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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Stuyvesant

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I started reading this AAR today, made it as far as Leo VI's wedding and formal coronation. Very good stuff, I look forward to catching up on the rest.
 

c0d5579

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I haven't commented up until now, and I apologize for that, since I've been aboard since the first post. I think you've got a good pace for a narrative in CK2. It's very tempting to try to catch every single detail, and that can lead to a great AAR (see GeneralBT's "Rome AARisen" in CK1), but it takes years and years of commitment on the part of both reader and writer. Yours, I think, is much more manageable on that front, and the events you choose to highlight are good choices. Especially in that last update, I really liked the impression that Theodoros was trying to be a good man after years of doing what he had to do early in his reign. Hopefully the trend continues.
 

Stuyvesant

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I've finished reading the other updates. Theodoros's story arc was very interesting, a really conflicted person he was. I like how you took the events throughout his reign and tied it together with his death in battle, divine retribution for his evil deeds. Even when his evil deeds were for the greater good of the Empire. Theodoros's reign was the dramatic highlight of the AAR for me, so far.
 

Revan86

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Still catching up, but I plan to get fully caught up soon. Exquisite writing here!

In the meantime, Lucius Sulla, congratulations!
 

Lucius Sulla

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I'm just back from my summer holidays. Thanks for the very kind comments... when I write I feel sometimes a bit overpretentious in the tone.

Expect updates soon :) If possible this evening, if not tomorrow.
 

Lucius Sulla

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CHAPTER 9: RACING AHEAD (955-969)

July 18th, 955
The Hippodrome, Constantinople

The emperor and the empress made a remarkable good couple, seen from the most espectacular and famed coliseum of the known world. The imperial box was filled up with the members of the court, and many could marvel at the variety of faces seen within. It was a marvel, in a way... a return to the old traditions. Not a single member of the noble families was present. All faithful but low named imperial servants, and those notable were only close and far members of the imperial family. No honour seemed to be awarded without the name of Makedon, no victory or triumph possible unless you were a cousin of the emperor. The most prominent of the imperial cousins, indeed, was none other than Andronikos of Taurica, new despote of the northernmost imperial province, and it was well known that these celebrations would hold the announcement that he would be tasked with the conquest of the nordern lands of Azov, to fully secure all ports to the Black Sea.

Much less prominent was Helios, doux of Edessa, but still he could claim to be a member of the family, by being a descendant of Marinos, the younger brother of Basil. Of course, he was well aware that probably that meant he was very much not blood family with the emperor, as it was widely rumoured that the grandfather of the emperor was very much not the son of Basil. But the emperor, his cousin no matter what it was rumoured, was just happy to give him the very important possition of being the chief of the Magistros of the empire. It was already two generations since his own grandfather was awarded the then dangerous frontier of Edessa, but those times were past, and his own branch of the family had quite prospered under the new empire. His lands were rough, but the herds of goats were well kept and abundant, and the hair of the goats was sturdy to have started a very promising clothing industry. Specially for the military, the tents and cloaks made with goat hair regarded as some of the best in the world. And he could see his... also very far cousin, and certainly cousin in this case, Andronikos, would need that very much if he was going to drive out the Cumans from the remaining shores. If anything his line was even less connected to the emperor than his, being descendant of the second marriage of Bardas, the father of Basil.

All in the parade, Helios observed, was meant to show up the imperial prominence. Maybe his father David could have supposed a menace to the empire, with his ambition and his dare, but it was clear that Andronikos was a peaceful creature of the emperor. Not that he made it on porpouse, of course. Emperor Michael, the fifth of his name, had a simple, gentle way to be loved. His father was a flame... oh, how he burnt everything he touched. But he was gentle embers. It said something that the imperial line had so much luck with their spouses. And behind him... it also said something about the fact that the three closest councilors to the thrones were of foreign origin. In a way it was wise... all three linked to the imperial authority inexcapably. The Sekallarios, the one closest to the Emperor in these days, was a moor from the depths of the desert, bought as a slave years ago from a Caravan coming from the south of the Nile and risen through the ranks of the imperial bureaucracy out of sheer talent. And he was big. And black. Quite the traits for a possition that used to be filled by mousy bureaucrats.

If there was somebody more intimidating than the huge black man armed with ink and paper, it was exactly the two other figures that were with him, in the rear seats of the imperial box. The Captain of the Varangian guard had always figured prominently in the close council of the emperor, specially in campaign, but it was nearly without precedent that he would be honoured as actual Strategos of the Thagmate theme... which was to say the actual chief under the emperor of the imperial armies. The damned varangians had gone bolder since the former emperor had accepted them implicitly as noble when he married no less than his older daughter, born in the purple, to one off them. And granted them the citadel and the lands of Antioch, at that. He was just as big as the black Sekallarios, Isaak... which was a version of his original name of Ishaq before he converted to Christianity. Quite a couple, the Varangian not even converted to the True Faith. Although it was true that more and more of the Northmen did embrace the teachings of Christ. Just as honestly as Isaak, he was sure. They seemed to laugh merrily and the descended with Andronikos to participate in the next race.

