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.
Category Archives: God of Our Fathers
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.
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.
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 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. Alas, Africa is lost to an opportunistic assault by Dragoon; Venice is now much the smallest power in Europe.
December on the Adriatic, and grey sky matches grey water, clouding men’s minds. There is hunger in the streets of Venice now, and even for the Milice the ration is shortened – and lentils and oatmeal, though they keep body and soul together, are not an inspiring meal after a long night’s watch. There is a dragging fatigue in the city, a weariness with the siege and the war, manifesting in a hundred little ways. Spears and eyelids droop, sometimes, when dawn approaches and no officer is near. Men no longer volunteer to attack the enemy-held islands, and the patrician officers wisely do not press the issue; it has been months since the last time the Africans were driven out of a place they had taken. Most telling of all, perhaps, the phrase “when the Doge comes” is rarely heard, now; instead men speak – with longing in their voices – of “when the war is over”. In these words there is no assumption of victory. Wars end when one party sues for peace.
It is fortunate for the Venetians, then, that the Africans, also, are initiates in the mystery of death, and that even the tallest among them do not reach seven feet. It is not easy to supply, by requisition and looting, a large army in the middle of winter – even from the fertile delta of the Po, whose fortresses are still held against the invader; nor by shipping grain from distant Africa across a contested Mediterranean. The Africans, too, feel the dragging fatigue of not quite enough food, with not quite the right nutrients; they are content to sit in the established lines and allow time to do their work. A single strong push might overcome the weakened defenders – but from the outside this is not obvious, and first impressions are strong. In their minds, at least, the invaders are still fighting the strong Venice of summer, when every foothold was met by a furious counterattack and every tenement was bitterly contested. In any case, it is winter, when sensible armies go into quarters and await the proper campaigning season.
There are good and strong reasons for armies, sensible and otherwise, to do so. But the siege of Venice is a naval campaign; and navies can, at need, maneuver in winter. The African command, whose experience is in fighting Berber tribes in the vast desert interior, has forgotten that, or never knew it. That is why they do not keep a string of scouting galleys watching southwards; that is why they are surprised – and in their surprise, fail to quickly marshal their men – when the sails of Pietro’s fleet rise over the horizon. That is why the enormous trebuchets in the Forte di Sant’ Andrea, firing the famous “siege hail” of mixed incendiaries and rocks, get off only a single shot, and why it falls short. Above all, when the Italian levies have landed on Lido and bogged down in house-to-house fighting – the canals play no favourites – surprise is the reason that, when the Aiello tenant militia comes boiling out of its tenements and back streets and falls on the African rear, there is for long minutes no coordinated response.
It is sometimes possible, in a sufficiently confused battle, for soldiers to rescue what their commanders have fumbled. The Africans fight tenaciously, with the bravery of men who know their backs are to the sea. They stop the initial assault. An organised response, gathering unengaged men to attack Italian-held blocks one by one and reduce them, might have driven off the relieving army; and then, surely, a demoralised Venice would surrender. But the Castillian officers take minutes upon minutes even to realise that they are under attack; still more precious time is lost in recrimination and reconnoiter. Meanwhile their soldiers fight a hundred tiny battles, each tenement holding or falling as its individual fortunes dictate; those units not yet under attack count themselves fortunate, and though they stand to their spears they do not move to the sound of the swords.
That is a mistake, and one that unsurprised officers, men in control of the situation, would correct. But as it is, even brave men have their breaking point; when the Africans in the fighting line find themselves under attack from two sides and without reinforcements from their comrades, they reach theirs. One by one the hard-held tenements and blocks surrender; a great hole is driven in the African occupation of Lido. By the time the Castillian command wakens to its situation, and attempts to make its soldiers fight as an army, it is too late.
The Doge has returned to his city.
I apologise for the uninspired prose above; it seems the sum of excitement in the game and flow in my writing are constant. What with four different wars, assassinations, rebellions, and generally speaking what I can only think is the corrupting influence of the Hound on Western civilisation, this session was surely a low point for my writing.
