Meanwhile, to the north of the road, mounted sergeants charged the light Arab cavalry, who peppered them with arrows as they wheeled and rode back toward the hills. A group of crossbowmen on foot, sent forward against their will by the encouragement and threats of Raymond-Roger, rushed up alongside the remaining dismounted crossbowmen, and together they poured more shafts into the mounted Moors, who stayed just within range on the northernmost hill. As the sergeants pursued the evading Moors, they cleared the edge of the woods and came within sight of al-Mutahawir’s personal guard. The impetuous captain waved his sword and charged the sergeants, who wheeled to meet him. Men and horses on both sides went down in the crush, before both parties pulled away to gather their strength.
Back to the south, the knights and sergeants drove forward once more into the Arab infantry, this time scattering the timid and forcing the braver ones to seek shelter a safe distance away. But a shower of arrows from the cavalry behind sent one of the squadrons of sergeants riding pell-mell for cover. Two more knights fell, stuck like pincushions, while the brave Hugh de Lacy held his ground, preparing to spur his steed for a lone, (vain)glorious charge against the retiring infantry. Alas, the chance never came, for the Moors gathered their courage just in time to send him to join his brothers under another hail of arrows.
The crossbowmen to the north of the road continued to pump quarrels into the Arab cavalry on the hill, while the mounted sergeants turned their backs on al-Mutahawir and closed with those just east of the rise. The Moors did not react in time, and the heavy impact of the sergeants drove them from the field. Those on the hills withered under the attention from the crossbows, which picked off man and mount while staying out of range of their composite bows, before being finished off by the sergeants as they fled.
Initiative had swung back to the Almohads, who swung west of the pass to cover the road and prevent a breakthrough in the north, leaving the blooded French to hunker down defensively to the south. However, another group of crossbowmen had now come up to the front and began picking off the light infantry on the southern side of the pass. A methodical shooting war began, as crossbowmen engaged the Moors above the pass at long range, whittling down their numbers and driving them off ridges around the pass. Paralysed once more, the Moors looked on as another group of foot sergeants rushed up the road and prepared to charge over the southern hill while the remaining sergeants south of the pass ventured forward again.
A group of heavy Moorish infantry which had been sheltering behind the hill now sprang into action and rushed to block the pass. This momentum brought the fleeing light infantry to their senses, and from the western base of the hill, they loosed arrows into the advancing mounted sergeants. This was too much for their battered nerves, and their initial retreat became a rout.
Spurring his horse forward, he shouted defiance at Raymond-Roger, who understood the tenor, if not the meaning, of the Moor’s words and peeled off from his squadron to engage him in single combat. Their swords clashed, shields splintered, and helmets rang as they traded blows before pulling back, exhausted and a little shamefaced, to their own troops. The French knights, rejoined by their commander rushed at the the light cavalry, which once more wheeled away, peppering the knights with a deadly volley of arrows that reduced their numbers by half and sent them running.
The French had now also lost half of their army, and while much of the infantry were unbloodied, the mounted men were all but gone. One group of foot sergeants slipped away, while Raymond-Roger’s men began to panic, sweeping their commander away with them. The panic spread, and another group of sergeants fled. In the road, an attack against the Arab heavy infantry by the foot sergeants had been repulsed, but pressure from the crossbowmen continued to push the Moors back, opening the pass.
A dismal quiet settled over the battlefield, the ground to the east of the pass and along the road soaked with blood and gore. The Moors had been driven off with substantial loss, but the French had nothing to celebrate. All of the expensive horses that had been brought on campaign had been lost. None of the the knights, with their bright shields, shining helms, and fluttering banners, would ever see France again. The surviving groups of sergeants and crossbowmen wearily shouldered their weapons and trudged northwest, lordless and leaderless, hoping to hold together through the mountains and on till home.
A massive thanks to Vince, Chas, and Ken for playing this, my first game of Lion Rampant, with me. It was a great game, in which the crossbowmen showed themselves as star players for their ability to inflict damage at long range, and the ability of bow-armed light cavalry to run circles around heavier mounted units, particularly as the game wears on, was capably demonstrated once more.