Category Archives: God of Our Fathers

The Errolaniad

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.

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The Matter of Spain: Loyal Submission

Session recap: Asturias, and separately my County of Leon, were both at war with the Umayyad Sultanate; the former war was the Sultan aggressing on m’liege for Galicia, the latter was me retaliating by declaring Holy War for the Duchy of Leon. With much-appreciated financial aid from outside Spain, and a Jewish loan, I hired two bands of mercenaries, which turned out to be not quite enough to crush the Sultan’s doomstack. However, the Sultan then turned east to fight the invading Franks for Barcelona, and together we were able to destroy his army. The AI then white-peaced Asturias. Unfortunately I dismissed my mercenaries a little too early, thinking that between the loss of his army and the vast Catholic uprising the Sultan would be helpless to prevent me occupying Leon and force-peacing for the Duchy. And so he was; but Fimconte, sneakily holding back for just that moment, raised a new stack, defeated my levies, and forced a white peace between me and the Sultan.

Umayyads in trouble

Catholic Revolt, coinciding with the Frankish invasion; unfortunately the rebels were somehow defeated, I think through losing enough battles to reach 100% warscore.

Corrino intervention

Fimconte’s intervention in my holy war for Leon.

Later, having married my son Ogier to King Guttier’s sister, I pressed her claim to the throne, intending my grandsons to inherit. Unfortunately, I had no truce with the Sultan, and he immediately declared war on me. I was faced with the unpleasant necessity of making peace with the King, and losing my chance of putting a relative on the throne – but keeping my lands, since the King’s truce with the Sultan would then protect me; or “making peace” with the Sultan and being knocked out of the game. I chose the former.

Finally, adding injury to injury, Fimconte declared a separate holy war for Galicia, and I was unable to stop him taking it; the kingship of Asturias, these days, does not look like such a prize as all that.

———————————–

May 27th, 792
Asturias de Santiago, north coast of Iberia
Noon

“The man Oliver de Errolan comes to make leal submission to Guttier, Dux of the Visigoths, Princeps of Asturias!”

Oliver ground his teeth; “the man”, indeed. He might be a rebel and a dead man walking, but by God he was still a Count, and if it weren’t for the damned Saracens he’d make Guttier remember it… but then, if it weren’t for the damned Saracens, Guttier would no longer be King. It would have to be endured; there was, no doubt, worse to come than the mere eliding of his titles. He kept himself under tight control as he approached the high seat. To either side the long benches were full of Guttier’s men, soldiers who might have faced his own following across a stricken field had matters been other than they were – and died for their salt. Between them, the marcher lords who had followed Oliver’s banner could field twice the army that Guttier could raise from his protected coastal valleys.

Much good it does us, Oliver thought darkly; the Moors had twice the fighting men of the whole northern kingdom, king and rebels together. He ignored the hostile glares, focusing on the man who had actual power to decide his fate – the boy, rather; Guttier had yet to see his fifteenth birthday. The boy-king sat in a high chair, carved with winged lions and filigreed eagles; a man grown might have made its grandeur imposing, but the slight fourteen-year-old boy who reigned over the northern coast of Iberia disappeared into the ornaments. With him stood his advisors, the men who actually ruled; greybeards all, inherited along with the kingship from Guttier’s father. The bald dome of Roderico, the Regent, rose prominently among them; a nothing of a man, raised from the lesser ranks of the nobility to his high position precisely because he had no following of his own, and could not hope to make his power permanent.

Regent Roderico

Roderico, the Regent.

Reaching the dais that raised the high table above the common ruck, Oliver stopped; he had to look slightly up to see his victorious enemies. The room was silent, except for the sound of a hundred men trying to breathe quietly, and the slight rustling of their clothes; the moment drew out and out, until Oliver almost wished for someone to shout “Off with his head!” if only to have it over with. At last his nerve broke, and he bowed his head, acknowledging overlordship. Freeborn Visigoth males did not kneel to any man.

King Guttier

Guttier, slightly later in life.

“Princeps,” he said in greeting – the old form; perhaps, if his revolt had succeeded, he would have been able to make “rex” the style of the kingship, as the leaders of Asturias had tried to do since Pelagius, but he was damned if he was going to grovel. It wasn’t as though Guttier was likely to be appeased by a word.

