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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

The Kingmaker

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"Remember what punishments befell us in this world when we ourselves did not cherish learning nor transmit it to other men." - Ælfred the Great

"Often the solitary one finds grace through the Creator's mercy, although, careworn, he must tread the paths of exile, long rowing the waterways of the frosty sea. Destiny is inexorable." - The Wanderer, Anglo-Saxon elegy


PREMISE

When I learned that the new Old Gods expansion would be adding an additional starting date at 867, I knew I had to write a story based on one of my heroes, the inimitable Ælfred the Great. The Anglo-Saxon word Æðelan (which I use in all my Saxon AARs) is an adjective that means "having noble qualities." It is a variant of more familiar terms like the noun æðel ("noble") and the verb æðelian ("to ennoble"). If you are unfamiliar with Old English and are wondering how the title is pronounced, here is a quick guide: "short A" as in "apple" + the word "the" + the word "lawn."

This AAR uses Æthelsweord, the new Anglo-Saxon and Celtic Improvement Pack.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Prologue: The Wooded Dun of Æsc
Chapter 1: A Funeral Bier
Chapter 2: Herald of Woe
Chapter 3 Coming Soon

GAZETTEER · GLOSSARY

SOUNDTRACK

Paths of Exile - Theme​




***
 
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The Kingmaker

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PROLOGUE: THE WOODED DUN OF ÆSC

The first rays of dawn broke through the brooding clouds to cast their light on a tranquil spring morning. Soon the warmth of the morning light spread to a lovely wooded hill overlooking a verdant river valley. The pleasant calls of songbirds filled the air, fleet-footed squirrels dashed through the teeming undergrowth, and beneath the budding blossoms of the chestnut trees, a small band of men in armor ascended to the rocky summit.

“It’s been a hard ride,” said the man called Wihtred, as he wiped the sweat from his brow, “But it was worth it! We’ll be able to see for miles from up here.”

“But what exactly are we expecting to see?” said a well-dressed man named Leofric, “I hate running around in the forest like this. If the Wicings don’t get you, the flaming wood-ælves will!”

“Hush now,” said another man, the youngest of their number, a lad of barely twenty winters who also happened to be their leader. Despite his youth, the young man’s eyes held a spark of wisdom well beyond his years. “Do you see that?” He pointed towards the horizon. The men turned to follow his gaze.


“It is as I feared,” continued the young leader, “You see that pillar of smoke to the east? We are already too late.”

“What do you mean?” asked the one called Leofric, “What has happened?”

“Lundenwic burns, my lord,” said beardless Wihtred, a quiver in his voice, “The Wicings have already taken the town.”

The young leader clenched his jaw, then turned to the grey-haired old thegn at his left. “Raise the standard, Æthelwine.” They had kept all their banners packed away in their saddle bags to avoid drawing the attention of their enemies.

“My lord?” asked Leofric, “Is it wise to raise the royal standard when we are thus exposed on this remote promontory? Will that not reveal our location to the heathen?” Even as he spoke, the others did as their leader had bidden them and raised the standard aloft. The splendid golden dragon glittered in the sunlight while its long crimson banners fluttered behind it in the gentle breeze.


“That is precisely my intent,” answered the young lord, “Here we will make our stand. This far they have come, but no further. They must see now that they shall not take this kingdom unopposed.”

“My lord?” said Wihtred, “What message shall I bear to the king?”

“Tell my royal brother this,” said the young man, his blue eyes gleaming, “The enemy has taken the town, but we have blocked their path in order to halt their westward progress. We will make our stand here on this hill and await the arrival of Ealdorman Odda and his reinforcements.”

“As you say, Lord Ælfred,” said Wihtred, turning to leave. As he ran for his horse, the other thegns began to bark out orders to men waiting further down the hill. The verdant little hilltop swiftly grew into a hive of activity.

