The Sons of Raghnall: A Nation Once Again

June 8th, 1357
Off the coast of Fyn
Noon

The boy stood on the stricken deck, whence all but he – hadn’t fled. They had stood their ground, and died brave, protecting their King. But brave men died all the same, and now a boy of eighteen faced a dozen armoured hirdsmenn alone.

“Well? What are you waiting for?” Johan – King Johan I of Norway – snarled. He swung his axe menacingly back and forth, just as his instructors had taught; if he dragged it out, perhaps another of his ships would come to his rescue… although his hope of that was slim; the battle had not been going well when the Swedes boarded.

“They’re waiting for me.” The ranks parted, and the speaker came through: An old man, fifty at least, with a gold circlet around his otherwise-utilitarian helmet. Another man followed him, younger, but with the same reddish-gold beard – the same colour that was just beginning to fuzz Johan’s cheeks. An outsider might have noted the faint family resemblance between the three, a certain cast to the nose, a set to the shoulders – but Johan had other concerns, just then.

“Uncle Gregoras,” he snarled, hesitating. A swift rush, a single blow of the axe, and perhaps he could still turn the battle – the war, even – in his own favour. But although his uncle was old, he was also a veteran; his axe had seen use, had split skulls and severed limbs, unlike Johan’s. And his hirdsmenn would step up to protect him; he could not fight so many… and, truth to tell, it was hard to decide to kill the man who had, in better days, let you ride his horse and given you your first bow.

“I think we’ll have King Gregoras today,” his uncle said.

“And you’ll call me King Johan!”

“If you like.” Gregoras’s voice was even. “They say purple makes a good burial-shroud. Do you really, truly, believe that?”

Johan began a hot, defiant answer – and then stopped. His uncle was not asking to make sport of him. He licked his lips, feeling a faint thread of hope; perhaps there was a way out of this.

“Why do you ask?” he said cautiously.

“Because we are kin. Because the crowns must be reunited, but I’d spill no more MacRaghnall blood if it can be avoided. Because it is unfair that you should be entangled in the quarrels of your grandfather’s generation.”

“You’re offering me my life? In exchange for what?” Johan’s eyes narrowed in suspicion; but he believed. His uncle’s words had the ring of conviction. Moreover, he was right: It was unfair that Johan should have to fight for quarrels he’d had no part in making. Like any teenager, Johan felt an instant sympathy for an adult who understood how fundamentally unfairly life was treating him. Besides, Gregoras didn’t actually have to offer him anything at all; he could have just ordered his men to kill Johan.

“For the crown of Norway, and your promise not to contest it in the future. You can keep the estates and the other titles.” Gregoras made a dismissive gesture. “I don’t care which of the family holds Sjælland, so it is one of us. But I’ll have the crowns reunited.”

“You’d trust my word? You’d not fear my rallying your vassals to my cause, raising my banner in your despite, and taking again what is mine?” Johan flung the words as a challenge, knowing as he did so that he was being stupid; the other man – the other King – could kill him with a word. But the famous MacRaghnall temper had him in its grip, and he could not resist the taunt.

“I would,” his uncle agreed. “But I’m an old man; it would be Håvard’s problem.” He gestured to the man at his side – a cousin of some sort, no doubt, but nobody Johan knew. Håvard smiled grimly.

“And if you couldn’t defeat us with all of Norway at your back, how would you do so with a few disgruntled nobles? Make no mistake, boy: Your uncle is being more merciful than I would be, in his place. For now, he is King. But cross me, and you die.”

There was utter sincerity in Håvard’s grey eyes, and Johan looked aside. In the end… life was sweet. The estates and titles would still attract women in droves; he could ride, hunt, drink – he might win glory in foreign wars – he might go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, which was impossible for a King – and who knew what might happen in ten years? Johan was young; he could bide his time. He nodded.

“I agree,” he said, low. “I don’t actually have any purple robes, anyway. And if I did, I don’t think it would flatter my complexion.”

His uncle’s lips twitched, but he suppressed the laugh. “Few people look their best in their burial shroud, purple or white,” he agreed. “And you’re right, we MacRaghnalls look best in sky-blue or sea-green; purple tends to clash with our hair. Well done, lad – Johan – Duke Johan, I should say. It’s not every man can cast aside a kingdom with a jest.”

There was a general relaxation of the killing tension on the deck of Johan’s ship, and the noise of combat from the surrounding fleet began to subside as the word went out that the battle was over. Men would still die, uselessly, to keep for Johan the kingdom he had just laid down – with a jest, no less – and he felt a stab of guilt; but there was nothing to do about it. The word would go out as fast as could be done, and men would die or not, as they were fated to. For the time being they stood in a spreading circle of quiet – relative quiet, at least; the moans of wounded men could be heard now, not as loud as battle shouts and the clang of metal, but far more disturbing.

“Why him?” Johan asked his uncle, wanting to think of something other than wounds and death suffered for the sake of the crown he hadn’t been willing to die for; he indicated Håvard with a nod of his head. His uncle pressed his lips together, indicating – what? Was he not quite pleased with his choice?

“He is eligible for election to the throne of Sweden, as you are not; and has a good claim by blood to the throne of Norway, as I don’t. If your father had lived… well, that’s water under the bridge. And he’s not of the Greek faction; the northern jarls will accept him. And most of all, he’s not entangled, embroiled, cursed with the quarrels of me and my brothers. A clean slate, perhaps. At least a chance of one. We haven’t done well, we sons of Ragnvald. Better that another branch take over, and end this endless spilling of blood.”

“Norway, Sweden,” Johan said thoughtfully. “What about Scotland? Does he have a claim to that as well?”

“No. But no matter. Cousin Ragnvald’s kingdom is about the size of your jarldom, and poorer. He’ll see reason, as you did; or die, I care not. He’s not like you, suffering for the sins of the fathers to the third generation. He’s played the same games I did, and my brothers, and deserves the same fate.”

“And when the thrones are reunited, what then?” Now Johan turned his question to Håvard. “Sire King,” he added belatedly. Håvard smiled.

“When Scotland is whole again, yes, what then?” He looked south. “We shall have to see.”

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Recessional: Requiem

August 24th, 1167
Campo de la Lana, Santa Croce, Venice
Afternoon

Sweat ran down Salomone’s face, carrying stinging soot into his eyes and mouth, but the firebreak had worked. Several hundred ducats’ worth of linen continued to burn merrily, adding radiant heat to the already unbearably-muggy steambath that was Venice in summer, but to lose five hundred ducats was not ruin. A blow, certainly; but if the other warehouses on the street had gone… Salomone shuddered to think about it. It wouldn’t quite have wiped him out, he had cargoes on ships and properties in other cities; but the loss of working capital would have set him back years, or a decade even.

