The Sons of Raghnall: Hunting von Hentzau, part II

August 31st, 1941
Occupied Bavaria, southeast of the Neckar

“Tormod MacRaghnall, reporting as ordered, sir.”

“At ease, Kaptein.” Tormod ended his salute, but stood at parade rest; the General of the Armies in Germany, who also happened to be King of Scots and heir apparent to the Empire of the North Sea, could order a mere captain to be “at ease” as much as he liked, but he wasn’t likely to get it. Not even from a relative close enough to use the surname MacRaghnall. A third cousin from a collateral line wasn’t going to be called to headquarters for social reasons, even if he had rather distinguished himself; but he’d already gotten the medal, and recovered from his wounds. This was more likely to be that traditional reward for a job well done, another job; so Tormod did not ease the tension in his body, but leaned forward intently as the General got down to business.

“Böblingen airport,” he said, pointing at a spot on one of the maps that covered his desk. If the positions in it were up to date, it indicated that the area was held by the 7th Motorised AA Brigade, a formation with which Tormod was intimately familiar; and that they were deployed so as to keep even the heaviest Norwegian guns out of range of the runways.

“I have reason to believe that von Hentzau intends to make his escape from here. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to infiltrate and prevent him from doing so.”

Tormod nodded, studying the map. “What about the Air Farce?” he asked, more to keep the general talking than because he cared about the answer.

“Yes, well.” The general’s mouth twisted; few officers liked to be reminded that their army was behind the times – and the biplanes of Luftforsvaret were a particularly sore point. “They’ll do their best, to be sure. But I want backup, or rather, I want them to be the backup, not the main attack.”

“All right, but… why do we care whether Hentzau escapes? Let him eat the bitter bread of exile; there’s not many careers open to ex-demagogues. No women, no fast cars, no adoring crowds shouting his name. Bit of a come-down, eh?” Not that Tormod couldn’t see the justice in the death penalty for a man whose decisions had killed tens of thousands; but he wasn’t so gung-ho for it that he was eager to put his own personal body behind the German lines to accomplish it.

“Two reasons. One is that we are the sons of Raghnall.”

“Beg pardon, sir?”

“We are the last dynasty. The only royal family that has kept its power continuously for all of European history.” Tormod opined that this was putting a bit of a gloss on the February Revolution; but, true, the writ of the Copenhagen Commune had not run as far as the African armies, which had continued to take orders from its MacRaghnall commanders. In any case, one of the privileges of generals was to put their own interpretation on history in front of mere captains. “This impostor, this so-called Hentzau, he wants to claim he is a dynast, a medieval survival pulled into the modern world?” The general smiled grimly. “All right, we’ll take him at his word. Our ancestors knew what to do when a vendetta ended; and the infamous dungeons are still there. Museums, now. But I’m told the racks are in good working order.”

“Revenge, sir? Is that all? I would not choose to spend men’s lives” – especially his own, Tormod carefully did not say – “on mere revenge.”

“Not revenge; justice, and also prudence. There’s a revolutionary wind across the Baltic, this decade. It’ll be good to reassert the old reasons why the MacRaghnalls rule; not just bayonets and force, but legitimacy. You can do anything with a bayonet except sit on it; but one of the things you can do is to demonstrate that you’ll protect the people from men worse than you are. Hentzau has done us a favour, in a sense; he’s made rule personal again, made it about blood and dynasty and being divinely anointed. Very well, and we will show the world which Family is the better suited to rule, by bringing justice to the one who abused his gifts.”

Tormod decided not to touch that; it wasn’t worth arguing with a general – at least, not one who had said “should you choose to accept it”, implying that he was asking for volunteers. To be sure, refusing wouldn’t do his career any good, but after all he was a MacRaghnall, if not very close to the center of the dynasty; there would be plenty of options if he survived the war.

“What’s the second reason?” he asked neutrally, noting to himself that if it were of the same quality as the first, the general could find himself another volunteer.

“Why are the Germans still fighting?”

“Damned if I know, sir. Loyalty to the divinely-appointed Hentzau, perhaps?” Tormod was dismayed to find a slight note of sarcasm creeping into his tone; but the general didn’t react.

“Quite so. I have some reason to believe that the Bavarians’ loyalty isn’t an unrepeatable fluke; that Hentzau, for all his ravings, actually does have some technique, some method for reliably making men fight for him. To the end, where he finds it necessary. And I would really quite strongly prefer that he does not escape to use that technique on the armies of Asia.”