“Count Oliver,” the boy returned, then flushed; Oliver concealed an unexpected smile. Carefully coached, no doubt, to address him as “freeman”; and he’d blown it in his very first word. Vindication, in a way; one of the causes of the revolt had been that it was no time to have a child commanding the front line of Christendie. Guttier’s slip had just proven the rebels right; best leave the business of government to adults.

“You will give me your sword,” Guttier rallied, and Oliver’s fleeting amusement died. Slaves went unarmed; so did the subject Romani, the gutless Latins who had lived in the peninsula when Oliver’s people arrived as conquerors. To take a freeman’s sword was the same as declaring him no longer a freeman, to strip him of the privileges of the Gothi rulers. His hand tightened on the hilt of the sword. It wasn’t the sharpest blade in all the world, that he had borne since before he needed to shave; that was safely in Ogier’s keeping. It was just an ordinary sword, well-made enough in its way, but nothing special. But it was the badge of his freedom. And, what was more, an adult male with a sword could, if he didn’t care about his own survival, kill a boy of fourteen quite easily – the work of seconds – and go on to carve a swathe through the old men who advised the king, before the warriors behind him could react to bring him down. An unarmed boy, and several greybeards who might have been formidable once but were old and frail now, against a man in the fullness of his strength, a warrior who had personally wielded Durendal against the infidel on stricken fields… yes, it could be done. Oliver would die, but Ogier would declare himself king, and the marcher lords would follow him; the coastal valleys would splinter into factions, easily crushed one by one… and then the Moslem armies, unbound by truce, would flood across the border, and the splintered kingdom would fall. No; the choices were the same as they had been a week ago, when he had first received word that the Sultan had taken the field. Fight, and die, and see all that he had worked for ground to dust by the victorious infidel – or make leal submission, return to the shelter that the sworn truce between Sultan and boy-king gave to a loyal vassal, and accept his personal fate. Ogier, at least, would live, and retain the family estates and titles; that much could be saved.

“Yes,” he said at last. Moving slowly, deliberately, he brought the sword out of the scabbard and gave it, hilt first, to the King.

“You will stay here,” Guttier continued, and Oliver nodded.

“Of course,” he agreed. In Asturias de Santiago he was hostage against Ogier’s good behaviour, as well as assurance that Oliver himself could get up to no further rebellion; next year the Sultan might be campaigning in Africa. He felt an emptiness in his stomach, nonetheless; it was quite likely he would never see his own estates again, or sleep in his own bed.

There was an odd look in Guttier’s eyes, not the flaring triumph of a man who has overcome a threat to his life, something almost – hurt? When he spoke again, his tone was much quieter.

“Why did you do it, Oliver? You served my father loyally; and the Moors are at the gates! You killed a hundred men once, to preserve the castle-peace of this besieged kingdom. And you were right, too. The moment we were disunited, the Sultan jumped right in. If we don’t have unity, we’ll have nothing. Why did you, of all people, rebel?”

Oliver blinked, lips parting slightly in surprise; Guttier didn’t sound angry, as you would expect from a boy coming into manhood when an adult disparaged his competence. Rather, he sounded bitterly disappointed. Between one breath and the next he understood, and almost laughed out loud. The boy had admired him! Oliver was surely the foremost warrior in his besieged kingdom – the wielder of Durendal, no less, who had led Christian armies on many bloody fields. Just the sort of man that a young king might admire, seek to emulate, even hero-worship – right up until he turned around and raised his banners in rebellion, and broke that fragile peace that he had spent his life upholding and defending. Oliver laughed, bitterly. What harm in speaking truth, now, when all was lost?

Battle of Tarragona

One of the stricken fields on which Oliver has led Christian soldiers – in this case, defeating the Sultan in conjunction with our esteemed Frankish allies.