“Salomone! Are you all right? I came as soon as I heard there was trouble.”

Salomone’s head snapped around; even now, exhausted and filthy from fighting fires and humans, he had to smile a little at the sight of Niccolo Dandolo responding to an emergency. The huge chaperon hat was askew, with the liripipe blowing every which way in the fitful breeze; the tight-fitting doublet, usually carefully smoothed to show off Niccolo’s slim torso, now showed every sign of having been shrugged on hastily, and bunched under the arms. Worse still, there was actual stubble on the right cheek; apparently the news had reached Niccolo halfway through his afternoon shave, and impressed him enough that he’d been willing to appear in public with half a five-o-clock shadow.

“Niccolo,” he said, and was briefly amazed that in these circumstances he could still take a minor pleasure in being on first-name terms with a patrician, an aristocrat who could trace his lineage to the first merchant traders who had sent ships out of the Laguna. “I’m all right, the fire is under control. The Contarini swine are still skulking about the Case Nuove, though.” He gestured down an alley between his warehouses, too narrow to have a formal name, to indicate where the mob of tenantry was still licking its wounds. The Contarini hadn’t quite dared to stiffen their cat’s-paws with any of their liveried house gentlemen; even the Doge’s family had to retain a certain amount of plausible deniability around arson. That was why Salomone had been able to drive them off in short order, even outnumbered and having to split his men between fighting fires and fighting humans. The Contarini tenants were willing enough to throw some torches and crack some heads at their patron’s behest, in accordance with tradition stretching back to before Caesar, but serious fighting against people with actual swords was something else again; and the Aiello tenants had been spitting mad, not just “willing enough”.

Niccolo’s lips formed a thin smile, and he nodded understanding. “Perhaps we’d better drive them off, then,” he said. “They might get enough brains together to throw some more torches, and really now, mobs in the street? I knew Andrea was annoyed we got those spices into Amsterdam before he did, but this is like something out of the tenth century. We can’t get the man himself; but a hard lesson or two among the renters should do some good.”

“Right,” Salomone agreed, setting his jaw. He had a certain amount of sympathy for the Contarini tenants, who’d been given the choice of mobbing his warehouse or being thrown out on the street; but what could you do? If he made it clear, once and for all, that being out on the street was actually the better choice, the threat would no longer be effective – and then the Contarini wouldn’t make it, so everyone would be better off. He looked over the men Niccolo had brought; only a dozen, but well armed, and huge – the one on the left was six feet if he was an inch. “It shouldn’t be too difficult. Just a good straight charge down the alleys, lay into them, crack open some heads, send them home crying for their mamas.” An organised military force would have been holding the alleys and would make such a maneuver impossible – but the tenant militia on the other side were anything but organised, and by now most of them would be thinking that they’d made enough of a show that they’d keep their rooms.

Niccolo shook his head. “You’re right, it’s not difficult, but we can do better than just chasing them off. We’ll go down this one, drive them up towards Bergamaschi. You wait half a minute, then take your men down the next one, hit them just as they’re getting good and panicked. Send your renters up to Sechera, tell them to gang up on anyone who comes running and beat them senseless – that’s far enough out that they won’t be a mob anymore, just singles and pairs.”

“A real massacre,” Salomone said grimly, but nodded. Better to have a single massacre, and convince the tenants that they wanted no part of street fights, than to have people thinking they could revive the old custom of riots as a tool of competition between the Houses. He noted, for future reference, the difference between his own simple plan, and what Niccolo had come up with on the spur of the moment; evidently there was something in the formal education the Houses gave their scions.

“Give me a minute to get organised,” he said, and turned to find Benedetto – who was, in fact, standing right behind him; Salomone hid his startled jump as well as he could, but he could see on his cousin’s face that he hadn’t been too successful.

“You heard?” he asked once he had himself together, and Benedetto nodded. He’d been in charge of Salomone’s hired muscle for as long as Salomone had had hired muscle – at one point that had meant he was in charge of himself – and now he moved both his own men and the tenants with the same efficiency Salomone had in moving ships and cargoes. In short order they were ready, and Niccolo’s men pounded down their chosen alley; a little after that Benedetto shouted “Charge!” and the Aiello guards followed him. Salomone brought up the rear, on the grounds that he wasn’t a trained fighting man but still wanted to bash some heads in to make up for his five hundred ducats.

He emerged into the Corte Case Nuove to find he wasn’t going to get a chance; the only Contarini tenants in sight were the ones who had been trampled in the rush, and they weren’t moving. The Aiello and Dandolo house-gentlemen were chasing the remainder up the street; Benedetto and Niccolo had stopped. Leading a charge into resistance was one thing, but just chasing down fleeing renters was beneath a patrician’s dignity; and Benedetto would want to stay close to the leaders, to hear their plans. Salomone stopped to talk to them, wracking his brain to figure out what that next step was; that was when the flat thwacking sound came from a warehouse on the other side of the street, and Benedetto spun and crumpled like a sand castle undercut by the incoming tide.

Salomone stood frozen in shock for a long moment; Niccolo, however, moved, catching Benedetto before he could fall all the way to the ground and starting to drag him back towards the alley. “Crossbow!” he shouted, and Salomone finally moved himself, picking up Benedetto’s feet where they dragged in the mud; with two men carrying, they quickly reached the alley, and the cover of some barrels. “That was meant for one of us,” Niccolo panted. “Probably you. That was the plan all along – the warehouses were just to get you out in the open, where they’d have a shot – plausible deniability, middle of a riot, very sad but what can you do?”

“You’re right,” Salomone said grimly, feeling his flesh creep with conviction; rioting and head-bashing were one thing, he’d take his chances on that, but this deliberate ambush for him specifically was something else again. An assassin who didn’t know his face too well, evening falling, soot and smoke making him and his cousin look much alike – that was all that had saved him. Had the price of peppers in Amsterdam really mattered that much to the Doge? “Filthy fucking weapon,” he said, bending to examine Benedetto.

