This seems to belong before what I posted last week, going into more detail about the restoration of the Republic which was a given in the previous post.
March 4th, 1940
London, Indian Occupation Zone, England
The guards neither spoke to nor looked at the woman; nor did she speak to them, after her first efforts had convinced her they were deaf. Instead she gazed emptily out the window, not looking at anything in particular, but looking away from her situation: Bare room, soldiers of the enemy powers, the collapse of all hope.
She had been sitting thus, inhumanly still, for several hours, looking at nothing, when there was movement and noise outside. At the guards’ gestures she rose, moving with a smoothness unnatural after her long immobility, and left the room; her bearing gave no indication that she was aware of the rifles trained on her back, or of the snipers that surely occupied rooftops nearby. Outside, she hesitated for a moment, contemplating, perhaps, a swift break down the rubble-strewn street, vanishing into the ruins of London… but then what? Even if surprise and inhuman swiftness allowed her escape – and the men who had come to take her away positively reeked of the Accursed Herb; they must have bathed in the stuff – there was no hope of victory, not now. All England was a ruin like this ruin that had been London; Germany a charnel house, Scandinavia an isolated fortress of ice that must surely fall with the coming of spring. There would be no raising fresh armies from this defeat. If there was hope, it lay with the victors; a moment unguarded, a man careless with the Accursed Herb. A tiny chance, too small for meaningful calculation; but there was nothing in the woman, now, that could make any decision except the one with the highest probability of survival, no matter how small.
She sat quietly in the truck, her eyes gliding uncaring over the ruins and the silent, shocky faces of the Londoners. The looks they gave a vehicle of the occupiers were more unbelieving than hostile. To the end, when the American lines had been twenty miles outside the city and their artillery was clearly audible, the English had thought they would win. Even now, most of them had not really internalised that an empire which had been top dog for a millennium, that had never lost a war, could be defeated in three short years. There was no resistance in occupied England, unlike Germany where stay-behinds continued to trouble the Indian supply lines as far east as the Urals; the English had no script for the situation. When they found one, there would be fire and blood all over the island; but it was too late for that to do the woman any good. A guerrilla, however bitter, would not restore the worldwide empire she needed for her escape.
Past the third checkpoint the uniforms changed, from butternut brown and turbans to mottled light green and shallow broad-brimmed helmets; a sufficiently skilled observer might have noticed a tiny tensing of the woman’s inhumanly still body, a slight gleam of hatred in the luminous brown eyes: Venetians. They were all vermin, the swarming inhabitants of this plague-ridden ball of mud; but it was the Venetian filth who had discovered the Accursed Herb, and used it to destroy the Egyptian empire in half a year’s campaign, driving the woman from the places of her power.
Two more checkpoints, and at last the soldiers gestured for her to get out; her lips might have quirked, unnoticeably, when she saw the building they escorted her into. Westminster Cathedral had, unaccountably – miraculously, some would claim – come through the siege and the air raids unscathed. No doubt there were good and sufficient reasons for taking it as headquarters for one of the occupying armies; it was a large, enclosed space with many entrances, in a central location. But the woman rather thought, as she looked at the crosses and the carven figures which affected her powers no whit, that the real reasons were not secular. Even in this twentieth century, men still looked to their superstitions for protection against what they did not understand. How should it be otherwise? But they had, at least, hit upon one superstition that worked. Presumably they did not know the mechanism by which the DNA of the moly flower, twisted by a chance of electromechanics into shapes that channeled the fundamental force, damped her power; but the air reeked of its ashes – the very incense, she realised, had been mixed with the stuff, in addition to the powder that hung irritatingly in the air. There was a crunch of sea salt underfoot, and the iron chandeliers had silver wire twisted about them, incongruous in a church that had otherwise been stripped of precious metals to pay for guns; all useless, except for the Accursed Herb.
They took her to the sacristy, where the busy babble of occupation logistics that ran through the nave was stilled. There were desks enough for many officers; but they had been cleared, for this important meeting, all but one. The man who sat behind it was familiar from a hundred pictures, both blurry newspaper prints and sharp intelligence documents; neither had shown the tiredness around the eyes or the way the last of the grey had leached out of the long beard, but that was not unexpected in a man who’d led his country through three hard years of war and exile. Likewise he knew her; probably there were places in the jungles of New Guinea where neither of their faces were familiar, but nowhere that the printing press had penetrated.
“Ms Jorgenson,” he said, opening the battle; he pointedly did not offer her anywhere to sit, nor wave away the guards who hovered just behind her shoulders.
“Doge”, she said in turn.
“Or should I say, Mr Jackal? al-Nasr? Pharaoh, perhaps?”
