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  1. #1

    The Keys to the Kingdom



    God is in His Heaven, all is right with the world.


    The Bishop of Rome, Heir to Saint Peter, stands as the Prince of the Holy Roman Church, and the sole voice of God on Earth. Through this Papacy is His will made manifest, but such majesty does not come guaranteed with the mitre. The Pope is not only a prince of church but also of temporal matters, and a leader of men as much as faith. In the wake of the saeculum obscurum that rendered the seat of Rome into a charnel house, the Gregorian reforms sought to bring a new legitimacy to the papal throne, and the states sworn to it in central Italy became of great interest to these pontiffs, who sought to consolidate temporal as much as ecclesiastic power.

    Emerging as the most powerful of the old Italian nobility in the wake of the initial pogroms instituted after the saeculum obscurum, the Orsini family bore both the corruption of the "pornocracy" behind them and a loyalty to the Curia in equal measure. Yet it would be this family that would arise out of the ashes and leave behind a legacy that would not only change Italy, but all of Christendom. It was on their shoulders, not the Pope of Rome's, that a dream of a Kingdom of Heaven on Earth would be carried.

    It was theirs to be the Kings of God's Country, it was theirs to be the keepers of the Temple of Solomon. It was theirs to hold the keys to His Kingdom, and to conquer all they saw under His cross.

    Yet as godly as their charge, they were but men all. And all men are born to sin.

    Table of Contents
    • Book I: The Gatekeepers of Rome
      • Act I: The Meek Shall Inherit
        • Chapter I: Tolltaker, Husband - In which a soldier is named steward and there is a marriage
        • Chapter II: Adulterer, Father - In which both a castle and a family is built
        • Chapter III: Servant, Pretender - In which people die and spurious claims are made
        • Chapter IV: Conqueror, Turncoat (Part II) - In which a prince entertains guests and a bishop changes his cloth
        • Chapter V: Soldier, Undertaker - In which a battle is fought and conclave is called
      • Act II: Blood Like Water
        • Chapter I: Fraternity, Murder
    • Annotations
    Last edited by JuvenalianSatyr; 28-03-2012 at 01:32.

  2. #2
    Field Marshal loki100's Avatar
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    very intriguing ... & thats just reading your planned chapter headings
    Remember, whatever the question, the answer on 18 September is Yes ...

  3. #3

    Book I Act I Chapter I

    I.I.I. Tolltaker, Husband

    "Is it true that all roads lead to Rome?"

    The question was nearly as inane as the last one, which had to do with whether there would be enough game for his hobby (a word of two meanings in this case), a slim bird that seemed attached to the boy's arm as of late. Though only six years of age young Bobone Orsini had taken to the sport with great diligence that he failed to show at any of his studies up until that point, and it had become the terror of the palazzo's doves when he failed to keep it properly harnessed, which is why it was at the moment hooded and jessed.

    Giacopo Orsini did not spare an answer, for the day was almost over and every word seemed a wasted breath before sunset, which was fast approaching, and with it the autumn chill. The trees were all but bare and the road barer, itself a stone and mud mess that was now filled with his humble retinue: ten horse and five ox-loads besides, enough to carry the modest belongings of his previous household and the few men still loyal to his house. For all his frugality, some of it had to be abandoned behind when one of the oxen, old and sickened from ill-use, had to be left behind and with it a particular chest and other belongings that the lord had long been searching for an excuse to abandon.

    It was simply not in his nature, however, to do anything without it being absolutely necessary. Whether temperance or sloth, the soldier was a man of spartan means, and that may have had something to do with this recent appointment.


    Giacopo Orsini was known for being a harsh and simple man, but that belied his talent for numbers and statesmanship. A condotierri in his youth for the Company of the Rose, he was the nephew of Pietro Orsini, who was head of that family's estate in Rome. The pogroms that otherwise decimated the Italian nobility in the wake of the Gregorian reforms ended up a windfall for Giacopo, and his line emerged ascendant.

    "That is what is said, young master, but whatever the truth of such sayings, this road is particularly important." It more or less fell to Chiano, smiling ever so slightly as if there was some joke left unsaid, to speak when Giacopo would not, and that suited the man well enough. "All passage from the north towards the city must come through this little road here at some point, under the shadow of your father's new holdings."

    "Why does that mean anything? There are plenty of roads elsewhere." The incessant questioning of Bobone blurred the line between cleverness and insolence. He played with the leather jesses of his fowl as he spoke, paying little attention to the road or its environs. "If my father is to protect the city from her enemies, you can't expect them to always march through this pass."

    "Rightly so, master Bobone, but that is not the nature of your lord father's appointment." The ever smiling Chiano seemed endlessly patient with the boy as his maestro and instructor, a trait that Giacopo himself could not claim to have when it regarded his son. For all his skill and guile, Chiano was ultimately a kinder man than the boy's father, though sometimes that only encourage the young lord's insolent nature.

    "Father is a soldier, and a soldier's work is protecting the land, even the Pope of Rome must know that-" "Enough, child."

    Giacopo's words cut a disquieting silence in the boy, but did not have the intended chill, as the boy's pursed lips seemed more concerned about the bite of autumn air than his father's disapproval. Giacopo kicked the spurs into his steed's side and joined at the van of the convoy. The silence would continue for a few moments, until emboldened by his father's absence the boy continued, examining his father from afar. "What is the nature of my father's appointment, maestro?"

    "He has been granted a fief and lordship as count of Orvieto and the honorable office of gatekeeper of Rome. He has stewardship of all these lands, including this very highway, which is the most traveled road to Rome. And as steward of these lands, it is given to him the task of collecting the tithes and taxes in the land owed to his lord, the Bishop of Rome." Chiano's smile faded somewhat as he watched the boy wince in realization.

    "My father is not a steward. He is a tax collector."


    Bobone Orsini, the firstborn son of Giacopo Orsini and heir to the County of Orvieto, was of uncertain parentage. Though deemed legitimate, his mother remained unknown during his upbringing. Giacopo took little interest in his son's education, leaving him to be raised by the staff of the family palazzo in Rome. Bobone had only known his father for less than a month before his appointment and relocation to Orvieto.

    -----

    Orvieto, November 12th, AD 1066


    "I have an heir, is not the Holy Father satisfied with that?" The irritation was rising in the man's voice, increasingly apparent as the conversation seemed to press further and further. It was rare that he lost his temper, especially with the presence of an old friend such as Chiano, but the legate's obstinancy in broaching the matter did not suit him. He stood at the balcony of the palazzo overlooking the city of Orvieto. Orvieto itself was built on an acropolis, surrounded by cliffs and in a naturally defensible location. It needed no keep or walls, its densely packed buildings and streets forming a fortress all its own leading towards the top.

    "The matter of succession is not what is in question here, though the legate's tact was poor. We must think of the happiness of the household, above all, in this matter. Even above your own happiness, friend." Chiano seemed confident in something, though Giacopo knew not what. It almost certainly had to do with the rolled up parchment he fingered at the strings of. Yet it was beneath Giacopo to play the game and let Chiano, friend he might be, lead him by the nose, so he continued in feigned ignorance.

    "It is not the business of the Bishop of Rome to meddle in the marital affairs of simple men. He has kings and emperors well enough to turn his eye upon." A dismissive wave was all the Count could muster, leaning heavily against the rail of his balcony.

    "That may have been true when you were a condotierri and of no consequence in his domain, but now you swear fealty directly to him. You are his hand, Giacopo. This Alexander is a man of piety, and he chose you for that very same piety he saw in you." A hand settled on the Count's shoulders. "And luckily for me, such marital duties are pious indeed in the eyes of the Holy Mother Church."

    The joke did little for Giacopo's spirits. He had not wished to consider the prospect of marrying again, not after his first. And he did not need Bobone asking any more questions than necessary. "You, and the Holy Father, may be right, Chiano, but it is not for that simpering fool to tell me. A letter would have sufficed."

    "Bishop Giacomo is the voice of Rome in Orvieto, God help us." To which Chiano gave a mocking sign of the cross. "And I am sure that he was a reminder of whom your liege lord is, as that is all legates such as he are good for." He then finally handed the parchment towards Giacopo, who sat up and examined the outside before unfolding it.

    "The less I need to be a part of this matter, the better. I trust you with that much at least."

    "As you like."


    Chiano of Orvieto was the majordomo of the Orsini household in Orvieto, and most influential of its courtiers. He was born the son of a tanner in Orvieto, but left his apprenticeship at a young age with his brother Arcibaldo and traveled to Rome to make his fortune. Falling in love with the city, they became household servants to Pietro Orsini, and Chiano rose to become the steward of the household. This is where he began his long-standing friendship with Giacopo, which continued through both of their lives. Chiano was recognized as a genius statesman in his time, who was often courted by more influential rulers than Giacopo. He was also however known for being an man of great vice in comparison to his friend, though ones he rarely indulged within the court of his liege lord.

    -----

    San Giovenale, Orvieto, January 23rd, AD 1067


    The crumbling edifices of the church held little interest for Bobone. The whole household had been in preparation for something in the past few months, though as to what was lost on the young boy. He would ask the maestro but Chiano seemed to always be away, leaving southward for some city or another, leaving the winter months to pass slowly. Bobone had little to amuse himself with besides, as the winter was too poor for fowling, and the funny little man his father sometimes had at the palazzo was also curiously absent. With so much time on his hands, he had little to do but wander the grounds.

    And that wandering had a week hence led him to not be very bored for long.

    Within the rock of Orvieto's acropolis, Bobone had found expansive tunnels and cavernous rooms built beneath the city. Discovering an entrance through a loose tile in the chapel (beneath the altar), he found an almost innumerable number of rooms and passageways beneath the palazzos of the old families, which had long since been abandoned. In his childish wonder he had boundless curiosity and little knowledge as to their nature, though even now he had only explored the smallest of fractions.

    But when his father forbade him to leave the count's palazzo during this event, he was determined to disobey. The servants had told him only enough to make him want to know more: His father was getting married, of that he was certain, but there was so little known among the servants, who seemed less and less likely to say anything to the young master as the days went on. He had many questions for his father, and none of them likely to please him, but Bobone had become almost resigned to it...

    Almost, as now he stood just outside the church, as twilight began to spread. His father's men, in red and black, with the eagle of Orvieto on their shields, were joined by other, stranger colored men in tabards of blue and silver that Bobone, having shirked his studies and his maestro absent besides, did not recognize. He knew that because of the guards he could not sneak into the church from the front or back, and for a wedding (especially a Roman one) it was a very somber affair, so there was little chance he could slip in a crowd.

    There was another option however, as the church was, like so many of the buildings in Orvieto, built into the stone, and joined to a sepulcher beneath it. The mausoleum entrance was in poor shape, which meant that the boy could easily sneak inside, and then work his way up into the church from below. He was used enough to dark narrow passages in his time that the idea of moving through the crypt did not bother him.

    The fact that rusted iron of the mausoleum entrance was already left open when he got there, however, did.

    Inside, there was no light, save the faint ambient glow of the entrance creeping in. Despite all better judgment, Bobone slipped inside, and as he had so many times before guided himself by hand through the crypt's damp hallways inside, the softness of his feet silent under the occasional dripping of water. There was a faint sound in the distance, joined by another, and the boy thought he could hear voices. He froze for a moment, before another sharp sound echoed down the passageway, a wretched fit of coughs.

    Something that Bobone recognized.

    As if possessed by some external force, Bobone crept forward, rounding the corner and reaching a doorway where torchlight flickeded out of, listening to the voices inside. One was unfamiliar, strangely accented like that of a Spaniard, but he was not absolutely certain. What was more interesting was the other voice, punctuated by wracking coughs. That was the voice of Arcibaldo, Chiano's brother and one of his father's trusted men.

    "The Bishop of Rome..." Another fit. Arcibaldo was a sickly man, and the air was such that it further aggravated his condition, the stink of nitre and pestilence was strong here. "The Bishop of Rome can be convinced of the justice of the Duke's cause in asserting his independence."

    "Justice is not enough. I will not sell my sisters like cattle for justice, and especially not to such low blood, and I demand more from your count." The voice was heated, and heavy, and though Bobone had not the courage to peer in the room, it was that of a large man. "Your brother tries to sell me back the dowry, what good is money I have already spent to me?"

    "Forgive me, but as I recall, your father is not the Duke."

    "That will change in my time."

    Another wracking cough. "Be that as it may, my lord, the contract is with your father, not the Duke of Portugal. But rest assured that both the Count and Pope Alexander have a keen interest in the progress of your... Reconquista. A ship in such troubled waters, will require a strong hand, one that the brothers of Jimena have proven unable to provide."

    "Your words mean nothing, and I am not leaving this godforsaken country until I have the soldiers your brother promised me, Arcibaldo."

    "Yet the contract is being sealed above us, without us." There was a tense silence after that. "Whatever objections you have, my lord, remember that neither am I the count of Orvieto, nor you the count of Castelo Branco. You would do better to remember that, before insulting my brother's blood..."


    Emisu Hermigues de Ribadouro, later Countess of Castelo Branco (in name only), was a Portuguese noblewoman who was married to Giacopo Orsini during the Iberian Civil War in 1067. When she arrived in Italy, she spoke no Italian, and though she was kind was given very little attention by her lord husband. Eventually she would bear him many children and adapt to the court life, though not without difficulties. Historians often mark the Portuguese rebellion against Galicia as the starting point to the Iberian Civil War, which ended Christian power in Spain for many years to come.

    The sound of steel being drawn at that moment caused Bobone's body to light up, as he grasped outwards into the darkness, only to touch what felt like... human hair? With a squeak, the rat he had grasped bit into his hand, and he screamed in fear and pain, stumbling through the darkness and away from the scene, hearing only the exhalation of life as steel pierced through flesh, but he could not know who it was, nor did it matter much to the young one's mind, as either was just as likely to want him dead if they knew he had been there.

    Yet the footsteps behind him were heavy and quick, and so blinded by fear that all those weeks of moving through the darkness did him little good in trying to get his escape, as it was just when he spotted the creeping light of the crypt's entrance that he felt the heavy hand on his throwing, pulling him back and then blinding him with a torch in his face, the heat blasting against his crying and dirtied face.

    There was a wracking cough, spittle and phlegm spraying against the boy's face, and that familiar voice once more. "Boy!"

  4. #4
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    This looks like great fun, love the writing. Definitely watching this!
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  5. #5
    @loki100: One small thing I try to do with the titles and their taglines is hint at the events within without actually getting at the gist of them.

