I lost the war, and my position in northern Iberia became untenable; I did as I’ve done before, and moved elsewhere on the CK map.
Well comrades, I’ve been here before;
I know this fate, I’ve fought this war.
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I’ve seen your flag on a marble arch;
Crusade is not a victory march.
It’s a cold, and it’s a broken, hallelujah.
What is man, that he should accuse his Maker? All things are accomplished according to the will of God. In this year of Grace 800, it is His will that darkness should cover Iberia, and the flaming cross, the sign that conquers, be seen no more south of the Pyrenees. Let the Franks look to their defenses. As for the Visigoths, they are gone, irrevocably passed into history with the Hispani they conquered. The mountain passes were not held; the hill forts and walled cities are fallen. For some time to come there will be war in Iberia – little war, guerrilla war, the scattered resistance of men too incensed by infidel rule to weigh the odds coolly. But it will fade into banditry, and then into nothingness; between the Pillars of Hercules and the Brecha de Rolando there is now no state to defend the right.
So it is; God appoints our going up and our going down. But for those who survive the battlefield, life goes on, even in defeat. It is a dark time for Christendie; but still, the Sun shines in the summer, and the clover smells sweet. We are told not to put our trust in princes, and indeed the princes have failed us; we are told that the rock of our church will prevail against the gates of hell – and this, at any rate, remains to be seen; but where princes and nations and faiths have failed, family remains. We are no longer lords or leaders of men, rulers of wide lands; but we remain fathers, brothers, uncles, heads of our little households. And we would not see our sons grow to manhood under a foreign yoke; we do not want our daughters forced to wear the veil. Our children have always borne their heads high, as is right for the freeborn; we would not see them bow every time a horseman of the conquerors passes by. Better, far better, to eat the bitter bread of exile; leave the sun-drenched south, the smiling lands of grape and olive, to those whose spears have won them. We will go north, or east; somewhere cold, where grey clouds cover the sun and it is dark half the year, but our children can breathe free.
May 15th, 814
Viscaya, Dar al’Harb
“It’s over, Rekkaredo. The Visigoth kingdom is done for; it’s just a question of whether we take the turban or not.”
Ogier’s half-brother pressed his lips together, but did not gainsay the pronouncement; he had led men against the infidel, too.
“Two-thirds,” he said, grimly. That was the carrot the Saracens dangled, to make the landowners – the men of consequence and wealth – convert. The conquered could keep their religion, certainly, after all Christians were people of the Book and Jesus had been a prophet… and for that reason, the ones who stayed faithful could keep one-third of their lands. But those who converted got to keep two thirds. That was the difference, often enough, between a farmer and a smallholder who had to work on others’ land to make ends meet; or, in the other direction, between being a farmer, and a cavalier who could afford mount and blade, and ride to war with the host. For a man of Rekkaredo’s wealth – or Ogier’s – it was different; even one-third of the holdings of a province war-leader would make an immense estate. But there was a difference between being the largest landowner in the province, and being its highest nobleman, with the power of high and low justice.
“Damnation,” Ogier replied. That was the other thing; how much land was eternal life worth? Or eternal hellfire?
“Well, yes, but…” Rekkaredo looked away, out over the fields that his Hispani peons worked. “Maybe they are right, the infidels. We weren’t there, were we, when Jesus rose from the grave? If he did. The priests weren’t there either. And – they won. Doesn’t God give victory to the faithful? So if the infidels get the victory…”
“They haven’t won everywhere,” Ogier said, though he felt the force of the argument; he suppressed a deep shudder while his testicles tried to crawl into his torso. He had fought the infidel all his adult life, since his father had given him Durendal when he was seventeen and ridden off into captivity. He’d led men in good campaigns and bad, on stricken fields where scores lay dead at close of day, in sieges where hundreds died of wasting sickness… and what if he’d done all that, for the wrong side?
“You think the Franks can hold them?” Rekkaredo sneered. The cowardice of the Franks was an article of faith in Christian Iberia – fifty thousand fighting men, as the saying went, and every one of them with a damn good reason to stay north of the Pyrenees.
“They can if God wills it,” Ogier said softly. “But I’m not going to wait that long for proof, one way or the other.”
“No? What then?” Rekkaredo spoke absently, like a man who has already made up his own mind and is only asking about his brother from politeness.
“I’m leaving,” Ogier said. That got Rekkaredo’s attention; his head snapped around.
“Leaving? But – where can you go?”
Ogier shrugged. “North? East? We’re not without friends in the world. Riciberga married that Frankish Dux. Leodegundis -”
“Yes, yes, she is `Queen’ of a kingdom you can ride across in a day,” Rekkaredo interjected.
