Category Archives: God of Our Fathers

Dominion of the Dreki: The Dutch in the Medway

I’m beginning to think I should have suggested “England’s on the Anvil” for the naming theme of this game, rather than “Recessional”. Kipling’s telling phrase, “little bits of kingdoms cannot stand against their foes”, keeps recurring to me as I write these AARs; a splendid description of the blobbing phase of a megacampaign, in which those players not lucky or skilled enough to grow big are ground out of existence. Unfortunately it applies just as much to republics.

England’s being hammered, hammered, hammered into one; but not by me. Rather, I’m the iron clanging from the Severn to the Tyne. However, before getting into that, a recap of relevant geopolitical events on the Continent. Oddman, playing Frisia, had more-or-less united Charlemagne’s empire, from the Oder to the Bay of Biscay, with bits missing in the south where Fimconte as Iberia had taken a bite. He had two fairly powerful player vassals in Synario and Alexei, Bavaria and Aquitaine respectively. He had several times fought against Fimconte, attempting to contain Muslim Spain south of the Pyrenees. Now, however, he turned this longstanding foreign policy on a dime. (Well, perhaps not on a dime – no doubt there were lengthy negotiations of spheres of influence.) When Fimconte DOWed for some land that belonged to Alexei, Oddman promptly surrendered; he then vassalised Fimconte, revoked Alexei’s capital, imprisoned Synario, and handily won the resulting revolt. Where there had been two polities with four players, there was now a single united empire stretching from Gibraltar to the aforementioned Oder, with two players in it. Fimconte then went independent again, taking the south of France with him. Then both of them (and separately an AI vassal of oddman’s) declared holy wars on me.

There wasn’t any question of fighting two humans that individually outnumbered me two to one; I surrendered promptly so as to retain my army for the fight against that vassal. But it’s clear that this is a stopgap measure at best; truce timers end, and oddman’s character could keel over any moment. (Indeed, I feel confident that the RNG will cause him to die at the worst possible time for the English Resistance; why should the lifespans suddenly become convenient now?) Unless, then, a diplomatic revolution occurs, it appears that I will be taking the Dreki back to Scandinavia whence they came. Admittedly, going into exile and plotting revenge for the next millennium is kind of my thing in these games, but I was hoping to avoid a second iteration. Besides, Scandinavia is full of snow and Ynglings, and dignobbit, I’ve played that position already. Three times. But needs must when the Dutchman drives; with our house rules, it would be very difficult for anyone else to come to my aid. Without a good claim, the best that could be done by any of oddman’s neighbours – who in any case have their own problems – would be to declare holy war for a duchy; and quite apart from his possible ability to just fight on two fronts, oddman could simply surrender, beat me senseless, and return to the Continent later on.

It seems that Kipling will have all sorts of applications in this game; but then, history is long, and empires rise and fall. This week it is “The Dutch in the Medway”. Next month, who knows? Perhaps “Cities and Thrones and Powers” will be the poem of the day.

If wars were won by feasting,
Or victory by song,
Or safety found in sleeping sound,
How England would be strong!
But honour and dominion
Are not maintained so.
They’re only got by sword and shot.
And this the Dutchmen know.

Some maps:

England, 910

England, 910. The green blight is in Wales; incidentally, Fimconte has converted his family to Welsh culture, presumably for the archery tactic. The whole of England-south-of-Thames is in Dutch hands.

Western Europe, 910

Western Europe. Note Iberian gains in southern France, where Aquitaine used to be; presumably the quid pro quo for oddman’s adding England to his domains. Note also that the Roman Empire no longer rules Italy.

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Dominion of the Dreki: Gameplay 889-898

The path of the righteous continues to be strewn with thorns. In particular, the RNG seems to have it in for me with respect to lifespans: My good Genius character died in prison, while m’liege – an idiot in all respects except for his damnable Intrigue score, which incidentally is completely unrelated to why I was in prison – goes on and on like the damn Duracell rabbit. (Perhaps I date myself; do CK players still catch that reference? If you don’t, just substitute “like a thing that goes on for a very long time”, and then get off my lawn.) He outlasted my next head of household as well, not that this was a great loss, and looks like he’s settling in to reach his eightieth birthday. Or perhaps he’ll keel over just the day after my current head dies, leaving me bereft of the Respect I need to get elected and without time to pump up the election fund.

