Rome was a city whose history was filled with grandeur, yet few could say anything surpassing the “Council of Seven Kings” had taken place in the city in the last thousand years. The remains of the Circus Maximus were hastily jury-rigged, and the public was entertained with horse races for the first time in hundreds of years. Each duke and monarch that arrived in the city attempted to outdo the other. The Duke of Poitou brought a show of trained bears with him, while the King of France brought a circus troupe to awe the populace. The German Emperor attempted to outdo them all by dumping a chest of silver into the center of the great circus for anyone to have their hands in.
Yet the Eastern Emperor outshone them all.
At the insistence of both Sophie and all the Logothetes in his council, Basil made sure he was the last to arrive in Rome, over two weeks after the last royal monarch reached the city. When he did set off, the Emperor brought with him the thousand strong corps of Hetaratoi, as well as over 20 chests of silver solidii, and hundreds of servants, retainers and aides. Sophie especially insisted on this as a minimum of splendor the Eastern Emperor needed when facing the Lords of the West. Basil himself thought the whole arrangement was rather ridiculous, preferring to travel to Rome in simple clothes. The Empress won out.
On March 18th, 1170, the city of Rome was awakened to the sound of trumpets and drums, as an official herald rode into the city, followed by one hundred Hetaratoi shining from head to toe in burnished steel mail. At every cross street along the central streets of Rome, the herald stopped, pulled a scroll from a gilt case, and loudly proclaimed that the Most August Emperor of the Romans, King of Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Syria, Aleppo, Egypt, Jerusalem, Armenia and North Africa would arrive at the southern gates to the city at exactly ten in the morning the following day.
Behind these heralds came men clad in the finest raiments, each throwing silver coins into the crowds, loudly proclaiming they were from the Eastern Emperor, as gifts to the people in the West. As can be expected, chaos ensued – all ensuring that early the next morning, immense crowds had gathered all along the route of the Emperor’s arrival, from the great kings of Europe themselves, to the lowliest of Roman citizens.
As the bells of the city rang the tenth hour the next day, the great Appian Gate opened, and a scene seemingly straight from biblical or fairy tales cantered into the city. Over nine-hundred Hetaratoi, more heavily armored and armed than any European knight, rumbled down the streets of Rome. At their head was a figure encased in golden armor, a crown fixed with rubies and emeralds encircling his helm. Behind him billowed a purple cloak of the finest silk, and he rode a black stallion encased in gilded barding, great peacock feathers rising from its head. In his right had he clutched an immense lance, its head made of gold, an immense icon of Mary and Jesus hanging from its golden heft. As the figure swept by, the smell of cinnamon and spices wafted into the nose, cast into the air by the priests immediately behind him, their censers filling the air with sweet perfume.
Basil dressed in state armor. While the people of Rome for years afterward told stories of the ‘Man Encased in Gold,’ Basil himself felt the armor foolish and hideously hot.
Finally the immense parade made its way to the Lateran Palace, where Pope Boniface, as well as the royal and ducal heads of Europe were awaiting. Little did Basil know what a group of villains he was walking into. Eventually the great gate of the Palace Gardens he knew so well closed behind the Emperor, and with undo haste Basil tore off the gilt chainmail that covered his lower face, and yanked off his immense gilded helm. He’d told Sophie and Rodrigo it was foolishness – no one would ever wear this much armor, except in parades, yet both, as well as even the Treasury, had insisted the Emperor needed new ‘ceremonial tools of state.’ To Basil, they were all annoyances
For Basil, to call the succeeding week painful would not do the entire arrangement justice. On one hand, the Emperor was able to meet with his old tutor, and Rimini proved eager to hear how his former pupil was doing. The nights the two were able to spend in conversation over chess and wine invigorated Basil’s mind. The Pope was duly impressed with Basil’s skill on the battlefield, but even more so with how the Emperor had treated his prisoners, both of high rank and common station.