    @Saithis: I was inspired by the narrative AARs I read on here to go with this format, yours one of the best among them, so glad to hear you enjoy. I'm not sure "fun" is the word I'd use to describe the Orsini dynasty... Perhaps the d'Hautevilles, who feature a bit later on. They perform admirably as flamboyant villains.

  6. #6
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    My. But you are a wordsmith.

    I like it. Your writing sings shadows and petulant thoughts running to dark places. Hence Italy I suppose, maybe the other way. No matter which, excellent.

    I hope Bobone sticks around. He's rocking that hat as he's rocking that name, with no apologies.
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  7. #7
    Field Marshal loki100's Avatar
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    as with the other comments, really great writing and very engaging, I like the air of partial decay that you hint at in the sections on Ovieto
    Remember, whatever the question, the answer on 18 September is Yes ...

  8. #8
    @RGB: Thanks, Italy was one of three ideas I had, the other two being Hungary with an unusual succession setup, and the other being Georgia in a national epic style bookended by a discussion between a blind monk and a bandit poet. I still would like to do Georgia, but I got frustrated while trying to mod a more realistic province setup since the vanilla map's projection around the Caucasus is maddening, and I was adding so many characters that it was more trouble than it was worth, so wanted to cut my teeth on this one first.

    As for Bobone, let me put it this way; even when I wanted to, I couldn't get rid of Bobone. He's not going anywhere for a while.

    @loki100: One of the best things about Italy as a setting is that its a ruin of what it used to be. And like with the tunnels underneath Orvieto, there is so much that just inspires mystery on their own, as to their origins and purpose.

    ---

    I am about 50 years into the game, after the first succession, but the updates will be irregular at best considering my schedule. I do plan on doing one today though, so stay tuned.

  9. #9

    Book I Act I Chapter II

    I.I.II. Adulterer, Father

    "Boy!"

    Even now, that voice brought an all too familiar chill, and Bobone felt his body tense up of its own accord. He had managed to evade his father, the maestro, and all the servants besides, but he could not escape this one, not even through the dark passages beneath (though he had since shied away from them). The alarm in his body agitated the hobby, which bent over and picked at its jesses and the leather of Bobone's glove, but the boy steadied himself on the too-large horse and kept still, calling back out.

    "Keep back, murderer, or I'll have your head!" Bold words for a boy of six, but the crack of his voice betrayed his fear, as the unassuming and sickly Arcibaldo trotted up on his nag, suitable for his station as a manservant and little more, his face unamused by the boldness of Bobone's words.

    "Be thankful to God that you are out of earshot, or I might have had yours..." The man wheezed a bit at the last, raising a crimson napkin to his lips and looking away as he coughed. The thought of this wretch being able to take on the massive Galician seemed absurd to Bobone, but the iron of his grip that night convinced him well enough to keep cautious. The man kept his distance however, eyeing the bird, and the awkwardly large sword Bobone had strapped to his belt.

    "Did you think your father would not notice his favorite being stolen away from the stable? Horse, not son, that is..." Arcibaldo hacked and Bobone winced, reddened with anger, but he refused to let himself cry at the barbed jest, he had by now heard enough from the cruel man. Where Chiano was patient and forgiving, Arcibaldo was not. And that his father accepted the man's request to take control of his education, with Chiano's constant business abroad, meant that Bobone never had a moment where he wasn't watched, constantly questioning whether Arcibaldo might decide he could not trust the secret to the boy. Such fear was not for a young boy such as himself to bear, but Bobone could think of little else.

    "Take the horse, then! I have no need of it no more than father has need of me." Though petulant, there was a coolness to Bobone's sullen words.

    "Oh? Running away is it?" A fit of coughs punctuating each mocking phrase. "I had assumed you were simply shirking your studies to hunt, as you are want to do."

    "No! I was not!" Bobone's face was blushed with shame, as Arcibaldo was right, but the boy's mind was mercurial and at this point he was very much willing to commit to running away from that graveyard, away from his father the tolltaker and away from Arcibaldo the murderer, and away from his father's wife who was already with child, as if Bobone was not there.

    "How far did you think you would get, boy? Without food, or water? Did you think your bird would provide?" It was uncertain whether Arcibaldo then coughed or laughed, as it sounded like both, leaving Bobone to blush ever the deeper in childish rage.

    "Maybe I'll go to Rome, like you and Chiano. I'll make my fortune there."

    "Rome is it? Yes, they would have a use for soft boys like you, uses a tanner's sons were too rough for. But I'm afraid you, boy, would not care for Roman hospitality." Even though it was beyond Bobone's understanding, it still angered him further, and he kicked the spurs into the horse to turn it around, only to find the nag move with surprising quickness and himself unseated from the saddle by a smarting blow to his ribs from Arcibaldo's elbow, spaying onto the ground

    "Let me... go!" Coughing and curling on the ground, at this point crying, the child grasped at the grass. He thought that by avoiding the highway he could stay away from his father's men in his hunt, but Arcibaldo knew all his spots. "I'm not needed anymore! Just let me go?"

    Arcibaldo dismounted with a grimace, grasping the child by the scruff and holding him up. "Enough of this, boy. You have a place there. What fills your brain with such nonsense, I will never know." But he did know, and his eyes, which glinted with a cruel cunning that made the boy, even now filled with tears and insolence, shiver right then.

    "It's true, what they say, isn't it!"

    "What do they say, boy?" He finally released Bobone on his feet, coughing and clutching his ribs with one arm and wiping his tears with the next.

    "That I'm a bastard."

    Arcibaldo smiled, very slightly, which was the only kind of smile the man was ever capable of, and looked far worse on him than his grimace. "A bastard? Boy, you are many things, but a bastard you are not. And your father will have need of you, of that I am certain."

    Bobone knew not for certain the meaning of Arcibaldo's words, but the question would follow him for years without answer or resolution: If not a bastard, then what am I?


    Arcibaldo of Orvieto, Chiano's younger brother, was also a household servant for the Orsini family both at their estates in Rome and later Orvieto. Unlike his brother, he never was raised beyond his common station, and little is noted of him in contemporary accounts besides his unfortunate and early death. Since, history has found him of little consequence.

    -----

    Palazzo di Conte, Orvieto, August 10th, AD 1067


    Even from his disadvantaged position, Alessandro found it easy to behold the fullness of the keep, which was built upon the former barracks for the town guard. Whereas the clay and brick of the ancient city stood out in yellows and reds, the gray of the fresh masonry and stone walls of this palazzo stood out like a sore thumb, with its banners in colorful dyed silk displaying the sworn men of this new count.

    No, not a palazzo, thought Alessandro to himself. A castle.

    And indeed, unlike the palazzos of the other families, such as the Alberici, the Monaldeschi, the Soliano, or the Gualterio, it was named after the title of the occupant, not his family. Alessandro had not ascertained whether that was some gesture of humility, or another reminder of the fact that the city had been subordinated under this upjumped condotierri not as a free city, but as a feudal fiefdom. And for all the wisdom of the Holy Father in Rome, there were many in Orvieto who were less than overjoyed at the change in administration.

    Not the least being the Consul, Benevento Alberici. Son of the late nephew of Pope Benedict VII Filippo Alberici, who was instated as the municipal governor of this city through a feudal oath to its Bishop (and thus firmly in the grasp of the Papacy), he had kept the ruling families in a firm alliance through his strongarm tactics, though in truth he was little more than a puppet of the Giacomo Monaldeschi, the Bishop, and now, Alessandro had heard, papal legate to the Count.

    The church does jealously guard its power, it seems. But while the Consul and his allies are willing to plot and divide the city beneath this "palazzo", life must go on for the rest of the city. The guilds, though incestuously tied with the nobles and their families as they are, cannot simply stop their trade, not while gold slips down the road between Florence and Rome. And that is where Alessandro came in, or so they told him, though he knew why he had been chosen.

    The di Baschis had all but bought their name, but Alessandro had little and less claim to it. A third son and an accursed dwarf at that, he had spent his life wondering what he could have had and little doing anything about it. It's not that he was without ambition, but there is little good that ambition can do a man of his stature, and in his case, his patience had paid off.


    Alessandro di Baschi was born both a noble and a dwarf, though until his appointment as podestà there is little known about him. Originally chosen as ambassador for Orvieto's guilds to the newly installed count as an insult, through his fearless real politik he would become the second most powerful man in the city of Orvieto, in no small part due to his talent at outliving his rivals, including both Consul Benevento Alberici, Bishop Giacomo Monaldeschi, and Count Giacopo Orsini.

    He had made visits to the Orsini, though it seemed that every time he was accosted by the smiling face of their majordomo and never with the count himself, or sometimes by the count's jeering fledgling. Today he had intended to change that, and indeed change a very great many things about his relationship with the countship. He ascended (with some difficulty) the stone stairs up, and presented himself with the writ of his office to the guard, though it was a tiresome formality they forced him through. He was recognizable enough, but this count was apparently very adamant that it be done.

    Alessandro had at first assumed it was intended an insult, much as his own appointment to the position was by the guilds, but he had noted that even the papal legate himself was required to do so, and so it was just evident that the count was either paranoid or simply tactless.

    Perhaps it was unexpected that it was not their chamberlain but the count himself that had him attend him in the courtyard of the palazzo, open to the sweltering summer heat (to Alessandro's chagrin, considering the too-heavy garment of his 'office', such as it was), and joined in seat with the swollen countess, a wilting pale woman who spoke little, and to the ambassador's understanding knew only little Italian besides. And as Alessandro began his usual niceties, he was cut short.

    "I would have the guilds fund a palisade, and I expect to see that you have this done for me before the winter." It was plain speech, and sent Alessandro in a bit of shock as he fell into the seat, a bit awkwardly for his size, and took a moment to regain his composure. The heat only making it worse.

    "Would you like to give that to me in writing, my lord, or shall I have to say it myself?" di Baschi shared with the count a lack of humor that made an otherwise sardonic remark a bit more plain in expressing the insult.

    "I care not how you do it, dwarf," the count leaning forward. "Only that it will be done."

    "That I can't promise, nor am I your man, Count Orsini." The ambassador remained level, despite the outrageous demands. He had born worse, and he had to bide his time still. "How am I going to explain this expense and its necessity? Orvieto is built upon the acropolis and surrounded at all sides by cliffs."

    "The palisade is not for Orvieto," the count explained tersely.

    "Well, then the necessity of such expense is self-evident, surely."

    "It is for the road."

    Alessandro paused for a moment to consider that, and gauge the meaning of the count, whose terseness obviously hid something else, and once it seemed that Alessandro understood, he continued.

    "The road to Rome does not pass through Orvieto, only beneath it. There is little we could do to protect the Holy City if they simply wished to drag their train and supplies with them upon our lands."

    "And what's more, it would make it easier for your men's tariffs, am I right?"

    The count leaned back with a bit of a scoff. "You speak plainly for an ambassador, dwarf."

    "I don't see any point in not regarding this as what it is, and as a representative for the guilds, I find it difficult to put my lot with your palisade. The guilds complain enough of the tariffs as it is." He settled into the chair finally, his boots hanging from the front as he held his thin wood cane tightly. He had to remain firm.

    "Boldly, too. But I will build this wall."

    "Perhaps you should marry another rebel, I'm sure if her dowry paid for this monstrosity it can pay for your tollhouse."

    The count rose at that, and the countess shifted in his seat with discomfort, yet her hand did press upon his forearm, as if to soothe. It did not, and her arm was struck away. Her expression did not change ever with her husband's strike, showing a remarkable grace that at this point, Alessandro could not help but envy, as he feared his would give way once more. He had to press the advantage while it was still his.

    "Please, my lord," his palms upraised submissively. "Let me explain. As a representative for the guilds, I cannot support this. But that is as a representative for the guilds."

    The count, who had a curious way of showing his wroth, a quivering lip and pinched brow, simply sat back into his chair. "I thought you preferred to speak plainly."

    "Then I shall. If even a small fraction of the tariffs were to go to the wealth of Orvieto's guilds, and not just the coffers of the Orsini, or more likely, the Bishop of Rome's," and by the count's frown Alessandro knew he was right, "not only would you gain the support of the guilds, but your investment would make a return to your countship. Out of the reach of our Holy Father."

    That did not seem to tempt the man as he had hoped, however, but before his cause was lost he found a rope cast out to him by the count himself.

    "If not as representative of the guilds, then what of representative of the countship?" Alessandro could not be sure whether he had impressed the count, or whether he would have to let himself be a pawn once more to get what he wanted. Either way, desperate men do not have the luxury of such thought.

    "We might come to some understanding, my lord Orsini."

    -----
    Palazzo di Conte, Orvieto, October 2nd, AD 1067


    "It has been too long."

    That was as warm a greeting as Chiano was likely to receive, and he accepted it, even as he grasped the man's shoulders and kissed his friend upon his cheeks and smiled at Giacopo, who for all his dourness managed a small one of his own. The palazzo provided a surprising number of small quiet places for such meetings, considering its ultimately utilitarian nature.

    "Thank you, Giacopo. It has, but I think travel suits me well." Chiano wished to evade the talk though as much as he could, taking his seat and folding his hands, and not letting the discussion turn towards his travel. "The countess is great with child, I see. It only adds to her beauty, as I am sure you can appreciate, friend."

    "I have not noticed." The count became terse, and Chiano recognized it well the reason, but it was not in his nature to leave it at that and his friend absorbed with what was rather than what is and will be.

    "Marital duties may be just that, but they are happy duties nonetheless. Surely you take some enjoyment in them?" It was always one of Chiano's greatest joys to press his friend like this, if only to elicit more of the young man he once knew.

    For the count's part, he seemed more irritated than anything else. "I have kept them short and business-like."

    "That is a great shame. I would understand if you were married to the cow God seems fit to give me. What I would not give to have received your sister." As part of the marriage arrangement with the Count of Castelo Branco, Chiano was married to the second daughter, Onega, who was not as well known for her beauty or grace as Emisu.

    "Do not complain overmuch, di Orvieto, as that cow has made you a noble. Would that mine has yours vigor, or appetite." The count's brow rose at that, and though he did not smile, Chiano could not help but chuckle at Giacopo's jest.

    "She has appetite and more, and not just for my lord's feasting table. If it's vigor you want, my lord, then vigor you can have. She speaks of you quite highly. And if I'm not mistaken, your wilting maiden has taken to learning her Italian through the most unusual of ways; or did you expect me to believe that such ribald poetry was for you, Giacopo?"

    That caused the count to frown slightly, and he poured himself a wine, shaking his head. "No, Chiano. It would not be proper."

