Day of the Doves: The History of the von Danzig Family (Innsbruck, 1187)

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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Revan86

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This after-action report concerns the family von Danzig and their ascent through the ranks of the German nobility. This will be a heavily text-based, narrative AAR; most of the illustrations will be in-game screenies.

All comments are more than welcome!

I am using vanilla CKII 1.08 on Steam. I have modified the first save game by inserting the characters for the dynasty's family tree from Wratislaw to Mathias at the start of the 1187 scenario, and have continued playing without cheats or modifications from there. (And yes, that is a gratuitous Star Trek reference in the title.)

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Part One. By the Grace of the Red-Beard
1187-1203
One. The Ledger
Two. Kasandra of Sachsenberg
Three. A Four-Front War
Four. Every Good Gift and Every Perfect Gift is From Above (and Has a Catch)
Five. Taken on the Rur; Released at Chur
Six. Chur Twice-Fallen
Seven. At Last, Victory
Eight. Swabian Days, Swabian Knights
Nine. Not Always the Best Policy
Ten. Bridges Broken, Made and Mended
Eleven. Rage and the Elder
Twelve. This Is Illumination; We Are Illuminates
Thirteen. We’re Solid
Fourteen. We Are the Riders of the Storm
Fifteen. The Induction
Sixteen. Confession and Absolution
Seventeen. The Babenberg Gambit
Eighteen. Red to Brown

Part Two. The Reluctant Warrior
1203-1226
Nineteen. Of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Twenty. The Twilight of Graf Ferrara
Twenty-One. War Drums Pounding
Twenty-Two. An Imperial Marriage on the Bohemian March
Twenty-Three. Homefront
Twenty-Four. Alchemical Invasion
Twenty-Five. Sibling Rivalry
Twenty-Six. Massoufids and Masquerades
Twenty-Seven. Heating the Irons
Twenty-Eight. A Slight Hitch in the Plan
Twenty-Nine. The Tables Turn
Thirty. Penitent
Thirty-One. The Second Graf Rudolf von Ferrara
Thirty-Two. Fratricidal Intent
Thirty-Three. March on Venezia, Defeat at Treviso

Part Three. The Rising Sons
1226-1256
Thirty-Four. Third of the Name
Thirty-Five. The Taking of Tripoli
Thirty-Six. Betrayal and Falling Rocks
Thirty-Seven. Call of the Reich, Call of the Blood
Thirty-Eight. Auf der Jagd
Thirty-Nine. From the Beginning to the End
Forty. Dawn Breaks Again
Forty-One. Preßburg
Forty-Two. Thrice Erztruchseß
Forty-Three. The Final Years of Mathias I. von Danzig

Zwischenspiel.
Europe in October 1256

Part Four. From the Heights
1256-1270
Forty-Four. Hunting (Without) the Pack
Forty-Five. Given and Taken
Forty-Six. In Love and War
Forty-Seven. Jack of All Trades, Master of...
Forty-Eight. From the Heights
Forty-Nine. Old Habits Die Hard
Fifty. Go and Live… Stay and Die
Fifty-One. The Final Penance
Fifty-Two. A Crown Reforged
Fifty-Three. Strike at the Heart
Fifty-Four. The Neverending Revolt
Fifty-Five. Hear Ye
Fifty-Six. Two Jousts
Fifty-Seven. Flank, Heart and Lungs

