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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

NewbieOne

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More Liberation (and Partial Bagrationi Restoration)

Following the conclusion of peace with the Golden Horde, formalising our liberation of Galaz and Constantia, it is time to send our troops home. Sadly, only about six out of every ten who had left will be returning home:



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'Is there no end to this warfare?' I ask myself as I already plan the next destination. I worry to think what my father would think of this. Strangely, almost all his life he was a duke and he was king for only four months, all of which he was incapacitated from a wound to his head, I and still look to him for guidance and wonder he would do, after reigning for thirty-one years, now over more than two and half times more land than he even controlled. And I am not sure if he would be pleased. I had ruled in peace and relative prosperity, building up the holdings and erecting new baronies for the first part of my reign, as my father would have, or so I believe, before I took up the holy wars. On the other hand, can I really sit still while entire Christian populations are slain, sold into slavery or at least reduced to oppressed minorities in their ancestral lands as I happily sip mead in my royal hall? Yet, does the solidarity with and responsibility for other Christian realms give the right to waste away a half of my levies, men who have families waiting home for them? Again, as do those oppressed Christian souls in Georgia or Cyprus under Rum or as far as Abissynia under the Caliph.

It is also time to reward Doman for his services to the Christendom and to this kingdom in foreign lands. Fittingly, he receives the county of Constantia, washed on its east side by the waters of the Gulf of Varna in the Black Sea.

[Historically, King Wladyslaw III of Poland was posthumously hailed of Varna after the died there in 1444 in an attempt to defeat the Ottoman Turks.]

Unfortunately, this awakens ambitions in him that he did not feel while the ruler of a simple barony. While already having a tendency towards envy, he drifts away from me emotionally:



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I doubt he will be calling me his dear uncle again any time soon. Advancement sometimes tests the quality of a man. Doman was happy as the ruler of a simple, small barony I would have trouble finding on the map. Less so, it seems, as the ruler of a county. It is remarkable that leading the armies of an entire realm did not affect him but receving a more important fief did (in itself able to field only a minuscule fraction of what he is used to commanding). I fully intend to make him a duke if I have anything to spare that is not one of the core de iure duchies of Poland. Let us hope he does not give me a reason to change my mind.

Problems with Doman bring my attention to the fact that other vassals might be disappointed too for the same reasons. Due to those calumnies concerning my supposed cowardice, things resurface that were mostly forgotten by now. My vassals seem to no notice again that I hold more ducal titles than a king normally should and they also mind the excessive holding or two in my demesne. This means two new duchies and one new barony for my son and heir. This will give him some prestige when he comes to power. Speaking of power, I do hope he will use wisely what he already has. It is not impossible to imagine him trying to claim the de iure counties from his two new duchies.

With a quickly raised fresh army we defeat the rebels at Slupsk:



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We use such a large force not because we are given to excess but so that fewer people die on our side. The occupied Barony of Schlawe surrenders on sight of our troops. There is no need to siege up, which means some people will not die who otherwise would. For this reason I am granting a full royal pardon to all those who dropped their weapons and opened the gates. The fate of the rest will be decided tomorrow, depending on the results of my inquiry as to the extent of atrocities committed while I was away. 'While I was away.' These words may well haunt me for the rest of my life. If I had been more diligent, although with some risk, I could have saved Schlawe from capture. Or perhaps I am kidding myself. Any bigger stack from the Golden Horde could have routed a weakened army, in which case everybody would have died in vain.

After some delay caused by a legal technicality involving the fact that the Khan of Bulgaria was at war somewhere else, which means putting down another rebellion by a desperate Rurikovich prince (this time it was Yuriy II of Pronsk), I take off him the title of Duke of Karvuna, in which he now rules no land:



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One of those who do rule land in this Duchy is the Count of Mesembria, a local noble who has somehow acquired and maintained independence for a while. I would bestow the Duchy on Doman, except that I would have more leverage to induce the Count of Mesembria to enter into vassalage than Doman. After which I would only need to wrest that one final county away from the Golden Horde in order to relieve the Khan of the Kingdom of Bulgaria.

Speaking of which, I should probably show you the current political map (from before the war, which means the patch of Rum between Polish provinces at the Azov Sea and the Byzantine part of Georgia should now be Poland):



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This should give you an idea of the situation. Speaking of which, I have truces with both Khagans and am not in a position to challenge the Caliph in a long, messy war while my vassals are already suffering the ill effects of prolonged campaigning [OOC: -40 opinion for raised levies]. This leaves me with two targets, both of which are on the map, and both of which belong to the Sultanate of Rum. The choice is tough between Cyprus, where I could revive the old crusader kingdom that collapsed under Turkish might when I was 2 years of age, and Abkhazia, a more recent conquest by the Turks of Rum. As in many other dilemmas I need to deal with, no choice will be good in this one. Since Cyprus is de iure in the Greek Empire and its core realm of Byzantion, and the Greek Emperor, who is not currently bound by any truce with Rum, might want to take it for himself, I decide to go for Abkhazia, which lies outside the de iure Empire, hoping that this means that I do the justice to the Basileus. He might be of a different opinion, however, as to the desireability of my current move, as he is currently one county away from forming the Kingdom of Georgia, holding four counties in his new Duchy of Kartli, while the Emir of Derbent holds three, Rum holds two and the Golden Horde One. At any rate, I am having ethical doubts regarding the idea of a royal coronation within the Eastern Empire's traditional borders when the Emperor himself is clearly capable of action. And of victory.


Wieslaw of Poland King to Boethios Emperor of the Romans royal greeting

It may please Your Imperial Majesty to know that I am sailing against your enemies of the Sultanate of Rum.





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After one woman too many sees it fit to laugh at her king, accusing and ruling him guilty of cowardice, something she knows nothing about, I snap and decide to prove my bravery, which puts a strain on me and takes my focus away from other pursuits. The diplomacy and administration of the kingdom suffers but at least I am a halfway decent commander right now [11 Martial score].



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After several months over land and sea we arrive at our destination:



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Yes, these are 34428 soldiers in one army (and, as you suspect, one flank). If all the recent wars have taught me one thing, it is that sieges claim much more victims on the attacking side than assaults, provided that you assault with a sufficiently overpowering force. I found it more humane to call nearly all the levies of the realm so that almost all of them may return home than to call only half of them and see a half of that half die to attrititon.[1] Incidentally, on our west, the Genoese, almost ten thousand men all, seem for once to be comfortably retaking the holdings captured by the Ilkhanate, no doubt largely due to our interventions.

We assault and take the holdings in Abkhazia right away, in a matter of days. Since it will take a while before we cross into the more mountaineous Imeretia, we take only as many soldiers there as we can supply from Akbhazia after its capture, which means twenty-five thousand (as opposed to seventeen thousand during the siege), and we board and lodge the remaining six thousand eight hundred soldiers onboard of our fleet. Which has finally grown large enough in size that we no longer needed to pay exorbitant sums to the merchant republics for transport like in the last wars.



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Also, look at the Byzantines in the south. Since the rebellious Emir cannot white-peace his way back into the Sultanate of Rum [as of patch 1.05], everything points to that they are going to take the duchy.

As we take up our ladders and run to assault the last holding in Imereti, this happens:



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I don't know if I have proven my bravery but I have made sure that as few men died as possible. This is enough for me.

As for Cyprus, as long as Rum loses one of the two simultaneous holy wars for Cybirrhaeot, its only remaining land with access to the sea will be... Cyprus. As soon as a rebellion happens (again), Rum should have no way of putting it down.

Moved by the discovery that the last pre-conquest Georgian ruler of the county of Abkhazia (there is both a county and a duchy of this name) is still alive (he must have been a child), although he does not have specific county-level claims and neither would he be willing to come to my court, I inquire further into the the Bagrationi claimants and find a live Prince of Georgia in Rhodos, with a claim on the county of Imeretia, which I give to him as soon as he arrives (along with Akbhazia after I discover that he is the current head of the Bagrationi dynasty):



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Do you see his claims?

Yes, the Ilkhanate one is real. His mother's name was Oljat Borjigin, the only daughter of Khagan Abaga and the only sister (and only sibling) of Khagan Arghun.

Also:



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Actually, he is not old. He is three years younger than I am. And this is his daughter:



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=====
[1] [OOC: It is also that attrition is not applied when you are fighting and I believe assaulting a fortress counts for this purpose. If you time your movement so that you cross into the enemy province at the beginning of the month (which is especially easy if you unload from aships), given that it takes only several days to construct siege equipment with so many hands to work, you can manage to avoid any attrition losses before you capture each and every holding, which you may even not need to. And you capture those with a small enough garrison instantly, while with other ones you may need to wait only as little as 1 day to assault the next holding. Also, immediately after finishing you can quickly load the army on ships in time unless it's very close to the end of the month.]
 
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NewbieOne

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That daughter is just awesome...such a waste to be unmarried at 26...

Yes, I've tried inviting her to my court so that I could marry her to somebody from my own dynasty who is not in my own court, but she won't cooperate. For various reasons, her having a son with the wrong man could be a problem. Besides, I really almost wish I hadn't married my heir so early, although his current wife has the best stats I've seen on any character in my games (I think she's the most learned person in the world with 29 Learning) because the claims would look really good on the heir of my heir.
 

NewbieOne

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In the Shadow of Certain, Painful Doom*... Is Now the Caliph
(Poland Goes to Abyssinia)
*This title is a tribute to Philo32b's In the Shadow of Certain, Painful Doom: Abyssinia AAR


The door of the royal office opened, slowly this time, and this time the visitor also delivered a polite knock before pressing the knob. He knew he did not have to stop and ask.'
'Janko. Sit down please. Want some fruit?' asked the King. 'Nuts? A mug of beer? Or maybe some cold meat would serve you better?'
'Cold meat would be fine, thanks.'
'Here you go,' the King cut him a slice of roast pork loin with herbs. 'Horse radish?'
'Yes, please.'
'There.'
As the Chancellor munched on his unscheduled little snack, the King started speaking.
'Janko. I'm troubled about what's going on with Genoa.'
Janko politely nodded. Everybody knew Genoa was always on the King's mind and he rarely omitted to mention it in any conversation but they were all careful not to embarrass him about it, he had already enough worries on his head and, besides, they just cared. He had been around for almost forty years and has been a good King. The Chaplain once quipped, 'Ceterum censeo Ianuam esse salvandam,' ('Moreover, I that Genoa must be saved,' a play on Cato's line, 'Ceterum censeo Carthaginem essem delendam,' that is, 'I counsel that Carthage must be destroyed,' which he used to end his every speech in the Roman senate.) but this was never relayed.
'...And?' the Chancellor guessed this had something to do with his invitation to the King's office.
'There is bad news, mostly involving the Caliph. I would like you to take a ship from your barony. Choose someone reliable. Send it to Genoa's coast. See what's going on,' said the King while standing up, circling around the chair (exactly the same as the Chancellor's own) and finally looKing out the window with his back turned to Janko. This was not in any measure a sign of disrespect as everybody knew who knew the King. He just had this habit of talking to you while looking out the window, his back to you. He finally stopped two yards from where Queen Berta was already stationed in a similar pose, her right palm, curled, supporting her chin and itself being supported by her left palm, also curled, under the elbow. The other elbow supported itself on the hip bone. You wouldn't have noticed her until now. She and the Chancellor, a royal cousin himself, nodded and exchanged casual greetings.
'Something... fishy might be going on,' said the King. The Chancellor immediately associated the King's expression to its object, an Italian merchant republic and almost choked on the meat (and horse radish, which he could feel gathering in his nose). The genius Queen seemed not to have heard anything out of the ordinary.
'It is not actually particularly important that we remain unnoticed, per se,' she finally spoke. 'Perhaps it would be even better if we did not. But we need a good eyeful. Well, earful, when relayed to us.' The Queen always felt a need to express herself precisely, self-correcting every imperfection. Perhaps this was a trace of shyness. Like many a real genius (in so far as you can actually say 'many' of them), she was not a particularly self-confident person, at least not without effort and especially when she was younger, and she felt the need to justify what she said or prove it with evidence. 'The Genoese have just a little more than 10200 soldiers, finishing operations in Theodosia.' Finishing, not finalising. The Queen was not one for unnecessary, pretentious jargon (have we mentioned she was a Poet, too?), even though she could easily outdo any lawyer or philosopher in the realm when successfully baited. 'Basically, we need to know what they face at the home front. Will they have enough to keep afloat...'
'Afloat,' thought the Chancellor, again mentally referring it to the object, an Italian merchant republic built on sea trade. 'Remarkable,' he thought to himself, but did not say. And he kept a straight face.
'...as we take a break and use the remaining five years to regenerate,' the Chancellor caught up with the Queen's voice, albeit with some difficulty. And the five years obviously was to the end of the truce with the Ilkhanate.
'...Or if we need to intervene again,' finished the King. He was not as smart as his wife. Smart but not that smart. Like a hawk is not an eagle.
'I'll make sure we get the best intel,' replied the Chancellor. The Queen was the Spymaster, actually.
'Thanks,' said the King. And he meant it.

'Wonder if those two nerds even realise they are in love with each other,' thought the Chancellor to himself as he fast-paced through the corridors. 'Will they ever?'
'Janko, you are a nerd himself. And you're no longer eighteen either,' he answered immediately.
And there was not a trace of laesio maiestatis in it. He cared deeply and he was a member of the family, although born from an adulterous union. Otherwise he would have a decent claim on the throne (and not only Polish one at that), better than the King's own, at least from a dynastic seniority point of view, which was never conclusive, however, in the Piast Kingdom. At any rate, within three generations up his genealogical tree, out of the fourteen people total there were six dukes, one King, five royal daughters and more people of house Piast than not. It was not possible to legitimise Janko, nor would he want that (not in the least because he felt bad for the husband betrayed). However, he fathered a valid junior branch of the dynasty by his wife Milena, of the Piasts of Opole. Far less royal and far less spectacular, although, as a twist of fate, actually dynastically senior in the house of Piast to Janko's own ancestors, as Milena's descended from a cadet branch of the Silesian branch of Wladyslaw the Exile, eldest son of Boleslaw III Wrymouth, the same one who introduced the seniority succession experiment, which further messed up the Polish gavelkind it was supposed to fix.
Janko was a tinker, basically. Not a knight type, although technically a knight. He did not have a lavish ceremony like a King's lawful-born, but he was entitled to wear the belt and spurs and everything. He rarely did. He would not shirk duty, and if he needed to, he would duly report in armour, with a sword and a shield (with undifferenced royal arms if he wanted to), atop a good horse, but he avoided it, not out of cowardice but out of sheer, deep-seated aversion. Combat was just not his kind of thing. He was a bureaucrat and a diplomat. Much like the King himself. Well, until things changed.


So we send a ship from the Chancellor's nearby barony (Formentera on the island of Mallorca) and it doesn't look good:



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'Seven thousand sieging Nice, already captured some holdings,' Janko was not particularly pedantic when it came to syntax, although you'd never catch him red-handed with a simple, clear grammatical mistake. Everything could be explained by the use of ellipsis and curt, no-nonsense style. 'A bigger stack of slightly less than ten thousand and two hundred locked up at Corsica.' (Janko would argue that human mass was essentially a substance and only a pedantic person would have said 'fewer' instead of 'less'. The Queen would probably argue vehemently in all her straightforward, naive seriousness of a genius, and take it personally, until the King split them up. But this didn't happen.).
'The Genoese have ten thousand and two hundred-something,' said both males in the room at the same time.
'Yes,' the Queen's soft but melodic and ever so serious Italian voice approved. ('You two need to go out more,' thought the Chancellor.)
'This is not looking good,' actually, there was a third male in the room, which had just made himself known, and another one not particularly concerned about prescriptive grammar. This was Doman, the military expert of the group, although the Queen herself was not significantly behind him, at least in theoretical knowledge. With some study she probably could make up but at the expense of other occupations. Doman's skill was fluctuating [OOC: Martial 23-27 and you never know where it currently is until you check] but he was still the most capable commander in the realm. Not the toughest (or the most mature) but by far the most capable. 'It's a coin flip, basically,' Doman no longer sounded like that cheerful kid everybody knew, who made immature comments after reporting back from victorious campaigns. Right now his voice was taking the same intonation as the Queen's, which reminded Janko of the castle medic talking as he dissected a frog to show his students what it had inside. As always, Janko kept his observations to himself.
'This means they either win or lose, there is no telling.' ('I know what a coin flip is, genius,' thought Janko but said nothing, as always. And one thing had not changed about Doman: apparently, he still loved the sound of his voice and sight of everybody listening to him. This was making him grow to eight feet in size and gifting his voice with an ever deeper depth.) 'Obviously, if they lose...'
'Then the rotten cow hits the yard,'[2] Janko chimed in helpfully.
'Yes.' (And this sounded very much like the Queen's 'yes'.)
'Which basically means that all our campaigning in all these wars to save Genoa from the Mongol invasion goes to waste,' pronounced the King. 'Well, not exactly to waste, since we have liberated a good number of Christian folks from heathen oppression, I don't want you to misunderstand me,' the King was obviously taking after some of his wife's habits, 'but you get my point.'
'We do.'
'Which means...'
'...That we take it to the Caliph.'
'We have no other choice. Genoa will not hold otherwise.'
'Oh boy, this is not going to be kindergarten like taking an island here or a stray duchy there... Speaking of which...?'
'Axum.'
'Axum??'
'Yes. Proportionally the largest Christian populace in the Caliph's lands. Conquered within his lifetime, just before you two were born. A legitimate target, if any is.'
'That's farther from the coast at Damietta than it is from Gdansk to Cracow. And through the desert or almost desert, where no more than six thousand men could be maintained. Have you lost your mind?... Err... With your permission.'
'Granted, and no,' answered the King, not one to take offence at a candid comment. The Queen carried on, 'We could actually win that without going any further south than Farama or Manupura. Well, maybe Sarqihya. With some luck.' And then she surprised everyone with, 'As a refined military gentleman like we have here would say, I believe, «We can just sit on the sieges and wait until he peaces out.» Except that it would take longer than usual for him to peace out because we will need to offset the fact that he still controls Axum.' It was a new sensation to find oneself on the blunt end of the Queen's wit. Made you think what the sharp end would be.
'Uh oh,' grumbled Doman in reply, although he was visibly impressed by the Queen's sally. Which undermined his ego a bit and made him significantly less resolute but was overall very endearing. 'And that's actually viable. Crazy but viable. Not like a normal commander thinks, uh, no offence, but it can actually work.'
'No—ne taken,' drawled the Queen slowly but warmly, giving Doman the auntie eyes. He blushed but held his own under the gaze. Mostly.
'Let's do it,' the King concluded the meeting.




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As of 13 April 1347:



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We have basically sent an army by boat from Gdansk while the rest of the forces marched south and east to Moldau and then a bit further south, from where our ships picked them up and transported them to their destination. We also brought in about two thousand and eight hundred troops from Mallorca, which we can now muster. With one holding taken but the Caliph still controlling Axum, the score is 1%. We need to capture as many holdings as we can and as fast as we can if we are going to win this war (apart from any battles in which we engage the enemy forces if we find a good situation).