“And her husband still has more fighting men than our king can call up, after Santiago,” Ogier pointed out. “And Argilo, well, it’s not for her pretty green eyes that she has a place at the high table in Auvergne – it wasn’t even when her husband was alive. She might have the most actual power of all three, for all she has no title.”
Argilo; note the Intrigue which makes her the best candidate for Spymaster in a Frankish court. Her husband may not quite have thought it through… but then, what can you expect from a Frank?
Rekkaredo’s mouth twisted. “So you’ll go begging the courts of Europe, hoping the women in our family have more balls than the men? Hoping their husbands have more men and gold than our catamite of a king, and will use them to keep their marriage beds warm? You’ll go without me, then.” He kicked moodily at the parapet of the tower they stood on, a relic from Roman times; it had watched against mountaineer raids from the Basque country, once. Now it was the core of Rekkaredo’s fortified manor house; it was a place for desperate last stands, where a man who was good with his hands could defend his family when all else was lost, long enough for besiegers to run out of food and go home. But the infidel wouldn’t run out; at Salamanca they’d had trains of oxen bringing food for three thousand men from as far south as Toledo. A three-story watchtower, even one built in stone, wouldn’t impress the conquerors of walled cities.
“Yes, I know,” Ogier said, not too sadly. Rekkaredo was his brother, and blood was thicker than water… but, staying as a guest in his house this half year, he had been reminded why he’d been glad that Rekkaredo had gotten far-off Visacaya from their father’s estate. “You’ll give me all your gold, though, and horses, swords, men – all your portable wealth.”
Rekkaredo looked at him as one looks at a madman, then shook his head. “No doubt you’ve got a reason for me to do that?”
“And in exchange you’ll get title to all my lands,” Ogier clarified. Rekkaredo frowned, uncertainly.
“Didn’t Guttier steal your…” he trailed off, beginning to see.
“Indeed he did, after Santiago, when the infidel seized the crown lands,” Ogier agreed, outwardly calm, though he still felt the core of icy rage that had formed in him when the King’s marshal, with three hundred men behind him – most of the royal army, by then – had told him that his lands now belonged to Guttier, to support the King his war on the infidel. “But that transaction appears on no land-ledger; no twelve men witnessed it, no bishop laid his seal on the wax.”
Rekkaredo was grinning, now, the black-humoured teeth-baring of a man seeing an artistic vengeance for an ill deed. “And so when I show up with your witnessed mark on parchment with the bishop’s seal, making over the titles to your closest relative in exchange for good and valuable considerations…”
“Guttier’s squatter’s rights won’t be worth a pile of spit,” Ogier finished the thought. “They say possession in nine parts of the law; but Guttier doesn’t have possession, he has three hundred men… and the infidel has three thousand. And give the Saracens this, at least: They respect the law, and the written word. And they don’t like our catamite king any more than we do. I think there might be quite a few Moors smiling in their beards, when they piously inquire in the land-ledger who owns those farms, who has the rent of the villages. Letting us judge our own matters by our own law, as they’ve promised.”
Rekkaredo broke out into open laughter, from the belly, perhaps the first time he’d really laughed since word of Salamanca reached them and it was clear that all hope was ended. “And since he didn’t give submission after they beat him, but fought on – with your estates – he has no right by their law to the crown lands they took. He’ll be left a pauper!”
“Oh, perhaps not,” Ogier said blandly. “I hear some of the Moors like a bit of variety in their harems. I think there’s a place for him, in the new order.”
After a minute Rekkaredo’s roaring laughter stopped, and he looked soberly at his brother. “I can’t give you anything like a fair price for those titles – not even for two-thirds of them. There’s not that much gold in all of Viscaya. Not in all Iberia.”
“Yes, I know.” Ogier shrugged. “Stolen goods are never sold at a loss – especially when you’re not the thief. After all the scheme isn’t certain. And – I’ll be going begging, true, to the courts of Europe; but I won’t go a pauper, nor alone. The captain of a hundred soldiers, with horses to mount them and good swords, he’s a man of consequence anywhere. I’ll take sheep, too, and oxen; and cloth, grain, wine, oil – anything we can move in those ships in your harbour.”
“The core of an army,” Rekkaredo nodded. “Perhaps – perhaps it can be done. If you come back at the head of fifty thousand fighting Franks…”
“Blood is thicker than water,” Ogier agreed. “And the Christ forgives men their sins; he’ll surely forgive a turban.”
“I won’t be the only one,” Rekkaredo said, abstracted. “Pelagius didn’t have any more than a hundred men at Covadonga; and he built a kingdom from the rising that followed his victory.”
“Pricing the unhatched egg,” Ogier said gently. “It’s a gamble; a test, if you will. It won’t work without a miracle.”
Rekkaredo smiled. “And so, if it does work…”
“We’ll have our proof.”