Guerrilla resistance, fifteenth century style! I wouldn’t usually take notice of these random events, which aren’t powerful enough to affect the course of the war, but getting four of them in one war is a bit unusual in my experience. Especially when one of them was actually tactically important, landing on the Venetian siege stack just before I attacked it. That battle was a damn close-run thing, for all I know the event was actually decisive!
The African war for Tripolitania ended in a draw. As shown in last week’s screenshot, Dragoon had reduced his stack besieging Venice to 10k so that he could invade Tripoli. Gathering all my Italian levies and what was left of my retinue, I had 14k. Not the best odds against that 50% morale penalty; however, the people of Venice waged a fierce guerrilla resistance in the invader, to the point that I felt morally obliged to support them with my regular army. So I landed in Venezia and raised the House Aiello levy a day after the battle started; for some reason my personal levies start with 100% morale while mercenaries start with 0. If it were the other way around it would have been a much shorter battle.
The relief of Venice, in dry Crusader Kings numbers. Notice that the Venetian army has commanders. It’s still an unusually bloody battle.
And by the grace of God, the Lion of St Mark was victorious, and the invader was driven into the sea, and perished there by drowning. With Venice free, I of course immediately raised the largest mercenary stack I could find and went looking for vengeance. However, Dragoon was on his toes, and whenever I was about to attack him his army would disappear into its boats; as we all know, prior to 1444 ships were still protected by the fading power of Poseidon, God of the Sea, and could not be attacked. So I was unable to bring about a decisive battle. I did retake enough of Tripolitania that for two shining days we had 100% warscore; alas, Jacob was not fast enough on the trigger to end the war before Dragoon’s assault succeeded and took us back down to 50% by removing the ticking warscore. He then raised his own mercenary army, and for a while we traded cities back and forth; then we noticed that the warscore wasn’t changing any more, but remained stuck at 2% no matter what we did – even a rehost didn’t help. We therefore ended the war in a white peace. But I think the moral victory was mine, to come back from such a situation against a superior player; and apparently the game engine agreed. I am told that at some point in the stuck-at-two-percent period, Dragoon had occupied enough places that he should have had 100% warscore; if so, the very spirit of Crusader Kings revolted against the mere dry numbers, and imposed justice in Europe.
Well, justice in the Med, at any rate. During the war Fivoin had offered to send fifty thousand fierce and long-bearded Norsemen to our aid; in exchange he wanted only the Danish-cultured province of Holstein. We did not accept this kind offer; naturally, therefore, he attacked Jacob as soon as the previous war ended. Denmark against Germany would not usually be a fair match; but Jacob was in some internal trouble due to a bad king. Still, when I marched north across the Alps to help him out, the numbers looked reasonable to me. That’s when Baron joined the war in support of his vassal, and Dragoon did the same for revenge. However, for reasons I haven’t learned (presumably game mechanical?), they did not simply join the Danish De-Jure War for Lubeck as allies. Instead they started their own separate wars, each of them digging out some obscure claimant to minor corners of Germany. Hence we were treated to the spectacle of Greater Britannia mobilising fifty thousand men (that is, putting forth about one-third of its full strength) in the Britannian War for Baron Whoever’s Claim on Obscuritania. Which, obviously, ended inconclusively a few months later in the death of Baron Whoever; I mean, hello, what were you expecting? At this point Jacob was being subbed by Khan, notoriously deadly with a blade. But heck, even I managed to think of that one, and I got one of the four claimants who died this way before Baron and Dragoon realised that it wasn’t going to happen. Baron tried it on with an Embargo war, which is why he is currently playing a sixteen-year-old queen (admittedly Strong and Genius, so maybe he’s not too sad about it); and Dragoon is now fighting the African War for House Aiello, which seems bugged to me, but what do I know?
War and rumours of wars, assassinations, and the breakdown of Christian civilisation into a cauldron of suspicious little principalities, fighting each other and looking over their shoulders for the brother’s hand wielding a knife… it is hard not to see the work of the Hound in all this. But then, just because someone is out to get you doesn’t mean you’re not paranoid.
Central Med, 1424.
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.
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.
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. It must be admitted that the war may not be going entirely in my favour.
Persia was the first to fall.
