The Sons of Raghnall: Guest of Dishonour

October 6th, 1845
A warehouse in Bergen, Norway
Evening

The children were not, strictly speaking, forbidden from playing in the warehouse; but neither had they approached the master and got his august nod of permission. So when Geir heard men approach, he scuttled behind one of the paper-wrapped bales of whatever-it-was that had been unloaded the day before, made himself small, and settled down to wait for them to leave. It was probably just the master coming down to inspect his goods; he wouldn’t need more than a few minutes for his gloat, and then Geir could get back to capturing pirates.

He was surprised, then, to hear the voice of Tormod, the master’s butler: “Here it is – three tons of silk, finest kind, fresh from China. Maybe a hundred thousand, all told – most of the Randale capital, in fact; all in one place. Burn it, and Randale would be ruined, and so would his creditors.”

Geir blinked in shock. Burn the master’s goods, ruin him? He knew what happened in houses that went bankrupt: The servants were turned out, to find new positions or starve. Quite apart from what would happen to Geir’s father, Tormod couldn’t want that, could he? He’d be just as ruined as anyone – more so; it was harder for the higher servants to get new positions.

“That’s fine as far as it goes, Tormod.” Geir didn’t know the second voice, a gravelly bass. “Ruin an exploiter, send shock waves of bankruptcy through the upper classes, wake people up a bit. But it doesn’t do the poor any good, does it? We don’t want the silk burnt, we want the money spent on good causes.”

“Good causes like your fifteen girlfriends in the Four Lions?” a third voice sneered; a woman.

“They’re poor too,” the gravel voice came back, cheerfully unruffled. “But you have an exaggerated idea of my capabilities if you think I can spend a hundred thousand, or even just my share of it, on helping poor women.”

“Let’s not count our women before they – er, before we have the money for them,” Tormod put in. “Agreed that we don’t want the silk burnt. But we can’t steal it, either; three tons of the stuff! Not to mention the difficulty of fencing it.”

Geir’s eyes widened in indignation. He hadn’t grasped why anyone would want to burn valuable things, but stealing he understood. He just hadn’t expected it of Tormod – the same man who had given him an epic thrashing and a lecture on the Importance of Property for a mere three apples out of the master’s garden, calmly discussing taking all the master’s goods and putting him, Geir, out in the streets!

“Which is where you come in,” Gravel Voice agreed. “You say the buyers are arriving tomorrow night?”

“Some of them are here already, but yes, the major players won’t arrive until tomorrow.”

“And they’ll have what, an auction?”

“Right. What am I bid for lot one hundred seven, another half-hundredweight of finest Shanxi silk? Do I hear one thousand?” Tormod let his voice go high and drawling, in vicious imitation of the master; Geir had to suppress a laugh at the cleverness of the impression.

“They’ll have muscle, though, won’t they? And anyway nobody carries a thousand riksdaler around in their pockets.” The woman’s voice was quite pleasant when it wasn’t sneering, Geir noticed.

“That’s the clever bit,” Gravel Voice returned. “They’ll put it all in Randale’s strongroom for safekeeping – some in silver, most in bearer bonds.”

“Why won’t they just write out notes on the spot?”

“For a thousand riksdaler a pop? Even the merchant class don’t trust each other that much. It’ll be bearer bonds drawn on reputable banks, thank you kindly, none of your private notes.”

Geir didn’t understand the talk about bonds and notes, but silver was clear enough – silver was money, and they were plotting how to steal the master’s money and ruin him, and Geir. The situation was, come to think of it, rather like the romance Geir had borrowed from Johann the previous week, where the plucky young hero overheard the bandits planning to ambush the wealthy merchant’s carriage and abduct his daughter. In the book, the hero had revealed the plot and been rewarded with A Position; Geir sharpened his ears.

“So how do we get into the strongroom?” the woman asked.

“Well, pardon me,” Gravel Voice said. “I thought I was speaking to Banging Bertha, known far and wide for her skill with powder and locks.”

Geir stiffened; he knew the name. If Gravel Voice wasn’t joking, one of the most wanted criminals in the entire North Sea Empire was right here in the warehouse with him.

“Quite so, Gjest (*), but I do need to actually get to the locks, you know. And I prefer not to be interrupted by merchants while I work; they tend to make rude remarks about my tits, not to mention the Penal Laws, and hangings, and suchlike unpleasant things.”

Geir couldn’t restrain a start of surprise; if that ‘Gjest’ meant what he thought it did, then the most wanted criminal (**) in Norway was also in the warehouse – and making plans with boring old Tormod, a man Geir knew best for his uncompromising attitude on apples and suchlike trifles. Truly life was full of surprises.

“Tormod will be our inside man,” Gjest said. “So we’ve got him to let us in a back door and show us the strongroom, you to blow our way in, and me and a couple of boys I know to cart the loot and do any strong-arm work that’s needed.”

“And how do I know you and your boys won’t cart away all the loot, strong-arming me as necessary?”

“I give you my word, yes? All the world knows that Gjest Baardsen is a man of honour. If I wasn’t, who would bring me word of useful schemes like this? Come now, Bertha, you know this as well as I do. Thieves have honour or nobody brings them business, nobody helps them when they’re on the lam, nobody thinks twice about ratting them out. Pimply strong-arm men who roll drunken sailors for two shillings can work that way; not the likes of you and me.”

“True, but with a hundred thousand, you don’t need any more business; on such a sum you can retire to sunny Spain, where they don’t ask too many questions about where a man’s money comes from. You’ve always dealt fairly, but maybe you were just building up your reputation for this one big score, no?”

Gjest sighed gustily. “Well, you’re right; but I don’t see what guarantee I can give you. Shall I swear on my mother’s grave? Give you my silver watch for security? Cross my heart? Either you trust my word or you don’t. If not, well, we’ll call it off and let the exploiters get on with their truck and barter. So, are you in or out?”

There was a pause; at last Bertha said, “Oh, very well. You can only be hanged once, and I’ve got a price on my head already. I’m in.”

“Splendid. Then I’ll get my boys, you’ll get your powders and oils, and Tormod will go and do his last day of service to a rich man. We’ll meet here tomorrow night, an hour after sunset.”

(*): For the non-Norwegian speakers, ‘Gjest’ is pronounced ‘Yest’.
(**): Actually the reward for Bertha’s capture is higher than that for Gjest; but Gjest is better known – he’s the one with songs written about him. Like any woman in a male-dominated field, Bertha has to do twice the work to get half the recognition!