    "You thought differently in Rome, Giacopo..."

    "We are no longer in Rome!" It was not a shout, but it was firm enough that it caused a disquiet to fall over the two. Chiano knew that reminding his friend of those days was a dangerous business, and perhaps he should have taken a different tact, yet he found himself frowning as much, the formerly warm mood now as chill as the autumn air outside.

    "I loved her too, you know."

    That caused the count to clench his teeth, gripping his chair, but Chiano had as much right to mourn her as his friend. "She was betrothed to me, you remember."

    "I remember," said Giacopo through clenched teeth, smoldering in himself as he turned aside.

    "We are creatures of love, my friend, but of that you seem to have little and less. I cannot bear to see that die with Nicoletta."

    "Love makes men mad, Chiano."

    "Is that why, then, you have accepted the child as your own?"

    He could not longer avoid the subject, and nor did he want to. The count may have been angered by the forwardness of the comment, but Chiano had to persist. "You would be mad to accept the child as you are. She is nothing more than a farmer's girl, and her word will mean nothing against the Count of Orvieto. I told you, my friend, that the happiness of the household must-"

    "Come before my own, Chiano. I am well aware. This is not for the sake of my own damn happiness, of that you can be sure."

    "Did you think I would not find out? You could have sent anyone else to see to the matter of Pisa. Their rebellion will end as much as the others', the Lombard states are too divided to resist the Emperor. You knew this, and your misguided sense of justice means nothing if this woman sires a son. Think of Bobone!" It was a plea that might mean little to Giacopo's heart, but it might appeal to his reason, or so Chiano hoped.

    "It was rightly done, she is the mother of my child." The count would not move, not on this.

    "So is Emisu, Giacopo. Or so she will be. And she will find out soon, she may not speak our language but she is not an imbecile."

    "It's a girl."

    "And w-.. What?"

    "Her name is Adalgisa. And you will send Arcibaldo to bring her and her mother to Orvieto. There will be no more discussion of the matter."

    And sure enough, there wasn't. At least, not from Chiano.


    Altruda, born in the Umbrian countryside to low birth, was for a short time the mistress of Count Giacopo Orsini, and bore him a single daughter, Adalgisa, who was legitimized by a papal bull shortly before the young girl succumbed to the typhoid fever that struck the court in 1071. Altruda was a destabilizing force in the early countship, and created a divide between Count Giacopo and his wife for many years.

    -----
    Palazzo Soliano, Orvieto, November 20th, AD 1067


    The ancient household of the Soliano had played host to the Orsini family during the construction of the Palazzo di Conte, and to the countess and her retinue during the late stage of the family. The Solianos wished to ingratiate themselves with the new ruling family, distancing themselves from the other nobles of Orvieto, who had long disenfranchised them in the politics of the consulship. It was here that the first trueborn child of the Orsini was to be born.

    For this Emisu had traveled so very far from her home, to a place where she failed to understand not only the language but the custom. The untimely death of her brother (at sea, she was told, as the body was never found) and the rather cruel distance of her new lord husband were much to bear, as much as the heaviness of the child she had carried. But she had learned so many new words, and of the priest, the Bishop who was so kind to her ,she asked of him names that would please her husband.

    So she spoke only one word when she handed the Count his son, and that was his name. "Claudio."

    The look on her husband's face when he beheld his son caused her weakness to subside. Even though the worse was over, she felt as if she had walked from the palazzo to her home in Galicia and then back all again. She had perhaps thought that because he had a son by another woman that she would be nothing to him, yet the way he looked at this child was so different than he looked at his eldest.

    Bobone was present, and when she held her child again, ever with the questions the young one came up to her, and she could only give the faintest of smiles as she understood few of them, only words here and there. Their language was not too unlike the one she knew, but different enough that it frustrated her, especially in her tired state.

    "Enough," a word she heard often from her lord husband, but Bobone came closer to look at her son, and she smiled, for perhaps he would love his brother as his father loved the child. She held him close for Bobone to look at him.

    "I hate him." Those words she understood well enough, and the shock had not worn off when Giacopo took his son by the shoulder and threw him against the wall. He loosened his belt, and then began to beat him. Emisu remembered when she used to cry when her father beat the whipping boy when her dear brother would get into trouble.

    And cry she did, at the sight. This was the father to her child.
    Last edited by JuvenalianSatyr; 23-03-2012 at 19:01.

  10. #10
    Tzar of all the Soviets RGB's Avatar
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    Not a happy family, but then it wouldn't be fun. As it is, it's enough fun for almost three updates in one.

    A dwarf is always a welcome part of the cast, though I wish paradox also included monks and eunuchs.

    Oh and that toll gate on the road? Just like Italy today.
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    Duke of Bonbon, and also Chevalier Grand Croix of the Ordre Militaire du Saint Christophe.

  11. #11
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    Great intrigue, I'm really really enjoying this. I absolutely love the dynamic between the characters, it's a wonderful piece of writing.

    Bonobe thinks himself useless, but he truly fails to realize what's going on in his youth. Still, he's rather brave for his age!

    And, just to clarify, Italian plotting, murder, intrigue and chaos is tons of fun to someone like me.
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  12. #12
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    again, gripping stuff, I can't see this being a tale of happy families
    Remember, whatever the question, the answer on 18 September is Yes ...

  13. #13
    @RGB: Writing for Alessandro was something of a challenge as I wanted to evade making too obvious an homage, especially when the game says "Here is your Steward, a cunning and envious dwarf", but at least in my mind he has a life of his own that I hope to explore more. His part was larger in the original draft but I cut out a lot of the details of his discussion with Giacopo to pace the update a little more and not make it too middle-heavy.

    @Saithis: The game was very good in providing me with a lot of material for the character development for both Bobone and Giacopo, who started off with one trait each (Falconer and Just respectively). Bobone received Brave early on, and then I got the Envy event just after Claudio's birth, after Giacopo had received Wroth, so the choice of which option to pick for Envy seemed obvious. And the little rascal kept the trait, too. Bobone in general, despite everything that happens to him, is very resilient a character, which lends itself to how I intend to write him.

    In general I'm amazed at how little I need to fill in the details (mainly just background intrigues and context) to make a story out of the game's events. Especially later on, when the plot picks up (this is a lot of setup, but Chapter IV and on has a lot more going on), almost everything is just based on the game's genius. And that makes me genuinely excited to write, which is why this whole exercise is very therapeutic for me, as I have a lot of hang-ups about my writing and motivation. So to everyone that's commented, you included, thanks.

    And yes, Italian intrigue is also one of my favorite things. I admit that The Borgias was a deciding influence in picking this over Hungary, though I, Claudius also had a little something to do with it. I also really wanted to explore being a true crusader in the game (something I've never done before). The only problem is that 50 years and three popes into the game and not one of them has declared a crusade. There's a jihad on Beirut (Byzantium), at least, so maybe that'll get things going. It does at least make for a plot point later, especially considering the Iberian Civil War (which will get an annotation history book article soon).

    @loki100: Whether Orsini, Spartenos, Drengot, or d'Hauteville, little contentment finds itself in the warring families of southern Italy. Though there are moments of triumph, relief, and joy still. I tend to really enjoy tragedy, and so my writing lends itself towards that, but I do hope to keep it balanced enough that there's still a place for the reader to invest themselves. The fact that it remains gripping is a great sign of that.

    ---

    Update incoming for Chapter III.

  14. #14

    Book I Act I Chapter III

    I.I.III. Servant, Pretender

    Palazzo di Conte, Orvieto, December 1st, AD 1070


    Giacopo knew not why, but it made the bones in his body quake to see that man sit in his chair, and the sycophants swarm around him like buzzards, ready to pick the flesh off his bony hands as they kissed the ring and sung his praises. Giacopo knew not why it caused him such rage to see, for the man who sat in his chair was the holiest in all Christendom, the Holy Father Pope Alexander II.

    "The Bishop of Rome is always welcome to their city of Orvieto, and all its hospitality." The gesticulations and bobbing of the lavishly dressed Beneveto Alberici, who still held the gall to name himself consul and podestà of Orvieto under the authority of its Bishop, seemed absurd to Giacopo, yet it was the same for all the aristocrats before him as they capered before the Holy Father like fools. In Rome, Giacopo thought, they would be dressed in motley. "But these holdings are much too humble for a man of such grace and stature, allow the estates of the Alberici and its palazzos host the envoy and its retinue."

    Giacopo clenched his teeth and said nothing. The count of the land and he was to be relegated to standing in the flank, watching as he was insulted by his inferiors before his liege lord and the very voice of God. It was the presence of that very same personage that made any reprisal impossible and the nobles more bold. The 'consul' still thought himself the Pope's man, and danced to the strings of the Bishop Giacomo, legate from the Holy See.

    "The offer is kind, but we," adding a sort of detached air to the royal we as Alexander often effected amongst petitioners, "as both prince of state and the church, will host our envoy in the highest seat of our countship," bowing his head with his hands to each side in recognition to Giacopo, who simply pinched his lips and bowed back curtly. Alberici seemed hobble by it, as if it were a knife to his side, and stumbled back into a bow and scrape, attempting to save face.

    "Your Holiness, as strong as these walls may be, surely the office of your august self would be more comfortable with the whole of our estates-"

    "The Palazzo Soliano, with due thanks to Don Faustino, has been made available to the comfort of His Holiness and the envoy of the Curia." Chiano di Orvieto stood to the left of the Pope's seat, serving as chamberlain now to two masters for the time being, and his moderating voice and easy smile served far better than Giacopo's pinched mouth might. "For the matter of the feast, however, it would humble our estate if the Alberici were to host our honored guests with their famous hospitality."

    Perhaps stunned by the opportunity to save face before the Pope of Rome, Beneveto was eager to accept. "If it please you, Holiness, it would be our honor."

    "And the hospitality of the Alberici is indeed famous, as their vineyards and lands are fertile and giving beyond measure, are they not?"

    "That they are, lord chamberlain." The last two words came with some difficulty, but now was not the time for the matter of Chiano's low birth.

    "Then it would be a small matter for them to provide for the whole of the Orvietani famiglia and the envoy of the Holy See."

    "... Yes, it would, lord chamberlain." The paleness of his complexion betraying his realization of Chiano's gambit far too late.


    Pope Alexander II, born Anselmo di Braggio in Milan, began his career in the church as a energetic coadjutor reforming the Church in the wake of its dark age. Elected to the office to controversy asserted by the Holy Roman Emperor, Alexander's position became unchallenged and he gave papal support both to the Iberian Reconquista and the Norman Invasion of England. Both these endeavors would fail during his reign, which lead indirectly to the deterioration of the reforms and their traction in the Catholic Church.

    Giacopo counted already in his head the relief such expenses being relegated to the aristocrats would bring him, but his thoughts were interrupted by a now all too familiar voice. "You seem to be getting ahead of yourself, my lord."

    "Are you a clairvoyant then, ambassador?" Giacopo's response to the dwarf was characteristically terse and gruff, as he had little and less patience for the man's obstinate nature. Or obstinacy of any sort, if one considered his relationship with his further and further wayward son, Bobone.

    "No, but a keen observer of men. Which is why I say anything at all, you're not a man who has a joy for the art of conversation. And neither am I." Standing about half the count's height, Alessandro could be thankful that it afforded him less attention among the lavishly dressed courtiers all jockeying for the next position for the audience of the Holy Father. "Your wall has performed admirably, you will be happy to know. The tax is slight but in such great numbers... It will do much for the wealth of Orvieto."

    "Orvieto's guilds, you mean."

    "Orvieto," Alessandro insisted. "Need I remind you that if we did not put this money through the guildhouses, it would be lining the papal purse, which is fat enough as it is with Norman indulgences." Alessandro adjusted his collar slightly, shivering underneath his furs, which he could now afford from the fee he took from said tariffs and their collection. "You still tax the guildhouses, do you not? I did not take you for a greedy man."

    "Tell me, dwarf, are you my creature, or the guilds'?" The question was pointed.

    "I am neither, il conte, I swear no fealty. But that can change, need I remind you." His eyes on the consul, who send daggers through his eyes towards Count Orsini even now. A dagger is just what the man needed, was Alessandro's thought exactly.

    "God will provide in His time," was all Giacopo, just and pious as he claimed to be, would say.

    "Truly, is it your honest nature that keeps you from considering such an option, my lord? Or simply the matter of its cost?"

    There was a silence, before Giacopo's terse reply. "Yes."

    It was always a little of both.

    -----


    Palazzo Comunale, Orvieto, December 15th, AD 1070


    It had been a simple matter to wait until most of the household was busy with the feast preparations before stealing away, but Bobone knew to wait until the last moment, when Arcibaldo came around and banged on the door to remind him that his father had strictly forbidden him to leave Soliano. And for all the guards would know, Bobone would still be in that old estate, which through its chapel was connected to the old tunnels beneath. Bobone had asked the old Don Faustino Soliano about the history, and learned that this building was formerly belonging to an ancient Etruscan noble family that the Solianos claimed descent from, all through the history of Rome itself.

    Whether true or no, Palazzo Soliano was old, and so was the Palazzo Comunale, which was built out of the old Roman baths for the newly instated consul back when the Bishop administrated matters here and not the countship. It was right at the heart of the Acropolis, and Bobone knew exactly how to get there, but not what he'd find once he did.

    He found his best clothes, and wrapped his head as usual, but was sure to take with him two things: One of the thick wax candles and its brass base, and a knife he had filched from the scullery that morning. The knife he hid away in his belt while he lit the candle, guarding its flame with his hand as he slipped from his room towards the chapel. The abbot would be absent, thanks to the presence of the Pope, which meant Bobone only had to avoid the maids and other lowly servants, but they were beneath his notice anyhow. Arcibaldo had taught him well how to remain unseen, even if that wasn't the man's intention for the boy.


    Bobone Orsini at the age of twelve, c. 1072. Bobone was known in his youth for an adventurous nature, and constantly troubled the servants of the palazzo and was known to disappear for hours on end, exploring the tunnels beneath the acropolis or going hunting with his prize birds. He cared little for his studies or the court of his father, and this mutual antipathy continued through his formative years.

    Even beneath the rock, in the expanse of tunnels, Bobone could hear the sounds above of the feast. His hands traced against the smooth, almost sandy stone, unsure of where to go to reach the top. he nearly leaped out of his skin when he heard a scraping sound, putting his hand over his mouth to quiet himself, spinning around until he found the cause of the disturbance: A small, black rat. Sighing as he released his hand from his face, something caught his eye as he examined the fleeing creature closer. A green olive was in its paws, as it dashed away. Acting on a though, he went the opposite way, and found the grade of the tunnel began to get higher and higher, and the tunnel itself more and more narrow.