After a while, the local Muslim rulers gather some forces to the south. They strike at Farama but we evacuate our siege force, somewhat regretful of the wasted investment and opportunity (the siege was almost done):



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We later shuffle some detachments between provinces to make room for them. There is about forty-five thousand people sieging these three neighbouring provinces, which means any group can be joined quickly by the immediately neighbouring one by land and the third by boat (or, in the case of Damietta, by land from both sides). The enemy can't break this and doesn't even try.

Meanwhile it becomes possible to 'usurp' the Duchy of Akbhazia and restore it to its rightful holder, which we do:



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And on second thought, we should have allowed him to 'usurp' it on its own. Perhaps pride led me to want the title to pass through my hands. On the other hand, Mukhran will like me better for passing the ducal title of Abkhazia to him. Still, I feel somewhat bad because it was his birthright, I should give him as much independence with it as possible. Mukhran has also accepted the Catholic creed. I promised to intercede with His Holiness to make sure that returning under papal authority does not result in attempts at latinisation by curial officials. These would similar terms as for any Byzantine emperor who tried to reestablish unity with Rome, except smaller scale, lower profile.

Later, in May, Prince Wladyslaw received envoys at the camp in Gabiyaha[2], which he was commanding.

'Your Grace...' started the German envoys, panting after a ride from the ports in the midday Delta sun.
'What of me?' he asked.
'As an elector of the Holy Roman Empire...'
'That's rich! Which part of Poland do you believe to be a part of the Holy Roman Empire?' he interrupted them, not half the diplomat his father and grandfather were.
'Pomerelia, actually.'


The matter concerned the succession of Kaiser Walram. Wladyslaw felt the urge to nominate himself but eventually sided with Otto. Or the other way round.



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A year later (16 April 1348):



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The first thing you could see in front of the royal tent at the Polish siege camp in Pelusia was tables. Using ten separate tablets, Duchess Ibolya, the wife of Prince Wladyslaw, clad in simple linen dress, mostly brown or white, that any knight's daughter could be wearing, was managing ten separate games of chess against the realm's aspiring military commanders and winning steadily, pacing from table to table while biting on an apple and seemingly ignoring the assembled crowd, which was gradually thinning with the results becoming predictable and the spectacle losing its initial appeal.



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Challengers were initially many, well, at least from the point when it was reassured that any degree or rank of man could step up feely, but eventually even the top brass (or, perhaps, especially the top brass) became soft in the knees. The best score so far belonged to an eager Doman, who was the first to suffer a public humiliation by losing four games out of five and, on the sole remaining occasion, being referred to as, 'the King's favourite marine,' whom Ibolya supposedly could not afford to, 'destroy utterly.' The military crowd laughed and whistled and jeered and booed at him, albeit playfully... until others tried and, one by one, acquired a new measure of respect for the young Marshal after not lasting half the number of turns he did. He was now the object of envious admiration of everybody at the camp, including the dogs. Anybody who dared make a snarky comment would be strong-armed by him into a painful doom of his own, with Ibolya's ready cooperation. It seemed the Marshal and his cousin-in-law had a silent pact in force now, effectively annihilating any opposition. Nobody else managed to take a game from her and the King himself, as well as Prince Wladyslaw had also tried. It was all in good cheer. Some of the younger knights who had tried their hand developed an interest in learning strategy and tactics, and even some of the older and hardened warhorses secretely, or even not so secretly, started to read.

Amid this cheerful but not particularly dynamic atmosphere, which was losing steam in the migraine-inducing subtropical afternoon sun, the King, ignored at this time by seemingly all of the camp that was too busy engaging in its own occupations and diversions to pay him much notice, addressed his wife:
'Darling...'
'Yes, Wieslaw?' she was caught by surprise a bit, readily expressing benevolent interest in his inquiry.
'There is something I have told you far too rarely. In fact, I wonder if I ever have at all,' the King sounded ashamed.
'And that would be?' the Queen, already sensing something with her intuition, was not making it any easier on him.
'...That I love you,' he said without hesitation or doubt.
'I know,' replied the Queen. She was about to retort with a witticism when her wits failed her at the last moment. So she just said, 'I know.' She was suddenly somewhat solemn. But serene at the same time.
'I mean, I'm in love with you,' clarified the king, greying and fifty but now sounding like a frightened schoolboy making his first move on a girl.
'I know,' replied the Queen again, for some reason already entirely grey, although with a youthful look and manner. Not that she lacked wrinkles. She was nonetheless still the same Berta Orsini with her high cheek bones, her convex Roman nose, long, dark and curled lashes and a hawk's brows, each now matched by a visible crease on the opposite side of her hazel eyes, adding to the distinction already marked by somewhat distinct bone outlines. There were also wrinkles to be seen on her neck and running orthogonally through her collar bones, as if radiating from the pointy leaves of her necklace, which was a simple, nearly ascetic yet masterful piece of goldwork, resembling an inverted crown.
The king traced the crevices under the queen's eyes with the middle knuckles of his index fingers. She could not suppress the tear, although her eye did not blink. Notwithstanding that she was actually smiling.
'You seem more beautiful to me now than ever,' he said. 'And I think you can recall I was pretty smitten when I saw you as a boy,' he added to cheer up the atmosphere.
'Oh yes I can!' she sounded so Italian in this exclamation, probably because of being caught off-guard. 'Too awe-struck to be able to say anything would be a nice way of putting it,' she continued in perfect Polish.
'That I was.'
'Still are.'
'True.'
And they shared a good laugh. She actually patted him on the back. He actually returned the favour.


Soon everybody knew:



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Without any battles we continued the sieges for one month more:



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...Until he peaced out at 45% (with about -22% offset for controlling everything in Axum).



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We located the last Solomonid king and his living son:



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He was the Chancellor of Bedford. I invited him and his two sons and several royal Solomonid ladies to my court, after bestowing them with gifts. Prince Eremias followed in Prince Mukhran's steps and he too agreed to convert to the Catholic faith.



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After which we invited him to take possession of the Duchy of Axum, in its entirety [OOC: Didn't even hand out the bishoprics for piety.], just as the last Caliphal troops and mercenaries were leaving.



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And so the House of Solomon was put back in power:



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The necessity to rule as a foreign king's vassal was probably not the most uplifting but the thought that it was the same king who challenged the Caliph for the same land and then invited Eremias from Bedford to rule it apparently was. Eremias was also simply grateful, apart from the fact he well understood that without the protection he simply could not maintain an independent rule and would be swallowed by the Caliph or some other Muslim ruler again. Speaking of which, to the south and east there is still a 'Sultan of Abyssinia', which could be taken in one war. And, due to his location, he is not neighboured by anybody Muslim other than a sole, already allied emir (Sanaa), mostly across the water. Sooner or later, certain, painful doom is coming there. Possibly later, since while both Eremias and Mukhran are about 50 years old, Eremias has another, younger, claimant to Abyssinia in his dynasty, while Mukhran has a claim that needs to be pressed before it can be inherited.

In fact, our list of claimants is getting large:



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Meanwhile the Caliph has dropped below the Ilkhan on the list of powers that be:



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Been to war with the top four by the way, and won against the bottom three. With the Kaiser, as you remember, I was not in control but improved the warscore by almost 50%, leading to white peace. Speaking of which, Genoa holds, now unoccupied, and up -29% warscore (from almost -70%):



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This should last for the one and a half years there is to the end of the truce with the Ilkhanate.
 
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NewbieOne

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The Man Who Could Have Become the Ilkhan

On 3 November 1349 died the Baron of Tabanya, my son's father-in-law, father of Ibolya. She is now thirty and looks every bit of it, perhaps a little older. Poor girl might age fast.



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I cannot, however, stay behind and grieve. I have already aged, and I might die fast. And there is work to do:



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As we sail to install a Catholic Ilkhan, we receive word from Abyssinia that the ancient monasteries of Axum, where kings of the line of Solomon were crowned, have returned into union with the Pope:



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Shortly after this news we make landfall:



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Since we had invited capable warlords from all over Europe prior to the war, our army now has no shortage of exceptionally skilled commanders. In the centre here is Prince Hans of Denmark, younger son of King Valdemar III, who died back in 1301, before Denmark plunged into darkness. It is currently ruled by King-Bishop Adolf I, who nine years ago deposed my niece, the possessed princess Gyda, then aged 20 and queen for six years. She is 29 now and if her husband, a craven, slothful, lustful and gluttonous Visconti, uncle of the current Duke of Lombardia, who is surnamed 'the Wicked', were still alive, he would be 71. The former queen Freja, deposed as a toddler and now aged 52, is the kingdom's largest power. She is Fratticelli and utterly hates the King-Bishop. She holds two duchies (she lost one and gained one in her life-time), four counties and three baronies (plus nine barony-level vassals), in contrast to his one and only county apart from the royal title. One of her duchies is Skane, which she actually wrested from a previous Archbishop long ago (in 1330). It's beyond me how the King-Bishop actually managed to grab the throne of the realm in such circumstances but a hint can be found in the fact that my niece, Gyda, holds only one county. Incidentally, the aforementioned two women, Freja whom I once almost married and Gyda, my niece, are the King-Bishop's only two significant vassals. The rest are four barons and mayors.

No wonder Prince Hans preferred a nicer, safer place, like the front line in the war against the Ilkhanate.

Out of my other could-have-beens, the Duchess of Chernigov is going on well, now independent from the Horde, three duchies, five counties and one barony in demesne, currently waging war for the independence of her Volhynian cousins right next to my borders.

A courtier tries to talk me into another heresy but I'll hear none of it:



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Instead of attacking right away, we make use of the fact that we actually own the adjacent province and that there is a high supply limit for us in the Genoese holdings, so we get more men and then push on:



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But there is another stack like that in the other adjacent province.

And the caliphal troops join in despite the truce and lack of a formal state of war (must have been a Genoese troop joining forces with us against the Ilkhanate army, triggering this, or the fact they attached armies). And an enemy landfall pops up out of nowhere on top of it.

We funnel in more troops:



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Cousin Henry, a minor princeling from Silesia and the last one to be transported, didn't even finish his supper. No sooner had he landed than much of the army had to make way back to the fleets to find accommodation. And we liberated

And we liberated Caffa. Again. Must have been a third time or something.



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Meanwhile, look at my could-have-been chaplain (a man with equal Learning but more virtue was found and given the post):



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Not the one. Son. The one was deposed by an impatient heir, now dead. Scotland is ruled by a kid, this guy's nephew.

Back to the more important subject, though, the battles were particularly bloody:



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We go to Georgia (or at least the Georgian Duchy of Kartli, now in the Byzantine Empire; Georgia is, of course, the patrimony of Prince Mukhran Bagrationi or his nephew Davit, son of his elder brother the last king before Muslim conquest, although he somehow got bypassed in claim inheritance) and unload thirteen thousand soldiers in Guria to provide support and cover for the sieges... But it seems both the Ilkhanate and the Caliph's troops are back at Caffa, so we go back and defeat them. At this stage, a nearly six thousand stack could be a problem for the Genoese to deal with.



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And... suddenly...



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Lamahorse

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Great story and great campaigning.

Restore de Bruce! :D
 

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Great story and great campaigning.

Thanks! :D

Restore de Bruce! :D

Actually, he's a younger son of the old king Robert. The old king was deposed by has already died and the usurper was the eldest son, who is also dead, and now the eldest's son's eldest son, a minor, is ruling Scotland. :D

Also, for all his theological skillz, this insolent knave is trying to assassinate my wife.

Oh, and I've got more people to restore! I'm nowhere near out of claimants and deposed Christians rulers in Muslim lands. :D
 
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Lamahorse

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Oh, and I've got more people to restore! I'm nowhere near out of claimants and deposed Christians rulers in Muslim lands. :D

Ha, even though that previous war was an inconclusive anticlimax; I'm eager to see the expansion of Christendom under the auspices of Poland. :)
 

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Ha, even though that previous war was an inconclusive anticlimax; I'm eager to see the expansion of Christendom under the auspices of Poland. :)

Dude died on me in three reloads, some of which his successor also died shortly thereafter (and in the middle of his own war, then succeeded by a guy who did inherit the Ilkhanate claim but was not actually descended from that Mongol princess and would have been a completely unconvincing claimant). I guess the game was bent on having him die, so I thought I wouldn't reload just keep him alive. Didn't want to make it too gamey. (For similar reasons I didn't marry those guys mitrilineally to women from my dynasty to take over the claim.)
 

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Back to War

With Prince Mukhran dead we could only sail back home. There was still hope of eventual success, as Mukhran's successor would inherit his claim. But our efforts had still gone to waste, except that the Ilkhanate was weakened and the caliph had taken a beating as well.

'So, we go back home.' She said. 'Don't worry, we can be back as soon as we get things sorted with the succession.'
'Yes, I guess so. It's only that we had their armies defeated and had already captured one-fifth of the holdings needed to force peace on our terms. In reality, capturing a wealthy city or two would have made things even easier. And nothing seemed to be able to prevent that from happening.'
'That was a big disappointment, I know. But look at the bright side. We're still alive. We have taken no significant losses other than in the large battle at the Crimea where eight thousand of ours died compared to twenty thousand on the Ilkhan's side and about the same on the Caliph's, I guess. No pneumonia, no typhoid fever, no siege attrition. And we're sailing away undefeated, pretty much from the winning position for the time being. They couldn't exactly force us to leave. We still have more soldiers here than they could gather any time soon. They can do nothing to us.' '...Speaking of which. Last one to those hills over yonder is a fat, hairy ogre!' She ran to the horse pen.
'I think it's already easy enough to tell which one of us looks closer to one, you know!' he shouted after her. 'It's not a fair contest when your sole opponent is the most beautiful woman in the realm!' he actually managed to make it sound like a rebuke.
'Aww! Nah! You're pretty handsome, you know!' she shouted back.
'Thanks!' he was taken by surprise and didn't suspect anything.
'...For a non-Italian!'
'Women,' mumbled the king under his nose.


The new Duke of Akbhazia was Davit Bagrationi, son of Andronik, the last King of Georgia (or Despot, as he styled himself), Mukhran's elder brother. Also descended from Oljat Borjigin. Married to Rycheza, Doman's daughter actually (whom we very much consider a princess, under the penalty for laesio maiestatis if someone disagrees with the idea, although Doman is in charge of a single county for now). Patrilineally. And there would be no alliance anyway, as you get no alliance with somebody who's married to a distant cadet of your dynasty [OOC: In CK2, that is. Any ruler from your dynasty is an ally but his son-in-law is not.]. Oh well. Also, unless Davit and Rycheza have children, he will be the last Bagrationi male with Borjigin blood. Davit also entered into a union with the Pope.



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[OOC: Mukhran as the son of an Ilkhanate princess wasn't unviable, except that the Mongols have open agnatic law, so it looks a bit questionable whether a dynastic woman's son could inherit (the woman herself obviously not). Davit as a Borjigin woman's grandson looks shabbier already, while some other Bagrationi inheriting the claim without having a drop of Mongol blood, let alone the Genghisid clan, would be utterly unconvincing if neither Mukhran nor Davit actually sat on the throne and given that they were by no means senior claimants one can't really regard them as exiled monarchs capable of conveying inheritance to some other dynasty. This wouldn't be much better than a fabricated claim. Therefore it's either Davit's children or a really spurious claim.]

Our options are not many and basically still confined to war against the Ilkhanate. We can make it a claim war or a holy war for something. Meanwhile a look at the recorded history of our new territories convinces me that the heirs of the last pre-Mongol holder of Korchev and Tmutarakhan are alive. In fact, further study reveals that these lands were the last refuge of the Trebisond Empire, which fell in 1308 [OOC: This game started in 1296. In real life, Trebisond held out until 1461. However, it did not have a quarrel with the Mongols unlike here. In the game it is represented as a Despotate (kingdom equivalent), which is what Constantinople believed it to be. However, after actually dropping the pretence to Constantinople, dating back to 1204, the Komneni held on to the imperial title, adopting a different, sumptuous and inflated designation: of the entire east (and so on).]. Michael (68) and Manuel (53) are the younger two sons of the former Emperor Ioannes, who died over thirty years ago. Their eldest brother has already departed this world, as well.

So, I declare Holy War on the Ilkhanate for the Duchy of Trebisond (de iure, it was not a significant part of the pre-1204 Empire), invest Michael with Korchev and Tmutarakhan (at the Sea of Azov) and find him a brilliant and beautiful young wife from the Despotate of Epirus, which is another splinter-state following the collapse of Byzantium in 1204, headed by another claimant to the throne in Constantinople. Her (impressive) name is Iouliana Komnena Doukaina. The surname marks descent from two previous ruling dynasties: the Doukas (the later house of Doukas was related to but a cadet branch of the proper, earlier house Doukas) and the Komneni, of humble origins (there are claims of descent from a captive Persian aristocrat or even the Roman house of the Fabii but in reality they come from a simple soldier from Thrace, who was the father of the future Emperor, Isaac I Komnenos), who halted the decline of the Empire from the time of the first to the third crusade, around which time they were replaced by the Angeloi family shortly before the infamous sack of Constantinople in 1204, for which the participants of the so called Fourth Crusade were excommunicated by the Pope but a Latin Empire nevertheless came into existence. The remnants of the latter are still visible on the map, in the form of a couple of duchies, some of which have already knelt before the Palailogos Emperor in Constantinople, Boethios. The Komneni brothers, however still retain a claim to the entire Empire.



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In fact, we certainly had the opportunity to arrange a matrilineal marriage to someone from our dynasty even for both of the brothers prior to giving them any land to rule, press their claim, install the last Komnenos Emperor in Constantinople, now a Catholic and to be succeeded by his Piast children, belonging to their mother's dynasty and forever to be in an alliance with Poland due to the fact. Eventually, we could perhaps unite the 'imperial' and 'royal' Piast branches when one of them ran out of male heirs. But there are several reasons why I don't want to do this, most of all because this would essentially be another sack of Constantinople with another subset of the 'Franks' (the East is not particularly discriminating when it comes to westerners' origins), installing another claimant by force (the wayward crusaders in 1204 also initially supported a claimant they regarded as more entitled than the then-current incumbent). The current Palaiologi occupants of the imperial throne are actually very much the usurpers but the Komneni themselves are not a paragon dynasty, either: they also began from usurpation (first Isaac, after whom ruled the Doukas family, and then Alexios, the emperor during the first crusade) and they were finally overthrown in Constantinople in 1185 in the person of Andronikos for cruelty and such like, apart from the fact that he himself reportedly murdered people to ascend to the throne and ensure his position on it. While they do have a better claim than the Palaiologoi (Michael was a general under the Laskaris emperor of Nikaia until he got himself appointed co-ruler and then blinded his last Laskaris superior, who supposedly forgave him before dying as a monk), they don't have a perfectly good, unstained title, either, also being tarnished with usurpation and murder.