“Banned for good reason,” Niccolo agreed; the Pope’s ban on crossbows “except against the heathen” was perhaps the most widely-ignored religious doctrine in history, even more so than the injunction against fornication. That was because they were just too damned – Salomone chose his word precisely – useful; the bolt had gone into Benedetto’s ribcage, he saw, and driven fragments of bone along with the bolt itself deep into his lung. Few other weapons inflicted such killing wounds with such ease; Benedetto had a minute, at most, to live.

He knew it, too, Salomone could see; there was desperation and terror in his eyes, and his mouth worked, but only a repeated “Sh – sh” came out, along with a trickle of blood. He reached out a hand to Salomone, appealing for something, but there was no help to give – then Salomone realised what Benedetto was asking for. No help on this Earth; and with a shattered lung he couldn’t form the words. For an anguished moment Salomone balanced the secret they’d kept for two generations against the wish of a dying man – but the man was his cousin Benedetto, as close as a brother; who’d taken him fishing in the Laguna when they were poor and hungry, who had never showed an ounce of envy over the three bezants, who had stood by him for fifteen years. Only one thing to be done for him now, and only Salomone to do it; he took a deep breath and spoke in a clear, carrying voice, to cut through the fog in a dying man’s head.

“Sh’ma, Yisrael. Shema Eloheinu; Shema Ehad.” The words of praise and faith, the last thing to be heard before death; and Benedetto heard, and nodded, very slightly, in gratitude, before he slumped and the tension went out of his torso. Even then Salomone could be shocked by the difference between a man mortally wounded and dying, and a man dead; unmistakable and dreadful – but there was no time. Fearfully, he looked at Niccolo; and all his fears came true.

“You’re fucking Jews,” Niccolo whispered, his face screwed up in disgust. “And I worked with you – helped you – my God, for years. Christ, have mercy on my soul!” Faintly, Salomone realised that this last wasn’t a conventional expression; Niccolo thought himself ritually unclean, and was genuinely praying for forgiveness.

In a way, it was everything Salomone had been expecting, for years; all the disdain that a patrician might feel for a nouveau-riche backstreet family, that Niccolo had never showed a hint of, was out in the open now, in the contempt of Christian for Jew. Still, it grieved him. They had been friends, not only business partners, for years. Niccolo had invited him to parties at his mansion, had even come to the baptism of Benedetto’s son – which was irony; they had actually been celebrating his circumcision, but of course it was necessary to fake the Christian ritual as well. For two eternal seconds Salomone hesitated. Niccolo was an educated man, and had been known to have an original thought on occasion; and he genuinely liked Salomone. Could he, possibly, be convinced to keep the secret, even to continue their friendship, once the first shock had worn off? His immediate disgust, in response to a sudden revelation, while his blood was up from fighting a battle, wasn’t necessarily the way he was going to react when he had time to think. But no – Salomone could not take that chance. If the Aiello were revealed as secret Jews, living outside the restrictions on their faith, they would have to flee Venice; the House militias would unite to burn them out, and their own tenants would lead the charge just to avoid being caught up in the pogrom. There would be deaths; the warehouses would be lost as surely if they’d burned to the ground; every business partnership with a Christian would be in doubt – Salomone could not risk all that, on the possibility that a Christian patrician might remember that they had been friends.

In the midst of sudden violence Niccolo had reacted like lightning; but now, when the crisis was trust broken and secrets revealed, he was still trying to process what had happened for a whole second after Salomone’s gutting knife was out of its sheath. The knife had once opened a shark, though blade and handle were new since that time; it had no difficulty at all with Niccolo’s silks, or with the soft flesh of his stomach.

“Sh’ma, Yisrael,” Salomone repeated; who knew, perhaps it would do his friend some good to hear the words of praise and faith before he died. “Hear, O Israel. The Name is our God; the Name is One.”

Azure Three Bezants

And now you know the source of the names for my starting characters. Before anyone starts to quibble about the words of the Shema Yisrael, observe that the Aiello are not only secret Jews, but secret Samaritans – a closely related faith, but one which never underwent the Babylonian Exile and whose rituals are very slightly different. The Samaritans themselves claim that they have the original Jewish faith, uncorrupted by Persian ideas picked up in Babylon; the upshot is that the Aiello are doubly isolated – from Christians because they are Jews; from Jews because they are Samaritans.

Backstory aside, this session brought my first player conflict of the game, against Oddman in Syria. I had completed my crusade (which term is now a bit ironic, but for public purposes the Aiello find it useful to be more Catholic than the Pope) for Tripolitania, and found an opportunity to seize Cyrenaica when its Emir rebelled. Oddman, feeling Cyrenaica to be well within the sphere of influence of the two Muslim players who are currently vassals of the Ayyubids, objected, at first diplomatically. However, he tried to convince me that I should limit myself to Tunis (!) and points west; this is not on for an Italian power, Libya is basically my back yard, so we went to war over the issue. It was somewhat back-and-forth; I initially thought I was in a minor border skirmish against an obscure Emir, so I had only sent a small army. Oddman landed with 9000 men and easily crushed this force; his character personally led these troops, albeit from behind, to keep the men in order. I raised two mercenary regiments and shipped them across; when the Moslems ran, he was in the van, and first across the border.

Oddman had apparently misunderestimated my reserves, and thought that his 9000 plus his liege’s 10000 would be sufficient; and to be fair, against that number of men I would certainly have known I’d been in a fight, and might have dropped the project as too expensive. (Mercenaries cost money, after all.) However, the Kingdom of Jerusalem very helpfully joined the war, and raised enough Holy Orders that the Ayyubid Sultan’s men never showed up in Libya at all, being busy on the Holy Land Front. I had occasion, then, to point out to oddman that my Venetian forces included no HOs; “our camp followers are all women of virtue”.

After this war I fought some minor skirmishes in Italy; I took the city of Ravenna (and a patrician very helpfully followed up by taking the province) and also grabbed the city Pescara from Sicily. I can see that uniting Italy with these salami-slice CBs is going to be a long process; at least there are now a lot of polities around the Adriatic, so I shouldn’t be too hampered by truces. I also declared Crusade for Tunis, which looks promising although the Almohads sent 12000 men to interfere; happily these marched around in the desert for a while, doing nothing in particular, and are now down to 8000 without a blow exchanged.

Chieti, 1247

A surprise victory against the odds during the campaign for Pescara. I was so sure I was going to lose this battle that by the time of the screenshot, the replacement mercenaries have already been hired. Then I had to find a use for them, hence the crusade for Tunis.

Venice 1253

Central Med, 1253. Recent conquests picked out in red (excepting Blayne’s domains in Greece). Note the Almohad army besieging Djerba.