That… was different. If true. Tormod thought for a moment about trying to fight across the Sahel, as the army had done when he was too young to leave his bones there to bleach, against the sort of resistance the Germans had shown. The ghazi fanatics Spain had mustered to its final defense had been bad enough, but their resistance had been within the realm of the humanly possible; hit them hard enough and they broke. The Germans – there was something uncanny about the way they held every position to the last bullet. If there was even a chance of that escaping to Asia, to the Great Powers currently flinging millions of men into the Caucasus, then – it was worth a large number of lives to stop it.

“Aye, sir.” Tormod pointed at the map. “A platoon dropped from aircraft here” – the one advantage of biplanes was that they flew low and quiet enough to infiltrate, even through airspace on which the 7th Motorised AA Brigade’s guns were trained – “and set up some heavy machine guns…”

(to be continued)

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Azure Three Bezants: The Second Time as Farce

In which two powerless exiles struggle to find ways to make their new lives meaningful.

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The Sons of Raghnall: Hunting von Hentzau, part I

August 30th, 1941
Occupied Bavaria, southeast of the Neckar

“The deserter is here, as you ordered, sir.”

“Good; send him – no; bring him in.” Ragnvald set aside the ammunition report; extending the German railroad net to the point where they could subdue Stuttgart by hitting each square inch within it with a separate high-explosive shell would take two years, and in that time the defenders would no doubt have dug tunnels through the bedrock that would enable them to survive the bombardment and fight on. No, wait, he was underestimating Hentzau again. He felt again the sense of helpless rage, of being a mere mortal faced with superhuman genius and trying to subdue it by mere weight of numbers. How could you fight a man who had foreseen the course of the war in such detail that he had ordered the Neckar diverted to where it would cause his enemies the maximum amount of trouble? Of course the tunnels were there already, dug in the twenties, just waiting for the Norwegian army to try burying the last redoubt in metal instead of bodies.

That didn’t mean the artillery tactic wasn’t worth trying; but it did mean he need not make a decision tonight, since it would in any case take two years to come to fruition. A deserter was something else again. There had been prisoners, true enough, in the six months of bloody attritional struggle across the North German plain – a trickle of men knocked out by shells, or with important body parts missing, or out of ammunition and obeying the standing order to burden the Norwegian commissariat with their bellies rather than die uselessly taking one down with a bayonet. Without exception – creepily and impossibly, without exception – they had kept their mouths shut, except to demand more food. Even (so Ragnvald was unofficially given to understand) under the over-zealous and unapproved persuasion of certain underofficers recruited from the lower classes, for which (he would officially maintain in the face of all inquiries) those underofficers had been promptly and lawfully disciplined. That was more than the work of mere genius, however towering. Humans, no matter how inspired, did not behave that way – not uniformly, across ten thousand reluctant prisoners. And armies of a million men, defeated and falling back through the length of their homeland, did not give up a mere ten thousand prisoners either; they collapsed, spewing men who did not want to be the last to die for a lost cause. Yet, until now, there had not been a single deserter, not one man who would rather be a live coward than a dead lion; and that was impossible. An evil genius, with a fanatically dedicated inner circle to coerce the obedience of a professional officer corps who in turn would enforce discipline on a mass of deluded teenagers – such a man might be able to make his people fight as formed units to the very end, to make a last stand in the rubble of a final city and force his enemies to dig him out of a charred and blasted bunker. But that was the limit of human genius, and evil. To make such an army fight in lockstep across five hundred miles, losing only the dead and those too badly wounded to march as prisoners – to enforce a no-surrender order even on men cut off from their units, away from the watchful gaze of their officers, out alone in the night – that was something else again; something inhuman. Something… Hentzau. Ragnvald’s skin crept with gooseflesh, contemplating it. But it had to be faced; whatever was going on over there on the still-German side of the Nacker, ignoring it as too weird to think about was no longer an option. Not when men were daily dying by the hundreds. If he could understand it, perhaps he could end it. Ragnvald was very interested in meeting the only man to desert from Hentzau’s army.

He wasn’t so interested, however, as to take no precautions; Strasbourg had twelve-year old boys – girls too, for that matter – manning sniper rifles as long as they were tall. Assassination was hardly beyond them. The loss of a high-ranking general would hardly matter at this stage – Ragnvald knew himself skilled, but also knew that he owed his command to being MacRaghnall; there were a dozen others just as skilled itching to take over. But Hentzau, if he believed his own ridiculous story, might not think like that; he might try to kill his enemy’s firstborn son and heir as a victory in itself, like the medieval magnate he claimed to be. So the deserter was brought in between two burly soldiers, and Ragnvald was wearing his officer’s sidearm; he stood – not sat; a man could be killed in the seconds it took to rise from a chair – with his right hand hovering near the unbuttoned holster.