But the last man and the least unassuming one was by far the most dangerous. A small, chubby man, that seemed to always have a smile that never showed in the eyes, the eunuch Nicephoros was the personal secretary of the Basileus. The bad angel of the emperor, he was called... and one could see how the emperor could be so good natured when he had such a spider to do the dirty work of the empire for him. Not that he would ever turn into a Sejanus... no, not this one. He had been personal assistant to the Basilissa since youth, and it was noted that he had a fanatical devotion to her, and by extension, to her loving husband. God knows what would happen if they would ever drew apart.

It was not strange that the racing teams of chariots had gained so much prominence, fame and popularity, naerly unheard of since the times of Justinian and Belisarius. Emperor Michael was a true fanatic of the races, and he was a declared fan of the Blue team. In other circunstances, that would have meant exactly the opposite, as other emperors with similar tastes would have ensured their team would win no matter what. But graciously, the empress had deigned to sponsor the Green team, in a gesture that made sure that competition would be fair. The next race, though, would be won by the red team, he was sure of that. If anything for the fact that Andronikos of Taurica would be leading the chariot of the otherwise unremarkable team. Funnily enough the black Isaac would be leading the white team... and while the emperor's own blue team would be led by Captain Sigurdr, the personal champion of the empress Spyridon of the green team would be completing the competition.

All eyes were looking up expectant to the imperial box and with a smile, the emperor raised his two arms, silencing the whole crowd... and then made them cheer signaling the start of the race lowering them both with decision. If anything he was envious that he would not be down there leading the blue team himself. But the empress had insisted. After all...

"... this is the day of your Cousin Andronikos, don't look too sour, my dear." said the Basilissa with a gentle chuckle, hugging the arm of the emperor.

The emperor sighed "I know dear..." he turned to the eunuch and said "Have you placed your bets, Nicephoros? I could hardly imagine a more matched competition... both Sigurdr and Isaac are very strong, but our cousin has certainly more finesse" He reached forward, cheering as it seemed that indeed Sigurdr had a slight lead after the first lap. The eunuch just sighed and said "I agree that your famed cousin the Despot has great qualities, Sire." Helios smirked... nobody would be on this race. Everybody knew that Andronikos would win. Indeed, the man was already overtaking the rest, the red adorned chariot taking the lead arriving to the second lap. Even the emperor knew this, no matter his enthusiasm, as he relaxed on his seat and turned to him "What do you think of the situation in Italy? Do you think they will quiet down soon enough?"

He barely kept track of the race, uninterested as he was in the seeming communal madness that had engulfed the royal court for the sport "Ah... I am not sure, Sire. The western kingdoms seem permanently in turmoil. None is strong enough to reclaim the heritage of the great Charles the Frank, and even bastards and descendants of daughters seem to claim their piece." The emperor sighed "Italy is a long dream for the empire. Our relations with the pope are good, of course, but... one can't help but to think they are very much in the wrong in their teachings. Probably the patriarch of Rome has been corrupted by those barbarian Franks and their influence, surely on fault of his own. Right? I mean... we got rid of the iconoclasts and the monothelists... even when they keep rising up in the Anatolian mountains".

With a quiet and gentle, nearly femenine toned voice, the eunuch just seemed to smile "Ah, there is something about the caves and the mountains that make men become... introspected, bury themselves in their own falsehoods and embrace them. Such is the nature of men that they will believe a wild man from the mountains instead of our patriarchs and their teachings, from their big churches. At least, while the nature of god is so heavily discussed and analized by the theologists and our bishops, the nature of man remains... unfortunately unchanged, unshaken by the most gentle teachings of the true saviour." Still he interrupted his discourse, as the emperor had characteristically ignored his words and had gone to cheer up his champion, now a contested second as the Red chariot advanced before the others unopposed. The man did not take this badly, quite the opposite, chuckling quietly to himself and turning to Helios himself "It seems that our emperor is just concerned today in the true nature of horse, it seemes." Ah, yes, it was a pity that the member of the close council that shared his distate for racing was also the one he most feared and felt more distaste for. "I... could not say. The emperor is surely keen to join in theological debate, usually" The chubby short man chuckled and shrugged "Who isn't in this land and time? I..."

