Episode XIII: Tvebel Without A Cause
Aleksandr rode to deal with the rebels, Dobczyński at his side, at the head of a rapidly-assembled force that would escort him to join what was left of the main Tverian army. Half were from his personal guard, half from that of Prince Konstantin. The two hundred men of Konstantin’s Guard had all been hand-picked by the Prince on the basis of their attractive partners and willingness to work long hours on sentry duty, especially nights. The arrangement worked well for all concerned, for all the Guards’ partners were regularly giving birth to very healthy, strangely regal-looking children – testament, Konstantin always told them, to the honest service that his men gave to him.
Trouble soon reared its ugly head, however, as more rebels made their way across the border, Russian Patriots who were very patriotic about Russia, and were thus attacking Russians rather than Tartars.
Dobczyński brought the latest report to Aleksandr’s tent.
‘The Metropolitan is expressing concerns about heresy, sir.’
‘Heresy where is this heresy I do not like heresy.’
‘It’s because we’re too open-minded, he says, sir. Too tolerant. Sunnis in Viatka, Catholics in Polotsk and Smoleńsk. Says we should take a harder line.’
‘Then take a harder line we will Dobczyński make sure it is done heretics pay less taxes .’
‘Less? They should pay more, not less!’
‘That would be logical Dobczyński but the fact is that they pay less the reason matters not merely the fact and we shall act upon that fact make a note of it.’
‘Good Vladimirov you are hovering which means you wish to speak so speak.’
‘Thank you, sir. I was wondering about something...’
‘Wondering is dangerous stop wondering do not wonder or think merely express.’
‘Yes, sir...I’ve been thinking, well, men like me, sir. Bit of business expertise, bit of know how. Well, I’m not sure that our country really appreciates us. Wealth is still the preserve of the nobility, sir, but since Novgorod is now the second city of your glorious realm...’
‘You believe that we should promote the interests of merchants you are correct we must modernise our society attract investment and make more money this way the bourgeoisie are more profitable than the aristocracy by at least three percent.’
Dobczyński looked concerned. ‘I’m no aristo, so, but you still need their support to raise troops and tithes.’
‘I am aware of this our society swill still very well serve the interests of the aristocracy we will merely make conditions for commerce more favourable you will make it happen Mr Vladimirov.’
Having retaken Tver and Pskov, the Tverian army headed south to crush fresh rebellions in Polotsk and Smoleńsk. Their manoeuvres, though, were too slow.
Both cities fell to nationalist uprisings, wasting valuable time and resources in their recapture. The rebel problem was dealt with, however, and Aleksandr had an idea.
‘Dobczyński we can improve productivity by encouraging people to go for a holiday.’
The soldier blinked. ‘Holidays, sir?’
‘I said holidays that is what I meant specifically state-funded holidays allowing them to relax and travel they will either return to work more productive or set up new farms and businesses and create more opportunities it will also help us in defeating the Hordes as it will encourage people to settle in newly captured lands make it happen.’
Shortly afterwards, though, the black day came. As bleak winter enveloped the land of Tver, the Tartars returned. The men of Tver readied their weapons once again to face the oncoming tide.
The Hanseatic League sent subsidies, wishing to see the Hordes stopped before they could plunge into the heart of Latin Europe. War was devilish for trade, after all.
The Tverians marched on Bryańsk, aiming to us the same tactics they had deployed in the capture of Polotsk and Smoleńsk. The city fell quickly into Tverian hands.
The second phase was put into action, as the first wave of settlers – funded by the treasury – headed for a new life in Bryańsk.
The Tartars, though, had other ideas. They again broke off their attacks on the Ottomans, deciding for some reason that the smaller, poorer nation posed a greater threat (or possibly they preferred easy fights to challenges). Whatever their reasons, they forced the Tveriasn to retreat from Bryańsk. One Horde army could have been beaten, but there were ten thousand more Tartars advancing ont he city when Dobczyński, reluctantly, gave the order to retreat.
The city was swiftly retaken, the colony burned to the ground, and twenty-seven million ducats had been lost. Frustrating, since when the Horde had taken Tverian territory from Aleksandr’s grandfather, it had not cost their treasury a penny.
The Tverian army retreated to the north. Unheroic, perhaps, but there was little to be done against the numberless Hordes. Better to preserve their troops and use them when opportunity presented itself.
Further Tartars streamed over the eastern border, taking control over the region of Viatka.
Receiving reports from his scouts, Dobczyński saw a potential weakness in the enemy plan. He moved south-west again, avoiding the Horde armies besieging the south and east of the country, and set up a new defensive position in Polotsk, looking for a chance to cross again into Horde territory.
Aggression looked to be the only answer, as the Horde would accept nothing from the Tverians, seemingly only wishing bloodshed and destruction. They had no objectives, they were merely a legion of bloodthirsty, mindless savages.
The Tverian army attacked an isolated Horde force in Mogilyov. Aleksandr wore his best battle dress, and donned a fabled artefact from the country’s history: his grandfather’s rainbow waistcoat. He had never wished to be in the same room as it, but this was a desperate hour for the principality. It further damaged his already weak eyesight, but its effect on the Tartars was shocking enough to allow his troops a genuine, solid battlefield victory over the heathen.
The Horde force was surrounded, outflanked, and completely destroyed outside the Belorussian city of Mińsk.
Aleksandr, emboldened by his first taste of real battle, laid siege to the city. It was huge risk, but the young king had grown reckless, feeling for the first time the thrill of combat. Their situation was bad, but if the Horde’s Khan was to make further mistakes – or the Ottomans were to keep hammering at their southern border – there might be further possibilities for the Tverians.
His abandonment of caution, though, proved to be in error. The Hordes broke down the resistance of Rzhev, capturing the city.
They were then free to turn their attention to Aleksandr’s army in Tver. At the Horde’s head was the man Aleksandr had hoped never to see: the dread Surenchar, still alive and still ablaze. Try as Dobczyński might to rally the man, none could stand before the advance of this unholy terror, and the army of Tver was forced to retreat once more.
One by one, the cities of Tver came under siege, Tartars battering at the gates. If not Tartars, it was further misguided ‘Patriotic’ uprisings, men maddened by fighting the Horde so much that they believed they were still fighting them, when in fact they were laying siege to the cities of the one free Russian nation. Outnumbered, besieged, and with the old enemy closing in on what was left of his army, Aleksandr III’s situation looked grim.