—————————————————

October 6th, 1845
Randale mansion, Bergen, Norway
Evening

Geir had counted slowly to a hundred, three times, before daring to move; and when he finally did stir out of his hiding place, it was in the creeping expectation that Tormod’s hard hand would any moment descend on his ear to capture him, as had happened in that memorable episode with the apples. But Gjest and Bertha, Geir thought, weren’t the kind to be satisfied with a mere thrashing and a lecture; so gooseflesh ran all up and down his body, and his spine froze at every tiny stirring as he made his way out of the dark warehouse. But nobody grabbed him; once outside he breathed more freely – they wouldn’t suspect him of overhearing if they saw him outside, would they? – and ran as fast as he could for the mansion house.

Once he got there, though, he slowed down; what, precisely, was he going to do? If he burst into the house babbling about Banging Bertha and, no less, Gjest Baardsen, both meeting in the warehouse – well, yes, if he hadn’t heard it himself he wouldn’t believe it either. He’d be sent to bed without supper for telling lies; or at best would have his hair ruffled and be told not to read so many penny-dreadfuls.

Then again, did he really need to save the master’s money? He couldn’t help but notice that the hero’s reward, in that book, had been a position – a job, in other words, involving presumably hard work. Not, for example, bags of jingling silver money, or even “bearer bonds”, whatever they were. Suppose he instead found Tormod and threatened to reveal the plot unless Tormod paid him – well, how much? Tormod wouldn’t have any money now; if he did he wouldn’t be a butler. And afterwards it would be too late, Tormod would be over the hills with his money and have no need to share with Geir. There was the honour among thieves that Gjest had talked about; but Geir didn’t feel like relying on it, and anyway Tormod wasn’t a thief, he was a dishonest servant. If he could have tried the blackmail trick on Gjest, the famous thief might have kept his word, supposing Geir stayed alive long enough to extract it; but Geir had no way of getting in touch with him.

No, it would have to be loyalty and information-leading-to; the question was how he could make anyone believe him. Perhaps if he left out the names of precisely who he had heard? Yes, he decided, that would work. Mention Gjest Baardsen and everyone would think he had been reading penny-dreadfuls again – well, he had, he admitted to himself; but that wasn’t the point – but if he just said he’d heard thieves plotting to break into the strongroom, that was another matter. The master was deathly afraid of thieves. Even if he didn’t believe Geir, he would put in extra guards just on the principle of the thing; and then Geir would be vindicated when the thieves were captured.

—————————————————

October 7th, 1845
Randale warehouse, Bergen, Norway
An hour after sunset

For a famous thief with a price on his head, Gjest seemed quite calm about being surrounded by armed men; the master, on the other hand, was practically dancing with glee. “We got him!” he kept shouting. “Gjest Baardsen himself!”

“It’s a fair cop, guv,” the thief acknowledged. Now that Geir could actually see the man, he was less formidable than his reputation, and his deep voice in the dark, had made him seem the night before; a quite ordinary man in late middle-age, with grey eyes set far apart and a low forehead. But his stoicism was impressive; he had never been convicted of murder and so might escape the noose, but he could surely expect to be in prison the rest of his life.

“But then, how long was Adam in Paradise?” he quoted, and Geir realised with a shock that no, actually Gjest expected to escape from wherever he was put. He’d done it before; was famous for it, in fact.

“A noose ought to hold,” the master shot back, referring to the line in the song asking what irons and bolts could restrain Gjest; but the threat was weak, and Gjest shrugged it off.

“I’ve done no murder, nor threatened any man, nor offered violence. If I weren’t wanted for theft you wouldn’t even have grounds to do more than run me off your property for trespass.”

The master’s lips drew back from his teeth, an alarming gesture. “Oddly enough, though, the reward for your capture is ‘alive or dead’. I think they make them that way to encourage people to surrender.” He weighed the pistol in his hand, consideringly; Geir was reminded that Randales didn’t sit about in their mansions all their lives counting money. In his youth the master had gone out on the ships himself, as his sons were doing now, and had fought real pirates, not make-believe ones.

“Sir,” one of the guards said, laying a restraining hand on the master’s arm, “that’s murder, and in cold blood at that. You’d hang. He’s not worth it.”

“It’s not murder if he’s trying to escape a lawful arrest,” the master shot back. He looked around, challengingly. “Two men’s witness is all it needs; you can all see him struggling and fighting, can’t you?”

Looking unconcerned, Gjest began whistling, and Geir realised he knew the words, he just hadn’t connected them to the living man in front of him: “Say what you will, and think what you can, and call him a thief and a highway man; this praise he shall have, for it’s rightly his due: He steals from the rich and he gives to the poor.” Suddenly Geir was uncertain; had he done the right thing, informing on Gjest? True, it meant his father’s position, but… perhaps Gjest would have given them some of the money?

The guards were refusing to meet the master’s gaze; they were happy enough to capture a thief, but apparently balked at conniving to murder one, at least when the thief was Gjest Baardsen. But Tormod, who had been looking increasingly green as he saw his life crashing down around him, suddenly burst out: “I’ll do it! He’s struggling and fighting, just as you say! And he threatened me, forced me at gunpoint, to let him in!”

Gjest raised his eyebrows, bemusedly; “That’ll teach me to trust a man in honest employment,” he remarked. The master, though, was grinning fiercely. “Aye, of course. You’ll still be dismissed without reference,” he noted, and Tormod nodded frantically, sealing the implicit bargain. A lie in court, in exchange for no charges being made; dismissal without reference was better than prison and disgrace.

“That’s one, then.” The master needed two witnesses that Gjest had been shot while trying to escape, rather than in cold blood; he looked around thoughtfully, searching for the second witness. His eye fell on Bertha, whom he had been ignoring to this point in his focus on Gjest. “What about you, sweet tits? What are you doing in this company, anyway? Bad girls get spanked, you know.” Then he looked more closely. “I say – ” he gestured for the lamp to be brought closer, and his eyes widened in recognition. “You’re Banging Bertha!” he exclaimed.

“Damn straight,” Bertha answered. “And I daresay I’m not too worried about spankings.” Geir understood what she meant: Unlike Gjest, she had been convicted of violent crimes and thus faced hanging, not imprisonment. He was beginning to feel a bit sick; he’d expected – he didn’t quite know what he had expected, but it wasn’t this calm talk of murder and hangings. He’d saved his father’s job, and the master’s capital, and there was likely a reward in his near future – but he felt sick, all the same.

“Well then, how would you like a petition for clemency?” the master asked.