But that week also meant dealing with the endless balls, banquets, dinners and receptions that royalty always threw upon one another. Each gala was more extravagant than the last, and every banquet seemed to have less and less meaning other than watching Varangians, Englishmen and Germans gorge themselves, and Poles and Greeks alike spitting up food as they laughed at raucous jokes. Much merriment was to be had for those who wished for a party, but for those like Basil, eager to plan a military campaign, little was accomplished.
The incessant ceremony was only the beginning of the reason little was done – the deep, personal rivalries between the rulers was an entirely darker and more vicious matter entirely. Richard was bawdy, and full of himself, with a keen dislike for the King of France. Heinrich reminded Basil of a less competent version of his father. Drogo was a spiteful man in the best of times, with an acidic tongue that lashed out at anyone. Knud was best described as an old, vicious little man, while Boleslav was a vengeful fool. Magnus said little and Basil expected the same from him.
King Drogo not only is King of France, but titular overlord of the Crusader states in North Africa. With the defection of Constantine to the Eastern Empire, the French King is increasingly worried about his holdings and the encroachment of Romanion.
Finally the Eastern Emperor grew annoyed enough that, with tacit Papal approval, he invited all of the great Kings to his personal chambers. Yet where they expected wine, or in Boleslav’s case, a debauched woman, they saw only Basil, and Rodrigo, lately functioning as his interpreter.
“Ours is the world in small, Majesties” Basil continued his introductory spiel, to only moderate attention at best, “and should we decide we must act to save Christendom on the Iberian peninsula, it shall happen. So, my lords,” Basil motioned to the table, “let us begin?”
“This table is round,” Boleslav needlessly observed. The Polish lord could be charitably described as dense.
“Bah, means we can’t sit you at the end!” Knud hissed.
Basil slipped into a random chair at the table, and promptly the English king sat down beside him. The arrangements fell out from there, Drogo opposite Richard, Heinrich on the other side of Basil, and Magnus and Knud flanking the French King. Boleslav stood around, until realizing there was merely one chair left between Heinrich and Knud, which he slipped into. The Danish King glared at his counterpart. There was no shortage of bad blood there.
Basil looked around, evaluating his situation, and the known rivalries before him. While he never had his father’s audacity or deviousness, he recognized a situation that required a more delicate touch. Finally, he laid eyes on Richard, the most martial of those before him, and the man who hadn’t said anything edge-wise to Basil all week.
Jealousy was in the English King’s green eyes. If it hadn’t been for Basil’s Syrian campaign, Richard’s exploits would’ve been the toast of Europe. The fair haired English giant clearly resented that. Of those gathered, Basil wanted Richard’s support the most – if Richard commanded the Latin armies operating in Iberia…
“So…” Richard looked Basil up and down.
“So…” Basil looked right back. The Emperor knew Richard’s reputation, and was dearth to say anything to get the brash king started. He’d already witnessed both Heinrich and Drogo get an earful of expletives from Richard the moment they questioned his virility, his love of women, or his martial prowess. An awkward silence hung between the two, before finally, Basil coughed. He knew only one way to break the ice between them.
“Um… so, how did you defeat the Scots at Flodden?” he asked.
The King of England beamed. “Your Majesty really wishes to know?”
“No, we really don’t,” Drogo grumbled.
“I do,” Basil glanced at the French King. Drogo II Capet, Basil decided, was a lost cause. The man regarded the Western Med as his personal lake, and was highly resentful that the Romanoi were now inching closer and closer to his waters. Richard would counterbalance Drogo… Basil trusted Heinrich only as far as he could throw him.
The King of England’s smile grew wider, and he launched into an intricate description of his plans. Basil played along, asking questions at pertinent points, though he refrained from offering his own critiques, even as the other monarchs all rolled their eyes, hissed, or in general made themselves a nuisance. As it turned out, Richard’s campaign was fairly common-sensical – the only true mark of brilliance Basil could find was in Richard’s pre-battle deployments. The Emperor refrained from saying such, and within the hour, Basil was sure he had a new, if loud, friend – the first, it seemed, he was able to gain amidst the tempestuous uproar of the past week.