The young prince laid a weary hand on the small golden crucifix around his neck and drew it to his lips. Then, under his breath, he murmured a final prayer.

“From the fury of the Northmen, O Lord, deliver us.”



***


THEME MUSIC: PATHS OF EXILE
 
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DensleyBlair

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May I be the first to say that I am very much looking forward to this? I'm slightly acquainted with your work, but this promises to be a really good read.
 

Lord Durham

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Nice start, AP. Looking forward to this.
 

The Kingmaker

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DensleyBlair, Lord Durham, MaskedPersonage and Jarren: Gentlemen, thank you very much for your kind words of support. It's very easy to feel motivated to keep writing after receiving such encouragement. :) I've got a couple of other early updates in mind, but the bulk of the story will of course have to wait until the release of TOG.
 

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The Kingmaker

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mike the knight: Fear not, kind sir. There's always room for more Saxon AARs on the forums! (Which I imagine there will be in just a couple of weeks.) ;)
 

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Ah, I followed the Chronicles of the Golden Cross, both the first and second, eagerly, so I shall follow this as well!
 

The Kingmaker

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Tapscott: Glad you enjoyed Chronicles. It's a pleasure to have you on board once again!
 
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The Kingmaker

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CHAPTER ONE: A FUNERAL BIER

Several years earlier…

5 November 865

Fresh mud squelched beneath Ælfred’s boots as he made his way through the well-worn streets of Scirburn. He had been roused earlier than usual this morning, along with the other high-born pupils at the abbey school. They had each received an official summons to attend an important ceremony at the abbey church. There was a rumor among the other boys that something exciting was taking place -- that the king himself might even be in attendance. Such stories rarely had any impact on young Ælfred, however. After all, the king was his own elder brother.

“Come on, Ælfred, give us a hint!” said Ordgar, son of the Ealdorman of Defnas, “It’s no fair keeping everything secret!”

“For the last time, I haven’t heard anything about it,” Ælfred protested, “You know as much as I do.”

“Of course he hasn’t heard anything,” said Eadwine, whose father was a wealthy landholder, “His junior lordship is always out of the loop.”

“As if he’d even notice if they did tell him anything,” mocked Cuthred, another rich thegn’s son, “His nose is always so deep in a book, it’s a wonder he’s ever seen the light of day!”


“Boys…” chided a familiar voice. It was Brother Wulfsige, master of the abbey school, who had accompanied his noble charges. “Why don’t you leave Prince Ælfred in peace for a change? I swear, if Bishop Eahlstan could hear how you lads carry on, he’d have the lot of us flogged, including me for allowing such impertinence!”

“Sorry Brother Wulfsige,” Eadwine sneered with mock humility, “Sorry Ælfred.”

The other boys snickered once the old monk’s bald head was turned. Ælfred shook his head in disgust. If these insolent lads were the best the great families had to offer, then there really was no hope for West Seaxe.

At sixteen, Ælfred was almost old enough to stand in the Witenagemot with the other high-ranking men of the kingdom. It galled him a little to think that his light-minded schoolmates would soon bear the same privilege. Of course, none of them carried a pedigree as regal as his own -- an ætheling, a king’s son, one of very few deemed worthy to bear the crown.

This of course made the others extremely jealous. He was a bit taller than most of the other youths his age, but also slighter of build, so some of them thought they could push him around when their schoolmaster wasn’t looking. For the most part, he let their insults go unanswered. Their petty jibes weren’t worth his time.

The wooden breastwork of the abbey church loomed ahead, by far the tallest building in the town of Scirburn. As they approached the church, the boys could hear the chanting of monks. It seemed they were already late for whatever service was taking place.

“Please try to show a little reverence once you enter the sanctuary!” implored the beleaguered Wulfsige, plucking the cap from Ordgar’s tousled hair.

Ælfred could just barely make out the familiar words of the monks’ liturgy: “Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine, cum sanctis tuis in aeternum, quia pius es. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine; et lux perpetua luceat eis.

