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Thread: The Hidden Cross

  1. #1
    Mad Clansman Farquharson's Avatar
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    The Hidden Cross


    A story set in the Byzantine Empire. The game was begun as the County of Corfu, ruled over by the Bryennios family starting in 1066. To give added flavour I will use the name Korypho which, I am informed by Wikipedia, was the Byzantine form of the name Corfu. I am playing Deus Vult 2.0 on Normal/Normal.

    This AAR is one of my periodic departures from comedy, so I am starting it with some trepidation. However here is the formula I have worked out to try to make it as easy as possible for me to actually complete the AAR! I will play about ten years at a time, making copious notes and screenshots, then I will select a screenshot at random and tell the story of what happened around that time with an emphasis on developing some of the characters in the game. For me, bringing the in-game characters to life is by far the biggest motivation for writing a CK AAR. After writing up part of the game it is always fascinating to go back to playing and suddenly seeing those rulers and courtiers in an entirely new light.

    In addition there is an overall plotline which I will develop as we go along, each of the randomly selected screenshots showing something that will turn out to be significant for the plot. In other words, although I know vaguely where the plot is leading, I don't really know how it will get there in detail - that's part of the fun!

    Does this formula sound a bit hare-brained? Well perhaps, but I have now played twenty years (i.e. two chapters' worth) and so far I'm pleasantly surprised by the results. As far as illustrations go, I think I will limit screenshots to the one randomly selected for each chapter, but may make use of other graphics that help to give a Byzantine flavour to the story.

    So here we go, Chapter One will be arriving shortly…
    Last edited by Farquharson; 10-01-2010 at 21:52.
    Fide et Fortitudine
    Currently writing a CK AAR: The Hidden Cross - a tale of the Byzantine Empire and the Bryennios Dynasty

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  2. #2
    Mad Clansman Farquharson's Avatar
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    Chapter 1

    Chapter 1

    1067: The Body on the Beach


    The girl lay on her back on the sand with her eyes closed, the hot sun on her face. She was drifting off, the gentle splash of the waves lulling her to sleep, when the scream ripped into her consciousness, jerking her upright in a sudden terror. She looked around in a panic, searching for the small form of the boy. Already the two guards were running down the beach from where the horses were tied, their boots pounding through the sand. There - he was there, down near the sea. But standing - relief flooded through her. He must be all right if he was standing.

    With one hand he was waving violently, with the other he was pointing. What he was pointing at was a dark object lying on the beach. It looked like a rock covered in seaweed, perhaps. He was shouting something. And now the girl was also running towards him, and could just make out the words: "Man dead! Man dead!"

    The two guards reached him almost at the same moment as she did, but while she caught the young lad up in her arms and tried to soothe his sobbing cries, the guards went straight to the prone form, the cause of the uproar. It was indeed the body of a man. The sodden body, suggesting the obvious way by which he had got there - he appeared to have been washed up by the sea.

    "Man dead!" sobbed little Nikephoros, burying his face in his nanny's hair, while she stroked his head and made shushing noises to calm him down.

    "This 'un ain't dead," declared one of the guards who was now kneeling by the body and feeling for a pulse. "I reckon he just needs drying out."

    As if on cue the body shook into life with a series of violent coughs and retches. After some moments of this, the man lay back groaning, still with his eyes closed. Nikephoros clutched even tighter at his nanny's hair, unsure of whether he liked the coughing, retching man any better than the dead one.

    "Come on," said the other guard, "let's get a horse down here and get him to the castle."

    -----------------oOo-----------------

    "You say you hadn't noticed the man, and yet my stepson practically fell over him - he was not therefore by your side?" Theophano Countess of Korypho fixed the girl with a firm though not hostile gaze.

    "No my lady - I had let him run off down the beach. The place was quiet - I thought there was nobody about. The man - the body… I took it for a rock."

    "You were keeping an eye on him, then?"

    "Oh yes, my lady", she lied. "Never out of my sight, he was."

    "He seems very troubled by the incident. He took the man to be dead, you say?"

    "Well, we all did - looked like he was drowned for sure, my lady. I was shocked at the sight of him myself."

    "Did you recognize him at all?"

    "No my lady. He's an older man, but I reckon I've never clapped eyes on him in my life."

    "Greek? Norman? Arab?" The Countess crossed herself as she uttered this last possibility. A body washed up on the shores of Korypho was not likely to have come from the southern shores of the Mediterranean, but it was just possible.

    "Oh, Greek I would say, my lady."

    "But he did not speak?"

    "He'd still not come round by the time we got back to the castle, no."

    "Very well. You may go and attend to my stepson now. I think it might be best to find some activity that will take his mind off the incident on the beach. A game, perhaps?"

    "Very good, my lady."

    -----------------oOo-----------------

    Count Nikephoros sat fingering the small leather pouch that the guard had just handed to him. His eyes moved from that object to the scrap of parchment lying on the table in front of him.

    "So - what do we know of this stranger who has so mysteriously arrived on our shores?"

    "Practically nothing, my lord. He looks to be Greek, his clothing looks Greek, and of good quality. But this pouch is all we found about his person."

    "And the parchment was in the pouch?"

    "Yes, my lord."

    The Count picked up the scrap and studied it more closely.

    "Hmm. Well, that will be all, thank you." He dismissed the guard with a wave of his hand. The guard bowed and left, leaving the Count with his Spy Master, Isaakios Eulogios.

