I started over as a five-province Count in the Urals. In the best tribal style I was at war for essentially the entire session, ending as Duke (titular ‘King’) of Volga Bulgaria, with thirteen provinces total. All dirt-poor steppe ones, to be sure, but a nice quick expansion. It did not all go my way, though: Single-province Narim at one point managed to conjure 9000 men out of thin air, plus of course its 183 levies. The doomstack then rapidly attrited down to about 2000 – which was still too many for me to deal with, unless I wanted to blow 500 prestige on one damn province. I exited that war with a WP, and went west to the Volga instead. There I ran into my first eastern player conflict: Kodalem, ruling most of modern Finland and largish bits of historical Novgorod, apparently fancies himself protector of the Suomenusko faith. I was informed that any further raids of Suomenusko temples would be met by retaliation. Naturally I immediately switched to county conquest, but this apparently wasn’t acceptable either; a raiding stack of 2500 men (a vast host!) promptly appeared in my western domains. I fear that Steps will have to be Taken; as a Norse player, it is my duty to make the world safe for rape, pillage, and plunder. Being forbidden to raid Just Won’t Do; what would my loyal warriors do all day? Drink mead and plot against my rule? No, no! It is intolerable; it shall not stand!
Near the end of the session m’liege decided he wanted my province of Ural, which I naturally resisted. In retrospect I should have given it to him; even if I win the war I’ll be at truce with him, and I want to DOW him for the Khanate at some point. Now I’ll have to wait for him to die or the truce to expire. However, spilt milk; in any case, the two mountain provinces are the heart of my domain and I’m reluctant to give them up even for good tactical reasons.
My AAR for today, however, cares for none of these things; it tells of the beginning of Ogier’s journey, in which – as is clear in the screenie – he learns many things. Most notably, how to trim a mustache so it’s actually cool, not the silly thin frippery he sported in Iberia.
December 15th, 815
Fortress atop Clarus Mons, Auvergne
“Fine. I’ll give you a straight answer, then, since you insist. No. It cannot be done.”
Ogier flinched; he had been expecting it, had forced the issue precisely so that he wouldn’t have to waste more time on half-promises and delays – but it was still a blow, to hear his sister tell him “No” straight out, without prevarication. All the old arguments rose to his lips, but he choked them down; Argilo had heard them, and had not been convinced. There was nothing to be gained by going over that old ground again, when she had committed herself – and her touchy pride in ruling a country without formal title, when her brother had lost his power and her sisters had married theirs – to the denial.
“I thought it would take a miracle,” he said instead, softly and a little bitterly. “A miracle indeed, to make the fractious thrones and powers of Christendie unite against a common enemy. What does it matter that the infidel is at the gates, fifty thousand strong?” But that led down the road of argument, again, and he checked himself. “But we are none of us saints, in these latter days; and so there will be no miracle. No army of Christian paladins; no reconquest.”
Argilo pressed her lips together, perhaps likewise swallowing argument; they’d been arguing for weeks, and it was hard to break the habit of trying to make the other see. “I’m not the only ruler in Christendie,” she pointed out. “Perhaps the miracle will come, only not here.” She hesitated. “Which brings up the question – where will you go next? Unless you stay here,” she amended hastily. “You know you are welcome to stay however long you like.” You and your hundred men, went unsaid, whom I can rely on if any Frankish lord decides to take exception to a woman’s rule. He shook his head slightly; he wasn’t going to become his sister’s strong-arm man – he, who had been a war-leader of Asturias!
“England,” he said shortly.
Argilo raised an eyebrow. “Not Bourbon?”
“Riciberga cannot decide in her own right to support me, she must convince her husband. And the Duke will be just as worried about the situation here as you are, and as unwilling to get involved in foreign adventures when he has threatening wars at home. No. In England there are no great wars impending, and many young men who might be glad of a righteous fight in foreign lands.”
“Ye-es,” Argilo said doubtfully. “That’s what I would do, too, if I wanted the best chance of gathering an army. But you say yourself, to unite Christendom against the Saracen can’t be done the usual way; you need a miracle. And that may come just as well in Riciberga’s court as in England.”
“That’s true,” Ogier agreed. “But then, a miracle can also come just as well in an empty field, or in a trackless forest, or atop a barren mountain, or for that matter sitting here and arguing with you for the next five years. By that logic, it doesn’t matter where I go.”
Argilo flinched slightly at his mention of arguing with her for five years; did she intend to suggest he do precisely that, thus keeping his fighting men where they could serve her purposes? He reminded himself again that it might have been her green eyes that attracted the attention of that dead Frankish Duke, whatever-his-name-had-been, but they weren’t why she now ruled lands wider than what their father had held.
“Quite so,” she said, shrugging. “Then why not stay here? Perhaps the miracle will come tomorrow, and I’ll pain a red cross on my bodice and lead my army south under your command, eh?”
Ogier smiled thinly. “No, sister mine. I think it would need more than a mere miracle, to take you away from these lands you hold. The Holy Spirit itself, I think, would have some difficulty moving you.”
That was insult, and Argilo realised it; her lips thinned. “Fortunate, then,” she said coldly, “that the Holy Spirit, at this present moment, is not very obviously favouring your cause.”
Or yours, Ogier wanted to fling at her. It wasn’t without cause, after all, that Argilo worried about sending fighting men out of her duchy, and regarded a mere hundred soldiers, if their captain was reliable, as an important addition to her rule. But there was no gain in an open quarrel; there was always the chance that he would come back this way another time, at the head of an army, and want his sister’s support.
“I’ll not quarrel with you,” he said instead; he was aware that his tone was absurdly formal, but that was better than hot anger and words that couldn’t be forgiven. “We had too much of that in Asturias, even when the infidel was at the gate. That’s what did for us, as much as their armies. I’ll be on my way tomorrow.”
“Yes,” Argilo said. “Perhaps that would be best.”
It occurred to Ogier that she sounded slightly relieved, and with a jolt it struck him: Argilo thought a hundred soldiers with a reliable captain would be a valuable support for her rule – but did Ogier have to be reliable, just because he was her brother? A hundred men were nothing against this castle, if it was stoutly held – but they were already inside the walls, and a palace coup was a different matter entirely from an open battle. A brother had some claim to inherit, under Frankish law; if he gave out that she had gone mad, or decided to take vows, and he held the strongest castle in Auvergne…
Then he remembered a young girl who had asked her elder brother for help climbing an apple tree, and smuggled him two of the apples when their father sent him to bed without dinner; and was ashamed. That was an ill deed he had just thought of; no luck could come of it… and although being a ruler in this France on the verge of civil war was not nothing, still, it wasn’t the same as returning in triumph to drive the Moor from his own sun-drenched Iberia, where olives grew. There would be no miracle for a man who did such a thing; nothing but this one duchy, for all his life, and the knowledge that whoever looked at him would see a man willing to betray his own sister for power. He squared his shoulders; he was a beggar in his sister’s court, but he needn’t become a thief, for all that.
And besides – he met his sister’s green eyes again; after all they were come a long way from their father’s apple orchard. Was this a woman who would take a hundred men into her castle, even if her brother did command them, without knowing what to do should they prove treacherous? He thought not.
“Tomorrow,” he repeated, and Argilo nodded.
“You’ll go with my good wishes,” she said. “Worth their weight in silver.”