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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

unmerged(46450)

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Part I
Andronikos the Cretan

Syria, 1067
With every step his horse took, Andronikos could feel the air grow drier and the sun grow hotter. The familiar scent of the ocean was far behind them. Unseasonably early, the summer heat tormented the long, thin column of armored men. Andronikos groaned and buried his face in his hands. He really needed a drink.

He turned to his vassal and traveling companion, “Isaak, remind me why we have to do this.”

“Come on, if every Strategos thought like that there'd be no one to defend the Empire, would there?” Isaakios spoke slowly and deliberately. Most of his will was focused on not looking as miserable and whiny as his liege.

“'Strategos of Crete' isn't a title, Isaak, it's a joke. Cretans are good for nothing but liars, beasts and gluttons. The Scriptures themselves say so. Four hundred Cretans aren't going to turn the battle. Four hundred Cretans aren't even worth the galleys that brought us here.”

Isaakios looked around at the rest of the army. Four hundred Cretans, give or take a few. And a few hundred from Serdica, and another hundred from Samos, and so on, until it added up to thousands. There must be twenty different commanders, each with his own train of dogged, miserable conscripts, all dragging themselves across the arid Syrian plains because someone, somewhere had looked at a map and decided the quickest way to get to Armenia was across this infidel desert. This was no way to fight the Turks.

“Less whining, more marching, Andy. There'll be a battle, and a treaty, and we go back to life as we know it.”

And so the sun-burnt soldiers continued their long march.


image-1.jpg


Finally, Andronikos slid off his horse and fell exhausted to the ground. A servant quickly escorted the tired animal away, while the tired man was left to fend for himself. Dinner, if there was any, would have to wait for everyone to get settled in. In the meantime, he leaned against one of the supply carts and reveled in the luxury of perfect stillness and uselessness, watching the rest of the army hurry to and fro setting up camp. One girl in particular caught his eye, a small, dark-haired woman who looked like she could easily be half his age. As he tried to explain to himself what it was about this one that fascinated him so, he was only half aware that she was heading straight for him.

“I suppose where you come from it's polite to stare.”

Andronikos snapped to attention and tried to get out a reply. Actually he got out four or five replies, depending on one's definition of a reply, and they all ended up coming out at the same time.

Then, as soon as it had come, the girl's expression of disapproval melted away. “Don't worry. I think it's a compliment. It's not every day a noble embarrasses himself on my account.” With a single, quick, graceful motion she was sitting uncomfortably, or tantalizingly, close next to him to him. “My name's Euphrosyne, and you don't need to introduce yourself. I already know you're Strategos Andronikos Petraliphas of Krete. See, that's the privilege of being a noble. You haven't even said a word and we've already introduced ourselves.”

Andronikos finally caught his breath. “You've told me you're Euphrosyne, but you haven't told me who Euphrosyne is.”

“Euphrosyne is the wife of Ioannes Apukaukos, a commander serving the count of Teluch. And she's here because said Apukaukos didn't think it proper to leave his young bride behind when duty called.

A lump formed in Andronikos's throat. “I'll be sure to look this Ioannes up when I get the chance.”

“Don't bother. If I start telling you more about him, I'll feel obliged to even the score by telling him about you, and I don't really want to know his reaction to this.”

“No, really, it isn't a good idea for you to be here...”

She smiled sweetly and stood up. “Ok, until next time, then.”

Andronikos watched her as she disappeared into the crowd. So much for being able to sleep tonight.


Disclaimer:
My knowledge of history is radically, drastically less than that of some people on this forum. You probably won't learn any history from this AAR. For example, the preceding entry makes the following assumptions that very likely aren't true, and which, if false, would probably render this AAR unreadable by a serious student of history:

The theme system was still in place in 1066.
Strategos is roughly equivalent to the CK title of Duke/Prince. (which I doubt it really is)
Crete was important enough to warrant its own theme. (ditto here)
The title of Strategos was hereditary, leaving an opening for someone as inept as Andronikos to inherit the title.

