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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

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The Bosnian, Count Andrejk of Tuzla, is politely prevented from leaving Klagenfurt castle until word is heard from the mission to Bobovac. In the meantime he is treated as a guest of the Duke.
 

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Ludwig paced, as he always did when being introspective, which was often. His plan to kill himself had failed, as every other thing he had set out to do. But that was giving Margaretha too little credit; she had thwarted his ultimate action, convinced him his life was worth more - to her, to him, to the chance to redeem his irredeemable past. But again the pendulum of thought and emotion swung. From anguish to purpose and back again. Penalty and reward came hand in hand. To live was to suffer. Indeed, to die was to end the pain but not the cause, to live was to endure the torment but every day an opportunity to make things right. Margaretha had all but made the decision for him: penitence on earth before penitence in the afterlife. He deserved nothing less.

"Ludwig," a voice whispered, torches flickering in sympathy with the words. "You'll wear a furrow in the floor." For a moment he was angry at the voice, thinking it one of his demons, and screamed at it in thought. How can you torment me so, with such a trivial comment! In the midst of my madness! Gradually he was aware the voice came from without. "Come to dinner," it said kindly. Ludwig stopped walking, managed a weak smile at the woman. "Yes. Of course."

They ate in silence, young man aged by guilt and middle aged widower radiant with kindness. God had not made her beautiful in childhood, but rewarded her noble spirit later in life with pleasant features, and her personality was such that Ludwig was blind to any perception of plainness. Margaretha was concerned, but didn’t want to raise an issue he clearly didn’t want to speak about. Finally, she decided she cared too much to let him lapse into another week of feverish self-reproach, unrealistic planning and paralytic despondency. "Ludwig..."

"Margaretha," he countered. They fell into silence once more. Eventually she opened her mouth to speak, and once more he uttered her name. After a while she thought to get her words out hurriedly, and got as far as "mydearIneedtoknow-" before his "my lady," triggered that little courtesy switch in her brain that prevented her from speaking while someone else was. But this time she got the better of him. "Yes, Ludwig?" He hesitated. Neither had eaten for several minutes, occupied with the ritual. Finally, he began the conversation they had avoided for months. "Why can’t I... I mean, everything I touch crumbles." His last words faded to incomprehensibility, and the woman felt compelled to continue for him. "I need to know you’re all right. Tell me... you’re all right."

She reached out to touch his hand, but the dining table, an artificial barrier beyond its mere physical dimensions, held them apart by several meters and she withdrew. "Tell me... about your brother. That day..." Suddenly, she needed to know. Maybe he needed to talk, she thought, maybe she needed to know how to comfort him. He didn’t seem to have heard her, and she was not sure if he was answering her question or talking about something else. "How can I? I've tried, I've tried! God, why won't you let me! Haven't I repented enough? When will you let me repay the debt to my brother?!" Margaretha wanted to rise, to rush to her friend, but the chair was heavy, she couldn't seem to push it backwards across the floor. She looked desperately around for one of her servants but saw none. Maybe somehow she didn't want to move, for fear of breaking the moment. "God, let me die in peace!" he wailed. "No, no, Ludwig, you don't want to die, you cannot!" "I cannot," he agreed miserably, "until I repay for what I have done! God, let me repair the ruinous fruits of my sins that I may die in peace!"

Slowly, gently, his head sank forward until his forehead was resting on the table, narrowly avoiding the platter he had pushed aside mindlessly a few minutes ago. Suddenly the woman was released and the heavy wooden dining chair was knocked backwards. She rushed to his side. She stroked his head, his back, and again his head soothingly. He became aware of her presence for the first time since the outburst, and looked up with red, swollen eyes while she still held him partially in her arms. She knew she shouldn't have asked but there was no turning back now, it was practically out of her hands. "Ludwig, tell me what happened that day, with your brother."
 

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Albrecht ran past his father with all the spirit of a nine year old warrior, slaughtering imaginary Turkish hordes with his wooden sword. There were few children of his age in court, and most of the time he spent playing with himself or his sister. His brothers Hermann and Georg were too old to have much interest in him; and anyway as third son he was bound to end up in the Church. Hermann, crown prince, was busy learning the ways of leadership, and Georg in serious study of combat as was his duty and pleasure as a young adult. "Hey, little man," smiled Elizabeth sweetly to Albrecht. "Death to the Infidel!" cried the child, and swung wildly at the sixteen-year-old's skirts. Katharine, Elizabeth’s twin sister, emerged into the hall. That twins had been conceived - and survived the birth - was not quite miraculous, but that the mother had survived was worth praising God for.

