PREPARING FOR TOMORROW, or FOR MY NEXT TRICK, WE LAUNCH A MILITARY INVASION!
Lombardia August 3rd 1077
Hello again! I came as soon as I heard! My goodness--twins! You have been lucky! And I must say--the rat seems to agree with your wife. She's looking far less scabby these days!
So--how are things with me? Oh, excellent! The baby was born. A daughter. My first, actually. My little Isabella, who shows every sign of being as lovely as her mother. Maybe--maybe I'll live just long enough to see her--walk down the aisle.
I know. Damned unlikely. But--I've had a damned unlikely life so far. The last few years have been fairly quiet. Hugues is my chancellor--and a great one, I'll add--and Fulco's running my treasury. He's married now, too. A nice young woman of the van Holland family. They seem to be getting along. Hugues should marry Neda, in a few years, thus tying my family up with the Croatian royal line, which is pretty crap as royalty goes--but still royalty. As for me--I've been busy. The most significant thing I've done is issuing the Lex Lombardia, a massive tome that details the relationship between ruler and subject in our Duchy--mostly Hugues' idea, actually. The vassals love it. Why the Count of Caligari keeps stopping by whenever he's in Lombardia to tell me how wonderful it is. Tells me it's the only thing that makes his miserable life worth living. Cosmo tells me he's become suicidal, actually.
I don't know understand what makes some people tick.
And I've been helping out all the moneylenders who've been settling in the duchy, drawn by my 'Back off, Pope' policies. True, many of them are Jews, and the ones that aren't are less than pious Christians, but as I see it, it's a matter of hats. Azzo d'Este, the man, is against usurious loans as ungodly. Duke Azzo, head of Lombardia, wishes his duchy to be prosperous, and feels that these matters are between a moneylender and God. And I make certain to keep these hats seperate. I mean--things I do wind up killing a lot of people. And yet, I'm certain God is okay with that. Well--'okay' is a bit strong--but He understands that I'm just doing what I have to do to help my nation, a nation I know He loves as much as I do, because He let us conquer the world, way back when. And He let us kill His Son, thus redeeming mankind, and find out about killing His Son, thus letting us say 'Whoops. We're very sorry, Your Omnipotence. Here--let us convert our empire to make it up to You.'
But of course, it isn't all business and religion, and serious stuff. Being the Duke of Lombardia and Sardinia gives you plenty of free time. I like to spend it hunting boars with my neighbors, like the Bishop of Nice. I call every boar we hunt 'Heinrich'. I find it very satisfying.
Of course, we're still allied. And Germany's no longer in quite the dire straits it was a few years back. In fact, King Oink's been fighting quite a few wars against the pagans on his borders, which has raised his prestige some. As for Lombardia--we're no longer standing quite so high. The Turks and the Greeks had a few very interesting wars that sucked the air out of the room. And well--my revival of the old Genoan claims hasn't helped matters.
You remember how I said that my father was the old Count of Genoa? And how he was betrayed? And how King Oink's father made him give up his claim? Well, I've had my people working on it, and they've managed to produce a reasonable argument that this was illegal, and that I'm still the rightful count. Of course, this makes me look a little less--grand, but--it'll be worth it, when I'm sitting in Genoa again.
Of course, that will be awhile. At the moment, I'm saving up my funds, and letting the stink from this and the Monteferrio situation clear. But when everything clicks--we move.
In the meantime, I'm making plans for Valerio's future. See, it'll be easier for him to claim the crown of Italy if he has a crown himself. The problem is, crowns aren't exactly lying around to be picked up when needed. But--there's something that might be pretty close. See--Hispania is a funny place. The Visigoths--a bunch of degenerate Germans who pretty much invented the entire Germanic 'come as conquerers, leave as pathetic incompetent wimps' modus operandi--used to rule out there, but they made a botch of it, and got mostly conquered by the heathen Moors, who by Mohammedean standards, aren't such bad guys, even if they are idolaters who worship Mahound, Apollyon and Termagant. What was left of Visgothic Hispania splintered into a bunch of tiny ineffectual kingdoms, even as the Moors got more powerful. The situation was grim, when all at once the Moors went soft and the Iberians produced Sancho Jimenez who united the various tiny kingdoms into one big kingdom, and held them off. And then the bastard died, the kingdom was divided up among his various kids, and what was left over has spent its time dividing ever since. Fortunately for these morons, the Moors have been doing the same thing, so the whole situation is at an uneasy balance. The Hispanic kingdoms vary greatly in power--Leone and Castille are very big, and best left alone for the moment. Navarre and Aragon are tiny, with Aragon being so small, it'd be so--so easy to stake a claim... And it's right next to Aquitaine, so all Valerio would have to do is send his troops over the border...