“So that’s when I put my sword to that damn Scotsman’s throat and told him if he didn’t surrender, I’d rip his head off and piss in the hole!” the King of England finished his bawdy rendition of the tale. Basil blinked, shook his head to clear his mind.
Flodden Field, where Richard’s 14,000 man army crushed a force of 30,000 Scots. While the Scots had a numerical advantage, Richard’s troops were better equipped, better armored, and most importantly, better lead. The Scots easily marched into an ambush where their schiltrons were flanked by English knights and cut to pieces. The Scots also weren’t helped by the flight of their cavalry, including King Robert, as soon as the English knights charged.
“Amazing,” he said as diplomatically as he could.
“I don’t think the young pup left a young boy with his britches fixed in all of Normandie,” Drogo said sourly. The man was only thirty-eight, yet he looked ten years older, with shots of gray going through his beard and mustache. Basil thought his beady eyes looked like two small beetles stuck for his face. “Excellent conquests, Majesty.”
Richard cast a positively ferocious look at the King of France. “And who are you to speak, old man?”
Drogo merely smiled. “I have five sons, young pup. Even the Emperor of the Greeks had two sons of his own. Where is your brood to prove your virility? Your love of women?”
“Gentlemen!” Heinrich cleared his throat. The tall, thin German could almost be described as airy, despite his thick black mane of hair and midnight dark mustache. Most of the week, the Emperor of the Germans had played the role of peacemaker, or kingmaker, depending on how one saw the argument, dispensing support in arguments here for gifts and support there. It was a role that Heinrich had always leapt to with relish, and Basil had no doubt the German had already milked the acidic rivalry of Boleslav and Knud for numerous concessions from both. “Gentlemen! I have no doubt, Good King Richard, that you have plenty of tales with which to regale us, but for now, we must put the finish touches on our plans!” Heinrich looked at Basil with a smile seeking approval – the Eastern Emperor merely nodded. Heinrich wouldn’t gain anything from him for something a minor sergeant with a sharp voice could have done.
“England will send 15,000 men right down their throats – we propose landing in Navarre, taking on the northern part of Almeria, and cutting off any resistance in the Pyrenees passes so our noble French and German allies can march through,” Richard said with sufficient bluster. The plan was aggressive, nearly as aggressive as Basil’s own. Almeria was split into two – southern Almeria, with the capital, lay on the southeastern coast of the peninsula and included the Baleares. Northern Almeria was seated mostly in Navarre. With the two so widely split…
Drogo raised an eyebrow. “And so the young pup moves to steal more of the glory again from us older men. How selfish of him – and on a holy crusade while he’s doing it!” the French king hissed. “He’ll probably leave our troops to starve in the Pyrenees passes!” Basil looked at Heinrich, and while the German Emperor wasn’t as blunt as his French compatriot, his eyes spoke of mistrust.
Richard raised his hands. “I assure you all, the goals of the crusade are at my heart!” The King made a sign of the cross that Basil found only marginally convincing.
“You’ll leave both Heinrich and I in the passes, and you’ll demand the Caen and Bruges from us as ransom! You lie like a Breton!” Drogo snapped. “And you fight like one as well!”
Richard visibly sputtered in anger. “And I’ll ask you, Capet, where you were on Morhiban Field? Soiling your armor, like you did at Caen!?” For a second, it looked as if Drogo and Richard would both leap to their feet, and Basil was glad, for the first time this day, that no one had been allowed to bring arms to the meeting.
“Majesties, please,” Basil tried to put a hand visually between them to break things up before it got out of hand. “So, Richard will land English forces in the north of Spain, while Drogo and Heinrich push over the passes?” Nods went around the table, with grumbling from the French and German monarchs.
“So, where will the Eastern Empire go?” Drogo asked, raising an eyebrow to Basil. In that gaze the Emperor saw many things – the chief of which was the unspoken question of How much of MY domain will you threaten?