The entrance to the church was guarded by a handful of men in fine mail byrnies. By their dress, Ælfred thought they might be the hearth-companions of a great lord. Whatever was taking place had to be serious indeed for such eminent guardsmen to be in attendance. One of them noticed the boys' arrival and beckoned them forward.


“Right, in you go boys,” whispered Brother Wulfsige, “Keep your heads bowed and for God’s sake, hold your tongues!”

Ælfred moved to follow his schoolmates. “Hold on, Ælfred,” said Wulfsige, taking hold of his shoulder.

“What is it?” asked Ælfred.

“I must beg your pardon, my lad,” said Wulfsige. His face took on a pained expression. “I meant to tell you earlier, but I didn’t want to embarrass you in front of the others and honestly, I just wasn’t sure how to break the news…”

“My brother is dead?” Ælfred said blankly.

Wulfsige was taken aback. “Why -- how did you hear that?”

“I’m no fool,” said Ælfred, “My Latin's not perfect yet, but it's good enough to know that those monks are singing a requiem mass. I’ve heard it sung many times before -- at the funerals of both my parents as well as two of my brothers.”

“Forgive me, lad,” said Wulfsige, now looking embarrassed himself, “I had forgotten that you had already suffered bereavement beyond your years.”

Ælfred shook his head. “Don’t worry about it.” He turned quickly to enter the church so as to avoid enduring more of his schoolmaster’s awkward apologies. One of the guardsmen caught his eye and gave a brief nod, his face full of sympathy. It was at times like this that Ælfred wished he was invisible. Of course he had loved his brother. Æthelberht had been a good man and a good king, far better than their elder brother Æthelbald, who had preceded him on the throne. But truth be told, Ælfred had barely known him. His brother had been fourteen years his senior, already grown and married by the time Ælfred was old enough to go to school.

The interior of the church was lit by a thousand flickering candles, and the air inside was filled with the scent of burning incense. The body of his brother Æthelberht lay on a grand funeral bier at the center of the transept, surrounded by a crowd of well-dressed mourners. At the head of the bier stood Æthelred, now Ælfred’s sole remaining brother, a gallant, broad-shouldered figure of a man, with a mane of auburn hair that matched his own. Although the Witan had the final say, Ælfred knew everyone expected his brother to succeed to the throne. Æthelred had reigned ably as sub-king of Cantware under his brother, so he was probably already as good as crowned.


As Ælfred slowly wended his way through the closely-packed congregation, Æthelred finally noticed his arrival and waved him over. “You’re late,” his brother said under his breath, “For a moment, I thought you were going to leave me to deal with all of these profoundly sympathetic flatterers all by myself.”

“Poor you,” said Ælfred, his voice hushed so as not to be heard over the monks’ chanting.

“Poor Æthelberht,” replied Æthelred, “Though at this point I’m not sure whether I’d rather be in his shoes or mine.”

“So it’s to be king for you then?”

“It looks that way,” groaned Æthelred, “I can’t say I’m terribly enthusiastic about the job. You never got to see Æthelberht in action, did you?”

Ælfred shook his head.

“You’ve been cooped up at school for too long,” continued Æthelred, “But heavens above, Æthelberht’s royal court was truly something to behold. Our brother was really in his element there. The way he played all of those pompous ealdormen off each other… sometimes it even reminded me of father.”

Ælfred nodded. He had only been nine years old when his father had passed. “I can’t imagine you’re terribly thrilled about having to take his place in the political game.”

Æthelred grimaced. “It was bad enough in Cantware. Just imagine what it’s like to juggle the competing petitions of all the thegns of West Seaxe!”

“Better you than me,” Ælfred said grimly.

At that moment, the church doors opened again and one of the royal guardsmen shoved his way through the crowd to reach the two commiserating æthelings. It was the man who had caught Ælfred’s eye earlier. “My lords, please forgive this interruption,” he panted, obviously distraught, “But a man has just arrived bearing an urgent message for the king.”