“Why did I rebel? After Tuy, which the royal army sat out in safety at Coruna, thirty miles from the fighting? After the retreat to Burgos, with the Sultan’s zenatas swarming around us like bees, and the king’s promised aid to his vassals always a day late and ten miles short? After the Galician Campaign? I needed those troops, dammit! We were so close; just a hundred men on the right flank…” Oliver realised that his voice had grown loud, and blew out his breath gustily, trying to let the old anger go with it. “Unity in war is a fine thing,” he said in a calmer tone. “But it needs the substance as much as the form. If the royal forces had been under my command at Tuy, the Sultan would be fortifying Evora.”

Battle of Tuy

The disastrous battle of Tuy; note the royal Asturian army sitting in Coruna, not lifting a finger to defend the King’s lands, while Leon pours out blood and treasure like water.

Guttier swallowed. “I was too young then,” he whispered. “If I’d been older – or better advised…” he trailed off, glancing aside at the row of advisers, standing quite literally behind his throne. The old King’s marshal was among them, Oliver saw; his old antagonist, Johan, greyer now than when they’d last met outside Coruna, but just as dim. His cheeks were red, whether with drink or with anger Oliver couldn’t tell.

“It is done,” Oliver said tiredly. “All things are accomplished in accordance with the will of God.” He sat down on the low dais, at Guttier’s feet, and rested his head in his hands.

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The Matter of Spain: Castle Peace

January 7th, 774
A hill near Coruna, in the Kingdom of Asturias
Vespers

It was, of course, raining; a hard drizzle blown in from the Western Sea by a chill wind, unobstructed from here to the world’s edge. Even in his heavy woolens, lined with down, Oliver felt the chill. The prisoners had been stripped of their clothes – damaged goods and cheap, most of it, but why waste anything on condemned men? – and were shivering, which gave their efforts to stand defiant and look death in the eye a slightly pathetic air. Just leaving them out for the night would perhaps suffice, saving the need for executions – but no; best have it over with. Oliver looked at them without favour; after he’d shattered their ragtag army at Santiago there had been no purpose in their keeping together, and every sheep they’d lifted in their fighting retreat had been pure waste. If they’d had the good sense to scatter, as most of their comrades had done, or even to take the Crescent and go across the border to serve out their lives as soldiers of the infidel, he could have celebrated Christmas at home, rather than spend the winter months chasing across these western hills.

“They’ll be useless if they freeze to death,” Johan complained, and Oliver glanced at him in surprise.

Johan de Luarca

The King’s marshal, and representative in the field. Not a bright man, but very well suited to charging straight through a shield wall.

“Do you think so? I suppose it’s more merciful than impaling them, but I hardly think the `mercy’ of freezing to death will inspire anyone else to rebellion.”

Now it was Johan who looked confused, not that it was very difficult to confuse the King’s marshal; give him a charge to lead and he was a splendid fellow to have at your side, but for anything more complex than getting swords into enemy guts, you might be better off with his horse. Fleetingly Oliver wished that the King himself had come; but men of over sixty did not fare well in winter campaigns. That was why marshals, and vassals-in-chief, existed.

“Slaves, man! They can’t work our fields if they’re all dead, can they?”

“Rebels, man!” Oliver returned the marshal’s tone exactly. “You can’t enslave rebels; the Code calls for death. And they’ve already risen in revolt once; are you going to keep an eye on them every hour of the day?”

“They won’t run with their hamstrings cut. Are your lands so well peopled that you can afford to turn down a hundred strong men?”

Oliver winced; the man had a point. He was one of the wealthiest men in Asturias, but a hundred healthy young slaves would be a significant addition to his capital; with such a labour force he could clear half the out-march for the plow, repair the aqueduct, add a stylish tower to the church and make God remember his name favourably on Judgement Day… but the law was clear. And besides:

“If men can revolt and not die for it, what’ll prevent others from doing the same? It takes a fearsome threat to keep freeborn Visigoth men to their station.” He paused, seeing the point enter Johan’s thick skull and rattle around in search of the brain; to drive it home he gestured to the nearest rebel, a tall man with a mop of blonde hair that Oliver rather envied. If he had hair like that he would wear it to his shoulders, as the men who’d conquered Iberia were said to have done to proclaim their freeborn status. “You man! Why did you revolt?”

Hespanisco

Some random peasant.