Basil cleared his throat, then walked over to the map. “Our first objectives will be to cover the southern approaches, and provide a diversion for Your Majesties’ efforts. My fleet will set sail from Calabria, Taranto, and Messina on the first of the new year, and secure the Baleares as well as Almeria. We will also begin a diplomatic offensive as well, securing guarantees from the Moroccans to not interfere in Your Majesties efforts.”
South Almeria was the ideal first target for the Romanoi – the ports of Majorca and Menorca would provide valuable naval bases with which to dominate the Western Mediterranean. Almeria proper would provide a lovely toehold on the southern end of Iberia, a base from which Basil could launch deeper campaigns. However, the Emperor knew Drogo especially would not like Romanion taking the Baleares – from there, a Romanoi fleet could interdict any traffic between France and Latin North Africa…
“Our sources indicate that Almerians have only perhaps 10,000 troops altogether,” Rodrigo added. “We’ll bring some 20,000 and should easily overwhelm them.”
The Almeria southern campaign. Imperial troops would be drawn from Sicily, as well as Basil’s personal thematakoi in Calabria. All told, 20,000 troops would be involved in the operation.
“Well and good – so you plan on taking the Baleares first?” Richard asked.
“No,” Basil shook his head, “We’re going to strike all of southern Almeria at once, take them as quickly as possible, and by surprise if possible.” The Emperor gestured. “Once Almeria has been taken, we can then use it as a springboard for campaigns the following year or two into Toledo as well.”
The King of England nodded appreciatively. “I would concentrate all my forces and take continental Almeria first. Menorca you can always come back and gobble up after,” he offered.
Basil gritted his teeth, but managed to nod his head. “Good counsel, Majesty, an idea I ran past my own generals before coming here. They all advised on seizing continental Almeria and Menorca at once. A simultaneous attack will leave them divided across both areas, making our effort easier.”
In fact, the strategoi had been split on the issue. While they were appreciative of the benefits of catching the Almerians by surprise, many wanted the backbone of the attack to be focused on Almeria proper - fearful that a partial force landing near the Almerian capital could face a numerically equivalent number and suffer disaster. Basil had insisted on the surprise campaign, in part to net Menorca and Majorca before the French could.
“How will we coordinate though?” Heinrich mused. “You’ll be coming from the east across the sea, while, assuming our dear friend Drogo allows my troops to march across his noble country,” the German smiled darkly at the French King, who merely glared, “while we’ll be fighting over the Pyrenees, a long, hard march. Should some of our forces join your effort?” The dark smile turned to Basil. “We wouldn’t want you stranded and cut off, now would we?”
“I’ll send 15,000 men with your troops!” Boleslav boldly announced. Basil grimaced, Knud visibly sneered.
“Majesty, that’d require more ships and more coordination,” Basil cautioned, backtracking. Latin troops in his contingent would mean trouble, and Basil had no doubt Drogo especially would ensure that numerous spies were within those battalions to keep an eye on Romanoi movements. “However, if you can muster and get 15,000 troops to my Adriatic ports by December, our fleet can provide the logistical transport,” Basil heard himself saying. While that would give Sophie’s agents time to ferret out most of Drogo’s spies in the expedition, personally he hoped Boleslav turned him down. Boleslav was notoriously lax on discipline, and Basil didn’t want 15,000 rampaging soldiers within his borders led by a King who did little, if anything to stop them.
“What of our other northern brothers?” Heinrich asked, nodding towards Knud and Magnus.
“150 longships leave Gotland,” Magnus grunted. Drogo visibly rolled his eyes, while the Dane grumbled something about Swedes and sheep – Basil couldn’t pick out the whole thing.
“My armies are weak and tired,” Knud said with an empty sigh. “Instead of sending men, I shall send money Lord Boleslav’s way, to aid his movement to the south.” The Dane leaned back in his chair. “Money is the sinew of war, said a famous man… who was it?”