She gave the very slightest of shrugs, just enough that even a subhuman would pick it up. “As you like. They are all human names, they are all one. My name is -” she hesitated for a moment, almost panicking. What was her name, originally? Had she lost even that? Then it came to her, before the subhumans would have noticed the slight pause, and she rolled it smoothly off her tongue: “Osiris.” Ozzy, to my friends, she thought but did not say; she had no friends here – not in this room, this city, or this planet. The last of her friends had died before the subhumans reinvented agriculture.
“God of resurrection, or reincarnation, among other things,” Abramo said. “Fitting.”
She shrugged again. “Garbled tales of our technology, so far as I can tell. Nothing deliberate.” There had hardly been any need to propagandise among the subhumans, in the days of her real power.
“Your technology, yes.” His eyes sharpened. “You do not say ‘magic’; yet powers that can be blocked by moly and cold iron seem more magical than technological to me.”
“Only because you are insufficiently advanced,” she noted, choosing not to correct his misapprehension about iron. Who knew? It might give her an advantage, at some point, if the subhumans believed her vulnerable to metals that did not affect her in the slightest.
“Quite so,” Abramo agreed. “Which is why you are here, and not, for example, in one of the mass graves your actions have made it necessary to dig. At any rate not yet.” He showed his teeth, not in a smile. “Growth mindset, as they say.”
She had expected the threat, and did not show any sign of the panic that scrabbled like a cornered rat at the back of her mind. As long as the subhumans wanted something from her, she had leverage. Since the subhuman knew that as well as she did, she did not respond in any way to the threat; it was perhaps not quite empty, they could have her shot and muddle through themselves, but that wasn’t any more true for the words being spoken. To acknowledge them was to give them power; instead she looked through the subhuman, waiting for the actual negotiation to start.
“I am a patrician of Venice,” Abramo said, when it was clear that she wouldn’t respond to the threat. “We are merchants, at heart. I’ve fought wars because it was necessary; but what I believe in is truck and barter, gains from trade, the exchange of one thing from another and the division of labour. Now it seems you have something I want; and I hold your life in my hand. But we’ve found, over the centuries, that he who buys goods with another’s life, soon repents the bargain; such deals do not stand very long – for why would anyone honour a contract signed under duress? So I won’t make threats, do this and I will not kill; it is too risky. Instead I ask; what is it that you want?”
Osiris blinked, and ceased to look through the subhuman, instead meeting his eyes. “I want to go home,” she said.
Abramo cocked his head. “And where is home, for you?”
“Near the center of the galaxy. I have lost – I don’t know the coordinates, any more; they would mean nothing to you, in any case. But I can find it, with the navigational gear from our base; if the damn Egyptian vermin didn’t destroy it…” she trailed off, suddenly aware that she was in this man’s power for all that they were negotiating as near-equals, and that he might choose to take exception on behalf of his species to ‘vermin’; it was hard to change the verbal habits of three millennia.
“Hence your search for old artifacts,” Abramo said, nodding to himself; another piece of the puzzle. Then his eyes went hard. “And your rule of Egypt, your conquest of Africa; hence this war that has killed three million men and cost, by the most conservative estimates, thirty billion ducats.”
“And two spaceships,” she said; what use was there in engaging with his statistics? For all her powers she could not restore the dead.
“Yes.” Abramo’s lips drew back from his teeth. “Tell me, did you ever consider using anything but force and fear, to accomplish your goals? Did it occur to you that, with your superior knowledge, you could pay in education for the metal and labour to build your spaceships?”
Osiris stared at the subhuman across a gulf of centuries, until the silence was become uncomfortable even for a star-bestriding colonist from the galactic core; in the end, she had to answer. “And do you pay your horses,” she asked softly, “when you want a gun drawn to a new position?”
“No,” Abramo said. “And if the horses could talk, and think, and rise up in rebellion against our rule, why then that would be a great error on our part.”
“Yes,” she said. “And would it occur to you to even discuss it, if not for my question? Just so much did it occur to me, that subhumans might require pay to serve their owners.”
“I see,” Abramo said; he leaned back in his chair, reaching some conclusion. She tensed for the killing shot, but it did not come; instead he said, “Perhaps we can trade. We can find you an island – a small one, near the equator; and you can teach our engineers to build spaceships, in exchange for the first one for yourself.” He paused, and looked at her expectantly; Osiris nodded, not yet fully grasping his words. Was escape possible, after all? And yet, had it been so simple all along? Was it possible that she, Osiris, had made a vast and fundamental mistake, and that this subhuman vermin was showing her what she ought to have done?