The internal affairs of Venice, meanwhile, continue to be a vexation. My good-ish eldest son, Isacco, was killed in someone’s plot; his replacement Pietro is useless, and I cannot designate anyone else as my heir because I granted ex-Moslem counties to all the grown Aiello males, and they are now under the Lowborn duke who inherited Isacco’s titles. To win the election for Pietro requires bribes on the order of a thousand ducats; in an effort to keep this number down I have been assassinating patricians left, right, and center, but every time I kill one with respect 7000, another with respect 5000 takes his place. My count stands at 7, and the eighth is currently in my dungeon; one of my first acts in Sunday’s session will be to execute him, in the hope of saving a couple of hundred on bribes. Next week’s narrative will be related to these events; stay tuned.

Venetian politics 1247
Plot against Dandolo

Venetian domestic situation, 1247. Not keeping exact count, but I think the Dandolo candidate is about to be the fourth, possibly fifth, victim of my election campaign. Morosini and Ziani candidates preceded him.

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Filed under Azure Three Bezants, God of Our Fathers, Recessional

The Sons of Raghnall: Years of Many Kings

Saga has it that “Olaf was sole King in Norway after the death of his brother Magnus”; and the word ‘sole’ is telling. It indicates an attempt, possibly unique in European history, at combining the old pagan custom of dividing an estate equally between the sons, with the Christian preference for primogeniture – a method which, while not obviously superior for the family, did not splinter hard-built realms into their constituent parts. In particular, before Magnus’s early death in 1069, he and Olaf ruled jointly as kings, each having the full royal authority all over Norway – although in practice it seems that Magnus had the old royal city of Nidaros, while Olaf controlled wealthy Viken in the south (*).

(*) CK models this by making Olaf king, and giving Magnus the Duchy of Trøndelag.

As the joint kingship lasted only three years, we have little information about how well it worked; it is perhaps not unlikely that, had Magnus lived longer, friction might have arisen. When the experiment was repeated, in the middle of the fourteenth century, it certainly did. Nonetheless, the Years of Many Kings were considered a necessary expedient at the time; and we should not be too quick to judge our ancestors fools. Three decades of divided rule were, at any rate, better than the equal period of the Years of Wolf and Raven; and if the men on the spot thought that civil war was the alternative, we should be slow to disagree. We experience their period only through their words, a dry channel of low bandwidth; they lived it, feeling the wind bringing the scent of blood and iron to their nostrils and the hormones of anger pulsing through their veins. Their view should not be lightly discarded.

We cannot tell, at this distance in time, how angry the grandchildren of Trond really were at each other; we cannot stand in their chambers and feel quick Celtic tempers bouncing off the walls, or see the reddish-gold beards bristle with suppressed emotion. But we can recite the dry facts, and let them speak for themselves: Of the six men and two women who bore crowns of Scotland, Norway, or Sweden in the period between 1307 and 1357, all closely related, not one died of natural causes.

Humans at odds organise themselves into factions, and the names and ostensible causes of the factions do not necessarily show any obvious relationship to the underlying conflict. This appears to be the case with Trond’s grandchildren, who split into “Greek” and, opposing them, “Norse” factions. We need not believe that a passion for Greek literature and fashions actually decided the fate of nations; no doubt some pre-existing, private split took this convenient public form. In any case, for all the accusations of the Norse faction, there was no question of actual political influence from Constantinople; the distances were too large, communications too tenuous. But the difference in fashions – attested both by writers and by a few surviving portraits – was sufficient to make wealthy a few enterprising traders in hair oils, perfumes, and silks; and, more importantly, to be a visible marker of affiliation.

Ragnvald, the eldest son of Trond, had died in 1301; upon Trond’s death in 1307, Ragnvald’s eldest son took the throne, adopting the regnal name Gregoras. His Greek affiliation made it easy for the Norse faction, led by the next-eldest brother Johan, to stir up the nobles against him, and he was forced to abdicate in 1316, dying shortly after in what Johan, to the end of his own life, claimed was a misunderstanding by overzealous servants. Whatever the truth of this, Johan did not enjoy his gains for long; he died in 1320. (Since it is clear that none of these deaths were natural, we shall not bother to list the tedious and transparent excuses that were given at the time; suffice it to say that they may as well all have died of “choking on fishbones”, “trying to escape”, or of course that most popular of natural causes, “suicide by self-backstabbing”.) At this point occurs the first split; the Swedish electorate, refusing to put a child on the throne, rejected Johan’s sickly son Edmure and instead anointed his Johan’s next-younger brother – the third of Ragnvald’s sons to gain a throne – who in memory of his eldest brother also took the regnal name Gregoras. (It is sometimes hypothesized that the overuse of the name Gregoras, not to mention the Scandinavised variant Gregers, accounts for the unpopularity of the Greek faction among historians of the period.) The crowns of Norway and Scotland, meanwhile, passed to Edmure, who however had the bad taste to die a year later at the age of two; the crown then passed to his sisters Ragnfrid (who lasted only a few months longer; one wonders if someone was offering a bulk rate on the assassination of royal children) and then Linda.

It is worth noting that the MacRaghnalls do not appear to have considered themselves as ruling separate realms; it appears that they believed that the split of the crowns between different persons was a formality, and that there was still a unified kingdom with joint kings. (What their not-very-assimilated Swedish and Finnish subjects thought of this is unrecorded.) And to be fair, whatever their internal quarrels they united with remarkable speed at any hint of opposition from outside the family; Gregoras II, for example, is known to have put down two rebellions against the rule of his niece Linda with remarkable brutality. He also arranged to have her elected as Heir to the throne of Sweden, ahead of his own son Jorah – a remarkable concession, presumably indicating that the eventual re-unification of the thrones as a goal. It is this which makes the death of Linda so mysterious. If Gregoras would straightforwardly take the blame, that would be one thing; but the man insisted having her, not his son, as his Heir – and to compound this evidence of his innocence, he did the same thing with Ragnvald, who inherited Norway and Scotland upon Linda’s death. These, surely, are not the actions of a man obsessed with advancing his children at all costs; but who, then, killed Linda? (For that matter, ought we also to absolve Gregoras of the deaths of Edmure and Ragnfrid?) Perhaps others in the “Greek” faction should be blamed; we do not know what personal tensions and hatreds might have simmered under the surface of the factional feud. But Linda and Ragnvald were both of the next generation, and not obviously involved in whatever struggle motivated their uncles. The hypothesis of an outside killer, someone who desired to keep Scandinavia disunited and weak, begins to look attractive; yet no clear candidate for such a killer is apparent, MacRaghnall relations with all the neighbouring realms being good at this time.

