We begin the session on the wide plains outside White-Hall, the last bastion of the High King. The levies and thanes of the High King are surrounded by a numerically inferior Imperial Army (this may shock you, you may find this odd, however the Romans did it more than once) that has done the unthinkable: it has marched in Winter.
The Imperial Army has something our pseudo-vikings do not: A working knowledge of logistics.
The group have been attached to Prince Asolf, son of the High King of Vinland to the north. They command a plateau to the south of the great elf-built stone causeway that connects White-Hall to the mainland.
They spend some time scouting. Elf-blooded Ragnar takes the form of a raven to observe the Imperial armies, while cautious Oli the Ranger scouts out avenues of retreat through the treacherous salt-fens to the war-band's rear. It turns out to a smart move.
At night "god-touched" Hallgrimm, a cleric of a dark and mysterious entity in the forests of his homeland dreams of floating amidst the stars. His spiritus is sucked down to earth, he has a sense of heaviness. In his dream his corpus is being dragged from the earth by the Imperials. He lays helpless, bound to his corpus after aeons of floating freely as the Imperials drag him to the surface and with weapons blessed by their goddess begin to destroy him. Hallgrim rides the god's thoughts as it dies.
Hallgrimm awakes, gripped by a fit of god-madness. When he is subdued (pronounced: tackled) he grows aware that this was a true dream, a vision of things that have or are happening, in this case to the second forest entity that Hallgrimm found, several days march from White-Hall.
Whether the second forest entity Hallgrimm found was a brother, ally, or enemy of his patron, the Imperials have shown clearly that they know more about them than Hallgrimm, and that the Imperials pose a real threat to his patron.
The next morning the armies of the Empire snake across the broad plains. Starting before dawn it takes them two hours to deploy. The many war-bands of the High King prepare, breaking their fast on a rich porridge cooked by the many women who follow their husbands to war.
The Empire marches in long phalanxes of Hoplites, the world's premier heavy infantry, supported by peltasts, lightly armoured skirmishers armed with slings, javelins, or ridiculously small and child-sized bows* made of recurved horn.
The warbands of the High King stand in solid shield walls. Thanes range across the battle-field in chariots and issue challenges, but are soon driven back to the shield wall.
From the plateau the group witnesses the first contact. The phalanx never charges, it just moves forward at the same steady pace. The shield wall and the phalanx touch ... and like a flock of birds springing from a bush the shield wall disintegrates! ** Up and down the line the same scene is repeating itself.
As the first phalanx climbs the long slope up to the players' position the war-band is peppered with peltasts' arrows. Weakened, the shield wall holds ground as the peltasts fade to the flanks and the phalanx approaches.
Egil issues a challenge, and it is accepted! The opponent is a muscle-bound southerner, tall for their kind, but no taller than Egil. Egil's blade is fast, but the southerner has luck on his side. He fumbles his first attack and is forced to parry for two turns. Egil presses the attack, but cannot break the southerner's defenses. Finally, reeling under multiple blows, the Imperial champion sees an opening and strikes! An open-ended roll and a vicious critical force Egil's player, Tim, to burn both his remaining Fate Points. But the damage is done, Egil is slowed by his injuries and the champion has the upper hand.
Egil's brother, Thorvald, fires a wind-bolt at the champion, amid cries of "foul" from the group, but it has little efrect, gaining Egil a second of breathing room to shake off some stun. The other spell-casters in the group open up on the phalanx, which has begun it's inexorable advance upon seeing it's champion struck by magic. Egil breaks off and retires towards the shield wall.
Ragnar's Stun Cloud Spells breach the phalanx's standard's magical protection and begin to carve giant holes in the ranks. Thorvald fires a pair of Tempest spells, which are reduced by the protection but still take their toll.
As Egil and the southerner retreat to the safety of their lines the phalanx, reduced to half strength, retires covered by the arrows of the peltasts. The shield wall holds.
All around them the forces of the High King try to resist but fail. Prince Asolf's war band is one of the few bastions that have held out.
Up the slope comes a second phalanx, this one supported by javelin-armed peltasts. The spell-casters, much diminished by the previous action, hold their spells. Just twelve feet away Thorvald unleashes a Tempest that defeats the magical protection and tears a ragged gap in the phalanx. Ragnar follows suit with a Stun Cloud, wideing the gap, and Egil, Hallgrimm, Oli, and a handful of Prince Asolf's veterans charge into the gap.
Their victory is short lived. Although they wreal havok they see that most of Prince Asolf's Shield Wall has suffered the same fate as the other clans' war-bands. Shattered and reeling, the warriors are being slaughtered by the wings of the phalanx.
Egil makes a snap decision. Instead of plunging through the phalanx he gathers his hero band and flees down to the salt fens, dragging Prince Asolf and a few other refugees with them.
The sun has not yet crested the sky and the Empire holds the field, victorious.
The next day is spent recuperating. The hero-band ambushes a band of peltasts in the swamp, but know that this is a limited solution.
Ragnar takes raven form and flies to White-Hall.
There he finds the drakkar "The Vulture" gone, the guards Grimnar and Gunlaug dead, and a city in chaos. The long causeway has been thrown down into the sea, but what agency Ragnar is unsure. In human form he sneaks through a city in mid riot. Madness grips those survivors who made it to the safety of White Hall.
In the Great Hall of the High King reason rules for the moment. The Storm Priest of White Hall points to the bodies of four assassins who have struck down the High King moments before Eorlas the Beardless, one of the hero-band's allies from their home village, slew them. Eorlas fled the Great Hall with the Queen and young heir, saying that he would take them north to Dragon Rock. The Storm Priest saw reason in this course of action.
Ragnar wonders if Grimnar and Gunlaug died at the hands of rioters, or if Eorlas the Beardless had something to do with it.
Meanwhile, in the swamp Oli hunts, both for game and for sign of peltasts. He finds the unconcious body of a woman, obviously captured by peltasts. Judging by their dead bodies, the wounds to their unmentionable bits, and the red clay still smeared on her skin, she was possessed by a Red Avenger, for the Earth Goddess's bloody sister gives no mercy to those who prey upon women.
Rousing and aiding the woman, he guides her back to the refugees' camp. There she reveals, after rest and a meager meal, that she and her husband hid their fishing boat in the fens, knowing that raiders would try to seize it.
The group is a little uncomfortable, last week they were those raiders.
She reveals the location of the boat, after gaining an oath that she will remain with it.
The session ends with the group putting to sea, to find provisions for the refugee band, and to find more boats, perhaps even a ship!
*Our barbarian players see bows as weak hunting weapons designed to kill birds. As one player put it: "We are pre-Welsh." None of them, nor many of the other warriors in the High King's Armies, had ever faced devestating recurve bows with the ability to drive arrows through leather and chain armour.
** The Phalanx has spears. Yep. But their real weapon is training. They push. Once they are in contact their long overlapping shield protect them, and like a rugby scrum they start to shove. As youths they practice this in files against trees, rocks, and buildings. The shield wall is used to shoving and jostling, but are still trying to engage the phalanx while they are being knocked flat.
(edit - corrected some spelling and grammar. May have left some for the observant! Check it out! LOL)