Abramo’s face hardened. “But there is one more thing you must do. You have wronged us; shall we not revenge? Subhuman I may be, but I am a merchant of Venice, and I will have my pound of flesh.”
Osiris blinked, too whipsawed by the rapid changes in her estimate of her future to grasp his meaning. The body she currently inhabited was beautiful, as subhumans saw these matters; did he mean…? To her surprise, she found that she would refuse him and die, if it came to that; so she had been mistaken before, there was something in her besides the need to survive, after all. Even if it was only a deep-seated revulsion at bestiality. She took some comfort in the fact, in spite of the howling outrage of most of her being at the thought of death; some tiny fragment of her personality had been preserved, then, through all the triage and the errors of copying. Strange that it should take utter defeat to bring it out.
“We’ll have your apology, Osiris of the galactic core; each individual human you meet, from now on, will hear you humbly say, on your knees, that you are sorry for what you did. Starting with me.” He held out his hand, palm up, inviting her to proceed. Her mouth fell open, the first time she had lost physical control of her subhuman body since – well, ever; was that his idea of a pound of flesh? A simple apology, a few words? And yet – behind the subhuman face, impassive again, the soul of Osiris writhed at the thought. She, who had traveled from beyond the visible stars, whose lightest word would, if not for the Accursed Herb, be a binding command to these subhuman vermin, was to kneel? To apologise for her actions, as though she had done a wrong to an equal? Her pride burned; her lips drew back from her teeth, and her legs tensed for the leap that would carry her over the desk to bury her canines in the subhuman’s throat. He was an old man, and though the moly powder in the air prevented her from ordering the guards to lie down while she killed them, she still had her fine control over this excellent youthful physique, tuned by exercise beyond the tolerance of most subhumans. She could kill him, at least, before they could react; perhaps the soldiers too, if their first shots went wild, as they well might. Then she would die; a single subhuman body, even with full conscious control of each muscle and with an immense intelligence guiding it, was just not sufficient against the hundreds of soldiers thronging the cathedral. But she would die as a true human, one who wielded subhumans as tools, not one who knelt before them and apologised.
And yet the seconds passed and she did not leap for his throat; and she knew, with sick despair, that the merchant of Venice had weighed his pound of flesh to a nicety. She had learned, just now, that there were still some things that she would not tolerate, that she would die rather than submit to; but apologising to subhumans was not one of them. That part of her which insisted on survival, which had carried her through a hundred subhuman incarnations and three thousand years, would make her do it. Her pride burned to ashes, and she tasted humiliation like nausea at the back of her throat; but she could not make herself kill and die for this. Return with a fleet of warships and scourge the memory of this event from the universe, yes, she would do that; but to do so she had to survive – and that was the core of her being now, that single imperative: Live. Everything else, all that she had once been which might have died for pride or defiance, had been taken away by the ceaseless gnawing rat-teeth of time.
Slowly, the settler from the stars knelt before the subhuman.
Why yes, I have been saving that “pound of flesh” line for the whole game. It had to come.
For those who have been keeping sufficiently careful track: Yes, “Osiris” is mistaken about her name. (His name? Its name? I’m going to just stick her with the pronoun of the body she occupies in this installment.) ‘Pharaoh’ is not in fact a human title, it is apparently a given name in the culture of the galactic core; but this fact has been lost to her memory. Reaching for a name from the settlement, she came up with ‘Osiris’, the name of her closest friend, and forgot that it wasn’t given to herself; perhaps, relieved that she had come up with an answer, she didn’t examine it too hard. It’s not as though anyone on Earth could say otherwise, though if she ever does return to the galactic core she may get a bit of a surprise.
Anyway, the game. We did not come up with any particularly inspired strategies; we merely kept hammering in the same old way. For example, I tried another invasion of the Crimea, which kept me busy for the winter months; the initial landings went well:
Invasion plan and landings for the Crimea. Note the flanking divisions around the guarded port – this was now our standard technique.
and I managed to push somewhat inland from the peninsula:
Exploitation of the Crimean landing; note the near encirclement of the 8 rapid-reaction divisions.
However, two large armies showed up to hamper me; one was the local English reserve, with a bunch of motorised divisions that cut off my spearhead; the other was the local Japanese reserve, which in attempting to reinforce victory succeeded only in eating up way more supplies than our one tiny port could bring in.
English and Japanese counterattacks. 27 divisions stuffed into an area supplied by one level-2 port!