MacRaghnall internal relations were something else again; Ragnvald’s rule was soon challenged by Severin, a son of Gregers – the youngest brother of the two Gregorases and Johan. Rather than fight it out to the end, Ragnvald agreed to a compromise, whereby he retained his personal lands and the empty title of “King of Scots”, while Severin became King of Norway. Gregoras II immediately had Severin elected as Heir, and it again seemed that the thrones would be largely reunited upon his death – whereupon Severin died. At this point, surely, even the most un-paranoid historian is allowed to suspect enemy action; for Severin’s son, Gregers – there’s that name again – was not eligible for election to the throne of Sweden. If this is not deliberate action by some entity interested in keeping Scandinavia weak, it is the most amazing coincidence of all time.

And yet, qui bono? The surrounding kingdoms, usually the first suspects in a matter of weakening internal affairs, seem blameless: At this time they were all on the defensive against the resurgent legions of Rome, and more likely to prop up a reliable ally than to weaken it. Gregoras, again, clears himself by his choice of heirs, and in any case none of these deaths did anything to put Jorah in the line of succession for Norway. Perhaps, then, we should look further afield; and perhaps, also, the name of the Greek faction offers a hint. For while it is true that the “Greeks” did not learn much of the language, did not actually produce many plays, did not even build any great collections of classical art… it is also clear, from the above narrative, that they adopted one Greek trait very well: The flair for intrigue which gave the world’s lexicons the adjective Byzantine. No great works of literature or philosophy are to be found in the MacRaghnall courts of this time, in spite of the pretensions of the Greek faction; but in assassination and backstabbing the two Gregorases and their lesser allies proved quite the equal of their chosen teachers.

As above, so below; the lesser nobles took their cue from the morals of the royals, and did their part to make the courts of the MacRaghnalls into snake pits, where a misstep could cost anything from one’s honour to one’s life. The quip of going from barbarism to decadence without an intervening civilisation has been made of many nations, but it was first said of the MacRaghnalls; and the blame for this must rest on the Greek faction. But, when all’s said and done, they must retain credit for one thing: The snakes would, without hesitation, turn as one upon any external foe. The realm was split between three kings, but they were all MacRaghnall kings; the family considered itself to jointly rule a single large kingdom, which happened to have several monarchs. Nor did any of them hire outside aid to resolve their differences. Indeed, if they turned to the assassin’s knife and the shedding of brothers’ blood, it is worth noting that others in like circumstances have raised banners of war and spilled the blood of thousands of their subjects, and held themselves more honourable. Of that sin, at least, the MacRaghnalls cannot be accused. They kept their feuds to themselves.

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Recessional: The Return of the Three

June 26th, 1158
A warehouse in Venice
Morning

“Twenty-three, twenty-four. All right, you’re paid up for another month.” Salomone nodded to his tenants, who tugged their forelocks respectfully at his dismissal. He concealed distaste for their obsequiousness; didn’t they know he’d been born in the same back streets? He knew perfectly well what they said about landlords in private. It was a sordid business, renting out houses to poor families, and he wished himself out of it; but it was a steady income, a base to live on while shipping made him rich.

[i]Speaking of which[/i], he thought when he saw his next appointment enter; this time he rose, and held out his hand as to an equal – no sitting in lordly splendour through this meeting.

“Dandolo,” he said, and the other man nodded and shook his hand. “Aiello,” he returned, quite as though both their families had been wealthy in Venice for two hundred years. It still gave Salomone a shock, just how important money was; he kept expecting his business partners to finally drop their masks and look down their noses at the jumped-up backstreet boy. But if Dandolo, in his silks and velvets, felt any disdain for Salomone’s linen, or for meeting in a warehouse and not a marbled palace, it didn’t show on his face.

“Good news,” he said instead, smiling; “our ship came in. You were right – the first harvest in Egypt failed, our grain went for a fantastic price. We filled our hold with cotton, there’s another shipload coming in, and there’s profits left over. This is your share.” He pulled a fat purse out of his silks and handed it to Salomone, who smiled at the sweet ring of gold and the weight of it. He would look over the accounts later, of course, but in truth he did not expect Dandolo to cheat; he’d be a fool to chisel a few extra coins and spoil their partnership. Dandolo had ships and men and contacts, but Salomone had the nose for what shipments would make money; working with him had doubled Dandolo’s profits. He wouldn’t throw that away for the sake of what he could cheat out of one shipment.

“Good,” he said, and thought. “Hmm – two shiploads? I must say I wasn’t expecting quite that much cotton.”

“Apparently the cotton harvest was very good,” Dandolo said. “Ironic, when the grain failed, no? Bale upon bale of cotton, and nothing to eat. Except our barley, of course – and at the very best prices, too.”

Salomone smiled, but only from politeness; high prices for grain meant children going hungry, and he’d done so himself often enough. Even after his stroke of luck with the shark, he’d had an empty belly on occasion, when all his capital was tied up in ships in distant ports, and he caught nothing in the Laguna. It was no laughing matter to him. But there was no use pointing that out to Dandolo; that child of privilege and wealth might agree, might apologise for his jest, might even genuinely feel bad about it, but he would not really [i]understand[/i], not in the stomach where it mattered. Instead Salomone turned to practical matters.

“We don’t want to collapse the price,” he said. “I don’t think Venice can easily absorb two shiploads; what if we send the other to Marseilles?”

“Marseilles?” Dandolo blinked; it wasn’t a place they did much business with. “I would have thought Tunis, or even Barcelona – but never mind,” he added hastily. “Marseilles it is!”

Salomone smiled; if the truth were told, his partner gave his magic nose too much credit. Marseilles was a whim, an experiment; there was probably a market for cotton there, but it wasn’t likely to be another marvel of twice the expected profit, as shipping grain to Egypt had been. His hunches worked that way at most once in ten times – but Dandolo didn’t track the numbers carefully; he remembered the triumphs and forgot the humdrum expeditions that returned only the ordinary profit. That was why Salomone’s capital was growing at twice the rate of Dandolo’s, in spite of the other man having most of the ships. In ten years he would have his own fleet, and would no longer need their partnership – and even Salomone was not quite sure what he would do then. Was he really friends with a patrician, or was he just using the man?