No, I haven't done it yet. Remember--letting the stink clear. In fact, I might never do it. This being viable hinges on a lot of things happening that might not. But--it's on the table. Perhaps--after Genoa... I showed Valerio a map of Hispania, though, last time I saw him. Just to--get him thinking on the subject.
And there are other matters in our future. My little Valerio is going to need a wife, and it happens that King Oink has had only daughters so far. The eldest is his age, and the second is just a year behind. It would tickle me pink to see my family getting a hold of the Von Franken possessions by literally screwing the Von Frankens. Of course, that's assuming His Royal Swineness keeps producing girls, and that's unlikely. He's a young man with a rather fertile wife it seems, and it's unlikely that he'll find himself in my father-in-law's situation. On that subject--they tell me Guillaume has fallen out with his wife. I can believe it. He's--really not a very nice man. He's been so--unpleasant to me lately. I tell you, sometimes, I think I could hate the man. But that would make my little Agnes unhappy, and well, it really wouldn't do to get him angry enough to change the inheritance laws...
Ehh, call it a weak will if you like. I call it considering the angles. Which is why I'm a duke, and you're a chicken thief living in a pit in my plotting room. Aside from the birth thing, of course. Well--nice talking to you. I'll send clean rags for the babies. Oh, and that reminds me! Tybalt found a ladyfriend, and had kittens. Isn't that great? All my pets having children at the same time!
BRILLIANT closing line. Well done. I always like updates that either end on a cliffhanger or some well timed line.
As for Iberia, it's always a delicate area, isn't it? On one hand, if you're careful, there are rich pickings to be had. On the other, if either Leone or Castille get their act together the whole area gets swept up into one big blob that is pretty hard to take on.
THE BIG PAY OFF, or MILITARY CONQUEST IS EASY. COMEDY IS HARD.
Lombardia July 6th, 1080
Hey! Guys! Wake up! No, I don't care what time it is. Or if you ate bad rats for dinner. This is important! You hear those church bells? You know what they mean? We did it! We have Genoa!
Give me a second. This is--big news. I'm just--excited! I pulled it off! My family holdings include most of the Ligurian coast, and one of the greatest trading cities in the world! Yes!
I'd been saving up my money for years, but still wasn't quite sure I had enough, when Cosimo came up with a brilliant scheme. See--the Genoese, having all sorts of trade with the Levant, have acquired all sorts of holy relics, and it was simple to have agents steal several--including the head of John the Baptist--and then sell them back to them through black market connections.
So--not only did I have the money to finance my invasion--but Genoa had unknowingly supplied it to me! I had a good laugh about that with Hugues. Well, I laughed. He just rolled his eyes, and asked me if I have any sense of right or wrong. I replied that of course I do--actions that further my glorious cause are right.
I don't think he liked that answer. Oh, well, when his kids are the kings of Croatia, he'll thank me.
Anyway, I went to visit Valerio to give him the good news, and discovered my boy had taken a commission from the Pope to acquire territory from his excommunicated neighbor, the Bishop of Valais. Well, that inspired me to take a commission against the excommunicated Bishop of Parma, and we bonded over our service to the church by acquiring land and power during breakfast. He's doing well, by the way. Got a new arms instructor who's pretty good.
Anyway--those comissions are for a future time--especially the Bishop of Valais who is excommunicated, but a vassal of King Oink. Genoa--that was the thing. Once, I had Umberto--whose come down with something that's made his already neglible fighting ability even moreso--gather up the troops in Lombardia, sent Hugues out with the troops of Pavia, and had the Savoies bring their troops into the mix. It was a biggest force the Duchy had ever marshalled, and once we were in Pavia, I declared war on Genoa. Heinrich followed suit, but thanks to my gathering my forces beforehand, out troops were laying siege to the city before his had even gathered!