The resulting out-of-supply modifiers meant we were quickly pushed back to the peninsula itself, which I nonetheless expected to hold in the same way Constantinople was holding, what with the strait and terrain bonuses and huge number of divisions holding one province:
Defense of the peninsula. There was some attempt to coordinate an evacuation of the surplus troops; it turned out that Gollevainen was not in the same TeamSpeak channel as the rest of the alliance, which made it somewhat difficult to communicate.
However, somehow this defense broke. I suspect that it was my error: I retreated some divisions towards the port, thinking to evacuate them, and I think I accidentally included all the ones that were actually fighting at the time, causing the loss of the battle. This was fairly disastrous:
Crimean pockets, with 30 divisions about to surrender. Most of them, fortunately, Japanese and therefore expendable.
In a similar vein we attempted invasions of England, which got ashore against very light opposition but tended to bog down in the Highlands:
Troops ashore in Scotland. Fighting against a light militia garrison – all the regular troops being busy in the Crimea! – the landing stuck, even with only local supplies, long enough to build a port on Skye. (It helped that there was a subsidiary landing in the Midlands, which was driven back into the sea but delayed reinforcement of the Highlands.) But that was also long enough for the militia to be reinforced.
We also invaded Spain, as I will presently show. But our main thrust was on the Eastern Front, where the petering-out of the 1938 Summer Offensive left the German army in a weak position:
Eastern Front, February 1939; the German army is attempting to retreat from the defeat of its offensive and regain its old defensive position north of the Caspian.
When the collapse came it was sudden. I had gotten enough troops out of the Crimean disaster to try a small-scale attack on the Caucasian mountains, and to my surprise this more or less worked; probably the Danish player had been surreptitiously extracting his best units from this quiet front to fight the various fires elsewhere:
Something close to a breakthrough in the Caucasus.
But meanwhile the Indian army, right glorious to behold, was rushing forward north of the Caspian, to the point where the Caucasus line could either retreat or be encircled. It may be that the Commonwealth players, busy with the Highlands, Italian, Balkan, and Caucasus fronts, didn’t have much attention to spare for this distant battle, and didn’t notice what was happening until too late; it may also be that they just lost too much in the Summer Offensive, and merely lacked the troops to stop the counterattack. Whichever was the case, from the Volga to the Oder there was very little resistance to be had from the German army; the Danes managed a slow, fighting retreat in good order, stopping in Finland, but the German part of the front simply collapsed.
June 1939: The Indians reach the Volga.
Eurasian theatre – about to become the European theatre – in mid-June 1939. We are about to invade Spain; I am preparing another small invasion across the Black Sea in support of a Balkan offensive towards Constantinople; and the Indian army is crashing forwards unstoppably. The Ural line is holding against our best attacks, but is about to become irrelevant; very shortly the Danish army will retreat from the mountains because the alternative is encirclement.
Balkan offensive, July 1939. By means of repeated heavy attacks along the Aegean coast I was able to get some exploitation divisions past the strong enemy lines here – possibly thinned out to get something to put in the way of the Eastern Front offensive? – and reach the Black Sea to surround the siege lines around Constantinople.
This is the third time we have invaded the Crimean, and we have become exceedingly efficient at it.
By autumn it was clear to all that there was no hope of any Commonwealth counteroffensive. The landings in Spain had succeeded and the Pyrenees were breached; consequently Italy had to be abandoned as the peninsula would otherwise be cut off. There was a brief civil war, and in December the craven Shrewsburys were the first of the Commonwealth dynasties to surrender:
British collapse and capitulation.
By then the German empire was reduced to its rapidly-shrinking industrial core, while Denmark was hanging on in Finland:
European theatre after the English surrender.
German situation shortly before the surrender. Nobody can accuse the German sub of not fighting to the end – he actually managed to put together a fighting line around these few hundred square miles of winter mud. At least they weren’t radioactive, as in another such case I know of.
At this point we ceased serious fighting, and just took Scandinavia without resistance so as to trigger the peace conference. We rather thoroughly partitioned the Commonwealth powers, creating a number of vassal states (mostly Fox, some India, a few UCA) from Europe:
Peace of 1940, unsmoothed.
This is actually quite nice as maps of Pdox games go, but it has a few remaining rough edges, so I went in and edited away the bordergore. Mongolia is now contiguous, at the price of losing a few exclaves. I decided that the patchwork bits in England-south-of-Thames were temporary occupation zones, as in Germany of OTL, and would be handed back to the kingdom of “Norway” (???) that replaced the old Shrewsbury empire in the Isles; however, Fox retains Ireland and Iceland. The game considered Egypt to be an ally of Venice, so at the peace those bits of Egypt that I had occupied in the first war and that hadn’t later been first conquered by England and then retaken by the NWO were handed back to Egypt; I corrected this obvious error in the case of the Arabian peninsula. Clearly, the subject of Arabia just didn’t come up at the peace conference; the Aiello kept their mouths shut and their occupation troops in place. The Egyptian Republic has perhaps twenty divisions in 1940 and its territory has, within the past three years, been conquered successively by Venice, England, and Fox; they are not in any shape to object.