For now, at any rate, the point was moot; they exchanged courtesies and Dandolo left, and Salomone turned to his money. He didn’t like to admit it, but there was a sensual pleasure in counting up gold, feeling the slick weight of the pieces in his fingers, hearing their sweet ring on the table – a very different sensation from taking shaved coppers from poor tenants. Nonetheless he sternly resisted the urge to throw the money up in the air and let it rain down over his head; someone might come in, and then what would he look like? Besides, he’d lost a coin down a crack in the floorboards once, doing that, and had had to replace the whole floor to get it back. Instead he stacked up the coins neatly, fives, tens, twenties; if the stacks made a pretty pattern, well, nobody was like to call him foolish for that even if they saw.

Near the bottom of the purse he found a coin unlike the others – they were mostly Venetian ducats, with a few Arab solidi thrown in – and held his breath. There were not that many bezants still in circulation, but gold was gold. Perhaps one coin in a hundred, of the gold that passed through his hands, was a bezant; and he looked at each one carefully, just in case. A small flaw in the metal caught his eye, and his heart hammered. Yes! There it was, tiny but unmistakable; the letter aleph, for Aiello, that he had carved in his three bezants before sending them out into the world. He grinned in triumph.

“Finally!” he whispered. This was the last of the three to come back to him; after thirteen years, and passing through who knew how many hands. But there were only so many merchants, in this Europe of the twelfth century after Christ; only so many coins, and only so many men who would deal routinely in gold. It was hardly miraculous, that a particular coin should come back to him; for all he knew, the coppers he’d taken from his tenants were on their third or fourth visit to his warehouse. But Salomone cared nothing for coppers. Here was the source of his wealth, come back to him at last; and he would not send it out again. He would put it with the other two in the tiny, secret strongbox in his bedroom, the one hidden within the masonry wall, separate from all his other money. If he ever lost it all – if his ships sank, if his main strongbox was robbed, if even the emergency reserve went to some stroke of misfortune or violence – then he would still have his three bezants; and from that rock he could, at need, rebuild his kingdom. But in truth, he did not believe that would be necessary; for the three bezants were his luck, and he would not again be separated from them.

Azure Three Bezants

Oh, how the money rolls in!

Even while lending money from Iberia (500 ducats to Anders’s Barcelona, for mercenaries to fight the heathen) to far Altai (300 ducats to Clonefusion fighting some complex tribal war for the biggest yurt in the whole horde), enough cash has remained in Venice to enable several successful wars:

  • Punishing Serbia for its aggression during the reign of the previous Doge, I took its province of Ragusa (formerly Dubrovnik). This apparently-minor war actually saw my largest setbacks of the session: Serbia was allied with the Greek kingdom of Anatolia, which sent troops to defend Ragusa. In the mountainous Balkan terrain, these brave and tenacious soldiers were able to inflict terrible casualties on the Venetians soldier-sailors, more used to boarding actions than mountain passes. I raised new armies, but then had a second disaster: I had split my army into two stacks for faster sieging. Collecting them back together, I misclicked, and one stack attacked a fresh Anatolian army, in mountains, without support. By the time the other stack arrived, the battle was essentially over, there was a rout, and in the rout both stacks were drastically reduced. The immense financial resources of the Venetian state, however, drummed new mercenaries out of the Earth. Serbia is currently a one-province kingdom.Battle of Cravtat

    Battle of Cravtat. Note Serbia’s four provinces – modest, perhaps, but a player in the regional balance of power.

    Victory at Cravtat

    Victory, if that’s the word.

  • I fought two minor wars on the Greek coast of the Aegean, in support of the ambitions of my vassal resurrected!Blayne. These one-province affairs expanded Blayne’s domains by 66%.
  • I conquered Ferrara upon the death of its former ruler, my tributary. Never mind this tributary nonsense, now I have a claim.
  • Most significantly, I crossed the Malta Channel and, for the first time in 700 years, planted the Cross on the shores of Tripoli. Holy War for Tripolitania! This is not yet over, but looks hopeful, with a Christian army of 13000 (including 4000 allies from the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem) facing something like 6000 howling heathens.

Venice, 1239

The Central Mediterranean, April 1239, with recent Venetian conquests outlined in red. Note what’s happened to Serbia – it’s the one-province minor just north of Ragusa (Dubrovnik in the previous screenshot), dealing with a rebel army of 10000 men. Bulgaria has taken one province, and Zeta is independent – except for being a tributary of one of the lesser Venetian families. Moral of the story, don’t mess with Venice.

Abramo Aiello, 1239

Abramo Aiello in vigorous late middle age.

Venetian politics, 1239

Domestic situation in Venice.

The internal politics of Venice, however, are a fly in this Ointment of Triumph (+2 to Charisma). The patricians of Morosini and Ziani are old men even by comparison with the middle-aged Abramo the Lawgiver. (Named, obviously, for his habit of laying down the law to the foreign enemies of Venice – Serbia, Sicily, Anatolia, Ferrara, Tripoli, it’s a long list and the end is not yet.) Compared to the dynamic and thrusting leadership of Abramo’s son Isacco, they are arthritis and sclerosis personified; dividend-drawers and rentiers, not adventuring capitalists willing to risk wealth in new enterprises. But the electorate of Venice does not see it that way, and the difference is large enough that even money, the all-purpose lubricant, is of limited use. Abramo is fifty, and might live for another ten years, might even see out his three-score and ten; but the situation remains concerning.

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The Sons of Raghnall: Brother’s Blood

They whisper about me. Johan was sure of it, although he had never been able to catch anyone at it; but then, of course they would be careful about it, for was he not King? King of Norway and Sweden, King of Scots, King in all but name of Finland, the Wends’ and the Goths’ King… They had damn well better be careful.

Sometimes, when the whispers that he could not quite catch got too much for him, or he caught a meaningful glance out of the corner of his eye, or someone’s laughter cut off a little too abruptly – sometimes, he would go down, down, down, deep into the bowels of Edinburgh Castle. Away from the fine tapestried royal quarters, lifted up to catch what sun Scotland could offer; down through the kitchens, the armories, the servants’ quarters, down to where the chambers were hewn into the living stone of Castle Rock itself, where the rough walls breathed cold dampness and only his lantern gave light – for who was going to waste expensive lamp oil or good torches on prisoners? Not this guid Scot, at any rate; and besides, the dark beyond the flickering circle from his lantern was soothing.