    "What do you make of it, Master Isaakios?" he asked. The Spy Master was young, at twenty-five he was two years younger than his liege the Count Nikephoros. He was absolutely trustworthy, but unlike the Count he was not one to trust others until he felt he knew everything there was to know about them.

    "He could be a Norman spy, my lord."

    "A spy? Hmm. Well, I suppose so. Until he speaks we shall not know of course if he is truly Greek or not."

    "With respect, my lord, there are plenty of Normans who speak Greek."

    "Yes, quite. Well no doubt if there is anything suspicious about him you will soon sniff it out, eh?"

    "I should think the very fact of his appearance is suspicious, my lord!"

    "Oh come, there could easily be a perfectly reasonable explanation, surely?"

    "Such as?"

    "Well, I… hmm. Oh, I don't know - the fellow is a fisherman who fell overboard or something?"

    "And his shipmates couldn't be bothered to save him, my lord?"

    "Well, you know, perhaps they didn't notice until it was too late. Perhaps it was at night?"

    "His clothing was of good quality, the guard tells us - surely not a fisherman's my lord?"

    "Well then, a merchant perhaps?"

    "Hmmph. And the parchment - you cannot deny that that is suspicious."

    The Count was still holding the scrap, and now looked at it again. There was no writing on it, only some sort of crude drawing, and a cross. He laid it on the table once more.

    "What do you think, Isaakios? Some sort of portrait by the looks of it?"

    The Spy Master bent to peer more closely at it, running his long delicate fingers over the surface. He picked it up and turned it over, but the reverse was blank. He held it up to the window to see if there were any previous markings still visible, but could see nothing.

    "A crude portrait, yes, that's possible, my lord. Or look - could it be an animal or bird? I would say it seems very old, anyway."

    "Not just sodden with sea water then dried out?"

    "No, my lord, definitely old. Although it's journey through the sea has not done it any good, to be sure."

    "Well, Isaakios, here is what I want you to do. Go to the monastery and sit at the fellow's bedside until he wakes. When he does so, see what you can get out of him, then bring me news."

    "Yes, my lord."

    -----------------oOo-----------------

    "Where am I?" The voice was hoarse, barely above a whisper. The language was Greek.

    The Spy Master, who had been dozing himself, sat up quickly and bent towards his charge.

    "First, my good sir, I think you should tell me something about yourself."

    The hollow eyes turned towards the man seated at the bedside, then they closed once more, as if this movement had exhausted their owner's reserves of energy. There was silence for a few moments.

    "Andronikos Iberopoulos is my name. I come from… a distant land."

    "Be specific, please."

    "Armenia Minor was the land of my birth. But I have travelled in many lands."

    "Indeed. And what business brings you to these shores?"

    "Call me… a soldier of fortune. I am a warrior, I can offer my services - to fight for a worthy lord."

    "Yes, well - that will be a matter for the Count to decide. So - what happened to you? A shipwreck?"

    The man on the bed slowly lifted his hand to his face, felt his hair, rubbed his neck.

    "I… I don't know. I don't - remember. Anything. I was on a ship bound for Nicopolis. The weather was fine. A shipwreck, you say?"

    "It was merely a suggestion. I was hoping you yourself would be able to supply more in the way of definite facts."

    "I'm sorry. I… don't remember… anything."

    The man suddenly clutched at his neck, scrabbled in what appeared to be some panic, and then turned to his questioner.

    "There was a pouch around my neck - just a small one. You found it?"

    "A pouch, good sir? It contained something of value, perhaps?"

    "Ah - no. That is, yes. Of value to myself only. It did not contain any valuables."

    Isaakios pictured once more in his mind's eye the scrap of parchment with the strange drawing sketched on it. For some reason it was of value to this man. The Spy Master wanted very much to know why that was. Should he tell him they had found it, in order to question him further, or should he keep it's whereabouts a secret for now? He knew what the Count would do, but he was far too naïve in Isaakios's opinion. He decided to probe further on his own.

    "A family heirloom, perhaps?" he asked.

    "You… could say that. But you didn't find it? Please tell me!"

    "I know of no pouch," replied the Spy Master. At this the man's eyes closed once more and he gave a deep sigh, almost a groan. An expression of great weariness settled on his face. The Spy Master waited to see if he would give anything else away. After some moments the man Andronikos spoke once more, but with difficulty.

    "So - may I repeat my first question now? Where am I?"

    "You are on the island of Korypho. You were found apparently washed up on the beach this morning. You are now in the care of the monks of St.Spyridon, and under the authority of Count Nikephoros."

    "And you are…?"

    "I am Isaakios Eulogios, a humble servant of the Count."

    "I would seek an audience with the Count. Is that possible?"

    "Once you have recovered your strength, I imagine his lordship will be more than willing to receive you sir."

    -----------------oOo-----------------

    "The Emperor Konstantinos? Dead?" the Count exploded. "Are you sure of this?"

    "I heard the news in Ephesos, my lord, where I took ship for Nicopolis," replied Andronikos.

    "How? He died in battle against the Turks? Is that it?"

    "No, my lord. He was on campaign, it is true, but I heard he died of pneumonia. He was old - older even than myself."

    "And his young son Michael is Emperor now?"