The Shahanshah ruled, in the year 793 of the Hegira, an empire that stretched from the Caucasus to the Ethiopian highlands, from the Indus to the Nile. His word could set a hundred thousand soldiers on their way to paradise or conquest; the least of the Kings of which he was King would be, in Europe, a Power in his own right, respected in the councils of nations. Only the insular English, among the nations of the world, might be considered a match for the secular powers of the Persians – and the English, for all their wealth, rule green and pleasant lands easily accessible by sea. Persia is defended by desert and mountain, by howling wilderness and trackless distance, a geography to make armies wither and wars fade into stalemate. In material terms, surely no ruler could be more secure in his possessions than he who sat the Sun Throne.
The last Davion Padishah. Note the religion and the open-mouthed, empty-eyed look; the lights are on, but whoever is home is not the man he once was.
And what was the good of that? The Hound was not limited to material attacks; and on the spiritual plane the Shahanshah, ruler of forty million, commander of a hundred thousand, was as defenseless as any child. The metaphorical phrase, “ruler of so-and-so-many souls” is meant to sound impressive, and sometimes it does; but the truth is that no man can truly rule more than one. And, truth be told, many states are better governed than the average soul. The Shahanshah’s vast empire was among the better-governed states of its day; it had to be, to maintain its grip on so large a dominion full of fractious and warlike peoples. The Shahanshah’s grip on his soul, however, was at best average; and perhaps this too was inevitable – for how much self-discipline need a man learn, whose every personal desire can be satisfied with a word and a nod?
The Shahanshah resided in the middle of his empire, defended by loyal soldiers, great fortresses, barren mountains; and the Hound, in effect, strolled through all that and attacked the one weak point: The Shahanshah’s mind. A modern government, wise from long experience, would have been on its guard; today, if a head of state shows any signs of uncharacteristic behaviour, his advisors will call for salt and moly, iron and lead, priests and Sensitives. But the Hound chose its first target wisely. The most powerful government in the world was unwarned, unwary, utterly unready for the first major battle of the Long War. Persia toppled like a house of cards.
The Shahanshah’s conversion to Christianity – apostasy, punishable by death, in the view of the Moslem faith – might, conceivably, have been managed. If it had been presented as a tactical maneuver to prevent further religious strife on the borders of the empire, it might have been possible to neutralise a sufficient number of powerful lords that the inevitable civil war could have been won. Announced as a genuine conversion, a true conviction based on a vision (which was very likely true – the Hound is quite capable of citing Scripture to its purpose), it was never going to fly. From the day the Shahanshah publicly took Mass and made confession, the only question was how long it would take his lords to hear the news and gather their armies. Then he renounced the Sun Throne and declared Persia a republic, with himself as President Pro Tem until elections could be held; and, on the grounds that a republic needed no standing army, dismissed the twenty-five thousand Immortals of the Shahanshah’s personal guard – after first having them execute those members of his court who had the personal strength of will and following to have halted the disaster.
Ali Anubid, called ‘Usurper’, the latest puppet of the Hound. Do not be fooled by the crowns and diadems; this man does not rule even his own body. The Other entity behind the windows into eternal darkness – I refer to the little pools of endless night located where humans have eyes – is a different matter.
At that point, Persia was ruled in name only. The Hound simply marched its army into the capital, unresisted by the dispersed Immortals; decapitated what was left of the Shahanshah – a mind twisted so far out of its natural path is not, generally, worth much afterwards – and had its puppet declare himself Padishah, Shahanshah, and Emperor of all the Egypts – Upper, Lower, Outer, and Trans-Euphratian. The Egyptian armies had, of course, been ready to march, since the Hound had known exactly when the Shahanshah would go mad. The Persian and Mesopotamian lords who might have liked to dispute the succession had to hear the news, decide to revolt, and gather their armies – and they found that the Egyptians had stolen a march, and they were no longer rebelling against a mad apostate, but against a pious Moslem emperor holding the capital with twenty thousand men, who had the apparent obedience of the imperial bureaucracy, and who could draw on the fertile Nile Valley for supplies and reinforcements. That would not have sufficed against the united strength of the Persian heartlands; but many of the kings who had risen against a Christian madman hesitated to wage war on a fellow Moslem with a reasonable claim to legitimacy. Those who remained were driven mainly by ambition – after all, it was apparently open season on declaring oneself Padishah; why not them, as well as this upstart Egyptian? – and could not unite. In three years of war the Hound made itself master of Persia.