These weren’t the Infamous Dungeons built by Gilpatrick and given their fearsome reputation by Trond; those were in Norway, empty now that the seat of government had moved across the North Sea. But some of the machinery was the same, moved by Johan’s order. The rack was the one that Trond had used to extract Tormod Jarl’s confession of treason, and then to execute the man. The ancient, stiff leather belt hanging in a place of honour in the corner was said to be the one Gilpatrick had used to tame Queen Åsta, although after a hundred years that seemed unlikely to Johan. More likely his prison warder was lying to him, or had himself been lied to; at any rate there was probably a lie involved somewhere, for why would Gilpatrick have attached any importance to any particular belt? But it comforted Johan to think that it might be true; so he left the belt where it was.

There were no whispers down here, for who would willingly visit? Most preferred to forget that the dungeons existed, and that only the King’s whim stood between them and the unending dark. Here, at least, there was silence, and Johan savoured it. Here he could be sure that any whispers he heard were only in his mind; the rats and the spiders cast no accusing glances. Down here he could reassure himself that the soldiers didn’t really mutter “brother-killer” when he passed by; and knowing that the voice he heard saying so could only be in his head, he could believe it, at least for a while.

Damn Gregoras, anyway! Johan would have been perfectly content as Jarl of wealthy Sjælland, if only his brother had shown the least understanding of how to lead Norsemen. But no; he was besotted with his Greek literature and “advisors” – men who had been broken in their home country, and had had good and sufficient reasons for fleeing to the cold North that they so despised. But Gregoras – bah! Greger would suffice, damn him; a good Norse name before he had Hellenised it – thought them the equals of Alexander’s generals, and had given them honours and land. He had slicked back his hair with perfumed oils, as they’d taught him, and listened to endless recitations of the Odyssey and the Iliad in Greek, while his hirdsmenn sighed in open boredom and the skalds who might have had them thumping fists on tables in time to the Deeds of Ragnvald fumed in corners.

Greek boy-lovers, and perfumed oil, and foreign rot in place of the sagas! Johan had told the man, but would he listen? Not unless it was in Greek, and laid out in a syllogism, and preferably a thousand years old at that! And the jarls had risen, just as Johan had said they would, and all the bloody dreadful work of the Years of Wolf and Raven to be done over again, for the sake of Greek poetry! It was not to be borne.

Not to be borne… but Johan had not meant him to die! Not his older brother whom he’d admired from the time he was old enough to make out one blond head from another! Only he could not be King, that much was clear; he’d break the realm apart; but let him live, let him have the estates and the income and the broad acres, and yes, let him spend it all foolishly on Greek books and perfume and bad advisors if he chose. Only the kingdom, the realm, only that Johan could not bear to see shattered; and they’d made peace, and Johan had even thought there was some relief in Greger’s – bah, Gregoras’s then, let him have whatever silly name he chose for himself – Gregoras’s face when he knelt to acknowledge Johan as King of Scots, King of Norway and Sweden, the Wends’ and the Goths’ king, all the highest titles. But not the jarldoms, not the cities and estates and farms; Gregoras could keep those, and manage them however he liked, and the realm would not break apart from it. And then had come the messenger with the word, of the “accident” with the ship, and what could Johan say? It really had been an overenthusiastic subordinate, and no order of his, but who would believe such a tale in the mouth of the man who’d just made himself king? (*)

But dead was dead and eaten was eaten; there was nothing for it but to put the best face on things. He’d confirmed his young nephew in the estates; if the lad grew up his enemy, and took revenge for his father… well, perhaps that would be no more than Johan deserved. And he’d learned to bear the whispers without flinching, and the glances, and the way conversations paused when he came within earshot… and after all, perhaps he was merely imagining things. His hirdsmenn had all proven their loyalty, and the servants were not given to opinions on the quarrels of the great lords. Perhaps it was only his guilt that made him see accusers everywhere.

Sometimes he thought of firing up the braziers, heating the irons, and oiling up the rack, and seeing what truth he could wring from his servants’ tongues with that encouragement. Let them scream what they’d been whispering – let them scream loud enough for all the castle to hear, and still the ceaseless gnawing rats at the back of his mind. He felt sure he could be easy in his mind, whatever they were saying of him, if only he could be certain of it. Once he’d gone so far as to light the brazier; but when the iron glowed it was his own skin he’d brought it near, watching with a sick fascination as the red tip came closer, closer, as though wielded by someone else… until he could stand the heat no more and thrust it away, yelling; but the pain of his blistered flesh had soothed him, had silenced the ghosts riding his shoulder for a week and more.

Sometimes he thought of penance, of the old leather belt, perhaps – could it really be Gilpatrick’s? – playing on his skin until he cried out with the pain of it; but who would treat a king so, and not gossip of it, later? Perhaps his wife, if only he dared to ask her… but it had been long since he even visited her bedchamber, and she had grown cold towards him. To whom can the King speak, when he is troubled in his soul?

Such are the burdens of kings.

(*) I switched characters after surrendering, and forgot to check whether the AI had been plotting against me. So, yes, it wasn’t by any intent of mine that Gregoras died.

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Recessional: Azure Three Bezants

As I have started a new game, I thought I’d bring my posts up to the present. From now on my Friday posts will be about “Recessional”, the sixth in the series of Great Games. I am playing a patrician family in the Serene Republic of Venice, starting in 1204; in this post we learn how the family Aiello came by its arms.

I will keep posting the archives, but now on Mondays.

Continue reading

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The Sons of Raghnall: Empire of the North Sea

By the early fourteenth century, the MacRaghnalls were, never mind the form of their patronymic, very clearly a Norwegian dynasty. Except for the brief reign of Queen Agnes, a reign which in any case rested on her husband’s English spears, they had been out of royal power in Scotland for more than a century. Moreover, with the two largest crowns of the British Isles united on the head of Agnes’s son Theobald, there was clearly very little prospect of regaining an independent Scotland; while on the other hand, between Gilpatrick and Trond, half a century had been spent in almost constant bloodshed to establish MacRaghnall rule in Scandinavia. Trond is not even known to have spoken any Scots dialect, although the early Norwegian of the time retained, for simple matters, a rough mutual comprehensibility with the Lallans.

In spite of these undoubted facts, however, the MacRaghnall kings considered themselves kings in exile, “Kings over the Water”. Gilpatrick had even managed to actually set foot in Scotland and raise the MacRaghnall lairds – a different branch of the family, but still important landowners and nobles – in his support, although his sister Agnes turned out to have the better army. Trond, on the other hand, never got any closer to Edinburgh than Bergen, on the west coast of Norway. Nonetheless, it was Trond who achieved his father’s ambition and was crowned King of Scots.

