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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

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Ein Fest für Emelrich
A Feast for Emelrich

The Prince's Conquests
Castle Weinsberg

July 27, 973 AD

The days were long in the middle of the summer, and most of the day's celebrations had taken place under the glorious sunlight of a comfortably warm July day. In the morning, children had dashed all about the castle playing with one another, filling the courtyard with their laughter and the occasional tears of a few who fell down a little too hard in the midst of their play. In the late afternoon, the throng of gathered guests had left the castle proper and gone out into a great fairground set up in the neighboring fields for a series of contests of skill and strength, accompanied by revelry and plenty of drinks.

Rupert had called the event to bring the noble families of the empire together for two weeks of feasts and tournaments to celebrate the military victories of his eldest son and heir, Emelrich.



Rupert's coronation as Holy Roman Empire had come as a surprise to many, and there had been those among the imperial nobility who had questioned the legitimacy of the Electors' choice, and the youth of his family's noble tenure was high among them. Equally prominent was the dissent of many of the greater nobles against Rupert's decision to accept Pope Clement's demands for coronation -- specifically, that he would only crown Rupert as a proper Holy Roman Emperor after he agreed to restore to the Papacy the original borders of the Papal States as established in the reign of Charlemagne. Many perceived the concession as weakness, and Rupert had been eager to act quickly to dispel that myth.

In doing so, he also hoped that he could begin to cement his son's position for the future and begin to present him as a credible heir. When Bohemia and Arles broke off from their tributary payments following Otto's death, Rupert had charged Emelrich with leading the army that would bring them back under imperial suzerainty. The process had taken several years of marching across the empire, but as they sat there today celebrating his return home, Arles and Bohemia had both resumed their tribute payments, along with the smaller pagan realms of Croatians and Danes. Four of the empire's neighbors had been defeated, and the imperial treasury was filling up thanks to their allegiance, involuntary as it may have been.

Watching over the competitions playing out before him, Rupert sat on a wooden throne draped in expensive rugs and furs to soften it. To either side of him stretched his family, finally gathered together once again for the occasion. Klara sat at his left hand, looking tired and a touch bored. She was just a few years into her fifth decade, and length of life had seen the Kaiserin become rather jaded and easily annoyed. She sat and fanned herself as a pair of warriors armed with heavy two-handed swords clashed with one another, but it was clear her mind was elsewhere.




Beyond her sat Helene, the eldest of the Kaiser's daughters despite her young age of 21. She had a good, sturdy build and strong eyes, and she watched the contest intently as she sat alongside her husband -- Wenzel von Babenberg, King of Bavaria. While the majority of the highest ranking imperial vassals held the rank of Duke, a few -- Bavaria included -- had been acknowledged as proper kingdoms in their own right beneath the Kaiser's authority. Bavaria had been the first, but soon after the kingdoms of Frisia in the north, Lotharingia in the west, and Croatia in the south had followed. Rupert quite liked Wenzel -- he was well-spoke, charismatic, always finely dressed, and had the honor of receiving his king's crown by the hand of Pope Clement II, the same Holy Father who had named Rupert emperor.

Beyond Helene and Wenzel sat perhaps the most cherished of all of Rupert's children -- 18 year-old Wilhelmina. Wilhelmina had been conceived shortly after cancer had taken the life of young Leopold, as Rupert and Klara had found comfort in one another's embrace. Rupert had been elated when Klara learned she was expecting, and from the moment Wilhelmina was born, he doted on her with great affection, as if he had sought to love her enough to account for Leopold's loss, as well. She had stayed close to home, studying with the religious sisters in Weinsberg, and had excelled in her studies. She had sharp and shrewd mind, a heart full of holy zeal and the sort of perfect manners that had made her excellent at entertaining guests to the castle. It had pained Rupert horribly to send her away from home, but he had ensured that she would have only the best -- he secured her betrothal to the young Louis Karling, Prince of West Francia and the eldest full brother of the current West Frankish king, Leon. He was four years Wilhelmina's junior, and so the two had not yet been wed; but she had traveled often into the neighboring realm to prepare for her future life as a princess there.




Far from the Kaiser, sitting at the far end of the right and left sides respectively, were his two youngest. 11 year-old Hildegard was too consumed with fussing with her dolls to pay much attention to the tournament, but such was her way. She was an enormously affectionate little girl, but she tended to keep to herself and disliked playing outside with her friends, preferring the quiet isolation of the castle. Erich, just one year away from his maturity, looked particularly shy as he slumped down in his seat, glancing nervously to his older brother frequently. His betrothed, a young relative of the Chatenois house that ruled the kingdom of Lotharingia, was in attendance, though Erich showed no great urge to see her.