— From The Curious Incidence of the Hound in the Hearts of Men, an overview of spiritual and supernatural methods of warfare, published by the Milice di Venezia as a textbook for its officers.
Last time I wrote of the Hound, someone commented that they would love to see an Egyptian resurgence through black magic; and like a fool I said that I’d be happy to see that. And this week… I’m beginning to wonder if Kuipy is, actually, entirely human. As I’ve noted previously, the CK interface – including the player chat – is not very useful for distinguishing between free-willed beings and shambling shells possessed by Other entities. In fact, nobody has ever seen Kuipy; we interact, of course, by text and voice – so a demonic possessor wouldn’t even need the minimal disguise of looking human to cursory inspection. On the Internet nobody knows you are an alien infiltrator…
Whether through uncanny influence or through merely human mistakes, Fimconte’s Persia collapsed in much the way I described above: He converted to Christianity to avoid Holy Wars, then attempted to become a Merchant Republic. This failed for reasons I haven’t learned, and Persia became a regular republic and thus unplayable. It was restored by edit to feudalism, but the edit was the minimum needed to make it playable again; the retinue of 25k pike and the high Crown Authority were not restored, nor the tyranny reduced. Kuipy had only to create a faction to put his son on the throne – deep-laid plans, here, further evidence for the [i]something uncanny[/i] theory; why did he happen to have a son with a claim on Persia lying around? – and about two-thirds of the Persian super-Dukes signed up. What was once Persia is now the Empire of all the Egypts, and the Long War is out in the open.
Central Med, 1404. No territorial changes for Venice, though I’ve built a dozen universities. Major change over in the Middle East, where the Great Blob of the Desert With a Thousand Vassals is now ‘Anubid’ instead of ‘Davion’. There’s a revolt to put a Davion back on the throne, but I don’t think it’ll go anywhere.
This week: A geopolitical survey of what the player slots of Europe are thankful for.
World map, 1392, including player vassals.
The Aiello of Venice are thankful for ducats, shekels, benjamins, florins, shillings, guineas, guilders, thalers, and bezants. If it weren’t for the invention of coinage, what would we burrow through like porpoises? What would we dig through like moles? What would we throw up in the air and allow to rain down on our heads? And what, not to put too fine a point on it, would we bathe in? Seriously, you don’t want to live in a world where the Aiello can’t bathe in money; not after they’ve taken up the habit of garlic sausages from their neighbours.
The Lazuli of Greece are, of course, grateful for garlic; not only does it make their sausages taste great, it also makes their enemies keep their distance. But they don’t bother saying that sort of thing at Thanksgiving, it would be like saying you were grateful for breathing. Which, ok, yes, the Lazuli actually are grateful for breathing, lots of times it looked like they weren’t going to, but it makes you sound like a smartass who is not taking this stuff seriously. Anyway! Back on point, the Lazuli are grateful for the existence of logic; obviously it was pure logic that convinced the English to give them their current empire. Because, if you just think about it logically, there wasn’t anything better that could have been done with those provinces, was there? The Lazuli are not grateful to the English, mind you. The English were just doing what logically ought to have been done by anyone who could think about it for a few minutes.
The Kruel dynasty of Poland are grateful for the sweet, sweet peace of the grave. Nobody bothering them, nobody demanding that they inherit Hungary or not inherit Hungary, no Intrigue Focuses to avoid or overlords to keep satisfied… peace at last! That Thucydides, he knew what he was talking about. Most people just don’t realise he was actually a pacifist.
The Dantons of Germany are grateful for the German language, especially its consonants. Kaiserrreichhhh, they say to themselves, rolling the r and hitting the ‘ch’ sound with relish. Rrrr! Chhhh! Just the language to make yourself feel better about having to punish a rebellious vassal. Really, it’s sad when you have to put them down, but he had one job, and what can you do? Just repeat “Kaiserrreichhh” and try to think about something else.