“Can’t it wait until the funeral is over?” said Æthelred, “My royal brother’s corpse is scarcely cold. It’s all these incessant matters of state that hounded him to an early grave in the first place!”

The guardsman blushed under his helmet. “The messenger -- he says the Danes have returned. In far greater numbers than we’ve ever seen before. They’re in East Ængla, he says. I thought you’d want to know as soon as possible.”

Æthelred’s eyes widened.

“There’s more,” continued the guardsman, “The man’s taken a wound. It looks pretty bad.”

“Dear God,” breathed Æthelred, “Right, come on, Ælfred. Big brother’s funeral will have to wait. Let’s move. Quickly now, I’m going to need your help!”

The guardsman cleared a path through the crowd as the two royal brothers hurried towards the doors as briskly as was proper within the walls of a church.

When they reached the entrance, Æthelred hesitated briefly. Turning around, he looked back at the large crowd of important people who had gathered for the funeral. The church was oddly silent. All eyes were on the two of them. “Ah…” said Æthelred awkwardly, “We’ll be back later. Keep chanting!” With that, he grabbed Ælfred by the arm and rushed out of the building.

There would be plenty of time for grieving later -- in fact, a good deal more grieving than any of them could ever have anticipated.



***
 
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mike the knight

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DensleyBlair

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Very nicely done. You've certainly got me gripped! If the rest of the story is in this vein, I'm sure it will be a pleasure to read.

I'm looking forward to the next part.
 

The Kingmaker

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mike the knight, RedInsignia and DensleyBlair: I'm glad you're enjoying the story so far, and thank you for your compliments! I'm hoping to do at least one or two more updates before TOG comes out. After that, I'll probably do a little interlude featuring West Seaxe's depiction in the actual game before returning to the main narrative.
 

Lord Durham

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Nice work, and nice foreshadowing in the last line. The pictures are a plus. Are they from a particular movie? (got my copy of OG on pre-order, too. Looks good)
 

The Kingmaker

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Lord Durham: Thanks, LD. The pics aren't from any one source in particular, just anything that fits the look of the age of Saxons and Vikings. I'm using Henry Cavill to portray young Ælfred, with pictures coming from Tristan & Isolde. There's also a screenshot from the Lord of the Rings in the latest update, if any eagle-eyed forumites caught that one.
 

The Kingmaker

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GAZETTEER

A gazetteer is a dictionary or directory of geographical locations. If you are unfamiliar with any of the archaic place-names used in this story, you can look them up here. This gazetteer will be updated after every few chapters.​

GEOGRAPHICAL FEATURES

Temes: [TAY-MES] The River Thames, southern England. The longest river in England, which flows alongside (and sometimes through) many important towns, of which the most noteworthy is of course Lunden.

Weald: [WAY-ALD] The Weald, southeastern England. A great forested area between the North and South Downs in southeastern England.


SHIRES AND PETTY KINGDOMS

Cantware: [CAHNT-WAH-REH] Kent, England. Also known as Cent. One of the most ancient of the old Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Also the first to convert to Christianity. As of late, a part of the Kingdom of West Seaxe.

Defnas: [DEF-NAHSS] Devon, England. Formerly Dumnonia, a kingdom of the Britons. Conquered by the West Saxons and ruled by them for nearly two centuries.

East Ængla: [EH-AHST ÄNG-LAH] East Anglia, England. One of the old Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of the Heptarchy. Currently ruled by King Eadmund.

East Seaxe: [EH-AHST SAY-AX-EH] Essex, England. Another of the old kingdoms of the Heptarchy, currently a part of the Kingdom of East Ængla.

West Seaxe: [WEST SAY-AX-EH] Wessex, England. The greatest of the old Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and the primary setting for this story. Traditionally ruled by the House of Cerdic.