    Eventually, he came into a small crawlspace, about three feet high, which for Bobone was not so uncomfortable. The space was wide, and above him was the tile of what he guessed, by the sounds emanating from it, was the main hall. All around him were what looked like columns, and connected by some clay pipes, some broken and cracked and in great disrepair. He knew not their purpose, but they had made a serviceable den for the rats of the city, which choked the pipes and corners of the room, scavenging for scraps filtered through the cracks of the tiles, or the occasional spill of wine which they lapped at greedily.

    Bobone grimaced, thinking it now less than clever of him to have worn his best clothes, but still determined to get into the feasting hall, he crept through the rats nest and the crumbling clay, looking for any sort of egress out of the crawlspace. There were no exits besides the means which he crawled inside, which meant there was only one other direction to go: Up.

    A booming gale of laughter, deep and loud, rattled not just Bobone but something else that drew his attention: A loose tile, cracked at the side, just large enough for the slender boy to crawl through. Perhaps a bit bull-headed in his approach, he presses against the tile and puses it upwards, creeping a glance. To his fortune, it is beneath the central feasting table, where wine and feast spills and boots slam in arrhythmic time. Pulling himself up, he leaves the loose tile at the side, if he needs to sleep out, but its that same deep and strong voice that draws his attention again, especially because of its accent.

    It sounded just like the Galician that died at San Giovenale.

    Bobone's heart leaped to his throat at the unpleasant memories brought to the front of his mind, and he stilled himself, as he realized he was right beneath his father and stepmother both, and the corpulent Galician that was speaking was their newest "guest" Hermigio, the Count of Castelo Branco (another leech that sought to suck the blood out of his father's countship, a sentiment Bobone did not realize he shared with his father) and father to the woman Bobone's father bore their second son with.

    "I hear that you have Moors in Italy as well, my son." There was a bizarre sense of joviality to the Galician, spurred perhaps by the deepness of his cups or simply the naivete of his soul.

    "The Emir of Sicily, much as he is, is a Saracen, not a Moor," Giacopo corrected, impatiently. "Though Moors fight for him yes."

    "Saracen, Moor, all heathens, Mohammedans all! Does it not trouble His Holiness to have them on his step?"

    "It does, but he has, in his wisdom, seen it fit to entrust the Normans to the task, who have conquered Calabria in His name."

    "Surely a Christian such as yourself cannot entrust it to northmen who could not even, for all their arms and armies, take a backwater Saxon kingdom?"

    Giacopo was silent to that, letting the Count continue in his way. "The Reconquista is still strong, even if Galicia has fallen, but there should be one in Italy, not Iberia." The insinuation was obvious enough even to Bobone, that the man was all but begging for an army.

    "Shall I give you an army so that you may march it back to Portucale, Hermigio?" Giacopo lacked patience with the man, and there was a bit of a sputtering as Hermigio tried to formulate a response, but the Count was not finished. "As it happens, there might be a task I can trust to a man such as you." That just elicited silence from the previously gregarious Count of Castelo Branco, which Giacopo capitalized on. "I need a man in Palermo, and I would have you be that man, father-in-law."


    Hermigio da Ribadouro, Count of Castelo Branco, fought for the Duke of Portugal in the opening act of the Iberian Civil War and was part of the ill-fated Reconquista. After the Moors conquered Galicia, he and his family fled to Italy to the court of his son-in-law, Count Giacopo Orsini. His fate remains uncertain, there is evidence of a "Count Hermigio" as captive of the Emir of Sicily in Palermo in 1075, but the date of his death is recorded as 1072 AD, leaving his daughter Emisu to inherit the (titular) countship.

    Bobone slipped down away as he could, grasping for a sweetmeat that had fallen from the table. He hadn't realized how hungry he would become, and could not help but think of the game that would be roasting just above. He could smell it for sure: The squab glistening, the pig suckling. He brushed the candied fruit against his breast, but a voice stopped him, just as before, his brain making the connection as his whole form shook with alarm.

    Arcibaldo.

    "Your eminence, while you honor me, I am but a humble servant, and it would not be proper if..."

    "I was told that you're the man to speak to on this matter."

    "If it is a matter of the accomodations, then Don Beneveto's..."

    "About Naples." The other voice was only vaguely familiar to Bobone. He had heard it before, but was not sure who it was, but when he gazed at the man waist down, he saw the red robes of a cardinal. At the empty seat beside him, Arcibaldo sat. Bobone tensed, instinctually reaching for the kitchen knife in his garb.

    "Naples, is it. What would a servant know about Naples?"

    "You must know that His Holiness is less than confident in the abilities of Robert Guiscard to manage the Saracens at our doorstep." Bobone remembered the words just before said by his father, and though he hadn't really understood them, he knew that it didn't make sense for the cardinal to say one thing and his father to say another. My father's a liar, he reminded himself petulantly.

    "The Duke of Naples maintains his independence, from Normans and Romans, East and West." Arcibaldo said, before coughing into his napkin, his body shaking. "The Spartenoi have little interest in Sicily."

    "Sergios, like those before him, will ally with the Guiscard, he is too fearful of the power of Apulia." The cardinal cut viciously at his meat, scraping it onto his plate and carefully putting the pieces in his mouth, always between his sentences and never interrupting his speech.

    "Then let us rejoice that the Norman crusaders have the wealth of Napoli to pay for their arms." Arcibaldo's voice was thick with mockery, and Bobone could hear the cutlery of the cardinal hit the plate. Was he frustrated? Angry? It was difficult to say, and even when the cardinal responded, his voice gave no indication.

    "His Holiness is aware of a conspiracy amongst these Neapolitans that will endanger the safety of the Papal States." Below the table, the cardinal handed Arcibaldo a parchment scroll, with a seal Bobone did not recognize already broken in the wax. "Sergios has requested aid from the Emperor Michael, and has offered to support the reconquest of the Byzantium's provinces in the south."

    "But your eminence," Arcibaldo said, and Bobone sneered as he could hear that cruel half-smile in the man's voice. "The Spartenoi have declared for the Roman Church, and this article is for Sergios the Fourth, not the Fifth. Or do my eyes deceive me?"

    It was a rhetorical question that the cardinal answered anyway. "They do."

    "Surely you do not expect the papal armies to make war on a Christian man?"

    "I said nothing of the sort. However, the Neapolitan people are Roman, not Greek, and call out to be heard, and His Holiness hears them. If they were to rise, His Holiness could see the justice in their cause..." The cardinal continued to cut at his meat afterwards.

    "His Holiness, or your Eminence?" That elicited no answer, so Arcibaldo continued. "Let us assume that the Neapolitan people make their petition to the seat of St. Peter, and let us assume that he indeed sees the justice of their cause. Let us even assume that Sergios is a recidivist heretic besides, who betrayed his oath to the Holy Mother Church and its Bishop. If the papal armies were to go to war on a Christian, and a trusted ally of the Norman cause..."

    "The papal armies will not go to war. His Holiness will not stoop to the position of a pretender. It is his to crown kings and emperors, these matters are beneath the Bishop of Rome."

    "Ah, then who will go to war in His name?"

    "Who will, indeed."

    "I suppose I and my brother must go to Naples, then."

    "I suppose you must."

    There was a silence after that, and Bobone's head pounded with questions, as he tried to make sense of the words of the men, and hear their quiet words over the din of the music and feasting. But Arcibaldo's voice spoke at last. "I might add, Giacomo, that the cardinal's robes suit you. Red was always your color."


    Giacomo Monaldeschi, Bishop of Narni and Archbishop of Orvieto, later Pope Boniface VII, served as the hand of Rome in Orvieto, even before the appointment of the Orsini to its newly formed countship. The power of Orvieto's consul was derived from his oath of fealty to the Archbishop, and thus Giacomo stood between the consul and Rome in the feudal hierarchy. Giacomo, born to privilege in Orvieto's influential aristocracy, was a driven and ambitious man, who continued to be the de facto, if not de jure, ruler of Orvieto until his ascension to the papacy. Named a cardinal in 1070 by Pope Alexander II, he was a driving force for the expansion of the Papacy's temporal power in southern Italy, through his influence on the Orsini.

    -----


    Palazzo Soliano, Orvieto, July 20th, AD 1072


    "This place is a crypt."

    Giacopo was right, but the thought was disquieting for Chiano, especially considering the state of his brother at that moment. He had seen the pox taking him with his own eyes, and it was almost too much to bear. And his closest friend had little love and less to give in the time where he would need it most. He knew it would be better to not agitate him, however. The matter that had to be discussed was grave indeed.

    "The work has been done, as we discussed. I have sent word to the cardinal, but Rome has been sealed already. We must attend to our own affairs and this fever in the land before we make preparations..." The palazzo had been emptied after the death of Faustino Soliano, and it was here that the members of the Orsini household with the pox were kept, including Chiano's brother Arcibaldo, and Giacopo's bastard daughter Adalgisa. The fact that the sickness began to spread quickly after Arcibaldo and Chiano's return from Naples was further disturbing, and Chiano wondered if Giacopo would lay the blame for it on him.

    But for his part, Giacopo was silent and furtive, gazing out the window of the quiet palace onto the empty streets of Orvieto. The plague had taken much of the town in what seemed like a heartbeat, and the gates of the wall Giacopo had built were now closed. He knew not how far it spread, but it seemed oly a matter of time before God took the people of his Earth. And for what? Giacopo pondered.

    Both him and Chiano had agreed to visit the Soliano together, and risk the pox for themselves to see their brother and daughter. And they knew that they could not leave, that much they had informed the guards. "Love makes men mad, Chiano," Giacopo finally said, and those words, for their part, filled Chiano with a bittersweet feeling, his hand resting against his friend's shoulder.

    "That it does."

    Giacopo did not waste much time on the sentiment. "We will rebuild. Alessandro informed me that since the passage between Florence and Rome has been stopped by the Pope's closing of its gates, we can rely on little income. We shall have the wealth of the old houses confiscated in the name of the Holy Mother Church. The fields go untended, and it will be a fallow harvest, so we will send word for relief to be brought to the city."

    "Surely the nobility will object?"

    "What use do dead men have for baubles? We must be quick to recover, and seize the initiative once this plague passes. It will be our only opportunity."

    Chiano dabbed at his forehead with a his sleeve, the summer heat seeming to be overpowering to him this day. "With the wealth of the Orvietani famiglia, we could survive on the finest fare. Is that truly necessary?"

    "We will institute a grain dole," Giacopo said, pinching his brow. "For all, low and high. We will need all, Chiano..."

    "I fear that Don... Don Beneveto might object..."

    "If he survives, I am sure that... Chiano? Chiano!" Giacopo caught his friend as he fell faint, and clenched his teeth together. Give me the strength, Giacopo prayed, though he knew not whether it was to God, or whether He would listen. Give me the strength to face this tribulation, and walk through the valley of death... To conquer in your name.



    Southern Italy was ravaged by an outbreak of smallpox in the 1070s, which would reduce its population substantially and greatly weaken the power of the Norman crusader states of Apulia and Capua. Though Rome remained relatively isolated, it would take many lives elsewhere, including Robert Guiscard, the Duke of Apulia. While contemporary accounts blame the pox on the Saracens, who were apparently unscathed by the disease, modern studies show that the disease originated in Naples, likely carried by a refugee after the loss of Anatolia by the Byzantines after the Battle of Manzikert.


    Within the dark room just aside of the two friends, Arcibaldo, in great delirium and sickness, picked at his bedclothes and muttered to himself, images swimming in his mind. His body was covered in bleeding abscesses, which puckered with pain, but it was not the pox that ailed him, but the fever that came with it. It took away his mind, the one weapon he had with his ailing and weakening body, and he felt his body shiver and shake with weakness. He was waiting to die.

    He was praying to die.

    Shadows and shapes all around him danced with knives. There were so many enemies waiting in the dark, he had learned in his short time at Orvieto. The Orsini were almost universally reviled, and for what? The wisdom of the Holy Father in his appointment, no more, no less. Together, the consul and the famiglia, the Normans of Campania, the cardinal's cabal, and the guilds and their dangerously cunning dwarf... And soon, the Spartenoi would add their name to that increasingly disheartening lot as enemies of the Count of Orvieto. How could he have let himself be fooled by the Cardinal, who thought only for the power of the church he sought to inherit? It would be Count Orsini that would bear the burden while he grew rich on its meats.

    If only he had been so clear-minded before. All these days laying in bed, waiting to die, had given him so much time to think without the world to distract him. Naples was a rich city, a prize that would put a feather in the cap of their liege lord, but what of the cost?

    What have I done?

    The tapestry fluttered, and the paranoid mind of the dying man immediately began to piece it together. Who was it that came with blades in the night? One of the monks who tended to him, paid off by the indulgences that lined the cardinal's pocket? A hired killer in the employ of the Alberici, the Fillipeschi, or the Gualterio? Or perhaps a Neapolitan spy following his tracks, having uncovered the conspiracy and tying a loose end before he reported to his master? His eyes squinted, and he shouted out: "Show yourself!"

    And so the figure did show himself, not with a knife in the night, not with a message of death.

    "Boy." Arcibaldo said and laughed, and then coughed, blood sputtering onto his lips and chin, as he wheezed and leaned back in his bed. Bobone stood over the bed, gazing down at the wretch, the same man that beat him and hounded his every step, that spoke cruel barbed jests and ever held a tantalizing promise of what [i]he knew[.i], of the answer to the question that had caused so many sleepless nights for the child, now of 12. Slipping in through the passage behind the tapestry was easy, though seeing the sickened body before him churned his stomach in ways that no crypt or rats nest had before.

    "You are dying," Bobone said, stupidly, Arcibaldo thought.

    "Am I?" The question even now mocking.

    "Tell me, Arcibaldo. Tell me who I am."

    "Have you gone mad, boy? You are Bobone Orsini." The joke of what he said was lost on the boy, and it took everything he had to not laugh.

    "Please, Arcibaldo!" He grasped the torn and ripped bedclothes and raised the sickened man up as best his arms could. "I must know!"

    The bloodied lips curled into a smile. "Bobone... Orsini." He could not help but laugh. The boy was so stupid, he thought, that he would never know what they meant. And all the better, let his brother inherit and it be forgotten, as Giacopo hoped when he left that chest behind so many years ago.