    "I imagine so, my lord. There was talk of the Empress Eudokia ruling as regent, but the lad is seventeen. Old enough to rule for himself, one would say."

    "Old enough - perhaps. But wise enough?"

    "My lord, the House of Dukas have been appointed by God to rule over the Empire. We must pray that God gives them the wisdom to rule as they should."

    "Ah! You speak like a diplomat, sir - and yet you claim rather to be a warrior?"

    "That has been my career. I have fought in many battles against many foes, and I am still alive to tell the tale, though with many a scar to show for it. I am still able to fight, for any lord who is loyal to the Emperor. Perhaps you have need of men yourself, my lord?"

    "Indeed I do. In fact I have need of a Marshal to train and lead my men, such as they are. If you are willing, you may have the job."

    "I would be honoured to serve you, my lord. Were you thinking to send men to fight for the Emperor yourself? He has need of all the forces he can muster if what I hear of the war is true. We are being hard pressed by the Turks, by all accounts."

    "You have not seen my men, that is clear. They are hardly ready to fight the Turks. And you have not seen the state of our finances either - again, they leave much to be desired. I could not afford an expedition against the Turks just now. In any case, I see my role rather as defending the Emperor's western frontier against the Normans - if all his armies are off fighting in the east, we leave the back door wide open for those thieving heretics."

    "That is true, my lord. And yet - I would have liked to ride to war one last time. Perhaps God will yet grant me that wish."

    "Perhaps. Oh - one other thing." The Count reached into his robes and drew out the leather pouch. Andronikos's eyes lit up with wild excitement when he saw it, and his hands twitched, as if despite himself he wanted to snatch it from the Count's grasp immediately. "Your pouch?"

    "Indeed it is, my lord! May I…?" he held out a trembling hand.

    The Count handed it over and watched while Andronikos quickly opened it and looked inside. The scrap of parchment was back where it had been found. Andronikos closed his eyes and muttered a fervent prayer: "Oh, thank God, thank God!"

    Count Nikephoros gave him a quizzical look, but said nothing more. He would leave that to Isaakios.

    -----------------oOo-----------------

    Fide et Fortitudine
    Currently writing a CK AAR: The Hidden Cross - a tale of the Byzantine Empire and the Bryennios Dynasty

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  3. #3
    Given the way the Byzantine Empire collapses in all my games, this fellow is lucky to have gotten to a nice little island like this instead of dying.

  4. #4
    Tzar of all the Soviets RGB's Avatar
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    The Dukids...ugh.

    Nice, and unusual, start. Best of luck with this one!
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  5. #5
    Human Enewald's Avatar
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    Dukids appointed by God?
    Bring back the Macedonians!

    Looks intriguing.

  6. #6
    A fossil from the forum Cathar knight's Avatar

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    Intriguing start indeed... waiting to see how this evolves. [and long live the Komnenoi! ]
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  7. #7
    Disciple of Peperna CatKnight's Avatar
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    Fantastic start, farq! Looking forward to this one!
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  9. #9
    Mad Clansman Farquharson's Avatar
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    First of all a Happy New Year to everyone!

    J.Passepartout: As you'll see in the next chapter, the Empire is collapsing in this game too, as per usual. Of course one can't complain, it's perfectly historical! The real question is what will become of the Bryennios family as a result?

    RGB: Thanks! I'm not sure what you mean by "best of luck", but what I'm hoping for myself is that I'll be inspired and motivated to keep writing the story through to a satisfactory conclusion. What happens in-game I will simply take as it comes (well, with a dose of good gameplay thrown in I hope), as the background to the story. With "luck" it will at least provide an interesting backdrop!

    Enewald: It was spoken as a diplomat, not as a prophet of God!

    Cathar knight: Me too! As for the Komnenoi, we've had a few families on the Imperial throne by the stage I've reached in-game, but I'm afraid the Komnenoi haven't been one of them.

    CatKnight: Thanks - I'll try not to disappoint!

    gabor: Funnily enough, I didn't even think of the parchment aspect! Whether it causes any casualties remains to be seen.

    And here is the next chapter. The first update to a CK AAR of 2010!
    Fide et Fortitudine
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  10. #10
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    Chapter 2

    1082: The Bishop's Move


    "Prince Nikephoros, let me be the first to congratulate you on your enthronement, and to offer once more my humble services in your court. My only regret is that it was not I who had the honour of placing the Crown of Epirus upon your noble head!" Father Ioannes knelt down before his lord, formerly Count of Korypho and newly crowned Prince of Epirus.

    "I thank you, Father Ioannes," replied the Prince, now in his forty-third year, his greying head of hair now surmounted by an elaborate golden crown. "And yes I know of your differences with Metropolitan Arsenios, but he too is my faithful servant and has been for many years - as indeed you have been yourself."

    The cleric had in fact been in command of the Korypho Regiment, such as it was, ever since the death of the mysterious Andronikos, the man who had been washed up on the beach and had subsequently been appointed the Count's Marshal. That was fifteen years ago now, and Andronikos had only lived for two years after that.

    Ioannes was still nominally in command of the Korypho Regiment, but the commander-in-chief of the Principality's armies was, as it had previously been, the talented general Thomas Monachites.

    "I had hoped, my lord, that now that my services are no longer so needed in the army I might be able to return to the church. That is after all my calling. And with all due respect, my lord, I do not consider Arsenios Boumbalis as being at all worthy of the rank of Metropolitan of Epirus."