“Why should I tell you?” the rebel returned. Something in his eyes made Oliver’s hand go to his sword; it was a famous blade, “the sharpest in all the world” if you believed the bards – but some men were dangerous naked and with their bare hands for weapon.

“If you don’t,” he began, but paused; the rebel was already condemned, and didn’t seem like the sort of man to be intimidated by losing a few hours of life. “If you do,” he started over, “I’ll take you over to our campfires and give you a last meal.”

The rebel shrugged. “Eh, why not? I may as well die with a full belly. I rebelled because there’s no justice in the courts. A neighbour brought suit against me, saying my sheep were his because they’d broken a fence and grazed on his lands; it wasn’t true, but he bought six witnesses and the judge. Count Luitfredo wouldn’t hear my appeal. What should I have done, sold myself into slavery?”

Oliver winced, wishing he hadn’t asked; but at least it was clear ammunition for his argument with Johan.

“There, you see? Men enrich themselves against the law, and what do you get but revolts? I won’t say I’ve no use for a hundred slaves; but I value peace in my lands even more. The infidel isn’t so far from here, you know, and would like nothing better than for Christians to quarrel ourselves into weakness. If we don’t have castle-peace among ourselves, the Saracens will make peace; the peace of submission. It’s injustice begets rebellion, nothing else; and what’s injustice, but men becoming rich by breaking the law?”

“We should all be fools to pray for justice,” Johan quoted sullenly; Oliver rolled his eyes.

“Yes, yes, God may certainly grant these men mercy, by all means let it be so! But I don’t intend to pray for justice, I intend to deal justice; and justice is death, for these men.”

Johan looked as though he’s still like to protest, but the rebel, quicker witted, got there first: “Well said! And do you also propose to do justice in Santiago, and enforce the law on the corrupt magistrates there?”

Oliver gritted his teeth, wishing again that he hadn’t asked for the man’s reasons; he’d been much happier not knowing. “Santiago’s not my fief,” he muttered, knowing it for a feeble excuse even before the rebel’s eyes flashed contempt. “And I’ve only your word for the matter, anyway!”

“My word,” the rebel agreed, “and the word of a thousand men who were willing to risk death for my cause. Do you think men take arms against the king because they’ve had too much beer?”

Oliver looked down. “No,” he said, conscious that a baseborn rebel had somehow gotten the moral high ground on him, a Visigoth lord and the son of a paladin. He raised his gaze, meeting the man’s eyes with an effort. “It might take me a while.”

The rebel sneered. “Longer than my life, anyway. Promises to dead men are cheap, eh?”

Oliver shrugged. “Not if the right man gives them.” Something in his tone must have gotten through, for the rebel nodded, no longer sneering.

Oliver de Errolan

Oliver at eighteen. Young men are sometimes impetuous; he may not entirely have thought this through.

“That’s true,” he said. “I’ll hold you to it, then. And if you should chance to come across Hespanisco’s widow, you’ll give her the twenty sheep I’m owed?”

Oliver’s mouth twisted. “I think you’ve had that back, twice over, with your banditry; on men no richer than yourself. Be satisfied if a corrupt magistrate hangs.”

“It was worth a try.” Hespanisco shrugged. “What about that last meal, then?”

Oliver gestured towards the campfires, and the rebel stepped across the invisible line that separated free men from condemned. Oliver looked at Johan, still struggling to come up with some new argument, and realised he would never convince the man; but then, why was he even trying? He had, after all, the power of high and low justice… and also two-thirds of the fighting men who had broken and harried the rebel host. What was Johan going to do about it? He turned instead to Piarres, his chief liutenant.

“Kill them all,” he said. “And may God have mercy on their souls.”

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The Matter of Spain: The Song of Roland

The Sons of Raghnall is ended; here begins The Matter of Spain, in which I played a Spanish dynasty descended from Charlemagne’s chief paladin, Roland. The campaign did not make it out of Crusader Kings, because one of the players won convincingly; but I wrung some good narratives from it. Here is the introduction, written before the first session of gameplay.