My three Fylkirs this session: Kjartan, Starkard, and the current incumbent Kol; and their common liege. Why, oh why, can the RNG not see that this deadwood needs to go, and let the fresh new shoots reach the lifegiving sun?

That is as the RNG wills; I have, actually, larger problems. As I prophecied last session, the powers of Europe have begun to take an interest in this strategically located island with the many good harbours. Little bits of kingdoms – in this case, the petty-kingdoms of England-south-of-Thames, namely Essex, East Anglia, and Hwicce – cannot stand against their foes; unfortunately I wasn’t the foe in question. The Mussulman is at the gates! No doubt Fimconte plans to dominate the entire western seaboard of Europe, taking the entire colonisation game for himself. True, he’ll have to subdue a powerful Frisia to take the French coast, but he’s got four hundred years of CK to do so; why not pick up England while it’s cheap?

The evolution was rapid. Here is England in 889; all is quiet except for the usual state of quasi-civil war. (That is to say, I’m very polite about picking up Lincoln; everyone else behaves like football hooligans. Not a civil war in the sense of being internal to a polity.)

891, and the green blight is far inland: Fimconte’s doomstack of 5000 (a vast host, by island standards) has hammered East Anglia and Hwicce into submission, though Hwicce survives by dint of having more than one Duchy available. The invasion continues into the Welsh mountains; my stack of a little more than 4k is about to intervene.

894. My intervention did not go well. Fimconte pulled another 3k warriors out of nowhere (he’d moved his capital to England in the interim; perhaps they were mercenaries), his liege the Caliph sent another doomstack of 8k, and I suspect that with even numbers I’d still have lost, just not as badly – Spain being more technologically advanced than England. There was nothing for it but to end the war and watch Fimconte absorb his gains.

On Wenlock edge the Norse are troubled;
his bearded flank the Serk-king heaves…

My bearded enemy, the Serk-king!

896. Oddman has decided to absorb those bits of England that Fimconte didn’t get to, to keep them out of Muslim hands. Yay for the balance of power. It’s more amusing when someone else is the apple of contention. Note also the colour change; Fimconte, getting wind of a Christian coalition forming to invade Iberia, strategically switched his allegiance to another player, over in Egypt. Taking on the AI Umayyads is one thing, even if they have a powerful human vassal (in fact, Fimconte was about 80% of Spain by this point); taking on a human Egypt is something else entirely. The coalition dissolved. “To defeat your enemy without combat is the acme of skill.”

898, and England is neatly divided into three parts: Norse pagan, Frisian Christian, and Iberian Moslem.

I did manage to expand a bit, using take-county CBs on my neighbouring Christians. This does lead to quickly hitting my demesne limits; I was handing out baronies like candy, and getting so desperate for adult courtiers that at one point I gave one to an Yngling. As Fivoin pointed out, not giving land to that dynasty is Scandinavian Governance 101; but needs must when the devil drives. In any case I got a fair return, for he taught wisdom to the Fylkir Kjartan, and now all the Dreki know an ancient rune-song, handed down from Frey, the ancestor of the Yngling line. It does not translate well into the vernacular, losing all its magic power for calling vengeance-spirits down onto the heads of those who have wronged you; this is just as well, since why should I give away secrets of power? But the sense of it, without magic, is clear enough: It is intolerable. It shall not stand.

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Dominion of the Dreki: Gameplay 874-889

It turns out that the elections of the Grand Principality of Denmark are not honest ones, in the following sense: They don’t stay bought.

Obviously, I made it a bit of a priority to get elected; the blobs are coalescing all over Europe, and we shall not see them splintered again in this game. All over Europe, that is, except in the Isles and Scandinavia – partly because these areas are poor, and partly (I assume) because of a slight reluctance to enter another player’s clear sphere of interest, and thus create an enemy. But such forbearance is not to be relied upon for any long run. Sooner or later someone will decide that they have a use for these poverty-stricken tribal provinces, even if I don’t. Indeed, zilcho (subbing Finland) tried it on even this session, with a Holy War for Trøndelag; the AI surprised us both by handling him rather roughly. Still, the omen is clear for those with the wisdom to read it.

