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.
April 12th, 1145
Laguna Veneta, underwater
There was a spoor of blood in the water, and the shark followed it. There was no deliberation in it, not even in the dim way that a shark can be said to think. The instinct had been honed since the Paleozoic; to follow blood was to eat, to live, to breed. The message went from the receptors in the nose straight to the fins, and the chief predator of the lagoon moved sleekly through the murk, towards the scent of vulnerable prey.
The shark’s attention, such as it was, focused on the stirrings and scatterings of the smaller fish out of its path. Let one come close enough, and the brain would override the pure instinct that drove the powerful body; the jaws would snap left or right, and another little fish would join the uncounted millions that had sustained the Earth’s oldest phenotype in its long survival. But none did, and there was a faint shadow of disappointment in the shark’s mind as the scent of blood became so strong that the prey had to be near. Then the spear descended through its spine, and for a brief moment there was surprise, and something that might have been called indignation. Instincts evolved through four hundred million years were useless now, and worse than useless; for there had been no spears, in the ancestral environment. In the flash of a mere thousand generations, something had changed; and there was a new chief predator in the lagoon of Venice.
April 12th, 1145
A boat in the Laguna Veneta
“Eh, it’s a shark. No wonder we’re not getting any fish.”
“This one won’t be eating any more of our dinners,” Salomone pointed out.
“That’s true,” Benedetto said. “But we won’t be eating it, either – nobody’s that hungry. Throw it back in; maybe it’ll attract something edible.”
“Hang on; Eliezer will pay for shark balls.” Salomone reached for his gutting knife. It wasn’t meant for shark skin, and he’d have to sharpen it when he got back on shore; but money was money. Besides, as Benedetto had said, there weren’t any fish to use it on.
“If he has any money left,” Benedetto said doubtfully. “Or do you think he’s learned to turn lead into gold yet?”
Salomone shrugged. “He thinks he can cure old age, or anyway that he can convince a customer that he can cure old age, which is almost as good. Sharks live forever, apparently, so they’re good for youth elixirs.”
“That one didn’t,” Benedetto pointed out.
“Unless someone kills them,” Salomone amended. “Anyway, what’s it to you, if Eliezer pays me? I don’t see you doing any of the work.” The tough sharkskin resisted his knife powerfully; he cursed as his hand slipped, abrading his arm, then gritted his teeth against the instant sting from the salt water. Annoyed, he sawed the knife down towards the shark’s head, slitting it open. Perhaps he could convince Eliezer that the liver and heart were worth as much as the balls; and the guts would work better as bait if he flung them out separately.
“I’m still getting the smell,” Benedetto grumbled, but he returned his attention to the water. Salomone had to admit he had a point about the smell, but it wouldn’t get any better if he stopped, so he drew his knife down to the head with a small grunt of effort. He’d opened the intestines, he saw; the sharkskin had resisted him almost to the limit of his strength, and limited his usual fine control over where his knife went. Grimacing, he reached in and pulled them out anyway; there was no use in being squeamish at this point. He pulled out a long, glistening strand of intestine, leaking shit and blood, and was about to chuck it in the water when something metallic clinked.
Sharks would eat anything, including belt buckles, earrings, and whatever other metals their victims might be wearing – but the clink had not sounded like any metal Salomone was familiar with. It had a sweet ring, not the flat harshness of iron or the cheap clangor of brass, not the shallow clash of tin, not even the pleasant tingling of silver against silver. It sounded like – Salomone spotted the obstruction, the place where the intestine bulged around something the shark had eaten, and chopped. The intestine parted easily, and a leather purse, slimy with shark juices, dropped onto the little boat’s deck; its contents rang out again, a sweet forlorn sound of wealth abandoned and alone.
Like all their family, Benedetto had a finely-tuned ear for the sound of money; now he turned like a shark’s head snapping prey out of the water, while Salomone incredulously grabbed the purse and shook three coins out onto his hand. They were tiny, the size of his thumbnail; but they shone in the sunlight with the unmistakable richness of pure gold. Bezants, the ancient currency of Constantine and Justinian; no Arab imitation or diluted Frankish fakery, but the true coinage of lost Rome. They lay heavy in Salomone’s hand, with a weight far beyond their three ounces – and it would be exactly three ounces, he knew; no shaved edges or impure alloys here.
“Gold,” Benedetto whispered; his eyes shone. “We’re rich.” Salomone’s head snapped around.
“We?” he said mildly. “Each gets his own catch, that was our deal this morning; your boat, I row – and each his own. And you wanted to throw the shark out of the boat.”
Benedetto’s jaw clenched, and his grip tightened on his fishing spear. Salomone shifted his stance, unsubtly, making a fist around the bezants and moving his left hand to guard his right, which still held the gutting knife – blunted, now, but quite good enough for merely human skin and guts. Benedetto was a year older, taller, broader in the shoulders; his arms weren’t tired from rowing, and he had a spear that gave him the reach over Salomone’s knife. But something he saw in Salomone’s eyes made him hesitate; and hesitating, he was lost. After a few seconds he realised that he could not make the decision to kill, not over money – and that it would be to the death, if it came to a fight, for Salomone could. His shoulders slumped, slightly, and he loosened his grip on the spear.