But I really don't think Prince would be a good title either as I haven't seen any non-CK references to principalities as a Byzantine administrative unit. Feel free to correct me if you know what his title should really be.
 
Aug 26, 2006
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Well I don't know nearly enough about Byzantine history, so I can't comment on the accuracy of your setup.

I was intrigued by the AAR starting on the march, and I am wondering why this married woman has been introduced... looking forward to the next instalment...
 

Veldmaarschalk

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A good start to your AAR

Lets see how you survive the inevitable downfall of the Byzantine Empire :)
 

stnylan

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Ahh I don't know - some fairly serious students of history on these boards have been known to let their hair down from to time. ;)

A great first post.
 

unmerged(46450)

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Jul 16, 2005
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Glad to see people reading. I've already played through Andronikos's reign and I'm working on the second update now and barring a crisis at work should have it up tomorrow. Thanks to all for your encouragement.
 

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Yeah, don't worry too much if you're a little off. As you say, there are plenty of AARs around that really delve into history and try to recreate it... but in an AAR 'history' falls under 'setting,' and in any work of fiction 'setting' falls under 'tool.' Characterization, action, all that stuff is so much more important. If you want to call him a strategos....I don't know if it's right either, but what the heck. We know what you mean. If we don't, we'll ask. :)

As to the AAR, I like it so far! The general fatigue of a long march through the hot sun, far from home. Excellent setup.

I'm also curious about this young woman.
 

unmerged(48100)

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Aug 30, 2005
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I think historical accuracy isn't the most important if the story is good, and your's is until now. So let's see what follows. That woman certainly has caught my interest. Poor Andronikos she's already married, although I somehow suspect this will really hinder him.
 

unmerged(46450)

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Jul 16, 2005
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Armenia, 1067
The long march through infidel lands continued as miserable as ever. Gradually the plains gave way to the rocks and hills of Armenia and the soldiers added rocky ground and uphill marches to their list of worries. For Andronikos, the time was spent only half aware. He saw Euphrosyne only infrequently, and from a distance, never managing to exchange more than a few words. Whether by her coyness or his own scruples, she remained a beautiful shadow, always a step beyond him. His dreams were filled with visions of her, like a reflection in the water, so close yet always beyond his reach, and nightmares of being chased across earth and sea by legions of Turks, monsters twice as tall as any man, riding pitch black, fire-breathing horses.

He tried planning for the coming battle, but David, his marshal, was an old childhood friend who had trained in the army, but was far from useful in an actual fight. Eventually it became clear that nobody in the entire regiment had actually been in a battle. And so the waiting, the dreaming, and the nightmares continued.

image-2.jpg

Top - Isaakios, close friend, vassal, and confessor of Andronikos
Bottom - David, the Marshal of Krete, who'd rather be fishing.



Finally, the soldiers stood at their destination. A small, battered fortress surrounded by the Turkish camp. The various divisions scrambled to pull themselves together as the Hoplitarches frantically shouted at the infantry to get into formation. Andronikos valiantly struggled to pull himself onto his horse amid the chaos. Turning to face his men, he shouted at the top of his lungs.

“Brothers and sons of Krete! If we live today it is God's will that we live. And if we die, then ... well I don't think God wants us dead. But remember that men like us are the only hope for the Empire ... and if we don't die ... of course we won't, but ...”

His speech trailed off as he realized that no one was listening. Already arrows were raining down among them. From behind them a formation of Turkish cavalry bore down on the unprepared soldiers. Pikemen elbowed their way through the panicked swarm of men, racing to set their pikes before the charge hit. Meanwhile the Turkish infantry advanced like a net through a teeming school of fish, ready for the kill. All was lost.

image-3.jpg

There, I managed to get it up today, despite the best efforts of real life. On the historical accuracy front, there's some good news. There were still Themes in 11th century Byzantium, and they were in more or less the state of decline depicted here. As for the Strategos of Krete, the title remains purely hypothetical. Next update on Saturday, I hope.
 

unmerged(48100)

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Andronikos should work on his speaches. And on when he does them.