Refil Storr

Grand Prince Refil at the beginning of the session. Time presses…

I therefore delayed my conquest of York. At the beginning of the session I was 12 and Grand Prince Refil was 62. So, if I got lucky for the four years I needed to become electable, Refil would be 66 and could keel over any day; I needed to have a good reserve for a huge campaign fund, to overcome the 2000-point disadvantage of being 16 in a republic full of fifty-year-old patricians. No money, therefore, for the mercenaries I’d need to take York. Instead I amused myself with chasing tiny AI armies, losers in the five minor wars m’liege got himself into, across England-south-of-Thames. I also looked about for participants in my eugenics program; there seems to be a great lack of Genius, Germanic women of a reasonable age. My plan for this generation is just to pump out kids from whatever half-acceptable women I can, so to speak, lay hands on; one of them ought to be a Genius who can be designated heir. The rest will form the basis of a Norse-Germanic population explosion, drastically increasing the pool of candidates for back-breeding in the next two generations; the more women, the more likely that randomness will operate in my favour. Also, when we are sufficiently many and hungry, we will have a moral right to take away others’ lands to feed our children; and we will then be possessed of a very large and hungry army.

Kjartan Bjardsson

Kjartan Bjardsson as a hungry young man.

Eugenics aside, then, I did basically nothing for four years; but once I reached my majority, I sprang into action! To wit, I Ctrl-clicked the “add to campaign fund” button no less than four times! Which wasn’t sufficient; at this point the leading candidate had Respect of over three thousand. So I unclicked it – no prizes for second best, and therefore no point in buying the election until I could actually win – and picked Intrigue as my focus. This did at least give me the opportunity to repeatedly click the “No, I’m sure he’s up to something” option – action at last! This excitement aside, though, it remained the case that my full treasury wouldn’t suffice to win. And while Refil had lived to be 78 (!) in a single-player test game, still, the RNG had to be sharpening its scythe for him.

Election 874

Insufficient money; does not elect.

Increasingly desperate, I appealed for loans, and Khan, very kindly, sent me a gift, a favour which shall not be forgotten. With this money I could bring up my campaign fund north of 600 ducats, and become expected successor. Just in the nick of time, too; Refil died mere months after I finally had the money. Aaaand the second-highest Respect was elected. Again.

I admit to finding this a bit annoying. Since the electorate had disappointed me, I decided to dissolve it and appoint a new one, by making the Midlands a personal Dreki fief, starting with York. This went well: Little bits of kingdoms cannot stand against enough money to hire mercenaries. This, at least, worked; I now hold York and Derby, and Lincoln will fall shortly. Added bonus: Handing out the baronies to the adult-male Dreki drastically cut my expenses.

Election 889

The current election status.

I enter the next session, then, embittered but hopeful: I have what seems like a commanding lead in the next election, I have a Genius son by a concubine, and my Genius wife is pregnant. And, between me and the AI, the little kingdoms of England are looking pretty tattered and moth-eaten; if the Grand Prince would just do me the favour of dying at a reasonable age, it’s not entirely unreasonable to hope for English unification before the century is out.

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Dominion of the Dreki: Gameplay 862-874

The path of the righteous is strewn with thorns, and their portion is care and toil; but the unrighteous prosper in the fallen world. Consequently, you can easily tell from this session’s events who is righteous among the players – to wit, me – and who isn’t – basically everyone else, with the possible exception of Sebokan (playing Austergotland).

In 862 I was, I admit, somewhat impatient for m’liege, the esteemed Grand Prince Ofeig, to die so I could take over and show the world how to run a pagan trade republic; I had therefore picked the Intrigue focus for the Spy On perma-plot. That didn’t work out; the Grand Prince learned about my spying and flung me in the dungeon, where I promptly picked up a case of the crazies – but no matter, that turned out the least of my troubles. A merchant prince worthy of the title, of course, always keeps an emergency fund on hand for these little contretemps that spice up the life of truck and barter, so I just headed over to the Diplo screen to ransom myself. That’s when I learned that my uncle, Starkad, was

a) my Regent and
b) my Rival.