The Palaiologi have also by now occupied the throne in Constantinople for three generations after Michael VIII cast out the Latins, and the current Basileus for all his vices (incidentally, Pride and Wroth, the trademark duo of my own dynasty, the one of which I also have and the other I've managed to lose) is near-constantly fighting holy wars in Asia Minor and Georgia all the time to rebuild the empire. Even though his legitimacy as the grandson of a usurper and murderer without much of a dynastic claim is very questionable (worth noting that Michael Palailogos's own son was actually overthrown by his eldest son in turn and reduced to a doux somewhere, the current Basileus, Boethios, being the son of the rebel). I am not convinced that striking against Boethios to advance the Komneni claim would be a good thing to do, especially with the ulterior motive being to put my own dynasty on the throne in Constantinople under the guise of restoring them, while marrying their last heir matrilineally to the daughter or sister of my cadet in a shady deal with a desperate person who can't choose his options. This would be more of a questionable land conveyancing transaction than the restoration of a rightful dynasty, after all! I will stay my hand, at least as long as the Basileus does not attack me first. Unfortunately, the Komneni claim will be extinguished beyond recreation with the decease of Michael and Manuel. Without pressing it in a war their children will simply not inherit it.

[OOC: In other words, it would simply be too gamey to keep the claimant in my court, make a guaranteed matrilineal marriage to the daughter of some unimportant cadet from my dynasty, push the claim while the claimant's alive and wait until his kids came over, switching the dynasty to mine. In real life categories, this would be like 20,000-40,000 people dying on both sides to accomplish an underhanded dynastic takeover in a non-hostile Christian country that had no desire to unite with us and would probably have preferred to be left alone. ...As much as it would look good in a late-start AAR starting from a duchy to gain the ERE. I am not excluding an intervention in the ERE but no matrilineal marriages to my cadets. The bad thing here being that CK2 doesn't allow even obvious significant, major claimants like exiled previous dynasties to inherit claims.]

Traditionally, we begin with checking out the situation in the Crimea but the Genoese are holding their ground and the Caliph soon gets hit by a Crusade for the entire Kingdom of Jerusalem or rather the seven or so counties of it now in the Caliph's possession (the surrounding Muslim nobles having asserted their independence and thus being allied to the Caliph and providing troops but not affected by the loss of territory following the war). Nothing really meriting an intervention, we sail to the Georgian province of Guria, now in the Byzantine Empire, to unload our first army of thirteen thousand or so. We gradually drop off armies of ten thousand in Chaldea and Trapezous, while ignoring the single-barony titular sultan who joined his relative in the war, as capturing his sole holding would only improve our supply lines (perhaps two thousand soldiers more would be able to stay at the siege camp in the neighbouring Chaldea) at the cost of delays and casualties. The latter because sieges always claim victims from the attacking camp, and because managing three sieges is significantly riskier than managing two, such as when you need to interrupt the siege in order to help out another army when it gets attacked. So this is going to be a little boring and about a half of the army is going to spend much of its time on ships or in neutral provinces.



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And...:



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Her contact was in the agreed spot, visibly agitated and actually visibly shaking. Tino, he young Pontic Greek boy with curly black hair was afraid to speak but apparently even more afraid of what could happen if he didn't.
'What is the matter, young lad?' she asked, sensing something but also concerned about her young interlocutor.
'The Turks. And some Mongols. They are setting up and ambush, moving. Your soldiers are in danger, soon. There is a party that we know of nearby. It will be crushed. Then they will also strike at the village, where you purchase provisions... ...They will probably also want to punish us for trading with you, make an example. Or just use us to get you to do what they want you to do. They are also building something at the beach.' The beach was the place where reinforcements would be landing. Without them the encounter with the Ilkhanate force from Theodosia could be disastrous.
'We can still do something.'
'Perhaps you can, kalé déspoina,' he granted and nodded, as if convincing himself. And it touched her that someone would regard her as the 'beautiful lady' in her mid fifites. 'But there is little time. And it's going to be dangerous. You can die. And it may still not work,' the boy continued, cast down and dejected.
'Don't be so pessimistic, young boy,' she ruffled his hair.
'Pessi-what?' he looked up with large, inquiring eyes.
'Don't assume the worst. I mean... don't think they bad things will happen if you don't know for sure that they will. We must make sure that they don't.'
'If you say so.'
'I do.'
'Do you want me to go with you?'
'No. Just show me the way and tell me exactly who's where. Then go to your village and try to set them at ease. Tell them help is coming.'
The last part was problematic, actually. She was two hours of riding away from the Polish camp. There was no time to go back there. Nor any way of contacting them for that matter.
'How old are your children?'
'The eldest is thirty-eight. She married in a far-off land and has plenty of children. The next is thirty-two, she also married a man from far away. They look like twins.'
'Are they as beautiful as you are?'
'Oh yes,' she chuckled momentarily despite the situation. 'If not more! They have softer features. A daughter is always the more beautiful to her mother. I also had one that died a young girl,' this was still a sad remembrance.
'I'm sorry,' he tried to comfort her. 'Any sons? My age?'
'No, boy. My son is thirty. A mighty tall, fine man. Fair-haired, actually. Just like his father. A little darker maybe. Got himself an older wife, just like my daughters married younger men.'
'So he has his own sons?' he obviously wasn't interested in the family oddities concerning spousal age.
'Yes, one. Your age actually. A prince of a boy.'
'I would be a prince too. If it weren't for the Turks. And then the Mongols,' his face turned stiff, his gaze cold, his voice wandering off to things he probably tried to forget.
'What is your name, boy?' she was going to ask when he looked at her, decided to confide his secret. His young fists were clenched tightly and veins bulging with boiling blood.
'My name is Konstantinos. Konstantinos Komnenos. My grandfather was a cousin of the old emperor. He stayed behind. Until he died. And my father with him.' What secrets was this boy hiding? She believed him. There was no way he could fake it and no way he was insane.
'And your mother?'
'She was beautiful. Like you. Only younger,' said the boy with the freshness of someone who had not been taught that it was a faux pas in certain circles to mention a woman's age so directly to her.
'Lord Michael and Lord Manuel are with us. Sons of the old Emperor Ioannes,' she tried to sound reassuring.

***

Half an hour of riding later.

Immediately in front of her eyes a gory scene of battle was taking place. Or rather what seemed closer to becoming the aftermath of one. An unsaddled Polish commander, judging by the look of his armour, bravely but uncertainly blocked the blow of a curved oriental sword with the steel portion of his axe, staggering on his feet even without needing the added weight of an armed hand striking at him from the height of horseback. Other men were exchanging blows wearily, not overly many of them on either side, for that matter. The wounded commander tripped and fell.
She let out a short prayer and gave her horse the spur. The mounted man turned to received the charge as yards passed between them in seconds that seemed to last forever. She also turned. And dropped her sword at the last minute, since she had no intention of going into melee. At least not the kind her soon to be adversary had in mind. She was now clasping the horse's mane with both hands and ordered the beast to take a leaping jump at the last moment. The man in the turban-wrapped helmet was hit in his chest with all the force of the animal's farried hooves, and fell. Dispossessed of her sword now, she could only jump at him before he could get up and indeed she had already withdrawn her feet from the stirrups. The man soon had a knee on his throat.
'Order them off. Have them drop their weapons on the ground,' she shouted at him first in Arabic, then in Greek. 'Now!'
Instead, he shouted back something that sounded more like an attack order and shoved her off. Almost. She pressed.
His men let out an ominous collective howl and jumped. She tumbled back, pulling a knife from her boot on the way. A shield was put quickly over her with the design of a Polish city or lordship unknown to her but she ordered them forward. 'Move, move!' She picked up a sword and round shield from a dead soldier. 'There aren't enough of you to play guard duty! Form up on me or we all die here!' She blocked an incoming scimitar and cut open the wielder's throat before the sound of these words died away. She prodded and nailed another attacker, while the sound of 'For Poland! For the King!' nearly deafened her as the battered troops found a new resolve. She also thrust forward, smashing the right temple of the first next man whose sword stopped on her shield with the hilt of her sword to avoid having to pull out the blade, which she would shortly need for another. She had no proper armour and tired fast, and the safest course of action was the speediest.
'Form up, form up! Shields abreast!' she nearly tore her throat. The voice that was trained to sing poetry did its job surprisingly well in field cirumstances. The large escutcheons of Poland's poor bloody infantry could indeed be used to bull rush any rank and file equipped with smaller defensive hardware, although this was normally a defensive formation. But now was no time to be orthodox. 'Swordsmen after me! Wide arc!' She barked as she crushed the rim of her shield into the base of a man's nose and then pierced him with her sword. She was subsuquently struck down, but only to enable a large blade to cut far into the flesh of the infidel who accomplished the feat. 'Thanks,' she said to the soldier and was already up on her feet.
Minutes later the field had been mowed.
But the work was not yet done. Not even close to it.
'Follow me!' She was back in the saddle, turning the horse in place as she talked, or rather exclaimed, in a hoarse voice. And she also now had a scavenged hauberk crudely wrapped about her and fastened with a belt. 'There is no time to lose!' And she spurred the horse without looking behind.
 
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[continued]

***

She dismounted at a distance and ordered the horse down and quiet but kept her hand at the ready just in case, to muffle any sound. She decided to take a look at the situation on foot, although knees and elbows would be more like it much of the time and the chainmail wasn't making this any more pleasant. But pleasant is not what she cared about or even noticed much right now. Apparently, the outnumbered but better armed Poles were tending to their wounded behind an improvised barricade of supply wagons supplemented by shields. The Mongols or Turks, whichever they were, were also licking their wounds, regrouping and occasionally harassing the local populace but not so much as to provoke the Poles to any desperate move. There seemed to be an unspoken cease-fire in place, subject to no guarantee whatsoever. Although she could not make out the words from so far away, it was mostly the usual bullying, primarily yelling and prodding, nothing drastically serious, although that was liable to change any minute. While neither side was particularly desirous to lose most of its men as the price of the other side losing all in a coin flip gamble, this was real war and they all knew what they had signed up for. They were already agitated and wary of the pause in action.

A look behind her back revealed that she was apparently being caught up with by three riders, being the visible spearhead of the unmounted Poles trudging behind; someone must have borrowed the commander's horse, the other guy taken the late Ilkhanate officer's noble steed and the third figure might as well have just been riding a pack horse freed of its usual heavy load of munitions, and the contours seemed fairly western, so things were generally adding up. She motioned at them to dismount, be silent and join her carefully. Meanwhile the atmosphere at the village began to heat up. Literally so, as one of the younger Mongol soldiers with an attitude, and better dressed than the rest of them if she could make it out from that far, could not hold his urges and began accosting a local Greek girl. It did not take a genius to know where this was leading. The villagers were fuming and the old Polish hedge knight in charge of the improvised defensive camp seemed to have just issued some very clear, very nasty orders, which would not be quoted to the letter in any report but would be carried to the letter by his men. The balance was as fragile as ever.

She hoped the incoming riders were seasoned veterans or at least peasant levies and not city boys who may otherwise have had their uses but had probably never ridden an animal. 'We have two options basically: either some form of combat, a rapid assault, or some form of talking. Probably a mix of both. I'll talk if I get the opportunity, in which case I need you to make arrogant, bored faces,' she briefed them. 'Look like you're better than everybody but just can't be bothered to assert it more actively. Try to look like a knight, basically.'
'Aye, ma'am,' said the man who had come on the commander's horse, quietly, obviously the leader of the three, probably second in command of the infantry detachment. 'No worries. I had a nasty son of a bitch of a lord in my village, errr... with your permission. We got him decapitated,' the black patch across his left eye vastly enhanced his powers of persuasion. She looked at him as if he had just confessed a murder.
'Well, not us, ma'am, of course,' he explained and the tension went away. 'The duke did. We got a lawyer. Son of a bitch too but not as violent. Took a year's savings to pay him off and that was already after discount.'
'How about you tell me when this is over?'
'Err, right ma'am,' he corrected himself. 'Begging your pardon, ma'am. Lads! Just do what I do. Or what the lady says,' he corrected himself again.
'What do they call you, soldier?'
'You don't wanna know.'
'What's your name then?'
'John.'
'All right, John. Come on, guys. Let's take it closer to them.'

The first helmets and spear tips began to make themselves visible within remote sight range, unmistakably Polish but also unmistakably still too far away to make in time in case events in the village escalated, in which case the existing Polish force holed up there had a noticeable disadvantage in numbers and an unclear positional offset that would last only until somebody got smart and used incendiary arrows or anything incendiary, for that matter. The young cad and two or three of his companions were getting restless, as were the villagers, whom only the clear vision of lack of a realistic chance of success was holding back. She finished the briefing in a hushed, hurried and breathless but still commanding voice, while beginning to feel the iron-like taste of blood in her mouth from exertion: 'This will sound crazy but it is actually doable. We may have have to brave it before the infantry make it or the bastards will have it with the girl and then bloody murder will follow. Cut them off from their horses and jump at any wannabe archers. Just ride them through, no stopping. If your horse is falling, pull your feet out and prepare to jump or roll to safety. Don't get yourself killed, I need every Pole and every able-bodied Greek in this village alive. Jump at the commander with me if we spot his position and you see me move there.'

By this time the eager youngster was apparently preparing to turn his threats and boasting into action. Was. He did not manage to. A crossbow bolt from the Polish camp interrupted him conclusively just before four riders burst in the village. Two orders carried through the air in quick succession: first, in almost singing Greek: 'Get out of the way and get safe or grab some gear and help out!' and then, in Polish: 'Keep on, help is coming!'

The old knight may have been itching for a head-on confrontation but he was not dim. He caught wind of the plan and the handful of riders soon increased its scarce size. Meanwhile arrows started flying that were neither from the Poles nor from the Mongols or Turks or whoever they were, adding to the pressure. Soon a small but not hopelessly so group of riders zoomed in on the centre of the opposing troops, now hastily forming a defensive circle around the leader. The talking soon materialised, and it worked. The fact that they were Turks and not Mongols expedited the matter.

***

'What do we have here?' she muttered to herself after checking on the wounded, on both sides, and dispatching a messenger to alert the main Polish camp. 'Oil. Wax. Saltpetre. Rope. There's even a little brimstone. It seems it's time to get to work. ...John, roll me this bucket. I'm out of breath.'
'What are you making, ma'am?'
'Fireworks.'
'Ah,' he remarked as if that explained all.
'There is a recipe for boom and there is a recipe for swish. And there is a recipe for smoke. And there are good, old-fashioned fire arrows.'
'That almost sounds like it's fun to you' he sounded at least slightly uncomfortable.
'In a way. You never fix stuff or tinker with your equipment to make it more effective?'
'I guess...'
'Now get me something so I don't need to put my hands in there.'
'Fetchin'.'
'Put your shield over here. Yeah, here. I'm not sure I remember the exact proportions.'
'You mean...'
'Yeah, it can. But nothing huge right now. Not enough mass. Yet. ...Wonder if these guys here have slings. That could make life easier. Well, depends from whose perspective. ...Or some pitch.' In her imagination, she already saw incendiary arrows hitting whatever the slings delivered.
'Remind me not to get on your bad side,' John was apparently not interested in the details of her imagination.
'You haven't seen the sand bombs yet. And if we had enough time, I could show you guys how to build a catapult. How are your drill instruction skills?'
'Not bad, why?'
She dusted herself down and intoned in Greek, 'Who will go with us? I will be honest with you. You can die. Some of you probably will die. Some of us too. I would not normally be asking but if the Mongols were to succeed at what they are doing, they could delay or prevent our reinforcements while funnelling in theirs through the mountains. I will not lure you with promises, I want only volunteers.'
She still got a good number. And the men of Trebisond were skilled with the bow. Especially the local who had popped up in the middle of the fight. To make things sweeter, they had a weapons cache nearby and were not opposed to sharing. John the Militia Trainer (as he would forever be known) rolled up his sleeves and took to work. He tried to ignore the whistles and smoke and small explosions coming from the side.

***

'We're ready,' she announced. 'Or rather I'm ready and we don't have much time. How are you guys?'
'Not bad. They're eager and motivated but they understand the need for discipline and don't want to get themselves killed for no good reason.'
'That will have to do. All right, let's get it moving.'
'Where are we going?'
'The beach.'
'So what are the... fireworks for?'
'Some are to warn the fleet, some are to destroy whatever they're building there.'
'They're fortifying against landfall?'
'Yes. And we need to blow it up, torch it down, tear it apart, whatever method it takes to make it disappear.'
'Won't they be guarding it?'
'They will and it's going to be tough and I expect heavy resistance but they can't divert too many forces from the main battlegrounds and tactical positions. They don't want to draw too much attention there, either. They believe we don't know what they're doing.'
'What's the plan?'
'We shall go through the forest. From there we will need to ignite any wooden structures and render any trenches unusable. If there are any holes or other traps, we will need to mark them, probably sift through the sand a bit to check for surprises. I've alerted the camp and the fleet shouldn't be far away. I hope we will not have to hold the ground for too long. Speaking of which, let's find a swimmer. I'll need you guys to empty a wine bag for him.'
'That shouldn't be difficult.'



***

They found a patch of the forest extending to the sea itself and flanking the beach. This was exactly what they needed. After leaving the swimmer on the lookout for ships, they stopped at the outskirts, shielded from view, and set up shop. After a while archers had all the destructive accessories they needed and were comfortably dug in, as were the spearmen. The designated cavalry acted as a mobile reserve of mostly swordsmen. The muffled horses were kept at the back, along with the carts.

'I want the professionals in our crowd to use the silenced arrows or bolts first and take aimed shots as far away as you can to take out as many guards as you can, then whistling ones to break their morale,' she said while putting an arrow on her own, tilted bow. 'We can resist any semi-organised attempt by those closer to us if they actually make any, and shooting at those is a good choice for those of you who are less confident of your skills because somebody still still needs to take care of them. But remember it's those farther away who can give us trouble in the longer run. Take a comfortable, free position first but I want you to jump behind cover as soon as any counter-fire starts. No grandstanding, is this crystal clear? I need heroes today but I need live ones. Don't target the workers. Many of them likely slaves or coerced locals or prisoners of war. We can use especially the latter. Only shoot at those who shoot at you first. At least some will be their normal line soldiers, so this is possible. Just make out the one from the other before you fire.'
she turned at the spearmen and swordsmen. 'Whatever I said about heroes to the archers is doubly true for you, or even ten-fold. Always look around. Some of those guys have trained with bows since childhood. Don't run into any arrow volleys. Zig-zag your way, change directions after they let the arrows go. In doubt, jump back behind cover, which is where you should be unless there's a clear tactical goal. We don't need to be gaining any ground, so far this will be our foothold. Don't get mounted unless you really know what you are doing. If unoccupied, you can hold shields for the archers or assist them with the reloading. Also, if you are not in danger, I want you to haul back every sword, axe, maul, bow, quiver, any weapon or shield you find, especially a large kite shield. You can build a wall of those and even such that they don't need a man to hold, and they are a good cover for archers. Take even armour if you have the time and aren't exposed — some of our guys don't have any. This won't be pretty but we're fighting for survival here.'
'Still, I am not giving you a take no prisoners order,' she continued. 'Spare all who surrender and bring all who wish to join us to see me. Not all in the Mongol armies love the Mongols.'
'I want you to focus on the men first but when you've cleared the field somewhat or they move around too much, I need you to take care of the wall. Use incendiary arrows but throw some of these first,' she pointed at a bucket full of home-made oil bombs. 'You can use slings for that but don't waste spears, we may need them for later.' She kept walking and point. 'These you can put on the arrows,' she was looking at another one, filled with dirty, cut up rags soaked in an unidentified highly flammable substance, also of her own making. 'Any good runners?' Some hands went up. 'Great. Be ready and report to me when this starts.'
'Any questions?'
There were none.
She fell down on her knees and started praying.

