Off the east coast of Sardinia, mid-December 1475, dawn
‘My name is Idir, my name is Idir,’ she kept repeating in her mind, rubbing the oily dirt all over her already dirty face. ‘Glory to Allah for dirt and stench. Allah is great and merciful,’ she whispered. She realised dirt, patches of grease smeared on her face, and stench, the combination of unwashed body odour and smell of fish, protected her. Dirt and stench let her pass for a boy here on board of this pirate boat now; and back than, those edgy months in Al-Djazzir when, to survive, she begged in the streets and stole from bazaar stalls.
Did she regret? Of course she did. She knew she’d traded her husband’s beating for the other deckhands’ bullying, bruises for bedbug bites, her misery in her husband’s house for being constantly on the run, her fear of being battered by him for fear of being caught pretending to be a man, his contempt for a universal one. In her dreams she dreamt about the considerable comfort and wealth of their home, of her being acknowledged socially, of having her place in the neighbourhood, in the world; she even craved his punches.
But then, on that day, at that very moment, seeing his tightened fist, raised above, ready to strike, it was her instinct of self-preservation, and also that rebellious streak, all those years of nurture and seventeen months of marriage hadn’t rid her of, that propelled her to grab a knife and sink it in her husband’s belly.
She shuddered, she still could feel the faint shadow of that disturbingly pleasant sensation; with the second and third stabs she’d felt no more fear but exhilaration instead.
Will colluding with pirates pay off?
‘Idir! Get a move on! We’re ready to receive the cargo, come on, move your ass!’ shouted the captain. And the look he gave her sent chill run down her spine. Did her blue eyes and fair complexion betray her? Or is the captain so desperate for warmth, for physical closeness? His attitude to her for the past few weeks, the mixture of fondness and cruelty worried her to the point that she’d resolved to run off the ship taking advantage of the commotion the loading of the important cargo everybody was going on about would surely cause. She’s been pushing her luck for too long.
The boat stopped rapidly, they didn’t sail into the bay as she’d expected. Instead a small boat appeared from the distance, a few men inside. Two of them were rowing the vessel slowly towards captain Uluç’s galley. ‘Christians!’ she realised as they got closer; it dawned on her they were not going to disembark and collect any goods to be smuggled; the cargo was just approaching them.
She could make out two silhouettes of richly dressed men who clearly stood out from the rest. Hardly could she tear her eyes off the younger one. About her age, a cape swinging from his shoulders, a thin silver sword at his side, he was the most breathtakingly handsome man she’d ever seen. The older one had something weary about him, his rounded shoulders contrasted with his haughty bearing, as if the latter was just an act, a tiring one. She’d been so interested in these two that someone had to push her to make her go about lowering the ropes, lifting the packages and carrying them to the specially prepared cabin.
While she was picking up one of the bags, the young man, now onboard, shouted something to her. She’d picked some Italian but she was so dumbstruck under his gaze, her mind went blank. ‘What’s your name, boy?’ the man said slowly and somehow menacingly. She felt herself freeze. She wanted to hold him, she wanted him to look at her and see her, as she truly was; not an urchin lad with a dirty face, but a young woman. ‘Idir,’ she answered, ‘my name is Idir.’ ‘Careful. Fragile,’ the man said, pointing at the bag; his glance flickered indifferently past her to look for the captain.
Tremble the enemies! Pirates are our allies!
‘Idir, you good-for-nothing, help me with this! It’s damn heavy!’ shouted Tariq. She rushed to help him. Tariq was the oldest man on the boat and, his position amongst other pirates asserted, he didn’t bully her that much; he didn’t need to. He even seemed to have a soft spot for her as if his suppressed paternal affections had surfaced and found their outlet.
‘Tariq, who are these men?’ she asked. ‘The older one’s talking to the captain as if they knew each other.’
‘So you’ve noticed? Curious, huh? It’s not the first time we’ve had him aboard.’
‘Oh? And Tariq, they look so unreal, like, like… angels.’
‘Angels, huh. See that triangular thingies on their capes? The red and white ones.’
‘You mean the white cross against the red and the red bar in the upper part of the white background?’
‘Yes. These are the symbols of their realms. Up north they’re like beys. The fact is, you know, this one job could make Uluç rich enough to lie in his hammock and indulge his gluttonous appetite for a year. But he’s determined to keep on profiting from this war…’
‘Why are Christian beys travelling on a pirate galley? Don’t they have their own ships?’
‘Oh, Idir, where have you been for the past six years, you twit? There’s been this war going on between these two and another more powerful Christian ruler; his fleet controls the whole western part of the Sea. No worry though, Uluç’s sly and smart, he won’t get caught.’
‘And why does the older man look so miserable?’
‘So many questions you have you little scamp! But I’ll tell you what I know. I hear, the only port of his realm has been besieged, again, for months now. I believe he’s going to join his troops and try to lift the siege. A feat he, despite being a great warrior, had failed on a few occasions before. So no wonder he’s distressed.’