Katharine spun the boy around and pushed him away. "Why are you so mean to him?" enquired her sister. Katharine placed a finger on Elizabeth's shoulder. "He should respect the ladies." She walked past behind Elizabeth, tracing her finger across to the opposite shoulder as she did so. "Run along and play," whispered the older sister urgently, and spun back to face Katharine, who gave a gentle, teasing push and ran away down the hall, looking over her shoulder. Elizabeth ran after her, giggling. Ulrich watched his daughters play. Katharine was the younger, but as though compensating for perceived inferiority she had always been the louder, more aggressive daughter. He smiled indulgently and moved into the room he thought of as his office, to speak to the Bosnian waiting for him. In the distance, one of the girls cried "Bitch!" and the other laughed mischievously.

Ulrich considered the sum of the correspondences he had made, the emissaries and the letters, overt and secret, to both the Despot of Bosnia, now deceased (most likely by the actions of his subtle and deceptively innocent son) and that very son who was now Despot. Throughout all, most irritating was the constant avoidance of the Bosnians of acknowledging and responding to the issue. With each passing month, the likelihood of either the Despot or the nobles freely acknowledging him as King grew slimmer. And as they politely avoided deciding one way or the other, the Duke became more impatient and less and less subtle in his demands. Finesse was something he prided himself on, and it was a touch he was losing. As yet he had so far failed to gather the kind of support he needed to press the issue. No-one had openly rejected his claim, but neither had anyone of import rallied to the side of righteousness. Righteousness, ha! Sure, it was a genuine claim, but one doesn't claim a title because it is right, they claim it for power, for prestige. Ulrich was the first to admit he sought both - as any man in their right mind would.

Once more he considered the second diplomatic mission to that Bosnian fortress, Bobovac. The Captain of Lublana was a good man, it would be a shame to lose him. But on the other hand, his death at the hand of a heretic Bogumil sovereign would only serve to crystallise support for the undertaking which had become the driving goal of his later life. Promotion to Duke and Margrave had not so much satiated his desire for power as provided him with a springboard to pursue a much more... lucrative goal. And if brave men - he did in fact recognise and respect bravery, as he resented ambition in others but himself - if brave men had to be put in harm’s way to explore a potential means to that goal, so be it. God would reward the brave. They were practically martyrs. He could, of course, have sent a message less likely to cause anger than insisting the Bosnians submit to vassalage, but, Ulrich recalled, he had been getting impatient and it was time to raise the issue with Stephan and the nobles in a manner they could not ignore.

In calling on the nobles of Bosnia he hoped to ride over Stefan’s subtle diplomacy: either to gain to their support or to offend them, inciting action. With the death of the elder Despot there was a clear opening to impress upon the nobility. They had ignored his reign, but might be tempted to crown the son, and that should be prevented. Ulrich did, in fact, wish to avoid civil war, if only because of its uncertainty. He was not afraid of war, but diplomacy, if it could achieve equal results, often proved useful. Ulrich also, he was forced to admit, was willing to submit to the ignominy of the proposal he had drafted to present to the Bosnian nobles. By God's blood, let them accept my ultimatum. Parliament or war. Let the matter be decided! the Duke hoped.

The proposal he planned to offer was this. Ulrich wanted to be King. So did Stefan (he assumed). In Ulrich’s mind he had the better claim, being descendant from a line without illegitimacy, although clearly the Bosnians could care less about bastards. But if Ulrich could be proclaimed King of Bosnia, he would accept the Despot as a son and heir, and cement the alliance through marriage to his daughter, his beloved daughter. His children were probably the only people on this earth he wouldn't sacrifice for ambition, and in a way he was planning just that for Elizabeth. But there were conditions. There had to be conditions. There had to be a son, his descendants, Ulrich von Cilli's descendants must be Kings of Bosnia. If Stefan felt the same way he'd recognise marriage to the daughter of his opponent as an option. Ulrich was content, too, to trust the man to remain in power, to all intents and purposes, as Despot if he accepted Cilli as King. It dawned on Ulrich that he was desperate: he realised he was willing to sign a compromise and stick to the terms.

But for now, there was little to do, except entertain this Bosnian. Andrejk of Tuzla, according to the document from the Despot, although there was no way to tell. It could be just some lesser individual dressed in fancy clothes and sent to test the Duke’s reaction to Stefan’s surviving brother.