Part Five. Dove of Wrath, Eagle of Peace
1270-1290
Fifty-Eight. A Book Too Far
Fifty-Nine. Mightier Than the Sword
Sixty. Mo’ Hungary, Mo’ Rebels
Sixty-One. Institution Christ
Sixty-Two. The Lava Machine
Sixty-Three. Queen of the Reich

~~~​

GERMAN GLOSSARY:
(To be updated as further chapters are written)

Abt - abbot
Abtei - abbey
Albenheim - Elphame; Faerieland
Beinwell - comfrey (plant)
Bitte - please; beg your pardon; you’re welcome
Bruder - brother
Burg - castle
Bürgermeister - burgomaster; mayor
Dame - lady; dame (go figure)
drei Bethen - the 'three maidens', saints venerated throughout Germany thought to be based on the triple goddesses of Celtic myth
Eisenhut - monkshood; wolfsbane
erhaben - august; imperial
Erzbischof - archbishop
Erzengl - archangel
Erztruchseß - steward of the Imperial household
Feldwebel - knight-sergeant
Fischkopf - 'fish-head', a not-too-complimentary epithet used by Austro-Bavarians for northern Germans
Freiherr - baron
Fürst - prince
Fürstbischof - prince-bishop
Gefürstete - princely; of an elector
Graf - earl; count
Gräfin - countess
Grafschaft - shire; county
Großeltern - great-grandchildren
Großer Gott - great God; an exclamation, not to be confused with Grüß Gott
Großmutter - grandmother; diminutive is Oma
Großvater - grandfather; diminutive is Opa
Grüß Gott - God greet you; a greeting in the High German dialects
Heckenritter - hedge-knight
Heiliges Römisches Reich (HRR, das Reich) - Holy Roman Empire
Herr - lord; gentleman; baron
Herrschaftsgebiet - barony; fief
Herzchen - sweetheart (pet name)
Herzog - duke
Herzogtum - duchy
Hildebrandslied - the Lay of Hildebrand, an old poem about a German warrior dude who fights his son; also the truly kick-arse album based on said poem by the blackened folk-metal band Menhir, listen to it sometime, it is seriously epic; ahem... anyway, where was I? Oh, right...
Hofburg - the Imperial palace in Wien, Austria (still there today, albeit much-expanded)
Hoftag - Imperial parliament meeting
Hört! - listen; hear ye
Jawohl - aye, aye; roger
Kaiser - emperor
Kloster - abbey; cloister
Knabe - boy; lad; tyke; ‘braver Knabe’ is pretty much ‘that’s a good boy’
König - king; queen is Königin
Kurfürst - prince-elector
Laß mich in Ruhe - leave me alone
Liebling - darling (pet name)
Majestät - majesty
Marktplatz - plaza
Meister - master (tradesman)
Mitkaiser - co-emperor (historically used only during the Ottonian dynasty when father and son ruled jointly)
Mitkönig - co-king
möge er in Frieden ruhen - (may he) rest in peace
Mutter - mother; diminutive (‘mommy’) is Mutti
Onkel - uncle
Pfennig - literally, ‘penny’; in the post-Karling Reich it was made of silver and was actually fairly valuable
Quargel - nonsense; bullshit (Austro-Bavarian dialect)
Rathaus - town hall
Reichsfrei - Imperially immediate; governed directly by the Kaiser rather than by any of his vassals
(roter) Fingerhut - foxglove
Sankt - saint
Scheißkopf - shithead
Schloß - castle
schlotternd - doddering; tottering
Schwiegervater - father-in-law
Servus - your servant; a greeting in Austro-Bavarian dialect before Grüß Gott became popularised in the nineteenth century, now more commonly used as a parting
Sprengel - aspergilium
Stift - bishopric, especially a landed one
strohdumm - imbecile; idiotic
Tante - aunt
(schwarze) Tollkirsche - deadly nightshade
Trottel - idiot
tugendhaft - moral; virtuous
Turnier - tournament; joust
Urgroßmutter - great-grandmother
Urgroßvater - great-grandfather
Vater - father (either in a literal or religious sense); diminutive (‘daddy’) is Vatti
was gibt mit dir? - what’s the matter with you?
Weib - wench
weise - wise
Weltschmerz - depressive dissatisfaction with the state of the world
Wie der Vater, so die Tochter - like father, like daughter
Willebrief - Imperial letter of assent (in-game, to things like Increased Crown Authority)

(Author’s note: the prayer at the end of Chapter Three is the first few lines of the Lord’s Prayer in the Bavarian dialect of Old High German - however, I do not have the knowledge of OHG to be able to use it everywhere here!)


... and so, without further ado, the first instalment:
 
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Revan86

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DAY OF THE DOVES
A HISTORY OF THE ILLUSTRIOUS
von DANZIG FAMILY
OF INNSBRUCK, TIROL


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A Crusader Kings II After Action Report
County of Innsbruck, 1 January 1187
Revan86



Part One. By the Grace of the Red-Beard

One. The Ledger

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The illustrious history of the von Danzig family of Innsbruck, Austria begins not in the snowy Alpine heights, but on the coast of the Baltic Sea, at Budzistowo, where Siemomysł z Pomorski, Duke of the Pomeranians, held court. His closest advisor, outside his own family, was a man named Wratislaw, who hailed from the town of Danzig to the east, which the Pomeranians called Gduńsk. This Wratislaw was blessed with cunning, a keen sense of self-preservation and the conviction – insofar as he was the sort of man to harbour convictions at all – that the ends justify the means. Shrouded in secrecy, Wratislaw was to a great extent responsible for the support that Siemomysł enjoyed, however briefly, from the German Kaiser Heinrich III – managing to manipulate the way both the Kaiser and the hosts of the Pomeranians saw his liege, whether as a Catholic or as a follower of the Romuva ways. Wratislaw was, for the most part, content to stay well behind the scenes – and did, until the cold and the chronic grip to which he was prone took his life.

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His son Emil, on the other hand, was not so easily contained. Finding Pomerania too small and too confined for his ambitions, Emil journeyed south to seek employment at greater courts. He did not find a warm welcome, however – for whatever reason, perhaps out of loyalty to his father’s memory, Emil never saw fit to renounce his heathen beliefs. He found service in the court of the Kaiser, and gained some small holdings in the
Grafschaft of Innsbruck in spite of his heathenism, but never attained any great position. His daughter, Richwara, born in Innsbruck, did not manage to attain to any high position, either, though she did marry Franz Dietrich, a serviceable and virtuous yeoman whose estates bordered their own, and converted to his religion. Her children, Karlotte and Rudolf, retained her name and considered themselves part of her lineage, if only on account of the distant memory of Wratislaw and the hope – enshrined in their ancestor’s name – that one day the glory of their house would return.

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Rudolf, a notably bookish sort immersed in the study of theology, married late in life, to the Hessian Adalheidis, with whom he had two children: Mathias and Klara. It is with the son, Mathias, that the fortunes of the House von Danzig began to change for the better, beginning with the visit of the Kaiser Friedrich I to his holdings in Tirol for the Christmas Feast…


The room was silent except for the occasional crackle of the brazier, the sole source of light and heat in this miniature universe, the scratching of a quill upon a sheet of paper, and the occasional sniffle from its bearer as he fought off the frigid air. Outside the sky was the deepest and clearest of ultramarines, the sun already having departed long since behind the snowy peaks. The young quill-bearer paused, sniffed again and ran a hand through his long, untidy sheaf of bruin hair. Mathias stood and turned toward the brazier, rubbing his hands together and exhaling a pale, frigid cloud of his relief as the feeling returned to his fingers with the heat. At long last, the accounts were in order, and Mathias was at ease. But tonight he would not be returning to his bed. Tonight, the coldest and darkest night of the year, after months of preparation in Innsbruck, the Red-beard himself would be arriving.

Mathias had heard many tales of Friedrich Red-beard, Kaiser of the Heiliges Römisches Reich and King of Germany, Italy and Burgundy, who had subdued Italy and who had quelled the ambitions of Heinrich the Saxon. He had heard of his strong and mighty stature, and of his sharp gaze which could cause even the most rebellious and murderous of hearts to falter and quail. Mathias had formed in his mind a vivid picture of the man, to which even now he was wondering how the reality which inspired it would compare. Father had promised him that he would get a chance to meet him personally. Not that Mathias was in any particular rush. He made his way downstairs to the manor’s main hall, where his parents and his younger sister Klara were making ready to go to the castle. The groomsmen had already prepared their mounts; it did not take them long at all to set off.

Mathias’ father Rudolf von Danzig led the party, his large and powerful frame draped with a great black cloak, his round red face shielded from the cold by a heavy scarf; there followed Mathias’ mother Adalheidis, slender and slight, but tougher than old boots for all that, coming not from nobility but from solid Hessian Frankish stock all the same – she weathered these Alpine winters better indeed than many who grew up with them! Her son and daughter followed – dark-haired and blue-eyed fourteen-year-old Klara, and Mathias himself, who found himself sitting awkwardly astride his own mount, which seemed to grudge him his weight. He found he still had trouble keeping up with his own body as it grew ever taller. Rides like this did not come often enough for him to ever get used to them.

Thankfully, the fort at Freundsberg which now housed the Emperor was easier to reach than the town of Innsbruck; so rider and horse both soon enough found respite. As the four of them entered, Mathias tried and failed to keep himself from being awestruck by the great golden banners emblazoned with the triple sable lions which symbolised the majesty, God’s will embodied and enthroned, now resting within these walls. As they entered the castle, they were immediately attended to, and invited to sit at the high table. Mathias and his family were hustled into the great hall, where the feast was already well underway, with the scents of roast meat and fowl, fresh bread and good wine hanging tantalisingly in the air. Rudolf von Danzig took his place and immediately struck up a conversation with Alberto di Morra of Lombardy, with whom he had had a number of theological debates in the past, and with whom he was eager to continue his discussions.

Mathias’ gaze was drawn immediately to the high seat, where a big man with a greying red-blonde beard was seated, laughing amiably as downed a great mug of white wine. Even seated and at ease like this, he still towered over everyone and everything else in the room, it seemed. The Friedrich Red-beard he had constructed in his mind, though a powerful figure of youth and vigour, paled and shrank before the man in the flesh: in addition to all of the statuesque qualities the tales of his exploits had endowed him with, he also had a choleric colour, a liveliness and a dynamism that imagination and stories alone could not truly touch. About him were both his loyal Hohenstaufen retinue, easily recognisable in their golden-and-sable colours, as well as several potentates from several Reichsfrei cities of Northern Italy, who, while trying to look cheerful, still nonetheless looked ill-at-ease and fearful around the Red-beard. Perhaps with good reason – four invasions later, they had learned the meaning of fear!

‘Hey,’ said a young man at Mathias’ side, ‘have you seen Adela anywhere?’

‘Sorry, who?’ asked Mathias back.

He stood looking at a thin, wiry man – actually just barely a man; he couldn’t have been a day over ten years Mathias’ elder, and probably more like six or seven – with an impudent look in his eye. He was clad in a scarlet tunic with gold trim – a nobleman, then – and the arms of the Otakeren house on him. He held a mug of wine in his hand, which he had apparently only sipped at.

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‘Adela of Graz; I brought her here with me from Eppenstein… ahh, well, the bit of skirt can’t have gone too far. Long as she’s not challenging anyone to fights to the death, she’ll be fine. Say, I don’t think we’ve met. What is your name?’

‘I’m Mathias von Danzig, son of Rudolf von Danzig of Innsbruck.’

Servus,’ said the young man, with a flippant salute. ‘I’m Otakar IV, newly-minted Herzog von Steiermark by the vast grace and beneficence of His August Majesty Friedrich Red-beard. So, you’re a Wend?’

‘My grandmother did hail from Pommern,’ Mathias returned, a little cautiously.

‘Ah, you mustn’t mistake me,’ said Otakar smoothly. ‘This parochial snobbishness some among my countrymen seem to have about Easterners goes entirely too far, if you ask me. Some of the best people I know are Slavs and Wends. One of my court, Kasandra of Sachsenfeld – she’s one of the hill-Slavs, and believe me, she could talk a sow bear out of her cubs, if one could ever pry her away from her meat and drink and—’

A sudden loud slam shook the hall, prompting both Otakar and Mathias to start, glancing toward the high table. Friedrich Red-beard’s fist was on the table, its knuckles white. His beard quivered, and his choleric face was as red as his name. Beside him was a tow-headed young nobleman clad in an austere brown robe, engaging him, sotto voce, in a nonetheless agitated conversation. Not that it did much good now, as most eyes in the hall were fixed straight on the two of them. Suddenly Friedrich sent his sharp, piercing gaze around the room, until it settled straight on Mathias, who shrank back in spite of himself. His fist lifted itself off the table, and the Imperial finger pointed straight at him. All heads in the now dead-silent hall turned toward Mathias, wondering what offence the youth had committed against his August Majesty. The tow-headed man was now scrutinising him closely as well, and nodded gravely. Friedrich Red-beard made a violent gesture unmistakable in its import – bring him before me.

Otakar turned to Mathias, giving a worried jerk of his head, and Mathias, too dumbstruck to even think to disobey, followed Otakar out of the hall around to the rear of the castle courtyard.

‘What… what did I do?’

‘Beats me if I know,’ Otakar replied. ‘But you don’t gainsay the Red-beard.’

The two of them waited at the rear of the courtyard, now colder than Mathias had ever felt it for the cold dread which permeated him from his heart. The Kaiser himself was striding across the courtyard now, and Mathias stood quivering before him, not daring to speak.

‘This is the son of Rudolf von Danzig?’ asked the Red-beard to the tow-headed man following him.

‘Yes, your Grace,’ he affirmed.

‘Very well. A pity my steward is not here… this boy will have to do, though if the rumours I heard from him were true, he may not be needed.’

Mathias’ mind tried to keep up. Rumours? What rumours? About me? What in hell is going on?

‘It is a pity that this matter of business presses upon me upon this Eve of the commemoration of Our Lord’s birth,’ Friedrich said, ‘but I’m afraid it cannot wait. You, Knabe!’

‘Yes, your Majesty?’ Mathias responded, after Otakar prompted him with a well-disguised elbow to the ribs. His voice cracked. Why the hell now of all times?

‘In these parts you have, in spite of your green years, a reputation for cleverness and even-handedness, and that you are schooled in matters of governance. This reputation, is it well earned? Speak freely!’

‘I… have some small learning in such matters, your Majesty.’

‘It happens that I need such a clever person, and one who can be trusted to keep quiet. A messenger arrived from Leiningen to tell me that I have several very large discrepancies between my budget and my records. Large enough, in fact, that this very feast should not even be held at my expense. I trust I needn’t tell you why I do not want this news widely known, especially here?’

‘The Italian mayors dining here might sense weakness… erm, I suppose, your Majesty?’

At that, Friedrich Red-beard let out a mighty laugh. ‘Very well-reasoned, Knabe. Perhaps you do live up to your reputation after all!’

Friedrich Red-beard stretched out a hand to the messenger at his side, who handed him a bound ledger and several loose sheets of vellum.

‘It would be well if you could discover for me, if you could, when, and if possible, how my monies were so badly misplaced. I have here my official ledger, and the revised figures sent me by my steward. Look them over, and give me your best guess. If you can do this to my satisfaction, you will be well-rewarded.’

