December on the Adriatic, and grey sky matches grey water, clouding men’s minds. There is hunger in the streets of Venice now, and even for the Milice the ration is shortened – and lentils and oatmeal, though they keep body and soul together, are not an inspiring meal after a long night’s watch. There is a dragging fatigue in the city, a weariness with the siege and the war, manifesting in a hundred little ways. Spears and eyelids droop, sometimes, when dawn approaches and no officer is near. Men no longer volunteer to attack the enemy-held islands, and the patrician officers wisely do not press the issue; it has been months since the last time the Africans were driven out of a place they had taken. Most telling of all, perhaps, the phrase “when the Doge comes” is rarely heard, now; instead men speak – with longing in their voices – of “when the war is over”. In these words there is no assumption of victory. Wars end when one party sues for peace.
It is fortunate for the Venetians, then, that the Africans, also, are initiates in the mystery of death, and that even the tallest among them do not reach seven feet. It is not easy to supply, by requisition and looting, a large army in the middle of winter – even from the fertile delta of the Po, whose fortresses are still held against the invader; nor by shipping grain from distant Africa across a contested Mediterranean. The Africans, too, feel the dragging fatigue of not quite enough food, with not quite the right nutrients; they are content to sit in the established lines and allow time to do their work. A single strong push might overcome the weakened defenders – but from the outside this is not obvious, and first impressions are strong. In their minds, at least, the invaders are still fighting the strong Venice of summer, when every foothold was met by a furious counterattack and every tenement was bitterly contested. In any case, it is winter, when sensible armies go into quarters and await the proper campaigning season.
There are good and strong reasons for armies, sensible and otherwise, to do so. But the siege of Venice is a naval campaign; and navies can, at need, maneuver in winter. The African command, whose experience is in fighting Berber tribes in the vast desert interior, has forgotten that, or never knew it. That is why they do not keep a string of scouting galleys watching southwards; that is why they are surprised – and in their surprise, fail to quickly marshal their men – when the sails of Pietro’s fleet rise over the horizon. That is why the enormous trebuchets in the Forte di Sant’ Andrea, firing the famous “siege hail” of mixed incendiaries and rocks, get off only a single shot, and why it falls short. Above all, when the Italian levies have landed on Lido and bogged down in house-to-house fighting – the canals play no favourites – surprise is the reason that, when the Aiello tenant militia comes boiling out of its tenements and back streets and falls on the African rear, there is for long minutes no coordinated response.
It is sometimes possible, in a sufficiently confused battle, for soldiers to rescue what their commanders have fumbled. The Africans fight tenaciously, with the bravery of men who know their backs are to the sea. They stop the initial assault. An organised response, gathering unengaged men to attack Italian-held blocks one by one and reduce them, might have driven off the relieving army; and then, surely, a demoralised Venice would surrender. But the Castillian officers take minutes upon minutes even to realise that they are under attack; still more precious time is lost in recrimination and reconnoiter. Meanwhile their soldiers fight a hundred tiny battles, each tenement holding or falling as its individual fortunes dictate; those units not yet under attack count themselves fortunate, and though they stand to their spears they do not move to the sound of the swords.
That is a mistake, and one that unsurprised officers, men in control of the situation, would correct. But as it is, even brave men have their breaking point; when the Africans in the fighting line find themselves under attack from two sides and without reinforcements from their comrades, they reach theirs. One by one the hard-held tenements and blocks surrender; a great hole is driven in the African occupation of Lido. By the time the Castillian command wakens to its situation, and attempts to make its soldiers fight as an army, it is too late.
The Doge has returned to his city.
I apologise for the uninspired prose above; it seems the sum of excitement in the game and flow in my writing are constant. What with four different wars, assassinations, rebellions, and generally speaking what I can only think is the corrupting influence of the Hound on Western civilisation, this session was surely a low point for my writing.