Uncle Starkad. Not stupid, by any means; but his defection from the Dreki family to anywhere else on the planet would, as the saying goes, improve both averages.

Also that the Regent is given veto power over ransoms, including your own ransom. I opine that this would not pass a twentyfirst-century conflict-of-interests review; in fact it doesn’t even pass tenth-century conflict-of-interests review, in that one of the acknowledged duties of vassals was to contribute to their liege’s ransom. Although in fairness I should note that Starkad is not actually my vassal, merely my kinsman and a partner in the family business. In any case, this difficulty held up my plans for some time, until I realised that Starkad, being an AI, was both smart enough to be bribed and stupid enough to be bribed into freeing someone whose imprisonment he had deliberately lengthened. One gift, one honorary title, and one appointment as Seer later, I was free, and pissed. (Also mad in the literal-ish sense of having the Lunatic trait.) Nonetheless, the thought of that 40-opinion tyranny penalty gave me pause. I decided to get my revenge more obliquely: I cut Starkad out of my will by making my son the Designated Heir. This had the additional desirable consequence of bypassing a pretty average-type human and putting in a Genius instead; eugenics for the win. It was, nonetheless, a somewhat risky play, in that my son was four years old and not eligible for the Dogeship if I died. But pff, I was only 35 myself; what are the odds, right?

My son and heir. Not yet adult, and yet I see there are several players who would like to have these stats for their rulers.

While I’d been in prison, the AI had surprised me by actually doing something useful: It waged Holy Wars for Vestlandet and Småland, winning both. This incidentally brought Denmark into conflict with Sebokan, playing the two-province petty kingdom of Austergotland. Pitched battles were naturally out of the question, although I did briefly entertain the notion of giving Sebokan enough money to hire a large mercenary army that might have managed to kill Ofeig. Turns out the Regent has veto power over gifts, too, and apparently Starkad’s bad traits included some primitive notion of loyalty to the polity over the family. The upshot of which is, Sebokan, if I see you raiding my provinces again I’ll make an absolute point of parking my army on top of your capital. Asymmetric warfare only works if your target has political constraints on his retaliation; I don’t have a bunch of liberals preventing me from reinstating the good old custom of inscribing the Blood Eagle on the offender’s body, family, cattle, pets, relatives out to the fifth degree of consanguinity, and random visitors.

Bjard at something close to the height of his powers, though not yet a Godslayer. The eugenics program is something of a success.

Ofeig did eventually die of natural causes, and I was duly elected Grand Prince. A momentary paralysis delayed what should have been my immediate attack on a preselected enemy: There were just so many possible targets! Hwicce, and retake Bristol? But Hwicce was in the throes of rebellion, and Bristol was occupied by them; who knows what the game mechanics would do. Essex, and a rematch for London? But Essex is allied to half of England. Powys, and wipe out the festering sore of resistance in the Welsh mountains? Then again, who needs a bunch of unruly sheep-shaggers for subjects? I finally settled on Northumbria, with wealthy York as my target; but the AI was faster. (The Singularity, incidentally, is near.) Essex declared war for Kent; crushing them and their allies took me two years. While this was going on I got the Chtulhu event chain and acquired the Godslayer trait, and began to think about ascending into godhood myself.

Situation in England in 872: Somewhat chaotic.

I contented myself, however, with declaring war on Northumbria, and was halfway through the required siege of York when the RNG, jealous of all possible rivals, cut me down in the prime of life. Leaving my 10-year-old son, unelectable to the Grand Princedom, as head of House Dreki… and his great-uncle Starkad as Regent. At least this time we are not rivals, and Starkad seems to have mellowed in his old age; he actually approved my suggestions for educating the Dreki children. But I face another lengthy wait before I command resources beyond those of the Dreki family. The path of the righteous…

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Dominion of the Dreki: Gameplay 849-862

New playing position, new name for the AAR: The Matter of Spain is at an end, The Dominion of the Dreki begins. I have been here – that is, Northern Europe, bordering the North Sea – before; the Ynglings of the Great Game and the MacRaghnalls of God Will Know His Own were both North Sea powers, and the Ynglings of There Will Be War spent most of their EU3 time fighting over England. So the playing style, if I survive, will be familiar; I admit to some concern that the AARs may also, um, have a certain ring of familiarity to them. There’s a reason I wrote, in the first post of Children of the Fatherland, “It is a thrice-told tale”, and moved myself south to Rome. It didn’t work out that well for game success, but at least the AAR was fresh! Also, why I wanted to play Spain in the first place; or Russia. C’est le jeu; I will make the best of it.