***

The first, silenced, rounds, followed by normal, better flying and harder hitting arrows, succeeded at thinning out the enemy. Once chaos broke out archers duly divided among three groups: those who kept taking targeted shots and properly calculated volleys, those who picked easier targets and finally all the rest of people who could hope to hit a wooden wall from the distance. Those who could not were reassured that it was all right to rest and conserve their strength and that it was, in fact, what they were expected to do. They sound found action, repelling the first instinctive charge by the closest group of enemies, who apparently thought they could make it or it was their only chance. Their weapons and armour were promptly retrieved and prisoners bound together with their backs to the tree. No fatalities on the Polish side.

'Runners!'
'Aye!'
'As soon as we've taken care of their archers and you can sneak to the wall, I need you to sneak as far as you can start some fires to speed things up. I can get you some smoke for protection or send some men to retrieve you on your way back but right now I don't want to draw attention to the place, so avoid been seen. Be careful. I need you alive and I need the scouting information from you. After every longer section you make without being discovered one of you should come back with the news.Go!'

The forest position finally began attracting archery fire but arrows flew without causing major damage. There were some in the shields and some in the trees. There were one or two more serious hits and several scratches but nothing critical. Apart from the vicious but catastrophic initial charge no enemies currently seemed eager to charge into their part of the woods. But this surprise and concentration advantage would not last forever, something she well knew. A whole detachment of shield-bearers was sent to put some serious fire to their closest section of the incomplete wooden field fortification, as much to cause actual damage to the structure as to put up a beacon of fire and smoke for the fleet. Attempts were made to stop them but between the shields of the infantry out in the field and the arrows of archers dug in in the forest, those only resulted in a couple of wounds and, on the plus side, a small collection of equipment to hand out to the Greek militia, in addition to what they had from the first frantic waves they had withstood. Several captured works proved indeed to have been prisoners or slaves or otherwise happy to take up arms against their former Mongol masters. For now, the Poles were firmly in the black.

She soon realised that they would need to move out if they wanted to keep doing damage. Also, the enemies had by now been made sufficiently aware of their position, which was fragile and exposed from within the forest. She ordered the rest of the men out and while horses, including two or three new ones, were led and carts rolled in place, under the protection and distraction of token fire everybody went to work hacking at the nearby defensive infrastructure or inspecting the ground. Within a short time they would have a narrow landing zone ready. Now, if only there were a fleet scout in sight that could come in and unload some men! At any rate, she did not have enough soldiers to secure both the forest and the closest strip of the beach convincingly. After updating the designated swimmer on the news, she ordered the men to leave a piece of the structure standing to serve as a back wall against getting surrounded, and reuse some materials to provide cover from other sides, along with the carts and shields. This improvised protection would need to last them a while.

***

Meanwhile, some miles away.

'What is that smoke on the shore... What's going on there?' Captain Przybor, native of Pomerelia and namesake of the king's late brother, ordered the scouting ship closer to the shore. 'You see that too?' he asked his younger mate.
'Yes, there is definitely some fire going on there.'
'Could be a trap. Bait. Or somebody could be fighting on the beach.'
'But why?'
'It could be related to us. They know we are coming. We've always dropped off reinforcements from the sea so they expect it by now.'
'Let's get closer and see.'
'Yes. Though not too close. Right now, climb the nest and find out.'
'Aye, sir!'

'...So what do you see there?'
'Definitely a fire. Lots of smoke. Definitely more smoke than normal.'
'Interesting. Maybe someone's trying to catch attention?'
'Looks like it. There is actually a lot of fire but in one spot there's a focused column.'
'Very likely to be a warning sign. All right. We'll send a boat.'

The boat's crew fished out a man who, according to his own words, jumped into the water the moment he saw them, and had a very urgent message for the captain that the latter definitely had to see as soon as possible. That did not sound particularly convincing but but still they had this man here, holding on to a parchment like a prized possession. The first mate ordered a U-turn.

'What?!' Exclaimed the captain.'Alert the entire fleet. Everybody in boats. You go to the shore. Grab any weapons and equipment you can load. Take some pitch and tar and some torches and a couple of hooks and pike poles and maybe a couple of nets and ropes. Hurry!'
'What are you going to do?'
'I go to Prince Hans on the Jarl's Beard. Take this parchment and this man with me. We were supposed to land tomorrow with the rest of the fleet, in good order, but this changes things too much.'
'Good luck.'
'And you,' the captain patted him on the arm and left. Nobody remained on the ship. In fact, it was set alight to draw other ships from as far as possible.

***

Most of the sailors were not exactly trained soldiers but they still constituted a wlecome addition to their ranks and the boats and nets and ropes were quickly integrated into their defences in ways that were described in no treatise on field engineering or construction art. Archers were well holed in and so were the spearmen and what passed for cavalry was already screening their flanks. They were as ready as they could be in the circumstances and not a moment too soon.
'Mongols incoming!'
'That's new stuff for the Greeks and the sailors incoming, I guess!' shouted a young warrior to raise the spirits.
'Don't become overconfident,' she reminded him and the rest of them. 'I don't want anybody stepping out of our camp unless it's put on fire or I give you an order, understood?'
'Aye, ma'am!'
'Good! I want everybody to survive. No stupid deaths, promise me!'
'Aye!' all of the acknowledged, some reluctantly.
'Archers, no sniping unless you can take a sure shot at the commander or you spot someone with fire arrows. I want you to wait until at least ten of you are sure not to miss. Wasting arrows is one thing but I want them to get confident. And to ride close and get shot.'
'Aye!'
'Nets ready?'
'Ready!'
'Polearms?'
'Ready!'
'Don't kill horses unless riders are running out of range. We need to capture as many as we can without risking our lives. Show some imagination.'
'Understood!'
'Everybody warm up. Start exercising. I need your blood running hot in your veins when they come. A swug of wine is okay, share with your friends. NOT the archers!'
'Boo! Archers never get any!' shot back Ioannis, the jovial Greek smuggler with the charm of a highway robber, one of those responsible for the unexpected support back at the village.
'After, the archers get two.'
'That's more like!'
'And when this is over I have some really good stuff at the camp.'
'Who are you anyway?...Errr... ma'am!'
'I'll tell you later. Now, archers get focused and everybody else back to your exercise.'

The Muslim troops came in and duly lost their entire vanguard, encouraged by the lack of fire from the Polish camp. Enraged, the better armed infantry charged and the first ranks went straight into the net and toppled over, throwing the further ranks off balance. Archers were picked off with the benefit of distance by the crossbowmen and all the rest surrendered and were given a minute to disappear and never come back after dropping their weapons and armour and other combat equipment. The latter, along with bows and quivers from the archers, were quickly retrieved by a mounted sortie. Two men were local Christians and those were welcome to stay. A grinning Ioannis brought back three horses out of a total of five.

It was time to upgrade the camp, while making another timed attempt at cleaning as much of the beach as possible. The clean zone was growing by the minute and the camp now had a solid shell of all available shields hanging between the dug-in carts and former boats and entire sections of the Mongol archer screens and other fortifications carved out by axemen or pulled out by horsemen with ropes, with just enough openings to drive a blade or arrow in between. A net was recast at the front along with other nastiness, including a ditch filled with pitch to be ignited when convenient, anything that could hurt, slow down or at least distract an advancing line of footmen. There was an opening in the middle but you really did not want to cross that line uninvited because that is where the tips of broken spears went. Even quivers went up on stands to facilitate access and save time reloading. A routine was quickly established under which the younger sailors served as archer assistants, holding the missiles up for the fastest shooters, most of whom were the Greek brigands, who also rode like champions when needed. This would be much more deadly in effect and much less morally troubling than throwing them into melee or giving them bows of their own. Swordsmen made arrangements with spearmen who stood behind them to coordinate tactics. Rookies practiced with the more experienced soldiers, veterans shared tips and sped up natural learning curves. Everybody had at least one proper weapon and a helmet now and at least some other armour and many who were not archers by any stretch of imagination still had bows to fire a volley or two straight ahead at a close distance before grabbing his usual weapon stuck in the ground waiting.

This should protect them from most attacks but a vertical or almost vertical salvo would not be stopped by that and it was only so many times they could expect someone in the enemy army to order a straightforward brute force assault. For all their construction ingenuity, they needed to be constantly on the watch. This latter need combined nicely with sending the growing cavalry squad to torch some more on a punitive raid and break the wooden structures apart with ropes tied to the stronger military saddles, tearing more material out to drag it back to the camp andput in use at the wall. Somebody was actually dispatched to the village for rakes to help with spikes in the sand and make sure no men or horses would pierce their feet and fall while landing. A couple of others were sent to bring some water to keep handy in case the enemy used incendiary arrows.

A camp fire went up and they realised they hadn't eaten since morning. This was quickly addressed, even as some of the archers and riders were picking off isolated enemies and breaking apart larger gangs.
She actually sang a song.

Morale was high.
 
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[continued]

***

While morale was high, the situation was growing more dangerous by the minute. A while ago she sounded her horn and asked the man with the strongest lungs of them all to repeat, just to be sure. The foes were already aware of their position and now perhaps some friends would have an easier time finding them. She expected more arrivals, both the good and the bad, to start soon, some of whom may have already become alerted by the fires.

Due to the traffic, it soon become necessary to prepare some forward positions, some of them relatively far from the main camp, not all of them particularly well protected. It was also long since the cavalry (which by now seemed to have deserved its name at any rate was the only they had) could remain in the reserve. Herself, she was growingly on the move and more than once did she hear an arrow pass nearby. She alternated between archery and overall command when the camp was preparing for a significant defence, and cavalry scouting and flanking the demolition works when it was not. She too had had some wine to raise her spirits and gain more vigour. It did not seem to affect her aim but she was careful not to overdo it. Like her men, she had ash in her hair to avoid sweat and possibly blood trickling down and obstructing her vision in combat. Here, it was much hotter than anywhere in Poland, although that was not as displeasing to her as to most others.

They had cleared enough room for several dozen men to run arm to arm and the Mongols' archery screens and wooden walls and other defensive infrastructure had been rendered unusable at a much longer distance. This meant it would soon be necessary to move camp again and this time it would be much more threatening to the relocating force. There would likely be less time to prepare the defences. Scouts confirmed that the line of field fortifications under construction stretched as far as they could reach. At least the scouts returned, although one did so with an arrow in his arm and a couple that did not penetrate his armour or at least not far. He insisted he was all right but it was obvious that casualties would start soon.

The first friendly arrival was not a cheerful occasion. A horn marked the way and she rode forth, flanked by a couple of men, close to the path they originally came from.
'Howdy! Who is coming?'
'Squire Adalbert of the Mires, the last remaining son of sir Adalbert of the Mires, warden of the king's forest... whose body we are carrying.'
'How old are you?'
'Eighteen.'
'On your knee.'

***

The second arrival was more substantial, and more complicated. She heard metal on metal not much later than she had heard the horn. She and her small mounted retinue sped up the horses and hurried to the friendlies.
'Down, on the ground, throw yourselves down!' she shouted at the last minute and they jumped over them right into the other infantry, few of whom managed to dodge it. The impact was massive and what was left was only mopping up. At least at that particular location. And only minor scratches. She rubbed her palm aching after she pommel-whipped a man she did not want to kill. It had become tradition by that point that enemy survivors were requested to jump out of their armour and equipment and allowed to flee (unless they wished to join). She heard another horn.
'The mayor should be right behind us!'
She selected one man to go back to the camp. 'Grab the chainmails and bows before you go and come back for the rest when you can! Get a communication line up, man to man, within shouting distance. Be ready to set up an ambush if we need to withdraw or fake a rout. The rest of you go with me. What's the mayor's troop composition and layout?'
'Sturdy and not particularly mobile, just like the old man himself. All infantry, much of it heavy, crossbowmen, pikes, the usual.'
'How many men does the mayor have with him?'
'Sixty.'
'Brilliant. Let's go fetch them!'
'We're with you. We circle them around?'
'No. Only flank them. Leave them a route to escape sideways unless you're confident you and your mayor's men can surround them and get them to surrender upon offer of quarter. Not enough of us to hold the ground if they turn around. Just scare them like heck,' she said, already in motion. What she said she did and she barked a record amount of high-strung orders, some of them in Greek, which perhaps one or two of her men understood, as they unapologetically rode into the enemy flank.
'Keep pushing, break through, no stopping! Meet me at the trees and we charge again!' she motivated the riders while PBI (poor bloody infantry) filed in right after them. 'Remember, leave them a way of escape and get out of the way when we charge back in!' she reminded the latter, who timely jumped aside half a minute later when they executed another devastating charge, another one without any one-on-one combat as per her instructions, themselves also getting out of the way of the incoming infantry wave now on the counter-strike. Some enemies, indeed, escaped to the forest on the left or right with their morale broken, sometimes dropping their valuable weapons. Others ran right into the defending burghers and were duly put face down on the ground.
'Mayor! Time to envelope them!' Her voice was hoarse and dry by that point. 'Split your rear ranks and run them along the flanks, I'm closing! Take prisoners, no killing!'
'Aye aye, whoever you are!' bowelled the low and somewhat jovial voice of presumably a well-rounded (in more than one sense) first citizen of somewhere in Poland.
'If I told you, I'd have to kill you!' she said while purposefully stunning someone who was lucky to have run into such a mindful person. She ordered another two or three to drop their gear far away and sit down waiting for apprehension. At this point none slipped through.
'Round them up!' she ordered. 'Standard routine,' she switched to Greek and Arabic, in turns, contemplating the idea of learning Turkish or Mongol for the future. 'You leave your weapons and armour and you can go. You can keep the rest. If you run into any of ours, tell them we let you go free on condition of surrendering your equipment.'
'What if they don't believe us?' asked one of the captives in broken Arabic.
'I'll give you a letter. Somebody get me some wax! A candle will do!' She scribbled a couple of words in Polish and Latin. 'I need nobles, magistrates and others with rings to stamp here.'
She turned around and handed the paper to the captive. 'You are royal prisoners now. Any meddling is an offence against the king's person. But if you are found fighting while in possession of this, you will be executed. Go!'
'Move along, good burghers! Load the bounty and make haste. Not all of my men have proper gear and they may have got themselves in trouble by now.'
She checked the road, 'All right, another ambush is unlikely. Infantry! I want you to break formation and run to the camp as fast as you can, ahead and down on the right-hand side. You can't miss it. Catch your breath and form up again if you need to fight through. No jumping into combat when you're panting. We'll flank the column for now but we may need to break off.' She sent off one rider to rendezvous with the shouting network.

***

[OOC: This segment of the story (until the next three stars) was edited heavily some time after posting, in the late evening of Thu 21.06.2012, because I needed to go back on a couple of things and some of the changes are quite noticeable but nothing is critical. I apologise for the inconvenience. It's final as of about 2:00 a.m. GMT+1, Fri 22.06.2012.]

...And not a moment too son she did.

'We're getting hammered on and taking losses!'
'Hold on, we're coming! There's a hundred infantry behind us. Riders, we're breaking off! Infantry, catch up with us as soon as you're able. Crossbowmen and archers shoot as soon as you come in range unless you can hit some of ours. Move around if exposed. Don't become vulnerable to cavalry or counter-fire, we need every capable shooter alive! Tell the heavy infantrymen to cover you with their shields if you need to!'
'Come on, hurry,' she rallied the riders. 'The sooner I can take a look at the situation the better.'

The situation wasn't looking good. The enemies were already at the shield wall and many have tried to cross it. So many that the broken spears at the entrance have exhausted their purpose and were of no help any more. Others were actively trying to bring the wall down or driving spears through. Yet others fired arrows where no protection obstructed them, before they were shot down themselves. Presumably not all corpses scattered on the ground were enemies. She saw a precious Polish archer fall over, clasping his chest, probably clutching an arrow protruding from it. Another group was fighting half way between them and the camp, defending an improvised outpost. Mounted Poles and Greeks were trying to ride archers down, assisted by shooters of their own and constantly exposed to arrows from the enemy.

She was mortal too and her survival was a factor determining the survival of the whole mission, and of them all. She could not risk her life in brave but foolhardy manoeuvres but the need of those at the camp was pressing and she could not get herself to ignore it. And she could not get herself to send her riders alone. Besides, if they left her lone, she would become a prime target for both aimed and stray arrows. 'No foolish risks,' she sternly commanded them, as if reprimanding them in advance. 'Every rider is precious and some of your are also shooters. And some are leaders. We can't afford to lose you. We can lose a horse maybe but not you.' Ioannis, the old smuggler, scored at least two hits during her sentence, waiting until all of the horses's hooves were in the air to have a cleaner shot. Vassilis, the other one, also got lucky and took someone down. The Poles tried that too but missed.
'All right, guys, keep it up if you can do it without slowing down. But I want to fall upon on them with all the impact we can get.'

'Archers!'
'Heads down, faster! No shootouts, kill them with swords! Leave none alive behind or they'll pick us off from behind!' Her horse got hit but did not stop. Apparently, the Ilkhanate officer had a good eye for steeds. A Polish squire's destrier had taken two but apparently did not care, another horse or two got hit but kept going and sir Adalbert's paternal charger actually had armour and did not seem to care at all. Ioannis wasn't so lucky. He felt warm and wet in his boot and apparently lost his knee cap, the most serious wound in their group so far. He left the shaft there to avoid slowing down and prevent blood loss. Trying to pull it out would be a newbie mistake and he wasn't making any. Hadn't been for twenty years. 'Shucks, I won't be able to dismount, just so you know.'
'Just avoid spearmen and don't sit out there in the open, we'll get you down. You can stay behind a bit if you need to' she talked back to him while already decapitating the first archer.
'Stay behind? No way. And I have something better than a sword.' Ioannis made one fatal swing with a very ugly mace at another archer without losing impact.
'Where did you get that thing from?
'I'm a brigand, remember? I have to look the part. Half of the business is in the look.' The other end of the mace soon proved equally bad. Sir Adalbert and the two others either thrust with their swords or needed two hits, so they needed to catch up.