UmBRSl2.png

His words were this time interrupted as a gasp turned into a cry that turned into a wail erupted in several thousand throats. Both men turned with surprise their faces to the race, and they could see what had happened. The red chariot had somehow crashed and it was now just a pile of wood, metal... and flesh. He gasped and looked with horror "Oh God... Andronikos!" He could see how the men hurried to retire the badly wounded Despot of Taurica from the track, while the captain Sigurdr won the race quite unexpectedly. Not that he was celebrating... the imperial family rushed down to see how was the one supposed to be the general of the armies to conquer the final lands of the cumans at the Black Sea. He was... very badly wounded. His survival would be uncertain. Even then... no, that could not be. The emperor was clearly... but he had always wanted to lead himself the troops. No, just a coincidence, for sure.


August 7th, 962
The Hippodrome, Constantinople

"S... s... sure... surely... y... y... you kno... know th... th... that da... da... da! daddy w... w...will win! Y... you c...c... can't be sssssserious, u... uncle!"

Helios waited patiently as the six years old was stuttering worse than ever, with the emotion of watching the race that his father the emperor was leading with the blue team making the crowds go wild. The races were the emperor took part were much gentler than the ones he did not, but were no less fair for this. The personal champion of the empress had quite a friendly rivalry with him, and while not feeling too well when he was defeated, he was generous and kind enough to actually reward the victor. Of course, nobody would dare to initiate the usual rough and tumble that made chariots go flying away in other occasions, with the emperor on the track. The fact that the emperor had shown courage and success in the north, first conquering the last shores of the Black sea and then going to conquer the Transylvania from the heathen Magyars when in his route back he learnt that in the abscene of the Thegmata they had plundered the lands in the imperial side of the Danube, had made him a soldier emperor that only the old Basil the Great would ever surpass in reputation.

Y06g7aB.png

The young man so badly stuttering was none other than Konstantinos, the crown prince, that would be now his ward and apprentice. It was a mistery how the young man had developed such a bad stutter, and the suggestions of the Sekallarios Isaak that he should be slapped until uttering the words well were received with looks of horror from the always too kind and gentle imperial parents. Both him and his little brother Theodoros would be put in his care as apprentices, at least his father recognizing that the art of politics and diplomacy was of more use to an emperor in the making. Quite the hypocritical possition, considering how much he had ignored such studies in his youth.

"Your father is a good charioter, but he is not a real professional. He is better leading a horse to lead the troops than four horses... ah... yes, look at that. Your mother will be happy, his champion has won this time. Again." He wondered for a moment if the emperor would be patient enough with the nearly unprecedented string of victories of the Green Champion, Spyridon. Surely despite the opposition of the emperor the eunuch would have some private words with him. Not that he would tell him. Certainly the closed council seemed to sometimes run the empire rather than the emperor. Not that he opposed much to that considering he was the chief of the Magistros office but even them put him a bit nervous. He could not see the previous emperor consenting to this, but it seemed that as long as the emperor could lead horses and men to victory, or at least casualty-free defeat as in this case, he would be happy.

When the emperor personally put the garland of victory around the green champion, the crowd went crazy as usual. The fact the emperor not only had shown remarkable martial skill and was a capable administrator made up more than widely for his lack of political taste. But the secret is... that both him and the Basilissa cared. Watching the casualties of his northern campaigns, he instituted a pay for the widows and the orphans that had made him notoriously loved through the empire. And the fact that despite his taste for grand competitions and grand campaigns, and certainly grand gestures was expensive, the fact that he and Isaak ran a very tight control of the imperial finances made the riches of the empire reach the imperial purses better than ever. The population of The City was bigger than it had ever been, and some of the old razed cities were resurfacing all over Thrace. Not so much in the provinces, but certainly the peace of great zones of the empire reminded of the long peace of the Antonine era, in the old times.

Not that emperor Michael wanted to hear of peace. As soon as he had come back to the capital, he was pestering him about possible claims on Italy. To no avail, though. There had been no such opening for years, and it was unlikely it would be. Without the chance to reclaim Rome and the lombard kingdom, he turned his eyes to a nearly as much romantic notion. Revenge.

"W... w... will da... da... daddy stay w... with uh... with uh... with us! this time?"

Helios doubted it. The empress seemed to take care of her children, but the emperor was utterly unconcerned about them, mostly to give them sweets and presents and then forget about them. Well... he considered the crowds as his children, and there were plenty of them to tace care of.

"A bit, my prince. He will be busy soon with the preparations for the war in the south"

"Ah... t... t... to avenge g... grandfather... t... t... true?"

He nodded grimly. He was not too happy with the campaign... fighting with such a dangerous enemy for the castles in the desert of Negev... but the emperor had insisted that, first, to try to supposedly lure the Tulunid Sultan, famous for his bravery in battle and that had killed with his personal guard the previous emperor Theodoros in those sandy lands last time. And then because the Negev had been part of the Palestine of old times. Romantic madness in both cases. In his oppinion. And for once, the oppinion of most of the closed council, but for once the emperor will imposed itself. Well, that was unfair. He usually did what he wanted in military matters. He was ok with making more orphans, as long as he later could pay their farms.

