaction flooded him until he recognised the bawling of his brother, Gabrond, who was nearby but not as close as they had envisaged staying. “More! Agricola sends in more. Look to your left hand.”
From his vantage point on his horse, he could see Gabrond’s pointing sword. “Batavians! Agricola brings forward Batavians!” He knew the colour they wore and the standard they carried. Cohorts of them were flocking forward to boost the numbers lost in Agricola’s fallen infantry. “And cavalry!”
Over battle field noise, he heard Gabrond’s cries. “Agricola has more surging forward on that other flank. Who are they?”
Lorcan’s shout was just discernible over the thundering hooves. “Tungrians! Two cohorts of Tungrians! But the Roman turd still keeps his legionaries uphill.”
He could hear the thunder of hooves, on the far edge of the long lines of battle, over the other horrendous battle sounds. Many hooves on Roman horses.
The warm reek of blood; the stench of horse manure; dripping red entrails… in no time the horror of Whorl returned – but Brennus remained mounted as the fray became even more muddled.
Celtic war chariots lost their spearmen, many drivers slumped from the vehicles under the onslaught of Batavian and Tungrian spears. With no human direction, the horses drawing empty chariots ran wild amongst the Celtic warriors on foot. More pila flew from Roman fists, riderless Celtic horses causing chaos amongst the fray, dislodging Celts and Romans alike in their absolute panic. The central battle ground became a complete frenzy as Roman and Celt engaged hand to hand. Spears –Roman and Celtic – were retrieved and raised by the Roman auxiliaries, many easily finding a soft chest. Others were swooped up and fired by now circling Celtic tribesmen. Cries of rage, frustration, terror and sheer agony filled the air as Celtic broadsword and Roman gladius flashed and parried. Tungrian and Batavian tunics swelled the Roman numbers even further and began to push back the Celtic infantry.
The main area to Calgach’s left which had been held by Celtic warriors found itself ringed by the new mounted Romans, the charge of beasts Brennus had recently heard swinging right behind the forces of Calgach.
In no time at all the supremacy held by Celtic troops was diminished. As Brennus fought off a clutch of Tungrians determined to hack either his legs off, or kill his mount, he was acutely aware of those around him fighting hard to maintain the ground covered, yet they were being steadily pushed back up the hill behind him. So, too, was he being pushed back. Each time he wheeled around and steadied his horse for another attack he ended up facing his enemies from further up the slope.
As he fought back Roman after Roman auxiliary from high atop his horse, Brennus’ elation turned to dread fear. The combat between Roman and Celtic cavalry should have been a balanced affair but that was not what was happening. The mounted forces were mingled amongst the foot soldiers of both armies; the dust he had known would appear now clouded the air as though a fine haar had descended. Seeing beyond the immediate area was now a thing of the past.
“Fall back! Fall back and we will regroup!”