The defeats that haunted Filiberto I
‘Idir! Here!’ it was the captain this time. ‘You’ll attend to our guests’ needs. I’ve already told them but you never know with Christians if they got it right, right? Make sure none of them leaves the cabin until I let them. I don’t want to see them on deck. Understood?’
They acted as if she wasn’t there. She felt weird sitting and watching them. And she also felt overwhelmingly happy, for the first time in many years, as she could feast her eyes on the beauty of the young man. And, barely controlling her desires, she made the most of this opportunity.
'Can't Take My Eyes Off You'
Plain outside Nice, 21 January 1476
‘Idir’s found him,’ said Amadeo, Margrave of Montferrat to Phillip, Count of Geneva, pointing at the unconscious body stretched on the litter. ‘We’d been scouring the battlefield for hours when he finally spotted him. He was lying under his horse, half-crushed.’ ‘Physician!’ yelled Phillip, kneeling down next to his brother’s unconscious body. There he joined the unassuming figure of the Berber boy.
The motionless body she was bending over was covered with clotted blood and caked mud. The left leg was clearly disfigured, undoubtedly broken. She kept still. The heavy wheezing of the wounded man and the buzzing of fat flies in turns broke the silence. She couldn’t take her eyes off the wounds. She’d seen such ones before. She knew the dirt had got too deep, it had soiled the blood. She leant down and sniffed. She recognised the stench too. ‘He won’t make it,’ she realised. ‘Good Duke Filiberto won’t make it. Allah have mercy on his soul.’
The ominous yet victorious battle
The death of Duke Filiberto I and it's immediate aftermath
Story-wise Filiberto (duke from 1469-1476) is the second son of Lodovico I, thus he is/was the equivalent of Lodovico, count of Geneve (the first son in-game Victorio Amadeo, in real life Amadeo died – for the sake of the aar – childless.) Phillip of Geneve is real-life Phillip Sans Terre. Filiberto didn't die in battle, so no stab hit.
In 1470 Enric I of Aragon (predictably) dowed Navarre (prompting in this way the game equivalent of wars against John II) – by the way to all those who say there are too many rebels, just read on these wars, I have problems understanding all the rebel factions, pretenders and I am surprised Aragon didn’t fall apart. I was expecting the war and I was ready. I could side with Aragon, my ally, but my plan was different. At that time I had 5k troops in Sardinia (hinted in the previous update) and I’d done the maths: Aragon had 6 cogs, Naples 3. I don’t believe in AI naval operational cooperation so I decided 5k on Sardinia + mercenaries would have to do. Remember, with 1cog + 1 galley against mighty Aragonese fleet these 5k men will be cut off the other theatres of war for the rest of the conflict. Aragon sent its main army to Navarre, the mighty stronghold in 1476 (six years into war!) is still resisting the invaders! Shame, I have no means to help them out. I’d taken engineer corps as my first NI, it paid off: the siege of Sardinia was brief, I managed to take control of it before the incessant attacks from the Aragonese started. They attacked with at most 5k men, so I always had an advantage. A few battles were really close but I didn’t have to reload even once.
Naples sent its army to besiege Nice, Aragon helped them at times, I had to enlarge my ‘continental’ army to 3k and three times I used the gamey trick of ‘teleporting’ (well, the post explains it was pirates’ help in fact) my king (although I needed him much more on Sardinia) to lift the sieges of Nice. If I’m not mistaken there were like 8 or 9 attempts at sieging the town (more on it in the next update). Obviously my intention is to wait it out until I get Sardinia through occupation (it’s impossible to take it in a peace settlement). To avoid any internal trouble I hadn’t taxed my people. I am determined to win the war without taking loans either; which is tough due to many negative events + somewhere in 1470s I lost my last merchant in Venice, not that he made much profit with the full Aragonese blockade and privateers.
Internationally, things turned interesting too. France reduced Brittany to a opm got French lands from Burgundy and dowed Milan (I like it!), which once more stopped Austria short from conquering the Balkans (Austria had declared its second! war on Montenegro a while back – my pet hate). Denmark obviously lost its war, there are English not only on Orkeys but in Jylland as well! Poland ignores the Baltic, is diplomatically active in the Balkans instead: alliances with Serbia, Wallachia and Bosnia. Rome recently fell to Siena! (This will have far-reaching consequences). Muscovy is already Russia, allied with Sweden at that. OE is in war with the Mameluks again.
MMP stuff: either I’m dirt poor (more likely) or there’s been a change to ‘Strategic pact’ event (ubik somewhere said that no); it was a shock to see 7d when in my Navarre game I got around 100d from it. Pirates offering help was a nice surprise though, I hadn’t seen this event before.
Let’s have a new tradition: quizzes
The previous one is pending (though now it's easy to guess, i think), and here comes the new one:
Quiz: What’s going to happen to the girl who keeps saying, ‘My name is Idir.’?