And it went perfectly. Umberto may have been crap, but the Count of Savoie is a tough guy, though you wouldn't believe it to look at him, and he's the one who actually lead the battle. We had a numeric advantage--but not as big as you'd think--Genoa's a big city--but what sealed the deal is that the Governor of Genoa insisted on leading the troops himself, and he really--really isn't very good at it. My boys kicked his ass, and with our new studies into battering rams, smashed our way into Genoa's fortress in record time. Hell, we didn't even go into the red on this one. It was that fast.
While that was happening, my pal the Bishop of Nice--who happens to be a Genoese vassal--marched on Monteferrato. I rallied the troops there and personally lead them into battle. Which we lost, but it delayed the Bishop's army, which is the important thing. Especially because right after that, we took the city, and the Governor recognized me as the rightful count, and then headed off to Nice to head the Republic of Genoa-in-exile. Which is probably going to result in some interesting diplomatic discussions in the future, as they explain that the Republic of Genoa doesn't actually include--Genoa...
So it's done! Genoa! Mine! This--this is what I've dreamed of since I was a little boy, and they drove my father from the city, while singing 'Bye-bye Azzo!" Off-key. I tell you that's haunted my nightmares for decades. But no more! We're back baby! With Genoa, we're going to take back everything else we lost! And then--then Italy! The glorious rebirth of my nation starts NOW!
I--I'm just so excited! I--rode here right from Monteferratto, to tell you! I'm just--postively--giddy! I feel light, like I'm being lifted off my feet, and--
Well--guess--it's in--Valerio's hands now. But--I gave him... a good--start... You can't--can't deny that.
Still... Two more years--might have been nice...
ALBERTO AZZO D'ESTE II (1009-1080)
I will extol thee, O Lord, for thou has drawn me up, and hast not let my foes rejoice over me. --Psalms 30:1
Not a shabby legacy, so at least he died happy! You managed to convey his excitment very well - he was like an excited child!
Heh, thanks. The game has him down as a Naive Puppet Master, and I try to convey that. (Though he's one of the one's with a decent Intrigue score, suggesting a man who's almost--but not quite--as smart as he thinks he is.)
And yes, he had a surprisingly successful career. Proof positive of John Webster's axiom " 'Tis better to be fortunate than wise."
Though if you can manage both, you've got it made.
A TRANSITIONAL PERIOD, or MEET THE NEW(ISH) BOSS, NOT REALLY THE SAME AS THE OLD BOSS.
Lombardia, October 3rd, 1080
Ahh. Hello there. At last we meet. I believe you've heard about me, as I've certainly heard about you. Hugues d'Este. I'm the Duchy's Chancellor, and Regent. Which means I'm running the show until my little brother comes of age.
Wha--? Have we conquered Parma? No, that's--still on the 'to do' list. Why would you...? Oh, the bells. Funny story about that. You see they're to celebrate my father's... beatification.
Yes. My father, the man who stole relics, encouraged moneylending, and was the first Duke in Italy to decide that the Pope should take a less active role in running the Church, sits at God's Right Hand, according to that same Church and Pope. I smell Matilda of Canossa's hand in this, actually. She has the Pope's ear, and hates Heinrich with a passion. With all of his accomplishments, Father pretty much made himself into the symbol for a Free Italy--having him join the Elect just hammers home the fact that--things are changing.
Which brings me to why I'm here. Now, if you'll give me a moment, I'll lower the rope...
What? You LIKE it down there? It's--safe? And there's plenty of food? But--but--freedom...! Not--living in a pit...!
Okay, okay. It's your decision. You get to live in Father's--plotting room. Fine.
The marriage? Oh, that. Well, I am married to Neda Trpimirovic now, yes. And typical of Father's not doing the research--she herself has informed me there's no way in hell that our children are getting Croatia. The inheritance laws there are Salic in nature, which means that she carries no claim on the throne in her descent. There might be some lesser inheritance on some of her father's lower titles, but that's it.
How is Neda? Pretty. Clever. A fine theological mind. A tad--depressed. I may not be siring the next king of Croatia--but on the whole, I think Father did me no egregious wrong here.
