At long last I have determined to start a new story. Having done a narrative AAR (In Flanders Fields) and then a chronicle style (Arthur's Tale) I wanted to write in a different vein. So this time it's written in the present tense and I aim for a lot more dialogue. The actual game is not very far advanced. It's Deus Vult normal difficulty and aggressiveness. Things are a bit slow at the moment so plenty of chance for me to pad things out but using real game events as the framework for the storyline. I' be grateful for feedback on the first instalment below and hopefully it will go on to be as long as my previous AARs and hopefully as enjoyable judging by past feedback on them. Enjoy.
A NICE CASE OF BURGUNDY
Somewhere a dog barks. A thickset man sits in a heavy wooden chair by a fire that dominates the room. He looks up and scratches his head, his concentration momentarily broken by the canine interruption. His attention is drawn by the wisps of smoke that spiral up towards the opening in the roof above. A couple of small birds squabble in the gloom above flapping their wings as they chase one another around in ever decreasing circles. A smouldering brand falls out of the fire and splutters on the hard earthen floor. The man toys with it absent-mindedly with his booted foot. Someone coughs breaking his reverie. He looks across to his companion, a younger man with the same build and colouring, and then back to the piece of parchment in his hand. He can read, an accomplishment few of his ilk can match, a legacy of his ecclesiastical training in his youth, and a skill which allows him to dispense with the need for clerks at intimate times such as these.
It is the year of Grace 1067. In two days time it will be the feast of the Epiphany. The older man is Robert, Duke of Burgundy. The younger man is his eldest son and heir Henri. They are sitting in the great hall of the wooden castle at Dijon in the heart of Burgundy. Although not a backwater, the duchy is poor, and the new fashion for stone built castles is still a distant prospect. The news they have been digesting is that of the coronation of William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, as King of England in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day just past. Like the rest of the Frankish nobility, Robert can still scarcely believe that this fierce, brutish man can have conquered the rich Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England in such a daring and outrageous manner. Robert has never met Duke William, but few in the Frankish lands have not heard of the man’s awesome and fearsome reputation. Robert knows that he himself could never have pulled it off. But the news has shocked him and he is assessing the implications for Burgundy with his favourite son.
“Imagine, a Norman as king of England!” says the duke “And he a bastard to boot.”
“Indeed, I have heard he is not a man to cross” replies Henri “bastard by name and bastard by nature.” He chuckles at his own witticism. “I wonder what our kinsman King Phillippe makes of it?”
“It matters not a jot what he thinks of it. He has to sit in Paris knowing he can do nothing about it. The time for action is past. King William now has all the riches of England at his disposal. True, at present I doubt he controls most of the kingdom but he has not made himself king to be satisfied with the pickings of the south – mark my words, ‘ere long he will be master of his new kingdom and the most powerful king in Christendom.
“We can be thankful that William is unlikely to turn his attention to us, but what will our liege King Phillippe do? Will he prepare for a possible assault on Normandy in the duke’s absence? Does he protect his own lands from Norman incursion? Or does he envy William and embark on his own campaign of aggrandisement?”
“But he is our good lord and sworn to protect us” says Henri.
“True, but he can call upon us to support him in any wars he makes, and that could hamper any ambitions we may have of our own.”
“You could always refuse to support him father.”
“Ha! And what good would that do? We would simply become the focus for his aggression. Besides he is my nephew don’t forget, and your cousin. No we must prepare ourselves to support the king should he have need of us. And that is why I want you to become my marshal. I’ve seen you with the men; you have a way with them. They fear me because I am their duke. You they would follow for who, not what you are.”
“Father, I shall be honoured, but I had rather have my own lands than serve my days as your marshal.”
“Patience my son; all in good time. If we are to achieve anything we must have a strong military; surely you see that?”
“Of course, father. Forgive my impudence.”
“There is nothing to forgive. Go and fetch your brothers and sisters and your mother; we all have much to discuss. Then we’ll have some more wine. I have a really nice drop of Burgundy that I’ve been keeping for an occasion such as this.”
The court of Burgundy is a small one. Robert is the first duke of Burgundy and as yet his court has not had time to flourish. Thus his family are his council. His eldest son Henri is marshal of Burgundy. His elder daughter Constance is his steward. His younger daughter Hildegarde is his chancellor. Her mother, Ermengarde, the duke’s second wife, is spymaster. The second son Robert is a keen soldier who resents his elder brother’s appointment as marshal. The duke tells him now that he has plans but that he must wait awhile, but all will be well. And finally there is the youngest son, Simon, or simple Simon as some unkindly call him. The gene pool was less kind to Simon than his siblings and although his father loves him, he knows that Simon is best kept away from matters of state. Looking back now, his father wishes he had sent him to the monks for an education, for as yet the duke lacks a suitable cleric to act as his chaplain and confessor.
The duke has two counties that he rules directly as demesne lands; Dijon and Charolais. He has three vassals. Hugues de Semur is aged 44 and is Count of Chalons. Guy de Macon, the Count of Macon, is a boy of 11 years. Guillaume de Nevers is Count of Nevers and Auxerre with whom the duke’s relations are strained. The two have long been rivals.
It is still 4 January 1067. The fire is still burning. The candles have burned low and several are guttering in the breeze that blows through the draughty hall. One candle is larger than the others and has notches in it to mark the passing of the hours. It shows that it is now around seven of the clock in the evening. Outside it has been dark for several hours. A light drizzle blows across the open bailey in the strengthening wind. Back inside the duke draws his cloak more tightly around his shoulders before addressing his family.
“We live in dangerous times. We must look to our future. And that’s why we will develop our forestry in Dijon and then when funds permit do the same in Charolais. This will give us more timber and thus more income. For the time being I am leaving taxes and tolls where they are.”
“If it were up to me I’d screw the burghers and peasants for all they are worth” says Simon with a nervous giggle.
“Well it’s a good job it’s not up to you then isn’t it” snaps the duke. “If we take all their money who will buy the extra timber? And they will simply hate us all the more. You have much to learn Simon.” The young man blushes deeply at his father’s admonishment.
“Idiot!” mutters Robert under his breath.
The duke throws his wine over Robert catching him by surprise. He shakes the liquid out of his eyes and briefly fingers the dagger in his belt. But a quick look at older brother Henri’s stern countenance is enough for his momentary bravado to evaporate as quickly as the wine that had spattered him moments earlier.
“Enough!” shouts duchess Ermengarde.
She is thick-skinned and brave enough to chastise her step-family openly. She finds them a brutish lot, not fit to be the half-siblings of her own daughter chancellor Hildegarde, but they are the price she willingly pays to be duchess of Burgundy and she will stop at nothing to maintain her position.
“Don’t you see? We must all be of one mind in this and follow the duke’s lead. A divided house is a doomed house. Our future prosperity and position depends upon the decisions we take now so let’s make sure they are the right ones and that once taken we all abide by them. Now where’s that wine got to?”
And she motions to one of the servants who materialises from out of the gloom bearing a flagon of the deep ruby Burgundy wine that he pours silently into each of the seven silver chalices the Burgundian nobility hold out expectantly.