Finally, closest at his right, sat his first son and heir, Emelrich, who was at once Rupert's great pride as well as his terrible shame. Rupert loved Emelrich dearly; he was his first son, and for many years after Leopold's death he was his only son, until young Erich came along many years later. That day's tournament, as well as the feast that would soon follow, was to honor Emelrich for his victories over the past several years in re-establishing former imperial tributaries as well as acquiring a few new ones, but the event was pure hollow showmanship. Emelrich had been in charge of the great army that had marched through Bohemia, Arles, Bihac Croatia, and Denmark, but those battles had been won by the officers under his command. Much to his father's dismay, Emelrich was more concerned with the conquest in the bedroom than on the battlefield. The 29 year-old ruler of worms and heir to Weinsberg had six children, but only four of them were from his lawful wife, Beatrix Chatenois. The other two were the scandalous progeny of a long-running extramarital affair with a Dutch courtier from the northern kingdom of Frisia, who had given Emelrich two sons -- as well as the shameful mark of the so-called "Lover's Pox." Beatrix was well aware of his unfaithfulness and its fruits, and resented him for it. She sat at his side at the tournament only for the sake of appearances; she would find a way to distance herself from him immediately once the feasting began.

Rupert had done his best to instill proper German Catholic virtues upon his son, but as the young man neared his thirtieth birthday, the Kaiser worried that he might never truly come around. It was well known that many within the empire did not respect him, and very few of the Electors had anything positive to say about him. With Emelrich as the clear heir of the von Zahren family estates, he would be the only suitable candidate from the family to consider to follow in Rupert's footsteps. But given his lack of martial skill, his arbitrary judgement, and his many romantic dalliances, it was unlikely that Emelrich could ever be considered a future emperor. It grieved Rupert to say it, but he feared that the family would fall into obscurity following his inevitable death. Emelrich, as much as he loved him, could never be what he was. He wasn't capable of it, and the other lords and Electors wouldn't allow him the chance.

As he sat in his throne watching over a skillful duel between two nimble swordsmen from Milan, Rupert simply quietly resolved that he would accomplish all that he could in whatever years of his life remained so that, even if his son could not inherit an empire, he could, at the very least, inherit a legacy.
 
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Sadly a common pattern , successors who dont go toe to toe with their glorious parents
 
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stnylan

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At least he seems to be able to recognise his son's situation, rather than deny it, and switch his plans accordingly. That is a rare trait.
 
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Midnite Duke

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I just finished comment 22. I wanted to leave more than a 'love' smiley. So here: :):):cool::cool::D. Thank you for publishing this wonderful history of the HRE and family von Zahren.
 

HistoryDude

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Emelrich sounds bad...

Isn't assassination/disinheriting him an option?
 
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Das letzte Gebrüll des Bären
The Last Roar of the Bear

Rupert's Final Conquest
Fatimid Sultanate, North Africa

July 13, 985 AD

Rupert absolutely detested Africa. The constant, punishing head of the sun that made him sweat endlessly under his armor. The sand that always found a way inside his boots. The punishing thirst that ravaged him every day he spent away from his encampments. The air was hot, the land was miserable, and the followers of Mohammed were savages whose company he couldn't wait to escape. Why had he ever accepted King Landolf of Arles' invitation to join him in this God-forsaken arid hell?

Because the Kaiser had very little else to live for.




As he looked down from the sandy hill seated on his warhorse, Rupert's heart ached; even so many years later, all of the loss still pained him. It was nearly a decade ago, the day that Rupert had left Weinsberg after a shouting argument with his eldest son. At the time, King Landolf had come under attack by an Italian adventuring warlord and his mercenaries, and had requested the Emperor's aid. Rupert had intended to send Emelrich, who asked to be left at home, as he hadn't been feeling well.

At the time, Rupert had refused to believe him and chalked it up to cowardice. The last time he had been sent to war, after all, he had hidden in his camp with his scandalous sexual affairs while his officers saw to the affairs of battle. Rupert scolded his son harshly, humiliating him in front of his youngest brother, Erich. Angrily ordering his eldest to "stay home and grovel around with his peasant women," Rupert had marched to Arles with Erich under his wing. Together, the two crushed the invading Italians in a decisive fashion, and returned home to their heroic welcome.

But when Rupert returned to the castle, he was greeted not by a throng of celebrating courtiers, but by his teary-eyed wife dressed in black. While Rupert and Erich were away fighting in Provence, Emelrich had succumbed to dysentery and lost his life just days before the army returned.