And the Duchy? Well, not riding quite so high as when Father was alive--but, doing quite well. Heinrich reaffirmed our alliance, so we need not fear the wrath of Germany for the moment. Said wrath was being demonstrated in Nice until recently, where Heinrich kept the war going even after we had left it, laying siege to the city. You might ask what does Nice have that makes it so valuable? That question was answered when Heinrich walked off with the city treasury--and the title 'Duke of Genoa'. A title that is almost completely meaningless, as he holds neither the city, nor its environs, but--that's Heinrich for you. Personally, I think it's his way of reminding us that he's our buddy now, but--that might not always be the case, and if it ever isn't--watch out.
If so--well, he knows how to send a message. Not in a very subtle manner, but when you're King of a good chunk of Europe, you don't have to be. As for the newly-minted Republic of Nice--they're next door, and very, very nervous. Heinrich probably would have taken them too, but his grounds would be tenuous, and he really doesn't have the reputation to pull that off, even if he isn't viewed as quite the embarassment he once was, what with his wars against the Wends. He's started another one up, by the way. He keeps inviting us to help, but frankly, marching our soldiers across Germany for a chance to get territory up near the Baltics strikes me as a waste of funds. We're richer now--but not that richer.
We have other, more immediate things to worry about. Getting the Duchy into order, for one. Various nervous counts had to be reassured that things weren't going to collapse. And Valerio may be clever for his age, but he's still not up to running a demense the size that Lombardia had swollen to under father, especially with Grisons back in the mix. But--we took care of that. We made Grisons a bishophoric and gave it to Umberto, partially to ease him into retirement and make Valerio's arms instructor the new Marshal, as he's actually--good at it. And partially because whatever illness Umberto came down with has gotten into his lungs, meaning that he spends most of his time lying around and wheezing.
They tell me the mountain air is good for that. I sincerely hope so. And if it's too late--well--it's a change of scenery. And he gets to die a Bishop. Yep--this is a new House d'Este. We reward those who stick by us. It's right there in the Lex Lombardia.
That still left us with a slightly oversized demense, but that was easily taken care of. You see, in Father's will, he specified that he be interred in--and I am quoting here--'our ancient family crypts of Monteferrato'. Yep. Father knew how to really rub it in as regards a vanquished foe. Especially as Oddone de Monteferrato has been dead for two years. Agnes--my stepmother--quietly insisted she be allowed to take care of the body, and as she was definitely loyal--and this meant that Monteferrato would come right back into Valerio's hands--we made her the Countess.
And that was that. The Duchy is running smoothly, for the moment. We're letting the money pile up--and now that we have Genoa, that's quite a lot--building the occasional improvement--tile factories are becoming the Duchy's national industry--and we figure, once we have the money--we're putting up a castle in Lombardia.
Aside from that, we're keeping our eyes open for expansion, and--well, any crowns lying close to the ground. Father's--views on the matter may have been--odd, but the general ideas behind them are sound. Becoming a formal kingdom would give us the legitimacy we need to be safe from German aggression. Or as safe as you can be. It's Germany, after all. But--things aren't looking good. Aragon would have been perfect, for example. Except that now it's off the table. You see--Sancho Jimenez of Navarre thought the same thing, and so he declared war on his cousin--Sancho Jimenez of Aragon.
Get used to that name, by the way. The Jimenez family spends a lot of time reminding people of the days when they weren't second-rate. Which means bringing up Sancho the Great whenever they can. I'm afraid neither Sancho of Navarre or Sancho of Aragon measured up to their namesake. Sancho of Aragon was more at ease with a wineglass than a sword, and Sancho of Navarre--well, he was a younger Hispanian version of my father--only less competent. His scheme to conquer Aragon for example, worked and yet didn't work. Oh, his forces took Aragon--but Sancho took quite a few arrows in the process of rallying his troops up the battlements. Which caused to fall to his death. Still, his son Hermegildo is now the King of Aragon AND Navarre, which places both crowns beyond our reach. And Leon and Castille, formerly held by a pair of quarrelling brothers, have also joined up under the auspices of the quarrelling brother who ruled Castille--Sancho Jimenez.
I told you to get used to that name.