Thin, was his first impression; a pinched face, a starved body that nearly vanished between the six-foot guards. Blonde hair falling in ringlets to narrow shoulders – and hoy, wait, ringlets? And then his eyes got the message through his expectations and he saw: Of course, a woman. The unflattering prisoner’s uniform wasn’t baggy because she was thin, but because it was two sizes too large for her willowy slimness; the face wasn’t thin from starvation, but delicately feminine.

“Name?” he asked, falling back on his script to cover his momentary confusion. Like most Norwegian officers, he spoke German; Norwegian armies had been fighting in these lands since before there was a North Sea Empire.

“Grete,” she said, keeping her eyes modestly downcast. They went through the usual question-and-response of starting an interrogation with a willing subject; age, place of birth, occupation – and her mouth twisted:

“I was Hentzau’s bedwarmer,” she said.

Ragnvald blinked in surprise and apprehension; not just the first deserter, but a member of the inner circle? He mentally adjusted upwards the probability that she was an assassin. Surreptitiously, he grasped his pistol’s hilt, then went for the main question.

“Why did you cross the lines?”

“He left me behind when he went to Stuttgart.” She shrugged, not seeming too bothered by the admission. “Where else could I go? The army would use me up; and there’s nothing else on the German side now – only the army, and Hentzau’s household.”

That was reasonable, and Ragnvald’s suspicion deepened further. Why, of all the men and women wearing German field-grey, should exactly this one behave in a reasonable way?

“Indeed. And why do not the ones who are in the army follow the same reasoning?”

For the first time, she looked up to meet his gaze. Her eyes were very blue, and huge in her delicate face – well, no doubt Hentzau could command the best; as could MacRaghnall, come to that. He shook the thought aside as irrelevant.

“Magic,” she said softly.

Ragnvald rolled his eyes in irritation. “Yes, yes, obviously magic! That goes without saying, because it is useless! I don’t need a name for what he does, I had that already; I need details, woman! Does he sacrifice virgins at midnight? Drink the blood of unicorns captured in the Alps? Dance with a drum of human skin and thump out dread rhythms with thighbones carved with secret runes? How can I stop his magic, that’s what I need to know!”

Now it was Grete’s turn to blink. “I thought you wouldn’t believe me,” she said.

“Quite so. I am a rational man, with a modern education; so I should ignore the evidence of my eyes? I have heard of companies fighting to the last man; it is just barely possible for a battalion – the stuff of legends and myth-making. Regiments, never; and as for a nation? No. Not without something I don’t understand; and for that which I don’t understand, why, ‘magic’ is a splendid label. It reminds me that I don’t yet have a grasp on my enemy’s weapon. When I do, I will label it something else. So tell me; how does his magic work? What does he do to make men – and boys and women! – fight to the last bullet?”

“I – I don’t know.” Now Grete seemed nervous, agitated. “It’s – I’ve seen him speak, and say the most outrageous things, and his officers nodded and went to carry out his orders. And” – her face flushed slightly – “it was the same with me. He just – he didn’t so much as smile at me; he just nodded, and said, she’ll do, and ordered me to wait for him in his bed. As though I were some peasant girl, and he a lord with high, low, and middle justice and the droit de seigneur to go with it… I don’t know why I didn’t slap him. But I didn’t, I went, um, where I was told.”

Ragnvald thought about it, frowning; that wasn’t good, if Hentzau’s magic rested in his own voice. It would be hard to interfere with that. If it had been unicorns he could have ordered the farms bombed… but hang on:

“Well, but he can hardly have spoken personally to each of a million men, can he? How does it work on the boys he has never met, who have never seen him or heard him speak?”

“It’s hard to describe.” Grete bit her lip, prettily, trying to find the words. “There’s a, a weight to his words; and when someone else repeats them, the same words he used – it’s always the same words – some of that weight carries over; and men obey.”