    But Bobone was flushed with anger, his face turning red, as he grasped onto the man's throat, tears forming at the edge of his eyes. "Tell me!"

    "B-bobone..." Stupid boy, thought Arcibaldo. How can I answer if you choke me? Perhaps when he died, Bobone would learn that lesson, since he seemed to have not learned any of the others, Arcibaldo resigned himself to.

    "Tell me!" Bobone all but screamed as he strangled the life out of the dying man, perhaps not knowing his strength, or Arcibaldo's fragility, or the depth of his own rage and sorrow. It was fortunate that Chiano had fallen just before and Giacopo took him away, or he would have given himself away with that childish outburst, Arcibaldo thought.

    "Or... Orsiniiii..." The final word wheezing from Arcibaldo's lips. The answer was the key to what Bobone wished to know, hidden in plain sight, and Arcibaldo knew not if the boy would ever know. It mattered little to him now, anyway.

    Arcibaldo's prayers had been answered.

    -----


    San Martino, Naples, July 20th, AD 1072


    "I will not allow this pretender to challenge my right to rule. What is he to me? Or you?" The young Sergios's face was contorted in a sneer at the very thought. He sat above the bay in this, his palace, built by his grandfather on the monastery built by his grandfather before him. For years, Naples has remained independent of Rome, of Byzantium, of Palermo and all the rest. And it was because of the Spartenos, and no one else.

    "Of course, your grace, but the name is spoken. Your rule was invested by the seat of Rome, who protected Naples's independence form the Eastern Roman Empire..."

    "And what have they done for us? Sold the lands around us to Norman invaders, who have been more ally than Rome." Sergios had heard enough of this. The dead littered his streets, and the Saracens in the south were pushing through Calabria. This was not a time for war, that could be seen by even an ignorant man such as the prostrating chamberlain before him. "Anatolia burns, and we are to our necks with Armenians and other chaff already. No disrespect intended to the Archbishop." Though the Archbishop of Naples, himself of Armenian descent it is said, was not present, Sergios felt as he could ever be watching, and preferred to be careful when it involved that man.

    "Your grace, please. The pox has ravaged Naples' armies, and the men here consider themselves proud and loyal Romans, and you..." The chamberlain dared not say it to the aging man, who still seemed the boy that was first placed on the throne all those years ago.

    "Then they must be overjoyed, for the men we have taken in call themselves proud and loyal Romans too." Sergios could not stand the word they used for him. 'Greek'. Greek was a word for a conquered people, and the Spartenos stand among empires and princes and remains unconquered. "Do they need reminding?"

    The exasperated chamberlain took in a breath before he began. "Many are pushed out of their homes, and there is violence in the streets amongst the pestilence. They will run red, and it will be the Bishop of Rome they call out for, not the Duke, your grace." He then paused for a moment, and strained himself to hear something faint and distant but could not over his lord's voice which continued on as it had before.

    "I would have them reminded of who is Duke of their lands, then. Gather these agitators and bring them to me, and we shall judge their loyalty." It was at that point that Sergios himself began to hear the sounds that had distracted his chamberlain, and his lips curled inwards, nostrils flaring. "What is that?"

    "I believe," the chamberlain said, hushed and perhaps a bit craven, "that the agitators have come to you, your grace."

    And soon, San Martino was burning.


    Duke Sergios V of Naples was only fourteen when he took the throne in 1042, and in his reign distinguished himself little. The Duchy of Naples had been independent since 840 from both Byzantine and Papal suzerainty, but the legacy of Rome's assistance in winning its independence from the Byzantine Empire remained. Nominally allied with the Normans of Apulia, Duke Sergios V is remembered as a collaborator with Byzantium in a failed bid to reclaim southern Italy for the Empire.

    -----

    Palazzo di Conte, Orvieto, July 20th, AD 1072


    Bobone returned to the palace, feeling almost in as much a delirium as Arcibaldo had those moments before he died. His hands were sore from the pressure, sometimes shaking of their own accord and there was little that the young boy could do to stop it. He did not look at them, only stared straight ahead as he walked through the quiet passages, not even sure if he was heading in the right way to make way to his room. The only thing that stopped him was the sound of sobbing, emanating from behind one of archways, and without thinking Bobone followed it into the dark room, seeing little.

    The weeping came from young Claudio, his younger half-brother, only five years old. Bobone vaguely remembered being only six when he came to Orvieto, and the though disquieted him, more than the memory of Arcibaldo, more than the weeping of his half-brother, who pawed through the darkness and grasped at his clothes. Bobone did not have the strength to push the whelp away.

    "B-brother! Please... I'm scared..."

    "What is there to be afraid of?" Bobone asked flatly.

    "It's dark... Everyone's gone."

    "You're afraid of the dark?" Bobone asked, almost incredulously. The weeping boy buried his face into Bobone's clothes and did not answer, which was all the answer he needed. Unsure what to make of this, he guided the boy with him towards the feather bed and helped him sit, and then moved over towards the mantle where the fireplace was, embers still glowing. Without many of the servants, some dead, some fled, and others simply missing, the fires were ill-kept. Grasping a candle from the top of the fireplace, he placed the wick into the embers ,and lit it, raising it up and taking it over towards his brother.

    "Prometheus gave man the gift of fire from the gods. With it, there's no need to be afraid of the dark." The words would have meant little to Bobone at that age, yet the large eyes of the doe-like boy seemed rapt. Bobone had loved reading the old classics and their stories. Perhaps this boy would as well. I'm sure father has already given him my books, Bobone decided.

    "The only thing to fear in the darkness is what we see in it, and as you can see... There's nothing to be afraid of Claudio." Bobone could not help but see his stepmother in his brother's face. He could even call the boy beautiful, and that seemed even more an insult. Bobone was not ashamed of his looks, he had a strong Roman nose and features, but he knew he was not handsome. My father is not handsome, so why should I be? The thought gave Bobone no comfort.

    But the little boy buried his face once more into Bobone, which left him unsure what to do, lightly patting on his back. "I love you, Bobone." He finally said, in a hushed tone, which itself seemed as mocking as Arcibaldo's final words, and caused those fingers to shake again, as he stared at the burning embers in the fireplace.

    I hate you, Claudio, was all that Bobone could manage to think, though he dared not say.


    Claudio Orsini was the first son born to Emisu Hermigues by Count Giacopo Orsini, and second in the line of succession. A precocious youth from birth, who took more after his mother than his father, he was secluded in the Palazzo di Conte under the care of Emisu Hermigues and her nursemaids. Learning both Galician-Portuguese and Italian, his talent as a polyglot was evident in his early years. His father, Count Orsini, preferred to keep his distance, however, and Claudio was never intended for a life as a prince of state, but a prince of the church.
    Last edited by JuvenalianSatyr; 25-03-2012 at 00:07.

  15. #15
    Recruit AncalagonBlack's Avatar
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    Simply marvelous. You have a knack for making a character more engaging to the reader by displaying some of the more "undesirable" traits, as well as the more popular ones.

    I take it William "the Bastard" failed in his bid to take England?

  16. #16
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    1. The Normans are not having a good year, are they? And I have mixed feelings about the Spartenoi. On one hand, they survived the longest. On the other hand they nearly gave their duchy away on several occasions.
    2. I loved both the Bobone scenes (not biased at all!), very powerful, both Arcibaldo's death and that haunting conversation in the dark between the brothers. The heart of the story seems to be somewhere there.
    3. I am also impressed by the amount of detail - the palaces, the noble families, the crazy Italian feudal structure, the mix of new and antique titles...
    4. Where is Claudio's portrait from? I'm tempted to say Caravaggio but I'd probably be wrong.

    All that admiration noted, I did see more than the usual amount of grammatical misbehaviour. There are on some occasions clashes between past and present within the same sentence, this vicious war leaving orphaned gerunds and cleaving the grammatical doer from the grammatical deed. Nothing a little polish won't fix, though.
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  17. #17
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    again a brilliant sequence of scenes, but the last with its relative quietness and deep well of malice at the end really does set things up
    Remember, whatever the question, the answer on 18 September is Yes ...

  18. #18
    @AncalagonBlack: People's weaknesses always fascinate me more, even in history. By the same token, though, I hope to keep it balanced, just enough to keep them relatable. I'm glad that comes across, because I want to keep everyone both sympathetic but also uncompromising in their portrayal. There are still great men and villains here, but they are men all.

    Well, perhaps with the exception of Roger Borsa "the Devil" d'Hauteville. He's more a force of nature, much unlike his historical counterpart.

    William the Bastard's failed conquest was the start of the fall of Norman power in Europe. He died in battle actually, forcing the conquest to end inconclusively. News of his death will have unexpected effects elsewhere, and his swift demise allowed Harold Godwinson to easily defeat Harald a few years after. The only irony is that this consolidation of Saxon power means that England will have little to do with continental intrigues, at least for the time being.

    Speaking of France, it's a complete mess, and I have no clue what exactly happened. The Duke of Orleans rules from Paris and Philippe has moved his capital to Barcelona after conquering most of Aragon, and most of the other lords seem to be warring over claims. Once it calms down (this is contemporary to my 50~ years of play), I'll like make an Annotation chapter about Western Europe's history, though mainly from the perspective of the Church.

    @RGB: 1) Having lost their two greatest contemporary figures, Robert Guiscard and William the Bastard, the Normans will no longer occupy the position they did in our history, but they have a few swansongs left and will have a long-term influence on southern Italy for sure, and in a less positive way the authority of the Church. As for the Spartenoi, despite Sergios's less than competent attitude (his Proud and Slothful traits from the game evident), may not be long for history, but they too will leave a mark on Italy's future, especially due to the machinations of Cardinal Giacomo and the late Arcibaldo di Orvieto.

    2) The conflict between Bobone and Claudio will be the center of the story until their deaths, which are not for a very long time still. And is itself a great device to illustrate the growing conflicts and divides of Italy and the Orsini as a whole, later on. I'm glad you found their power, too, because they were my favorites to write.

    3) While I can't claim to be more than a Wikipedia scholar, world building is my strong suit and its less about accuracy (which more than once I threw aside, which Paradox did as well in the first place so it's a zero sum game) and more about plausibility. I could spend hours talking about my visions of the crumbling Etruscan acropolis, the magnate famiglias or the dubious lines between ecclesiastic and feudal power. I don't, of course, so I don't lose the reader, but if you have all that in your head and add in little details (like with the Palazzo Comunale, built on a caldarium for a bathhouse though never explicitly stated as such, giving Bobone passage to beneath the main hall) it hints at a larger picture for the reader to ponder and make for themselves, or so I hope.

    4) It's actually from an artist who makes reproduction Renaissance portraits, so it's not authentic at all, but I found it by complete accident while I was searching and researching. Interestingly enough, it's the same artist that made the portraits Saithis used for Jarl Rosenkrantz in Piety of the North Star. It really captured Claudio's (initial) innocence, so I was glad to find it.

    As for the lack of polish, my writing style is rather poor. All of this is written in "one take" and I do not do any revisions, though I plan to change that. This whole thing is kind of an exercise for me, as I've always had difficulty with putting my ideas down onto paper in this format. I'm a world builder, a character writer, a plot charter. I don't really have as much talent for word play or flow as the authors I most admire (Pynchon, Chabon, Kafka) do, so I try instead to focus on my strengths to highlight my weaknesses.

    The issue is that if I ever stop to "think" about my writing I hit stumbling blocks. Just last night it took me 10 hours to write that, not because of the volume but because I obsessed over the wording of a few sentences. And I can't even remember which one. Most of the time I turn off my "think" impulse and work purely by "imagine", in order to get it down on paper. But a few friends of mine are giving me advice on editing, that I intend to try out. I'm learning a lot, so I welcome any criticism, in fact, I'd greatly appreciate it as it's half the reason I'm doing this.

    Changing tense is my mortal nemesis, and something I'll definitely stamp out with my loose rubric as I get better at self-editing. If only for all the little orphan gerunds.

    @loki100: One of the more important things I agonize over is the scene order, to get that sequence down and flow into one another, which I feel I only have varying degrees of success at. Because of the nature of the character focus, I want to pace it so that we still cover the macro as much as the micro. To give a picture into my process, I restrict myself to 5 chapters to each Act, which I ascribe a basic timeline to. I divide my notes into vignettes and then cut out the less dramatically relevant, and try get get a variety of perspectives down to get a subjective view of the more objective event timeline.

    As for the last scene, I tend to ramble and "overdo" it so when I was able to more succinctly do that very crucial scene, I was happy, and doubly so that it seems to have all the intended effect, thank you.

    ---


    Today I will not likely have an update up, as I will need to make a few maps, one of which is not for this AAR but a Romance of the Three Kingdoms mod I promised I'd try and get finished for tomorrow. I also want to take more time for self-editing, so I'll likely post it Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on how my schedule works out.

  19. #19

    Angry Book I Act I Chapter IV Part I

    I.I.IV. Conqueror, Turncoat
    in which a prince entertains guests and a bishops changes his cloth



    The Bay of Naples, February 29th, AD 1073


    Winter was fair to Naples this year, fair as it always was and more. With the cool winds over the waters came a respite from pestilence, which began to clear the streets. But Naples had never truly rested, even during the pox. Many blamed the sickness on the refugees from the war in Asia Minor, small in number but dispossessed and far from home. Though Naples had been independent from Constantinople for many years, the Duke made overtures of reconciliation whenever it was convenient. It was shameless but important work to ensure Neapolitan independence from Romans, Lombards, and Normans all.

    Violence had been common, with these refugees killed for no crime but being from a distant land. A particular grisly example was when seven in total were stripped naked and their guts torn open and entangled together, with a crudely drawn message left above them on the wall, not in Greek, but in Latin (which had long replaced the former as the city's lingua franca): LONG LIVE KING RAT. That was how the Neapolitans viewed these refugees, despite their shared origins: as rats. Having long intermingled with the Lombards and sworn to the Patriarch of Rome, the people of Naples were no longer kin to the Eastern Empire and its Romans.

    This vile disease of hatred had spread far faster than the pox, infecting the people and turning them against their motherland. Once the whisper was spoken to them that their supposed protectors, the Spartenoi who were first elected by the people and then themselves to take the helm, sought to sell once again the sacred independence of Naples to Constantinople, the boil that had festered for so long ruptured. They had burned down San Martino, one of the many seats of wealth that the Spartenoi had built, and ejected the duke himself from the city, who ruled in absence from Aversa.