Bertha looked thoughtful. “It’s a handsome offer,” she admitted. “If it works. I’ve rather a lot of deaths on my conscience, you know; even a consul’s plea for clemency might not be enough to save me from the Nordnes Tree – especially if there’s any suspicion of, hmm, shady dealings.” She straightened her shoulders, as much as she could with two burly men holding her. “No. I’ve killed by accident, and maybe it’s fair I hang for it. I’ve never killed on purpose; and I won’t start by ratting out a comrade to be shot in cold blood.”

“That’s fair dealing,” Gjest remarked. “I owe you one, if we both get out of this.”

“As you said,” she answered. “We’re neither of us two-shilling strong-arm men. Or murderers, either;” this last with a contemptuous toss of her head to indicate the master. Geir was confused; somehow the two thieves who had plotted to ruin half the gentry of Bergen, one of whom was wanted for gunpowder murder, had the moral high ground. After Bertha’s speech, Geir wasn’t at all surprised to see the two burly “boys” Gjest had brought shake their heads mutely when the master looked at them; presumably they weren’t wanted for anything in particular, and would get out of this with at most a fine for trespass.

At last the master’s eye came around to Geir, who stiffened under his regard. “What about you, boy? You’ve done well, helping me capture these thieves. The reward for them both is rightly yours. But I’ll double it if you witness that Gjest is trying to escape.”

Geir swallowed, trying to think. If he refused, would the master turn his father out into the street? That was what he’d been trying to avoid, throughout this Adventure – which he suddenly felt like spelling with a small ‘a’. “How big is the reward?” he temporised.

“For Gjest, twenty-five riksdaler; for Bertha, a full fifty, she being wanted for murder. Total, seventy-five riksdaler.”

“Um – what’s that in shillings?” Geir could actually do the arithmetic in his head, but there wasn’t any harm in looking a bit younger and naiver than he really was. The master smiled.

“Three thousand, six hundred shillings.”

Geir blinked; he had apparently done the arithmetic wrong, for he’d come out with one-tenth of that. His father’s wages were five shillings a week; three thousand six hundred would pay him for… confused, he couldn’t come up with anything better than “a very long time”. And the master was offering to double that?

“Th-that’s a lot of money,” he stuttered.

“Indeed it is,” the master said. “We’re agreed, then?”

The ‘yes’ trembled on Geir’s lips; but he looked at Bertha, who had just refused to save her own life at the price of a lie, and at Gjest, who had joked about helping the poor in a way that suggested that the song might be a bit inaccurate – and at Tormod, who would rat out a comrade to save himself from prison. Gjest was no comrade of Geir’s, in fact he was in some sense an enemy, having plotted to steal the capital that employed Geir’s father and throw them out in the street to starve. But Geir suddenly felt a deep distaste for Tormod, and for this shadowy dealing in false witness and murder. It occurred to him that no penny-dreadful hero would have agreed to lie in court, but that didn’t matter – his decision was made before the thought came to him, and had nothing to do with books. He wanted to be like Gjest, and not like Tormod; and so he said, low, “No, sir.” He swallowed, trying to come up with some justification for his flat refusal, and suddenly remembered a dusty Bible lesson. “Thou shalt not bear false witness. Sir.” He’d never thought religion was good for anything but church, before; but there it was, the explanation he’d been looking for.

“Nor covet thy neighbour’s goods,” the master replied; but it seemed Geir had reached him, for the tension in his shoulders eased. “But no, no, you’re right. We’ll give the law its chance; this isn’t the Gold Coast.” He glared at Gjest. “But make sure you tie that man up tight.”

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Azure Three Bezants: All the True Colours

World map, 1689

Map of the world, 1689.

Crown Princess of Men: Tell that colour!

King of Men: That is the sanguine red of the Wicked Wardenate of the West, sometimes called England; it is the colour of the blood of millions, shed that such a state might live. It is the colour of the hundreds of hearts that are daily torn out of living breasts to ensure that the Sun shall not set on the empire.

CPOM (hides her face): It’s too scary!

KOM: Well, yes. That is the nature of globe-spanning empires run by ruthless optimisers, even if they do have an affable manner until the hammer falls.

CPOM: This colour!

KOM: That is the corrupt rotting purple of Byzantium; it is the colour you get when a fragment of the ancient world lives beyond its time, becoming a shambling mockery of what was once right and glorious. When a world-conquering impulse is hemmed in by stronger peoples surrounding it, and turns on itself in intrigue and backbiting, entirely unlike the healthy democratic debate of the mercantile successor states who have the better claim to the true mantle of Rome.

Queen of Men: It looks more lavender to me.

KOM: It’s only slightly lavender; and anyway, that’s no insult these days.

CPOM: Tell that one.

KOM: It is the weak unmanly pink of Denmark, England’s lapdog. That is the colour you get when the vigorous red of blood fades, in vassalage and servitude, and the warlike heritage of Yngling and Skjoldung thins out to something better suited to adorn a four-year-old’s hair.

CPOM: Can I have a pink butterfly?

KOM: Not right now. You tell this one.

CPOM: Green!

KOM: And such a green! The healthy vibrant green of jungle and rainforest, of fresh-planted fields watered by the annual flood, of growing things and new life! The deep verdant green that covers Africa, the cradle of the race; the fecund green that our earliest ancestors saw beyond the circle of light, when they danced around their fires in worship of the first gods. It is sometimes called the Dark Continent; but they do not say so, who have stood in a rainforest at noon, and seen the sunlight filtered through meters of leaves to make a cathedral of green-lit rays.

CPOM: This tiny one!

KOM: It is not great in extent, that is true; but the brave defiant azure of Venice makes up in gold what it lacks in size. Here is the true successor of Rome; and even in libertarian utopia, Rome cannot be rebuilt in a day. The blue represents the sea; it is the azure of the Mediterranean on a day in early spring, when you see it from the porch of your white summer house in the foothills of the Apennines. Perhaps, as you idly muse on the ships which bring the lifeblood of the Republic to the peninsula, your fingers play with golden coins, as one does; lifting them out of the bowl set on your table, beside the good white wine and the simple meal of bread and meat, and letting them trickle through your fingers, glinting in the sunlight and chiming sweetly against one another. But not, of course, throwing them up in the air and letting them rain down over your head; only the nouveau riche do that sort of thing.

CPOM: Can I play with my piggabank?

KOM: After the colours.

CPOM: Ok, fine! Tell this one.