'Fan out a bit!' they were close to the target but not yet there. The Muslim troops were arranging to receive the frontal charge, which taxed them heavily as they had to ignore being hit by the outnumbered defenders from behind with arrows and spears and whatever else they had.
'Gallop!' she shouted at two hundred steps, fifty more than the commonly accepted one hundred and fifty. This was reckless riding. 'Stirrup to stirrup, side by side, maximum impact!'
'...Spliiiit!!!' And the timed, vertical volley landed in between them. The squires now understood the added fifty steps, although with the mad speed they could barely still control the horses, and they barely missed a new volley.
'Wedge! Sir Adalbert, you first!' Everything stopped in place, in expectation of the massive, trampling collision, spear-headed by a half-ton steel-plated charger with another two hundred and fifty pounds sitting on top of it, flanked by several lesser weights.
'Split! Forget centre, hit flanks! Just split! Infantry, get at the pikes!' she almost killed her throat. Just as the riders turned back after sweeping unstopped through archers, swordsmen and the other troops that had been waiting to envelope them after they stopped on the spears and pikes, the latter helped their deconcentrated and stupefied owners nothing when they were jumped at from behind by less numerous melee infantry. A prompt, sharp command in Arabic and Greek gave them enough presence of mind to drop their weapons before they could be cut down. so much of their numerical advantage. They were not easily allowed to go away but there was no time to bind them and Poles did not kill their prisoners. They were taught the Polish phrase for, 'don't shoot!' and given back one of the pikes to improvise a white flag with.

Sir Adalbert (the Younger), who suffered the most from the ill-effects of their vicious manoeuvring and would have fallen from his saddle hadn't it been for a friendly soul, was panting heavily and holding fast to a pike for balance. It almost looked as if his plate cuirass were slouching with him. The squires were nausaeous. Ioannis was being bandaged with the arrow still in his knee. The infantry had dead and wounded, who also needed. The horses desperately need rest, and she realised that water would soon be a problem, for the men as well. And the camp still needed to be relieved.

She asked the surviving archers and crossbowmen to clean the field within effective range, with Ioannis helping even as he was being bandaged, and found somebody with a large chest and steady breath to sound the horn. Some riders diverted in their direction, probably half of them enemy ('Crossbowmen, snipe them before they enter range!'), and the vanguard of the mayor's infantry, that is the lightest-armoured or the sturdiest of them were visible from afar. The camp was still holding out but it was hard to tell by what margin. Bodies were piling up and all of them can't have been Mongols. Or Turks. Or whoever they were.

Resting at least half a minute was crucial and yet it could soften them up beyond what was acceptable.
'Get up, get together, all of you. One more push,' she said while finishing with the most urgent wounds.
'Riders coming, ma'am!'
'Good.'
'Some are not ours! That's horse archers!'
'Take no chances. Kill the horses first, men next. When you're done with them go harass those near the camp. If you have any spare crossbows from the fallen, take some men with you and have them load the spares for you while you're firing. Archers each take someone to hold arrows for you. All shooters tag along someone with a shield! Infantry, go with them, grab a spare weapon and shield for your crossbowman just in case!'
'Aye, ma'am, movin'!'
'Forget killing, draw out as many as you can. No friendly fire for the camp! Bait them, even yell at them and when they move into open field, we stomp them.' She couldn't believe she was using this type of language.
'Yes, ma'am!'

Coming was the old hedge knight and three other men. Sir Henry, for that was his name, insisted on leading the defence just as he did at the village, but John had convinced him that he had the better armour and far superior riding skills, so if anybody had a chance in the open field, it was he. He reluctantly agreed. Most of the rest were squires, at least until moments ago. This made them about a dozen riders by now, all on good horses, with proper gear.

'Get a second layer of chainmail, even third if you can, move!' she ordered them. 'You will look like an idiot but you will survive. Their archers will not expect this and it takes a specialway of shooting to pierce through that much of metal, more deliberate and time-consuming if they at all have the muscle to pull it off. And if they even try, our own boys will shoot them down during. Now let us wait, do not mount yet. Once our shooters have drawn enough of them away into open field, we jump into saddle and charge immediately before they fall back. Don't even waste time on formation.'

***

Initially, the bolts went unnoticed, even though they actually caused damage. But men screaming and falling was nothing out of the ordinary when storming a fortified camp against a pitched defence. Nobody had the time to notice that the men who fell were hit from the other side. Even now, archers and crossbowmen inside the camp were still at work, although more and more men switched to driving pikes and spears through openings in their reinforced shield wall as though through murder holes and the same went for arrow slits in the formerly Mongol wooden structure serving as their back wall. Occasionally someone managed to drive something pointy in through the other side but after the first incidents, some of which quite bloody but none lethal, the defenders knew how to avoid that. And, given the crowded situation outside, pretty much any attempt at shooting was a guaranteed hit without having to stick your eye to any hole. The centre was more of a problem and their crafty trap had depleted its useful life but having to step over fallen bodies always threw any enterers slightly off balance, which was usually immediately fatal. At the rate they were going, just stepping in was no longer possible. Still, someone took a more serious wound and someone actually died every now and then. Also, while trying to climb was just foolish, judging by the results, some of which inadvertently stopped a couple of holes in whatever poor excuse they had of a roof (otherwise patched up in ways few but the most desperate people would come up with), real danger was in vertically shot arrows, which were a huge thorn in the side if you failed to spot the archers, and which were the main cause of death and injury on their side. Whatever troops and occasional new allies they still had outside (including the first new ship), especially the riders and their own shooters, tried to prevent that from happening but without full success. It was a miracle nobody had come up with more creative ideas involving their lack of a proper roof, or fire or an improvised ram. The one-eyed Pole in charge could think of a couple of things he was glad were not happening to them, feeling reasonably confident that he would have them by now if he were his opposing number – except that his opposing number, luckily, was among the first casualties, followed by his lieutenants and anybody else who made the mistake of being seen trying to exercise command or unique initiative, or sporting anything more expensive than the common soldier could afford, which probably contributed to the decline in creativity on the other side. John was now a fervent admirer of the crossbow's ability to deliver a fast-travelling all-piercing bolt in a reliable horizontal line seconds after propping it at right angle and the sailors were his new best pals.

After what ultimately was a very short while, however, the attacking mass realised that arrows were coming from the wrong way. The hesitation actually cost them a couple of lives. Some archers broke off and eventually more joined them, followed by other manner of footmen and a couple of riders who had managed not to get themselves killed, mostly because they did not seem to be commanders or archers and lost the competition for priority with more immediate threats. Whatever happened to their chain of command notwithstanding, they were still scions of tribes that ruled the steppes and terrorised the known world and they actually arranged in a reasonable formation, they probably had it in their blood.

***

[more tomorrow, should be wrapping this up]
 
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NewbieOne

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[OOC: 'Tomorrow' turned into two days instead but this time, taught by experience, I wanted to give you a larger chunk to read, coherent, sticking together and without need to change anything after posting (only perhaps adding some). So here it goes. This is almost the last.]

***

About sixty of them total found the Polish (and Greek) diversion interesting enough to investigate or, rather, eradicate. Since the copious amount of protection and assistance received by Polish and Greek shooters did not bode well for the aspiring challengers and at the same time the presence of a numerically smaller group of men-at-arms (very generously so called in some individual cases) was particularly inviting, the couple dozens mass surged forward, anxious to close the distance as soon as possible and cheerfully hack the opposition to pieces (as the Byzantines would put it).

They did not manage to. Yards before the Polish position they found themselves with a dozen heavy cavalry rolling on their off-hand side. It was not a pretty sight, although not a completely easy steamroll, either. In effect, few of them reached their originally intended destination, where they were dispatched by the waiting infantry, who then sprang forth to assist those horsemen who were stopped in the traffic. The kill count was not actually as massive as it could be since Polish commanders could not get themselves to order arrows shot or swords driven into the back of running foes. Some did die, however, in the course of stubbornly refusing to surrender, although a reasonable effort was made at merely knocking them out instead. Still others took the offer to surrender. Inevitably, some made it back to where their abandoned companions were continuing the costly siege of the Polish camp. Those were not exactly delighted to see them, nor did the reunion improve their morale. The looming phantom of defeat marked its appearance. And the Poles wanted action.

'What's that, Sarge?'
'That? Oh. Methinks that's our cav mashing the infidels into the ground. Why, son?' replied John casually. He was at his prime, playing the big tough dad of the entire camp.
'Because I thought, like, you know, we should kinda, be attacking too?' the younger lad was playing smartass.
'Boy, you have much to learn yet. I wonder if I'll ever make a halfwit of you,' John yawned back wearily, and laboured on as if he were telling a peasant kid how to lay a sickle to the ripe wheat on a Polish field (which, he thought, he would actually look forward to be doing). 'You are already fighting them. We are felling them at a rate of about fifteen to one. I would much rather there were not the one but there is only so much a man can do. The cav can take of themselves. If we go out we might even actually rout them at this point but plenty of us would die even before we all made it through the choke in the centre. Which is the reason why we have the choke in the centre but it works both ways.' By now the choke had been tightened by improvised screens at least to obstruct aiming if not guarantee that no arrow will make it through with a sufficiently strong bowman. But those generally needed to spend some time aiming and they were already quite distinguishable without that, which made their ranks dwindling. By now there shouldn't be many left.
'Besides, as much as I know our cavalry, and you should too, there should soon be some talkin'.' And he wished the talking would already start, more than he was willing to let on.
'Means we get more shields for the wall?' the recruit was incorrigible.
'Yeah, so I can assign you to works on the roof.'
'Forget I asked.'
'No chatting! You could have killed one or two while you were babbling.' John actually did not stop trying during the conversation. It was probably closer to one than two but that was still one less than before.
'They are returning, Boss!'
'Don't shoot the way they are coming from! Our own are behind!' he yelled so hard the recruits would swear the entire camp shook. 'On the other hand, when they mix up, I want everybody and his dog to be firing as many arrows as you can as fast as you can. Just drop the fancy toys and grab a stick if they all barge in,' he added calmly.

The distraction effort was repeated and while the sandwiched attackers were not so eager to split, they could not fight on two fronts. They outnumbered each or even both of the two groups of Poles (and Greeks) and especially the small aspiring relief force but they could not exactly turn their backs at those at the camp, or even stop pushing. Each man diverted from the push to resist the relievers meant less pressure on the defenders. The proportions were not right for a daring cavalry charge in light of the alternative of waiting for the infantry reinforcements to catch up but the attacks did not know about the latter. As far as their fears were concerned, a charge could be hitting them any minute or even second. The uneasy situation was solved by talking before either side became desperate. Killing or even imprisoning their enemies by the dozens meant nothing compared to the importance of securing a landing zone for their fleet carrying thousands.

And just in time because the vanguard of the returning burghers was apparently being intercepted.
'Turn around! Quick! Go! We left some infantry pikes up there, let's pick them up!'

While it would have been more typical to use a cavalry lance as a foot pike, the reverse didn't prove overwhelmingly unpractical. In cavalry versus cavalry, reach makes difference. The group harassing the mayor's brave burghers found itself charged in the flank with pikes. It was not exactly a pleasurable event and it led to new horses and arms and armour in the Polish camp, as per the usual terms.

During the brief moment of respite, they had several wagons, which they could repurpoose and refit at their leisure.

[OOC: Those fortified wagons were a horrible pain to deal with for the pro-royal and pro-papal Czechs and foreign intervention troops when dealing with the Hussites, who became famous for that type of defense, about 100 years later than the fictional events here.]

In fact, they actually hauled a ship ashore to use as a missile platform. This had been done before by the Varangians, although only for transportation overland between rivers. Necessity was the mother of invention, and their leader was a genius, after all. In effect, they were able to assemble the equivalent of a fort out of ready elements: a ship, several wagons, several boats, with no longer a need for substantial use of bare shield walls or parts of former archery screens. Elevation also slightly improved their archers' range, apart from making them immune to melee attacks, at the cost of attracting more attention and running the risk of inspiring someone to use fire. They were, however, well prepared for that latter eventuality. Water for fire-fighting purposes was not a problem. Drinking water was an entirely different matter.

For a time, they could concentrate on destroying what remained of the never finished shore fortification the construction of which they had so amply frustrated so far. They also sent out a cavalry party and one by boat and one that swam.

***

Some time earlier upon the Jarl's Beard.

'Propagate the alarm. Alert every single unit in the fleet. Those under our command are not supposed to attempt landing unless in zones approved by me or confirmed with diligence by the captains. It is not allowed to land unless in groups of five ships unless to reinforce an allied troop already ashore. Otherwise use your best judgement and proceed with caution. But time is of the essence. Sailors can be used as troops if trained and volunteering. Captain, I want you to send someone to Lord Domnall on the Banshee. Tell him that upon my royal word I have seen the letter whereof we speak. Tell him I'm going ashore if he has no other plans. And if he has other plans I'm going ashore too but you don't need to tell him that.'

From ship to ship the message was carried either by shouting or by boats. In fact, to be sure, Prince Hans wrote a letter and personally shot it with an arrow in the deck of the closest other ship with instructions to pass it forward in the like fashion. He only signed the subsequent ones. Let the pencil pushers prove useful for once.

In his cabin, he glanced at the royal attire he was supposed to wear. What a circus, he thought. He reemerged on the deck in a horned helmet and relatively simple-looking chainmail, the make of which should withstand any archers. He was met by the captain.

'Permission to join the land party, sir!'
'You eager for line combat?'
The captain only rolled his eyes over his back in the direction of a large, scary axe hanging over the door at the stern as if that explained all. It certainly did, as far as Prince Hans was concerned.
'My boy.'

***

Domnall was an incredibly serious man but he never made fuss in serious situations. [At almost 30 Martial skill] He knew better than to ask unproductive questions and delay the procedure. Soon the entire fleet hurried to the designated landing zone. He was trying to speak in Polish but it came out as miserable as ever. He soon found himself talking through the chaplain. He had a message for his captains. The scary, long-haired Gaelic tribal warlord with paint on his face spoke out in the most fluent, properly accented and ideally cadenced spoken Latin the padre had ever heard.

'Treat it as a rescue mission. Rendezvous with any Polish forces in your vicinity and proceed with the search until you find a unit commanded by a lady, I repeat, commanded by a lady. Then protect her and the shore and await extraction or more forces.' Then he hesitated for a while. 'Defer to her orders, I repeat, defer to her orders.' She outranked him anyway and she was more capable than of his officers save Prince Hans. Then he hesitated even more. 'I am probably going to the bottom of the brig for this but I am authorising you to detain her if she tries to hurt herself.'

'Squires! Kneel on the deck. Nice, even row, I'm in a hurry! If you're not in the row, you're skipped.' 'Eques esto,' was the only thing he kept saying for the coming minute or two until he wast done with them. He didn't say much afterward, either.

***

Sir Henry knew this would not be an easy day. And something was wrong with the newest mission as well. He was given it because he had the most seniority and she needed a competent, level-headed person in command of it. He and his men were chasing down the last Mongols and he was plucking arrows out of his shield while scanning the horizon with whatever sight he had left. Which was not ideal. He had to rely on his son the now *sir* Igor for that. He had knighted him personally, in the blood and sand, amid the tense melee, when the young one rallied a broken flank of foot soldiers and led them to a victorious counter-charge back when extracting the mayor. Perhaps if he knew what kind of big shots they would soon be meeting, he would have waited with the ceremony. But as far as the boy was concerned, his father was second only to the king himself and even that was not entirely certain.

Sir Igor did spot the trouble gathering at the horizon.
'How many?'
'Too many.'
'There's always too many.'
'Couple dozen, some bows, some pikes, some riders. Usual band. Lousy formation.'
'Be glad you haven't seen the Mongols of old,' replied his father. Who had only heard about them from his grandfather, who was at Legnica in 1241 and survived. 'Bastards could shoot an arrow straight into the sky and it landed wherever they wanted. And they never, never broke formation. They generally died in formation, too.' His father was at Stary Sacz in 1289, where the hastily coming allied Hungarian palatine George of Sovar utterly crushed the surprised Mongols who had besieged the city. Those of sir Henry's glory days had already been much softer than that and these here were probably not even real Mongols but only vassal troops. Nonetheless, couple dozen were decidedly too many.
'Shield-bearers, form up! Pikemen one step behind, dig in. Shooters fire at will. Servants, get the funny arrows ready.' In sir Henry's world, arrows were divided between two groups: 'normal' and 'funny'. He was hoping to cause some panic with the 'funny'.
'Raise your shields! Duck!' Not everybody made it.
'Now show the bastards. Set their pants on fire!' his archers jumped out, fired a might volley, jumped back in, igniting a couple of Mongols and some greenery. A moment later crossbowmen put some bolts where it was the thickest. So far so good. They seemed to be doing better than the enemy but he didn't know for how long.
Suddenly, he heard a large thump, in fact, a bit of a boom, and a lot of splash. Big, hairy men in furs and horned helmets started running past them with a very low, very ominous murmur.
'Who are you?' shouted young sir Igor.
'Knights!' came the response. 'Every single one of us, actually. Can't you see? And who are you?'
'Igor of Little Haven, lieutenant of my father over yonder, knight!' he too was running right now.
'I don't see a belt on you!'
'Dad didn't have a spare and the enemies I got it for slaying didn't seem to have any either!'
'When did you get it?'
'Today,' he managed to reply while the first axes were already falling. Then they hacked and hacked until half of the opponents were dead and the other half running. Probably more than exactly a half running. Sir Henry was chopping several steps behind them.
'Here's for a good start!' Prince Hans unbuckled his own, heavy with gold and bearing the masterfully sculpted three lions of the great but tormented Royal House of Ylving. 'You may wish to complete the ceremony,' he said to sir Henry. It went without saying that this belt was worth more than the family had made since the grandfather and his own grandather before him. But it also went without saying that this belt would never ever be swapped for its worth in coin, nor even the double of it, as long as the family had a piece of bread and a sip of water to feed on. It would be handed on in generations.
'Come, gentlemen, the Queen is waiting!' Hans Ylving was on his way.
'The who?!' both of the Polish knights jumped.
'She didn't tell you?' the old Viking burst in laughter.

He didn't exactly burst in laughter when he was asked to go get some water.
'Look, Hans. I wouldn't be asking if I didn't need to. But we're tired here, some wounded, and a quick-marching trip is not exactly what we're looking forward to,' in fact she looked rather exhausted, there was sweat on her brow and she had puffy eyes, and a sore voice. 'Yours are trim and alert and will be as fresh as any enemy you meet. And you can take a detailed look at the terrain while doing so. It has been a while since I've had anything to drink and I'm afraid some of the more stubborn men might turn to sea water despite my warnings. Just be back fast.'

And with that, Hans would have made ten such trips for her or equally well a hundred.

'Hopefully we can rest meanwhile,' she added to herself.

***

Rest would not be granted to them, however. Another nasty push came minutes after Prince Hans and his small band of elite men were out of the way. At this stage, they seemed to be pouring. She had again to get in the saddle because somebody actually brought a catapult along this time, and she left a wounded John (last minutes of the previous camp defence) in charge of the camp against his protestations. Against sir Henry's, she refused to stay and let him do the sally alone with whatever men she'd spare him. It was a lucky thing they had not sealed the camp off completely.

'Fast, it will take them some time to set it up. They're still not in range. The thing is not big enough to fire from that far away,' she was wondering if the horses would survive it. It, and the way back. The return would be even more problematic. She looked back at the camp and waved her arm toward the right. The archers reacted with a covering barrage. It would have been suicide for any enemy troop to ride into it. As if recalling something suddenly, she took something out of her saddle sack and turned it over to Ioannis without slowing down.