TOWNS, BURHS, ABBEYS AND OTHER SITES

Gipeswic: [YEEP-ES-WITCH] Ipswich, Suffolk, England. The center of trade for the Kingdom of East Ængla and an important terminus of travel to and from the continent.

Lunden: [LUN-DEN] London, Middlesex, England. The term represents a certain area of urban habitation on the River Temes, as well as each individual settlement there. The settlement established within the ruins of the old Roman city of Londinium (modern central London) was called Lundenburh [LUN-DEN-BURCHH], and the Saxon trading town established outside the ruins was called Lundenwic [LUN-DEN-WITCH] (modern Aldwych). A most significant location, due to its connection with the old Roman world.

Scirburn: [SHEER-BURN] Sherborne, Dorset, England. The capital of West Seaxe since the days of King Æthelbald. Also an important West Saxon episcopal see and diocese. The location of Scirburn Abbey, where Ælfred received his education.

Wintanceaster: [WIN-TAHN-CHEY-ASTER] Winchester, Hampshire, England. The ancient ancestral seat of the kingly family of West Seaxe. A site of great importance and influence.
 
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The Kingmaker

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GLOSSARY

A glossary is an alphabetical list of terms pertaining to a given subject. If you are unfamiliar with any of the archaic terms used in this story, you can look them up here. This glossary will be updated after every few chapters.

ænglisc: [ÄNG-LISH] (Old English) English. The Old English name for the English language, more specifically the language of the Anglo-Saxons and the demonymic term they used to refer to themselves.

ætheling: [ÄH-THE-LING] (Old English) Prince. A member of the highest class of Anglo-Saxon nobility, specifically any young man eligible for the kingship. The term appears to have been restricted to those whose royal descent could be traced to within the last seven generations, though in later times it came to reference the reigning king's descendants exclusively. In a wider sense the term could also be interpreted to mean simply "a good, noble man."

burh: [BURCHH] (Old English) Borough. A fortified Anglo-Saxon settlement. These ranged from simple palisades to large hill forts with complex embankments and other fortifications. Burhs were extremely important as emergency refuges for the populace. Their function gradually changed from a military to an administrative and commercial one, and thus they are the distant ancestors of modern boroughs.

ealdorman: [AY-AL-DOR-MAHN] (Old English) Alderman. The title given to the highest ranking Anglo-Saxon noblemen, ranging in authority and influence from that of an earl to that of a duke. Usually refers to the chief administrative official of a shire or group of shires, appointed by the king. Some ealdormanries may have become hereditary titles.

thegn: [THANE] (Old English) Nobleman. The Anglo-Saxon noble class. Thegns varied in rank depending on how much land they owned and on how closely they were connected to the king by oaths of fealty. For instance, a king’s sworn thegn would be more influential than an earl’s or bishop’s thegn, or another thegn’s thegn. All thegns had various military and administrative responsibilities to fulfill for their lord and lands, including calling up the fyrd in wartimes. Commoners could earn the "thegn-right" and become nobility after acquiring a certain amount of property.

wicing: [WEE-KING] (Old English) Viking. The Old English equivalent to the Old Norse víkingr. The Old Norse expression fara í víking originally meant simply “to go on an expedition.” Since these innocuous-sounding expeditions often ended up involving marauding or pillaging, the term víkingr eventually came to mean a seafaring warrior or pirate. The term refers specifically to those Scandinavians who went on sea-raids, and not to the inhabitants of that region as a whole, despite the fact that the vast majority of Scandinavians encountered by the English were likely to be vikings.

witena ġemōt: [WIH-TEN-AH YEH-MOTE] (Old English) Council. An Anglo-Saxon council of elders, sometimes shortened simply to “Witan.” Essentially an assembly of all the high-ranking nobility and clergy of the realm. It functioned as an advisory body to the king. When the king died, it fell to the Witan to elect or approve a successor from among the viable candidates, although their decisions were rarely impartial.
 
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