~~~​

That had not been how Mathias von Danzig had imagined his first meeting with Friedrich Red-beard would proceed. Still, he took the ledger and the messages from his August Majesty’s hands and agreed to look them over, which he was now again doing feverishly by the light of his brazier in his parents’ quarters at Burg Freundsberg. Upon careful, logical inspection, it turned out that the Imperial Steward had not been mistaken: several large sums had gone missing from the Imperial treasury, over a period of several years going all the way back to the Year of Our Lord 1178, when Friedrich Red-beard had been crowned the King of Burgundy. It had to have been done by someone working very closely in his employ for a long time. The numbers were so large, it seemed inconceivable to Mathias that it was simple greed at work, rather than a more focussed malice, but he had little experience in these matters.

He did not answer even his father when he was asked what the Kaiser had wanted with him, and took care to conceal everything related to the matter of Friedrich’s insolvency from his parents and from Klara. His parents, being used to his taciturn and soft-spoken nature, did not press him on the subject, and he had his own ways of deterring Klara’s thumbscrews. Mathias took special care to double- and triple-check his work – it would not do to displease Friedrich Red-beard. Mathias valued the Kaiser’s good opinion, and also spared the occasional thought for his life and limb, as most young men do. On Christmas Eve, he delivered his results in person to the Kaiser’s quarters, whose guards had given him leave to enter.

The Kaiser took the message from him and read it over personally. When he had done, he nodded grimly and scribbled down his own message on the reverse of the vellum Mathias had prepared, giving it to his tow-headed messenger.

‘Take that back to Leiningen, deliver it straight to Heinrich,’ the Kaiser instructed. ‘Be quick about it.’

The messenger bowed deeply, and took his leave.

Knabe, you have done me a great service today, and have shown me great loyalty. I dared not think it possible… At any rate, let it not be said that Friedrich Red-beard does not honour his promises. I had promised to reward you, and it seems fitting that, in saving my position and prestige in this Grafschaft, and possibly throughout the German lands, that I should give you this Grafschaft in recompense.’

Mathias, unsure if he had heard correctly, repeated: ‘Give me this… Grafschaft?’

The Kaiser nodded gravely. ‘Kneel.’

Mathias knelt, dazed, as Friedrich Red-beard withdrew his sword, holding it over Mathias’ head.

‘Do you swear before Almighty God to obey me as your sovereign lord in all things, and devote yourself to my service with all that you hold, and to uphold the laws of the Reich as a lord of that realm?’

‘I swear.’

The Kaiser touched first one shoulder, and then the other, with the flat of his blade.

‘Rise, Mathias von Danzig, Graf von Innsbruck. You are hereby given lordship over castle and town, and also over the town of Kufstein and the bishopric of Stams. May you continue to serve me as well as you have already done.’

It was the most bizarre Christmas that Mathias, now Graf von Innsbruck, had ever passed in his sixteen years of life. As the son of a noble house in decline, decidedly foreign and decidedly poor, most in these parts regarded him as little better than a franklin – worthy of respect, surely, but never of the awe that came with high birth and high office. Now, though, as word of the Kaiser’s new appointment became known, he was greeted with deference and salutes with every turn he took in the castle. Even more bizarre were the reactions from his family – his father, though upset that he had kept the matter so secret even from him, was clearly proud for him, as were his mother and sister. Yet they kept him at more of a distance now, as though he was suddenly transmuted into some different stuff than their son and brother had been made of.

He sought out Otakar, who had been the recipient of similar largesse – though Otakar had started out a Graf and had been elevated to the position of Herzog for a similar good turn. Otakar nodded, commiserated, and laughed when Mathias told him of all that had transpired.

‘No, you’re not going mad,’ Otakar had assured him. ‘And there are a number of great responsibilities, true. But you seem a fair-minded sort of fellow; you won’t fare too badly.’

‘I pray God you’re right about that,’ Mathias said.

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Many thanks, Dovahkiing! Glad to have you onboard!

Chapter Two ought to be up shortly...
 

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Two. Kasandra of Sachsenfeld

As the Christmas feast went on, Mathias and Herzog Otakar IV spent much more time together. They made an unlikely pair, the two of them: Otakar, slight of build but ever-talkative and animated, and Mathias, the big, stout, earnest youth who rarely opened his mouth. Mathias had only the vaguest and most intellectual idea of how to run a county, and without Otakar’s guidance might have made the mistake of assuming that only his skills in governance were needed. The local lords of Innsbruck made themselves useful, of course: Erich von Jenbach, an incredibly dutiful but somewhat stuffy middle-aged fellow, was in charge of advising him as chancellor; Phillip von Innsbruck, a man even more timid than himself, but incredibly good at ferreting out secrets; Poppo von Fügen, a bearded bloke with a perpetually sour face, aided him at the books; and of course his vassals Bürgermeister Ruprecht of Kufstein and Bischof Vater Siegfried of Stams assisted him in all matters military and spiritual, respectively. But one element was missing – the Graf was still withdrawn and mild-mannered to a fault.

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‘A Graf has to make an impression,’ Otakar told him. ‘You are a leader of men in war and at peace; a great part of leadership is persuasion and performance. The squires of Innsbruck and Kufstein and Stams will not follow a mere clark into battle, but they will follow a man like our Kaiser to the gates of Hell itself.’

‘Easier said than done,’ Mathias muttered glumly.

‘And easier done than you might suspect,’ Otakar returned. ‘I happen to know an expert on the topic of the faculty for persuasion – Kasandra of Sachsenfeld. She might be of some use to you, if you will consent to meet her.’