Boleslav started to smile, before the grin grew stillborn. “Now wait a minute!” Boleslav’s face suddenly turned dark, before a deadly finger pointed at old Knud. “You want me to march my men south, so you can rape and pillage my borders as usual!”
“Idiocy knows no bounds,” the Dane coolly replied. “I can’t think of the man that said that line.”
“150 ships leave Gotland!” Magnus said once again in broken Latin, clearly frustrated he couldn’t express himself in the apparent langua franca of the room. He uttered some other harsh words that Basil couldn’t understand. The Emperor glanced at Rodrigo, who shrugged his shoulders – Magnus had spoken too quickly, and in the midst of the growing argument between Boleslav and Knud.
“Danish wretch!” Boleslav spat. “Honestly, why should I trust the man that burned Gdansk to the ground!”
“We didn’t burn it to the ground,” Knud rolled his eyes, “we stood around and just didn’t put out any of the fires.”
“Lit by your men!”
“Majesties!” Heinrich tried to intervene, no doubt to extract some more concessions and promises out of both. Basil kept himself from grinning when this time the German Emperor couldn’t douse the war of words.
“Look at the barbarians squabble,” Drogo spat coolly a few minutes later as tempers ran high.
“Look at yourself - I didn’t know they stacked dung that high in France!” Knud glared back at Drogo.
“150 longships leave Gotland,” Magnus said again in broken Latin, gesturing fiercely towards said island.
“Yes, we know you have 150 longships in Gotland, you Norse cretin!” Drogo hissed, shooting death glares at Knud. “Watch your tongue, Dane, or my troops might find a northward leg on their journey!”
“All the better, for King Richard’s men need to go south anyways!” Knud shot back. “Leave it to a Capet to get thrashed by a 21 year old boy! Morhiban? Hah! You’d never see a Knytling get embarrassed like that!”
“They go there,” Magnus said over the noise of the group, pointing towards Majorca, ignoring the argument around him. “Leave two months!” he smiled broadly, displaying a set of teeth far finer than anyone would have expected.
“What does that mean?” Basil asked Rodrigo hurriedly. Drogo, Knud and Boleslav were back to their posturing, and angry words were flying yet again. The Spaniard managed to ask in broken Swedish, and Magnus began to laugh – great, rolling laughs that echoed over the room. Happily he blurted out a string of noises that grated Basil’s gentle Greek ears, and Rodrigo’s face paled.
“He said!” Rodrigo shouted above the din. The arguing kings fell silent, unused to anyone shouting them down. By their glares, it was apparent they, especially Knud and Drogo, chalked it up to ‘eastern arrogance.’ “He said,” Rodrigo then said more quietly in Latin, for the benefit of all others present as well, “that his 150 longships left Gotland two months ago, and are headed for Majorca already!”
“Already?!” Basil’s eyes went wide. If the Swedes left two months ago, they would be nearing the coast of France… which would mean no surprise attack by the Romanoi on the Baleares…
…It would also mean no matter what, Basil would have a friendly harbor in the Baleares, so long as he kept good relations with Magnus. Instantly, the unknown was suddenly a kingmaker in his own right.
“My, he’s eager!” Heinrich snarled, upset that the king he regarded as no more than a stupid Viking had upstaged him. “Leave it to a Viking to go pillaging! Knud, it appears you have a blood brother!”
“Leave it to a German to whine about being pillaged!” Knud shot back, furious that the German Emperor, his ‘friend,’ would insult him so.
“Leave it to a Dane to…not know the difference!” Boleslav’s insult fell flat. The Danish King responded with something harsh to Basil’s ears, but evidently understood by Boleslav. The Pole was immediately on his feet, and for the second time today, the Roman Emperor was thankful that no one had brought weapons into the Lateran Palace.