    "No? And yet he is a learned scholar, is he not? More learned than yourself, if I understand it. As such I am afraid he outranks you, and I cannot just cast him aside to put an underling in his place."

    "But Sire, the man is known to dabble in dangerous doctrines!"

    "You are accusing my Metropolitan of heresy?" The Prince was frowning at Ioannes, though the cleric knew his liege too well to think that he was truly offended.

    "In truth, my lord, he has not yet come out in support of any actual heresy," admitted Ioannes in an irritated tone, "but in my humble opinion it is only a matter of time. Think what damage that could do to the church - indeed the faithful already suffer from his lack of clear spiritual guidance."

    "Well, I take your point, Bishop. But as I say, my hands are tied by church protocol. However here is what I will do. You shall be appointed Bishop of Korypho, and you are charged with keeping an eye on Metropolitan Arsenios. Report to me if you discern any new developments in respect to his beliefs and doctrines."

    "I am your humble servant." Father Ioannes bowed once more, and took his leave of the Prince.

    -----------------oOo-----------------

    "What do you think, son, would I make a good Emperor?" Prince Nikephoros was standing with his son atop the battlements of the Angelokastro, the cliff-top fortress at the north end of the island of Korypho. He had just returned from Constantinople where he had completed the ritual of swearing allegiance to the Emperor Georgios. Georgios Palaelogus had only been on the throne less than two years, put there by the death of his predecessor Leo Phokas who had died in battle against the Turks. Rather strangely, it was Georgios's father, the Prince of Epirus whom Nikephoros had just succeeded.

    "You father? Emperor?" The Prince's son, also called Nikephoros, was rather taken aback by this question, but he had no doubt about the answer. "Why of course you would father! Did Georgios offer to name you as his successor?"

    "Well, not formally, son. But he did raise the possibility. I think he is keeping his options open. But I was surprised to find how many supporters I had in the Imperial Court who seemed ready to put in a good word for me."

    "Goodness, father - you mean you might one day be Emperor?"

    "It is not a burden I would willingly take upon myself, Nikephoros. And I am afraid that as the years go by the crown of Byzantium is gradually losing its once glorious lustre. You know the Turks now occupy almost all of Anatolia? Only Smyrna and Ephesos remain part of the Empire. The rest is a patchwork of petty breakaway kingdoms that are rapidly being swallowed up by the Seljuk Sultan."

    "I am sure you would soon put things to rights, father! I have great faith in you - and I know that Zoe does as well, and she certainly knows a thing or two about the burden of being an Emperor."

    Nikephoros was married to Zoe Dukas, sister of the late Michael Dukas who had worn the Imperial crown for seven years before being slain in battle himself.

    "She thinks I could succeed where her father and brother failed?"

    "I think she knows that they had their limitations. She is not stupid."

    "Ha! Too true! She would no doubt have made a great Empress herself. Indeed, her day may yet come."

    Nikephoros gave his father a strange look before he spoke again, with a hint of worry in his voice.

    "What do you mean by that, father?"

    "Only that if I were to become Emperor one day, there is no reason why my son might not follow in my footsteps."

    "Oh wait now, father, there you are going too far! You asked if I thought you would make a good Emperor, and I have no doubt that it would be so. But me? I fear the Sultan would be dancing with delight to hear such news!"

    "You do yourself an injustice my son. In truth you have the makings of a great statesman. It is true that you will never make a great general, and nor will I, but there are plenty of those around. And that is not chiefly what the Empire needs right now."

    "What? But you have just told me that the Turks are overrunning Anatolia."


    "Yes, son, but they have been able to do that mainly by conquering Princes who have foolishly turned their back on the Empire. What the Empire needs is a statesman who can hold its Princes together to fight a common enemy instead of fighting one another. I believe you could one day do that."

    "You frighten me father."

    "You should not be frightened, son. In any case, it will not be tomorrow. All in good time. First I have in mind to make you the Count of Hellas. In addition I am drawing up a new succession law for the Principality, to ensure that the crown is passed from father to son. If you do not become Emperor, you will certainly one day be Prince of Epirus."

    Nikephoros gazed out from the battlements across the sea to the mainland. Prince of Epirus! One day he would rule over all that vast coastline as far as his eye could see. It was indeed a frightening thought, and yet it awakened in him a strange sense of excitement too. For if the truth were told, he knew in his heart of hearts that his father was right. He did indeed have talents to offer. But Emperor? No, that thought still filled him with terror.

    -----------------oOo-----------------

    "What on earth are you doing here, Bishop Ioannes?" Metropolitan Arsenios normally kept his study locked, but on this occasion he had inadvertently forgotten, and now on his return, he found the Bishop of Korypho standing there, with guilt written all over his face.

    "I was… looking for you, Metropolitan," replied the Bishop.

    "And since when did you have the right to enter my study without my leave?"

    "The door was not locked."

    "A mistake I will be sure not to repeat in future," said the Metropolitan, glaring at Ioannes.

    "I am sorry if have caused offence, Metropolitan. I did not mean any harm."

    "Very well. And what was it you wanted, then?"

    "I… er… wished to question you about a treatise you wrote some time back."

    "Which one is that? I have written quite a number."

    "Quite so. In fact I have set myself the task of reading through them all, Metropolitan."