    And look what our independence has won us, uncle, thought Sergios to himself. Though he bore his uncles name, as so many Spartenoi had before them, he was not the Duke of Naples, merely another patrician in his shadow. But while the Duke and his sons were safe from the torches of Naples, this Sergios and his father, John, were in the thick of it. John was one of the senators of its council, and in this moment de facto ruler of Naples in his brother's absence, who sought to maintain order but found the Spartenoi influence crumbling, as long-awaiting patrician families made grabs for power, merchant guilds withheld their taxes (citing the pox as their excuse), and the Archbishop... He would have to be taken care of.

    But there was little he could do. He had even less influence than his puppet of a father, and the whole of his life's ambition was crumbling with the rest of the Spartenoi destiny. It was this desperation that had him standing in the cold morning, beside the calm waters of the bay. He was exposed, a hated enemy of the people, waiting for a message which may never come.

    "Have I answered your prayers, Hypatos?" The woman's voice had a strange tenor to it, but her vernacular was even better than Sergios's own. Why they had to speak the vulgar tongue and not Greek eluded Sergios, but it was not for him to decide.

    "Must we always meet like this, in the open?"

    "I prefer to hide in plain sight, a talent that would serve you better."

    "It is not for you to decide, but your superior, and I would prefer to not be led out into the open like this each time."

    She did not bother to correct him. "We should keep walking." She looped her arm around his, the other around her basket. The woman was dressed in common clothes, with a cloth draped over her black hair, but was otherwise not distinguishable from any other. Sergios, for his part, wore a threadbare cloak over his own heavy clothing, which while comfortable betrayed the hint of his wealth. He kept his head bowed, as if embarrassed. "Keep you head up and forward, don't act as if you have something to hide."

    "I am not a child," Sergios said through his teeth, not enjoying his continuing education at the hands of this proxy.

    "If that was true, we would not be having this discussion. My... master wishes to know how it became known to Rome of our plot."

    To that, Sergios had no answer, none that were satisfying. It's a question he wished to know the answer to himself, but he was too afraid to probe for the answer lest anything more slip out. They passed through the slowly awakening streets, passing a cart full of the early morning's catch which brought the stench of the Old Man of the Sea with it. "Perhaps its because someone overheard what they shouldn't have while we were hiding in plain sight." Only he knew on this side of the Adriatic. He was confident enough to place the blame on her, since it surely could not have been him.

    Despite the intended insult, the woman continued. "If the Papal States are willing to press the issue with war, then they must have more than a few hushed words."

    "The Papacy would go to war?" It seemed absurd to him that the Pope would involve himself in this matter. Surely, the worst that could have been feared was excommunication, which meant little to the Spartenoi, who swore to Byzantine or Latin Rite as the winds blew.

    "The cause is being championed by one Cardinal Monaldeschi, and thus his pet, the Count of Orvieto, will be his means."

    "How do you know this?" Sergios asked, suspiciously. Rome had been sealed for the winter, and still was last he knew. News traveled slowly during the pox, and the eyes and ears of the Doukas could not be everywhere.

    "Not everything can be learned from the safety of one's villa." Returning the insult from earlier with a thin, withering smile. "There is a document that is being circulated that is the key to all of this. There is nothing more to be done, Sergios, as it is known from Calabria to Lombardy of what we intend, and all there is left for us to do is deny."

    A document? It made no sense to Sergios. Were his benefactors so foolish? Or... Was this a Roman plot? A forgery? He could only shake in rage, clenching the muscles in his arm that was locked with hers. He would not risk harming her, not now, even though it seemed he had less and less to lose. "Then you would abandon us? What of the armies, then? What of Naples?"

    "Even if you were to convince your uncle to swear fealty to us, we would be honor bound to deny him, considering your family's past betrayals. And how can we expect to trust the oath of an oathbreaker?" She releases him when he stops, continuing to walk forward for a few more paces, before she remembers something. "As for your salary, Hypatos," withdrawing from her person a leather pouch. When she placed it in his hands, the weight of the coins within seemed heavier than usual. It was not the salary that increased, however, only the burdens it brought Sergios Hypatos. "Use it wisely," she admonished, before disappearing into the Neapolitan streets and leaving the patrician traitor behind.

    Desperate as he was, he was not like to give up yet. He withdrew one of the coins, minted with the face of the Emperor Michael VII. He had a chance, slim but better than none. Naples had one strength that the Papal armies did not, and that was in her navy. With it he could carry the whole of their armies, to anywhere on the coast of the Mediterranean. Orbatello, Ostia...

    No, Sergios decided. To Pisa.


    Sergios VI, known by his Byzantine honorific "Hypatos", was an unlikely pretender to the Duchy of Naples after its usurpation by the Orsini. Center of the Byzantine plot to reacquire Justinian's conquests of southern Italy, Sergios Hypatos would find that the Komnenids that deposed Emperor Michael Doukas were uninterested in his adventure. His line would continue to claim the title of Duke of Naples into the 12th Century, but faded into obscurity after the Sack of Constantinople.

    -----

    Palazzo di Conte, Orvieto, April 1st, AD 1073


    "War, is it?" Giacopo rested his face in his hand. That was all he could discern from the cardinal's filibustering up until that point, and in his seven years dealing with the legate he had find the routine tired.

    "No." Cardinal Monaldeschi was as terse as Count Orsini, but whereas the latter preferred plain speech and a direct approach, the cardinal and legate preferred instead to keep his intentions behind a mask of propriety. Such propriety was evident even in the way he cut his meat, slicing thin strips of pork and then eating it piece by piece. While it was slow and methodical, he would leave nothing left. He is a hungry man, Giacopo surmised, and not just for pork.

    "Their oath to the Holy Roman Church, and it is the church's investiture that grants the Spartenoi their right to rule. Yet the Archbishop of Naples swears to the eastern heresy, openly even, and these Greeks spit in our face." The cardinal betrayed no anger, despite the tone of his words, sparing his energy for the tearing of the meat. "It is necessary for us to take a strong hand in these matters."

    "The legitimacy of the Church is hardly the question." While all his councilors advised one course of action, Count Orsini was less convinced of this adventure than the rest.

    All save one, and it was that one that spoke up, fearless as ever in his candor. "I would fear that the lesson of the Reconquista has done enough damage, far more than some Greek plot might." Alessandro, now podestà and administrator of Orvieto after the unfortunate loss of Consul Beneveto Alberici to the pox, remained the most skeptical of the matter out of Count Orsini's men. Even the lord chamberlain was in support of it, but Chiano had never seemed to fully recover from his sickness, or his brother's death, and remained absent from the private dinner.

    The cardinal did not regard the dwarf, a quaint sight in his comparatively massive chair, seated upon a stack of pillows. Instead Monaldeschi's attention was on his meal, picking the meat from the bone meticulously. It was to the Count he spoke to, and no one else. "Nevertheless, the people of Naples cry out to their patriarch in succor. And our Holy Father, Alexander, has heard them, and wishes it to be answered. However, it is not for the Bishop of Rome to make war on Christians..."

    "Christians? I thought they were heretics..." Alessandro countered.

    "Enough," Giacopo said to his one present advisor, and turned back to the cardinal. "While you speak with His authority, we will only go to war upon the Holy Father's request. I know my oaths, and will not forsake them, but I am not eager to partake in this dark business."

    "Had your fill, then, condotierri?" Monaldeschi mocked in his drone, his lips fitting and sucking down the soft flesh, and chewing with the same methodical focus as he performed everything else. Giacopo remained unmoved, so the cardinal continued to make his case. "Do not think of it as a war. These are little more than rebels and heretics, Count Orsini. It is more a... suppression of such wantonness, and a restoration of order to the city of Naples, which burns." He dabbed a napkin at his lips, and finally looked to the Count with a pointed expression. "Returning this rebel state to the protection of the Church is what the Holy Father would ask of you."

    "The Holy Father, or you, cardinal?" Count Orsini asked, rhetorically, and keen to the meaning the cardinal did not answer, simply returning to his meal. Giacopo brooded on the matter, before settling back into his seat. "There is the matter that without the full of the papal armies, we can only field two hundred and one score men, most untrained and ill-equiped levies. The wealth of Orvieto is small, and we cannot afford the services of the condotierri. Naples is rich, and can afford the services of Norman men and their combined arms."

    "The Normans are no longer simple mercenaries, Count Orsini. They tend to their own affairs, and states they control in no small part thanks to Naples itself. They have little reason to involve themselves."

    Giacopo leaned forward, pushing his finger down on the table. "These Greeks have no honor, Monaldeschi. They have allied with Saracens when it was to their advantage. He has played host to the armies of the Guiscard, and would do so again to protect their 'independence', as little as such means." He leaned back, taking up his cup of wine and holding it close, gazing at the cardinal over its lips. "And if this plot you have uncovered is true, then we cannot hope to match the armies of the East."

    Finally, the cardinal placed his cutlery down upon his plate, and regarded the Count once more. "It is this same lack of honor that leaves them without allies. The Guiscard is dead to the pox, his brothers war with the Saracens over Calabria, leaving their would be allies of Apulia with their hands tied. And the Emperor will do nothing, as he has matters of his own to attend. The Komnenids are making their bid for his throne, and every petty duke and prince in the Empire is standing against him. As you say, these Greeks have no honor, do you expect them to hold themselves to a plot hatched by a lowly duke across the Adriatic, struggling for relevance?"



    Southern Italy, once ruled by Byzantine and Lombard city-states, was now becoming more and more in the grip of Norman power. Though Apulia was on the wane since Robert Guiscard's death in 1072, and was entrenched in war with the Sicilian emirs in Calabria, it remained the preeminent regional power. Naples had long secured its independence through alliances of convenience, employing Norman and Lombard mercenaries and still paying occasional tribute to the Byzantine emperor. However, by the late 11th century it had become mostly irrelevant and was quickly running out of allies...


    "There is no means to attack, still." Giacopo complained, pondering the Cardinal's words still. "The mountains fence us on one side, and the Drengots hold the Campania, and with it the Appian Way. As for the sea, you cannot mean for us to face the Neapolitan armada..."

    "The Prince of Capua will see the justice of our cause. He is a friend of the Papacy, and Duke Sergios holds his family's traditional seat of Aversa, gained during the Guiscard's own occupation during the campaign for Calabria." The cardinal seemed confident, but Alessandro was not. The Norman Prince was no friend to Naples, but it seemed unlikely that he would play host to a conquering army ("suppression" or not) with sights on his neighbor.

    "I must confess, Cardinal," Alessandro began, tapping his finger lightly on the side of the table, "I cannot understand your place in all of this." He was characteristically blunt, and uncaring for the consequences of his words. Such manner endeared him to the Count, even though Chiano's more tactful approach served Orsini better in the court. "I doubt its a matter of piety that you should take up Naples's cause, nor do you seem to personally gain from it."

    The cardinal, for the first time since his visit, regarded the dwarf podestà in his quaint seat. Now that he had the legate's attention, Alessandro continued. "Yet you have seemed to make all the plans for us, down to the avenue of attack, meaning you have some investment in it. Care to enlighten us, then, what that would be, Cardinal Monaldeschi?" It was audacious to ask, but Alessandro lacked Giacopo's sense of duty, and would not be held to some cardinal's grab for power unless it had some benefit to him or the state.

    The cardinal for his part, having picked the bones of his meal dry, pushed the plate aside and moved to take the cup of wine provided, not looking at the dwarf directly as he did. "As Count Orsini rightfully observed, the wealth of Naples is greater than that of perhaps any city other than Rome herself in these lands. Wealth that lines the pockets of fools, heretics, and rebels. It would be better used in service of the Church." It was disarmingly blunt a statement by the otherwise obtuse cardinal, which left both the count and his advisor stunned to silence. The cardinal put down the cup of wine, and took a piece of bread.

    "And used it will be, for we will have much need of it in the coming Reconquista." A lingering silence followed, broken only by the crack of tough bread.

    -----

    Palazzo Soliano, Orvieto, April 8th, AD 1073


    More and more, Emisu Hermigues began to feel that she was in a prison.

    Even though the sickness had come and passed, taking with it faces both familiar and not, the Count had forbade her to leave the crypt of the Soliano. She had been recovering from her father's death when the pox hit, all but trapping her inside, away from her son and the rest of the court for months on end. It had changed her, her time among the dying, as she heard but few whispers from the outside. She knew that she could not longer be a maid when it came to these matters, but a woman grown and a mother besides.

    "Will there be anything else, contessa?" Contessa. The nursemaid meant little and less by it, but that word felt sharp on Emisu's mind, causing her body to tense. She had been the Countess of Orvieto by marriage, but now she was the Countess of Castelo Branco by blood, whatever little that meant now that her father's land was overrun by Moors. She remembered her father leaving Orvieto, white as a ghost, and never returning. Her husband refused to explain to her his leaving, much as he remained silent about so much more. Such as the matter of his daughter.

    After the birth of her precious Claudio, Emisu believed for perhaps a moment she could win her husband's affections and fidelity, or at least attention, with such a gift. She had since practiced and become knowledgeable in the vernacular, and her Latin had improved besides. And for a few short months, despite her apprehensions about the father of her son, she was treated as a member of the court. Until the Devil invited a whore into their midst.

    She never met her, knew not this mistress's name, but it was the only conclusion she could reach when her husband brought an infant girl into the household, and claimed her as her own. Emisu Hermigues had not the heart to say anything at the time, instead letting it fester in her the darkness. The Devil had caught hold of Emisu herself, as she found herself praying for the child's death. And though she knew not whether it were God or the Devil that granted such a vile wish, the whore's child was dead to the pox, under the same roof she was now imprisoned, and that thought had broken her.

    "Contessa?" The nursemaid's brow pinched, and she left the room besides. She had grown used to her lady's lack of eating and long silences, but little sympathy, considering her own lot, and that it was left to her for the rearing of these children. With her absence, Emisu only had the embers of the fire and the cold silence of the room to keep her company. It suited her just fine, and was content to wallow in such despondency for as long as it would last her. However, it was interrupted by a soft voice, one that made her heart sink.

    "Mama?"

    Emisu had no time to even register the greeting before the child embraced her, laying his head in her lap. Her hands settled upon his black hair, and stroked lightly at it, saying nothing.

    "Please, mama. Come outside with me. It's beautiful." He spoke her tongue, having learned it from her along with his father's, and seeming just as adroit in either. He had a talent for that much, she knew.

    "I cannot, not until your father..."

    "Papa said you could! He's leaving today, and he said you can. I ask him."

