Category Archives: The Matter of Spain

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

“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

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?”


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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