“Ahh,” Ragnvald said, nodding in satisfaction. That explained how he had been able to shift the German army at all. It should have been impossible to move an army of men who wouldn’t run no matter what happened; but Hentzau couldn’t very well have ordered them all to stand exactly where they were – they had to be able to maneuver tactically. So they had held to the last man only, and exactly, where Hentzau had been able to order it; elsewhere they retreated when outflanked, as human armies had since time immemorial. And there were only so many hours in the day, for his magic voice to say “hold such-and-such a place at all hazard”. Did he grow hoarse? Did he need to sleep? There were limits to such a magic; already Ragnvald could see how to use what he’d learned. And that, too, was why the resistance had stiffened so terribly as they neared the last redoubt, when hope and ammunition should alike have been growing short on the German side; for as the perimeter crumbled, Hentzau’s magic could cover a larger portion of it, and ensure that every hillock had to be turned into a lake before it was taken.

“His voice…” Ragnvald mused. “Voices can be silenced, or interdicted. If we stop his immediate circle from conveying his orders, then his army will still obey the standing order not to surrender, but they will at least retreat when we blast them sufficiently; and there’s only so much free German land left, now… Yes.” His gaze sharpened in decision. “Where is he now? Where did he go?”

Grete crossed her arms. “Why should I tell you that?”

“Well…” Ragnvald blinked, nonplussed. She’d seemed so cooperative, until now. “Did you love him?”

“No; I hated him. But it wasn’t Hentzau who invaded my country. Why should I help you, any more than him? What’s in it for me?”

“Well; if that’s not a rhetorical question, why, I suppose there could be quite a bit in it for you. A house? Money? A farm, shares in Kongsberg Våpenfabrikk, a Norwegian passport, free passage to England?”

“Ye-es.” Grete considered. “Very well. A farm, thirty acres, somewhere in Germany – near Berlin, for preference; I have family there. And money; ten thousand riksdaler, cash. And shares, by all means. Say, a hundred thousand riksdaler‘s worth – not all in one company, either. You can keep the passport.”

“Agreed,” Ragnvald said instantly. It was a huge sum for an individual, but nothing on the scale of the Norwegian army; a trivial price for the number of lives it might save – Norwegian and German both – if the Stuttgart garrison could be made to surrender, like sensible men.

“He’s going to Böblingen; the airport,” she said. “He’s got long-range aircraft there, hidden underground; and fuel, food, gold. He means to make his escape, to Italy first, then to Africa, to fight on.”

Ragnvald’s blood froze. The German army was one thing; it had always been good, but small. Africa was ablaze with war; what could the Malayan army do, or the Indian – the two Great Powers of Asia – if they had Hentzau’s magic voice?

“Thank you,” he said, managing to keep his voice calm. He still had a chance; Böblingen was not far inside the German lines – Hentzau had left his escape to the last possible moment. “Put her in guest-officer quarters,” he said to the men guarding her; “with freedom of the camp, but not beyond. I’ll arrange the other matters later,” this to Grete herself; she nodded, evidently aware that she had his word and it was either good or not; at any rate she did not demand any further guarantee. “For now, I have a magician to catch.” He gestured, and Grete turned to leave, her escorts following.


She turned back, raising an inquiring eyebrow.

“Why did he let you go?”

“I’m not sure,” she admitted. “I think – I think maybe he was tired of a woman who obeyed his every word? The last thing he said to me was, go wait for me in the car. An order, yes? But it didn’t have that weight. It was said like, like advice; as any man might speak to any woman. Perhaps he just wanted to see what I would do?”

“And you left.”

“Yes. I left.”

Ragnvald nodded, slowly. It was plausible; after all Hentzau was a man, for all his powers, not some alien godling. Any man, magician or otherwise, going into exile after a losing war might want a woman who would follow him of her free will, not from compulsion. So he would let her go, without orders, and see what she did; and if she didn’t follow – well, no doubt there would be other women, and less weight on the aircraft.

“Very well. We will speak later of your farm and other arrangements.” He turned to his desk again, no longer worried about assassination. He would need a crack team to get through the lines; and he knew who to send, if the man was recovered from his wounds…

Behind him, the door closed softly on Hentzau’s woman, and on the insurance policy she wasn’t yet aware she carried in her belly.

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Azure Three Bezants: Sins of Omission

October 5th, 1903
Casa del Popolo (formerly Palazzo Aiello), Venice

Salomone stood in what had been the Doge’s office – his office, once – with his hands clasped behind him; he looked critically at the walls, hung with maps and charts where there had been paintings by masters of the art. “You’ve redecorated”, he observed in a tone of mild criticism, doing his best to give the appearance of a man entirely unafraid for his life.