"Greetings, Count. Perhaps you could tell me more about your homeland? No, in fact, perhaps you could clarify the Despot’s communication for me? There are a few points that confuse me... I’m sorry to hear of the death of your brother by the way..." Ulrich raised an eyebrow at the man, watching his reaction. "Ah, yes, so I must ask: Stefan has not yet, in his words, undertaken a coronation. As what, may I ask? Despot? Lord of all Bosnia? ...King?

"And he wishes to do so in Celje?"
 

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vonehrlichmansmall.jpg

Dietrich, Cardinal von Ehrlichman, Archbishop of Prag and Metropolitan of Bohemia, arrived in Carinthia. The old bishop sighed as he endured another endless carriage ride to further diplomacy. He felt like he had wasted decades of his life traveling like this for petty tasks when all that was needed were the words "the Cardinal supports this." He knew all too well how much he had neglected his diocese for politics, but he didn't regret this. The lamentable state of affairs in Prag could not be changed by different conduct or a different archbishop, unless that man was St. Peter himself. And the damn Czechs would crucify him almost as quickly as the Romans did anyway. No, he hated wasting time riding between prince and potentate, but he did feel satisfied with his life. At the very least, he had his protégé, the King himself. He had been for years his confidante and tutor in statecraft. He only wished that his stature was not thus reflect of his true status, and that he did not have to act as the highest and most trusted diplomat. He would prefer to serve as counsel and advocate quietly, and push his monarch to great things while remaining in his simple chair in the corner. von Ehrlichman wanted to make sure that Ladislav rose to the occasion as a true king. He intended to see all this... meanwhile, the errands of the kingdom demanded attention.

small.gif

Unto our dear brother, Ulrich, King of Bosnia, Duke of Carinthia, and Margrave of Carniola, we greet you with all fraternal love and respect. We duly affirm your rightful position as sovereign of Bosnia, and fully support these rights with the powers available to us in our positions in the Empire and the Dual Monarchy. Our aid would be in gratitude for the untold support we have received from you since the beginning even if we did not think as we do that your title to Bosnia is not preeminent and just. We remain fervent supporters of your cause for we believe that your conduct is not merely in accordance with the duty of Christian sovereigns but exemplary. Should you require any aid or specific support, the channels between us are familiar and well-traveled.

Ladislav, always August, Emperor Elect and King of the Romans, King of Bohemia and Hungary, etc.
 

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The Count of Tuzla

Majesty,” the man said with eyes immediately set onto the floor on noticing the arrival of the regal presence, a half-bow evident, “…greetings.”

He may have been of illegitimate stock (or so the Von Cilli had been told), and while he would give this Ulrich all politeness, he wasn’t about to sacrifice what residual pride he had left, after being shoehorned into this seemingly insignificant, but somewhat delightful duty. Truth be told, Bosnia was such a pigsty, and going out into the rest of the real world, soaking up some of its culture, that helped in soothing his temper.

There came a wolf’s grin.

“My deceased brother’s death was, indeed, most unfortunate,” he began, eyes twinkling as he said so, and left it at that. No sadness, no remorse, just a mere acknowledgement of the other man’s words. He folded his hands delicately across his chest. “Though I must say I am most grateful for your recent hospitality. It is most pleasing to one who was not tasted such sumptuary since…since my own father’s coronation,” he added needlessly.

“As to my own dear brother’s communication,” he pursed his lips, “I fear that it is either clear, or it is not. Fear not, Majesty,” he made in a gesture that seemed all the more appeasing, “…I am of the belief that future communications shall give us a clarity most…interesting…for Your Majesty’s personage.”

That was when his eyes managed to track the figure of a very shapely female, herself clad in fine raiment and garments.
 

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Clarity, crystal-clear.

A letter, written in the best calligraphy, and heavy with numerous attached wax seals, arrives with many liveried guardsmen bearing the heraldry of the See and Duchy of St Sava.

shield_bos.gif

Most Gracious Sovereign,

We, Your Majesty’s most humble and loyal servants assembled in the ducal court of St Sava beg leave to set forth unto Your regal Prescence, the following;

That we shall assemble posthaste at Your Majesty’s Command at the plain near the hamlet called Stanichiv, near Your Majesty’s Croatian border marches, to have a parliament of all the nobles and prominent people of Bosnia convoked by Your Majesty’s Person; and

That we shall, in parliament, have an audience of Your Majesty, and after hearing Your Majesty’s address, we shall see fit to hail Your Majesty as the One True King and Master over Bosnia and take a true oath of loyalty, after which, Your Majesty shall exercise the regal Prerogative to confirm us all in our hereditary fiefs and privileges; and

That we shall, as a solemn conclusion of our union, celebrate the Most Holy and Christian Sacrifice under the auspices of the Most Reverend the Bishop Aloysius of the See of St Sava and Primate of all Bosnia and such other churchmen of the True Faith as Your Majesty may designate; and

That we shall acknowledge as good and true Your Majesty’s Royal Family, and any other Heirs to the Throne of Bosnia, as well as such heraldry and style for the Duchy as Your Majesty may designate.