Still--there are plenty of crowns, even though claiming one is well beyond what the Duchy can pull off at the moment. Our best hope is to wait for someone to piss off a Pope--or the person the Pope listens to--and get excommunicated. Then, we can just get a Papal comission to put the throne in the hands of a Godly monarch--meaning Valerio, of course--and we're in business. If that doesn't work out--well, there are other options. The Duke of Bohemia recently was declared 'King of Bohemia, and while it might take some doing, that crown is small and weak enough that in a few years we could concievably get our hands on it. That's our last resort, mind you.
So--that's how things stand right now. Well--I'll--try to visit you more regularly than Father did. Be seeing you and--
Umm... no. Don't want any rat. Thanks for--the offer though.
That option is on the table--expect Valerio to mention it when he finally steps into the narrative role. But Lombardia/Genoa aren't in the best position for it. Oh, there are Muslims nearby. Across an ocean. Which makes picking up the title say, "King of Africa", rather cost-prohibitive at the moment. Maybe when they have a bigger tax base...
Thank you. I find it helps if I imagine an actor playing the d'Este in question. Jeffery Tambor was saying Azzo's lines in my head, and while I was having trouble finding Hugues' voice, I suddenly saw Simon Pegg there, and boom--we were in business.
THE QUIET MARCH TO GLORY, or THE JOYS OF BEING ALLIED TO YOUR WORST ENEMY
Lombardia, August 12 1081
Hello again. Sorry--it took me a bit a longer than I thought it would to get back to you. I'm starting to understand what Father meant when about things coming up.
Those noises? Oh, not another war! It's been quiet. At least--locally. Heinrich's waging one up north, though. Against a rebellious former vassal. He actually invited us to--assist, though I demurred. I'm starting to understand why Father didn't like him very much.
No--those are the sounds of Castle Lombardia being built! Yes, we've had something of a tax windfall, so we're upgrading our little fort into a proper castle. Sort of symbol of the Duchy's newfound might, as well as something a lot harder to smash apart with a siege engine. Should someone--say, a German monarch, just to speak hypothetically--ever decide to try.
It depresses me that I have to consider these matters, you know. I'm a fairly religious man, in my own quiet way. And I find it painfully ironic that back when we were pagans who sacrificed bulls, we somehow managed the entire order and justice thing--well, better than can be expected, whereas now that we know the light of Christ, most of our legal decisions are based on who's holding the sharp implement, and if they both are, who has the most friends with him.
Which is one good major accomplishment of Father's. We have the armies of Genoa now, though I have to add that if we fielded them continuously we'd be bankrupt in a year. Still--we're threatening, and fairly big. Though Heinrich could still flatten us if he really put his back into it. Even if Germany would probably fall apart as he did it. People really don't like him.
Actually, we continue to be the major beneficiaries of Heinrich's lovably tyrannical ways. Why, just two months ago, the Count of Saluces left the Empire, and immediately asked to become our vassal. We said yes, of course. Signed the agreement in Monteferratto. At his insistence, which considering he happens to be a Monteferratto, I found rather--disconcerting. But--he was pleasant the entire time. Even asked to see Father's tomb. And knelt at it. Afterwards--he said that when he was twelve, Father spoke to him about Italian freedom, and it--lit a sort of fire in him. Said that he knew then that he would follow House d'Este and the cause of Italian unity when the opportunity arose.
I'm certain one day, I will reconcile the man I knew Father to be--a slightly bumbling, muddled individual with a penchant for badly considered plots--with the man the rest of the Christian world seems to know him as--the tireless and magnificent champion of Italian freedom and Italian supremacy. Until that day--I will simply be drinking a little willowbark tea every night.
It's rather bitter, but it helps with one's nerves, I find. Diminishes headaches.
How's Neda? Still--depressed. And--pregnant. So--I shall be a father of my own. Isn't that--wonderful? Fulco's already had a small brood, actually. With another on the way. But--he's a rather--unreflective man, my brother. I--worry about these things. Hope my children--turn out all right.
And Valerio? A very active boy. He's following Father's example with the boar hunts. After one with the Magistrate of Nice, he told me that he rather liked him, and suggested that I--make a vassalization offer. Well--Valerio's--a rather formidable young boy, so I agreed. And the Republic of Nice is now under the sway of the people largely responsible from its diminishment to a minor power.
I don't whether to find that amusing or sad.
Well--not much happening other than that, really. Thing's have been--reasonably quiet.
And that has me worrying when they're going to get loud again.