Peace of 1940, rough edges taken out.
Venice is the big territorial winner here, gaining all the Balkans, Algeria, a bunch of the Caucasus, the Crimea, the English enclaves in Italy including Savoy and Nice, the Med islands except the Baleares, the Danish bit of Anatolia, and last-but-not-least the Fortress City of Acre. (Arabia? What do you mean, Arabia? Been part of Venezia-oltre-il-Mare since the collapse of Persia in the eighteenth century.) Fox also does well for itself, now controlling most of the European side of the Atlantic either directly or through vassals. Surprisingly, Mongolia is restored to something like its former extent, although the Indians have been heard to mention that it is not a real country and to suggest that it should be partitioned again. Egypt gains South Africa and a future free of domination by alien beings from Beyond the Visible Stars. Japan now controls the whole of the Asian seaboard and is contiguous to Arkhangelsk. Delhi acquires some territory in Kazakhstan (and Venice is prepared to negotiate about that panhandle, on a principle of compensation in equal population), retakes the English and Danish enclaves on its coast, and gains great influence in European affairs through its vassal states Russia, Scandinavia, Kiev (“Danish Empire” on the map) and Lithuania (“Baltic Empire”). The remaining formerly-German states are Foxy vassals; the “Byzantine Empire” (Aragon) is a vassal of South America, which also gains Gibraltar, some islands here and there, and full unification of its continent, which had some Danish colonies at the start of the war.
On the losing side, the English and German empires are entirely dismantled. England loses all its African and Asian possessions, Ireland, its Med islands, and its Italian exclaves; its European empire is split into the vassal states of Portugal, Aragon, and France. The main island of the British Isles is kept together as a single political entity, although obviously under new management; however this is the most densely industrialised bit of land anywhere on Earth, and therefore a somewhat more formidable power than it might at first appear. I expect that it will have an independent foreign policy within twenty years, whatever its treaties with Fox may say; though obviously they will be purely regional geopolitics, not the world-spanning affairs of the Shrewsbury empire. Incidentally, note the capital star in Christmas Island, just south of Indonesia; that’s actually England, original edition – we missed this one tiny province in the peace conference interface! Obviously, this is where I’ve stashed the Jackal and the experimental rocket-building programme, close to the equator and very far away from anyone important who might be mind-controlled.
Germany fares, if anything, even worse; no vestige of it is left and even its core area is divided into several states – from the Rhine to the Don, they are the Kingdom of Brandenburg (black), the South German Federation (light blue), the Kingdom of Poland (light red), the Lithuanian Republic (grey), and Kiev (light red). None of these is an obvious “main successor state” in the way that “Norway” is for the Shrewsbury empire.
Finally, Denmark loses its outlying marches in Russia, Iceland, and Greenland, and its colonies in Anatolia and in Asia, but retains its integrity as a state, unlike its Commonwealth allies. It will likely form the core of resistance to the extra-European hegemonies – possibly along with Venice, which might like to gain some influence among its neighbours itself, in which the first step is obviously to get them out from under the muscular thumbs of their American and Asian overlords.
We have ended the campaign on this natural stopping point, but history does not end. The victorious alliance has an obvious line of tension in Asian versus American powers, with competing satellite-state regimes in Europe (east versus west, in fact). In addition to this conflict, both Denmark and Venice have an interest in helping the satellite states regain their independence, or better still, to make them European satellites instead of American/Asian ones. The competing ideologies of the future of this timeline may be continental, pan-American versus pan-European versus pan-Asian, with Egypt pushing “Africa for Africans” as a sideline and thus clashing with both Fox and Venice. Venice also has some border tensions with India in Persia, where the annexations fell somewhat randomly. Whether any of this rises to the level of war is a different question, the more so after nuclear weapons; I would expect mainly peaceful competition, with few borders moved (Egypt is likely out of luck) but perhaps many regime changes in the minor European powers.
This being so, Venice should do very well out of the second half of the twentieth century; a republican oligarchy that values trade and industry above all things is well suited to a nonviolent struggle for influence, markets, and alliance. Moreover, Venice now controls most of the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea, as well as the oil of the Arabian peninsula and the waterways (Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Suez Canal) by which it can easily be brought to Europe. Although the control is not absolute – Egypt, Kiev, and Aragon also have Med or Black Sea shorelines, and the two American powers each have one side of the Gibraltar Strait – still it is surely fair to again claim the Med as the Mare Nostrum of an Italian power. And, as the Aiello have known from the very founding of their dynasty, in the end all wealth comes from the sea.