All of which we most humbly set unto Your Majesty’s Most kind Consideration, with the blessings of the Most Holy.

The Duke of St Sava
The Count of Mostar
The Lord High Treasurer of Bosnia
The Chancellor of the Duchy of St Sava
And 55 other lesser nobles.

Below it, in Latin, was written the following words:

Sanctified with Holy Chrism and Water
by Aloysius, Bishop of St Sava, Primate of all Bosnia

Under it was an episcopal seal.

Finally, after years of separation, infighting and dissolution, it seemed Bosnia now had one sole reason to unite.

Apparently, Ulrich Von Cilli could prove to be very persuasive.
 

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The Bishop’s arrival (or more accurately, the arrival of the message) was most opportune. The contents Ulrich allowed to be know publically, and just to make sure, had the gist of it relayed to his ambassador in Bosnia. This was done more for the benefit of Stefan’s spies than to reassure Svobodin. It had the intended effect. Within a month the message would arrive from the Bosnian nobility…

* * *​

In the meantime, the Duke listened to the words of the Bosnian guest. Stefan had described his brother as "a good man, absolutely trustworthy", with its attendant implication of youthful naïvety, lack of ambition - features Ulrich automatically took to be the meaning behind one man commenting on another's trustworthiness. But this Count's behaviour was aliken to neither the naïve nor the unambitious. Rather, his words and manner were disconcertingly similar to those of the Toscan and Milanese diplomats. He regarded the Bosnian, once more considering the man's responses; each man's questions and answers belying the subtext. He decided to treat the man with care.

Ulrich murmured something to a well dressed servant, who left the room. Unlike the intimidating Ducal throne room, the 'office' was relatively small and the rich decoration was intended to have a welcoming and businesslike atmosphere. His Friuilian chancellor had much experience with the Italian merchant houses and their practices, and the office possessed much of this character. After their preliminary remarks, Ulrich sat on the far side of a broad, empty table, and indicated to Andejk, "Make yourself comfortable." Another servant stood behind the only other chair.

"Your brother is a lucky man, to gain his inheritance so early – and," he took the small pleasure of being tactless, "doubly lucky by all accounts, for a later time could have seen the fortune dwindled to nothing. Ah, but the fortunes of Bosnia are safe in his hands, are they not? I am certainly not one to interfere with the day to day affairs of the Despot of Bosnia and Duke of St Sava, whoever he may be." The first servant returned with two intricately etched goblets on a platter, and another man with two equally well crafted pitchers of wine, all items silver. Cups were filled and placed before either noble, the two original, superior servants waiting to refill as necessary, and the third leaving as silently as he had arrived. "Refresh yourself before the evening feast," the Duke advised, smiling, and returned to the conversation.

"Of course you know what the future holds for the Despot. I am well pleased to let the crown pass to my daughter's future husband." Naturally, Ulrich never entertained the thought the Bosnians would reject the marriage proposal. "As your brother's representative here, you should meet her. She is a sweet child, you'll find her quite a suitable match… for your brother."

* * *​

Some time later, after their discussion, Ulrich took the Bosnian on a tour of the castle, voice echoing along the corridors. "It's not as defensible as other fortresses in my lands, but you'll agree it is quite… attractive. Ah," he stopped, and turned his head slightly to smile slyly at the other man, "here she is. Daughter!" The young woman, startled, turned and walked back past the doorway she had just emerged from. Smiling sweetly, she stood before the two men. "My lord Andejk, Count of Tuzla; the Princess Elisabeth." "My lord," she courtseyed, the rich green fabric of her dress rustling softly, but in friendly defiance did not lower her eyes while doing so. "This is the brother of the Duke of St Sava." "My lord," she repeated. Elisabeth quietly watched the stranger, analysing his face but revealing no hint of whether she found it pleasing or repulsive.

"And my daughter the Princess Katharine. They are inseparable, as you can see." The second girl had emerged from the same doorway. As her father made introductions, she too courtseyed, and with as much insolence as she could muster; her body turned slightly away serving to show off her figure, but the stance was more probably the body language of rudeness. In contrast to her sister's indeterminate expression, Katharine made it obvious she cared more for buttons than for the count.