KOM: That is the menacing steel grey of the Uzbek Khanate; of which little can be said other than that it is not as threatening as it looks. Indeed its armies are positively cuddly once you get to know them. But if we were playing EU2 it would be a threat greater than England.

CPOM: White!

KOM: The pure Aryan white of Peshawar; where the master race is carefully bred and raised in the communal creches, under the guidance of the autistic artificial intelligence from the far future, to have Discipline of 125.

CPOM: This one?

KOM: That is the noble intellectual field-grey of Germany; it denotes a state that needs no flamboyant ornament to show to advantage. The plain grey uniforms that keep watch on the Rhine have conquered to the Volga. It is a simple and Spartan design, contrasting favourably with the baroque – not to say Byzantine – curlicues of other countries; and above all it is cheap. Over an army of a quarter million, that cheapness saves enough money to outfit two additional regiments. This consideration tells you all you need to know about German philosophy. Can you say ‘philosophy’?

CPOM: Phosophy!

KOM: Close enough. You tell this one.

CPOM: Blue! Blue!

KOM: The deep blue called ‘royal’. The blue of the sea at dusk, when one’s thoughts turn – as they do – to dominating all the Pacific, and latching on to its trade in the chokepoint at Malacca and draining it dry, preventing the Indian and European nations from taking their just profit. The colour of a vein very close to the skin, temptingly throbbing with the lifeblood of nations; but if the skin were breached the rich liquid within would run red… the red of England. Best not to think of it; best to be content with one’s station in life, and perhaps write the occasional dekaeptaic poem in which one subtly, allusively, metaphorically, hints that the actual world history in which one finds oneself is not, all things considered, the finest possible world history.

CPOM: Another green?

KOM: The grim dark green of Fandango; the shade that gives India, not Africa, the true claim to be the Dark Continent. The green of silent pine forests, shivering with chemical warfare; the green of mold on bread. The creeping omnipresent colour that underlies the clean purity of Peshawar’s ideology, and bursts out in stench and slime if you dig below its surface.

CPOM: Tell that one.

KOM: The cheerful bright orange of Korea; the colour of comic relief.

CPOM: That one is orange too.

KOM: That’s right; but it is the angry orange of Persia; the orange of rage and madness. It is the colour of loss; of an empire which once reached clear to the Indus, and now is fallen back on the Iranian highlands; the colour of not escalating minor incidents into globe-spanning wars, and losing province upon province as a reward. Moloch laughs when men cooperate in the Prisoner’s Dilemma, for it takes only one defector to make a mockery of reason; and the one who refuses to break silence, the honest thief who suffers his colleague’s betrayal, is made to wear a prison jumpsuit in this shade of orange. For all the twenty years of his sentence.

CPOM: Last one.

KOM: That is Fox, and it is a colour which must not be named; whereof one cannot speak, thereof must one be silent. No one knows what the fox says.

Azure Three Bezants

The Crown Princess of Men does, on occasion, exclaim “Tell that colour!” (although more often “Tell those letters”); all her dialogue is authentic. My replies may have been slightly embellished. Incidentally, being a well-brought-up upper-middle-class child, she does not in fact throw coins up in the air and let them rain down on her head, even when permitted to play with her piggy bank. But I have seen her attempt to swim through them like a dolphin.

In this session I took Ragusa from Byzantium, with some incidental help from the field-gray armies based to my north; the Byzantine navy was, for inscrutable AI reasons (Blayne had been absent last session) composed mainly of galleys, and sank very picturesquely. Obviously, once I had established naval superiority in the Adriatic it was all over for Byzantium, entirely notwithstanding that he caught my armies out of supporting distance of my German auxiliaries and forced me into a strategic retreat behind my fortifications. Only a temporary setback! I now control Ragusa, and thus most of the trade power in one of the nodes that feeds Venice. I also picked up what was left of the Maghreb from the Templar Republic.

Battle of the Gulf of Venice, 1681

The decisive naval battle that broke the power of Byzantium and established Venetian naval superiority in the Adriatic. NB: “Venetian naval superiority” shall not be construed to include any ability to prevent English fleets from going where they like. Side effects may include delusions of grandeur and careless running into immense amounts of heavy ships bearing the White Ensign. Use responsibly; consult your doctor before taking for prolonged periods.

A Face in Africa

So… it’s just my imagination, right, that in player mapmode there seems to be a tortured human face – modulo something nasty growing out of his forehead – outlined by the verdant green of Egypt? Nobody else sees that, right?

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Azure Three Bezants: The Sanity and the People

September 20th, 1655
Kirthar range, Persia
Morning

“March, march, march your men, through the drifts of snow, onemorestep, onemorestep, onemorestep, onemorestep, at least I don’t have to row.”

There were no drifts of snow in these passes; not in late summer. But the chant had gone with the men through Siberia, from the Oxus to the Chosin and back. And on the way it had changed, had grown endless new verses and discarded them, until in the depths of winter someone sang ‘onemorestep’ instead of ‘merrily’ and the whole army took it up; and the chant of onemorestep had carried them from Lake Bajkal and into spring. They would not change it now even for the promise of ships to carry them home to Italy; it belonged to them, to the men who had twice carried their pikes across Asia. Now they were carrying them east, again, for the war was not over after all even though the Uzbek Khanate was out; the English were in, and the Japanese, and for Venetians to fight on the Oxus was no longer a senseless sacrifice.

They were lean and sinewy now, this endless dusty column of men who had once had the stocky muscle of fishermen; who had handled oars and sails, and sung “row, row, row your boat” when they needed a mindless rhyming chant for an endless rhythmic task. They bore their pikes comfortably on the deep calluses on their right shoulders, with hands almost smooth again for lack of saltwater oars to make them rough; and they marched with the easy assurance of men who had done it for a thousand miles, and another thousand, and another. They were veterans, in some sense; each man had stood by his comrades through storm and snow, had joked around fires and shared the last bit of mare’s milk mixed with blood when it was uncertain that the Uzbek tribes would send them another herd. Any fights were long since fought out or smoothed over; if any regiments in the world had ever been knit together by shared hardships, surely these were the ones. And yet Eliezer was uneasy in his heart.

In two years of war they had yet to fight a battle.

There had been blood shed, certainly, on the long march through Siberia; but it had been skirmish, razzia, and raid. Defending the Khanate – and the Venetian supply lines – against marauding Indian cavalry, or subduing tribes nominally subject to the Khagan but susceptible to Indian gold. There had been shots fired and men killed. But they had never set their heels in the dirt to stand against ten thousand men coming to make them move; had never heard the cannon firing three rounds per minute, to conserve barrels and break regiments; had never pushed the pike on a front of a mile to make an army run or die.