    The thought of her husband allowing it seemed strange to her, but she quieted such thoughts. Surely he was capable of kindness as much as cruelty, as men are more than what they seem, she was always taught. And it was not Christian of her besides to judge so harshly. Still, she had not the strength at that moment, as much as it gave her hope. "Forgive me, minha vida. But... Keep me company, please."

    As she stroked his hair, he seemed disappointed but as ever soon let it pass and smiled. That smile, so broad and generous, reminded her of her late father. Or perhaps I am only seeing what I want to see, she thought wearily as she played with his locks.

    "Papa has gathered all the soldiers in the piazza. Will I be a soldier too, mama?"

    It seemed a strange question to her, but it was natural for sons to wish to be like their fathers. What was more distressing was that her husband was leaving, and with the soldiers of the city it seemed. "No, sweet. Your brother will be trained as a soldier, and be a prince of men. You are to be trained by the priests and become a prince of the church." Leaving him out of the inheritance, Emisu knew.

    To that, Claudio pouts. "I don't want to be a priest." He said, with a surprising conviction. "I want to be like papa, and Bobone, and fight for the Pope."

    Emisu considered his fire but placed a finger on his lips and shook her head. "Be thankful that you were born as a son to a man like your father. We must accept what God gives us as our lot, and do everything we can to not disappoint Him."

    "But all of the men in the square, they fight for God, don't they?"

    She considered the boy, young but ever precocious and perhaps wise beyond his years, and knew that such questions would not endear him to his father. She would have to do what she could to spare him what his brother had suffered. "Sweet, those men in the square have no choice. They were born low of birth, and when their lord calls they must answer. We are all given parts in God's kingdom to play. And yours is as a priest. It is what God, and your father, want for you."

    The words seemed to humble the child, but Emisu could feel her body tense up as another voice was heard, passing in from the doorway. "Lady Hermigues."

    Her husband stood in the doorway, wearing as ever humble dress unfitting for his station. Her lips pursed as she stared at him, the first time she had seen him since first being trapped within these walls. There was so much she wanted to say, to scream, but with her son here, she could not, only remain silent as that very same son ran over and embraced his father. She bit her lip and looked down as Claudio spoke in Italian. "Papa! Can I go with you? I want to go to Naples."

    Count Orsini regarded his son not with a smile, but not harshly either, a gloved hand messing with the boy's hair. Emisu looked up, a bit surprised. "Naples?" Why were her husband's armies going there? Was there a war? Questions she had a right to ask, but could not find the strength to do so. Giacopo regarded her cooly before pulling his son's face to face him. "Go find your brother. Tell him to be ready, we must leave before long." Claudio, eagerly enough, obeyed and ran down the hallway to make his way back to the other palazzo and find his brother, leaving Giacopo and Emisu alone in the room.

    Giacopo stepped forward inside, letting the drapery that covered the doorway fall behind him. He unclasped one of the latches to his cape, and wrapped it about his hand, laying it down upon the end of the bed. He said nothing. He apologized for nothing, explained nothing, nor even spoke to her of anything, leaving her only to stare at him, full of such anger and sorrow, as he did his work. There was no passion to him, as he removed his outer mantle and stripped down to his tunic. There was only am ild frustration that built up until finally he snapped, "Damnit, woman, what? What do you want from me?"

    Guilt and loathing were in that voice, but not loathing for her. Emisu knew this, and perhaps if she had not been so hurt, so hardened, she would feel for a moment compassion for him. But she no longer had that in her heart for her lord husband, so instead she remained silent, staring ever more.

    It was not enough to stop him. "I am leaving, and will not return until the campaign is over."

    Emisu said nothing.

    "Chiano will attend to the household, but you may travel in my absence as you like, so long as you stay within the city."

    And still, she said nothing, as he walked towards her, left only to his breeches. He stared at her, tired and frustrated, clenching his jaw. She was gripping her knees tightly, knuckles white as she stared at him. "I will spare you as much as possible. I will keep our duties short. And business-like." He seemed to think it a kindness. Emisu, still, said nothing of it, as her husband took her upon her seat, and left her alone as such on his march.

    This time, however, she did not weep.

    -----

    The March of the Campagna, April 29th, AD 1073


    It had been nearly a month's march from Orvieto, and after a triumphal march through Rome, where Count Orsini gained the blessing of the Holy Father himself, war was upon Italy.

    And not just in the south, Giacopo had learned. Messengers from Rome arrived after Orsini's men had set up camp in the marshy lowlands of the Pontines. The Republic of Pisa had asserted its independence against the Emperor of the Romans, which began a cascade of rebellions incensed by Heinrich's seizing of Tuscany after the untimely death of the Duchess Matilda. Joined by the duchies of Savoie, Lombardia, and Carinthia, as well as many smaller states besides, the peninsula seemed poised to erupt into bloodshed. While the relationship with the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy was cool, to say the least, Count Orsini could not be certain whether Pope Alexander would intervene, or whether he would remain silent much as he had during the Iberian Civil War.

    The news had caused a dark mood to settle in among the small army, which was further burdened by the papal legate and his retinue that had insisted on accompanying. With the success of the Mohammedans in Iberia and Sicily, and even against the mighty Eastern Roman Empire, such unrest within the strongest protector of Christendom (even if it was often at odds with the Church) was unseemly in the face of Christ's pagan foes. And what of this venture? Giacopo was left to think within his tent. Are we any better, making war on Christians for such greed?

    The presence of the legate in the army train was obviously the cardinal's ploy, a reminder of his unspoken threat. He remained Archbishop of Orvieto, and it was his investiture that ensured the countship's suzerainty, which was shaky enough as it was with the competing factions of the patrician families and the office of the consul, which remained contested even though it was empty and defunct. Cardinal Monaldeschi as well had set a dangerous precedent with the matter of Naples as well, as this 'abolition' of investiture was what justified the war in the first place, as it was the papal investiture that so long ago granted Naples its independence from Constantinople.

    Giacopo would be a fool to think that Monaldeschi would not do the same to him. Given the time to consider, it seemed so obvious the answer to the question all those years ago that had plagued Giacopo, of why he was chosen for this task. A lowly ranked noble and condotierri, with little to distinguish himself, being granted a third of the papal lands and a countship to oversee them. Why? Giacopo had taken that his character and humble beginnings were the reason Pope Alexander chose him, but he knew now that the Bishop of Rome had likely little to do with the decision. Giacopo was chosen as a soldier, a proxy for the Papal States to make war on Christians, so that it may consolidate its temporal power against the likes of the Holy Roman Emperor and the Norman conquerors.

    If Giacopo had been unwilling to make this war, it would have been a simple matter for the Cardinal to replace him with a man more pliable, more useful to his cause. Had he known the man's intentions all those years ago, he would have gladly let someone else play the fool. But he had built a castle, a family, and could not simply walk away from it out of pride. Is it humility that keeps me, or comfort and coin? Giacopo could not say.

    Giacopo's thoughts were interrupted by an expected guest. Alessandro di Baschi seemed altogether different with his courtier's garb removed and replaced with more utilitarian fashion. The dwarf was now rich enough to afford a tailored suit of mail, with leather padding besides. Though he was hardly a warrior, the dwarf had complained that he did not wish to be "caught out naked, if at all" when the battles did come, so Giacopo had him referred to the armourer. And to see him in such a thing brought a rare, if brief, smile to Giacopo's face.

    "Perhaps this career would suit you, di Baschi."

    "It would be preferable than playing your aide-de-camp. Your son has been attended to, though the conditions do not seem to find him well. I think he misses that castle you call a palazzo." Alessandro found himself a seat with some difficulty, the weight of the armor seeming to be something he had yet to grow accustomed to.

    The mention of Orsini's son had soured his expression, and he gave only a curt nod. "The boy would do well to learn from his surroundings. He is nearly of an age, and it would do him well to learn how to treat his men, and to gain their respect. They will not want a callow boy leading them when I pass." He diverted his attention elsewhere, sharpening the knife Giacopo kept close to his breast.

    Alessandro observed the change of mood. "I have been meaning to ask, my lord, of your son..."

    "It is best that you don't." The tone of Giacopo's voice on the matter ended any discussion before it began, leaving Alessandro with the same disquiet that Giacopo seemed to leave any who broached the subject with him. It was an almost infamous topic of rumor, yet Alessandro seemed unconvinced of the rumors of bastardy. Having been so forthright on the matter of the late Adalgisa, much to his own detriment, it did not seem in Giacopo's character that he would be so defensive about Bobone's legitimacy. Then again, he is the firstborn son, not simply a daughter...

    Alessandro put a hold on that thought lest it got away from him. "Then let me ask this, what need do you have of me in this? Surely as podestà, I would better serve you back in Orvieto."

    "The chamberlain will serve as my voice there, of that you have no need to worry." But worry Alessandro did, especially if Chiano were to look too closely to the carefully cultivated bookkeeping, or any of the other irons in the fire the dwarf had. For all that, Alessandro had little means of complaint, if his lord had need of him.

    "I need a man I can trust," the count finally confided.

    "Ah, then again, why am I here?" Though it could be taken as jest, di Baschi meant nothing of the sort. He knew that the count had little reason to trust him, as he had never been Orsini's most loyal vassal, and was ever the Devil's advocate in his council. Alessandro was always forthright in his self-serving intentions with the Count, knowing that such earnest was something the just man respected, even if selfishness was not.

    "Listen," Giacopo started, and that kept Alessandro silent. "Whatever the cardinal plans, I seek to be a step ahead of. I need a man I can trust to ride to Naples, and deliver a missive on my behalf." He lifted a satchel, which seemed to have more than just a letter in it. The sound of coins could be heard, which got Alessandro's attention.

    "And to whom in Naples is this message intended for?"

    Giacopo stood and crossed the tend, to hand the satchel to his advisor, who seemed smaller compared to it. "Its Archbishop, Komitas of Cumae."



    The Pontine Marshes and the Appenines formed a natural barrier that since time immemorial protected Rome from her enemies, but also presented a problem for her conquering armies. The Appian Way was built as a military highway that allowed easy passage through the otherwise malaria-infested Roman Campagna, and remained in use even during the early Middle Ages. During the Neapolitan Suppression, Count Orsini planned to meet the Neapolitan armies in the Pontine Marshes where the papal armies would have the advantage, assuming that the Neapolitan army would be forced to take a land passage towards Rome.


    Alessandro took it, and swung it over his shoulder. He had his own horse, but it would still be dangerous. "You cannot expect me to evade the Neapolitan armies and gain entry to the city, alone?"

    "The less that accompany you, the more likely you would evade notice. Stay off the Appian Way, and stay under night." The count's brow arched. "I have done as much before, surely a man of your stature could accomplish the same."

    That did little to fill the man with much confidence. "If I didn't know any better, I would think my lord is trying to be rid of me in a more permanent way." Such speech was brazen, but he was not about to let the issue go without getting the last word in.

    Count Orsini, however, managed to steal it back before dismissing the podestà. "Be glad then, that you do know better, dwarf."

    Once he had been rid of his advisor, Giacopo began to grow more and restless within his tent. The sun was nearly set, and with it would come the dusk. A plague of midges would descend upon them, ripe with the fevers of the Campagna. The Count had little time left to survey the forces and take an accounting of arms, so he decided to make due with what he had left. After stepping out of the tent, which rested upon the summit of a central hill, he regarded the encampments that encircled outwards. The supply train remained at the edge of the highway, and was the most heavily guarded part of the camp. Save for the legate's pavilion, the men lived in spartan comfort and with few amenities. However, Giacopo was adamant that the men not be lost to the fevers. He had commissioned the weavers to fabricate cloth nets as drapery for the otherwise exposed levy, much as he had for his own company the last time he had made this journey. He was a mercenary then, and he felt a mercenary now, paid with a crown rather than coin.

    The Count's gaze was drawn to the south. They had expected to meet the Neapolitan forces already, as this was the only land passage to Rome that the Neapolitans could take. Unless they made common cause with Apulia, Giacopo reminded himself, but even then, they would have to traverse the Appenines, which would be unkind to their forces if they were of any substantial numbers. The other possibility Giacopo entertained was passage by sea -- the Neapolitan armada was their pride after all -- but they would have to find a dock. Neither Ostia nor Orbatello seemed likely to give safe harbor. Desperate as they might be, the Spartenoi would not be so brazen to declare war on the Pope himself. At least officially, it was solely between the Count of Orvieto and the Duchy, and that was best for Naples.

    Still, the lack of an army was troubling news to Giacopo. It could be that the Spartenoi army was supplementing the garrison in Naples, yet scouting reports seemed to reason otherwise. The forces had mustered north of Naples at Aversa, and there was news of an army on the march. If that was true, they should have already met. Orsini's own men would soon be in Campania, if they were not already, and would have to deal with Richard Drengot in due time. Breaking bread with a Norman prince was not a prospect Giacopo was eager for.

    "My lord!" The voice was one of the men, and drew the count's attention in that direction. It was not one of his men-at-arms though that he saw, but a woman dressed in rags, climbing clumsily up the hill and stumbling at the last. One one knee she peered up, almost mad-eyed, and when he saw the piercing blue of those eyes Giacopo knew in his heart that God had not forgotten his transgressions yet, for before him was the last remnant of his being led astray.

    "Giacopo..." Her voice even now sounded angelic to his ears, though her face had been scarred with pock-marks. Altruda too had suffered the pox, and what's more become dessicated and destitute in her absence from his household. He had ejected her once their daughter Adalgisa had passed, for reasons that pained him to remember. He had until now no idea if she had survived, but she had, and found him as a camp follower, reduced beneath even the low station he had found her.

    The men who had tried to stop her caught up, and lifted her up by the shoulders. She kicked and spit but it meant little, she had little strength to her besides. "My lord, do you know this woman?"

    He was not sure what to say to that, but Altruda answered it for him. "Do you not remember, Giacopo? I bore you your child. You cannot forget me... You cannot! Please... Just..." Her voice trailed off as the Count approached and held her by the chin, regarding her face. It disgusted him, but not for the marks on her skin. It was the memory of her beauty that sickened his spirit, and the guilt of his sin. In her doe-like eyes he only saw the hateful holes of his wife back home. He turned away.

    "Our child is dead. You wept not for her, and did not visit her with me." Even after the pox had passed, Altruda remained more interested in courtly fashions and her lover's wealth than her daughter. She was greedy, and such rendered her spirit ugly and bare to Giacopo, after his dear infant child had passed. "You are no mother, and not even a woman, but a whore. Take her away from my sight." He waved his hand, and she screamed imprecations and curses at him.

