Poland in 1419:
The winter held long that year, reluctant to release its grip on the land as if it knew the coming of spring would herald grave and terrible events. Crows circled the lands of Mazovia and Wielkopolska, swarms of them, crying their dark message as peasants spat over their shoulders and crossed themselves to ward off evil. Once the unwilling spring came its heat hung heavy in the air until it seemed nature itself hardly dared breathe for fear of disturbing the fragile peace. War cast its shadow across the kingdom of Poland, war against the hated German monks who ever defied the will of the Polish kings and who would be destroyed so that the kingdom might live.
That winter strange tidings reached the court in Krakow. Amidst the celebration of the coming of the Anno Domini 1419, the Year of Out Lord 1419, a man ealked into king Wladyslaw's court. The man was dressed in finery, though his garb was cut in an alien fashion. He appeared virile and as he stepped forward, out into the middle of the hall, there was a youthful spring in his step, and a calm assurance in his demeanor. Few dared show such before the king, the scourge of the Teutonic Knights at Tannenberg - Grunwald, as the Poles called it - almost nine nears past. His most striking feature, however, was his hair. It was the color of fresh snow, of the finest bleached linen. Not the hair of an old man, it was abundant and flowed past his shoulders; yet the uncanny whiteness marked him an outlander as well as an oddity so that the szlachta noblemen gathered around king Wladislaw's table scanned amazedly. A few crossed themselves.
The man instoduced himself as Lamprey; a name as odd as all else about him. He asked for shelter for the winter, declaring himself able to repay the kindness a hundredfold. The king was in a good mood, and honor-bound to extend shelter on this most holy of days, the birthday of the Savior. Lamprey was shown to a seat on the king's right hand for the monarch was curious about him. In the coming months, the odd man would be taken into ever closer confidence of the king, advising on manners foreign and domestic. Such influence was not easy to exert on the wise and independent monarch.
That same winter the burning bundles, the portens of war, were sent out calling up Polish forces from as far south as Podolia and Krakow. They rode in the snow and in the ice, rode until the Polish army was all assembled. One group was in Wielkopolska under the Field Hetman Kalinowski, and a larger one in Mazovia, under the Grand Hetman Zebrzydowski. War against the Duchy of Prussia and the Baltic League, their German allies, was declared with the coming of harvest; in the stifling heat of the Baltic summer, the armored columns of Polish and Lithuanian knights rumbled forward, ready to crush all who would oppose them.
The war was long and hard-fought by all sides involved. Much changed over its course, with new combatants joining the fray, participants leaving with honor intact and treasury increased by indemnities, or worse, dropping out of the melee defeated, to lick their wounds and plot revenge. The Baltic coast flared up with the blazes of war as Poland invaded Prussia, with Prussian ally Teutonic Order in the north attacked by Lithuania. As the Polish armies struggled and finally triumphed over their adversaries, the German states along the Baltic all signed separate peace agreements leaving Prussia to fight alone. Besieged, it fought like a caged lion, finally yielding seven years later.
Simultaneously, Poland's western neighbor, Bohemia, has converted to a new branch of Christianity, following the teachings of a pious priest named Jan Hus. As their once-faithful allies turned their backs under pressure from Rome, Lamprey advised the king to welcome the estranged country into an alliance with open arms. The grateful Czechs joined the Polish war with Prussia; however, they were soon in trouble themselves as Austria and their allies, the feared Swiss, invaded. Finding himself in a two-front war, king Wladyslaw Jagiello initially elected to wait and see which way the situation develops. Eventually, though, the Czechs came to the bring of collapse under ferocious Swiss and Habsburg assault, and the king has sent a relief force numbering some 17,000 troops.
The relief effort was a disaster - repeated attacks of the Polish cavalry were repulsed by well-trained Swiss mercenaries, forcing Bohemia to conclude a humiliating separate peace with the Swiss and forcing Poland to pay an indemnity. The only good news of the year was the long-awaited capture of the Prussian fortress of Koningsberg, which allowed king Wladyslaw to dictate a peace forcing Prussia to cede the righ province of Danzig, as well as Memel, to the Polish crown. The Polish forces were now free to turn their attention south, to Austria. Sweeping in through Bohemia, the germans never stood a chance before the unstoppable charges of the Husaria, some of the best cavalry in Europe and indeed in the world. A short year later, Austrian military forces were but a memory and Poland found itself in control of the hereditary lands of the Hapsburgs.
Though doubtful of the international opinion concerning the legality of such a move, under Lamprey's advice king Wladyslaw forced Austria to cede all their lands to him, leaving them with Vienna and a small area around the city to call their own. A dozen years of war came to an end. Countless thousands of lives were lost. The crows were right - and were now gorging on the spoils of their prediction, picking the bones of thousands of German and Polish bodies on battlefields throughout Europe as peace shrouded the land in its healing embrace.
As Poland celebrated, its king rested in his great hall. His white-haired advisor sat by his side, gazing at the banners of the defeated hanging from the ceiling, affixed to great copper chains holding them aloft. The face framed by white hair bore no expression. But his eyes gazed out sadly, remembering, and his mouth moved silently, counting. On some of the banners, there showed ruddy stains where blood splattered on the white, grey, and yellow...
Poland in 1431
To be continued...