“Fair enough,” he said. “Each his own. And you’ll row us back.”
Salomone’s lips twitched; that was vengeance, of sorts, since Benedetto usually rowed the return stretch – but it was fair enough. “I’ll row,” he agreed.
The killing tension leaked out of the air, and Benedetto cocked his head in curiosity. “What are you going to buy, then, with your catch? You won’t need Eliezer’s money now.”
Salomone opened his left hand again, to look at the coins; still there, still gold. Three ounces of the pure metal was wealth, not only as the back-streets of Venice counted money, but a significant sum even in the better districts. Three bezants could feed the extended family for a year; or buy a house, or a real fishing boat that could go out into the deep water, or two sets of clothes for everyone down to Salomone’s youngest brother… Salomone smiled grimly. And then what? The year would be over soon enough, and then they’d again go hungry once a week. Clothes wore out. A house, it was true, would save them rent; but such a show of wealth would bring in distant relatives from as far as Alexandria, and what they gained in rent they’d lose in feeding additional mouths. A fishing boat was better; a boat was a productive asset. But then Salomone would have to work it himself, and what did he know about deep-sea fishing? And it was a chancy livelihood, though better than the odd bits of dock-work and loading that sustained his father; even in the sheltered Adriatic, storms killed men every year.
“Buy?” he said, as though the idea was new. “No, no. I’ll sell my shark to Eliezer, and he’ll pay me in coppers; and I’ll buy food with that. Gold is not for buying. I’m going to invest.”
You’ll note that the above occurs rather before the start of the game in 1204; Salomone is the father of my starting character Abramo. I’ll be posting backstory for a couple of sessions. However, so as not to have my narrative AARs be completely disconnected from game events, this time around I’m also going to have a section of ingame reporting after the narratives; and here it is.
I am playing the patrician family Aiello of the Serene Republic of Venice. In accordance with our custom game setup, I started with three counties – specifically Treviso, Istria, Aquileia – but not as Doge; and I had only two trade posts, neither of which dominated its local trade zone. I was, therefore, unusually poor as merchant families go, though relatively rich in levies.
Venice and surrounding realms, summer 1204.
Looking around the Adriatic, however, there were no very obvious opportunities for me to use these levies; almost everything was held by powerful empires, or else I had no useful CB. I therefore fought only three minor wars in the initial stages of the game:
- I made the independent republic of Ferrara a tributary.
- After getting a claim, I conquered the free city Ancona.
- I seized a trade post of the rival family Ziani; it was one of five surrounding the Cilician Sea, south of Turkey. Of these five trade posts, each was held by a different Venetian family, meaning none of them had the trade zone! By taking the Ziani post, I got a plurality and thus had my first trade zone.
Abramo Aiello in 1214; not yet Doge, but already a scarred veteran and a leader of men.
I also built a few new trade posts in the Levant, and thus created a connected trade zone of four provinces, considerably increasing my income. That was just as well, for the AI now apparently will actually use gold to get elected Doge. In the election of 1208, when Abramo was 20, I had no chance against men of 60 and didn’t waste my ducats; but in 1216 Abramo was 28, and also had considerable prestige. Nonetheless it took me 800 ducats to get him elected, and it was touch-and-go at that – several times I checked the Republic panel and found that the dang Morosini had put in another 50 and edged ahead of me again. But in the end my pockets were deeper than the AI’s.
As it turned out, 1216 wasn’t a good time to be elected Doge; Venice was at war with Serbia over our city of Veglia (in the province Dubrovnik) and with Sicily over Malta, and was losing both wars. I therefore immediately raised the Aiello levies and a mercenary company, and sailed south to the Serbian coast, defeating the Serbian army and retaking Veglia; a white peace was signed a few days later. I could have held out for the surrender, but time pressed – the Sicilian warscore was in the negative eighties, and King Frederick was getting ticking warscore from holding Malta, and besieging Crete. I therefore sent my army – a vast host, more than five thousand men – to Malta and retook it, happily beating off several piecemeal attempts by the AI at landing a relieving force – apparently the election AI has been improved but the invade-an-island AI is still very bad. With most of Frederick’s army gone, and his sister rising in revolt for the throne (his sister, incidentally, is married to Emperor Bob of England, whose nickname should obviously have been “the Builder”), it was easy to rescue Crete. The end of the session intervened, but a few days after the next one opens I will crush his last army and impose a full surrender, following which no less than two claimants will fight it out for Frederick’s throne – in addition to his sister, there’s a southern Duke. My money is on the character who is married to a human player, but who knows? The RNG giveth, the RNG taketh away.
So I am Doge in my thirties, I have established who is boss of the Adriatic (incidentally, Serbia has also gotten into a civil war; moral: Don’t mess with Venice), and I have a good income from trade. So good, in fact, that people seem to see me as Rich Uncle Pennybags in person; three separate people have asked me for “loans”. All are worthy causes, but while my pockets are deep they are not infinite; some triage will have to happen.
My immediate goal is to strengthen my grip on the Adriatic, and to expand my trade in the Levant. In the end, all wealth comes from the sea.