The Kaiser had been inconsolable for months, secluded away with his wife in the castle. Even now, a decade later, he felt a sting in his heart every time he recalled that his last words to his eldest son had been a scathing insult. He only prayed that Emelrich might forgive him one day, if they met in paradise. But in time, he recovered from his grief, in no small part thanks to the enduring affection and support of his beloved, Klara. Soon, Rupert had returned to the throne and had continued to lead the empire with the same presence and power for which he had become renowned. Klara was always close at his side, and under their guidance the Germans thrived.

But Klara, too, had now left him. She had passed on peacefully in her sixty-fifth year, and the anniversary of her death was just a few months away. Rupert intended to be done with this war and be back in Germany in time to visit her grave.




Of course, the goals of this war were far nobler than that. Landolf, full of zeal as he was, had taken it upon himself to challenge Shaiban, the Shia Caliph and the ruler of the Fatimid Sultanate based in Al Djazair. Landolf intended to drive the Fatimids out of the region, hoping instead to install Az'ar Ikjan, a Berber convert, as the first Catholic Sultan in north Africa. Rupert had lost his two eldest sons to illness, sent his youngest away to rule a small county in north Germany conquered from the pagans, buried his wife, and married away all of his daughters. At 72 years of age, he was in the twilight of his life, and he hoped that planting the seeds of the true faith in Muslim Africa might be the final piece of his life's legacy.

Even in his advanced age, Rupert was still a physically impressive man. His body refused to slouch under the same heavy armor he'd worn when he was a much younger and stronger man, and he gripped his axe -- custom-forged for the Kaiser by a master German blacksmith -- with enough vigor to crush a man's throat. Down the hill, their cloths and turbans blowing in the sandy desert win, the last and largest remaining army of the Caliph stood to confront him with spears raised and scimitars held ready. The Kaiser of the Holy Roman Empire looked down at them and, raising his axe overhead, took a deep breath. At once, he turned all of the pain and loss he had suffered through his twilight years and channeled them into a bellowing, unforgettable roar that echoed across the battlefield.

At his command, the men of Germany charged. Heavy European steeds crashed against lightly-armed skirmishers, and as the foot soldiers clashed, the nimble warriors of the desert danced around the heavy, resolute footmen of Europe. Rupert, defying his age, kicked his horse's side and road him down along with them, axe held low at his side. This was not like his younger days; the Kaiser could no longer safely wade into the middle of a melee, chopping down men all around him. Instead, the seasoned warrior rode with his bodyguard around the edges of the battle, taking opportune strikes at the edges. As he passed one of the Caliph's lieutenants, fending off his enemies while holding his banner planted firmly in the sand, Rupert leaned to the side of his saddle and swung with all of the strength left in his body. As the imperial soldiers cheered in approval, Rupert's' ornate axe cut viciously through the Mohamedan's neck and sent his head flying some five yards away from the body, which crumpled lifelessly to the ground draped in Shaiban's fallen banner.

The battle carried on for hours, and even after Rupert's horse was struck by several arrows, the Kaiser and his elite guard never flinched. Islamic defenders fell all around them, and when night finally fell to chase away the heat of the desert, it was the banner of the empire and a tall wooden crucifix that stood tall at the top of the hill. Bodies littered the desert around Rupert, whose body was heavy with sweat and sore with exhaustion. The septuagenarian Kaiser took a seat on the sand, falling to the ground more than sitting. His breath was heavy, but his heart felt light. At least, for that day, he had escaped the guilt and pain that followed him so relentlessly through his final years. Once more, the von Zahren name would be heralded as a hero of the realm and of the faith.

The first boat headed back to Europe the next evening was reserved for the Kaiser. With his two most trusted guards at either side, Rupert boarded the vessel and returned to his sleeping quarters on board. Az'ar would soon be crowned as the Sultan of Africa, nut Rupert had no intention of waiting around for that coronation. Klara was waiting for him at home, buried within the walls of the castle's chapel with Emelrich and Leopold at her side. Rupert removed his armor and laid back on the heavy rugs prepared for him. The war was over, and finally, he could allow himself the kind of peaceful sleep he had been so cruelly deprived of in the desert. He quietly whispered his evening prayers, and fell into a deep sleep.

The boat would take over a week to reach the shores of Germany, but Rupert went home that very night. When his guards came to wake him the next morning, they found the Kaiser in the sleep of death, returned to the Lord.

 
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Midnite Duke

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72, Still Fit. Great Final Battle. What more could an Emperor wish for? Eternity with Klara! What more would a Man wish for?
 
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HistoryDude

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A final battle for a great man...

The Emperor dies with regrets...
 
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That is the sort of death that will get him lauded in eternal memory to be sure.
 
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