Immediately all eyes turned on Basil, whose military grade bellow was still echoing off the rafters of the ceiling. None of these princes had ever been spoken to in that manner before, all of them were wide eyed, incredulous, some even angry, but one by one, they returned to their seats as a chastised child would hide in the corner. Basil had no illusions that he had their obedience, he had their attention, likely only momentarily. So he made the best of his moment, and focused them back on their plans…
Basil came out of his chambers long after the other kings had left. Only one person was waiting for him an Rodrigo – a respite from the long lines of people that had waited before.
“So what are we looking at?” Alexandros Thrakesios asked impatiently.
“Boleslav and Knud probably won’t send anything,” Basil sighed. “They say they will, but they’re going to be at each other’s throats in no time. I’d say it’ll be a month after they leave here before ‘troubles at home’ prevent from them sending their men. Once we’re in Spain, the war between them will start in earnest as soon as no one else is looking.”
“And the others?”
“That Varangian Magnus has longships on the way,” Basil said with no small amount of admiration. “I won’t expect much from him except a spirited few, but even that could be helpful,” Basil smiled. “Take this note down – Tomorrow I want to privately meet with Magnus, and have something suitable on hand as a gift to thank him for his…”
“Resourcefulness?” Rodrigo offered.
“Yes. Rodrigo, you’re in charge of that, and brush up on your Swedish.”
“I hear there are some ladies from that northern land in some of the bordellos here in Rome!” Alexandros offered. Rodrigo glared at his friend, before deciding ignoring him was the best option.
“And what of the three major princes?” Alexandros asked, falling in step behind Rodrigo and the Emperor.
“Heinrich and Drogo almost have to send forces, though I’d expect only 5-10,000 from each,” Basil said quietly.
“Any coordination between them?”
“So,” Alexandros crossed his arms and huffed, “you’re telling me all of Christendom is lumbering into this massive affair blindly flailing about, with little rhyme or reason as to why?”
“Personal issues, would be the reason why,” Basil clarified. “I might have struck a chord with the King of England, I’d expect him to cooperate the most. If he holds to his word, we could have 15,000 men landing in northern Almeria as we attack the south. Drogo I expect to even hinder us – as a reminder, make sure that when we return the Megas Doux knows that our fleet’s line of scouting galleys should keep an eye out for French ships and take them into custody until we have safely landed.”
“Yes, Majesty. And what of the Western Emperor?”
Basil shrugged. “Heinrich will have both Boleslav and Knud playing war on his border any time, and he has little directly to gain from the Crusade. I’d expect him to offer to pay someone else’s way – coin is easier to come by than trained troops. But it’s no matter,” the Emperor waved them all off. “We don’t need an organized response from the West, or even hardly a response at all. As long as the West musters, and some Latins attack the north of Iberia, it will distract attention from us. Rodrigo?”
“Yes Majesty, two more letters from Sophie,” Rodrigo handed over several scrolls to Basil.
“They say?” Basil prompted.
“The Office of Foreign Affairs under her supervision in my absence has made contact with the Sultan of Morocco, and in her words, we’ve ‘suitably persuaded’ him that our intentions are to merely establish a few trading posts in Almerian territory, and knock the upstart Sultanate of Toledo down a notch. She requests, no demands that you make sure that after Almeria falls, we do not aid the Crusaders overtly, else the ruse will end.”
Basil closed his eyes and nodded. Running the Empire at times could be a truly dirty business.
Muhammed ibn Yusuf, Emir of Almeria
So, as Basil said, the Crusade begins, uncoordinated, with rivalries abounding. Yet, at least, it looks as if the Latins are moving. Will an uncoordinated strike be enough? Will they get their act together? Are Basil’s suspicions of Drogo accurate? More will come to light next Rome AARisen!
As an OOC Note: This Crusade, seemingly all of Europe dogpiled on the more Emirate of Toledo (which I've elevated to a Sultanate, given its size and income) - and in game decision to invade Spain was more based on "Grab some now while its low BB muslims I have to declare war on, rather than later when its all Christian and I have to watch my BB carefully." This will get really bumpy really soon, so stay tuned!