Although Trond was a warrior king, he did not achieve his dream by calling out the leidang and crossing the North Sea in dragon-headed ships. Rather, he waged a diplomatic and political campaign, firstly within Scotland itself, and secondly within the Catholic periphery of Europe.

While few medieval kings ruled with anything approaching absolute power, the centrifugal tendencies of feudal kingdoms were particularly strong in Scotland. Even the title, King of Scots, implied a ruler who was first among equals, as against, for example, the King of England, who technically speaking owned every acre of English ground and merely rented it out to his feudal subjects. Even after Red Harlaw established that the lairds were subject to the King’s peace and could not make private war at their pleasure, the writ of Edinburgh did not run very far into the mountains. If the clans no longer raised regular armies and fought set-piece battles, raid, razzia, cattle-rustling, and sheep-stealing remained national sports. These lawless tendencies were only aggravated when the King was in York rather than Edinburgh; although the Kings of England – and later the Emperors of Britannia, no less! – certainly had at their disposal far more armed men than any King of Scots had ever mustered, that did not much impress the unruly Highlanders. “Sassenachs,” they might have sneered, “ony guid Hielant crofter can beat ten Sassenach sodjers. Wi’ his left hand, mind.” More to the point, Scotland was never a real priority for the kings in York, busy with conquests in France and wars in Germany. The Highlanders, trusting in their mountain strongholds, might have been surprised at how unpleasant a punitive expedition could make their lives, if he had ever gotten around to launching one; but – canny buggers, as even their enemies were wont to admit – they carefully kept their depredations just short of what would provoke real retaliation.

Still, as the thirteenth century ended, the lawless conditions of, not just Scotland, but the Border, was becoming a real worry. A constant rondo of sheep-stealing within the Highlands did not much worry anyone; the sheep were valuable and therefore rarely killed, so the net effect was merely to redistribute the wealth to whoever had got lucky last, and to keep the Highlanders busy. When, however, the MacRaghnall lairds – tired of playing zero-sum games with their neighbours and not averse to tweaking the tail of their Sassenach overlords – began to raid south of the Border, that was a different matter. York is not so far distant from Northumberland; when sheep and cattle began disappearing, men of actual influence, with friends at court – some of them, indeed, were at the court – had their oxen gored.

Theobald had, however, larger worries; his army had to be held in readiness to defend the Alps and the Pyrenees against, respectively, the heretic and the infidel. A resurgent Rome, fresh from its theological victory in recapturing the See of St Peter, was on the march, overawing the Lombard kingdom and pushing north into Germany; while in Spain, the Muslims muttered about jihad. Thus, while he certainly had the raw power to overcome any number of unruly half-bandit chieftains in his hinterlands, Theobald desired nothing so much as peace and quiet on his northern flank; a punitive expedition in his own domains was the last thing he needed. He was, therefore, ready to listen when his ally (and kinsman – Trond was the son of Theobald’s mother Agnes’s brother Gilpatrick, making them first cousins), the King of Norway, suggested a solution.

If the Scots wanted a king at Edinburgh, the suggestion ran, why not give them one? Theobald, after all, was Emperor of Britannia. The direct rule of a bunch of hairy Hielant savages was beneath his dignity. Trond, on the other hand, would be happy to have, if worst came to worst with his own savage vassals, a bolthole separated by several hundred miles of water from any possibility of revenge from former inmates of his infamous dungeons. Theobald, then, had only to graciously grant his good and leal kinsman-ally the least important of his crowns, for which Trond would gladly do homage (while diplomatically making it clear that Norway remained free, indivisible, and inalienable), and Trond would answer for the Highlanders.

As face-saving compromises go, it was an excellent one: Theobald got, in effect, a lightning rod on his northern flank, to absorb any grievances the Scots might have with their government. Trond, on the other hand, fulfilled his father’s dream. For a man who had spent most of his life fighting endless wars merely to hold together what his father had conquered, actually surpassing Gilpatrick was clearly a welcome triumph. The MacRaghnall lairds got one of their own, at least nominally, on the throne, and ceased troubling the Border; the degree to which Trond had quietly been encouraging their raids is now impossible to reconstruct, but seems likely to be nonzero. Finally, the Norwegians got both their old dream of a North Sea empire – even if its Scottish lands were rather minuscule in practice – and a welcome distance from their king; like a bickering couple who know each other’s sore points too well, the jarls and the king both benefited from physical separation.

The new state was, by modern standards, an odd sort of construction, jury-rigged and fragile-looking. Trond was King of Scots, a title for which he did homage to Theobald as Emperor of Britannia; but while he reigned in Edinburgh, the actual taxes and fighting men passed straight through his hands to York. Trond was also King of Norway and Sweden, titles for which he did homage to nobody but the Pope (and that had been a tenuous legal theory even when the the successor of St Peter ruled in Rome), and his writ ran in most of Denmark and Finland. As far as actual power went, his Scots title did not come into it. Edinburgh was the capital of the realm only in the purely formal sense of containing the King’s residence; the economic, political, and military center was very clearly in the Scandinavian peninsula. Indeed, if you ignored the royal residence, you would see a Baltic realm with Edinburgh as an anomalous outlier, more important than the similarly-situated Orkneys, but integrated into the British, not Baltic, economy.

By feudal standards, however, there was nothing odd about it; it was a dynastic, not a national, state, and medieval dynasts thought nothing of adding land on the other side of Europe to their possessions. After all, the Icelandic republic acknowledged, of all people, the Byzantine Emperor as their overlord; having a King who was merely across the North Sea was nothing by comparison, especially for a seafaring people like the Norse. It wasn’t as though anyone in Norway had been likely to travel overland to court even before it had been moved to Edinburgh.

Apart from its oddness, however, the salient feature of what would become the Northern Empire, or formally the Empire of the North Sea, was that it worked. Trond had, at last, beaten down the resistance to his rule within Scandinavia. The Scottish title was the outward recognition, by the other Catholic powers, of this fact. A formality, perhaps; but formalities are important in matters of state. In this case, the crowning at Scone was formal recognition that, where Gilpatrick had held together a collection of squabbling principalities by force of personality, Trond ruled a unified state by a monopoly of violence. And not before time; for the Catholic kingdoms had larger problems than the squabbles of savage mountain peoples. The Legions were again on the march.

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