Eliezer smiled thinly. “There was a certain amount of regrettable collateral damage when the forces of the Revolution stormed the palaces of the exploiters. The surviving works of art are in the Gallerie del’Accademia now, where they can be enjoyed by all the people.” Or all the people who lived in Venice and had leisure to visit museums, at any rate; which was not likely to be a very large proportion of the workers with their six-day weeks of twelve hours a day. Still, Salomone had to grant that the number of workers who had seen, for example, Raphael’s “Portrait of a Lady with a Jackal” was probably not literally zero; and, yes, before the revolution that work had hung in the Palazzo Contarini and even an Aiello might have had some difficulty seeing it outside the season for dances.

Abandoning that line of thought as unfruitful, he got down to business instead: “Why did you want to see me?” He held his spine straight, ready for Eliezer to answer “so I could have you shot, of course”. He had a safe-conduct, which was written on paper and would not stop a bullet. The safe-conduct had been published in the major newspapers all over the world, and a reputation for keeping one’s word was still useful even to Communists; it wasn’t actively impossible that he would going back to his quiet exile in Berlin, as he had been promised. But Salomone would not have sold himself life insurance, if he were still in charge of the Aiello money.

Eliezer smiled, more genuinely this time. “You can relax, uncle; I was telling the truth when I said I wanted to ask you some questions in person. And no, letters would not do. I don’t trust the mail.”

Salomone blinked, relaxing slightly but not completely; he realised he wouldn’t be fully off his guard until he was back in his small apartment in Berlin, with the very large doorman and the unobtrusive squad of soldiers in the rooms below, courtesy of the German government. “You are Duce of the People’s Republic, and can’t get a courier you trust?”

“Not in this matter, no.” Eliezer’s mouth became a thin line. “When I redecorated, I had a grid of copper installed in the walls; I am assured, though I don’t understand the principle, that radio waves will get neither into nor out of this room. The mortar that covered up the copper was mixed with sea salt. There is a circle of silver inscribed in the floor, and another of iron just inside it; and again in the ceiling and each wall. Every morning I have the place blessed by a rabbi, and lightly sprinkled with salt, moly, and cloves. And, of course” – he waved his hand dismissively – “we are surrounded by men with guns, and we stand on an island in salt water. So if there is any place on Earth more secure than this, I do not know of it. That is why I wanted you to come here for this discussion, and went to such lengths to get you to agree.”

Salomone’s mouth had dropped open slightly during this recital; he closed it with a snap. A crawling dread went up his spine; was it possible his nephew – who commanded something like half a million soldiers and forty modern warships – was simply mad? He had agreed to this meeting partly because he was an old man and no longer valued his life much, howsoever the old instincts might make his heart run fast; and partly because it had been something to do, and time weighed heavy on the hands of a man who had commanded armies and nations, and now made his weightiest decision of each day when choosing where to dine. The safe-conduct, published in all the world’s countries, had seemed a reasonable shield for such a life, for all it was written on paper; the People’s Republic was not such a power as to completely ignore the public opinion of the large democracies, or to have no need for a reputation for keeping its word. But if Eliezer was mad, out of touch with reality, then those considerations did not apply; and however much he assured himself that his life was no longer valuable and there wasn’t much left of it anyway, Salomone found his mouth dry when he tried to speak.

“Well then – what was it you wanted to ask?” Salomone wasn’t going to touch the salt-and-iron bit with a stick; better to humour the madman, if such he was, take his delusions as given and get out of here with a whole skin. So long as he didn’t demand to know why Salomone had sold the Republic to the Georgian monks who had settled on the Moon, it should be possible to give reasonable answers and satisfy him, and get back to Berlin and deciding what cafe had the best wine, and never ever complaining about being bored again.

“Egypt,” Eliezer said, his eyes burning with intensity, and Salomone relaxed minutely; at least it was about something that actually existed. “What do you know about Egypt, uncle Salomone?”

“Not much,” Salomone was forced to admit; he cudgeled his brain for something better, to keep Eliezer from deciding that he was conspiring with the Egyptians and should be shot right away. “They were a Venetian ally for a long time; but even before the Revolution the status of that alliance was unclear – it hadn’t been tested in a century.” He cocked his head, thinking. “And just as well, too; the Egyptian army is notoriously bad, or was before the death of Pharaoh. Muzzle-loading muskets, if you can believe it.”

