Sins of the Father
An Epic Crusader Kings Saga
"Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sins."
Lord Robert de Hauteville, called Guiscard or Viscardus (the Cunning)
Duke Robert Guiscard (de Hauteville)
Sigelgaita of Salerno, Duke Robert's wife
Serlo de Hauteville, Duke Robert's Captain of Guards
Duke Robert's Bastard Son
Bohemond de Hauteville
Duke Robert's Brothers
Count Guillame of Beneveto
Count Roger of Messina and Reggio
Duke Robert's Nephew
Count Abelard of Taranto
The Patriarch of Rome, Pope Anselm of Lucca
Venosa, 26 December, 1066
Night had long since fallen over the foothills of the volcanic Vulture Massif, and the town of Venosa, nestled atop a rounded crag just a few days' ride out of the city of Melfi, slept.
A low stone wall ran along the hillsides surrounding the town, in more or less disrepair but manned by Norman guardsmen, servants of Count Guillame, who as count of this realm served as steward of several of the most important Norman holdings in Italia.
Venosa was not a large city, nor was it paticularly wealthy or of strategic value. It had been an important Samnite center in ages past, and was known to the scholars as the birthplace of Horace, the Roman poet. Its primary importance in this day, however, was its Abbey, the Church of the Holy Trinity, a Benedictine monastary in which were buried the brothers and late wife of His Lordship, Duke Robert Guiscard.
Hoofbeats signaled the approach of a horseman in the night. The town's gatehouse was a squat building of cobbled stone and a timber framed upper level with narrow windows that overwatched the muddy cart-path that passed for a road in these hills. A single torch flickered from an iron sconce on the outer wall, illuminating just the approach and the heavy oaken doors that led into the town proper.
As the rider approached, a man fumbled in the shadows to unlock the gate and cursed as he dropped the ring of keys he held. With a clank and a creak one of the double-doors slid open slowly and the gate man walked outside to greet the horseman.
"Woah," the rider commanded as he reigned his horse in and canted in a circle to relax the beast. Looking down at the guard from his mount, he extended a hand in greeting.
"I bring word for the Duke, let me pass," he spoke, and opened his satchel to reveal a wrapping of parchments sealed with wax.
* * * * *
The sanctuary of the Church of the Holy Trinity was quiet, empty, save for the figure sitting on a pew in the back, looking towards the altar with steel in his eyes and a furrowed brow. Rows of candles flickered in the slight draft running through the abbey, making shadows dance wickedly to an unheard tune upon the walls. Unseen but nearby were stern-faced warriors in linked chain with heavy swords hanging from their sides; while their lord was within they would let no one pass without orders.
Robert de Hauteville was not a young man anymore. He has risen to power quickly, from humble beginnings as the son of a poor knight in Normandy. Six years ago he had come to Italia to join his brothers, William Iron Arm, Drogo, and Humphrey, who had carved out their own realms from the Lombards in this place and amassed much wealth--now all dead, lying within the catacombs of this very Church. Perhaps that is why he came here every year, to commune with their spirits?
To pray for their souls.
Born around 1020, his elders had already settled in southern Italy before he joined them with a small group of comrades-in-arms, in 1047, just after the death of William Iron-Arm. His brothers, averse to share their recently acquired spoils, welcomed him coolly. He thus became a mercenary and served with the prince of Capua, Pandulf IV. He had only known misery until eventually his brother Drogo gave him a castle in Calabria with the assignment of harassing the Roman troops. When he was not helping his brothers, Robert, in order to survive, fell into brigandage and the population did not exactly welcome his presence, but he did what he must. Robert left his ‘eagle’s nest’ in Calabria when his brother Humphrey died in 1057, to succeed him at the head of the Apulian county of Melfi.
And now, he was Duke of a united, Norman Apulia, all of southern Italia except for Salerno and Naples, whom had held out for years to his offers of protection. His vassals were family, for what his father had lacked in land, he certainly made up for in sons. Fourteen to be exact, not including the bastards.
Robert was a cold man, hard, used to the rigors of the campaign, not the pleasantries of the court. His grey-blonde hair was thick and sleeked back from a high brow, his nose jutted out like a hawk's beak from recessed, dark eyes that saw more than they let on. His jaw was strong, his blood powerful. Still youthful despite his some four decades of life, his body carried the scars of many battles.
Ruthless, calculating, cunning-- "Guiscard", Robert de Hauteville was not a man to trifle with. Soon the Pope would realize this, Robert knew, and offer him all he wanted. Salerno, Naples, both would be his this year, he had vowed to his dead forebears on the Eve of Christ's birth, and afterwards he would sweep the Moslems from Sicily--lands promised by the Pontiff himself to the Normans.
"My lord?" a voice called from the anteroom, and one of his men, Emaldus, took a step into the room.
"I told you I was not to be bothered, Emaldus," Robert replied gravely.
"I bet your pardon, sire, but Sir Serlo has returned; he has documents for you, lord."
Robert stood, slowly, and looked back at the altar and the stone visages of his brothers carved intricately into the marble. Stepping towards the guardsman he grabbed the man's shoulder.
"Very well, I will meet him in my chambers. Send him up after he's eaten."
* * * * *
Past Midnight, 27 December 1066
"Enter," The Duke called from within his chambers. The horseman from earlier did so and bowed as he approached, dressed now in more comfortable attire, a loose fitting tunic and breeches of dark leather, a cowl over his shoulders still, and an ornate dagger at his hip.
"Lord, it is good to be back." Serlo said, and sat down across from his Duke, pouring himself a cup of warm wine to soothe his soreness from riding all day.
"I'd wager so," Robert replied. "Well, what news do you bring?"
Serlo took another drink and placed his satchel upon the table.
"Good news, I think. An emmissary from the Roman Emperor himself, Konstantinos Dukas, arrived in Melfi last week. They want to speak with you, about several diplomatic issues."
"Hmph. Likely he wants us to pledge fealty to his Greekness and kiss his hand like he was the Pope himself," Robert scoffed.
"I think not, Lord. This seems to be something..else. The messenger from Melfi told me they brought a train of gifts with them, all the way from the Holy Land."
"Indeed?" The Duke was intrigued. The Roman Empire, from its center in Byzantium, was the most powerful realm on earth, even if they had a schism with Rome itself. Any dealings with the Basileus of Rome could only enhance his own prestige, no matter the outcome. Robert had been a scourge to the Greeks of Italia, driving them out in many places, confiscating businesses and holdings, and murdering scores as he razed territories establishing his rule in years past. Naples was still ruled by a Greek who pledged allegience to the Emperor, and had been a thorn in his side for the past several years. What could this portent?
"Very well then. The Christ's Mass is done with, we will return to Melfi with the new year and meet these Greeks. What do you think they want, Serlo?"
"They want to manipulate us, of course, Lord. To their own benefit. Likely they will be trying to play us off another power in order to weaken our holdings here. You must tread carefully, liege."
Robert sipped the wine again.
"We will see who is manipulated," he said with a sly grin.