A look at some of the crowned heads of Europe, and a few upstart shopkeepers who, unfortunately, have to be included on the grounds that even the stench of trade can be drowned out by enough money. This week: Kings in the North, the Asiatic Menace, and the Empty Quarter.
The Kings in the North
The three Kings of England, Scandinavia, and Bohemia rule the last remnants of the True Faith.
Håvard “den Hellige” MacRaghnall
After a turbulent middle age, the Emperor of the North Sea now sits on a rock-steady throne, which once again unites the fractious Swedes with the jarls of Norway. In his youth, his overweening ambition was well served by his extreme cunning; Håvard is demonstrably not above climbing a mountain of bodies to reach the top. His crowning as Emperor, however, seems to have satisfied his will to power; in his old age, he has demonstrated enough patience, diligence, and even a sense of justice, that his vassals are well enough pleased with his rule. The MacRaghnalls are a long-lived breed; it is not outside the bounds of possibility that he might live to see 1399.
Adam “the Great” d’Plage d’Or
The discerning observer may note a slight family resemblance to Håvard; they are indeed cousins of a sort, through Adam’s descent from Queen Agnes, sister of Gilpatrick. The blood bond, however, is a distant one; firmer are the ties of common interest and common religion. His Britannic Majesty is without doubt the most powerful of the Kings in the North, and his army of longbowmen – by law, every yeoman in England spends two hours at archery practice on Sundays, just after church – are the main thing standing between the True Faith and the armies of heretics and infidels who would like nothing better than to drag us down into Hell with them. There is a reason Adam’s sobriquet is “the Great”; such accolades are not given for having a pleasant singing voice. This man has led his armies on fields where the blood reached the horses to the withers, and emerged victorious; Germany and Poland both know his name. It is true, however, that he is an old man. Britain will greet the new century with a new King; we can only hope that young Edmund can match the deeds of his famous grandfather.
Karloman von Brennenburg
(Image has been lost in the depths of time)
The von Brennenburgs have fallen on hard times; attacked by France in the west and betrayed by Hungary in the west, Karloman has seen his kingdom, which well within living memory was a powerful outpost of Catholicism on the Continent, reduced to an embattled frontier march. A bitter and vengeful man is Karloman, but also old and tired; the struggle merely to reunite the splinters and shards of Bohemia has consumed his life. The crown is his, at last; but the purpose for which he fought, to gain the power of vengeance against Hungary, seems as distant as ever.
The Asiatic Menace
Ruthless self-interest wrapped in hard calculation shrouded in demoniac ambition; these are the qualities required to reach the top of a pit of vipers such as the Russian Republic, and Grand Prince Vseslav – whose nickname is better translated as “the Cunning”; the Russian word also has overtones of cruelty and delight in the suffering of others – possesses them all in spades. It’s true that Vseslav shows a public face of affable generosity; a man who takes a percentage of all the trade that passes the Volga, the Dniepr, and the mouth of the Donau can certainly afford the occasional gift of gold. But this facade should not fool anyone; anyone who crosses him will find that the gifts are suddenly subsidising the armies of his enemies – and that he has far more enemies than he knew. In cases where that’s not sufficient, Vseslav’s vixen wife controls a network of spies and assassins said to stretch from the Bay of Biscay and well into India; many’s the inconvenient competitor or would-be imposer of tariffs whose heir has rapidly reconsidered the wisdom of his father’s policy. Only when all else fails do these lowborn merchants turn to a straightforward clash of arms in honourable battle; but when they do, all the plains of Russia supply them with men and horses.
Vseslav is also noteworthy for his mustache, which he is said to groom using a comb made of human bone and dipped in the blood of virgins.
The Empty Quarter
The sand-foxes of Arabia are ideal subjects for any monarch: They assassinate no tax-gatherers, burn no crops, and demand no rights. The second Aram embodies a similar tradition among the rulers of his Persian domains: It is long and long since any news of Iran was heard in non-Iran. Thus, by imperceptible steps, the phrase “Empty Quarter” has expanded its meaning, from the most uninhabitable part of Arabia to the whole of the Middle East south of Rome. This is the land from which no news comes; for all that Christendie knows to the contrary, Aram might indeed rule only sand-foxes and their prey. Do bats roost in the palaces of Baghdad, and jackals sniff for rabbit through the bejeweled streets? If it is not so, no word of it has reached Edinburgh these long centuries past.
Stay tuned for the next installment, which will cover the Hungarian Horror, the Adfunsid Apostasy, and Restored Rome.