My first Pennsic woods battle was a game changing experience for me. The woods battle is one of my very favorite things in the SCA. I was born in the country, and grew up running around in the woods. I am comfortable there... I understand how to move in the woods, and how to use terrain. Master Harald told me that this would be important... understanding the terrain and how to use it to your advantage can be key in a battle, and that can make the difference between winning and losing. I was about to find out how true this was.
Cannon goes off. insanity breaks out. Run teams are away to hit the flag points first. Master Harald being a big guy, and not as fast over distance, we get a bit separated from the main pack, and end up kind of on our own... a unit of maybe four of us. We made our first enemy contact with a much larger unit... about twenty wearing red tape, stepping over the remains of a unit they had just snuffed. Twenty on our for. It hardly seemed fair.
We contacted the left flank, and obliterated them. To a man.
First one called out "ENEMY RIGHT!!!"
Harald laughed and said "Thanks for telling us who you are." The fighter tried to lead a hero charge, straight at Harald, his shield up. Harald stopped the guy on his basket hilt... placed it on his shield, and kind of tossed him backwards. He ended up draped over a dead tree, and as we start to step by, he looks up at Harald and says "You know I'm not dead yet!"
Harald executed him.
We hit the unit, and just folded them up. As they opened gaps to move around trees or rocks or brush.... we hit the gaps. We folded them into the trees and made them open up... and killed as they did. We didn't rush, or really move fast. It was calm, collected, and professional. It was the start of a wonderful day.
A bit later, as we rolled through a stretch of woods, Harald got killed. It was a pretty light shot, but you could see he thought it was good. I killed him right after he threw the shot, and Harald and he started to discuss it. I knew Harald was going to take it... no sense in going off with bad blood over it... so I rolled on. What I thought was a short little stretch of fighting was actually about a twenty minute fight... I remembered almost none of it. Complete blank... I remember hitting the edge of the tree line, and then Harald getting gakked. That was it. The fighter brain just took over. That was my first experience with that...
After all this, a while later, I decided to grab a few guys and go play in the deep pines on the eastern side of the woods. I had maybe half a dozen guys join up... enough to have some fun and maybe cause some trouble, but not enough to get sucked in to guarding something boring. Most were guys I knew and was comfortable with. One was a camp mate, Andrew, whom I didn't know well, and honestly didn't have much use for. When he asked to come, I agreed, with the caveat if he didn't follow directions, I would shank him myself.
We ran for a while, jumping small units (10-12 guys) and killing reinforcements. After a while, it was just Andrew and I, and we continued to do well. We cam upon two guys, leaning against a tree. I walked up, and stood in between them... I was thinking of just killing them outright... I had engagement, and they were just staring at me. Instead, I asked politely if they would like to take their guards. They shrugged, awfully cocky, and took up guards. Then, I looked past them, and realized why they were so confident. I knew we were behind the lines... but we had ended up on a Midrealm rally point. We were looking at what, it seemed at the time, the entire army. I looked at Andrew and said "OK dude, fighting retreat! I was hoping we could make it back to our lines, where I could hear what sounded like a breakthrough coming towards us. We started backpedaling, and made it almost to our guys, when Andrew got hit. One second he was there, then gone. I had about half a second to register that, and then BAM... three spears came through the spot formerly occupied by his shield into my chest. I went down... right at the feet of our advancing troops.
Later that night, I was hearing stories about the woods battle from Andrew, and was amazed... whoever he's been fighting alongside sounded like a badass! I realized he was telling stories about me. Once again, this section was largely a blur... just snippets of fights and flashes of engagements... but to listen to him, I had done well. I disbelieved some of what he said, but others corroborated and filled in blanks. I learned that solid tactics and use of terrain can make or break a battle, and well coordinated attacks by pairs and triads can overwhelm anyone's defenses.
I also learned that people telling your story can make you seem like far more of a hero than you really were. :)