As per previous agreement, when they were riding out of the effective range of their archers, a couple of incendiary arrows were at a comfortable distance from them by an immobilised Ioannis from back at the camp. They scooped the fire before it went out and each them shot an arrow or two while still on foot, and they lit a torch. Then they were back in the saddle. The men tried to put the fire down with their cloaks and with their books by jumping on it would not yield. Vassilis did not need to stop his horse to hit that size of a target from the distance they were. She was able to hit it about half the time herself. They hopped off the horses again and tried with crossbows to be sure. These were the 'boom bolts' as the younger soldiers cheerfully called them, with a multiple dose of whatever made any of her special arrows so nasty; these had it all. The fire engulfed the entire machine. It was time to go back. 'No more sorties for a time,' she was promising herself.

The problem was that they could not exactly just go back to the camp. They were using actual ships as partial pre-made forts. Those things did neither move nor open. The wheeled wagons were dug in with a coupious amount of sand specifically so that they would not move. The sole possible way, the one they had just used, could not be opened with a crowd of enemy infantry without it, although she did not doubt her men would try that and pay the cost.

And then another arrival came. This one with a lot more noise and even more splashing than that of Prince Hans's. Someone obviously had spent too much time with Doman (who was left behind to train the levies and ensure a good number of them). Without for a moment stopping or talking to anybody, those guys rode straight into the thickest in their heavy plate armours. Even before the flag went up she could know the man at the front. She would know him anywhere: It was her son. While regrettably he was several notches below her own skill as a commander, he was a brave and capable knight and that was precisely what she needed. He carved his way like a hefty lumberjack's axe, determined to cut and fell the tree at its base.

Unwilling to lose the momentum and allowed the precious knights to dwindle without support, John ordered the camp bolted open and ran out with the infantry. With his own spear, although wounded, he unhorsed and finished off one of the three men slashing at the future king. For a longer time the prince and the footman fought side by side, turning around to face new dangers until all gave way, massively assisted by the coming wave of spearmen and swordsmen. Combat was tense and bloody and this would be a long day, it seemed.

And then an equally brave but older and less energetic prince Wladyslaw appeared on the other side of the field: the bald and past-forty ruler of Cieszyn with the vanguard of his levy, assisted by his chaplain Bishop Domawuj, hastened to relieve them, frantically calling out as best orders he thought possible in the situation until he had his horse killed under him amidst the pikes of the enemy in the thickest of battle.

The younger Wladyslaw's Piast blood boiled in his veins and his face turned blazing red as he saw what happened to his older kinsman. Without a moment of hesitation, he turned for the last time at his new companion and with not a word, neither asking him to kneel nor even getting of his horse he double-tapped his shoulders, rendered a fencer's salute and almost rode away. Almost, because he thought the man deserved something better and recalled the old custom required that the blade used be given to the newly made knight. With his charger's front hooves already wrestling in the air, he handed his royal sword hilt-forward to John and hurried away, unstrapping his mace while already barging his way through advancing enemies. He jumped his horse over the fallen Wladyslaw's figure, leaving the skipped opponents to his men in full confidence as never once did he look back. He stood over the bleeding kinsman while the chaplain pulled him out from under the body of the brave animal until more knights breached the line, then put him on his own horse. 'To the camp with him!' he shouted and held the line himself until help came.

'Wladyslaw.' Said the help.
'Mother?'

But she and her men quickly cleaned the perimeter and hastened elsewhere they were needed.

And then he spotted the enemy leader.

***

Suddenly the sound of a horn horn broke through the air from the other direction. On top a nearby dune, a knight in shining armour, mounted on a massive rampant white stallion draped with a red cape closed the visor of his helm on which a royal crown sat at its crest, and raised his sword, giving the order to charge.

The noble beast neighed and burst forward.

And the earth trembled.

***

Soon thereafter Wladyslaw cornered the enemy leader. Attacking ferociously, he practically forced him into single combat. The Mongol commander was a fierce and skilled warrior in his own right but proved no match for the future king of Poland.

'Surrender. And order your men to stand down. I guarantee your life and the integrity of your person.'
'Just who do you think you are anyway?' barked back the defied lord of the steppes.
Wladyslaw pointed at his shield and the flag behind him. The Mongol added two and two.
'Ah, must be the young whelp.'
A metal glove flew in his face, drawing blood from his lip.
A sword came in between the two but as a tool of piece, not war.
'You may lose the honours of your position if you do not speak with honour,' said a woman with straight silvery hair flanking her aristocratic face and folding around her protruding regal cheekbones, not unlike those he saw in the old Byzantine families. The eyes and the nose were no less Roman than those of the Basileus himself. Her family had given the world two popes and she was every bit as radiant as the abounding open red rose cup in her coat of arms. And she was focusing that gaze on him. He stuck his blade in the ground and ordered the last of his troops still fighting to surrender.
 
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After commending her former troops to the king's gracious attention and introducing the former smugglers and peasants to the Komnenoi brothers, she took her quiet exit. She only drank water before leaving, she didn't feel like any wine. The water rejuvenated her and she already felt rested and lively after the walking and talking and arranging things. But she needed some solitude. She was not a gregarious field commander who would boisterously swap tales of glory after a battle. She more longed for a quiet walk. Or rather a quiet ride. Back on her own horse, the same she had left on in the morning.

Her solitude and peace did not last long. She heard hushed voices and cracking leaves on the forest floor. Someone obviously did not want to be seen by her. More than one someone. She instinctly broke into gallop. The voices and other noises behind her did also. Nothing directly hostile had happened yet but she fully knew she should expect nothing good.

She wedged into a narrow forest alley. That should delay them for a while and buy her some time to think. She did not slow down, though, not even when crossing creeks and jumping over sharp stones. She wondered if they would be good enough riders to deal with these if they followed her path.

She thought she heard steel, as if their intentions had not been made clear enough yet. She apologetically asked the horse for some more effort. The distance was steady or perhaps it was even closing. Her horse had rested some but it had been through long hours of battle before. Theirs might have been mostly fresh. 'Sorry, my beautiful,' she stroke the mare's mane.

One of the men's nerve did not live up to the situation, apparently, as she heard the swish of an arrow near to her, which hit a tree nearby. Arrows were tricky. Assassinations normally involved very close quarters to be one hundred percent sure, even two hundred. And if abduction was what they were after, they would not have shot. It was her life that was at stake. If they had actually shot her down, they would still need to find her body. This knowledge could come in useful later.

She deftly ducked under a low-hanging tree branch. The pursuer closest to her was not as quick and fell from his horse. She could hear his body thumping on the ground, then rolling and hitting the rocks. A muffled scream was the last she heard from him.

There was still a considerable distance between her and the next one. She looked under her and many yards below saw the serpent of a tiny river amidst the dark green depth of primordial forest. It might as well have been here before the Romans came, back in the time of the Pontic Kingdom that once had stretched as far as Sinope. The ferns and snake grass gave it a particularly old, mysterious and unvisited look. But she knew the village was not that far away. Except she did not want to lead those men into the village. She would circle around it at a distance, then try to lose them on her way to the camp, hoping to meet a solid Polish troop along the way.

She disappeared behind a rock on a steep and narrow shelf. It required her to lose speed and she would now have to move slowly. In fact, she was on her feet and leading her horse behind her. But the men pursuing her did not know this and would be anxious to catch up with her. She soon her another one fall. He probably went down to the bottom of the forest, where the river ran. She did not look to check, she kept inching forward until the narrow pass ended, then she mounted again and darted forward like an arrow shot from a reflex bow. Just before taking a turn she looked behind, then listen for a while. There should still be a couple of them, three, perhaps four.

She felt somewhat safer knowing that they probably would not shoot at her again unless they had the situation under control. On the other hand they might want to kill the horse for one, and the perspective of the melee encounter they were after was not at all encouraging. For a moment she contemplated the idea of actually engaging in that confrontation, one by one, on her terms, with the element of surprise, but the dismissed the idea. As trained killers, they would probably realise when the sound of a gallopping horse head of them had stopped.

Although from their side arrows sometimes came but missed, shooting was out of the question on her part She would need to slow down, during which time they would be catching up, and it would be an uncertain venture anyway. She decided to take them through a couple more narrow passes and rocky shelves and other dangers of nature they might be fooled into braving at full speed. She was soon again leading her horse behind her on foot. She used the opportunity to adjust the landscape a little more dangerous to any new horses passing through it but this ultimately only slowed down the closest rider coming after her; they were no longer so careless as they had been. She only gained some time, not even much. Since they already knew where she was, she sounded the horn.

The she rode into the evening mist, through the bed of a thicker creek disappearing from the their sight. The green of the trees and moss and of the other vegetation was dark and grey was beginning to meld with it. It was not exactly hostile but hardly inviting either. She did not like being there alone and reminded herself not to divert too much from the course leading to her intended, hopeful destination. A mistake would mean a night here, whatever that would bring. She had to cut on the diversions and get closer to a straight path. Preferably a frequented one, where the chance of meeting someone friendly was higher. Her pursuers were gaining on her. Some bird vocally announced the beginning of a hunt somewhere above her heard; it was, apparently, not too early for that. Dusk would probably fall soon. And it would fall quickly, not like in Poland but more like in the homeland of her childhood. A not unwelcome association but not one should could linger on at this time.

At that point it was basically a race. There were no more rocks. No more unexpected streams, treacherous trees, impassable shelves and the like. Visibility was getting worse but she knew where she was going. It was the same path she had made earlier that day, only the reverse direction. She prepared to ride through an abandoned lumber camp the contours of which began to take shape in front of her weary and slightly congested eyes. They could not have been much more than two hundred steps away.

Suddenly a silhouette began materialising in front of her through the mist, with a lifted bow aimed precisely in the direction she was coming from. She jumped to the side and barely maintained her balance in the saddle but the arrows were not intended for her. One-two-three, the men pursuing her fell like flies, each time after a methodical lift, pull and release by the new silhouette. Only then did she realise how small it was. When she turned around, the fourth and last fell, and Konstantinos lowered his bow. At that point it was all surreal and she felt dizzy.

'Let's get out of here,' he said.

***

Asking in the right places, adding two to two and then checking again unveiled the unthinkable:

the royal-born eminent theologian [OOC: 25 learning] and could have been chaplain on one occasion had betrayed.


Unfortunately, we could not prove the betrayal. We had nothing on which to base a trial or arrest or execution or at least banishment. He was going to get away with it, just like his eldest brother had gone away with the accelerated succession from their father, the once-and-then-again Earl Robert, who, however, was at least allowed to live. The day we noted this was 17 April 1353. (And meanwhile the war went on and also Akbhazia formally went back into union with the Pope.)



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Less than three months later:



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...she died a natural death. In the morning, she was found in her bed, still somewhat warm, and smiling. She must have been dreaming about something pleasant. She had gone in peace.

The war continued on and the king did his best. He tried to hold and he alternated between living in denial and reminding himself that his wife had departed this world with a smile and the last thing should would have wanted to see was her beloved husband losing it and wallowing in sadness. But the place she emptied could not be filled by any living person. He could not manage his kingdom or the royal domain; his diplomacy, which had once excelled, became bland; he no longer had a companion to keep long conversations about theology with, at least other than the chaplain, bishop Sendziej; even or perhaps especially the war council lacked her stimulating but never intrusive presence. So many of the most brilliant or innovative strategies could be traced down to her ideas. Nothing was the same without her and the King struggled to be one.



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Two months and one day after the queen's death, despite having advanced the war for Trebisond considerably within the nine weeks [OOC: from 16% to 28%] the king gave in to depression, and on 9 September he swore never to touch any other woman. He thought the time for him would also come soon and prepared to hand the reins of the kingdom over to his son. He still kept things going with the utmost and unfailing diligence he had been known for. But inside, he was but a shadow of a man. The black or at least grey thoughts overcame him, burdened him and held him down. But he made one more effort, owing it to the memory of his wife. It was largely for her, although she was no longer there, that he made an attempt at leading a normal life once again. He convinced himself he would not be guilty if he felt joy, and that life was still worth living.



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But the vow of celibacy still remained. And his now lone reign would probably not last for much longer. It was time to talk to Wladyslaw about things.

Meanwhile, the conversions in Abyssinia progress:



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(In Volhynia, it is the hostile Golden Horde fighting against a rebellion by the locals, in which we tried to help them but things did not go well between us. Owing to almost 3000 gold in the treasury, thanks to the good government and sparing spending, the Mongol stack would not have reached the capital it was theoretically so close to. We were still at 28%.)

In January, we go up to 53% and were finishing a siege in Chaldea. And we also received word from Slupsk, one of our two seaside provinces closest to the Polish heartland and once the domain of the rebellious Count Yaroslav, that the populace had finally fully declared itself to be Polish. From the bad news, about twelve thousand Byzantines decided to roll through our war theatre overland on their way to Derbent, the emir of which they were now at war against.

We hold our ground firmly and have reinforcements waiting already onboard of our fleet, which means that as long as we keep a watchful eye, we can unload as many as fourteen thousand soldiers in any province where the Mongols order a counter-attack against our siege forces. Meanwhile the Byzantines are fighting a new holy war against the Emirate of Derbent (Derbent armies are also theoretically at war with us due to sharing the Ilkhan's Sunni religion but they don't normally take any active steps) a, from whom they have already taken Kartli. This is troubling for two reasons: firstly, they are getting close to forming the Kingdom of Georgia. Secondly and more immediately, they are probably going to start rolling about causing attrition.

In fact, we need to evacuate for a time due to a massive push eastward by the Byzantines, who were stupid enough to roll by land, through provinces of a different liege, different religion and different culture, instead of dropping off from ships in the Georgian provinces they now hold, very much adjacent to the Emirate of Derbent.



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This is very disconcerting as the Byzantine commanders are supposed to be quite capable, judging by their reputation [OOC: this means high stats]. Incidentally, as even though Derbent has been an emirate since 9th century it is still considered a de iure part of the Kingdom of Georgia (which belonged to Davit's father but without including Derbent), the Basileus might end up forming that kingdom. And this possibly coinciding it time with the extinguishment of the Bagrationi claim due to the lack of a current holder to press the claim on in war. Thus we might end up unable to put forth the ancient house of the Bagrationi in opposition to the Byzantines.

Actually, the history of Georgia is very interesting. Worth noting perhaps that the 'Empire' of Trebisond originated from the marriage of Manuel, son of Andronikos Komnenos (the one deposed and killed by the mobs in 1185), to the Georgian Queen Rusudan, the sons of the couple (Alexios and David) being carried by Queen Tamar to Georgia for protection and later able to come back with Georgian support to take Trebisond (along with much of the north of Asia Minor, where the Komneni traditionally enjoyed a lot of support) shortly before the sack of Constantinople in 1204. [OOC: And the historical Byzantines would have loved to claim Georgia, I guess.]

Where was I? The Byzantine push. Well, they and their allies from the Kingdom of Naples finally passed through, inflicting much attrition on the Ilkhanate army that came back to siege what we had taken, and then we came back and dealt with the Ilkhanate army. And since the Ilkhan would continue his habit of being uncooperative, we had to force his hand by ensuring a total victory, upon which he had no choice.

Meanwhile, the province of Sennar in the land of Axum has chosen union with the Pope too. And on other fronts, where we aren't fighting, things aren't looking good for the Caliph:



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In fact, that crusade is soon won by our old acquaintance Kaiser Walram, who dies shortly thereafter.



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And the Caliph loses whatever he still has hold in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. That being about two duchies. Otherwise the emirs are independent. Only Egypt and Syria remain full kingdoms under the Caliph now, much of his land being held through a king-level vassal, the titular Sultan of Nubia, who might want to reassess the balance of power soon and go for Egypt. Just guessing.

And we have to force the Ilkhan's hand again to win our war:



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While the invasion of Genoa is still taking place, most of Khagan Bugunutei the Just's (for his own subjects, I suppose) fleet has been disbanded with the loss of ports. The Ilkhanate now holds a grand total of one provinces on the immediate Mediterranean coast and that not even being a full county. By land, it is now very far away. In fact, the war had probably started because the Ilkhanate and Genoa were neighbours by land at that point: provinces we took about 20 years ago. Between the Ilkhanate's holdings and Genoese holdings at the Crimean Peninsula, there is now a lot of Poland and Byzantine Empire. The Caliph has had enough trouble with the crusaders already and should soon be out of truce with us, while the remaining potentate capable of still waging that Invasion war is the Golden Horde. Who is already out of truce with Poland.

We 'usurp' the title of Duchy of Trebisond from the underaged Mongol ruler of Erzerum still holding it as an empty shell, and we grant it in its entirety to Michael Komnenos even before the last of the Mongol troops leave the area (it being 1 March 1355):



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Up north we intervene in the affairs of the Great Royal House of Ylving, mostly to ensure its survival by the timely matrilineal marriage of the daughter of Prince Hans.

Meanwhile Wladyslaw stops being content with a collection of ducal titles and it becomes necessary to grant him some of the lands de iure beholden to them:



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And the time comes to have our long-delayed serious conversation with Wladyslaw.

Our options right now are many:
1. We can hit Rum and deprive it of either Cybirrhaeot (Lykia, basically), whose Christian inhabitants have chosen the Turkish culture, which makes me reluctant to intervene there, as they obviously must have found a way to live with their new regime and seem to like it that way, or Cyprus. Either way, Rum loses half its fleet base. Cyprus should enable us to claim the titular kingdom, which actually still has living claimants in the form of two clerics belonging to the family of de Lusignan, but it would make me feel bad to revive a kingdom going back to a conquest and sale by Richard the Lionheart, while being de iure Byzantine territory.
2. We can hit the Golden horde. Options here concentrate on completing the provinces of the de iure Kingdom of Bulgaria until we can form it, liberating the last province of Akbhazia we don't have, and perhaps choosing a strategic duchy. Alania, north of Georgia, would sound like a good idea: it is Orthodox, it would be good to help them break free of their Mongol overlords. Except their ruling dynasty, the Senty, has accepted Mongol overlordship and culture. It would trouble my conscience to go against the rightful rulers of the land. Otherwise it's either far in the Rus, which is impractical and would require us to fight Christian Rurikovich princes, or it's Mongol and Tengri provinces, which I have no interest or justification to rule.
3. We can wait for the Caliph's truce to run out and try to revive the titular kingdom of Nubia, except the last claimant is female, can't be married or have children or even press the claim anyway, and the territory has since turned Sunni. Waiting is something we can put off for later, anyway.
4. We can intervene in Denmark and finally put that tormented kingdom to order. But whom do we put on the throne anyway? The rightful monarch seems to be that Fratticelli former Queen Freja, whom I had almost married once.
5. We do have a de iure claim against the Kaiser... for one county, which he can throw about eighty thousand men to defend, for our thirty to attack. We just cannot do it. And it would be an avoidable loss of Christian blood in infighting.

Looks like it's time to tackle the Golden Horde.
 
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Back to Certain, Painful Doom
Also known as: The War on the Edge of the Map

Actually, there was a sixth option I did not mention. But more on that one in a while.