Mathias was sceptical, and not the sort of person at all to easily make new acquaintances, particularly of the fairer sex, but Otakar managed to wheedle him into it somehow or other. As it turned out, Otakar had brought most of his retinue along with him: Ludolf von Cilli and Erich von Graz, two tough and lean-faced men who enjoyed hunting above all else; the von Radkersburg brothers Emelrich and Eberhard; and of course Adela of Graz, the young girl Otakar had been chasing when he and Mathias had met. Aside from all of these was a plump woman of twenty-some years clad in a wine-red skirt and a white blouse, with a white headscarf bound about her sheaf of long, slightly curled honey-blonde hair. Her liquid amber eyes fixed curiously upon Mathias, who knew instantly that she recognised him for Innsbruck’s new Graf, whose sudden ascent to his office had been the talk of the feasters at the castle these past days.

‘Mathias, this is Kasandra of Sachsenfeld. A woman of finer talents and broader learning in the arts of noble protocols is not to be found this side of the Alps, I can assure you.’

Kasandra courtesied to the new Graf, smiling broadly. ‘Servus, Graf Innsbruck. It is a very great pleasure to make your acquaintance at last! Though I fear,’ she added, ‘that his Grace mein Herzog has rather exaggerated my talents in detailing them to you.’

Servus, Kasandra,’ Mathias replied, charmed for a moment out of his proper wits. ‘Erm… I wouldn’t say—well, what I mean is, I don’t—don’t find it exaggeration at all.’

Otakar gave Mathias a roll of his eyes and a tolerant, almost patronising smile, before turning to Kasandra with a droll grin. ‘There, you see what you’ve done now? You’ve gone and frightened our newest Graf! And don’t tell me you didn’t enjoy it!’

‘Oh, don’t start with me,’ Kasandra returned. ‘You know as well as I that the elder von Radkersburg is the man to see when it comes to tutoring this poor boy in diplomatic skills. I haven’t Eberhard’s table manners, you know that; and my appetites are too great to be apposite to a noble lady! You want me to wed this boy, not tutor him. So eager to be rid of me, are you?’

Mathias rankled at first – ‘poor boy’, am I? – but soon found himself too stunned to be offended when Kasandra suggested so bluntly that their marriage was the Herzog’s intention. Further, she didn’t seem in the least bit bothered by such a conclusion!

‘Kasandra, you wound me!’ Otakar replied. ‘Though it did cross my mind that a young Graf does indeed need a wife, as much as he needs to put on a strong front for the benefit of his men-at-arms and a proper face for the Reich and for the world at large. And here in the heart of the Alps, as a Gräfin you could have all the white wine your heart could desire, and the company of a lively young Knabe besides… don’t tell me you weren’t eyeing him just now the way you eye some of the younger men back home!’

The young Graf felt his face flush hot at Otakar’s frankness with this woman, and still more deeply as he felt her eyes travel up and down him, lingering on his lips and his hands.

‘And, atop that, his grandmother was Pomeranian. What better match for you than a fellow Wend?’

‘Hm… a Northerner like him wouldn’t speak my Styrian tongue, though,’ Kasandra considered, though the slight upward curl of her wide lips suggested that she felt the same way as her lord did about the match. Otakar turned his head to Mathias, and Kasandra and he both awaited his response. He felt a twinge of irritation – had circumstances been different, he would have given ample time and thought to the question of his marriage, or left it to his parents to decide for him, but this Grafschaft so suddenly thrust upon him had thrown him completely off that path. And in his brief acquaintance with Otakar, he had learned to trust him implicitly.

‘Kasandra of Sachsenfeld,’ Mathias spoke at last, mustering up the courage to take the woman’s hand in his own, ‘would you do me the honour of becoming my Gräfin?’

Kasandra grinned broadly. ‘The honour would be mine, if mein Herzog would consent.’

‘And that I do gladly, since it was my own idea to start with!’ Otakar said gaily, rubbing his hands together in satisfaction at this business well-concluded.

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Kasandra stood solidly. ‘I could use another mug of wine, not to mention a deer leg. We ought to celebrate our engagement! Shall we get back to the feast?’

Otakar laughed. ‘You two get on; I have some business with Ludolf and Erich.’

As soon as the two of them got out of earshot of Otakar, Kasandra told Mathias in a low voice, ‘Actually, we’ve been talking about the possibility ever since you became the Graf. Otakar likes you; he has a high respect for men who play fair. It may be immodest of me to say so, but he felt that you could use someone like me at your side.’

Amazing how those eyes, peering intently up at him from above her long, slightly aquiline nose, could so captivate his own. Yes, this was a woman well-aware of her own advantages – in spite of her rather unfashionable figure, she knew precisely how to make it appear in the best possible light, and seemingly without any effort or pretension.

‘And you?’ Mathias asked at long last. ‘Why did you agree to it?’

‘What, other than the title of Gräfin of the linchpin of the Brennerpass trade route, and all the comforts that affords? Reason enough for me! I’m telling you now, mein lieber Graf, you may expect my services to come dear. I fully plan to be drinking up a hefty portion of Innsbruck’s tax income; no reason to pretend otherwise!’

Well, at least she’s open about it, Mathias thought glumly.

‘Besides,’ she said, ‘if I had my pick of all the nobles in the Reich, there are far worse to be had than you. Otakar likes you, and I respect Otakar. I think that’s as good a place as any to start, in a marriage.’

They entered the great hall and sat – Mathias at the host’s seat near Friedrich Red-beard’s seat of honour, and Kasandra, at his request, right beside him. He soon discovered that neither Kasandra nor her liege had been exaggerating her appetites. Beholding Kasandra eat and drink was indeed a spectacle to wonder at, reflected Mathias as he watched her somehow tear through three times what he had eaten that sitting, in half as much time. Not even her trencher was left when she had done! Mathias admitted fully to himself being self-conscious seated next to her, though she was so adept in engaging her tablemates in conversation that they rarely had time to take note of how entire limbs of the great grilled game placed in front of her tended to disappear, or how often her vessel was filled, or how quickly it was emptied.

As with the news of his appointment, the news of his engagement spread as quickly and as suddenly as it had happened. It got to the point that a number of the feasters hinted to him that they would be deeply offended if they were not invited to a wedding at the end of it. By the time Herzog Otakar IV returned from his ‘business’ (which, as Kasandra had confided to him, was his way of referring to a sojourn either of hunting or wenching), the date of their wedding mass had been publicly proclaimed, and all feasters invited to attend.

‘This is all happening so suddenly,’ Mathias said to his sister Klara later that day. ‘In spite of everyone’s efforts to help me, I feel more out of my depth now than ever!’

‘Ah, the Graf my brother,’ Klara laughed. ‘You needn’t fear for that. You know, Mutti and Vatti and I all care deeply about you – we wouldn’t leave you stranded. As to running a Grafschaft, I think you’ve chosen as well as you might. You know how to handle the bookkeeping, and that Kasandra seems to know how to handle the high society set.’

Much as talking with his younger sister – almost like a brother, really – helped to ease his mind, it was still in a distracted and lost mood that he went to his bedchamber in the castle. He sat down heavily and let out a deep sigh, pondering the past fortnight’s events the way a pebble might ponder Glockner Peak. The nuptials that were to take place in another week still seemed so surreal. As he slid under his bedsheets, however, he found to his surprise that he was sharing them with another human creature. The feel of pliant, smooth flesh, and ample excess of it, upon his own caused a pain of boyish yearning that desired to be pulled in ever closer, to burrow into the intoxicating warmth. In the moonlight, he caught a glimpse of long, slightly curled strands of light-coloured hair.

Mein Graf,’ Kasandra murmured in the dark, the scent of wine rising heavily from her lips, ‘I couldn’t wait. I would tell you I’m sorry, that I ought to exercise the maidenly virtue of patience… but that would be a vile hypocrisy. I don’t think you’ll be sorry, either.’