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Azure Three Bezants: The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Their enemies called them the Sea People, and for three millennia no human has known their origin or their language. The few scraps of their writing we possess has resisted all attempts at translation, although its glyphs are common with Linear B, a script we know well; assigning the same syllabary produces sounds that are mainly liquidly unintelligible, the exceptions being the ones that are throatily unpronounceable. Few people study so unrewarding a subject; the ones who do tend to invent gods and rituals unknown to any other culture, and find correspondences with languages ranging from Phoenician to Sanskrit (*).

To read what their enemies said of them is a little more fruitful; based on consonant resemblances in the Egyptian names “Shardana” and “Shekelesh”, their homeland has been placed in Sardinia and Sicily. Left unexplained is how these small islands are supposed to have supported enough fighting men to invade and topple the Great Powers of the Levant. For where the Sea People went, cities burned.

The Collapse of the Twelfth Century is, so far as we can tell, the first time that civilisation ceased to spread over a wide region, and a Dark Age descended on what had been the domain of thriving empires. Four hundred years later the Greeks invented a word, ‘cyclopean’, to explain how the ruined works of the previous Golden Age had come to be. They could not believe that mere humans had moved such immense blocks of stone to make buildings, and created instead a race of giants to be the builders. That is the nature of a Dark Age: When men lose not only the knowledge of how to do a thing, but also the knowledge that once it could be done. And the inscriptions and tablets that are closest to the layer of ash that marks the transition, those that were written in the years or months or days before the end, uniformly speak of “the ships of the enemy”.

It is currently fashionable to suggest that it was caused by climate change and a cascade of earthquakes, and that the Sea People were merely the final straw – or, in some accounts, not even a contributing cause of the collapse, but merely opportunists who moved into a power vacuum, perhaps fleeing similar troubles in their homelands. And it is true that the pollen deposits show a vast century-long drought all across the Fertile Crescent, and that there are many cities where pillars and walls lie tumbled in ways characteristic of the earth shaking rather than deliberate destruction. But as we shall see, these factors do not exculpate the Sea People.

Sea people captives

Sea People captives.

For where, if not Sicily, did they come from? At Medinet Habu there was a relief, currently at the Oriental Institute in Chicago, which shows captives of the Sea People, their elbows tied together, kilted and wearing elaborate head-dresses. A typical Egyptian depiction of a defeated barbarian tribe. And yet, when we examine them more closely, there is something disquieting about these particular barbarians; a vague discomfort, which other reliefs are incapable of evoking. Are not their fingers a little too long? Their feet, too, seem out of proportion even to their elongated legs, almost as though the artist had intended to depict flippers. And the faces – they are flat-nosed, broad-lipped; the pupil-less eyes bulge whitely from the oddly narrow foreheads. The phrase was three thousand years in the future; but the unknown Egyptian artist has perfectly captured the thing itself, the “Innsmouth look”.

It all falls into place: The insistent identification of the invaders with the sea; the lack of an identifiable homeland; the alien gods; the inscrutable language, unrelated to any human tongue; above all, the utter fury of the destruction of the cities. At Ugarit the layer of ash is two meters deep; the very walls are reduced to piles of shapeless rubble. Why this complete devastation, far beyond what might have been caused by an attack, if not to deny beloved homes to an invader too cold, too inhuman, for his touch to be borne? Again and again we find the pattern: Cities systematically burned to the ground, sometimes with signs of fighting, sometimes not, but always destroyed with cold, relentless fury. These are not the acts of humans fighting human enemies, to whom submission (and hence survival) may be possible. The city burners acted in despair and horror, far beyond what could be caused by a mere conquest.

The drought and the earthquakes, too, fit into the pattern: The Hound is known thus to weaken its enemies long before armies clash. Its human pawns are the least of its powers; always, where its soldiers go, its servants have been there first, gnawing relentlessly at the walls of cities, spreading secret rot and corruption. A rash of earthquakes is simply what happens, when the fault lines are steadily weakened for a century beforehand.

The single remaining question is this: Why is it that the Levant, and indeed the world, is not ruled by these people of the sea? They drove all before them, all across the Fertile Crescent; and yet when the Greeks, the Medes, and the Persians arrived from their respective hinterlands, they expanded into near-empty lands, in which scattered farmers eked out a living where there had been thriving empires. We know what happened to the men who lived there; but what of their conquerors?