But now Peshawar marched across the Kirthar, a hundred thousand strong; and Persia and Venice went to meet them, to throw them back into the valley of the Indus and roll back the border that had crept slowly westward for a hundred years. So the Senate had decreed, and the Doge had called, and men from all over Italy had sailed across the wine-dark waters to fight against angry strangers. Eliezer could lay out the chain of reasoning, in his mind; Persia was an ally, the Indians were rivals for control of the lucrative Indian Ocean trade, the balance of power was shifting in a way unfavourable to Venice’s interests… but in truth, it seemed strange that ten thousand Italians should die for a quarrel on the distant Indus.

He felt a small pressure at the back of his neck, as always when his mind wandered down such a path; with a practiced effort of half-conscious unwill, he flinched away from trying to analyse why they were here and what the Senate hoped to gain. If he didn’t, the tiny warning pressure would grow into a headache, then a migraine that would make every sun-reflecting piece of metal in the army into a dagger stabbing his eyes. Instead he turned to considering whether to offer the Indians battle in a favourable location and hope they accepted, or push the attack himself. Defense rarely won decisions, but the kshatriya were said to be very good… the pressure receded as he juggled the supply line, the dangers of being overawed by reputation, his confidence in his own well-drilled veterans and lack of confidence in his allies. There would be a battle, if not tomorrow, then within the week. That was what mattered; not metaphysical questions about the sanity of the Senate and the Doge.

And besides – if the Senate was mad, what was he going to do about it? There was a war to fight.

Kalat, 1655

Kharan, 1656

Bhakkar, 1657

Zaranj, 1659

Victorious battles of the Indus Delta War. Note the immense casualties on the Veneto-Persian side.

The combined Venetian-Persian army won the battle of Kalat, but at an immense price in blood. Eliezer Aiello never returned to Venice, where he might have overcome his migraines and thought more deeply about the sanity of the Senate. The Indus Delta War ended in defeat, though without the loss of any Venetian territory. Its ultimate purpose remains unclear.

Azure Three Bezants

As prophesied in my previous AAR, my armies did drive the raiding Indians back from Siberia; too late, unfortunately, to save Uzbek, which was driven out of the war with loss of territory. I then made the acquaintance of the exiled-army rules; thinking that I needed to get to allied and belligerent land, I marched to Korea to help out Mark, who was facing a full-dress Indian invasion – and then back again to Venetia-oltre-il-Mare when I learned that no, you actually need to be on your own land to un-exile armies. So I marched across Asia twice, and then back to the Indus to help Persia against the impending attack. (England and Japan, meanwhile, were faffing about in the south of India, doing… something. I’m sure they were doing something because they repeatedly said they were. Obviously they would not tell me they were invading southern India and then not, in fact, invade southern India. The mere fact that they never occupied anything beyond Ceylon cannot controvert this incontrovertible logic.) This is, of course, ridiculous both in terms of what these armies think they are doing, and logistics; EU4’s war model really falls down here. You cannot march a hundred thousand men through Siberia; they’ll starve. But that’s the nature of wargame models, sometimes they give silly results in the service of getting something fun to play most of the time.

For a change, I and the Persian player were able to coordinate tactically, concentrate force to achieve local superiority, and win battles. For a brief, shining moment it looked as though we would enforce a victorious peace; but then Peshawar took heart (and pointed out that the offered terms did not actually settle any of the issues at stake, and we would just have to fight all over again once the truce ran out, which was probably true), and rallied his armies. This enraged my Persian ally to the point where he began to make bad decisions, including slinging insults in chat, which distracted him from tactical maneuvering. Between that, and the Indians optimising very strongly for combat, we won all the battles but lost the war of attrition: We would defeat their armies, force them to withdraw behind their fortresses, and face the same army again six months later with thirty thousand manpower lost. Three rounds of that and we were looking for mountain provinces where we could make stands and slow down the retreat enough for England to pull us out of it. And then the awesome Persian general died and I lost even defending a mountain, and there was nothing to do but exit the war with a massive loss of Persian provinces. I have to say I admire the Indian players’ skill; they fought all their neighbours, plus England and Venice, to a standstill and got out with a gain.

While all this was going on, I was able to achieve the Thalassocracy by judiciously juggling my trade fleets in the Med; yea, even unto Genoa was I briefly the dominant trading power. Which actually lowered my income, of course, since I don’t collect there; but I only needed it for a couple of days to enact the decision. I now possess a humongous trading fleet and a fighting navy that, while nowhere near England’s, is at least within striking distance of the second-tier naval powers’.

Eurasia, 1669

Eurasia, 1669. Peshawar expands into Persia, Byzantium takes some Egyptian provinces and makes a start on recreating the old province of Africa, and Venice subdues the Algerian coastline.

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Azure Three Bezants: Bill of Rites

The chanting was a low mutter in an Egyptian [1] dialect different from any David had heard before; he was fluent in the language, but between the echo off the sweating stone walls and the strange fricatives, this invocation lay maddeningly beyond the edge of comprehensibility. Sometimes three cognates in a row would leap out at him and he would imagine he understood what the chorus was imploring their gods to do; then a particularly rapid series of fricatives would break the illusion, and he would be left with only the monotonous background “ia, ia”.

He swallowed nervously, trying to ignore the chanting and focus on his task. It hadn’t seemed very difficult when Nenet had told him what to do: Walk up to the altar, cut his thumb with the obsidian knife, let three drops of blood fall on each of the five symbols that his eyes couldn’t quite resolve in the flickering torchlight; they seemed vaguely animal-like, but stubbornly refused to come fully into focus. It was different now, in this close temple cellar that retained the humid heat of the day, with too many people breathing in it and the scented smoke from the torches stinging his eyes. He took a stumbling step forward, and almost fell, dizzy from the heat and the disorienting chanting, but steadied himself by biting his cheek, hard. Don’t let them see you sweat, he told himself firmly. That old family saying applied even more strongly to contacts who were brown and insisted on making you go through a silly initiation rite before they would let you buy the choicest goods. Pushing his momentary confusion aside, he walked steadily to the altar and picked up the knife.