Guerrilla resistance, fifteenth century style! I wouldn’t usually take notice of these random events, which aren’t powerful enough to affect the course of the war, but getting four of them in one war is a bit unusual in my experience. Especially when one of them was actually tactically important, landing on the Venetian siege stack just before I attacked it. That battle was a damn close-run thing, for all I know the event was actually decisive!
The African war for Tripolitania ended in a draw. As shown in last week’s screenshot, Dragoon had reduced his stack besieging Venice to 10k so that he could invade Tripoli. Gathering all my Italian levies and what was left of my retinue, I had 14k. Not the best odds against that 50% morale penalty; however, the people of Venice waged a fierce guerrilla resistance in the invader, to the point that I felt morally obliged to support them with my regular army. So I landed in Venezia and raised the House Aiello levy a day after the battle started; for some reason my personal levies start with 100% morale while mercenaries start with 0. If it were the other way around it would have been a much shorter battle.
The relief of Venice, in dry Crusader Kings numbers. Notice that the Venetian army has commanders. It’s still an unusually bloody battle.
And by the grace of God, the Lion of St Mark was victorious, and the invader was driven into the sea, and perished there by drowning. With Venice free, I of course immediately raised the largest mercenary stack I could find and went looking for vengeance. However, Dragoon was on his toes, and whenever I was about to attack him his army would disappear into its boats; as we all know, prior to 1444 ships were still protected by the fading power of Poseidon, God of the Sea, and could not be attacked. So I was unable to bring about a decisive battle. I did retake enough of Tripolitania that for two shining days we had 100% warscore; alas, Jacob was not fast enough on the trigger to end the war before Dragoon’s assault succeeded and took us back down to 50% by removing the ticking warscore. He then raised his own mercenary army, and for a while we traded cities back and forth; then we noticed that the warscore wasn’t changing any more, but remained stuck at 2% no matter what we did – even a rehost didn’t help. We therefore ended the war in a white peace. But I think the moral victory was mine, to come back from such a situation against a superior player; and apparently the game engine agreed. I am told that at some point in the stuck-at-two-percent period, Dragoon had occupied enough places that he should have had 100% warscore; if so, the very spirit of Crusader Kings revolted against the mere dry numbers, and imposed justice in Europe.
Well, justice in the Med, at any rate. During the war Fivoin had offered to send fifty thousand fierce and long-bearded Norsemen to our aid; in exchange he wanted only the Danish-cultured province of Holstein. We did not accept this kind offer; naturally, therefore, he attacked Jacob as soon as the previous war ended. Denmark against Germany would not usually be a fair match; but Jacob was in some internal trouble due to a bad king. Still, when I marched north across the Alps to help him out, the numbers looked reasonable to me. That’s when Baron joined the war in support of his vassal, and Dragoon did the same for revenge. However, for reasons I haven’t learned (presumably game mechanical?), they did not simply join the Danish De-Jure War for Lubeck as allies. Instead they started their own separate wars, each of them digging out some obscure claimant to minor corners of Germany. Hence we were treated to the spectacle of Greater Britannia mobilising fifty thousand men (that is, putting forth about one-third of its full strength) in the Britannian War for Baron Whoever’s Claim on Obscuritania. Which, obviously, ended inconclusively a few months later in the death of Baron Whoever; I mean, hello, what were you expecting? At this point Jacob was being subbed by Khan, notoriously deadly with a blade. But heck, even I managed to think of that one, and I got one of the four claimants who died this way before Baron and Dragoon realised that it wasn’t going to happen. Baron tried it on with an Embargo war, which is why he is currently playing a sixteen-year-old queen (admittedly Strong and Genius, so maybe he’s not too sad about it); and Dragoon is now fighting the African War for House Aiello, which seems bugged to me, but what do I know?
War and rumours of wars, assassinations, and the breakdown of Christian civilisation into a cauldron of suspicious little principalities, fighting each other and looking over their shoulders for the brother’s hand wielding a knife… it is hard not to see the work of the Hound in all this. But then, just because someone is out to get you doesn’t mean you’re not paranoid.
Central Med, 1424.