French Fortress Falls to Fiercely Fighting Fencers

By Peregrine Fairchylde

Staff Writer, Pennsic Independent

For the fifth year in a row, the fortress of La Rochelle fell on the Pennsic battlefield.

In a re-staging of the late period attack on the French city, almost 200 rapier fighters from around the Known World converged on the fort to take turns seeing how long they could hold off the inevitable. With the attackers having unlimited resurrections and the defenders limited to only two, it came down to a matter of how long the defenders could hold out. In the first battle, the defenders managed to stay alive for about half an hour, but when the two sides switched the overtaking tide was more swift, sweeping the defenders aside in about 18 minutes.

Warder Uadahlrich von Sassmannshausen of the Barony of Fenix in the Middle Kingdom, who founded the battle, said the purpose was simply to bring rapier fighters together to have fun and not to try and make it an East vs. Middle contest.

"We try to hodge-podge the teams together," he explained. "If people like to fight together, we try to put them on the same side."

Firearms, in the form of rubber band guns, were allowed in the battle, and many participants held a pistol or rifle along with their sword. The Midrealm's Barony of Cleftlands even brought out a cannon, which shot eight giant rubber bands made of surgical tubing. Lord Miguel D'Servasa, a marshal for the battle who also hails from Cleftlands, explained that the cannon always belongs to the attackers, though it can be moved during the battle and, in the past, has actually wound up inside.

The attackers were also armed with a petard, or bomb, which had to be placed at the gate in order to "blow it open" and allow the invaders to storm the fortification.

In both battles, strategy was fairly similar and straightforward: A group surrounded the person holding the petard and rushed the gate under a hail of gunfire. Once the bomb was set, a 10-second countdown was given and then the gates were opened. The defenders then formed a cup on the inside of the tunnel and did their best to keep the attackers at bay. "Leg them and leave them!" was a common cry among the defenders, who tried to bottle up the gateway so the attackers couldn't advance. On several occasions, the cannon was rolled up to fire through the gate, sending attackers scurrying and defenders stepping hastily backwards.

At the sally port, where only three attackers could fit inside at once, the fighting was just as furious if on a smaller scale. With a dozen defenders arrayed and waiting, little progress was made even when sharpshooters took out one or two of the fighters inside.

Eventually, though, the limited resurrections for defenders took their toll. The main gate fell and attackers rushed in, attempting to come up behind the sally port defenders - only to be frustrated by a hold. Once they were back on their feet, though, it was fairly quick work to clear the side gate. Defenders concentrated themselves in towers as the attackers tried to mop up, and the superior numbers eventually told the tale.

In the second battle, the defenders-turned-attackers used their superior numbers of guns to their advantage early, wearing down the defenders' cup formation inside the gate. In a much shorter time frame, both gates fell and all that was left was the mopping up.

With the two main fights out of the way, Warder Uadahlrich invited all the White Scarves, Brass Rings and other premier rapier award holders to defend the fort against the remaining combatants - with no guns, no resurrections for the defenders, and only one for the attackers. Once the sides were set, the premier fighters decided not to hang around inside the walls - all but a couple burst forth and took the fight to their challengers, while two holed up in a tower to await the search parties who came to clear out the fort. With the odds about four to one in favor of the attackers, the premier fighters met their demise within just a few minutes.