    "I am flattered," said Arsenios, in a tone that indicated that he was anything but.

    "And you are on dangerous ground, if I may say so," continued the Bishop. "I have discovered a number of questionable views being expressed in your writings. I am sure the Patriarch must be rather concerned that someone of your rank feels free to treat the cherished doctrines of the church with such a lack of respect."

    "You are an ignorant fool, Bishop Ioannes. Fanatical belief is no substitute for reason. Now if all you have come for is to parade your lack of learning with a show of pious prejudice, I have no time for you. Good day."

    "Indeed - it seems that I am wasting my time here. May God have mercy on you, Metropolitan," said the Bishop, and strode out of the room.

    Left on his own, the Metropolitan sat down heavily and sighed. He was getting too old for such wearisome in-fighting. Why did people like Bishop Ioannes feel the need to inflict their firebrand zeal on everyone around them? His beliefs were a matter between himself and his God, and he refused to be judged by anyone else.

    He had quite lost interest in the business he had come to attend to, and after a few moments he got up once more and walked out of his study. This time he was careful to lock the door, and then he turned to descend the staircase to the main hall of his house. It was at that moment that he tripped, falling headlong down the stairs with a violent cry. There was a series of sickening crashes as his body struck the wall, the stairs, the balustrade, and finally came to rest at the bottom.

    Bishop Ioannes was at his side in a moment. The Metropolitan groaned and opened his eyes. Seeing the Bishop standing over him he struggled to speak. "Help me!"

    "I will help you, Metropolitan," whispered Ioannes, and seizing the man's head with both hands he gave it a violent twist. There was a crack as Arsenios's neck snapped and his body slumped lifeless on the floor.

    -----------------oOo-----------------

    "Such a tragedy my lord," said Bishop Ioannes, bowing his head reverently and muttering a prayer.

    He was standing in the Metropolitan's house with Prince Nikephoros, Isaakios the Prince's former Spy Master, and Isaakios's wife Cheilous, a relative of the Prince. Her talents exceeded her husband's and she now took most of the responsibilities that had previously been his. Before them lay the body of Arsenios Boumbalis, Metropolitan of Epirus. There was no blood, but his head was turned at a horribly peculiar angle. It was clear that his neck was broken.

    "A tragedy indeed," echoed the Prince.

    "When did you find him, Bishop Ioannes?" asked Cheilous.

    "Not fifteen minutes ago," replied the Bishop, looking up once more. "I went to the Palace immediately."

    Isaakios had knelt beside the body and now felt for a pulse.

    "He's dead all right," he said. His gaze swept up the staircase as he tried to picture the accident unfolding in his mind's eye. "He could have fallen all the way from the top."

    "No doubt he tripped," suggested Bishop Ioannes. "His eyesight had been failing of late."

    "Indeed?" remarked Count Nikephoros. "I had not noticed. In fact only the other day he expressed to me how grateful he was to still be in such good health. Although he did not mention his eyesight specifically, it's true."

    There was a moment's silence, during which Isaakios could almost detect a certain tension in the atmosphere.

    "It is not something that concerned him overmuch," said the Bishop, "but I fear it may have caused his untimely death."

    "So it would seem," said Cheilous. She had mounted the stairs and was examining the floor around the top. After a moment she shrugged. "There is nothing out of the ordinary here."

    "Well," said the Count, "I think we must conclude that Metropolitan Arsenios has been the victim of a tragic accident. Isaakios, perhaps you would be so good as to arrange for the body to be dealt with in the prescribed way. I will need to start making arrangements for the funeral. Oh - and Bishop Ioannes?"

    "Yes, my lord?"

    "Before that takes place you will need to be formally invested as Metropolitan."

    The Bishop flushed slightly at this. "You do me great honour, sire."

    "Not at all, Bishop," replied Count Nikephoros. "I know that you will exercise your duties diligently."

    "I am your humble servant," said Ioannes.

    -----------------oOo-----------------


    Isaakios and his wife Cheilous were sitting together that evening, as was their custom when neither had affairs of state to occupy them. They were still both in some shock from the death of the Metropolitan.

    "I know he was quite old," said Cheilous, "but it still seems like an untimely death."

    "Untimely yes," said Isaakios. "Perhaps even unnatural."

    "What do you mean?" His wife shot him a quizzical look.

    "Did you not find that the Bishop was acting rather strangely when he took us to the house?"

    "Perhaps. But perhaps he was just in shock himself like the rest of us."

    "It did not seem like shock to me," said Isaakios darkly.

    "Oh come, my dear - are you accusing the Bishop of foul play? He is such a godly man - how could you even consider such a thing?"

    "Listen. Afterwards I noticed one rather strange mark on the Metropolitan's body. On his ankle, there was a deep indentation, almost a cut."

    "Yes? Could it have been an injury sustained in his fall?"

    "It looked more like the mark of a cord. A cord that may have been stretched across the top of the stairs."

    Cheilous's fist went to her mouth and a look of renewed shock came over her face. "What? You mean - you think he was murdered?"

    "I am saying it's a possibility," said Isaakios. "I admit that the evidence is scant, however."

    "It is true that there was no love lost between the Bishop and the Metropolitan - that was hardly a secret," observed Cheilous. "But murder? No, I cannot imagine it."

    "The Bishop is a fanatic. Such zeal can do strange things to a man."