That was a mistake; Eliezer jumped like a shark going for a small fish. “Yes! Muzzle-loaders, like the ones the Indians issued; and a quarter of a million men under arms, to guard all the vast continent of Africa. Including Venice’s old possessions, the trading ports that made the Aiello wealth, the gold of Kilwa; and forts a day’s march from the Suez, the jugular vein of our empire. So why! Why, in the name of all profit, did you choose to attack India? Why did you not cross the Sinai, and blockade the Horn of Africa, and bring your army with the so-modern breechloaders to Sennar and impose terms on Pharaoh?”

Salomone blinked; attack Egypt? Why, you might as well – on second thought, he would have preferred the Moon Georgians; but he soldiered grimly on. “It’s not so easy to conquer a musket army as you might think, even if you have breechloaders,” he said dryly.

“Yes, uncle, I know that. And so do you, now; no man better, perhaps. But you didn’t know it then, or you wouldn’t have attacked India; and perhaps there would have been no Revolution. You believed the breechloaders would let you beat the Indians “like a drum”; your exact words. So why India, and not Egypt? Why the country with twice the army, and the Persian mountains to fight in, and nothing of any value within three hundred miles of our borders?”

“I – I -” there was a pounding pressure behind Salomone’s eyes, and he found himself at a loss for words. “You can’t attack Egypt!” he said at last, which was entirely unconvincing even to himself, but was also the truth. To his relief, it seemed to settle Eliezer, who sat down again with a grim smile.

“No,” his nephew agreed. “You can’t, apparently. Or at any rate nobody has done so, these two hundred years. Not since the Tapestry of Wars. And their army was weak even then.”

“I never thought -” Salomone was confused, and the pain in his head was not improving matters; just which of the two of them was mad, anyway? On the one hand, yes, Egypt clearly had been weaker than India, and had been a better target for some convenient annexations, and had no mountains to fight a grinding attritional campaign in and bring a superior army down by plain logistics. And on the other hand: “It never occurred to me,” he said. “I just – I didn’t think of it.”

“Indeed,” Eliezer said, nodding. “You didn’t; nobody else did, either. So why can I think of it?”

Salomone licked his lips. “Iron?” he suggested tentatively. “Silver, copper, salt, moly?”

Eliezer shook his head. “No. I installed the copper grid a year after the Revolution, when I first thought something might be eavesdropping; the other precautions are newer – moly only this past year, after I finally tracked down an unexpurgated copy of al-Hazred. Mostly useless, but he seems to actually have done a real experiment with moly; so I added it. Can’t do any harm, anyway. But that can’t have been the original difference.”

“Not the Secret Room, either,” Salomone said thoughtfully; the pain was receding. “Or I would have been protected.”

Eliezer waggled his hand, bob-bob-bob, to indicate a true statement in need of nuancing. “Yes and no,” he said. “You didn’t think of attacking Egypt. But you were able to hear it, even to think about it, when I suggested it to you. I’ve spoken to Contarini and Dandolo, and even the ones who hadn’t spent ten years in the camps just – they didn’t understand what I was talking about. They just stared at me blankly. I might as well have suggested invading the Moon.”

“And those secret rooms you found in their palaces…?”

Eliezer nodded. “Animal-men hybrids. Not the only thing, not even the most disgusting thing; but the one thing they all had in common, from Contarini to Ziani. And – I had some historians of art in to consult; they said they couldn’t quite put their fingers on any one decisive trait, but it [i]felt[/i] Egyptian. One of them’s in an asylum now.”

Salomone took a deep breath, and forced aside his image of himself as a modern man; it was good to be educated and rational, but not to the point where it got in the way of looking at actual evidence. Anyway, he was only having a hypothetical conversation with a man who might be mad, and trying to find the words that would get him out of this office alive; so what did he care whether he sounded superstitious or not?

“If we are talking about…” he trailed off, then forced himself over the hurdle, “magic, or alchemy, or even mysticism…” They were only words, after all. There was clearly something he didn’t understand; he might as well label it ‘magic’, to mark his lack of understanding. When he knew what it was he would find a better word. Eliezer nodded, encouraging him to go on. “And if symbols are important, as those animal-men statues might indicate – then we should look at what we have, that might have a symbolic or spiritual effect. And you were young, as these things go, when I gave you the gift of the Knife.”

Eliezer’s eyes widened. “The knife of my grandfather,” he said. “It has a new handle and a new blade. But it is the knife that protected the Aiello fortune when three bezants were all we owned in the world.”

“And the coins,” Salomone added. “I didn’t see them until I was fifty; you were what, twenty-five?”