He hesitated a moment; the Aiello were brought up with secret rituals that would get them all killed if the outside world knew, but they didn’t involve blood and unintelligible chanting. Usually no blood, he corrected himself; there was the thing on the eighth day after a boy was born… and if the truth were told, David had never been very sharp at Hebrew, either. Still, he took a moment to check whether he was doing anything explicitly forbidden. No eating meat sacrificed to idols, no problem, no meat in sight. No worshipping foreign gods; that was fine, he wasn’t worshipping anyone, just sprinkling some blood. And, of course, he had been promised some very lucrative deals; the alpha and the omega. Decisively, he stabbed at his thumb with the knife.

It was useful, he thought in the few seconds it took to sprinkle the blood, to have a religion which explicitly stated that you were to follow the letter of the law, that the letter was the spirit. A Christian might have had to refrain from this silly native ritual, and the associated money-making, even though there obviously weren’t any actual supernatural beings involved. Just an ancient Egyptian superstition, that was all.

Very ancient, a voice in his head agreed; and for a long, terrible moment the chanting was a vast and inhuman laughter.

[1] That is, Coptic. In this history the displacement of the old Egyptian language by Arabic mysteriously ceased about 1204 AD.

Azure Three Bezants

With colonisation complete, I abandoned the Exploration group in favour of Economics; I also completed Maritime, replacing Global Empire with Grand Navy. My navy is, for the first time, approaching something like its force limit, at the moment a little over 200; I am building a lot of light ships to protect my Mediterranean trade. Further in the interest of my Mediterranean trade, I went to war with the Templar Republic to seize Tunis; with sufficient power in that node I could, in principle, cut off something like one-fourth of the inflowing trade to England’s monopoly in Genoa. In practice this will not in fact work because England owns almost all the territory in Genoa and gets a humongous “trade upstream” power in Tunis, without even considering the English navy; but I didn’t think of that before the war. In any case, Tunis is my clear sphere of interest and looks good in light blue.

My ill deeds come back to haunt me; the province of Girnar, which I gained from the previous war with Peshawar due to peace-rule abuse, is now the cause of renewed war as the Indians return to reclaim their sacred territory. It is, however, a somewhat weaksauce haunting, what with Persia and Uzbek joining to defend me. Currently this war is stalemated on the Persian and Himalayan fronts, where neither side dares attack for fear of being defeated by bad terrain. This has tied up large forces; a small raiding army of Indians has made great inroads on unfortified Siberia, but are about to be driven back by the Venetian Expeditionary Force.

The Jackal continues not to exist. I assure you there are no supernatural entities in this game!

Eurasia, 1650

Eurasia, 1650. Note the vast Fandangese occupation of worthless and unfortified Uzbek provinces in Siberia.

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Azure Three Bezants: Peace in the Middle East, Goodwill to All Beings

Between being sick, having a new son in the house, and my wife being even more sick, I cannot find any narrative inspiration this week; so what follows will be a mere dry recounting of the facts of gameplay and diplomacy, without embellishment or flavour.

The war against the Indians, despite immense battlefield defeats and the treacherous sinking of my glorious navy by the backstabbing English, ended in victory, in that I gained two provinces by abusing our peace rules. The Indians, feeling the weight of English metal on their eastern front, began desperately looking for a way out of the war without great loss; thus they offered me several treaties with tiny territorial gains and vast diplomatic concessions to puff up the score. By this means they intended to cheat England out of its rightful due, since the peace rules forbid taking more than 100% warscore from a player in one war. However, I nobly resisted temptation, and refused five or six of these dubious offers. The seventh included the province I had a mission to take; well, when there are two provinces in the peace offer, that’s entirely different! And besides, the English player had himself told me to take offers if they included land; I was perhaps not thinking entirely straight (I have been fighting a sore throat for a week now and was running a low-grade fever at the time) and neglected to ask him just how much land he was thinking of.

I proceeded to rebuild my navy, take Plutocratic ideas for my fifth group, and annex what was left of Malaysia, unfortunately annoying the Japanese player who had been farming them for colonies. Coastal colonisation is now at an end; no uncolonised provinces remain except inland ones, and a few in Hudson Bay where nobody except Denmark has range, or tolerance for the cold. Speaking of Denmark I am a little annoyed at them suddenly showing up in New Zealand, but I will have to live with that for now. I then returned to my old haunts in Tripoli; as we have failed to find a player for the Templar Republic, its AI protection ended this week and it is fair game. Because of the aforementioned peace rules I only got two provinces; in fact, it is still, I think, a viable player spot, provided of course that people stop tearing at it like vultures if it does acquire a player. If it’s going to be continuously at war with all its neighbours, that’s something else again. But if you’re interested in taking a rather vulnerable and abused country and leading it through great difficulty to glory, give us a call. (Or me a PM, as the case may be.) If we don’t find a player, my plan for next week is to seize Tunis, thus enabling me to get in a “shores of Tripoli” reference in some future AAR. (“Halls of Montezuma” is going to be more difficult.)

All this aside, the main point of interest this week occurred outside the session: I have made peace with Egypt! In particular, I will give up my claims to Kilwa and most of (what’s left of) Venetian East Africa, but will receive the Suez Canal provinces and the most important Zanzibar trade provinces in return. Also, obviously, I will give up my paranoid fantasies about the so-called “Jackal”, and accept Egypt as a normal member of the community of nations. Really now, what was I thinking? Blaming my problems on some sort of mystical, otherworldly entity that coordinates all the people surrounding me to cause me endless difficulty… well, to be honest, it’s kind of classic, isn’t it? But no worries, I’m much better now! Obviously there are no Other entities playing Paradox games; I mean just for one thing, the interface is seriously unsuited to tentacles. (And hands. But tentacles would be even worse.) I feel a lot better now I’m not worried about that any more. And of course, Egypt is a natural ally for Venice anyway, what with not having any ambitions in Italy and having a large army but no navy to speak of. Really, it is time for me to stop waffling about with this silly rivalry and engage some of the truly dangerous Powers in the world, like India.

For interest, I post the text of our treaty:

Thousand-Year Peace

His Pharaonic Majesty, Thutmose, Twenty-Fourth of that Name, the Son of Ra, the Crocodile Who Protects the Nile, He Who Brings the Flood, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, King of Outer Egypt, Overlord of Transjordanian Egypt, Master of Africa, recognising the just claim of the Serene Republic to be the finest hagglers, barterers, and hucksters of the Erythrean Ocean, hereby in His mercy grants to them the provinces of Damietta, Suez, Mombasa, and Zanzibar; to be held by them so long as the floodwaters rise in the Nile.