    "And his motive? Merely that he wished to become Metropolitan himself?"

    "Coupled no doubt with a godly indignation that such a man as Arsenios currently occupied the seat."

    "It does not seem to add up to a motive for murder, my dear. I think you are being overly suspicious. As usual, I have to say."

    "There is one other thing. It may or may not be connected, I don't know. But it has caused me to be suspicious of the Bishop for some time now."

    "And what is that, tell me?"

    "You remember old Andronikos, our mysterious Marshal who was washed up by the sea?"

    "Of course I remember him, God rest his soul. We never did come up with an explanation as to how he got there."

    "Quite so. He himself claimed that the memory of his last moments aboard the ship remained a blank. When the ship's captain was finally tracked down he had only a vague recollection of his mysterious passenger. And no recollection at all of his disappearing before they berthed in Nicopolis. No storms, certainly no shipwreck."

    "But that is ancient history. What is the connection with Bishop Ioannes?"

    "Just this - Andronikos possessed a scrap of parchment with a strange drawing on it. It seemed of immense value to him, but he never said why. For some reason its story has always intrigued me. So much so that I have made sure to keep track of it since his death."

    "You have it in your possession?"

    "No, Andronikos would never have entrusted it to me - no doubt he resented the way I tried to question him about it. No, he entrusted it to his successor, Marshal Basileios."

    "Aha! And let me guess - when Marshal Basileios died he in turn entrusted it to his successor?"

    "Our friend Bishop Ioannes. Precisely."

    "So what about this mysterious drawing? What does it portray?"

    "I only ever had a brief look it at to tell you the truth. Andronikos kept it in a leather pouch about his neck. He never showed it to me. And indeed, when I did see it I could not see what it was meant to be anyway. It was very crude. The only thing clear was a cross to one side. The drawing itself may have been the face of a person, or an animal's head."

    "A cross? You think it has some religious significance then?"

    Isaakios shrugged. "Who knows? Well - I believe there is one person who does."

    "Bishop Ioannes?"

    "Exactly. I cannot imagine that the drawing would be passed on from keeper to keeper without its secret also being passed on with it."

    "A secret that might drive a man to murder? Is that your thinking?"

    "I pray God I am wrong - but that, my dear, is what my heart tells me."

    -----------------oOo-----------------

    Last edited by Farquharson; 01-01-2010 at 12:07.
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    Death by old age, not murder.

  12. #12
    Rather shocking event there. Combatting arguable heresy with murder? Interesting chain of logic on the part of this man of God.

  13. #13
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    Princes >> Bishops. This must be established early on, because if this kind of thing continues when they take the diadem...

    ...and on another note, I really appreciate the style so far. It's episodic in a TV-show manner, and that isn't a bad thing at all. I do suspect there's a bigger overarching storyline, of course, but in the meanwhile we had one mysterious occurrence that was quickly dealt with, followed by a murder that was quite quickly figured out (even if without proof)...we'll see how long this will continue.

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  14. #14
    Mare Ban al Olteniei Laur's Avatar

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    An interesting and intriguing beginning. I really like how you manage to portray a character's traits, ambitions and personal grudges. I shall follow this aar. One slight objection concerning roleplaying, it seemed to me in the first chapter that Andronikos' speech and demeanour were much too sophisticated for a diplomacy and intrigue rating of 2 and 4 respectively, but that's just my opinion.
    "When I lead my army against Baghdad in anger, whether you hide in heaven or in earth, I will bring you down from the spinning spheres; I will toss you in the air like a lion. I will leave no one alive in your realm; I will burn your city, your land, your self.

    If you wish to spare yourself and your venerable family, give heed to my advice with the ear of intelligence. If you do not, you will see what God has willed."

    Hulagu Khan (letter to the last Caliph of Baghdad 1258)

  15. #15
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    envy, murder/accident, mystery: we need Sherlock Holmes!
    btw this goody-goody prig Ioannes is LUSTFUL!!! Has no one noticed?
    i also wonder what will happen to imperial ambitions of the Bryennios

  16. #16
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    Enewald: Nah - death by old age is BORING!

    J.Passepartout: To the Metropolitan heresy is heresy. Of course, if the death of the perpetrator would be convenient for him, he'll no doubt see the logic all too clearly.

    RGB: Yes, I fear the bishops in this tale are becoming far too powerful. It'll all end in tears, I've no doubt.

    Laur: Thanks, I'm glad someone is taking note of my strenuous efforts to build the characters on their in-game traits and stats! You're right about Andronikos in the first chapter though. The trouble is, I find that once I start writing, the characters take on a life of their own and don't necessarily stay within their in-game profile!

    gabor: Yes, the new Metropolitan is indeed lustful. However in the game he has kept it well hidden - no juicy scandals have popped up in relation to this. So whatever he's up to, he's obviously made sure not to get caught.

    As for the Imperial ambitions of the Bryennios family, here comes the next chapter, in which a little more is revealed.
    Fide et Fortitudine
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  17. #17
    Mad Clansman Farquharson's Avatar
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    Chapter 3

    1092: A New Emperor


    "It's… it's incredible!" Bardas Eulogios gazed up at the vast, fantastically suspended cupola of the Great Church of Hagia Sophia, the jewel of Constantinople. His older sister Christina stood next to him, also looking up. She however was more accustomed to the sight. Having continued her studies to an advanced level at one of the nearby convents, she was a regular worshipper in the Great Church. This was Bardas's first visit, and like many a first-time visitor, he was finding the experience rather overwhelming.