I noted last week that, in the resistance against the Christian faith, I have tried several different strategies: Successively, Holy War has failed, alliance has failed, treaty has failed, and dictatorship has failed. Consequently I restored the old Republic – but not purely for roleplaying reasons. Crucially, the Grand Republic of Ireland is a kingdom, not an empire; it can, therefore, swear fealty to the Emperor of Frisia. After two generations of failure at war, I am turning to a new strategy: To bow the stiff necks of the North, and make peace. This does have the disadvantage (or is it?) of aligning me with the current proto-hegemon, which is not good for anyone’s popularity; but as the counter-hegemonic alliance has signally failed to protect the independence of small powers, my remaining option was to make the best terms I could.
Knut Dreki, the Doge Who Did Not So Much Kneel As Bend Over.
The counter-hegemons did have a damn good try this session, with a Jihad for Aragon that, surely, made the average colour of pants in Iberia move somewhat in the direction of brown. Although I did not follow the fighting closely, it seemed to me that it was going somewhat against my new Iberian friends (that is, they are the allies of my overlord). However, Fimconte, with his usual nose for sharp gameplay, was able to defuse the situation by converting to the Ibadi heresy of his attackers, invalidating the jihad CB and ending the war without any land changing hands. I opine that this act will surely rebound against him in the end; apart from the human badboy it cannot have done his credit with Allah any good.
Jihad for Aragon!
The result of these varied shenanigans and accommodations is some scary-looking blobs:
Immense empires of the West.
The eventual and inevitable betrayal – Fimconte can clearly be trusted roughly as far as you can see him, and on the Internet you can’t see him – will be epic in scope, and lead to a shattering war. Unless, of course, it is resolved by invalidating the CB.
Internally, a quiet session for me; I’m effectively rebuilding my republic from scratch, including (sigh) House Dreki. In fact, it wasn’t until I got the Dogeship again and could use my accumulated tech points to bump up Bergen’s trade tech that any of the Irish patrician families could actually build any trade posts! I got a nice sequence of four creating a trade zone in the Kattegat and the Sound, and now just need some upgraded cities for them to improve. Lacking CBs, I wasn’t able to do much to reabsorb Old Denmark, though I’m currently pressing my brother’s claim on the Fylkirate, which will return the important tactical option of Great Holy War to my control as soon as that brother inherits.
The oak breaks, the willow bends. “Cities and Thrones and Powers / stand in Time’s eye / almost as long as flowers / which daily die”; but profit is eternal, and so is the good name of peacemakers. Let us make peace, then, and profit.
Life has been uneventful in the far north, these two sessions; that’s why I wrote no AAR last week – it seemed a bit boring to report “to my surprise, I survived the session”. In fact, I not only survived but did so without territorial cessions. I conjecture that oddman doesn’t think it worth bothering with Ireland for a while; I am protected in my possession of Scandinavia by his treaty with Khan, and while I still have a couple of provinces on the British mainland, they’re perhaps not worth burning a Holy War CB on. Thus, little of interest happened to me in the 934-946 session; I strategically moved vassals around in accordance with a Cunning Plan that shall be revealed later, but that’s all.
In the 946-960 session, however, all hell broke loose – though I wasn’t its target. Oddman (ably subbed by Vaniver) and Fimconte declared, respectively, Crusade and Jihad for the northern and southern parts of Italy. In spite of various interventions they rapidly overran the peninsula and annexed it. That results in this map of Europe:
In other words, two allied powers now rule (ok, yes, modulo the revolt in Italy, but it’ll soon be crushed) from Gibraltar to the Elbe, from the Highlands to Malta. This is a bit of a problem. As balances of power go, it doesn’t. (Balance, that is. It certainly powers.) Naturally, the great nations of Europe and the Middle East have immediately formed an alliance to contain this common enemy, exchanging dynastically connected girls like party favours to create an overpowering coalition that can roll back the ill-gotten gains – hah. I jest, and the jest is bitter. The great nations of Europe are cowering in fear of the aggressors. The phrase “new Christian overlords” has not, admittedly, made an appearance yet, but it can be only a question of time.
I did my best to help the Italians: I sent my raiders south in their dragon-headed ships, to loot and burn in Pomerania, and distract the Moslem armies. I meant to do good, and I did quite well. But this business of raiding people who have actual armies is nerve-wracking – my mouse hand twitched for the embarkation order at every random movement of Fimconte’s vassals. The powers of Africa and the Levant need to get their act together; the people of the North can bite ankles (and such bites have been known to fester), but we’re going to need someone who can meet the Christian armies in the open field, and break their faith and make them run. Where are the brave Moslem armies of old? Where are the conquerors of Ethiopia and Rome?