That said: I had ideas for how to write a Crusading kingdom in Iberia; I had ideas for how to write a Cossack-ish Norse tribal based in the Urals; but this week I find myself a bit short on narrative. So for the time being, my plan is to do gameplay reports until I have a feeling for this new dynasty, and inspiration for writing them.

Casting your minds back to the distant depths of December 2014, before our catastrophic save-bloat problems were fixed by the leet Python skillz of Oddman, you may recall that Vaniver left me with rather a nice position: Doge, Fylkir, quite a bit of cash, trading posts and vassals from Denmark to Ireland. Also, my heir was the expected winner of the election; that was the part that didn’t work out. The RNG giveth, the RNG taketh away; the infrequent second-guy-wins roll happened and I was left as Fylkir and ruler of two counties, plus my family palace and trade posts.

The new AI ruler of Denmark, naturally, instantly got into a disastrous series of wars:

  • Fraticelli Revolt: Fought in southern England and Ireland. Eventually crushed by my very expensive mercenaries holding them off long enough for the AI to get its act, and troops, together.
  • Denmark Revolt: Most of England-south-of-Thames. Not actually a problem, since they were hostile to the Fraticelli; it was just a question of sieging their provinces back. Didn’t do our levies any good, though. Additionally, my Genius character who was first in line to inherit the Dogeship died in a battle against them.
  • Powys: Another thing about being an AI with massive revolt issues, every jumped-up Welsh tribelet with more than two cousins to call on thinks they can take advantage and get their de-jure stuff back. My retinue was enough to show these guys what-for.
  • Essex: Tried for Kent. Allied to most of the other petty English kingdoms.
  • Norway: Wanted Agder back. Once I had dealt with the Fraticelli for it, the AI shipped its army across to Scandinavia to deal with this one-county challenge, plus the Second Danish Revolt in Skåne. Five thousand troops trying to fight in Norway in winter, three winters in a row. Now, admittedly they did finally convince the stubborn Norse to give up their claim. However, they left England, much wealthier, essentially defenseless against raiders, and also against:
  • Second Fraticelli Revolt: Which was successful, and created a Catholic kingdom covering most of England-south-of-Thames, including Bristol. In fact it’s probably the most powerful feudal entity in the Isles.


This is what happens when you elect a non-Dreki as Doge, you nitwits.

Well! At least this should be a most salutary lesson for the idiot Danish electorate. As the saying goes, they got the government they deserved, and they got it good and hard. Naturally, the one thing grand prince Ofeig proved adept at was detecting assassination plots, hence my little stint in jail. But he saw my point of view, to wit, “can’t blame a man for trying”, and also he needed the ransom money to pay his armies. It could also be that he felt a bit odd, imprisoning the one vassal who was actually doing something effective about the dang Fraticelli.

Election 862

It really shouldn’t be this expensive to bribe a bunch of filthy jumped-up peasants.

My agenda for the eight-sixties, then, is firstly to win the dang election, and let’s hope it is not long delayed; since I’m about thirty, and my competition is north of sixty, that 2x term in (x+1)^2 is hitting my campaign score with 70 points a year. Second, once the right family is in charge of this place, to recover England-south-of-Thames, show the Essexians who is boss, and demonstrate to the Norwegians that raiding does not pay.

Little bits of kingdoms cannot stand against their foes: England-south-of-Thames is mostly Wicked – excuse me, Hwicce. London and area is Essex; north of that, East Anglia. York is Northumbria, the middle kingdom is Mercia, the blue in the far north is Lothian, and the Welsh mountains still hold an independent Powys. All shall be hammered into one!