    The thing that had struck him most forcefully when they had entered the huge nave was the total lack of any pillars in the centre of the space.

    "But what on earth is holding it up?" he exclaimed, still gazing up in awe into what seemed to him like a window into heaven itself.

    "Some say it is the hand of God," replied Christina, and added with a mischievous smile, "but personally I think it is merely the genius of Roman architects."

    Bardas looked around him at the glittering mosaics that covered the walls. How long had it taken to create all those priceless works of art? He knew that most of them were ancient, dating back to the time of the Emperor Justinian who had originally commissioned the building of the church over five hundred years before. His eyes wandered upwards once more.

    "Can we get up there?" He had spotted the gallery running three-quarters of the way around the walls of the nave.

    "Well I can, being a woman." Again her mischievous smile.

    "What do you mean by that?" Bardas was well used to his big sister teasing him.

    "That's the women's gallery, no men allowed."

    "Not even accompanied by one of the Patriarch's star pupils?"

    "Not even then. On the other hand, if you've really got a head for heights, you can get up there." Christina pointed higher, indicating the upper gallery that ran round the base of the huge cupola itself.

    "Ooh - yes please!"

    So Christina led her brother over to a where a doorway between two pillars gave onto a steep winding staircase, which they began to climb.

    It was four years since Christina and Bardas had been brought from the island of Korypho to live in Constantinople by their parents, Isaakios and Cheilous Eulogios. Their liege the Prince of Epirus, a relative of Cheilous, had been elected Emperor after his predecessor Georgios had died of pneumonia in the bitter winter of 1087-88. Now Nikephoros III Bryennios ruled the Empire and was showing himself to be a capable man, gradually reclaiming the ground lost to the Seljuks and building up the trust and respect of the Anatolian Princes once more. Bardas had recently been given a junior commission in the army, while Christina, now 21, was still pursuing further studies at the Patriarchal School.

    They were both a little out of breath when they finally emerged onto the upper gallery, blinking in the bright light from the windows now just above them. Bardas walked over, grasped the wooden rail and stared down in wonder at the view. They now stood thirty metres above the floor of the nave and from here the vast spaces of the Great Church were more impressive than ever. They also had a much better view of the dazzling array of mosaics around the interior of the building.


    After drinking in the sight in silence for several moments, Bardas turned to his sister.

    "You are happy here in the capital, aren't you my dear?"

    "God has blessed me greatly by bringing me here, and giving me the opportunity to study," replied Christina.

    "And you have made the most of it, from all I hear. You are an intelligent woman."

    "I certainly enjoy my studies," said Christina. "But I am restless, too."

    "Restless?" Bardas looked at his sister in surprise. "You want to move again?"

    "No, no, I don't mean I want to live somewhere else. But I want to travel."

    "Travel? Where to?"

    "Bardas, I want more than anything to visit the Holy Land. I want to go to Jerusalem."

    Bardas sucked in his breath and looked carefully at his sister before replying. "You are talking about a dangerous expedition there, my sister. A pilgrimage, eh?"

    "Exactly - I wish to go on pilgrimage."

    "Have you spoken to father about this? I don't know that he would like the thought of his daughter wandering about in parts of the world where the Saracens rule."

    "People still go on pilgrimage though don't they?"

    "Yes, and some of them are captured or even killed on the way!"

    "Well, you will just have to come with me as my bodyguard, won't you?" She was smiling at him, but he had the worrying impression that this was not merely another of her jokes.

    "Are you serious?"

    "Would you be willing to come?"

    "I… that is, well - if you were determined to make the trip, and if father was in agreement… Why certainly, I would be willing. In fact, I think I would insist on it."

    Christina's eyes grew bright and she embraced her brother. "Oh Bardas, what a wonderful brother you are!"

    Bardas felt a little awkward, still rather taken aback by his sister's revelation. "I did say 'if' though, my dear. So you are going to speak to father, are you?"

    "I will speak to him this evening, yes. And you must be there to answer all his objections."

    "I'll do my best," replied Bardas, still feeling rather dubious himself about the whole prospect.

    -----------------oOo-----------------

    "Jerusalem!?" Isaakios Eulogios did not seemed very enthusiastic about his daughter's proposition, "Are you mad, girl?"

    "No father, I only want to go on a pilgrimage. What's wrong with that?"

    "What's wrong? It may have escaped your attention, Christina, but Jerusalem is presently ruled by Saracens."

    "Pilgrims are allowed to visit, though."

    "Usually," said Isaakios with a frown. "However you will recall that only last year a group of pilgrims were massacred on their way to Jerusalem. Others are even now languishing in Saracen prisons."

    "Father, there will only be two of us. A man and woman, unarmed - well, not visibly. We shall pose no threat and cause no trouble. And Bardas will be more than a match for any petty bandits that try their luck with us I'm sure."

    "You share your sister's confidence do you, my son?"

    "Of course father! I promise you I will bring us both back to Constantinople safe and sound." Since his sister had first put the idea into his head earlier that day, Bardas had come round to it as a great adventure that only a coward would shrink away from.

    Isaakios continued to frown, but now looked carefully at his daughter as he put his next question. "It wasn't… the Patriarch who put you up to this, by any chance?"