Earlier in the game I had a lot of characters die young, mostly at very inconvenient times; although my current one is not that great, he is at least sticking around for a while. I’ll be sad to see him go; after my geniuses all died before reaching two score, having an average man reach his three-and-ten got me rather attached to him.
The situation has developed not necessarily entirely to my advantage. Because the PvP is depressing, I will first relate the only amusing thing that happened during the session, namely the way I took over the kingdom of Svithjod. It turned out that I had enough bits and pieces of Sweden to do a Usurp of the kingdom title; however, you can’t usurp while the target is at war. The war in question was a revolt, which the Swedish AI had effectively won; the rebels were reduced to a 20-man stack hiding out across the border in Lappland. Now, if I were leading a revolt that was down to its last twenty men, against a kingdom that could get together a thousand easily, I think I might have traveled east and south and seen whether the Sultan of somewhere warm was hiring blond mercenaries; but the AI was just sitting there slowly attriting away. It’s true that banditry “in aid of the cause”, and calling it guerrilla resistance, is an old and honoured occupation, but it’s not as though they could even have been finding much to steal in Lappland. However, the Swedish AI, displaying a nearly human level of metagaming – don’t let anyone tell you the Singularity is not near – refused to send its stack north to finish the deal. After all, what did it care if twenty former rebels slowly starved to death? That war was the only thing keeping it independent. So I offered it help – a classic offer you cannot refuse; in fact, while the player gets a choice in these things, I’d be unsurprised to learn that the AI has been coded to always accept offers of help in war. In any case, I sent my retinue north into Lappland, it duly crushed the rebels, the war ended, and I usurped Svithjod. You’re welcome, Swedish AI! Oh, and would you like to be my vassal? It turns out he would. (If he hadn’t, of course, I would have DOWed for the de jure CB.) So Scandinavia, at least, is now united under my rule.
England, unfortunately, is rather closer to being united under the rule of Voldemort – excuse me, Oddman. (“Unity is strength! Division is weakness!”) Following his obvious best strategy, as soon as the truce ran out he (and separately Fimconte) attacked me, holy wars for duchies. Pavski sent an army; but his navy was too small to transport the amount of troops we needed to challenge Oddman’s 45k. (Logistical constraints, in Crusader Kings! Who would have thought it?) We lost the decisive battle, and the war ended with my capital being ignominiously moved inland; in this exigency, I have assumed emergency powers and Denmark is no longer a republic. I am sad about this, because republics are fun to play, but it must be admitted that the “emergency powers” thing is not entirely a euphemism; I’ve spent quite a bit of time in this game waiting to become Doge. (Not to mention those two elections that didn’t stay bought.) A reasonable certainty that I’ll still be in charge if – to take a completely unlikely scenario – some two-bit AI with a coded grudge should manage to give me poisoned wine is worth quite a bit of money. I will attempt to restore the republic as and when convenient, but right now we need a single strong hand at the helm, and every man to his oar!
I still retain a few English provinces and most of Ireland, but at this point it’s clear that my most important assets are Scandinavia, the Muslim alliance, and the unquenchable optimism of the man who knows the gods are on his side. Oh, and my Yngling vassals. It’s true that unleashing these weapons of historical destruction is a move of desperation, and in truth I’m not yet quite desperate enough to go there. But it’s good to have something in reserve; and I have not yet begun to fight.
In which two offensives fail, and the end is not yet.
After last week’s session, when it was clear that Oddman had decided to abrogate (a much nicer word than ‘betray’) our initial arrangement and directly absorb England himself, my situation was somewhat dire. Oddman was kind enough to point it out himself, in a PM offering to negotiate terms of surrender:
Not to put too fine a point on it, I’m essentially in a position to dictate terms. Barring a diplomatic miracle or metagame weirdness, there is no way you can defeat me.
The terms we arrived at were that I should give up England, keep Ireland and Scandinavia, take Scotland until EU4, and become Oddman’s vassal. In return he promised to help me expand eastwards, presumably in the Russian steppe – which, it’s true, would have given me a chance to revisit the Rolandoviches. This negotiation was, however, entirely a sham on my part, since as the man himself had pointed out, the solution was obvious: Just arrange a diplomatic miracle.