Mathias, too stunned to protest, could feel his powers of reason ebbing away from their proper seat, down through the pit of his stomach to his unpractised groin. For her part, Kasandra wasted no more breath speaking to his face, but rather brought her formidable tongue and considerable powers of persuasion directly to bear upon those organs where his reason had come to rest, coaxing them, flattering them, taunting them. In some still-cogent corner of his mind whispering through the hot haze that had enveloped him, he noted with wonder that food and drink were far from her only hungers. But this thought was abandoned as, in a voice that would brook no refusal, those bits of him which were being so greedily devoured called upon his head and heart to follow into blissful oblivion.

~~~​

It would be another week before he and Kasandra of Sachsenberg were bound together and blessed in the sight of God, by Father Siegfried, the Bishop of Stams (and now sworn vassal to Graf Innsbruck). As they exchanged their vows, Mathias reflected that perhaps these merely sealed those worldly oaths of the flesh he and Kasandra made to each other that night. Mathias had already shriven himself of those oaths to that same Father Siegfried, and would do a penance for them perhaps a little lighter than he ought. (The good bishop might preach fire and brimstone from the pulpit, and he might have a devil of a temper to match, but once it cooled, all his second thoughts, words and deeds unfailingly erred on the side of mercy, forgiveness and compassion.)

He found himself liking his bride, and of course his sixteen-year-old body welcomed the comforts of hers without reserve, but he couldn’t help but feel she was a little too much for him to handle. Somehow, secure as might be on his mountaintop, Graf with his Gräfin, he felt as though he stood in danger of being buried under an Alpine avalanche.

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I know that these two chapters have been pretty lengthy, character-developmenty and expository. But, I promise that the next chapter will be quite a bit brisker in pace!
 

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Three. A Four-Front War

The Christmas feast ended, and the Year of Our Lord 1187 passed without great event. Friedrich Red-beard revised the laws of the realm, giving his vassals greater rights and privileges within their own demesnes, a decision which the new Graf approved with some reluctance. Gräfin Kasandra, however, was a massive help-meet to him. Otakar IV Herzog von Steiermark had been one of the only people in Friedrich Red-beard’s retinue to regard him with anything more than contempt (half-heathen Wendish upstart that he was), but Kasandra managed to entertain his guests at Burg Freundsberg so properly that they left feeling him a proper lord. And most nights, Kasandra managed to relieve all his other worries effectively through her other virtues. True, she did, as she promised, manage to drink up near half his coffers, but Mathias knew it to be a fair price indeed.

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Spring passed, and then summer, and then autumn. By the time the Christmas feast of 1187 had concluded and 1188 had rolled in, Kasandra’s belly began showing in a way that could not be attributed to her eating habits alone. Rudolf, Adalheidis and Klara offered all their congratulations and joy to them both, as well as the kindly Father Siegfried and Bürgermeister Ruprecht of Kufstein; Kasandra also was quite pleased.

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The joy was very short-lived, however, as the summons had come from Leiningen that sent Graf Mathias von Danzig and all his men-at-arms into the war. Kaiser Friedrich was fighting the Danes over Mecklemburg, as well as fending off yet another attempt by the Italian cities to throw off his rule: Lord Mayor Sebastiano of Lucca was leading that conflict, aided by the traitorous Duca of Lombardia, the Herzog of Niederlothringen, the Prince-Bishop of Ravenna, the Graf of Genf, and his fellow Lords Mayor of Ferrara, Firenze, Urbino and Saluzzo. Fighting was happening all around them: in the northeast of the Reich, in the northwest of the Reich, in the southwest of the Reich, and directly to the south of them over the Brennerpass. The messenger told him that, rather than being sent into the south, or to his ancestral home of Pommern, he was being sent to fight in Niederlothringen.

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Mathias von Danzig hastily assembled his men-at-arms and rode north, through Mittenwald, northeast through Bavaria and Franconia and down into the lowlands. He watched the roads around him as the scenery changed from mountain to forested hills, from hills to plains. And in the plains he saw the terrible ruin of war. Crows circled over great pitched battlefields, and old smoke plumes still wafted weakly up into the air from week-old burns, with the smells of smoke and blood and putrefaction still hanging heavy in the air. By the time Mathias arrived in Gelre, however, those smells grew fresher and more pungent – soon, he found himself part of an army thirty thousand strong, with the white-and-black banners of the Hohenzollern family flying high above them, besieging the castle at Nijmegen. The army was in high colour, having met with victory after victory, their sheer numbers overpowering what little resistance they met. It was common to hear amongst them that these Lowlander rats know only how to hide in their holes, but worry not – we shall flush them all out!

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Nijmegen fell with ease. As did Deventer, the castle of Zutphen, and the town of Kampen. Soon, Gelre was completely pacified, and the Dog-Duke Godfried Reginar’s forces completely routed from thence. Spring was turning to summer, and the army of Baron Burchard von Hohenzollern turned its sights on Köln and Trier. Köln fell by July, and the town of Dietz by August.

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The castle of Berg, in the Eifel (called ‘mountains’ by the natives, but to Mathias they barely ranked as hills) was now under siege, with the armies of Burchard von Hohenzollern taking refuge in the forests around the River Ahr. Mathias’ retinues, though blackened and bloodied by their share of battle, were placed very close to the rear of the siege, so Mathias very early noticed the messenger bearing the flag of Innsbruck approaching the southern riverbank. He rode out to meet the man, who greeted him:

Servus, mein Graf! How goes the siege?’

‘I’m not in a position to say,’ Mathias answered him. ‘We have been coordinating the army’s supplies, but we are well-managed. Berg should fall within two months… unless Freiherr Burchard orders us to storm the place, like in Köln. Dear God, what a messy, bloody debacle that was. But at least we took the place. You bring news?’

‘Yes, milord, from your lady wife. It’s about your son.’

‘My… my son!’ Mathias exclaimed. In his breast there arose an elation such as he had never yet known. A new life! A new life of God’s making by him and through his Kasandra of Sachsenfeld! Strangely, the destruction and death, and the machinery and steel which brought it about, all around him suddenly made this one fact – that back in that peaceful mountain sanctuary, in Innsbruck, he had been in some small way responsible for the creation of a life – all the more poignant and meaningful. ‘Tell me of him,’ Mathias said, choking suddenly. Not on smoke or on the smell of burning or rotting flesh – no, these tears were happy ones.

The messenger grinned. ‘I’ve seen him myself. He has your green eyes and your nose, milord. But his cheeks he seems to have got from his mother. He also got your name, milord – that was your lady wife’s idea. He was christened Mathias.’

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Mathias smiled, gazing off toward the southeast from whence the messenger had come, and lifting a hand to his lips in affection, to salute his wife, now absent. ‘My son, Mathias…’

‘If there is nothing else, milord…’

‘Wait,’ Mathias told him. ‘Tell Kasandra for me that I will be home as soon as I may. And express to her my joy and my thanks, and my earnest desire to be reunited both with her and with little Mathias soon.’

Mein Graf,’ the messenger saluted. And with that, he wheeled about his horse and rode off the way he’d come.

A new life beginning, as so many others about him were ending. It seemed incongruous; absurd, even. So much had been given to him by Friedrich Red-beard for one single good turn. For one single bad turn by an ill-minded Lord Mayor and his conspirators, so much destruction was wreaked on so many. How was it that such whirlwinds could spring from such tiny gusts, sown in innocence? Were the instruments of God truly so awful that they could both give and smite so openhandedly, when the time came for the harvest? What had Mathias left to do, but pray?

That he did, in grateful earnest, falling to his knees where he stood.

Pater unser, du pist in Himilum; kauuihit si Namo din. Piqhueme Rihhi din, uuesa din Uuillo, sama so in Himile est, sama in Erdu…
 

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Four. Every Good Gift and Every Perfect Gift is From Above (and Has a Catch)

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The first campaign in Niederlothringen wound to its inevitable conclusion. The Kaiser’s armies, in which Mathias had fought long and hard, had vanquished that region’s several forces and laid waste to Gelre, Köln and Trier. The enemy in the northwest was in total rout. The Innsbruck levy, no longer needed on this front, was given leave to return home, though they stood to be called back to action at any time. Mathias had waited long for this opportunity, and made for home with all the speed he could muster – through the Eifel and the Pfälzerwald, through Bayern and past Mittelwald, up into his native mountains, once again to see his beloved family, to embrace Lady Kasandra again, and to behold for the very first time his infant son.