The Rushids of Syria are grateful for the mercy of Christ, and for not being infidel swine like some people they could mention. People who are currently, you’ll notice, getting hit by multiple Holy Wars, and quite deservedly too. That’s the sort of thing that doesn’t happen to good Christian dynasties; not even if they converted only a generation ago. Christ is very merciful that way, and the Rushids are very thankful for that.
The Anubids of Egypt do not experience the human emotion of ‘gratitude’, per se. Or, indeed, any human emotions at all – at least, not in the Inner Circle, the individuals who have interacted directly with the Entity and who are, as a result, not precisely human anymore. And the head of the dynasty, of course, is not human in any sense whatever, except the purely biological one of possessing – the word is carefully chosen – a human body. Still, like any conscious beings, they have internal states that they experience when external events are in their favour, and other internal states that correspond to unfavourable externals. At the moment, then, they may be said to be pleased that things are going according to the Plan.
The Davion dynasty of Persia is not participating in this stupid custom. They are not grateful and they’re not going to pretend they are for the sake of some anachronistic infidel tradition. Just pass them some Turkey and shut up, ok? They’re just going to take some food back to their room and not bother anyone, and they would be gratef – that is, they would appreci – it would be nice if nobody bothered them either.
The Gyldenstierne of Denmark are grateful that there will always be an England. Especially since, apparently, they’re also going to have to put up with a pretty eternal-looking Germany. Excuse them, Kaiserrreichhh.
The Nestor of the Chagatai Khanate are grateful for crushing their enemies, for seeing them fall at their feet; for taking their horses and goods and hearing the lamentations of their women – wait, isn’t that what we were doing? Well then they don’t know. That’s what they had prepared. They’re not going to think up something new extemporaneously, what are they, some kind of thinking-up-things-on-the-spot machine? Crushing enemies, grateful, take it or leave it.
The D’Mertagne of the African Republic were going to do the money one, but the Aiello got there first which is so typical, why couldn’t we get to talk first for a change? Anyway now they don’t know. Oh wait, they’re grateful they have their trade zones all in a row, not scattered all across the Med like some people they know.
The Følsgaard of Russia are grateful they are not the designated black-magic guys this time around. In fact they are very happy they don’t know nothing about any kind of necromancy, no sir! Only white magic for Russia. Er, no magic, just mundane, um, non-magic things. Like, um, swords. Yes, swords; Russia is very grateful for swords. Oh dear, that came out kind of wrong, didn’t it? Er, well, the Følsgaard will sit down now. Um. Can they be grateful for chairs? And not swords or magic or any kind of unfriendly-sounding things at all.
The Shrewsburys of England are glad they are number one, because it’s good to be number one! Ha-ha, just kidding guys, of course we’re all equally valuable and some of you have armies almost as big and good as ours. No, seriously, they’re grateful we can all get together like this and have a peaceful and cheerful dinner together, with nobody sulking – well, almost nobody – and nobody bringing up any recent unpleasantness, and just being one big happy family without any squabbles or holy wars. Right? Cheers! Let’s eat!
I noticed the Great Powers fighting some Holy Wars this session, but did not stick around long enough to see who won; I kept my head down and crushed the last Italian holdouts. Also I built universities.
Central Med, 1392. Last Italian holdouts unified. Now what shall I do?
Last night I dreamed again of Egypt. The same dream, of a silent desert lit by stars. There was no moon, yet I could see everything, dune upon dune, with my footprints leading back to the horizon in a perfectly straight line. A line pointing to the temple, not yet visible, where the Hound sleeps its thousand-year sleep and howls in its dreams… in its dreams, and mine.
I dreamed and knew myself dreaming, yet in spite of a sourceless horror I could not wake myself nor stop myself walking towards the – temple, did I say? Yes, it was built as ancient Egypt built houses for its gods, and their prayers were written on every surface; though I could not yet see the cyclopean walls, I knew this, in my dream, in the same way I knew that the eerie light I saw by did not come from the unblinking stars. But for all that it was no temple. The Egyptians had built as well as they knew, and covered stone and mortar with incantations, not to honour the Presence within the walls, but to contain it. Not temple nor church nor fane, but prison.