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The Errolaniad: Long Ships and Long Years

Clarifying note on names: My original character, Ogier, was named for the paladin who appears in the Matter of France, Ogier le Danois – a close friend of his father Roland. When I moved to Russia I Russified the name, as opposed to Frenchifying it, and he became Oleg. The original, in both cases, is the Danish Holger, as in Holger Danske, who sleeps beneath Kronborg Castle awaiting the hour of Denmark’s greatest need. Since this installment deals with events in Norse-speaking regions, I use this original. Thus Holger here, Ogier from last week’s narrative, and Oleg from last week’s screenie are all one person.

My steppe game went rather badly. True, the session started well when I defeated the Khan’s bid to take over my province of Ural, in the process capturing enough chieftains to make myself wealthy. Shortly after the peace, the Khan died, and I was poised to begin my war for the crown against his successor. First, however, I wanted to deal with the attack by the tribe of Sibir, of roughly equal strength in levies; “I’ll just crush this AI Duke”, I said to myself, “then it’ll be the Khan’s turn”. Then Kodalem invaded me with 5000 men, and a holy war for Volga Bulgaria, roughly half my lands.

With my tribal army, a mercenary band, and some judicious maneuvering I was able to turn back this invasion, and send my doomstack back west to deal with Sibir. At this point my oldest son (with the high Martial skill) came back from the Varangian Guard with a slight case of the deads; Oleg was assassinated; and shortly thereafter his son Oliver was also assassinated. (In hindsight, I should probably have replaced the spymaster after the first one.) This left a 3-year-old boy in charge of my domains, and my doomstack. Which was when Kodalem brought the second wave of his invasion, this time with no more Mr Gentle Savage: 15000 men and a 30% attrition rate. Aaand I ran out of money, leaving me with no army. Naturally, both wars concluded in my disfavour in short order.

This is not necessarily irrecoverable; it is the nature of tribal domains to be easy come, easy go. (And, hey, I managed to convert Ural to Norse/Germanic!) However, with Vaniver retiring and offering me his emperor-level republic slot, not surrounded by three more powerful domains, with Reformed Germanic and the British Isles location that was my first choice – yeah, sod this for a game of Cossacks. That does mean giving up on the Rolandoviches and de Errolans, although they are not extinct and for all I know may end up ruling Khazaria; if someone wants to take them over, they’ll have a friend in the Isles. So, this is probably our last narrative glimpse of the ex-Spanish dynasty, explaining how they came to go east to the Volga.


May 20th, 817
Þinghæð (Meeting Hill), near Bristol (OTL Brandon Hill)

“We sent you gold, ships, men. All gone, spent on mercenaries that deserted, scattered by storms, dead in foreign fields leaving their women to grieve. And that was when you held the mountain passes. Now you come a beggar to England, and ask for more?”

It was all true, and Holger had no answer; he would not win here by reasoned argument, any more than he had been able to convince his sisters. Instead, he drew his sword – slowly, so as not to startle any of the heavily-armed, experienced fighting men around him – and thrust it into the turf.

“This,” he said softly, forcing men to lean forward to hear, “is my father’s sword, and his father’s before him: Roland’s sword, who served that Charles whom men call the Great. It is called Durendal, the Sword That Endures. It was forged by Wayland Smith to be a terror to the enemies of God; an angel brought it to Charlemagne, and within its hilt lies a tooth of Saint Peter, so that any who falls while wielding it will infallibly enter Heaven. With this sword I have fought the Saracen on a hundred fields. I will fight on a hundred more, if that is what it takes to drive the infidel from my homeland; for like my father’s sword, I endure. Wasted gold, lost ships, fallen comrades; these are all ill things. I ask you to endure them, for the sake of your Saviour that endured the Cross. Who’ll come with me, to raise that cross in foreign lands, and win a place in Heaven?”