Before he managed to get up to Burg Freundsberg, however, he was met on the road by none other than Erich von Jenbach, his chancellor.

‘Ah, mein Graf!’ Erich called to him. ‘How goes it with you?’

‘It goes well, now that the war is at a lull,’ Mathias answered back. ‘Where are you bound?’

‘Same as you, I think – Burg Freundsberg. I had hoped to run into you there, but I hadn’t expected you this soon. Do you remember that business we discussed with Herzog Otakar, prior to your wedding, about the Gefürstete Grafschaft of Tirol?’

‘I recall it, yes,’ said Graf Mathias charily.

‘We agreed,’ Erich pressed, ‘that we should make some attempt to expand your holdings. If you could manage to acquire the Grafschaft of Tirol for yourself, you could be in a position to become not just Graf, but Herzog! As it so happens, I have been able to devise some documents, and produce witnesses enough to testify to their authenticity, proving that the Grafschaft of Tirol had been owing to your heathen ancestor Emil von Danzig, on account of his service to Kaiser Heinrich III, but that this contract was never honoured.’

‘I see…’ Mathias said noncommittally.

‘I could… arrange… for these documents to be presented to Kaiser Red-beard himself, and your claim to the Grafschaft Tirol made public. But I leave that decision in your Lordship’s capable hands,’ said Erich.

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Mathias thought about it thoroughly, as was his wont, but his mind was already biased against the idea. If one good turn could sew so great a whirlwind, as he had bethought him upon the battlefields of Berg in the Eifel, who knew what one ill turn might bring crashing down upon him later? As Graf, his power was multiplied a thousandfold. That power could bring down a storm a millionfold stronger upon him. Besides, he had already so many blessings that demanding still more from God and from the Kaiser seemed the basest form of ingratitude to both. ‘Best to let these documents lie forgotten,’ the Graf said aloud. ‘These days I have more need of Tirol as a friend, than as a possession.’

If Erich von Jenbach was surprised at this pronouncement, he did not allow it to show on his face.

Jawohl, mein Graf.

‘Now, if you will accompany me back to Burg Freundsberg, I would be much obliged.’

‘Aye, mein Graf.

The two of them, the young man and the older, kept company those few remaining miles to Innsbruck and northeast to Burg Freundsberg. Mathias was in no great rush; he had no doubt of his welcome. Indeed, he marvelled at how much sweeter was the air in this season of harvest and stacked hay, even in this already-sweet Alpine valley, when one had such an expectation. The walls of Burg Freundsberg appeared at last, and the colourful memory of a home long-missed settled into a no-less-vivid reality.

Mathias was welcomed at the gate by his guard. He lighted from his mount and strode across the courtyard; up the stairs he went, to his bedchamber. And there lay his wife, healthy and in high colour, nursing at her milk-swollen breast a fat, hale boy-child, fair of skin and hair. His Kasandra, with his Mathias. He grinned at them both, and sat on his bed to commune with them – with his wife in gentle and grateful words, and with his child in playful less-than-words. After little Mathias fell fast asleep, Kasandra and the elder Mathias celebrated their reunion in the usual fashion, and then in a couple of other positions for good measure. Kasandra took care to remind him, as he lay sleepily embracing her, that he still had to do his reading.

‘Ugggh. Truly? Can’t it wait?’ asked the young Graf groggily.

‘No, it can’t,’ Kasandra said matter-of-factly. ‘If you are ever to be a better Graf, we must make you better-versed in the cultures of the world.’

‘Hmmm… I still don’t think I’ve quite grasped the finer points of Alpine Slavic courtship,’ Mathias ventured playfully.

‘Ha!’ laughed Kasandra. ‘No, but you’ve grasped near everything else, and done a great deal besides. You’d best not even think about studying any other culture this way, mein Graf!’

Mathias hadn’t planned on it. For the eighteen months following, when he rose and left the castle, it was to peruse Father Siegfried’s library at Stift Stams, where books and sheets of vellum were the only things his fingers touched. He hadn’t his father’s avid love of books, but nonetheless had a healthy respect for them. In Latin and in German he read about the court cultures of France, of England, of the Scands, of the Byzantines. He spent a great deal of time, out of pure curiosity, on the cultures of his own people, the Pomeranians, and their nearest cousins the Poles. And, though Kasandra was a great wealth of information on the customs and protocols of her own people, he nonetheless read everything he could about the Karantanian Slavs and the Kroats. Still, he felt at the end of it as though everything would be simpler if everyone followed the Bavarian way – at the very least, things would be more relaxed.

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It was in mid-May of the Year of Our Lord 1190 when a messenger entered the library, interrupting his studies. He wore the colours and emblems of the Kaiser and House von Hohenstaufen.

Mein Graf, you were not at the castle. Your lady wife told me you would be here.’

‘Here you find me,’ Mathias spoke deferentially to this messenger of Friedrich Red-beard. ‘What news from His August Majesty?’

Graf Innsbruck, His August Majesty extends to you his warmest salutations. In light of your distinguished services to His August Majesty, fondly remembered in the August memory, and in light of your demonstrations of skill, bravery and selfless loyalty in the most recent campaign against His August Majesty’s traitors in Niederlothringen and in Gelre, His August Majesty makes upon you two requests. The first, that you consent to assume the office and duties of his Erztruchseß, in replacement of the steward who has of late passed away. The second, that you, upon taking this office, also consent to be made Kurfürst of the Reich in accordance with tradition, and elevated also to the rank of Herzog von Tirol.’

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Mathias, who had never sought after fame or high office, found it once more thrust upon him, from the same Friedrich Red-beard. Now he truly did thank God that he had not made public that claim upon Tirol which Erich von Jenbach had magicked into existence – his gratitude, expressed in contentment had been rewarded with yet greater blessings. But the messenger was still awaiting his reply.

‘I send my warmest regards and sincerest admiration to His August Majesty, and gratefully accept both his most benevolent and noble bestowments, and the duties which come with them, just as I did the first with which he blessed me.’

‘I shall tell him so,’ the messenger nodded. ‘I am sent to bring one more message – and that is that you are to muster your levies once more, to rendezvous with the Army of Freiherr Burchard von Hohenzollern at Braunschweig for another campaign against Niederlothringen.’

Mathias sighed as he rose from his seat. ‘It is my pleasure to obey His August Majesty,’ he bowed to the messenger.

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Though he knew that gratitude demanded his immediate departure from Innsbruck, and even though he had spent the past year and a half with Kasandra and his beloved son, now able to stand and walk totteringly, he still felt as though he had barely arrived. A twinge of annoyance accompanied the realisation that Kaiser Friedrich Red-beard’s gifts had come with strings attached, but Mathias did not allow it to show. After all, it was not every nineteen-year-old that became a Herzog.

That night the new Herzog gave Kasandra, again with child, a brief farewell, assembled his men-at-arms in the Freundsberg courtyard (fresh and clean again after their year-and-a-half respite), and led them out, once again, on the road that led through Mittelberg and into the war-torn northern foothills and plains. Even here, though, he had heard ominous whispers that in the war in the southwest, neither the Kaiser nor his Savoyard and Italian foemen had been able to gain the upper hand. Savoyard regulars and mercenaries from Genf were looting their way eastward through the Alps, and threatened the lands newly placed under Mathias von Danzig’s charge. These dark forebodings accompanied him all along the road out of Tirol.
 
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Aaaaand... here's chapter five! Fun battle scene in this one.


Five. Taken on the Rur; Released at Chur

Mathias, Herzog von Tirol, reported to Freiherr Burchard von Hohenzollern in Braunschweig as he had been ordered. However, news caught up with him quickly, that his vassal Heinrich, Fürstbischof von Chur, had been besieged in the kirk there by thirteen hundred Savoyard yeomen from Genf – commoners, but vicious for all that. Cursing roundly to himself, he begged leave from the Freiherr to take with him a handful of men-at-arms, leaving the rest in his care, while he rode to the relief of Chur. Burchard, not an unfeeling man, thus gave him leave, on the condition that he return at once to the army once he had finished repelling the enemy at his own gates.

Before five days of his return journey were up, he was accosted by another messenger, this one bearing news from Innsbruck. Thankfully, this news was much happier – Kasandra of Sachsenfeld had given birth to a daughter, and had had her baptised under his mother’s name, Adalheidis. In spite of his desperate mission, Mathias could not help but wonder how well Kasandra was getting along with his family, for her to show them such loyalty as to name their daughter after her mother-in-law! This happy thought lasted him not even a whole day, as still another rider came bearing news that the church at Chur – belonging to the oldest and most venerable bishopric in the Alps – had fallen!