First of all, here is a more numerical summary of the military actions in the War for Trebisond, to round out the literary descriptions [OOC: And the scarcity of good combat screenshots]:



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Before we go to a new war, we arrange some marriages with the important vassal dynasties. Below is the beginning of the Solomonid Piasts:



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The groom is Qidma Asgat, the heir of Duke Eremias of Axum, a.k.a. the Rightful Emperor of Abyssinia. The goal of this one is to make sure that if we restore an independent Abyssinia, we will still be able to assist its survival, having a permanent alliance in place.



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The groom above is Manuel Komnenos, brother of Duke Michael. Both of these men have a claim on the Byzantine Empire. This is a bit of a safety device. Michael is older and ruling, anyway.

Oh, and here is that missing sixth option I had written about:



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There is not much need for words (for the record, the date is 26 March 1355):

Wieslaw of Poland King to Sultan Haqq ad-Din the Old Walashma

Your time on the stolen throne of Solomon is over. Conduct yourself accordingly.


And the deployment is a logistical nightmare:



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Meanwhile:

Firstly, it seems the current council is quite smart:



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It does look like I am assisted by capable men. Secondly, my health improves:



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Incidentally, your impression is correct: we are actually allied to Bohemia. This is because we are both allies of King Magnus of Sweden, who decided he had enough with the twenty-two year old excommunicated King-Bishop Engelbrecht I of Denmark:



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We agree and are happy that someone else will be taking care of it, as we are quite busy on the other edge of the map. The Swedes have more than enough troops to take care of those about eight counties of Denmark, the holders of most of which hate their current ruler. The one to replace him when the war ends is the son of my niece Gyta, current a single-county duke there. The former queen Freja, the Fratticelli one, seems to have little chance at it, herself being the most bitter enemy of Engeblrecht.

Oh, and those 6226 men mark another attempt of my Masovian cousins at conquering their de iure county currently held (via inheritance) by the Duchess of Chernigov, Dobronega, that other woman I had almost married once. It never works for them.

Meanwhile Chancellor Janko is unhappy with the extent of royal authority in Poland. We solve that by talking because I am a man of tradition and I can understand old feudal reaction. I struggle with the need for change. We are currently on Limited, while everybody else seems to be on High and going for Absolute or already there. Medium could allow me to put an end to infighting between all the cousins but it would also spearhead the creation of a new world of bureaucracy that would not respect the birthright of the Piast dynasty and reduce its many princes gradually to almost magistrates of the king. The mere thought of which brings tears to my eyes. Janko gives up:



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The over thirty years old Mongol Invasion of Genoa, which has began all our crusading, ends in silence. We don't even get a message from anybody and, in fact, we had to look actively to find out. Taking opportunity of the new peace, our Duke Michael of Trebisond reminds himself of the old Komnenos pretences and goes for his birthright:



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And so I wonder, after all this, will we actually end up at war against Genoa for the de iure counties? In fact, Michael makes Duke of Cherson his primary title:



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After much manoeuvring, many sieges and exactly a dozen battles [OOC: I'm sorry for the lack of screenshots but the shortcut stopped working.], during which the old Sultan evades capture until he actually dies a natural death on 5 April 1361 to be replaced by his son Hussayn, and after horrific losses, we have a guaranteed victory. And yes, this is the very southern edge of the map here:



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But first we need to extract our troops from there to avoid needless attrition deaths. That will take from November until May. And can you see how many troops Eremias Solomonid has there? At least he actually raises his levies to defeat the rebels but he does not help me with pressing his claim on Abyssinia, I have to do it on my own.

Meanwhile we look up the last surviving Christian claimant to the old Kingdom of Nubia, the sole member of the Azim dynasty:



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She will not come to our court because she likes it already where she is, somewhere in Greece. We decide to marry her to...



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Yes, Albert of Cheb, son of Pelhrim. The family has served me well and I have taken pity of them after depriving them of their lands once given to them by Vaclav of Bohemia. They have actually remained with me, in my court, and served me well. Perhaps a royal bride will soothe the life of Albert, who is a remarkably worthy man. I might look for a barony for him if there is no way to take Nubia back, which might be tricky. While the current Sultan has a regent and weak claims can be pressed against regencies, he is no longer independent and pressing claims has to go through the Caliph [OOC: I tried and it couldn't be pressed].

One of our other acquaintances, Robert de Brus, keeps doing his same old thing: trying to assassinate my current spymaster and avoiding a legal cause of imprisonment for it:



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He is lucky I cannot afford the massive opinion penalty.

Finally we push the button:



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And the Kingdom of Abyssinia is back!

Although yes, this does mean we give up the overlordship of the Duchy of Axum with its six counties. Eremias is now independent.

In case you wonder what the Caliph is doing, he has just quelled the rebellion of the Sultan of Nubia (which had been making it all the harder for our troops to pass) but is still quite busy now:



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I am actually slightly amazed that the (current) Basileus is able to hold his own but perhaps that is because the Caliph's involvement in the war might be relatively new. He has about twelve thousand troops entering Byzantine territory (unless we have missed more of them) but I am pretty confident the Byzantines will deal away with that unless the Sultan of Rum attaches his army to that. Perhaps it is time for us to take care of Cyprus.

Well, either that or Nubia.

There is another matter weighing heavily on my head, and on my heart. It has been suggested that a young woman of royal pedigree, descended from the Royal House of Norway and the Dukes of Iceland but living in Poland, would be willing to marry her celibate king in a marriage never to be consummated, so that the realm could have a queen for the couple of years the king still has left. For the realm is clearly suffering without one:



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But I cannot do it. Not to Berta, not to me, not to her. To take a kind, trusting girl's best years away like that and make her beholden to a man who won't touch her. I can't do it. Abdication has been on my mind for years now.

Speaking of queens, my dearly beloved daughter-in-law Ibolya, the most literate person in the world, diligent in her efforts, just in her rule and zealous for her faith, will not be one. She died on 18 May 1359 after a period of illness. My grandson, who already has his own children, is a Hungarian baron, at least having no count or duke between him and the king (old Erno, now surnamed 'the Cruel'). He is leading some troops in Ragusa now, doubtless in some senseless war, and they married him to an ugly, gluttonous, illiterate lowborn with negative piety, three years older than he is. Wladyslaw remarried, which I totally cannot understand, as Ibolya was a woman of the caliber of Berta, one that you simply do not forget. He married an Orthodox Vlach but at least she's a brave and honest girl, although paranoid. Paranoid, ambitious and shy, what a combination. And she is exactly four years older than he, just as Ibolya was.

This is apparently a future queen of Poland:



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Perhaps it is a good thing I will not live to see that.
 

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King of Cyprus and Father-in-Law of the Kaiser

With our fleets still at the Nile Delta, we declare war on Sultan Kaykaus of Rum for the isle of Cyprus before he can manage to convert it.



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We have already spent some time (and gifts) inviting the most capable men in the world to our country. The skills of our council have taken a slump, possibly because of age, or is it burnout? Sometimes old chancellors and stewards become legends but apparently not in this case. In fact, the efficiency of Steward Averado (a placeholder) fell by 13% immediately after his appointment. The once genial Marshal Doman is still good but nothing like he used to be. Chancellor Janko is still one of the best diplomats anywhere but, again, not as good as he used to be and not as good as some other men we have in our court. We still do give him a chance, though (even despite his previous plotting):



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Shortly, we receive word that the populace of Galaz has converted:



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Galaz is one of the still Sunni provinces in the southern cluster of the Kingdom of Poland (and yes, I have a Maghrebian chaplain). It is the top-most of the four vertically (north to south) stretching counties of the Duchy of Karvuna, Doman's reward for his services to our realm. Galaz is the only province of the royal demesne in that area. It will soon go to Doman anyway, as the plan is to keep only the duchies with the largest number of counties in demesne. But anyway, we receive more important news than that:



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Remember my grandson Sambor the Hungarian baron? He has decided to kill his father Wladyslaw. Too bad I am not the young knave's liege. But I am still his grandfather and we are going to have a conversation about it. Suffice to say he sees the error of his ways and apologises. Too bad I can't cloister him for that. For all his talents, I do not tolerate murder, let alone patricide. I wish I could exclude him from succession. There are more than enough capable members of House Piast around and as far as I am concerned, we are all equally good to rule.

On unrelated news, I might as well tell you about Melaku. Melaku Solomonid, to be precise. After marrying his brother Qidma Asgad matrilineally to a woman from our dynasty and installing their father Eremias as the ruler of Abyssinia, I felt bad about the Solomonid surname and decided to make sure it would be continued. The problem was that Melaku was not only about fifty years of age but also homosexual. Well, we found a solution: we got him a homosexual wife. They got themselves a daughter they called Alaworld, a traditional Abyssinian name.



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As for the war, Davit Bagrationi, the Duke of Akbhazia and rightful King of Georgia (and a strong claimant to the Ilkhanate) directs the landfall and initial talks on behalf of the King of Poland and then we set up some sieges:



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Since the island has only two counties and the size of Rum's navy is minimal, Rum can do nothing about this. On their own hey could only unload a numerically inferior force right onto our armies but they have some allies. We're going to load the siege camps up to their supply limits (fifteen thousand and ten thousand before the siege). You would need a huge navy and an extremely power doomstack to be able to tackle that from sea.

It seems our wars are again taking their economic toll on our vassals. I will never skimp on my loyal men (30 gold it is):



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Things drag on uncharacteristically. I had expected Rum to capitulate within less than one year of war, at about 30% warscore, 40% at best. But it is 27 December 1365, the score is 45%, they are in no position to do anything about the sieges but they still refuse to capitulate. They are probably waiting for the Calip to chime in, except just how does the Caliph assault an eighteen thousand doomstack from the sea with a ten thousand stack reinforcing from the adjacent province (directly or within six days via ships)? Or even the other way round?



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This is getting boring. Even the news that Doge Tommaso (have I been misspelling his name so far?) has 'usurped back' the Duchy of Cherson from Duke Manuel Komnenos (the rightful Basileus) proves an interesting diversion:



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Finally, at 71% Rum capitulates. I've seen Khagans give in at lower scores.



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With a heavy heart, I recreate the Kingdom of Cyprus:



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Meanwhile Qidma Asgad gets to work in Abyssinia:



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(That holy war is for the only province of the de iure Kingdom of Abyssinia he does not control.)

I see some similarities between Eremias and my father. Both died months after regaining their kingdoms.

It is now time to go back to fighting the Mongols or, more precisely, the Golden Horde. Since we cannot declare war while we have raised any levies, we decide to use the Knights Templar as the element of surprise. We will declare war with them already in the province. The unfortunately single province the entire war is going to be about. But we think it will go fast because it is only one province.



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Also, while I really wanted to keep Doman in place with all the gratitude for his efforts, and after some time I discovered it was not a bad idea to have him train the troops in the capital while the more capable men are commanding in the field, he now seems to have lost even more of his previously legendary abilities. With a heavy heart I decide to replace him. This is a sad day. Janko is already gone. We once had a team. Berta, Doman, Janko and I (stewards and chaplains changed and usually were not from the family). No more, it seems. Is it not all the wars which have alienated us, estranged us from each other? Have they not estranged me from my vassals? From the subjects? From the mothers and daughters and wives of the knights and soldiers who have died?

I could have sat back in Poland, upgrading the baronies and getting more of them. I had the income to pull it off. Paradoxically, I would have better armies having invested all the money in development instead of financing the conquest that was not really conquest. Then again, was I to look passively as Christians were being cornered, conquered, converted? I wonder what my father would have done. I have been king for forty-nine years compared to his four months and I am already much older than he was when he died. And I still wonder what he would have me do, what he would have done. For what purpose he brought the crown back into the Piast dynasty. Surely not to lose our men by the thousands abroad, along with the fruit of the labour of our farmers and artisans and merchants. But could we, should we have sat idly? Part of the reason I released Abyssinia to Eremias was that I did not want to be a conqueror. But what will Poland have from all the wars if we take no land, no spoils, no reparations, just spend, spend, spend? If it had not been for Berta's superb administration skills, I wouldn't even have had the money.



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Now we officially declare war on the Khagan. I wonder how many declarations of war on khagans I have signed by now. I must ask Janko. Wait. The new chancellor is Christopher. And he is not family. He is a German guy from North Italy.

Speaking of diplomacy, and of Germans, we receive a very peculiar letter:



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(Wincenty of Sobeslav is the scion of a bastard line of the Bohemian dynasty of Premyslid, son of Lord John. I kept him around in case the HRE decided to usurp the Kingdom of Bohemia, which it has enough land to do.)

KAISER WHO??!!! Looks like young Otto actually did it after thirty years.

...Which does not give him the right to talk to me like that! Insolent young wretch. And I am not impressed with a member of my family taking over a crown from his liege by force either (perhaps I should have pressed my de iure claim to Lubusz if it was so easy to beat the old Kaiser that a duke could do it?).

I refuse to write back and I tell my chancellor to leak the news about the extent of my displeasure.

On the other hand, I have a very nasty war here that could become much less nasty in the new circumstanes:



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And yes, I did send him a gift. It wasn't that expensive (about 180 gold pieces worth). And it looks like the Empire is at Autonomous Vassals. Useful to know.

Speaking of which, there is one thing remaining to do before I die:



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My son has only one son and should probably survive for 10 years after my death. He might be able to institute Primogeniture Succession before it becomes too late. That will allow a future king of Poland, finally one with some kids around, to marry his highly prestigious junior sons to queens, duchesses and heiresses all over Europe (and beyond, why not) without fear of entire duchies of Poland being inherited by vassals of other kings. I had to pass up on so many opportunities, including recently a Duchess of Flanders (of the Dampierre family, who go back to the times of Charlemagne), while my grandson is married to a gluttonous, slothful lowborn! If only I had had more sons. But the daughters turned out well. Remarkably well. At any rate, while the introduction of High Authority may prove not necessary, a more immediate effect will the inability of vassals with primary titles in Poland to fight wars on each other. Now they will have to take it before the king.

Apparently, the Chancellor handled it well and young Otto has recalled how to talk to one's own father in law ('Dear father-in-law, blessings upon you and your House,' is more like it):



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As an oddity, since the previous Rumite holder seems to be at peace we can now take over the title of the Duchy of Cyprus, months after the kingdom of the same name.



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Oh, and the province with the green border, south of Ikonion, is Seleukeia: the last province held by the Ilkhanate at the immediate Mediterranean coast. The Ilkhan's entire navy was 28 ships last time we saw it (which means they can carry a grand total of 2800 soldiers). For that matter, the Ilkhanate right now is tangled up in internal wars among the Mongols and their ruling Borjigin clan.
 
Last edited:

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The Last Months of Wieslaw

Bugunutei, the Khagan of the Ilkhanate must have departed this world finally, in the meantime. The current Khagan of the Golden Horde, whichever it is (I've fought to many I've lost track of them) calls the kid into the war:



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Nothing new there. If they called the caliph in for a third, that wouldn't be anything new, either, but only the Ilkhanate can call both the Golden Horde and the Caliph. This is because the Khagans are both of the same dynasty but while Golden Horde are Tengri, the Ilkhanate's religion is Sunni, along with a marriage with the Caliph's family. At least the previous dynasty of Caliphs because there seems to have been some change in whosever Empire the Sunni Caliphate is now called. Not sure if there is a marriage between the current Caliphs and the Ilkhanate, will have to check that to be sure. At any rate, the Golden Horde can only call other Mongols. Or Tengris (in holy war defences), but show me an independent non-Mongol Tengri on the map and I'll make you a count.

As of 30 December 1366 the war theatre looks thus (and see our now 200 ship fleet):



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As a side note, as I mentioned, our fleet is now 200 ships and I could raise some more. This allows for a very large siege force or two minor doomstacks to be be unloaded in one go but I miss the old times when we would unload over thirty thousand and start assaulting the holdings for a quick war.

Anyway, speaking of ships, there are some six thousand men coming from our holdings in Mallorca (and Menorca) into the Gulf of Varna.

Also, it looks like the HRE took our call to war seriously:



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Never thought I'd see that. At least on the same side of a war as I were. The other side, well, now that was more than a theoretical possibility some decades ago. There is a reason I never pushed the claim to Lubusz, part of my ancestral Duchy of Greater Poland.

Incidentally, the number of levies per province is probably the sign of their low crown authority, perhaps poor vassal-liege relationships and I don't know about their technology level and how developed their holdings are. That would be interesting to find out. Otto may be family but HRE, as a rule, is more inclined to be enemy than friend, so it's better to keep one's hand on the pulse.

If you think you see the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Jerusalem there, then you are right. King of Jerusalem (independent) is the current title of the previous Kaiser, Ekbert von Nassau. Son of Walram, the one who white-peaced with Otto twenty or thirty years ago.

As of 25 February 1367 (looks like I'm 68 years of age... how the time flies), the theatre looks like this:



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It's poor. Not because we're losing, we are not. Definitely not. But there is a lot of room for playing cat and mouse, circling and sneaking around and general manoeuvring annoyance. Despite a siege about 33% done, we actually have to move the templars. This is because a regular force of infantry will always deal with a siege better than an army of heavy horse and heavy infantry. Who, in turn, can beat a disproportionately large number of ordinary troops out in the battlefield. From the north-east, reinforcements are approaching that I had sent via Hungary.

If you are interested in another lection on modern history and diplomacy, Serbia has not always been the name on the map where we are. It should be Bulgaria. But the Bulgarian title was usurped by the Golden Horde and given to a clan member, while there remained a Duchy of Turnovo and county of Messembria. Karvuna, another county, has recently broken off from Turnovo after the latter was claimed, conquered and usurped by Serbia on some lame pretext. I am trying to form the Kingdom of Bulgaria by collecting the lands collected by the Mongols. After that, I will invite all those guys there to become my vassals and perhaps even push the de iure claims against the Teutonic Order, who got those lands from Hungary. Even Hungary has already been to war against the Knights. [OOC: This is pretty historical, actually. Look at wiki, go to the bottom of the Foundation section.]

Also, the other white eagle in a red shield, one with two heads, is, precisely, Serbia. They are currently obstructing the view of a Polish force (numbering 14671 people, which you had seen earlier) west of the 7700 templars besieging Nikopolis. They are sitting west of there because Nikopolis is underdeveloped and can only feed 8000 besiegers. The problem with the 11571 Mongol force coming from up north is that I need to intercept it, which is not actually easy, and force it into battle against an overwhelming Polish force. Not because I can only fight with numbers on my side but because I want to limit the number of Polish women losing husbands, sons and fathers. I do not at all believe in giving the enemy a fair chance of winning or any such rubbish. The other Polish army, 10119 of them, is waiting at the north-east to fake movement in Nikopolis so that the Mongols get scared and decide not to attack Nikopolis from the side of the Teutonic Order's possessions.

And on 23 May 1367...



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I think I need a glass of water. It's morning already. Just why am I not moving? I think I won't make it...
 