There was silence on the Meeting Hill; men looked at each other, shuffling their feet. The Christian faith was new in these lands; the elders had become men by sacrificing a dog or a horse – in a few cases, a man – to the Allfather. They had publicly taken the faith of the White Christ for the sake of peace with their neighbours; but they did not feel His sacrifice for them, as they had felt the crawling awe of the Thunderer passing overhead. But the younger men – that was where Holger placed his hopes; the ones who had been baptised as children, who had been taught all their lives of the love of God. They were the ones who might decide to return that love, the ones who believed as a child believes what his father tells him. He searched through the crowd, looking for the one trembling on the edge of decision, the one the Holy Spirit was trying to enter and, literally, inspire. There – the man with the corn-silk hair; the one whose beard was so neatly cared for that it had to have been wisps and scrags very recently. Holger picked up his sword and went down on his knees before the youth, holding out Durendal, hilt first.

“The White Christ died that you might live,” he entreated. “Will you not do the same for Him?”

The young man’s breath huffed out in a gasp – an evil spirit being expelled, perhaps? He gritted his teeth in a last momentary agony of indecision, then finally straightened, eyes glowing with inspiration.

“I’ll fight for Him!” he exclaimed, and took Durendal, raising it into the air. For a long moment the Meeting Hill hung in balance; then shouts erupted, deep male voices crying “Fight! Fight!” Holger’s heart leapt for joy.

A few minutes of chaos ensued, as men clamored to join Holger’s cause. When it was over, he looked at his new followers – and was disappointed. They were fighting men, certainly; brawny, tawny-haired northerners, their beards elaborately braided – but they were all young. The fervour that had caught their imaginations had not spread to their elders. The landowners, the men with ships and gold and fighting tails, were remaining silent; and it was them he needed, to turn his enlarged warband into the nucleus of a real army. There would be no invasion of Iberia with a few score Norsemen, no matter how charged with enthusiasm for the White Christ; he needed ships, horses, supplies. He still needed his miracle.

“A good start,” Valdemar observed beside him. “I did not think you would get so many to join you.”

Holger’s mouth twisted bitterly; Valdemar had been his sponsor, which was why a foreigner had been allowed to speak at Bristol Ting – and why not? The words, “I stand sponsor for this man,” were cheap enough. Holger noticed he had not risen to pledge ships or other material support; and yet Holger was in Valdemar’s debt, for if he had not been allowed to speak, he could hardly have gotten even this much. It was a clever move, parting with what cost the giver little but aided the recipient much. Clearly, Valdemar’s reputation was not without cause.

“A start only,” he said. “The infidel Sultan can field a thousand men without making his messengers ride more than half a day; five dozen men are not like to make him leave off buggering his harem.”

“True.” Valdemar looked thoughtful, which Holger distrusted deeply; when Valdemar looked as though he were coming up with an off-the-cuff idea on the spur of the moment, that was when you could be sure he was laying out the next step of a plan he’d thought out the year before. “The way to gather men, of course, is to show them victory and plunder. Have you thought of becoming a sea king?”

“Yes, I have.” Holger pressed his lips together, reluctant. “I have only one ship, and it is not suited for longshore work.” And, he carefully did not say, it would take years to build his reputation that way; years, and an immense amount of work that oppressed him just to think about. Hundreds of longshore raids, the high-pitched screaming of women, smoke and burning and men bellowing in insupportable, life-ending pain… he was willing enough to fight, he’d proved that for a decade in the wars in Iberia, but there was a difference between an open battlefield, and the work of a pirate and raider. He had been a lord of Asturias; his grandfather had been a paladin of an empire that had covered most of Europe. To become a sea king, a man who ruled a fleet and whatever piece of land his followers happened to be standing on, and who ruled the latter only for as long as it took to plunder it… and yet, what choice did he have? No doubt he could take service with some wealthy duke or king somewhere, settle down, remarry, perhaps have another son or two to follow him as captains of guards. There would be an estate in it, for a man who could bring a hundred soldiers to settle a close rivalry; he would be a landowner again, an important man in his own right… but not a lord. And not in sun-drenched Iberia, where carpets of bluebells ran over the hills like snow and mirrored the summer sky. No; an estate in France was not for Holger. He would not long outlive his driving purpose. He sighed deeply, squaring his shoulders.

“Yes, well. No doubt you have something in mind?”

Valdemar smiled. “As it happens, I have a need for a good solid oak-built trading ship with a deep keel, to trade between Bristol and Hamburg. And I have some longships, very suitable for viking work.”