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Mathias worried, but he did not allow himself to give in to rage. These sacrilegious Savoyard dogs would pay, of course, but all in good time. He and his men-at-arms accompanied the rider back, intending all of his vassals – Adalbert Hupoldinger, Graf von Sankt-Gall; Heinrich von Tirol, Graf von Tirol; and of course his faithful Bürgermeister Ruprecht von Kufstein and Bischof Vater Siegfried von Stams – to muster every man they could spare from their personal levies, to ride to the relief of Chur. Mathias arrived in his Alpine demesne, however, to the news that the Savoyards had moved on to targets riper for plunder than a mere kirk, and had left a garrison at Chur of only a couple hundred men. Relieved beyond words at this news, Mathias told his assembled vassals that they needn’t rush smoking out the vermin of Genf. After all, he now commanded a retinue nearly six thousand strong, including over one thousand archers!

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Mathias, true to his word, rode back to the Niederlothringer front with his men-at-arms, and left his vassals to coordinate the siege of Chur – they took it handily, as he later learned, that September, with no loss of life or limb. The time he had borrowed had been enough, but his return just as the Year of Our Lord 1192 had begun could not have come timelier. The army of Freiherr Burchard von Hohenzollern, now faded from fatigue, desertion and disease to about twelve thousand, had chosen to pitch its battle with the remaining Niederlothringer forces, led by Filip Flamens, Fürstbischof von Köln, on the far edge of the River Rur, with their backs to the river. Solid tactics on Burchard’s part, Mathias recognised – leave no chance for flight, and his troops would fight all the harder… but there was also an offensive opportunity to take. Mathias took up his position on the left flank and signalled Burchard that he was in position, before moving downstream – at this point, his men had only to be wary of the occasional arrows that came zipping out of the trees; they all had their shields up to protect them from any missiles from that direction.

As it so happened, the spot they had chosen for the battle was just opposite the town of Jülich, on that stretch of the Rur between the Inde and the Merzbach. The enemy, having already crossed the Merzbach, could not turn back without taking heavy losses, and could not advance over the Rur to relative safety – they were cornered. Their left flank would be nearly useless except for their archers, but their right flank would fight all the more viciously for being trapped between an enemy army and two frozen rivers. Swift action by the left flank was needed before the centre could press home – Mathias awaited the order, and advanced into the snowy woods.

Dismounting and tethering his horse, Mathias kept his shield and axe at the ready. In this terrain, horses would be more a liability than an advantage. His men advanced steadily, carefully and quietly; no need to rush when the enemy was cornered, and his archers were watching the bank of the Merzbach for anyone to cross. Dusk had nearly fallen when he heard the first whoop from the other side, and suddenly a great clanging on shields and heavy armoured footfalls as the Niederlothringers descended upon them. Mathias bludgeoned the first to come at him with his shield, and felled the next with a well-placed swing of his axe to the man’s thigh. At a glimpse he saw the tabard of the man he had felled – a field gules with St Peter or holding a book and key – these were Folmar von Karden’s men, the Erzbischof of Trier, whose own castles and churches had fallen to the Kaiser’s assault this past year.

Mathias’ men arranged themselves as well as they could on this uncertain field of battle, and met Folmar von Karden’s advance. Very soon all was howling and grunting and the clangor of weapon-weather, clearer than church bells in the wintry air, and plumes of scarlet blossomed in the snow where a warrior’s blood had spattered. Mathias’ axe whirled in great, wide arcs, felling fifteen of the enemy within five minutes. It was not long at all before he spotted an elderly man wielding a blunt mace in battle, robed in scarlet, fighting through the trees some twenty yards from where he stood.

‘Men, it’s Erzbischof Folmar! Take him!’ Mathias roared. ‘Hold him fast; don’t kill him! I never yet spilled the blood of a man of the cloth, and I don’t intend to start now!’

Mathias’ men, at his order, hallooed their assent and began swarming around the scarlet-robed cleric, eager for the glory that would come from taking such a high-ranking prisoner. Folmar von Karden fought valiantly for such an elderly man, but the numbers of men commanded by Mathias were simply too great. They had Folmar pinned against the Merzbach, now, and thanks to Mathias’ well-placed archers it would be suicide for him to think of jumping into the half-frozen river to elude escape. Soon, Folmar was fully under the power of his men. One of them handed Mathias Folmar’s mace, and two more brought Folmar himself, his arms pinion at his sides, before him.

‘So this is the Erzbischof Folmar von Karden,’ Mathias said in evident satisfaction. ‘I am certainly glad you are still alive – like I said, I do not care to kill holy men.’

Folmar spat. ‘Impudent child! You think merely because you have been favoured by the Kaiser, that you fight on the side of God? The red-bearded devil has usurped powers for himself that belong only to the Holy Father, ever since he took the throne! How long do you believe you can escape judgement before the Eternal Throne?’

Mathias, shaken at Folmar’s words, nevertheless managed to keep his voice level as he hardened his heart in remembrance of his duty to his lord temporal, and said dryly, ‘Longer, it appears, than you can escape His August Majesty’s. Take him.’

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The battle was grinding down as the remaining Niederlothringer rank-and-file either surrendered or tried to make a break for it across the Merzbach or the Rur – where most of them were immediately shot through by Imperial arrows from the shore. The victorious army then itself crossed back over the Rur and began preparing to lay siege to the castle at Jülich. The Herzog von Tirol had Folmar escorted to Chur to be placed under the protection of Fürstbischof Heinrich, who had newly returned triumphant to his Church and was thus disposed to be magnanimous. As Jülich fell and as the army moved onto Aachen in April, however, an envoy came from the Holy Father directly to Mathias von Danzig. The rivers were thawing now, the snow had gone, and fresh greens were coming back to the trees and to the grapevines the local farmers cultivated. It was easy to spot the papal envoy approaching upon his white horse in this season; indeed, he rode directly up to the rear of the siege and presented himself directly to the nineteen-year-old lordling commanding the left wing.

‘His Holiness Urban III sends greeting and wishes for good health and long life to his pious and faithful son in Christ, Mathias von Danzig, son of Rudolf von Danzig of Innsbruck.’

Mathias spoke warmly, though he had taken note of the omission of his title. ‘Grüß Gott! Blessings upon the Holy Father; may he find me a worthy servant! What business does His Holiness have with me?’

‘I have here a letter in His Holiness Pope Urban III’s own hand to you. All I know is that it concerns the prisoner, His Holiness’s beloved archbishop Folmar von Karden of the diocese of Trier, whom you have held captive at Chur.’

Mathias received the roll of vellum from the envoy, broke the heavy seal and perused the letter.


To Matthaeus, beloved son in Christ:

Blessings and peace be upon you and your lands. This war waged by your liege Fridericus Imperator Romani, Rex Romanorum, upon his vassals is saddening and grievous unto all of God’s faithful, who are reminded now of Our Lord’s admonition to the Pharisees that a house, if it is divided against itself, cannot stand. Likewise, the captivity of a servant of God by one of his fellow communicants is an intolerable outrage against the sacred order. Of the lands you govern I know only their piety, and of you I know only your devotion and impartiality. Therefore I entreat you, my son, upon the wellbeing of your soul, to set Fulmar of Trier at liberty. He commands no men; all were taken or killed in the field at Iuliacum, where you met them. The only purpose his continued captivity could possibly serve would be to deprive the good flock of Trier of their appointed apostolic shepherd, and you, my son, of the grace which is due to you and to all men by the hand of Him who orders the universe.

In hope of a speedy restoration of the Bishop of Trier to his proper seat, and a swift reconciliation of all members of the Church Militant to each other in the name of Our Lord, I am:

Urbanus PP. III. Servus Servorum Dei


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Mathias closed the letter with a long, indrawn breath as he pocketed the letter. That the Holy Father had used none of Tirol’s titles in his address was indication enough of his displeasure; and he had signed it ‘Servus Servorum Dei’… Mathias was quick enough to pick up on the fact that his choice to refer to himself in the Gregorian style simply as the ‘Servant of God’s Servants’, rather than as ‘Supreme Pontiff’ or ‘Vicar of the Prince of Apostles’, was an appeal to his loyalty and to his sense of justice, rather than to his fear of judgement. Some cardinal close to the Supreme Pontiff had taken his measure well.

‘My son,’ the envoy prompted him. ‘What is your answer to His Holiness?’

‘I kneel to the Servant of God’s Servants,’ Mathias said gravely. ‘I shall instruct Bischof Vater Heinrich of Chur to release Bischof Vater Folmar at once.’