"Yes, young Prince. Your grandfather died against the Egyptians and your father is very eager to take a heavy payment for his death" Who would pay such a debt, only God would tell. Three of the four emperors of his dinasty had died in relation of a war in those lands, he would do well in remember that.

October 23th, 966
The Hippodrome, Constantinople

The triumph marched regally into its final destination of the Hippodrome. As Doux Helios of the exalted house of Makedon put his hands on the backs of the two young princes, Konstantinos and Theodoros, they all watched toguether how the emperor Michael, the fifth of his name, had taken the quite pagan capricious red coat all over his face, raising his hands to the crowd. Even the two young princes cheered wildly for his father, even when the man had always neglected them. Their education and his own duties were taking all his time, and he barely remembered his lands of Edessa now. His own heir was married and managing his lands in his abscence, and he wondered how much he could take it. Certainly when the two princes were properly educated he could ask the Emperor for a leave, finally.

At least, he could be happy that his fear for the fate of the emperor, with still young children as heirs, would end badly. The man seemed to be blessed by God, to the point his vanity nearly seemed fully justified. He had led his troops to besiege the castle of Negev, and then rather than go through the arid desert of the Sinai, he had actually used the fleet to do a great assault on no less than the grand city of Alexandria. Thinking to put right what once the Athenians of old did wrong, no doubt, he always had an eye for such flavours.

QwAB4TF.png

The city of Alexandria had been sacked, the riches now featuring in the carraiges that marched behind the victorious emperor. But there was a lacking piece. Like the emperors of old, when his troops had disembarked on Alexandria he was craving to find the Lion Hearted Sultan in battle and personally avenge his father. But alas, that was not to be. The Sultan was south fighting against the Abyssinians, and the man would die gloriously in the south. And meanwhile the young emperor would cry and feel terribly frustrated, busying himself taking the castles of the Delta and issuing challenges to the Sultan through all the land. Oh, how he cried when he learnt that his victory was not complete, and that he was in a land only supplied by his ships. Even victorious, he could not hold Alexandria, and as his reason for the whole war was the Negev, which he was granted readily if he would bloody leave once and for all. But the crowd had his victorious emperor, a good deal of plunder that, even Helios had to admit, was rich and would help the imperial economy a great deal. And a grand show, of course.

LfcPpzo.png

June 12th, 969
The Hippodrome, Constantinople

He was honestly getting tired of this. At least the two boys were turning up quite well, so far. But when he had known that this time the emperor was now even cheating nearly broke the last confidence he had in the character of the emperor and the other members of the council. He felt he was the best of them, but that provided him no comfort as that did not amount to much. He had himself profited greatly from his possition, and the fact that despite all everybody still seemed to apply a base common sense in their depredations, the sense that the well being of the Empire being paramount made all seem to work in a disgraceful but working system.

That was the worst of it, in a way. Things were working, even when it was all fueled by the vain aspirations of a childish emperor. He had been taken to be called 'the Kind' by the people, specially when the very false legend that he defeated the Sultan of Egypt and pardoned his life and set him free for his courage in battle was being extended... god knows by whom. Well, not god exactly, he guessed, looking at the other membes of the council. In exchange of a power that their humble birth would have never granted to them, the pagan Strategos, the eunuch Mystikos and the Libert black Sekallarios would do anything to satisfy the sense of self importance of the emperor. And it worked, their greed and pride keeping each other in check and making sure that all else would work like a clock so their faults could never be found. Surely future generations would look back and see this as a glorious and kind emperor and empire, tempered by wise advisors for the good of the Empire.

Damn, he wondered why the eunuch had told him about the whole cheating deal. He probably knew it riled him up.

He looked down and then blinked as he saw the chariots... crashing suddenly. God, nearly... exploding as one jar of Sea Fire badly sealed. This was unprecedented. He would suspect that the emperor was himself behind this, making the chariots of his rivals sabotaged for a victory over the famed green champion. But the problem was that his own team was having the same trouble! He looked worried at the others as he feared that this was an assassination attempt but... no, they looked as pale as he was.

TgngtTc.png

But as usual, the emperor emerged not only healthy and sound of this debacle... but actually victorious, crossing the line just before the rival champion in an ashtounding feat of skill. Even him found himself clapping and cheering. Sometimes you had to realistic. Due to where is due... he supposed. At least for once. He once had liked the man, of course. And the man, vain as he was, was really a good general and emperor, he supposed. Only when he looked at the wrecks of the chariots something, somehow, was familiar.

But he did not want to think about it.
 
Last edited:

Khryses

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Spectacular AAR, very much enjoy the prose - and the occasional non-CKII graphic you throw in the illustrate the story, and the campaigns!
 

Surt

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Very nicely written and composed.

The stile of this is a little different than the earlier chapters :)