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[OOC: I think this would be a good moment to explain some things about this AAR, especially recently. I originally intended it to be based on screenshots, short gameplay-related comments, maybe a couple of lines of very occasional narrative for immersion. I definitely did not intend to write several pages of stories... but in the end I did. But I think this won't become the standard. Basically, Queen Berta was such an interesting, amiable character, that it would have felt bad to let go of her without some tribute and without at least some serious close-up, some more character immersion. I had already wanted to do it during the account of the war for Axum, then during some fighting at the Crimea but finally it came to be at Trebisond. I thought it would be just three parts (separated by those three asterisks, '***') but then I needed to explain this, introduce that, something else would have been too early or too unconnected, so another short tale needed to go in. Ultimately, it became several pages. But this is fine, considering that while everything is constantly told from the perspective of the king and is basically the story of his life, Queen Berta was the larger contributor to the country's welfare and potential (And the day-to-day running of it, who would mostly have gone unnoticed, quietly. Which would have been very much in-character for the shy genius. But anyway, I wanted to provide the reader with an opportunity to become more acquainted with her. I also wanted to explore her character myself. I hope you liked the reading. I think I must have spent two weeks writing, then deleting, then writing again, researching, changing the concepts, changing them back to what they had been, and so on. I am pretty sure a lot could be questioned on some historical grounds but I at least tried to prevent obvious non-historicity from becoming apparent. Please note that Queen Berta had a very high Martial skill (23, if I recall correctly, which is about Doman's typical score), she was also a Genius, with considerable Learning (12) but also a lot of Intrigue ability (19), and a capable diplomat (15), and had the Brave trait. She was the kind of person who could have pulled off some serious spec ops back in the middle ages, specially when hard-pressed in an hour of need. Also, I really wanted her and Wieslaw to realise finally that they were very much in love with each other, despite the arranged, political nature of the marriage and his inferiority of skill compared to her. And she also aged pretty, as far as the potrait could show, and I wanted to show that. Ibolya was another candidate for this sort of immersion but she died aged 40 before she could become the queen. She was the daughter of a Hungarian baron, his sole child, with a high Martial skill, and the smartest person in the known world in the rosters. It is perhaps unfortunate that there will be no more opportunity for the exploration of her character.]
 

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Wladyslaw V

I am a different type of Piast than my father was. Maybe a new one but maybe more in line with the Piasts of old. I am more of a warrior than my father was, although, admittedly, not a strategic genius. I am a generally competent ruler with no great strengths and no particular weaknesses. People believe me to be charitable and brave, good traits for an oldschool Piast king, so I predict they will come to love me for whatever short reign I will still have after my accession at more than forty years of age.

We actually have one thing in common with my father: our wives were the real talent behind the throne. They were both better people than we were. Are. I'm still alive and should probably stay this way for about a dozen years at least, though you never know. Mum was fifty-six. Then again, dad lived till sixty-nine. They now lie together at the cathedral crypt in Cracow. In accordance with my father's general tendency governing his life, we did not turn the funeral into a political spectacle and there was no cult of personality. The dukes of Poland were expected to pay their respects to a relative, not to some distant lord.

Speaking of relatives. This is Ioannes Piast:



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He is the younger son of Manuel Komnenos of Trebisond. Due to the number of duchies I had held before accession, which had bothered no one back then, I needed to make a duke or two. Janko, the former Chancellor, received the Duchy of Mallorca. I am fairly confident my father approves of the decision. He would probably have done it himself at some point. I chose Cyprus to part with because it had only two counties. I will keep the larger duchies to myself. Some gifts and honorary titles were needed to facilitate a smooth succession during war time. There will not be a single rebellion.

As for the war, my father mentioned the need to force the Mongols into battle with an overwhelming force. Even after thanking the Templars for their welcome but costly participation, we could still put together over thirty-four thousand troops in Moldau, which we marched into the previously scary Mongol doomstack of fourteen thousand in Olvia. We could feed and otherwise supply all of them, unlike the Mongols, who barely managed the fourteen thousand without attrition. Like my father, even though I tend to forget myself in combat and, honestly, I quite enjoy the hacking and slashing, I still do not believe in unnecessary losses.

In Moldau, news reaches me that the new King of Sweden (we will dearly miss Uncle Magnus) wants to marry his younger son to my younger daughter. The boy is not particularly bright (although he can certainly talk) but since he's an all-round nice person, I am quite relieved.



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And since they are our allies again now:



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Meanwhile thirty-four thousand against fourteen thousand cannot not end in a victory but I realise too late that the choice of leaders was far from optimal, leading to large and avoidable losses. Which is not acceptable and I consider it my personal blunder. I make sure it won't happen again:



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Now better. And I need to invite new commanders. When we fight in three flanks and have several different armies, this is a problem.

Unfortunately, the main army is now down to twenty-four thousand. I am not sure at which point we dismissed the Templars, perhaps the declining numbers are partly due to that factor. I should be noting things down. I am no longer a young person with a fresh mind.



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Since we have already spoken some about my relatives, here is another:



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He is still the son of Qidma Asgad, he just has a Polish name. He is in two wars right now: defending against a one-county rebel and still fighting over that lone county in Harer that his father began the war for.

And this is my sister:



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She has our mother's features (and, as I realise, is about the age mum was when she died) and, like mother, talking to people is her weakest side. While mum was still a talented diplomat, just not as spectacular as in her other talents, Wojslawa apparently cannot bear the strain of talking to us simple folks. Just kidding. She is actually a humble person and even shy (just like mum but even more so). I love her to bits. It's a pity that Otto apparently only likes her. She seems to be almost in love with him.

In keeping with my father's policy, I respond immediately and fully to any request for aid from our people:



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And Sweden is already in the field. In fact, look at the coalition my father brought about:



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According to my superb intelligence service, my cousin of Masovia is making up imaginary claims to Olvia. I would understand something in Poland proper but come on, Olvia? Which was conquered during my life-time? The dukes of Masovia need a harder grip on reality. Unfortunately, I don't have the evidence to help them get it.



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Meanwhile inspiration to be a better king comes from a surprising source but then not really. Berta Solomonid, namesake of my dear mother and friend of my father's, seems to have a way with me. Herself descendant of a long like of kings that goes back to Solomon and David, she explains to me a lot about kingship. I am grateful for that. I hope I will have some results to impress her with but how exactly do you impress someone descended from Solomon?



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Amid the warfare, I receive the news that Tmutarakhan (in the Duchy of Cherson) has converted:



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There are still some Muslim provinces in our realm but now few of them other than the most recent additions.

Speaking of which, Trapezous (the capital of Trebisond) also converts:



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I do not want to give you the impression I do not rejoice in the conversion of my subjects to the true faith on its own but as a side note, they are now ready to serve in the fleet and we might be able once again to have large fleets with large landing forces and end wars quickly instead of protracting sieges and land battles in which more men die than in actual assaults on the walls.

Finally, the Khagan surrenders (at more than 70% but at least we didn't have to wait until a full 100% like back at war against the late Ilkhan Bugunutei):



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I decide to keep Nikopolis in my demesne (it is Nestorian, by the way, although we have been unable to discover the reason for this state of things), which means I can and should give some other holding away. In recognition of his services to the Kingdom of Poland, Lord Domnall Ua Neill is invested as the Baron of Brzesko in the capital royal province of Cracow. This is a well developed barony, more so than Doman's old Barony of Rawick (well, in fact a new castle built by my father but old as in before Doman became Count of Constantia and then Duke of Karvuna).



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Here are the battles of the war:



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Way, way too many battles for a single county. In fact, it would have been faster with an entire duchy because we would have been able to force a 100% peace by capturing enough holdings then. But because this was only one county of the entire duchy of Turnovo, controlled by a third party not a belligerent, the percentage score was low even after capturing every single holding in the province. We had to wait long until it got large enough to break the Khagan's will.

Also, I disagree with the contribution assessment. Just because Otto mobilised a lot of troops does not mean he actually did much to win the war.

And I think we could have a tournament. It has been a while. I should probably go hunting some time soon to practice my spear and bow skills if there is no war.



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Also, I am one county away from forming Bulgaria.



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Which basically means about ten years of truce and three years of war, thirteen years together, so perhaps it will be my son Sambor, who tried to kill me. I am tempted to change succession laws but he is otherwise capable and even actually of good character. Whatever made him stoop so low as to plot to kill his father? For now, I have faith in the blood of my mother and Ibolya but I still don't want to see a murderer on the throne of Poland. Will have to think about it.
 

NewbieOne

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Dec 4, 2011
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Campaigns and Rule of Wladyslaw


The 'excessive' size of my royal demesne and number of duchies held directly finally forces me to start appointing dukes. The former Chancellor Janko is a logical choice for Mallorca but, unfortunately, I also need to give away one in Poland proper (I certainly am not giving away Moldau with five counties). Since a duchy in Poland proper is a long-term affair and is basically the matter of the constitution of the country, I try to find the most talented and virtuous candidate possible. I find one in the person of the son of a minor princeling (holding a single barony) and a lowborn Mongol girl:



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Meanwhile, as of 5 December 1569, trouble is brewing in the Greek Empire. Basileus Kyros, now old and 'Cruel', has been challenged by his younger brother Kallistos. This looks like a good moment to intervene with the claims of Michael Komnenos. Except I cannot do it while I have any levies raised and I cannot disband my levies right now by any measure.



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Besides, I do not want to sack the City and bring about senseless destruction, creating another sort of Latin Empire. I will give them some time to sort it out on their own but if the empire begins to crumble then I will not be deterred from saving it by declaring war on it and bringing back the Komnenoi with the full support of the Polish armies. The Catholic Komnenoi, whose last generation officially belongs to the Piast house to facilitate lawyering our way into their wars. Bringing forth such a claimant would normally be rather close to what the 'crusaders' did in 1204, so I am reluctant to do so but if the Byzantines can't hold it together then I will not stay my hand. I don't want Rum and others picking out isolated dukes and swallowing the entire Asia Minor.

For a time, I do not expect trouble from the Ilkhanate. Look at their map. They are even losing an invasion war to a minor power I would have trouble locating. A high chief (duke) at best. Might as well leave them alone and probably should. I may be a little sword-happy and a bit too physical for the tastes of softer people [OOC: he is Brave and Cruel but Temperate] but I'm not a senseless warmonger.

We also have a new caliph:



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Old Alam departed this world some time in 1364 and, ironically, his years of reign were almost the same as my father's. His successor is a blood relation but of a new dynasty. And, importantly, he is NOT allied to the Ilkhanate. And it will take a while before the young Khagan marries anyway. No big coalition of doom for a while.

Suddenly, I recall seeing the 'Grand City of Orvieto' somewhere in diplomatic correspondence. I investigate and it seems aunt Fausta has been ousted from there.



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I've never liked her, I even remember having the Pope excommunicate her once, but family is family. I invite her and all her entitled descendants to my court and decide to push her claim rather than my own (which I got from my mother), which I will regret later.



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I have misgivings about this. I am not sure but it is quite possible that my mother would have preferred a more or less stable and prosperous merchant-republican government for her people, rather than reintroduction by force of a former troublesome papal vassal who happened to be family. I still feel like I owe some to the Orsini, though. It would feel bad to leave it be.

Meanwhile we marry Old Prince Hans to the heir or heir of the heir of Sweden. What a twist of fate it would be if the lifetime claimant of Denmark sired the future kings of Sweden.



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Shortly thereafter we receive a call to arms from the edge of the map.



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This is gonna hurt. A king should normally be able to handle a single rebelling count and a foreign duke but Abyssinia is crowding with Muslim vassals, who somehow all retained their unlawful possessions after the reintroduction of the rightful king. The ex Sultan basically became the Duke of Gondar and lost the overlordship over Harer, which went its own separate way. And Rasulids are a powerful clan from Oman, who have taken and held one province in Eritrea, the Tadjoura, which you can access by land without a proper navy. The Rasulids are way too powerful for a king who has about ten thousand of reliable levies and huge revolt risks in house.

We probably really should have started from a Holy War to clear Gondar and then 'usurping' the kingdom from the Walashma Beduin sultan, who would then be confined to the manpower of Harer minus one province and his uneasy alliance with the Rasulids on the other bank of the Red Sea. But my father wanted it all at once and all legal and symbolic and he went ahead and pushed Old Eremias's claim before it expired with his death. He also did not really want to abuse the Holy War Casus Belli so much but I say if you have a proper dynastic claim against an infidel who holy-warred out your dad or granddad, then you might as well holy war it back. And throw out the infidel vassals unlawfully appointed by the usurper while at it. At least we have a reasonably stable alliance there and can attempt to help sort out the mess. If we go there, we can join any additional wars without disbanding the levies and I have a feeling there will soon be more wars down there. Abyssinia is going to cost us.

...On second thought, if my father actually holy-warred Gondar back, I would be facing a whole lot of revolt risk after succeeding him and I do not feel like forcibly crushing the 'rebellion' of a family who has ruled the land for over a thousand years. So it was probably better to let them go but use the matrilineal marriage device to ensure an alliance. All right, my father had some very difficult decisions to make and he was the better diplomat of us two. I am going to have to trust him. Him and mother. Mother was the smart one, although diplomacy was the only thing at which father was more capable. But only by a small margin anyway.

Unfortunately, this means a delay to our tournament. Basically everybody is en route to either Orvieto or Abyssinia. This is a kingdom in which you just can't have a feast or hunt or tournament or anything like that.



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We begin another logistical nightmare. Thankfully, while we move through his lands to assist a holy war in the south, the Caliph does not seem to have an excuse or willingness to intercept our armies. Well, I would put a hurting on him if he did. Since I do not believe in rape and pillaging (most people would prefer execution to the type of penalty we use for rape and mistreating the civilians is a capital offence against the king's majesty since it goes directly against our most solemn orders), I would basically take the entire delta from him and make him a desert chieftain. Which I might actually do some day. Later.

Also, Manuel Komnenos of Trebisond, the technical duke of the Polish crown, albeit the Polish Chancery is under strict orders to avoid that word and refer to him as 'His Imperial Majesty' instead, still decided to make a public example to his lazy subjects and, angered, in his old age put on the armour and rode south as the sole levy he was able to supply to the Polish crown. THAT man! I now regret not going out instead to put him on the throne of Constantinople. After what I saw today, I could even myself swear fealty to him because he certainly has what it takes to be an emperor. If I ever wanted to have a liege, Manuel Komnenos would be the one. I request the honour of having our expectant generation of squires knighted by his hand. To be knighted by a Manuel Komnenos at Damietta, darn it, I envy them!



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In February, Adelaida Orsini, daughter of Aunt Fausta, gives birth to a Jean de Bourbon by her husband Jean de Bourbon. I like that: simple and respectable name, from father to son. No stupid nonsense like 'Amalric-Hector-Ferdinand-Garcia-Caradoc' or whatever else they typically name their kids in the effeminate courts of France.

And look what we actually have to do to avoid death by starvation and thirst in the hostile land still hundreds of miles away from our destination:



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Cairo is at one thousand supply. Sarqihya is at three. Quenya is at four. Gizeh and Aswan at three. Manupura and Buhairya at five-to-six. I know it by heart by now. Evitable mistakes will still be made but at least I tried. Unfortunately, I did not inherit my mum's administrative genius and am little better than a duchy steward.

Speaking of such, here is my current council (18 September 1370):



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I have reinstated Janko, who has actually improved a lot (and despite his legendary distaste for combat is leading his troops personally at Aswan). I am beginning to believe in giving people a chance. Domnall Ua Neill, now the Lord of the Brzesko, is still Marshal rather than Uncle Doman, though. Such a pity, such a promising career. He would have been spectacular and more than sufficient for Poland alone, only side-tracked because we needed a host of most exceptional commanders from all over Europe that invitations and gifts could bring us. Perhaps that stress and the desk job made him slump. The new steward is the familiar face of Swietopelk, the new Duke of Pomerelia. Of all families possible, our Spymaster belongs to the clan of usurping Emperors of Constantinople whom we now at least passively oppose on diplomatic fronts.

Also, with Davit V (grandson of the last king of Georgia, Demetre, and nephew of Mukhran) expires the Bagrationi claim on the Ilkhanate and on the Kingdom of Georgia:



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While this marks the end of an era, it does not actually have a huge impact in practice. For starters, we will not be pressing the claim on the Ilkhanate. While initially installing a Catholic and non-Mongol Ilkhan seemed to be the only way of stopping the invasions, now other factors come into the fore: Firstly, the Ilkhate is agnatic, which means a feminine-line claim is bogus. Secondly, the Ilkhanate are invaders and not rightful rulers of all the rebelling provinces that would need to be bent by force to the Khagan's will. I'm not sure we won't to go there. Finally, the Ilkhanate is already crumbling and has no mediterranean fleet or significant Christian neighbours it would like to invade (either we or the Byzantines and that's it), which means it can be left to its own devices. It will probably die.

And as for the kingdom of Georgia, Bagrationi are to Georgia what Piasts are to Poland. I don't give a damn if their claims are not recognised by everybody. I will twist arms until they are. If I decide that our Bagrationi are ready to rule on their own, that is. Georgia is grand total of one kingdom and three duchies, ten counties total. Which means either one kingdom-level tribal invasion or two duchy level holy wars plus usurpation to topple them. Too fragile unless we have a permanent alliance.

Also, this time I 'usurp' the title of the Duchy of Cherson from Genoa and give it to Manuel:



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On second thought, I should probably have left it up to him as he was certainly capable enough but anyway. I have marked my support for his claims.

As for Abyssinia, the sheikh surrenders before we arrive, so we move on to tackle the emir. The situation looks easy enough on its face but in my experience this may be silence before storm as we say in Poland. The Rasulids are currently in the process of invading a neighbour. Once done, they can strike back with a vengeance.



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Meanwhile a son is born to my daughter. Unhappy with the lack of sons in our family we came to rely on our cousins. Even then, they just simply would not leave their current courts, feeling better there. No reason to move or something like that. And we could have got them at least a barony under a foreign ruler if not actually a proper fief. I will at least be able to do something with Stoigniew, although I predict his rank will be universally deemed to be rather low, despite coming from a royal dynasty on both sides and a king's grandson by his mother (in a matrilineal marriage at that):



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Additionally, a faithful courtier speaks publicly in my favour and almost all of my vassals find merit in his words. This makes them more willing to support the war effort:



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Of other news, we join a tiny war as requested by our Swedish allies but it makes no sense to move any armies there. Perhaps the formal declaration of war from us is intended as a scare effect. Also, I continue the policy of supporting my vassals whenever they ask for it, and, finally, of all people Swiatopelk, whom I've dragged out of obscurity to make him a duke, is already at work fabricating claims on my titles:



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At the front, things are going from bad to worse. The war score is down due to the Rasulid counter-attack. On my explicit orders they are left alone until they are no longer able to suffer losses from attrition alone, then we strike. We still need to move into badly undeveloped provinces (eight thousand supply at best) to do that. But we probably suffer more losses to sieges and the idiocy of Abyssinian commanders who don't know the concept of 'attrition', and our army dwindles to such a point I can't sleep at nights due to the guilt.



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This is what I'm talking about:



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Back at the Mediterranean, the Caliph and the HRE are busy with each other:



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