The envoy smiled. ‘God be with you, my son. May the scourge of war pass swiftly from us.’

‘Amen,’ Mathias nodded in sincere agreement. ‘God speed you in your return to Rome.’

No sooner had the envoy left them but Mathias sent one of his own messengers back to Chur to arrange Folmar’s release. The devastation he had come to witness at the hands of his own army had indeed affected him more deeply than he had been aware – and, of course, the Holy Father’s demand had been entirely just and reasonable. The Niederlothringer armies broken, Folmar was no earthly danger to anyone now, and a spiritual danger only to him as long as he remained the bishop’s captor. He resigned himself to stay in Freiherr Burchard’s army only as long as it took to pacify the region completely, before he returned home to make good his penance.
 

Revan86

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Dovahkiing said:
The von Danzigs are hardly doves...
The parts with Bishop Folmar and the papal letter were awesome!

Hehe... true that Mathias didn't turn out a dove. As a vassal of Barbarossa with a martial skill of 10, I don't think he could quite get away with it!

And thank you very much for the feedback about Folmar and the letter from Urban! Turned out to be helpful to my writing that the historical Bishop Folmar was a bit anti-Friedrich to start with over the whole investiture controversy, heh.

I was actually a bit hesitant to include the letter, since I couldn't find any good translations of anything written to a secular audience by the actual Pope Urban III to get a decent feel for his voice. (He didn't rule for very long.) I'm glad you thought it turned out well, though!
 

A_Dane

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I'm quite surprised this hasn't gotten more replies, it's very well written!

looking forward for more :)
 

Revan86

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Much appreciated, A_Dane! Very glad to have you onboard!

The next chapter ought to be coming up later today...
 

Revan86

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Six. Chur Twice-Fallen

It was well into August before Mathias got leave to return to Innsbruck, but that again only with a handful – ten or so – of his exhausted levy; all of them riders. Every spare archer and foot-soldier was demanded by the dwindling army. It was in a solemn spirit that they made the return journey, even though as they ascended through the hills and into the mountains through Mittelberg, the mountains greeted them in a blessed riot of colour, pinnacles of ice being consumed in flames of red and gold, all set against a blue sky crisper, sweeter and clearer than anything any of them had seen in months, unsullied by smoke and all the smells of war. From the depths of a Hell of their own devising, they were ascending to a foretaste of the Heaven whose existence was owing entirely to the grace of God.

Grace… the grace of God and the grace of man are two very different beasts, though Mathias dryly. Friedrich Red-beard, who gave to him Innsbruck, the Herzogtum of Tirol, high position in his Imperial household as Erztruchseß, had been the most generous man in the world to him… yet still the demands he made upon Mathias imperiled his very soul. He had set out at Jülich to capture Erzbischof Trier, not kill him – and he had felt himself so righteous for doing so. The words the elderly Erzbischof had spoken to him – ‘how long do you believe you can escape judgement before the Eternal Throne?’ – still rang in his ears as if they had only freshly reached them. And behind his eyes the words of the Holy Father, in their mixture of gentleness and outrage so potent either emotion alone could not hope to match even half its effect, were still emblazoned upon his mind.

And then he recalled with shame the bounty that had been bestowed on him, at none of his asking and with nothing asked in return: the birth of a son, bearing his name, his eyes and his nose. All the titles and honours Friedrich Red-beard might see fit to shower upon him could not match the sight of the face of his newborn son. If gratitude and duty were owing to the Kaiser who had elevated him to his Herzogtum, how much more was due to the heavenly monarch whose bestowments were infinitely more to be treasured? And there were still more blessings upon his house. Erich von Jenbach, his chief diplomat, had made a proposal – through him, to the Kaiser – that he be allowed to marry the Herzog’s sister, Klara. The Kaiser had consented, and now Klara and Erich had taken up residence in Burg Freundsberg; Mathias was pleased now to call Erich ‘brother’.

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Soon, though, the costs of his temporal duties began to make themselves felt. Stift Chur had fallen once more – this time not to the Savoyards of Genf, but to a different burgher army, from Saluzzo.

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The Herzog and his meagre, beleaguered band of men-at-arms could only sit about and listen glumly to the news. Innsbruck had been emptied of able-bodied men, and turning out the garrisons of his castles to retake Chur was foolhardy in the extreme. The men of Saluzzo were still at large in the Alps – who knew what holy place they were looting even now? The Herzog, depressed at his current lack of ability, merely retired into Burg Freundsberg, and did not emerge even when his servants called him. Even his wife could not pull him out of his funk, though not for lack of trying. Most days he rode out early to Stift Stams, spending each daylight hour in the presence only of Bischof Vater Siegfried, and did not come back until late at night. On the days when he stayed in Burg Freundsberg, the servants were instructed to stay out of his quarters; Lady Kasandra would often be in tears afterward, and complain bitterly to her maidservants about the pain in her back and hips – not that she really ever left the room herself anyway, these days. None of them ever dared ask how her husband had treated her, though none of them dared assume that he had done well by her, these months. Especially since the Herzog was normally such an open and gentle soul, this erratic moodiness and uneven temper of late was all the more unsettling and frustrating, not least to his wife. Summer gave way to autumn, and autumn to winter. By the time the Advent season of 1192 rolled around, Kasandra was again with child – though this one she bore not gladly, but as a burden unwanted.

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In times of war, unwelcome news spreads faster than wildfire, and unwelcome guests spread seeds of perversion and discontent far easier than they would be able otherwise. In the lands governed by the Wittelsbachs, to wit, in the ancient city of Batavis, a group of fanatics began preaching that the Scriptures alone held authority and that the end of the world was approaching, and spewing invective against the power and luxury of the Church and its priesthood. Suddenly, once again, the Herzog was active – in June he put pen to paper as avidly as if he were again a schoolboy, denouncing these rabid burghers as a ‘wicked and adulterous generation, looking for signs from Heaven – but the only sign that shall be given them is the sign of Jonah, may they quickly be swallowed up and forgotten!’ and propagating them as far and wide as he could. Father Siegfried applauded his diligence and zeal, but suggested sheepishly – only to be silenced with a glare – that perhaps your Grace mein Herzog has a great burden weighing on his mind, and is causing himself to suffer out of proportion to his sins. It was only because Mathias grudgingly recognised the wisdom behind the Bischof Vater’s merciful words that he sought more productive ways of relieving his strain.

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When the call went up again from Burchard’s army for the Herzog to ride out to Niederlothringen, he did so with a hard and vengeful set to his broad brown brows, and with a haste which was entirely unlike him. At that time his wife had already gone into labour. When she heard that her husband had left for the front, without so much as a ‘good-bye’ to her, she grieved bitterly and openly. When told by the midwife that her child, now slapped into breathing, was a baby boy, she found she could not think of another name to give him. Her husband’s name was that of her oldest boy, and her mother-in-law’s name was that of her daughter. She considered naming him ‘Rudolf’, but this red-bearded Kaiser with his cruel and warlike demands loomed large in her mind, and she found she could not give this fruit of her womb the name of another of the nemci. So she named him Nikolausvictory to the people – and offered up with the name a prayer for a swift victory and a swift end to the war, which would restore her husband the Herzog to her in his right wits and proper humour.

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Revan86

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True, this chapter did turn out a bit more angsty than I expected... Mathias may be patient and content, but that doesn't seem to have cured him of being a sore loser (or a typical teenager, for that matter). :p
 

DensleyBlair

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I have just had a quick scan, and this looks really well done. I'll give it a proper read when I have a bit more time. I'll be following this from now on.
 

Revan86

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DensleyBlair said:
I have just had a quick scan, and this looks really well done. I'll give it a proper read when I have a bit more time. I'll be following this from now on.

Just started reading this one, and enjoying it immensely. Well done.

Many thanks, DensleyBlair and BlackBishop! Really grateful you guys have signed on - I'm quite impressed by both of your works, also!

Hope to get chapter seven up soon.