The Serene Republic, for its part, recognising the intrinsic righteousness of African rule of African lands, cedes, grants, transfers, and renounces its claim to the provinces Quelimane, Tete, and Sena, which henceforth are to be held by the aforesaid Pharaonic Majesty, to have and to hold, to honour and obey, cleaving only unto him, for so long as men engage in truck and barter to better their lot. His Pharaonic Majesty shall also retain an option for improved furnishings in these premises, to be determined later.

In addition, the two High Powers above mentioned agree that there shall be peace between them, that the current borders shall stand, and that their respective merchants shall be granted all privileges in each others’ ports, without fear or favour, to let the best peddler win.

Eurasia 1627

Eurasia, 1627. Notice the glorious green colour spreading west across Africa, in accordance with the manifest destiny of the Egyptian people – clearly it is God’s will that they should rule from sea to shining sea!

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Azure Three Bezants: Mad Dogs and Courts Martial

Federico Morosini (presiding judge): Please state for the record your name and rank.

Abramo Aiello (accused): My name is Abramo Aiello; my permanent rank is Grand Captain. Until last week I was additionally commissioned Ammiraglio dell’Este, commanding the naval forces of the City east of Suez.

Federico: Thank you. Trial counsel may now question the accused.

Girolamo Ziani (trial counsel): What was the position and condition of the fleet under your command, our power and our pride, on the twenty-first of June, 1602?

Abramo: We were then in Basra harbour, refitting after the battle in the Straits of Hormuz. Our strength was thirty-five ships of the line, with supporting elements. We –

Girolamo: Hold. Give the details of the supporting elements.

Abramo: We had twenty frigates, and the supply ships; and enough assorted merchantmen to carry –

Girolamo: I meant their complements. How many men and guns?

Abramo: Something over twenty thousand men, all told. The exact number would vary from day to day. Two thousand, one hundred, and thirty-six guns, not counting the swivels and mankillers – only the serpentines and bigger.

Girolamo: Thank you. And for each gun the State may have paid, let us say, a thousand ducats?

Abramo: Roughly, yes. Taking one with another.

Girolamo: To which we may add so many thousand square yards of sailcloth, at perhaps a ducat the ten square yards; rope and rigging, a ducat for a hundred yards, the timber alone in the hulls –

Federico: I think all here understand that fleets are expensive, counselor. Please come to your point.

Girolamo: Yes, Your Honour. I would like the witness to state for the record the position and condition of this same fleet a week later, on the twenty-eighth of June.

Abramo (looks pained): We were then in port in Basra harbour, refitting. We had eight ships of the line. Eight frigates. Supporting elements in proportion.

Girolamo: And the condition of these few ships?

Abramo: It was… not good.

Girolamo: Would “shot to pieces” be an adequate description?

Abramo: It is not without merit.

Girolamo: Thank you. And this transition, from two thousand guns in fifty-five well-found hulls, to… (consults notes) five hundred guns, not all adequately manned, in sixteen hulls; costing the Serene Republic something on the order of twenty million ducats to replace, not to mention the loss of twelve thousand valuable sailors… this occurred under your command?

Abramo: That is true.

Girolamo: Thank you. Your Honour, the prosecution rests.

Federico: Very well. Defense counsel?

Salomone Aiello (counsel for the defence): Thank you, Your Honour. I would like to point out that, although the prosecution has done a salutary job of establishing the physical facts of the case, which were all known to us and indeed to the whole city, since that’s why we’re here in the first place – they have done nothing towards demonstrating negligence, malice, or cowardice, one of which is required for a conviction.

Girolamo: Your Honour, in this case, I think the physical facts alone suffice to demonstrate active treason, which I notice my learned colleague does not mention as one of the causes to convict; what exactly, besides treason, is supposed to cause such a disastrous loss? Mere negligence would not do it; for my part I absolve the accused entirely of that. On the contrary I believe he has done an excellent and painstaking job for his paymasters; I only wish those paymasters were the Senate and People of the Serene Republic.

Salomone: Indeed, that is what this court is convened to find out. (To the accused) Please describe the events of Signore Ziani’s famous ‘transition’. What exactly happened out there?

Abramo: We sailed… (clears throat) We sailed from Basra on the twenty-second, with the morning tide. We had easterly winds; our mission was to find and destroy the Indian squadron blockading the Strait, and then to maintain our own blockade of Muscat. On the third day we encountered – our scouts reported sails ahead, at least a hundred. We knew the Indians couldn’t be present in such strength; they didn’t have such strength… according to the reports.

Salomone: So what did you do?

Abramo: We beat to battle stations, of course; reports have been known to be incorrect. Then the lookouts reported the ships flew the White Ensign.

Salomone: An allied flag, co-belligerents in the Red Sea War.

Abramo: Precisely.

Salomone: Were you aware, at that time, that England was also at war with the Republic, in the Aleppo Conflict?

Abramo: Yes, we knew. Everyone knew that was pro forma! Of course we had to ‘defend’ our ally; of course we weren’t going to actually fight England.

Salomone: Move that the accused’s words be stricken from the record.

Federico: So ordered. Please confine yourself to answering the questions as asked, and not speculating on the foreign policy of the Republic.

Abramo: Yes, Your Honour. We, ah – did not expect to fight. All things considered in their fullness.

Salomone: Yet you remained at battle stations?

Abramo: Certainly. Why not? It was good training for the crews.

Salomone: What happened then?

Abramo (animatedly): The damn Englishmen shot at us! That admiral, a Shrewsbury – everyone knows there’s madness in the family that runs along with their genius. He’s a mad dog; or he’d been out in the tropical sun too long. He gave us full broadsides! No warning shots, no parley. He meant to have a fight. Against the fleet of an ally, in waters we were both defending against the Indians!

Salomone: But you fought them.

Abramo: Well, they had fired on ships of the Serene Republic; what were we going to do, strike our flags? Anyway, what we were chiefly fighting for was a way out of there and back into a fortified harbour. We were too badly outnumbered to win.

Salomone: And you escaped with sixteen ships; the rest sunk or taken.

Abramo: Yes. And I defy any man here to have done better.

Salomone: Thank you. (To the court) The learned counsel for the trial has kindly dismissed negligence; I think, also, we may discard cowardice and malice. As for treason, our esteemed English allies have disavowed the actions of their admiral, and sent us compensation to the tune of – odd coincidence, this – twenty million ducats, to replace our lost timbers and guns and sailcloth. If this action was part of some diabolical plan, it is a very long con indeed; if it is a plot it would almost have to span centuries. Your Honour, the defense rests.