And his army probably should learn how to fight first before they run in a war.
 

stnylan

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Not the best oratory in the world - time for the soldiers to earn their pay.
 
Aug 26, 2006
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:rofl:

Brilliant speach!
 

unmerged(46450)

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Andronikos stood dumbfounded as the Turks closed in. The flanking maneuver had worked perfectly and the shaken, leaderless Imperial army was being enveloped by their foes. Already their formations were beginning to break, or never to form in the first place, as soldiers gave up the fight and fled. He looked around for his regiment. What was he supposed to be doing here? For a brief moment he stood facing the oncoming horde, as the enemy horsemen darted back and forth among the panicked Greeks, cutting them down left and right. Then he turned and joined the rout, fleeing for his life. He ran, oblivious to where he was going or who was following him.

Gradually the shouts of battle and the swarm of his fleeing comrades grew thinner and thinner, until he same to a stop, exhausted and panting for breath. There was nobody around as far as he could see. All was silent. He sat down and stared aimlessly at the ground, trying to collect his thoughts. He had failed to lead his men or defend the Empire, and now he was lost in a land far from home and overrun with the enemy. Hours passed as he sat brooding on his probable doom.

Finally, as the sun disappeared into the evening, Andronikos lifted his gaze and took stock of his situation. The hills and mountains were already casting long shadows, and everything would be dark soon. He felt as if someone were watching him, just out of his sight, whether man or wolf he knew not. Wherever he was, he would be safer with somewhere to hide for the night. Seaching among the rocky hillside for a hiding place, he made his way into a secure crevasse, his ears alert for danger. At that moment, he heard soft footsteps coming from behind him. He had been followed.

He spun around in panic, ready to face whoever had trapped him. Behind him was was a short, female figure. As she took another step toward him a faint ray of light illuminated her face. He let out a gasp of surprise and relief.

“Euphrosyne?”

She stared at him for a moment, then broke down into a fit of sobbing. “Andi, they're all dead, I know it.”

He took a step toward her, and she collapsed into his arms. His heart beat faster.

“I saw him struck down by a Turk. I'm a widow now. There's no one left to protect me.”

He pressed his cheek against hers and whispered into her ear. “You're safe here, my darling. I'll look out for you.”

He held her close to him, listening to her breathing and the sound of her weeping. I shouldn't, he thought. But he already knew that he wouldn't resist.
 

stnylan

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I don't know about her, but I don't trust him.

And that's quite apart from the small matter of defeat.
 
Aug 26, 2006
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Gato Loco said:
Don't worry, there's plenty or mistrust to go around...

Well, I don't trust you!
 

unmerged(46450)

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Jul 16, 2005
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It was dark. Below her, she could feel only cold iron, and above her she could see only the brief flashes of lightning illuminating the brooding clouds. Thunder played a duet with the harsh sounds of a hundred voices chanting in a tongue that need not be understood to comprehend the dread and horror of what was being proclaimed. She turned to look, but could see nothing but shadows around her. She struggled to rise but her body would not move. As the sounds rose to an ear-splitting torrent, she began to rise off the ground, or the sky began to descend toward her. From the clouds a grinning, hungry face stared down. Like heat from a bonfire she could feel the rage and vengeful hatred of a being older than a thousand lifetimes focused on her as through a lens. Everything around her dissolved into nothingness as it drew her toward itself.

Euphrosyne awoke screaming, jarring herself and Andronikos awake. He looked at her, puzzled and helpless as he remembered what had happened. “What is it?”

She sat up and tried to cover herself. “Please,” she said. “Take me with you. Take me far away.”