    "The Patriarch? Why no father. Why do you think that? I'm sure he will be delighted that I am going to visit the Holy Land, but as yet he knows nothing about it."

    "This isn't more of your paranoid suspicions about the Patriarch coming to the surface again, is it?" asked his wife Cheilous. "Really Isaakios, I thought you had put all that behind you by now."

    "Oh shut up, woman!" shouted Isaakios. "That man is evil, I know it, whether I can prove it to anyone else or not. And before I let my daughter go off on some hare-brained trip to Jerusalem, I want to know for sure that Ioannes Karenos has absolutely nothing to do with it."

    "Well, he doesn't, your daughter just told you," snapped his wife angrily. "And personally I see nothing wrong with the idea. You know how much it would mean to her. I think it's an excellent idea."

    "Oh very well, have it your own way! But I have the feeling that I may live to regret it, that's all." And with that Isaakios stormed out of the room.

    -----------------oOo-----------------

    Cheilous bowed before her liege, the Emperor Nikephoros.

    "You summoned me, my lord."

    "I did, Cheilous. I was just wondering how things were with you."

    "How things were, my lord? All is well."

    "With your husband?"

    Cheilous reddened slightly and paused, looking away for a moment before replying. "He is a difficult man, these days, my lord. He does not seem like the man I married twenty-five years ago."

    The Emperor studied his Spy Mistress intently. "In what way, Cheilous?"

    "He is… suspicious. Paranoid, I would say."

    "Hmm. In fact he wishes me to make him Spy Master in your place," said the Emperor.

    Cheilous regarded her relative with wide eyes. "He what? He has said nothing of this to me!"

    "Would you have expected him to?" asked Nikephoros.

    "Well, these days… No, I suppose not," replied Cheilous with a look of sadness in her eyes. She sighed. "If it is your wish, my lord, I will of course stand aside."

    "Oh, don't talk nonsense, Cheilous, of course it's not my wish! You are doing an excellent job."

    Cheilous bowed once more. "Thank you, my lord."

    "He seems to have suspicions about the Patriarch. What can you tell me about that?"

    Cheilous sighed again. "He seems to think that the Patriarch may have murdered his predecessor Arsenios."

    "Murdered? But that's ridiculous!"

    "Of course it is. But that's where his suspicious nature has got him."

    "Still, they do say there's no smoke without fire, Cheilous. It is of course your job to keep me informed of anything suspicious that is going on within the Imperial Court."

    "Of course, my lord."

    "So - it might be wise to keep an eye on the Patriarch, just to allay any fears."

    "Yes, my lord. I will do all I can."



    -----------------oOo-----------------

    The five men sat around the table, the room dimly lit by a single oil lamp.

    "So we are all agreed," said the Patriarch solemnly, "We will be satisfied with nothing less than the recapture of Jerusalem from the infidels."

    The other four men nodded and murmured their assent.

    "I do not need to tell you that the Emperor Nikephoros is totally opposed to such a course of action," continued Ioannes. "Our first strategy will therefore be to do all we can to influence him to come round to our way of thinking."

    "What do you mean by that?" asked Petros Philokales, the Metropolitan of Cyprus.

    "Reports of problems caused by the Saracen states can always be… exaggerated," said the Patriarch with a humourless smile. "Outrages committed against pilgrims and against the clergy in Jerusalem must be used to our advantage. They must on no account be swept under the carpet in the interest of 'maintaining good relations'. Good relations with the Emir of Jerusalem are the last thing we want."

    "Such a policy may of course sacrifice what has been gained in the way of concessions from the heathens up till now," remarked the Metropolitan of Coloneia, Michael of Edessa.

    The Patriarch banged his fist on the table. "Concessions! The Emir of Jerusalem has done nothing but string us along with his so-called 'concessions'. And what guarantee do we have that the city will not fall into the hands of another of these endlessly quarrelling upstarts? What will become of all these 'concessions' then? No my friends - my brothers - we of the Adelphoi must oppose all such policies. There is only one policy that will produce lasting results. The recovery of Jerusalem for God and the Church. Then and only then will the True Cross be brought to light once again, and restored to its rightful home in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre."

    "You speak truly, Patriarch," said the Metropolitan of Macedonia. He struck his breast with his fist. "For God and for the True Cross!"

    "For God and for True Cross!" chorused the other men around the table.

    "And remember, for now we must remain working in secret. For if the way of gentle persuasion fails, we may need to take more forceful measures against the Emperor's impiety. For that we must reserve the element of surprise."

    Again the four men nodded grimly.

    "Good. Then may God be with you, and give you success."
    Fide et Fortitudine
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  18. #18
    Human Enewald's Avatar
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    Paranoid?
    He is genius.

  19. #19
    Tzar of all the Soviets RGB's Avatar
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    Jerusalem? Must they?
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  20. #20
    General gabor's Avatar
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    that was quick - i mean becoming the Epmeror
    i haven't played CK for a looong time (don't have DV) but i remember there was some trick one could use to become the Emperor so fast; did you use it or was it pure luck? and is that Nikephoros the father or the son who's the Emperor?

    i also have some sinister feeling that the Christina's pilgrimage to Jerusalem might end up in disaster due to mysterious Adelphoi and Isaakios might regret his decision after all, well, the family appear to be falling apart anyway...

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