Abramo Aiello was acquitted of all charges, but never served again in any capacity. He spent the rest of his life drinking his Grand Captain’s half-pay; and when that ran out, cadging drinks in exchange for stories of fighting the Royal Navy in the Strait of Hormuz. By his death in 1632 he was something of an institution in his favourite bar in Santa Croce, although his stories had become increasingly incoherent, with frequent references to “the One behind it all” and claims that “I know what mad dog was in charge that day, don’t I just? But will they listen to me, oh no they won’t.”

Muscat changed hands twice during the Red Sea War; the second time was a shattering defeat for Venice’s armies, sending broken regiments marching for cover behind the fortresses of Damascus and Al Karak.

The Venetian fleet was rebuilt with English money. But it was never the same again.

Azure Three Bezants

I write somewhat hurriedly to meet the deadline of “post before the session starts”; my free time has been a little limited this week, with the birth of the Prince of Men – my second child, the first being the Crown Princess of Men. (He is not, however, “an heir at last”, since my laws are set to Cognatic Gavelkind.) So I will just quickly note that I got into a war with the Indian powers, again; this time together with Egypt (quite unplanned; we were scheming to kill Indians when they very kindly declared war on Egypt and split their armies in two), Japan (subbed by Clone, and the instigator of the anti-Indian plot) and England (who dislikes anyone other than himself building navies). In spite of this seemingly overwhelming superiority, it did not go well. The Indian armies are large and have a brutal 120% discipline, and in Arabia were also operating on interior lines – every time I attacked Muscat they would shift north from their siege lines in Egyptian Aden and beat me back; every time Egypt tried to take advantage they would go right back south and beat him up. You’d think that, with England on-side, it would be relatively easy to acquire and retain naval superiority; instead, the fleet he sent to the Indian Ocean ended up sinking most of mine, because he was simultaneously at war with my ally Persia over Aleppo. (England was a bit annoyed that Persia ended the massive war of last week in a wimpy concession of two provinces; it looked pretty winnable to me, too, and England likes his wars.) Yes, it was my fault for completely forgetting the pro-forma war. No, I’m not going to take the blame when there are all these handy Shrewsburys with the hereditary mad genius around that it can conveniently fall on.

Eurasia, 1604

Eurasia, 1604. Note the new colonial nation of Venetian Australia.

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Azure Three Bezants: Before They Died

Before they died, they lived.
They were born; each of them
brought through the narrow passage
at a price in blood and pain.
Is that not enough, already?
Yet there is more.

How long to raise a child?
Give him each day his daily bread,
drive away the bogeys under the bed,
keep him warm and dry and not too wild.

All the long years, freely given
that he may sail towards the sunrise
– it is our power and our pride –
and leave his bones among angry strangers.

Unexpendable, they were expended
golden bezants thrown in azure seas;
the children of the back streets
made the currency of diplomacy.

Do you feel the waste of it?
They can afford waste,
in the palaces, in the silken rooms;
they have children to spare.
We are not so wealthy,
in the back streets.
We waste nothing;
not even grief.
Not even anger.
There will come a day
– but why speak of it?
Even a mother cannot
think of it always.
Pack it away in salt,
all your work,
all your memories.
Save it against the day
when it is needed.
It is not waste
to store grief
against the future:
Before they died, they lived.

–From Songs of the Weaver Women, by Elisabetta Mare, “Il Povero Poeta”. Not written down in her own lifetime, her poems and songs lived mouth to mouth in the alleys of Venice for a generation before being collected and published in 1631. This blank-verse English translation loses the strong rhyme and meter that enabled them to survive as a purely oral tradition, but retains, unlike more formal versions, the elegiac bitterness of the original. There is a Venetian tradition that two sons of Elisabetta Mare died in the disastrous battle of the Straits of Hormuz; even if it is not true, she surely knew many women who did lose sons and brothers, since there was hardly a family in Venice untouched by the tragedy.

Azure Three Bezants

Last week I reported that we had fought the Egyptians to an attritional standstill, and were advancing inch by inch down the Nile Valley; that we had driven off the Japanese invasion, and sunk half its fleet in the Aegean. It was, I thought, only a question of time before we were in a position to dictate terms, and retake what was lost in the Nile Delta War and the Indian Ocean War. That was before the Indian powers, seeing a kidney conveniently exposed, decided to stick a knife in it. We ended up signing over a lot of Persian territory to opportunistic Peshawar, and accepting white peaces with the Egyptians and Japanese who had been fighting us for twenty years. I don’t think anyone except, presumably, Ragatokk (playing Peshawar) was pleased with this outcome; let that be a lesson for those who think of calling in additional allies in games that have warscore limitations on separate wars.

I had just about rebuilt my army when Peshawar came around for a second helping in the Oxus River War. This time I just gave Egypt the damn province when he threatened me, thus enabling us to concentrate on one front; it looked good, too, until Fandango joined their northern ally. It was then I learned that light ships do actually matter in EU4 naval combat, in that they absorb the damage your heavies deal out, and make it possible to win even when outnumbered in ships of the line. An expensive lesson, 2000 ducats’ worth of ships in the learning; next war I will be better prepared.

The addition of Fandango, however, gave Peshawar little comfort in the end, since it brought in England on our side. England apparently has an agreement with Peshawar, and would not fight their troops; but did agree to crush the Fandangese army and roll back their gains, thus restoring the status quo – basically a stalemate, in other words.

There’s a war in Europe too, Germany trying to take another bite out of the German-Uzbek Demilitarised Zone, and Uzbekistan and Byantium defending their client. I could not follow this in detail, being busy ordering my armies around; but no doubt many thousands of pixel mothers grieve for their pixel sons, and perhaps a province or two has changed masters. Meanwhile the Jackal waits patiently, defended by its deserts; maneuvering its enemies, who do not yet know they are at war with a foe worse than any merely human nation, against each other. Taking a city here, a strategic fortress there. Waiting for the day when its puppets are strong enough to rise against all the world, and proclaim again its rule of the Red Lands and the Black.

Egyptian slaughters

Although the Nile Valley Front was mainly an affair of siegework and trenches, there were occasional spectacular slaughters when the Egyptian army came out to fight. Five-to-one kill ratios with even odds are, indeed, an excellent reason for hiding behind your fortifications; let nobody say the Egyptians don’t know their capabilities and tailor their tactics accordingly.

Persian Battles

Some similar results, if not quite so onesided, in the Oxus River War. Go on, push your invasion through that lot.

Basra 1588

The epic battle of Basra, still ongoing when the session ended.

Eurasia 1588

Eurasia, 1588.

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