    "As you like, my lord. We have uses for whores like her, as you said." That simple statement gave Giacopo pause, and for all his hatred and guilt, he could not abide it, as vile a pleasure as it might have been to simply stand aside.

    He turned around, and with that disquieting tone set his command. "Take her away, and send her back on the road. But she will not be harmed, nor will the man lay a hand on her. Those that do will answer to me." With that, there was only a lingering silence, which satisfied the Count well enough. He left them, if only to get as far away from her frothing, desperate screams. It would be long before he could forget this. But forget it he intended to do.

    But not forgive, he reminded himself. It was not in his nature to forgive, not even himself. And for that, he would bear his wife's hatred, the guilt of God, and the sorrow of his dead child all.

    His eyes focused once again on the southern horizon, and he found himself hoping, even praying, for that army to appear marching. What troubled Count Orsini was not that he was filled with bloodlust, he was not eager to once again get into the thick of the fighting as he had been in his youth. Such affairs quickly lose their taste as the years go on. What troubled him was that he seemed to welcome the risk, the danger, and the redemptive power of such combat, and the arbitrary chance of a honorable end. What Giacopo realized was that he was praying for a chance to die.

    For whatever reason he prayed, it was answered, for an army appeared at that horizon. Giacopo did not move from his spot, rooted as he observed, and the other men began to take notice as what looked like some score of men and horse were crossing the Campagna to meet his camp. He searched for the banners of their army, to confirm that it was the Neapolitans, finally ready to meet the Latin armies in battle.

    Yet it was not the gold and red of Naples that he found on their banners. It was the crowned cross emblem of another force entirely.

    Prince Richard I, the Norman lord of Capua.

    -----


    Castello delle Pietre, Capua, May 4th, AD 1073


    "Do you march with the authority of His Holy Father, the Pope of Rome?" The prince questioned authoritatively from his high seat. He was cleanly shaven, and cut, but lavishly dressed, piety and opulence shown in equal measure, and he stood up to his title in every way, a mountain of a man in both stature and presence./

    "I do," Giacopo answered tersely. He spared only as many honorifics that the Norman prince had, which was to say, none. He was thankful at least that the Norman and him shared a common language, even if it was stilted Latin.

    "Then the Papal States make war on Naples," Prince Richard concluded, as if it were the simplest matter in the world.

    Count Orsini clenched his teeth at the arrogance, but if he were in Richard's place, would he not make the same conclusion? There was little that he could say in protest, and it was in matters such as these that he wished he had the presence of his chamberlain. Instead, he had the cardinal and legate, Giacomo Monaldeschi, who seemed intent on filling that voice. "My prince, do you see the emblem of the Holy See on these men? They march under the banner of Count Orsini and no other, it is he that seeks to restore order to the province and-"

    "Thank you, Cardinal," the Prince said, which irritated the otherwise unflappable Monaldeschi. "I see that the Pope sends a legate, and a cardinal no less, to accompany the army, and yet it does not fight on his behalf." The Norman seemed astute enough, and unconvinced of the whole matter. Giacopo was wise to have accepted the terms, and his army was camped outside the city and surrounded by the Norman forces, who outnumbered Giacopo's own by a hundred and were better armed besides. The small number of cavalry was simply the van of the larger force, and the Prince had seemed ready to make war.

    "My prince..." The cardinal began again, leaving Giacopo simply silent (which was as close to polite as he was capable), trying to turn the conversation to his side, "we had sent messengers before us with requests for passage through Campania, at your leave, and the request still stands." Though ingratiating enough, the cardinal's deep voice was firm on the matter, even though the advantage was seemingly Richard's. Never before had Giacopo felt so superfluous to the proceedings, simmering in himself as he observed their back and forth.

    "I had received them, yet I cannot say that I accepted, nor were your forces kind enough to await my permission to enter these lands." In truth, the borders were in dispute, but it was a matter of minutiae that was not worth debating in this court. He finally regarded Count Orsini again, with a pointed brow. "Does this legate speak for you, Count Orvieto?"

    Giacopo turned towards Monaldeschi for a moment, and then back to Richard with a shake of his head. "No. He speaks solely for the Holy See, and I come here on my own initiative. And it is I, not the legate, that requests your permission to pass." Giacopo knew that the Cardinal had instructed him to request passage as a legate's escort, which would have made the affair easier. But Giacopo saw no point when the Prince would know the truth of it, so he spoke earnestly.

    For that, the Prince seemed impressed enough by the earnest, though less so by the request itself. "When last we granted passage through our lands, to the Guiscard in Aversa, we found they were less than thankful for the privilege."

    "Lost to Naples," Giacopo reminded Prince Richard. The matter of Aversa was a deep wound for the Drengots, and perhaps it would be the leverage necessary to force the deal. It was dangerous game, but not one Count Orsini was content with leaving to Monaldeschi alone.

    Richard seemed at least furtive when the matter was mentioned, but quickly dismissed it. "Whatever the Count's intentions, Capua will not be party to it."

    Giacopo clenched his teeth in anger, but restrained his voice as best he could. "There is no other way. We have not the fleet, nor would Apulia allow our passage. Campania is the only passage into Naples, and we ask only that you let our forces pass in peace."

    "I fail, Count Orvieto, to see where that is my problem," the Prince said, almost languidly. He was a cool and cunning man, like the rest of his lot, even bloated as he was on his power. He is hungry, Giacopo noted, much like the Cardinal Monaldeschi. Giacopo, perhaps desperate, resorted to the only mean he knew for dealing with hungry men like him.

    "Perhaps we could reach some understanding then. On the matter of Aversa." That got Richard's attention, and the Norman gave a smile of his yellowed teeth. Giacopo had no stake in the spoils beyond Naples, and his part was already in motion. There was only one man who stood to lose in this matter, and it was he who spoke up against the matter of this deal.

    "There is one other matter. I hold with me this papal bull, signed by Pope Alexander II and bearing his seal." He withdrew the document from his person, the last trick up the cardinal's sleeve, the look on his face implacable. "On the matter of passage for his vassal, the Count of Orvieto, and his vassal's army, any who hinder their suppression of the rebellion and heresy and the restoration of order in the city of Naples are in danger of sanction by the Holy See, up to and including excommunication from the Holy Roman Church."

    All geniality drained from the body of the Norman prince, and his expression was one of incredulousness. He ordered for the bull to be brought to him, and read it himself several times before setting it, shaking upon his lap. He cursed in his tongue, consulted with his chancellor and carved wounds into the cardinal and the count both with his eyes. Whether he wanted to or not, Giacopo had gained an enemy in the Prince of Capua, due to the machinations of the Cardinal. And there was little he could do about it.

    "I trust that His Holy Father will remember the loyalty of the Principality of Capua in supporting the justice of his election, and we are ever at his service. The Count Orvieto may take his army and crush this rebellion without so much as another word from a loyal Christian such as myself." He nearly spit with each word. It was a brutish thing, but Cardinal Monaldeschi's gambit seemed to have worked. "If there is nothing else, leave. You have what you wanted."

    "There is one thing," Giacopo boldly started, which drew the iresome gaze of the Prince. "We were expecting to face the Neapolitan army, not the Capuan forces, on the edge of the Campania. They had mustered in Aversa, last I heard. Have they gained passage through Apulia?"

    Prince Richard regarded him for a few moments, and then gave a smile, as he was to have the last laugh in this. "No, Count Orvieto. The Guiscard's brood are no more friend to them as they are mine. You will not find them in the Appenines, but far closer to home..." He leaned back, folding his hands and examining the rings on his fingers.

    "Where? You know where they are, don't you?" Giacopo could sense something was amiss, some danger he did not quite understand.

    "Pisa," Richard answered. "They have bought passage through Pisa."


    Prince Richard I Drengot of Capua was a powerful figure in his time, contemporary to Robert Guiscard of Apulia and said to be his match in cunning and skill. Starting from his base in Aversa granted to him by the Duke of Naples, he founded the first Norman principality in Capua, usurping it from the Lombards, he would be a loyal ally to the Church. At the behest of Cardinal Hildebrand, he assisted in the reforming pope Nicholas II (who invested in his claim on Capua papal suzerainty) in his struggles against antipope Benedict X, and later Alexander II against Honorius II. He secured power against the Lombard princes of the Holy Roman Empire and freed southern Italy from their influence. Despite this, his favor in the Church would wane after the election of Pope Boniface VII, leading to the abolition of his claim in 1082.
    Last edited by JuvenalianSatyr; 28-03-2012 at 16:06.

  20. #20

    Book I Act I Chapter IV Part II

    -----


    Archbishop's Palace, Naples, May 10th, AD 1073


    From his study, Komitas performed most of his duties, save for the occasional need for attend to sacraments and visits. It was here that he attended to his correspondence, penned his manuscripts, entertained his guests. It was here that he conjured forth his dreams. It was from here that he ruled, and never so much as he did now. It had not been his design the recent chaos and usurpation of power from the Spartenoi, nor his intention. Despite his detractors, he was quite content with the equilibrium as it had been before, and had not set out to disturb it.

    But whatever the Archbishop's own intentions, the world had conspired to shake apart the city to its foundations. Tensions had boiled over and peaked with the burning of San Martino, but the fires never quite stopped burning since.

    Since then, the Duke had fled to Aversa, and left his brother to attend to the running of the city. The Spartenoi had long been suspicious of the bishopric, in no small part due to the actions of Komitas's predecessor, but in truth his ambition was never so plain. Ambitious, however, he was. The Archbishop played court chaplain to the men of Spartenos who desired their familiar Byzantine rites, even if their spoken loyalty was to the Church in Rome. As for Komitas, it was never that he lacked faith, but he lacked conviction in Christ's church, and saw little difference in either east or west. The open hypocrisy of his flock did little to dissuade him of his cynicism, but neither did it shake him of his belief in his own, personal God.

    It was that faith that brought him to here, halfway across the known world from his home, to first study, and now rule.

    That peace was now at threat, as the Pope was no longer content for the Dukes of Naples to pay homage in word only, and had sent his new general and a portion of the papal armies to "secure peace", rather than make war. That was what troubled Komitas this night, as he attended to his work in his study, until he was interrupted by an unfamiliar voice.

    "Might I have a moment of your time?" The man spoke in Ligurian, which was known well enough to the Archbishop, though it was not Komitas's most fluent tongue. The archbishop turned to face and found the man half the size he expected, a dwarf in a merchant's dress and holding a large satchel over his shoulder. It was not a sight he had expected, but being rather nonplussed by the intrusion, he offered the small man a seat, and said nothing.

    The stranger seemed discomforted by the bishop's bemusement, but wasted little time. He did not care to try and climb into the seat, and went straight to the business of the matter. "I invited myself in when I saw that you had no porter, and I am rather good at not being seen otherwise. I've not come with a knife, though, only a proposition." He was businesslike above else, and due to the language he chose and his manner of dress Komitas wondered if perhaps he was Genoan, a thought he dismissed once he noticed the colored badge upon the man's breast.

    "What proposition does a man of Orvieto have for me?" Komitas asked genially, his head resting in his hand as he observed the black eagle, and looked up into the stranger's eyes with a gleam of cleverness there.

    "One that might protect you and your flock in the coming storm."

    "You are poor at giving bribes for a man of your means, Orvietani."

    To that the dwarf smiled slightly, giving a bow and scrape. "Alessandro di Baschi, and if you knew me, you would know that it is not mine to mince words, especially when it comes to bribes."

    "Certainly not a Genoan then," the bishop mused almost absently. Alessandro could only give a quizzical look to that, before the bishop addressed the issue at hand. "If it is gold you bring, it does not interest me, little friend. Not that gold is not useful to a man, but Naples has plenty and Orvieto little."

    "Then perhaps this would be a finer token of friendship," withdrawn from the satchel was a single ring, adorned with a gem, which Alessandro placed (with some difficulty) upon the man's desk to examine. Komitas recognized it instantly for what it was, and it was certainly a far better bribe than gold would be. A bishop's ring. A symbol of power in the Roman Church, waiting for him if he renounced his current vows. Yet it was a tainted gift in itself, and Komitas's acceptance would mark him as more than just a traitor to Naples, but to the church itself.

    "It would be," Komitas said softly, pushing the ring away. "But I cannot. It is not an unkind offer, but..."

    "Tell me, Archbishop. Is it Christian to allow these men and women to die, and to die with them, for an oathbreaker?" Alessandro started, and getting the bishop's attention, continued. "I am no master of theology, but I understand the matter of one's word. If the one you have sworn fealty to has violated his code, what holds you to it?" He watched for Komitas's reaction, which was not forthcoming, before pressing the issue further.

    "You are fine politician, little friend. But you cannot change the truth."

    "The truth is less than relevant in this case, I believe."

    "It is," Komitas said wistfully, with a subtle smile. "But for me, there is little left. Know this, dwarf: I will not be known as the man who opened the gates of Naples to your lord's armies. I will not be remembered as the Bishop who changed cloth only when it was convenient. You have come and given me a tainted gift, a bribe when I would have otherwise come freely, and for that reason, no matter what choice I make it will matter little."

    Alessandro sensed that something was amiss, and took a step back, but the bishop continued. "When the armies of Naples are crushed, and the triumphal march comes through the piazza towards my cathedral, and I am to put the crown of Naples on your lord's head, it will be remembered that I did so for the justice of Naples's people, who called out their new Duke's name." He grabbed the bag of coins, and spilled them on the ground before the dwarf. "This does not bode well for your lord, if he wishes to be any different than his doomed predecessors."

    For his part, however, di Baschi steeled himself with a pursed frown. "He took you for a man like any other."

    Komitas of Cumae, Archbishop of Naples, stood up and gazed down at the dwarf with a half-lidded stare, sizing up the half-man truly now, before nodding wistfully. "Be that as it may, I am not a man like any other." With that, he called for his guards, and seized the podestà of Orvieto as his hostage. If he was to be a traitor, he would commit treason on his terms, and his terms alone.


    Komitas of Cumae, commonly Latinized as Comitus, was the Archbishop of Naples during the Suppression of 1072 and one of the city's most powerful figures. Of uncertain origin, it is thought that he came from Armenia, and served as a priest and student to his predecessor. Celebrated for his scientific genius as much as his statesmanship, he was particularly well known for his interests in mathematics and philosophy. However, he would remain controversial for his criticism of both the Western and Eastern churches, and his investiture as Bishop of Narni under the Latin Rite (as opposed to the Byzantine Rite he was invested in as Archbishop of Naples).
    Last edited by JuvenalianSatyr; 28-03-2012 at 13:50.

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