He put his arm around her and began to stroke her hair. “Soon we'll be back in Krete. You'll be safe, and we'll never have to come back here, ever.”

She looked up at him and smiled, and his heart melted again.


The next weeks passed like a dream as they made their way back toward the Imperial army. The hunger and soreness and danger that had tormented Andronikos on his journey from Krete now vanished into the background as every step brought him and his new love closer to home.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Ikonia, 1067
In the imperial camp, the mood had swung from irritation to despair. As more and more regiments wandered back from battle, news arrived of one defeat after another. All of the east had been overrun. Where would they strike next? How could they be stopped? And most of all, where was the Emperor?

Inside the tent of the Theme of Krete, Andronikos was on the receiving end of a tirade from his vassal.

“I for one will never stand for it. A man of your station doesn't put everything at risk for some random girl you met while running from the Turks.”

“Not a random girl. The widow of a nobleman from Syria. Who is also pregnant.”

“The alleged widow of an alleged nobleman who is allegedly from Syria, which has just conveniently fallen to the infidel, dashing any hopes of actually investigating her story, who is carrying a child which may be your's or may be her late husband's, if such a husband ever existed. Andy, you're not the first man to fall for a camp follower and wish she were a princess. There's a way these things are handled, and it involves paying her a reasonable sum and sending the child to a monastery, not marrying her and expecting everyone to play along.”

Andronikos waited to catch his breath. His hands were trembling. “Isaak. I've thought about this, and I just want to do the right thing for her.”

“If you were just a common soldier, it would be the right thing. But you're not a common soldier, and you're putting everything you have at risk if you do this.”

“Then I will, risk or no risk.”

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The wedding was a small, rushed affair presided over by a priest from a nearby town and, aside from the priest and the couple, attended by David, Isaakios, and a few soldiers who'd hoped that there would be wine.

After it was finished, Andronikos turned to his new bride. “I know this isn't perfect, but I promise, as soon as we get home we'll have a real wedding feast. This will all be over soon.”

She didn't answer, but stared toward the horizon, completely oblivious while her husband nervously shifted from one foot to the other, waiting for a response.

The awkward moment was finally broken by the sound of excited voices in the distance, drawing nearer. A throng of men was eagerly milling around a rider bearing the standard of Michael Dukas.

“Attention!” The messenger shouted, “Soldiers of Rome! Emperor Romanus Diogenes, in valiant battle against the Turks, has been captured while fighting for the Empire. Tragically, before a ransom could be paid, he died in a heroic attempt at escape. Co-Emperor Michael Dukas joins the people in mourning and asks for your prayers as he ascends the throne. We will break camp tomorrow to escort our new Emperor to Constantinople for his coronation. Long live Michael VII, Baselios of the Roman Empire!”

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

euphrosyne1067.jpg

Euphrosyne, the newest addition to the court of Krete, for better or for worse.
 

unmerged(48100)

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I still don't trust her. And I certainly don't trust him either, but then, I wouldn't trust any medieval ruler.

And the messengers speach was a bit ambiguous, wasn't it? 'Tragically he died before a ransom could be paid'. ;)
 

stnylan

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The news goes from bad to worse doesn't it? It's hard to disagree with the vassal's rationale, and yet there is nothing rational about Andronikos' decision. He has fallen, truly, madly, deeply.
 

unmerged(46450)

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Jul 16, 2005
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CSK said:
I still don't trust her. And I certainly don't trust him either, but then, I wouldn't trust any medieval ruler.

And the messengers speach was a bit ambiguous, wasn't it? 'Tragically he died before a ransom could be paid'.

stnylan said:
The news goes from bad to worse doesn't it? It's hard to disagree with the vassal's rationale, and yet there is nothing rational about Andronikos' decision. He has fallen, truly, madly, deeply.

Of course we can take comfort in the fact that Andy's so far down in the line of succession that he'll never become Emperor. Though that's small comfort given who actually is Emperor right now.