The answer must lie in Egypt, in the desert. There is an ancient temple there, where for uncounted centuries the Hound lay dreaming; somehow the Egyptians bound it there, and sealed the mortar with blood. It cost them dear: The Old Kingdom was never the same again. But the captives of Medinet Habu were the least of the human victories in this struggle.

From The Longer War: The First Victory,
Dr William Wilcox,
Miskatonic University Press, (C) 1992.

(*) I am not making this up.

Azure Three Bezants

I recently read “1177 BC: The Year Civilisation Collapsed”; I recommend it strongly, though you have to take into account that the author is a respectable academic and cannot afford to publish every truth that he might come across in his investigations. Obviously the facts are well known to people who actually study this sort of thing, but there are limits to what you can say in public; tenure is only so powerful.

There was a strong expectation that this week would be our last CK session; to almost everyone’s surprise, we did not get the required two-thirds majority for conversion, and will play the final seven years of CK as well. However, preparations for the conversion went on apace; most pertinently, England attempted to embargo Germany (in effect, Venice), interfering with the vital flow of spice all across the Mediterranean in order to gain a few thousand paltry ducats for last-minute buildings. There being little to be done about that, I moved my army out of the way and watched him stand about at 99% warscore for three years; then I declared independence from Germany, ending his war since the CB was no longer valid. (This is actually against the rules, but Fivoin was absent and the ruling had slipped my mind.) The game engine called it the Venetian War of Independence, but the “War of Trolling Baron” is clearly a better name. Baron immediately renewed his war, this time against Venice, which he would have won; however, he made a mistake by asking Khan to assassinate me. (It may be of note that I was studying forbidden knowledge at the time, and may have had the power to cloud men’s minds.) Khan has found some exploit that lets him reliably kill people in three months; when my Doge died, his independence war against Germany ended – and Baron’s war against independent Venice also disappeared. Some howls of laughter may have occurred.

Desperate measures

Desperate times, desperate measures.

Baron, nothing if not optimistic, re-declared against Germany; once again I ran out the clock of the no-major-battles warscore cap and then DOWed for independence. Baron once again re-DOWed against me, but with a territory CB instead of the embargo – a misclick? However, since my independence shenanigans were, as noted, against the rules, we’ll likely edit this and he’ll get his money in the end.

Central Med, 1437

Central Med, 1437. Alas, Africa is lost to an opportunistic assault by Dragoon; Venice is now much the smallest power in Europe.

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Azure Three Bezants: The Relief of Venice

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.

Azure Three Bezants

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.

Venetian Guerrillas

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.

Pallestrina 1413

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

Central Med, 1424.

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Azure Three Bezants: The Siege of Venice

June on the Adriatic coast, and the summer looks to be a fair one; day after day the sun shines from a cloudless sky. It is weather to make crops ripen and men cheerful; on the mainland such weather is greeted with joy, as a sign for good harvests and low prices. In Venice men do not speak thus, for the fish will come, or not, whatever the sun does, and heat makes the scarce water of the wells still more scarce and brackish; but even so, it is difficult not to be happy when the sun shines. Even in Venice there are many Easter children born, after a year with a good summer. But not this year. In this year of Grace 1412, Venice is at war. And no distant war, no matter of dominion over the mainland or trade in the far Levant; not a war of mercenaries and hired men, that would touch the back streets but lightly whatever it did to patrician pockets. Nor even a war of great empires, to mobilise the Fleet and call the working men out of their tenements, to die in distant lands among angry strangers. This year the angry strangers have come to Venice, and the working men die in their own streets. This year Venice is besieged.