I woke, as I have woken before, slick with cold sweat, with my pulse pounding in my forehead near to making it burst. But my usual desperate relief – this night, again, I had not seen the Hound’s prison – was threaded through with despair. A week without the dream, and I had thought myself free of it. A week of vicious hangovers; a week of Elisabetta’s increasingly unsubtle hints. Tiny, tiny prices, for nights of dreamless sleep. But now even the wine has failed me.
Tonight, I will walk the desert again, silent except for the soft hiss of the sand. I will walk, unwilling, towards the place where the Hound lies imprisoned. And some night – not tonight; God of my fathers, let it not be tonight – but some night I will crest the final dune, and the silver light that does not come from the stars will show me the walls of the Hound’s resting place. And I will walk forward, and enter it, and… and I know not what; but I would much rather die, than find out. It’s said – though I do not know how it is known – that the pain is only momentary, if you lie in a hot bath and cut lengthwise, not crosswise.
That is sin, and will doom me to Hell; and yet it is still true, that I would rather be tormented by all Satan’s legions for all eternity, than enter the place where the Hound lies sleeping. For I might find that it sleeps but lightly.
Yet I am an Aiello, and one of God’s chosen people; I will make one more throw of the dice, before I give up the game, and my soul, for lost. I will go to Egypt, and not alone; I will bring men, learned men and hard men both. They will think me mad, but what of that? The ducats of madmen spend as well as any. I will find the desert, where the high singing silence hisses in the eternal moonless night… and I will see it in daylight, under the hot scorching sun of Egypt that drives away dreams. I will walk into the desert, not alone and screaming in unvoiced horror, but with a hundred loyal men at my back. And when I find the Hound’s prison – after all, the men of Egypt drove it into the walls, and bound it there with chants and sacrifice. And they had no gunpowder.
From the journal of Gabriele Aiello, one of the last entries before his death. The calling of the sensitives was the first near-open blow struck by the Hound in the Long War, and one of the shrewdest. For two centuries it bled us of the talent we needed to fight it; by the time we realised we were at war, only the thinnest scraps remained, and on the spiritual front we were outmatched from the beginning. Gabriele should not have put his faith in gunpowder, however impressive the new invention seemed to him. A man sensitive enough to hear the Hound’s call across three hundred miles of ocean could have driven it back to sleep in a day, if only he’d known the chants and sacrifices the Egyptians used. What we could not have done with such a Talent as that, when it finally came to open war! But Gabriele was a man of the fourteenth century, and trusted in rational things and in technology. He was neither the first nor the last to make that mistake.
Gabriele Aiello, some time after the Hound began working on him, but before the bolts of his mind came fully loose.
The minor powers are being shaken out of eastern Europe; last week it was Hungary, and now it is Poland. King Cruel had been happy with his title of Quietest Player Ever up to the point where he briefly inherited Hungary; the inheritance was against the rules and was rolled back, but it gave him a taste of power, and he wanted… more. More of everything. And so he reached for the Forbidden Arts, the one thing our good and generous liege had forbidden to his vassals: He took the Intrigue Focus.
Was he, perhaps, under the influence of the Hound, at the time? It is hard to say; one would think that even that powerful Entity would have difficulty reaching so far, across the Med and hundreds of miles of hostile land, so early in the game. Of course, it is known to desire the crumbling and internal strife of the civilisations it regards as its enemies; but then, it should rather strengthen Poland, the better to use it as a dog’s-paw in a future conflict. No, most likely we deal here with simple human greed and ambition; if the truth were told, the Hound’s work is not that difficult, for humans do not really need the hostile influence of Other entities to store up trouble for themselves.
The Intrigue Focus in the hands of a human vassal is vastly dangerous for a liege; it is not forbidden in Germany by an arbitrary whim of the Kaisers. Jacob immediately revoked the Kingdom of Poland, provoking a civil war, which of course Poland could not possibly win. There is no longer a kingdom on the Vistula, nor a player slot.
Eastern and central Med, 1383. Don’t be fooled by the western colonisation of bits of Egypt, that just allows the Hound to do its work on the administrators and garrison officers sent there to rule the province; they will return home as plague vectors, empty-shelled parodies of humans that will undermine and demoralise their metropolitan societies. By the time open warfare breaks out, the Western world will be half-lost in dreams of decadence, unable to muster its strength even for a deadly threat.