“Yes.” Eliezer spoke abstractly, but after a few seconds he looked up decisively. “Thank you, uncle; I think you’ve filled in the last few pieces of the puzzle for me. I wonder if I can persuade the Army that a ritual with bread and salt would be good for morale?” He shook the thought off. “Later for that. I have my answer. You’ll be going back to Berlin?”

“I have tickets for tomorrow evening,” Salomone confirmed, dizzy with relief.

“I think you had best use them, so the world will know I kept my word. But if you wish, come back here. I’ll find a place for you on my staff. I need a man who understands the nature of the enemy.”

Salomone clenched his jaw; on the one hand the man was mad – and on the other, to have actual work again? Something useful to do, that wasn’t just waiting for death to come, or for the regime to crumble so he could be installed as a figurehead Doge by German bayonets? And then, perhaps Eliezer wasn’t mad at all; perhaps his reasoning seemed compelling because it was true, and not because it had the internal consistency of insane moonbat logic… or perhaps Salomone was forced to think so, because the offer of a position was so tempting.

“I’ll consider it,” he forced out, and Eliezer nodded.

“That is wise. But when you think, have salt and iron near to hand.”

Azure three bezants surcharged a hammer and sickle crossed gules.

Nothing much happened this session; Tazzzo has returned to Fox, his anger cooled by a free Containment peace against England, and Gollevainen has taken over Japan, leaving Russia unplayed and about to be ripped apart like a carcass thrown to hungry jackals. There is much rebellion, which is not very interesting; we are discussing means of reducing it. After a twenty-year hiatus Venice has a navy again, small by Great Power standards but perhaps enough to be at least a factor in the balance of power. And with the improvement in my factories now they are not being managed by insane moonbat logic, I am a Great Power again, pushing down Denmark at least temporarily; it remains to be seen whether I can keep it.

England is again at war with the American continent; Blayne, breaking his NAP, has joined Fox in attempting to contain the hegemon. The stopping power of the Atlantic protects them to the point that they are able to defy a power with 1400 brigades; I would not care to try it myself, at least not until there are mountains on my English border.

World map, 1908.

World situation, 1908.

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The Sons of Raghnall: The Last Redoubt

Gameplay summary: Kuipy continued to fight brilliantly on the defensive, abandoning only, and exactly, that which he could not hold, in order to be all the stronger in defending the remainder of his shrinking perimeter. Also, that river around Stuttgart was clearly diverted by the Devil (or Hentzau, not that it makes a difference) from its proper course, which is somewhere in Russia where it would be out of my way. When I get nukes I’ll be sure to blow a path through the Alps for its new course; let the Italians (well, the British perhaps) deal with it.

At the beginning of the session I had a quick look at the victory-points map, and noticed that, except for lightly-held Nurnberg and Neumarkt, easily accessible by the left flank of my advance, Stuttgart was the last remaining VP province inside Bavaria’s crumbling border. (In fact, I was mistaken – Villach, on the Alpen border with Italy, also has a VP. But had I noticed, I would likely have expected it to fall more quickly than it in fact did, and my plan would have been the same.) With visions of causing a collapse by coup de main instead of having to tediously hammer every last motorised division to flinders, I gathered my armour, such as it is, to punch through the German lines. This worked quite well:

Victory Points

(The VPs are marked with red dots). Unfortunately, apart from the swarm of Malayan aircraft, Stuttgart is

a) Fortified
b) Behind a river
c) Urban.

So, in spite of actually having quite good local superiority:


I failed miserably to take it. Naturally, I then tried to outflank so I could bring more force to bear and avoid the river; meanwhile Kuipy tried to chop off the base of the resulting salient:

Fortunately he couldn’t cross a defended and fortified river any more than I could, but Tubingen held just as firmly as Stuttgart – and note that Stuttgart in this screenshot has quite a stack defending it; the opportunity of a quick armoured thrust ending Bavarian resistance had, alas, slipped away.

So it came down to grinding attrition after all; and Kuipy, by carefully hoarding his remaining units’ organisation, by retreating exactly and only when I finally had overwhelming superiority on each province, and by profiting from all the fortification-building he did in Victoria, managed to hold out until the end of the session:

The Last Redoubt

The last redoubt of the Hentzaus, still flying a tattered flag of defiance against the armed might of Europe.

World situation at the end of the session:

July 1941

India advancing across worthless African wastelands; useless skirmishing in the Middle East; the European fronts about to be wrapped up.