They call themselves English, those who command the foreign army, and on high formal occasions might bring out a few words of that tongue, carefully rote-learned. They have estates in Spain, and trade along the Iberian coast, and their fluent speech is in the liquid syllables of Castille. But their army is African – Moroccan, Tunisian, Mauretanian, Senegalese – and it is for dominion over Africa they have come, to join Libya to their African Republic and bring its grand name closer to truth. The back streets of Venice care nothing for that; what is it to them, who rules in distant Libya, whether it is their own landlords or some English-Castillian-African foreigner? But there are foreign ships in their Laguna, and the fishing boats lie idle in the marinas for fear of being sunk; there are foreign soldiers – black soldiers, speaking incomprehensible tongues – walking the streets of the Lido. The workmen of Venice grind their teeth in hatred, and turn out for Milice drill; there is grain and dried fish enough for the militia, and little other work to be had in a blockaded city.

It is a puzzle to the English-Castillian Africans, the resistance of Venice; an unwalled town should be easy prey for a passing army. But islands are defended by water, not stone; the canals make every neighborhood a fortress, every tenement a stronghold. Lido has fallen, to speed and surprise and overwhelming numbers; and the Forte di Sant’ Andrea has an African garrison now. But to take these outliers is not to seize the heart of Venice. Even where the invaders have gained footholds on Venezia itself, the central island, they find that a breach in the perimeter of this unwalled city is not an opportunity to pour in men and end the siege in an orgy of killing, but merely another island to be garrisoned.

They have fallen back, therefore, on the oldest weapon in a besieger’s arsenal: Blockade and starvation. There is only so much grain, only so much dried fish and salted meat and twice-baked hardtack, in Venice’s stores; with the Laguna closed there is only a trickle of fish from the canals – and it is best not to think about what they eat – and a trickle of mainland grain rowed across at night in tiny boats. The Milice men know it, and grit their teeth against the bitter knowledge; they can fight the invader where he attacks, but they cannot fight hunger. They look south, to where the relieving navy must come; for if they did not believe that the siege would be lifted, then hatred or none they would surrender on the best terms they could make. It is the talk of the long watches, when for the thirtieth day in a row the enemy does nothing and the grumble of half-filled bellies must be stilled: When will the Doge come?

It is not without reason, the faith of the Venetian workmen in their Doge; once already he has tried to break the siege. But his fleet was scattered by contrary winds, and his mercenaries, landing piecemeal, were driven off by the African soldiers; and where is the money that could raise a new army and build new ships? It is in Venice, in the Aiello mansion, in the mansions of the other patricians – behind the African blockade. The mercenary is not yet born that will fight for a promise of money; they demand to see the yellow gold and shining silver. While the enemy holds the Lido and the Fort di Sant’ Andrea, there will be no mercenary army to raise the siege; without an army, the Africans cannot be driven from the Lido. A pretty dilemma! But the men of Venice do not despair; not when the Doge is an Aiello. A Dandolo, perhaps, or a Contarini – if one of those honorable and straightforward families wore the signet ring, then Venice might surrender. But an Aiello Doge will find a way, money or no money. “The Doge will come,” they say in the tenements of Venice; and tighten their belts against hunger, and keep the watch through the night.

Azure Three Bezants

This session I’m having a small colonial war, Dragoon attempting to seize my African possessions. I currently have a pretty consistent lag of five days, which makes it very difficult to fight effectively; I lost about half my retinue to being unable to move their stack out of the way of Dragoon’s attack. I also lost a vast mercenary army in an attempt to raise the siege of Venice; that 50% morale penalty is murderous. This puts me in the annoying situation of having plenty of money to raise new fighting men, but being unable to do so anyway: Because Venice is an island with no strait, any mercenaries I raise will appear there and only there – at zero morale, which will cause them to be immediately slaughtered by the besieging army. My strategy is thus reduced to besieging Dragoon’s Genoan possessions (with help from m’liege), in the hope that this will give me enough warscore to offset his taking of Venice and the disputed African lands; there’s always the possibility that Dragoon will run out of money. Of course, the Venetian trap cuts both ways – if he moves that army away, I will immediately hire the largest mercenary stack in the game and come looking for vengeance. Nonetheless, on present trends I will eventually lose this war; which is not to say that the present trends must inevitably continue. There’s such a thing as diplomacy.

Jesolo, 1411

My attempt at raising the siege of Venice. The morale penalty turns 3-to-2 odds into being outnumbered by the same margin.

Central Med, 1413

Central Med, 1413. It must be admitted that the war may not be going entirely in my favour.

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