Perhaps Oddman was indulging in a bit of hyperbole in order to convince (again, a much nicer word than ‘browbeat’) me to accept his terms. Really now, how miraculous is it to find an ally willing to prevent a major power from eating a smaller one and becoming even more of a threat? In a sense this is the fundamental game mechanic of all multiplayer strategy games! As miraculous as an unreliable ally; as rare as turning on a weak friend to strengthen yourself directly; as unusual as an aggressive Yngling!
I therefore approached Pavski, saying in effect “Help, help, I’m being oppressed, and also you’ll be next”. We arranged that I, after getting rid of my wife, should marry one of his innumerable daughters and declare a Great Holy War for England. And it worked! Perfectly! Oddman was campaigning in Scotland when 30000 Saracens landed on his two 10k separate stacks; my mercenaries crushed the vassal stacks forming in England, and dragoon invaded oddman’s mainland demesne, destroying still more armies there. It was glorious! It was inspiring! Specifically, it inspired me to make a vast mistake: I said, in public chat, where Murphy and all the imps of the perverse could see, “Odin protects his faithful!”
Well, really now, I don’t know what I was thinking. Odin doesn’t give a damn about his faithful, per se. (Actually, wrong metaphor. Odin doesn’t have any damns to give; Hel’s afterlife is unpleasant but it’s not damnation in the Christian sense of separation from gods and grace.) What Odin cares about is warriors for Ragnarok – and armies must be led. So, obviously, as soon as Fylkir Valdemar (Second of that Name) had demonstrated his ability to form alliances, to win hearts, minds, and battles, to decisively crush his enemies by cunning and leadership and not merely raw strength – that was when Odin gathered him up to lead a company, a battalion, or a regiment on Vigrid field. And, to be fair to the Father of Battles, the defense of the whole of creation against the ice giants could reasonably be said to be of higher priority than the issue of who should rule one small island for the next hundred years or so.
The specific instrument by which the Asagrim chose Valdemar to be slain was an assassination plot; not originating, as one might expect, in oddman’s court, but from that of the Rolandoviches – who still survive, far off in the Urals. The killer was Harald Storr, spymaster of Bolghar, too distant to diplomatically interact with, and my rival along with his sisters Holmfrid and Gyla. Three siblings, all hating me; could there be a common cause? It turns out I killed their father, Hysing of Somerset, who at the time was ahead of me in the election. So in some sense I had it coming; but to cut me down at the very moment of my triumph, when I was reuniting England under Dreki rule – ah, the irony! Truly, a very Crusader Kings moment. As a side note, it also turns out that Harald is the rival of each of his two sisters; you have to wonder a bit about the dynamics of that family, but by CK standards it’s perhaps not that unusual. At least they’re not Zoroastrians.
The killer. Note how, apart from me, he’s rival to both his sisters; note also the Kinslayer trait and the dead brother. Hmm.
And speaking of interesting family dynamics, his father – whom I offed so I could save some money on my campaign fund; heck, it’s not as though he didn’t get a long and full life, that’s why I wanted to be rid of him in the first place – is also a Kinslayer. Honestly I think I did Denmark a favour ensuring that these guys didn’t get into power, not that anyone is like to thank me for it.
The Great Holy War ended with a “successful Jihad for England” (presumably because Pavski had the most warscore at that moment) and no land changing hands. We are still arguing about whether this counts against our fifty-year cooldown. I lost the Dogeship; my mercenaries departed; my new character was another of the Dreki geniuses, but this was small consolation since he was pretty shortly killed, leading the AI’s regiments, in a hopeless and useless battle against the Scots, who of course took advantage of Denmark’s disarray to invade. Oddman, likewise, grabbed York; nothing to be done about it since I was no longer allied to Pavski. My retinue was ground to bits before I could maneuver it away; the AI, of course, mismanaged the Scottish war, and although I lead the election, my current run of luck inclines me to believe that Grand Prince Hysing (not the one I killed) will live to see his three score and ten.
Oddman has made it clear that he is no longer inclined to grant any particular terms of surrender – to be fair, no doubt his laundry bill is unusually high this month; it all worked out for him but I bet the sight of 30000 scimitar-wielding Muslims landing in his demesne inspired some throaty Dutch cursing. So at the moment my best bet seems to be to fight to the bitter end; unfortunately the landing grounds are long gone, and this being 921 I don’t think there can be many streets even in London, but I retain some fields and hills. It will take a while to conquer Denmark at its current extent one Duchy at a time; who knows what may happen? Fimconte might decide to complete the conquest of France; Oddman might have a run of Inbred Lunatic heirs; I might inherit Italy. I rarely play all-powerful empires – my skills consign me to being eternally the underdog; and everyone knows in what circumstances a rat fights best.