I had a narrative section planned, but it’s escaped me and it’s late. I’ll have to owe you one.

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Azure Three Bezants: Oligarchic Syndicalism

In which we meet the new boss, who may not be literally the same as the old boss but who bears him a strong family resemblance and has far fewer checks on his power.

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The Sons of Raghnall: Strangling the Jackal

So the thing is, Norway in this history is not actually a Great Power; it just plays one in an AAR thread. And HoI has a lot of provinces. So I’m trying to stretch out a secondary-power army to cover a Great-Power front with Bavaria, and it ends up kind of thin:

Thin Line

Fortunately, Bavaria has a similar problem, only rather more so. Hence, as Kuipy notes in his post, he ended up with a hole in his line, on the eastern end where Norway, Russia, and Bavaria meet:

Hole in the Line

Obviously this is where I chose to launch my attack, with my precious few mobile units and the two corps of infantry left over when the line was complete. The plan was to sweep south and chop off the units Kuipy had facing the Russians, meeting Oddman’s corresponding attack in the south.

Russian Attack

There was some minor skirmishing on the Western front, pushing me back here and there. Kuipy’s army after detachments to face Russia was about the same size as mine, but on the whole much more mobile; unlike me, he realised in 1936 that the tons of militia we got in conversion could be upgraded to motorised infantry, for cheap. I just stuck them in as harbour guards and called it a day. So, good for Kuipy for understanding the game mechanics. It’s what kept his front together in the west; I had him a little outnumbered but he had, in effect, interior lines from having much faster units. So I’d push a bit in province X, he’d reinforce and drive me back to my starting lines, leaving a weak spot in province Y, which I’d push at… nothing came of this, but it kept us busy and entertained while we waited for troops to move in the east, where the three encirclements and breakthroughs were happening.


Here, for example, I’m threatening to capture most of Kuipy’s eastern army in two simultaneous pockets:

Two Pockets

Both of these pockets were created and then broken by Bavarian counterattack. I really like the HoI3 model of supply, where units don’t instantly become helpless because someone broke their supply lines three hundred miles back – they can fight for a while on local reserves. The problem I’m having here is that I’m basically overstretched; I don’t have enough mobile units to both do breakthrough and garrison what I take, and my infantry is both slow and not too numerous either. So there are weak spots in the encirclements. One reason the infantry is so slow is that the roads are being hammered:


Malayan aircraft! I put up my (converted, un-upgraded) interceptor squadron to see if I could stop them. I think the game is modeling this as Sopwith Camels against B17 Flying Fortresses, or something of that order. At any rate, I decided it wasn’t worth the aggravation; my Camels are grounded for the duration.

Overstretch getting to Kuipy here:


It’s only his ability to rush mobile units back and forth to stop my (still not very numerous) mud-pounding infantry that’s keeping him alive. But note that in the first Great Encirclement:

First Great Encirclement

the first corresponding Inspired Breakthrough doesn’t actually have much work to do – there’s a corridor with no Norwegian units in it! That’s what happens when minors fight. Here I’m trying to repair the breach:

Repair the Breach

Note the name “Obsolete Division” – that’s converted cavalry, since upgraded to MOT. Also note that Kuipy has been paying attention to game mechanics instead of obsessive-compulsively naming his divisions to reflect his corps structure.😀

Second Great Encirclement in progress:

Second Great Encirclement I

And done, now also with Spanish tanks doubling my armoured punch:

Second Great Encirclement II

Third Great Encirclement:

Third Great Encirclement

I’m not entirely convinced these statistics are accurate, but if they are, it’s presumably the losses of the TGE that leads to the immense disparity:

Land Damage

Not really made up for by Malayan bombing, though he did manage to slow down my infantry considerably, as already mentioned:

Air Damage

At one point I told vR “You can stop bombing now, there’s nothing left”. The infra was literally zero. Fortunately I had my troops out of there by then.

This session I expect Bavaria to fall; then we’ll see where my army goes. Perhaps the Alps, to crush what’s left of Italy; then, perchance, another grinding attritional campaign through Africa and the Middle East, to reach India. Or, for all I know, I may have to desperately redeploy to Norway to fight off a Malayan assault on my industrial heartland; or perhaps America is more likely as a target – even the world’s greatest naval power must find it rather difficult to supply an invasion through the unfriendly North Sea, so distant from its bases. But in any case, it’s clear that there is no peace in this our time.

World map at the beginning of the session:

World map January 1941

And at the end:

World map April 1941

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