The knights’ armour glittered in the sun, boiling the knights within under the hot Middle Eastern sun.
At this stage, the crusaders felt assured of victory. Lord Anglsey’s 400 experienced knights (used to fighting in Middle Eastern conditions against wily Saracen enemies), supported by around 600 crossbowmen were forcing back the heaviest Muslim cavalry (commanded by Atabeg Zumund), while the Templar Knights had beaten back the Turkish Askari (medium cavalry) off their precious hill.
But at this point- disaster. The Ghulams (heavy Muslim cavalry) swung around Lord Anglsey and smashed into the Templars’ flank, at the same time that the rallied Askari turned and charged them to the front. While the vicious Christian fighting-monks stove off the frontal assault, the flank attack was too much, and the best knights in Christendom were fleeing the field!
While the Ghulams chased off the heavy Christian cavalry, the Christians vaciliated between targeting the Saracen archers (which led them away from the Muslim cavalry) or mounting the hill. Eventually they chose the second course, and charged (again!) at the Turkish Askari, who fell back to stay away from the deadly Christian lances. The Muslims were lighter and faster than the Christians, and eventually the Ghulams caught up with the Templars, slaughtered them all and captured the Order Marshal commanding them (he was later executed). Now, with more cavalry freed up and the knights out of control, the Ghulams swung around and caught the knights in the rear. Over 200 knights were killed or captured, and the rest (led by Lord Anglsey) fled the battlefield, hotly pursued by the victorious Saracens.
Now, all the cavalry had left the field- the Christians either killed or routed, and the Muslims either chased off the battlefield or busy chasing off the knights. Only 900 Saracen crossbowmen remained, opposed by around 600 European crossbowmen.
The Christian crossbowmen were better troops, and far better led. First they routed the enemy with a hailstorm of crossbow bolts (killing the local commander) and after following the fleeing Muslims for a considerable distance, were themselves charged by the rallying Saracens.
Fighting over a small hill, the melee swung to-and-thro for quite some time. The entire battle hung in the balance. While the crusader cavalry were gone beyond recall, the Turkish Askari could return at any moment- but they hadn’t. If the crusaders (buoyed by their success and led ferciously by Baron Leclere) could break the slightly inferior Saracen equivalents, then they could possibly turn around in time to head off any cavalry charges. If the Saracens could tie or win, then the cavalry might arrive and hit the pre-occupied crusaders in the flank.
First, the Saracens pushed the crusaders back, but Baron Leclere fought back furiously, and gained the upper hand. The savage brawl would have continued on for a long time, but the replacement officer who had taken command of the Saracen archers was killed and the Muslims broke and ran. Victorious, the crossbowmen gave chase and caught them on the plain, butchering their enemies as they ran.
The battle had already seen three reversals of fortune. First the knights had swept all before them, only for the Muslim mobility to set them flying. However, with the cavalry gone, the superior Christian foot had seen off their opponents, only just in time! The Saracens’ medium cavalry had finally returned to the field, just in time to see their comrades slaughtered on the plain. They rode hard and fast towards the Christian archers.
Normally, crossbowmen would have stood no chance against cavalry, but these were crossbowmen led byLeclere, and immensely cheered by their own successes, while the Muslim morale was ebbing away fast. The baron fast-marched his men back to the hill, turned around and assumed a close formation.
The Saracen cavalry stood on the plain, banners fluttering in the breeze. A horn blew.
The cavalry began to pick up their pace. First a trott, then a canter, and finally, just as they hit into a gallop…
The air was torn with crossbow bolts. Horses screamed, men fell, and on the little hill Baron Leclere could be heard, bellowing profusely, as his men loaded and reloaded.
Under a thunderstorm of crossbow bolts, the Saracens, deserted by all their comrades, finally broke and ran. As they fled over the hill and back away from the crusaders, the baron ordered his men to advance, ready for when the Saracens inevitably rallied and came around again.
But they never did. Atabeg Zumund, the commander of the whole expedition had left the field and the only Muslim officer left on lacked his stellar aggression and military prowess. Their forces shattered, the Saracens reluctantly called for a withdrawal, leaving Baron Leclere and his 600 crossbowmen in possession of the field.
But the victory had been costly 650 knights had been killed- including nearly all of the Templars, and their Marshal. In return, the Muslims had lost perhaps 50 cavalrymen, and 1000 crossbowmen- hardly as dear a loss as 650 of the Kingdom of Jerusalem’s irreplacable knights and nobles. Baron Leclere would have to return to Jerusalem to report a very hollow victory.
Synposis: The crusaders were too reckless, and the incredible mobility of the Muslim horse allowed them to charge the flanks of isolated knights. However, the knights did distract the Muslims long enough for the crossbowmen to win through (a most unusual state of affairs!)
I used the Perfect Captain’s Ironbow rules, which have a few quirks but are very good- especially in their focus on variety of units, the importance of the commanding nobles (essential in this hierachial era) and the vagrancies of army morale, also essential in a age when small determined armies often routed larger ones with lightening fast strikes. The crusaders won partly because they managed, despite their disasters, to keep their army morale up, while the Muslims were usually struggling to stay “Firm” (normal morale).
In conclusion, it ain’t over until the fat lady (damsel?) sings!