Later, even his own children discounted his story. Even the man who had done more than any other to unify the peninsula; the victor of two Crusades and innumerable Italian skirmishes – even Chiano “the Lionheart” could not make the skeptical fourteenth century see his account as anything but the griping of a commander who had had a bad siege. Men whispered about the hot desert sun, and mirages seen in far-off dunes; men spoke of horses made councillors and obsession with rats in the walls, and noted that even the greatest conquerors must eventually fight with old age, and lose.
Chiano “the Lionheart” Aiello in his elder, sadder days.
Every great family has, somewhere in its dusty cupboards, a formerly-prominent member or two whom it does not care to talk overmuch about – a victorious general with unfortunate political views, perhaps, or given to supporting the wrong side in civil wars; or a workaholic prodigy whose brilliant early years turned into an eternal middle-aged slump; or a scientific genius who turned to alchemy, astrology, and philosophy. Among the many distinguished Aiello, Chiano is surely the foremost example of the genre. The architect of Italian unification; the reconqueror of Tripolitania – the epithet “Lionheart” was not given, in the fourteenth century, for winning quilting competitions; a man who counted among his lesser achievements a building program to far outshine that of Bob “the Builder” of England – such a man might expect to have his memory revered and burnished, to be held up as an example of his family’s genius and courage, to have statues raised, books written, and institutions named in his honour. And probably Chiano did expect all these things; why not?
Then came the Second Crusade, and the siege of Cyrene – and a conspiracy of silence, ever after, among his descendants. No statues of “the Lionheart” grace Venice’s plazas; there is a Chiano Aiello Hospice, but its patron is his grand-nephew of the same name; and although no history of the fourteenth century can wholly avoid so central a figure, only those which take a critical view of him go into any depth. The official Aiello history, a hagiographic work if ever there was one, gives him only three pages – less than any other Doge, even so slight a nonentity as Pietro I, whose main achievement was to empty the family treasury to elect a short-lived successor.
That the siege of Cyrene was a disaster is not in dispute; what is odd is that it should have such an effect on the reputation of a man who had, after all, won three dozen other sieges, and would go on to win another six. Anyone can have an off day; in a splendid military career, one expensive victory ought not to be so decisive. Yet Cyrene is the linchpin; before Cyrene, the primary sources are effusive in their praise; afterwards they are as silent as they can possibly get away with. What made this apparently-insignificant siege of a minor African city so important? The answer lies with the commander on the other side of the wall, Ali Shah Anubid.
The siege of Lost Cyrene. Note the defending commander – Shah Ali himself, Kuipy’s character. Note also the ten-to-one odds of my army versus the garrison, which is about to cause me to order an assault that turns out to be a very bad idea. It did take the city, but my 8k mercenaries were left with 2k and an expected time-to-full-reinforcement of five years. Alas, I also signally failed to capture Ali.
Today, of course, the very name ‘Anubid’ speaks volumes, and immediately redeems Chiano’s reputation. That he fought one of that dynasty is all we need to know; we instantly understand his problems – and the reasons that his entirely calm and rational observations of enemy actions looked, to his uninformed contemporaries, like whining in the face of bad luck. Rats in the grain wagons, an epidemic of heatstrokes, supply ships lost to unseasonal storms – nobody disputed that the siege of Cyrene had more than its share of bad luck, but it takes the knowledgeable eye of hindsight to see the pattern, to understand what unlawful Powers were being called upon and what unearthly bargains stood between Chiano and his victory. The men of the fourteenth century, believing in a benevolent God and a rational universe, saw only excuses for a difficult campaign. They scoffed at Chiano’s factual reports; they traded surreptitious eye-rolls and embarrassed coughs; they tapped their foreheads knowingly and spoke sympathetically of the effects of heatstroke on men over fifty. The Cyrenaican campaign was swept under the rug and forgotten, along with its commander; the immense casualties of the final desperate assault on the walls, when they were mentioned at all, were made into sacrifices to a senile old man’s bloodthirst – entirely ignoring that, in the face of the difficulties of supply, Chiano had the choice of assault or retreat, and that even at immense cost he did gain the victory.