“For two hundred men I will need seven longships,” Holger noted. “And ten would be better. That is no fair trade for just the one deep-bottomed trader.” Or, in other words, Valdemar was going to chisel something else out of him; the question was what.

“Quite so,” Valdemar agreed. “A one-third share of the plunder of your first voyage is a very suitable recompense, however.”

“One-third?!” Holger near-shouted, then shut his mouth as it occurred to him that his first voyage didn’t, actually, have to go very far. Say, just across the sea to Ireland, hit one godforsaken stockaded village just for practice, and give Valdemar one of the three scrawny cows such a thing would net them; the other two could be eaten.

“Of course, I’d have to have some say in where the voyage went,” Valdemar added. “And I have a man or two in mind to send with you, who would – hmm – be better off for some distance from Bristol, this next little while.”

And who would also ensure that Valdemar wasn’t cheated, or at least not too egregiously. Holger sighed. “One-tenth,” he said, more or less at random, to have a starting point; to his surprise, Valdemar nodded.

“One-tenth, if you voyage as I wish you to.”

Holger flinched; if Valdemar was giving up the one-third so easily, that meant he had something else in mind for his real price, and who knew where he might want his ships to go? But, again, what choice was there? He’d made his decision; all that remained was to follow it, if necessary to the ends of the Earth. Perhaps literally so, Valdemar was not a man to lightly abandon the difference between a third and a tenth; but that was as it would be. Holger tossed his head, throwing away the part of him that objected to the mere work involved; no doubt it would come back, but he didn’t have to let that part make the present moment unpleasant with its laziness.

“Where do you want us to go, then?” he inquired, and now there was no bitterness or reluctance in his voice. Valdemar smiled.

“The circle of the Earth,” he quoted, “on which men live, is rent by great bights, so that great seas run into the land from the out-ocean. Thus it is known that a great sea goes in at Narvesund [1] and up to the land of Jerusalem. From this same sea a long bight stretches up north-east, and is called the Black Sea, and divides Asia from Europe.” He paused, and when he went on he was no longer quoting [2], but speaking as he usually did. “Conversely, on the northern side, the Baltic Sea runs in to Great Novgorod; and from Novgorod one may follow the Volga down south after an easy portage, and reach Great Svithjod. This is all known. What I do not know, what I would give much gold to know, is whether the Volga runs into the Black Sea. For if it does, then it is possible to circumnavigate Europe; and that is what I would have you do. For if it can be done, then there is enormous wealth to be made by the first few to know the route; enough wealth, even, to finance a great war.”

Holger blinked. That was, actually… interesting. A project worthy of a lord of Asturias; no mere raid – although there would be raids along the way, of course – but a voyage of exploration, of discovery. For a moment, he felt as the young man he’d spoken to earlier must have done, when he finally cast aside doubt and agreed to join Holger; here was a cause to which he could give his talents, which he could serve with pride. He felt his back straighten; for the first time since he’d left Viscaya, he felt like more than a landless wanderer, uprooted from his home soil and slowly withering.

“Yes,” he said. “I’ll go. East, to Great Novgorod; and south, on the Volga.” His head filled with visions of the distant East; of great Constantinople, and presenting his cause to the Emperor; of sailing home on the wine-dark water, and raiding the south coast of Iberia on the way to teach the Saracen to respect Christian exiles… or perhaps, by then, he would already have built his fleet of ten ships into a great army, and Valdemar could whistle for his tenth. No, better still, he would offer Valdemar a lordship in Iberia for his one-tenth of the spoils; after all he was a lord, not some chiseling merchant who would betray his sworn word for profit.

“It’ll take a year,” he said, “if it can be done. We’ll likely have to winter somewhere in the east.”

“I’ll look for you with the spring,” Valdemar said. He held out his hand, and Holger took it, sealing their bargain; the long years of his search were over. All that remained was the proper use of the long ships.

[1] That is, the strait of Gibraltar.
[2] Nitpickers: Valdemar is not quoting Snorre, which would be anachronistic to the tune of about 700 years. Rather, Snorre wrote down an ancient oral tradition, which is what Valdemar is quoting. So there.

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The Errolaniad: The Bitter Years

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.

Jarl Oleg


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.”

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