In the Long War – not the Second Crusade, but the war against the Anubids – as in so many others, truth was the first casualty; the real account of the campaign disappeared, surviving only in alchemical hints and competitively-obscure allusions in suppressed fifteenth-century works on the occult. Only in the twentieth century did scholars at Miskatonic laboriously piece together what the Anubid Shah had been doing; and that was, of course, far too late. By then the world was long familiar with the gnawing rats that somehow swarmed over only one army’s grain; the terrible storms from clear skies that never struck Egyptian fleets; familiar, above all, with the dreadful pinprick hemorrhages that affect those who linger too long near the vessel of the Jackal. The “heatstrokes” that crippled Chiano’s army of Slavic mercenaries were, as we now know, nothing of the kind, but genuine mini-strokes caused by blood vessels in the brain bursting; and Chiano’s “senility” and madness – the latter is not in scare quotes because, as we know to our cost, it is all too real – can be traced to the same cause. In this light, accounts of Shah Ali, clad in purple and gold and bearing a jackal-headed staff, appearing daily on the walls of Cyrene to cast defiance at the besiegers, take on a much more sinister aspect than that of a general encouraging his army.
With today’s knowledge, we can rescue Chiano from his undeserved obscurity, and hold him up as an early warrior in, and casualty of, the Long War. Cyrene broke his army; faced with the need to either retreat or escalade, Chiano chose attack. His hungry, ragged men followed him over the walls, but the cost was immense; fully half the veterans that had fought for Venice through the First Crusade and the Unification Wars died in the assault and in the ensuing street-battle-cum-massacre. Even after the walls were lost, the Cyrene garrison and citizen militia fought house-to-house, with the usual army-shattering effects; and Chiano’s men, goaded to utter fury by the hardships of the siege and by the stubborn (today we can say with confidence, the unnaturally stubborn) resistance, killed until their sword arms grew tired and blood splashed the sandstone houses to a man’s height. There is a reason the city is called “Lost” Cyrene; the once-important trading center is now a fishing village, huddling in the shadow of the cyclopean walls its shrunken population can no longer maintain.
A closer look at Shah Ali; note the Possession by powers it is best not to contemplate, not to mention the Evil Mustache. Fimconte should absolutely make him Grand Vizier in accordance with his ambition; a more perfect specimen it is hard to imagine. The CK interface is unfortunately not very suited to showing the difference between actual humans with free will, and camouflaging shells surrounding daemonic things squatting where there used to be souls. If left to his own devices, Ali might have been a kindly and gentle man, and hardly impaled anyone at all.
Mercenaries are expendable, and so are enemy civilians; Venice raised new armies and continued the Second Crusade. Chiano went home, to a decade of slow madness and listening to the rats gnawing at the walls of reality. The other survivors of the assault probably suffered equally, but the sources do not speak of their pain; no conspiracies of silence are needed to mask the madness of common soldiers. As for Shah Ali, he disappeared from Cyrene on the morning of the assault; in spite of intensive searches, no secret tunnels or other natural escape routes were ever found – but then, this can hardly surprise anyone today. His victims, on both sides, were probably not too surprised either; it has taken centuries for official chroniclers to admit the uncanny in writing, but those close to the Jackal’s vessels have always known the truth.
Such was the first meeting of the two Alpha dynasties of the Mediterranean world, Aiello and Anubid; it was not to be the last.
From Early Skirmishes in the Long War,
Dr William Wilcox,
Miskatonic University Press, (C) 1989.
So I may have slightly underestimated the size of army I needed to take a city by assault; turns out ten-to-one odds isn’t such a great rule of thumb when most of your army is light infantry. Nonetheless, since all the Caliphate’s armies are busy fighting the Second Crusade up and down the delta of the Nile, things worked out and it seems likely I’ll be able to exit the war with my loot. Capturing Kuipy’s character would have been interesting, but not necessary to the slow accumulation of warscore.
Unorganised Italy is no more; other than the Pope – and a Pope who does not hold Rome is only another bishop – everything is now held by players. This is also true of the rest of the map, with only a few tiny holdouts. Blobbification complete; from here on, expansion is zero-sum. Negotiations are however underway to unite Italy under my rule.
Just a side note: The husband is Lunatic, the wife is Possessed. What a team, eh?
Gains and losses in Italy and the Balkans are mainly the results of diplomatic deals; there will likely be more to come. The exception is Capua. Currently engaged in a holy war for Cyrenaica, but the future African borders are a bit up in the air.