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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning
Aug 3, 2008
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jordarkelf: good to hear that about imageshack. Now I’m relieved.

Rex Angliae: Thanks for the flowers. I try to remain very close to the actual events in the game and to interpret them in a way that they form a – hopefully plausible – alternate history. Bein surprised by plot twists (in-game events) even as writer is one of the beauties of writing an AAR.

Enewald: Nobody stands in the way of the Guiscard. Nobody. :D
But if you've played with Napoli, you might be interested to hear that every word I have written about the origins of the Spartenoi is actually true.
 

Enewald

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Yep, the normans were quite unbeatable during those times. :p

I wished the Spartenos' could have been something else than ex-counts.
 
Aug 3, 2008
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Chapter Three: In Which A Marshall Receives A Nightly Visitor

Matching the ship’s gentle swaying with his steps, Serlo de Hauteville walked up merrily to his retainer Hoel. Serlo had grown up by the sea, near the Norman town of Coutances, and as a boy it had been one of his greatest pleasures and favourite pasttimes to sail the rough waters of the Golf of St. Malo, and so being on board a ship delighted him greatly, even if it was only for the short stretch across the narrow Straits of Messina. But the same could not be said of the huge man clinging for dear life to the wooden deck rail of the pot-bellied transport ship.

At an age of twentythree, Hoel was two years Serlo’s junior, and his retainer for some seven years now. The bastard son of a Norman man-at-arms and a Breton mother had entered Serlo’s service back in Normandy, when the Marshall of Apulia was still no more than a land- and masterless knight, too impoverished to afford more than this single squire, and he had accompanied his lord on the long journey all through France and Germany into Italy. Hoel was built like a bull, both tall and stocky at the same time, and undefeated in personal combat, but now he was bested by the somewhat treacherous currents of the sea in the narrow Straits of Messina.

“Isn’t the sea great?”, Serlo asked mockingly, clapping his companion of many years on a broad shoulder. With a tired and worn-out motion, the massive man-at-arms lifted his head back over the rail. Instead of an answer, he wiped a bit of bile from one end of his bushy reddish moustache and shot his master a miserable glance.

“Don’t worry, Hoel, no more than half an hour and we will be across”, said Serlo and motioned ahead where the coast of Sicily lay under the glare of the hot summer sun. Over there was the County of Messina, taken from the Muslims a few years ago by his uncles Robert and Roger acting in close concert, and held by the latter, Roger de Hauteville, Count of Reggio and Messina.


Roger de Hauteville, Count of Reggio and Messina

It had also been Count Roger who had together with Herman da Intimiano been one of the driving forces behind this new expedition to Sicily. Pointing out the political disunity of the Sicilian Muhammadans – no less than four different heathen lords had carved the island up among themselves – he had urged his brother the Guiscard to attack Ibn Abbad, the wealthy lord of Siracusa. Herman da Intimiano had thrown his full weight with the Duke behind this plan, drawing his master’s attention to the island’s populousness, its famed fertility and the immense wealth it derived from trade and commerce. After taking Napoli, Duke Robert had at first considered to cross the Adriatic Sea and attack the Byzantines, who were weakened from a catastrophic defeat suffered recently by Muslim hands in the far east of their huge realm, but long discussions in the council had swayed his opinion, and he had set Herman and Serlo and his brothers Roger and Guillaume, Count of Benevento, to prepare a campaign against Sicily.

Not wanting to risk a late winter storm to wreck any of his transport ships in the Straits of Messina, Duke Robert had waited until April to assemble his army, but he had been further delayed by fate. The Guiscard’s brother Guillaume, who was to safeguard Apulia during his liege’s absence, had died unexpectedly from a stroke. Providing for the safe and unchallenged succession of his young son Robert, cousin to Serlo, as Count of Benevento had required a lot of valuable time, and so it was already July when the Apulian army could be ferried across the Straits of Messina, where Count Roger was already waiting with his host.


Robert de Hauteville, Count of Benevento

It was the largest host ever assembled by the Italian Normans which marched from Messina in mid-July. Leaving behind a sizable garrison to safeguard against a potential attack by the Arabs from Palermo, Duke Robert led about 4000 fighting men on the coastal road south towards Siracusa. Apart from Count Robert of Benevento, all the Duke’s great vassals were with the army, even Abelard de Hauteville. Serlo knew that the young Count of Benevento and his host were mainly taken along by Duke Robert to preclude his nephew from getting ideas and trying anything stupid while his liege was absent. Even though Abelard seemed completely content with the lordship of Taranto and had never given reason to distrust his loyalty, Duke Robert was still wary of him – there were quite a few Normans who viewed Humphrey de Hauteville’s only child as the true and rightful Duke of Apulia and Calabria and who might try to install him instead of the Guiscard.


Abelard de Hauteville, Count of Taranto

The Norman army travelled south on the coastal road, to Taormina, ultimate town of Roger de Hauteville, and ever on into war. To the south of Taormina towered the volcano Etna, with a few patches of snow scattered in hollows around its summits even at this time in the year, and its lower slopes lush with vinyards and groves of trees heavy with oranges and olives, figs and almonds. Greeks tilled this rich soil, but Muhammadans ruled over them, based in the coastal town of Catania. The Apulians expected resistance there, but they encountered none. Ibn Abbad had withdrawn the garrison into Siracusa to defend this ancient city and exposed the countryside to the Normans. An embassy from Catania greeted the Normans and wanted to negotiate over the surrender of the town, but Duke Robert had little time for them. His plan was to strike out for Siracusa directly, not to conquer Ibn Abbad piecemeal.

By early August, the Norman host arrived at Siracusa. Serlo, who had on his way from Normandy come by way of Paris, Milan, and Rome, was dumbstruck by the sheer size of the city. Siracusa was easily the biggest city he had ever seen. Already more than a millennium ago it had outgrown the island the Greek settlers had founded it on, and now it was sprawling more than halfway around the bay with its extensive harbour. Together with the powerful ancient fortifications of the city, allegedly built by some famous Greek genius by the name of Archimedes, it was this harbour that Ibn Abbad counted upon for defense. With the Normans lacking the naval capabilities to blockade the harbour, Ibn Abbad could bring in whatever supplies he wanted by sea – and maybe even reinforcements. At this very moment, his embassies were in North Africa and Palermo, entreating with other Muslim lords to send a relief force. With Siracusa, there would be no starving into surrender. This city would have to be stormed, and stormed soon before any Muslim reinforcements might arrive.

Luckily, Duke Robert had paid for a number of Greek siege engineers to accompany his army. Soft and effeminate the Greeks may well be, but they did also know how to erect sophisticated fortifications – and how to take them. Directed by these specialists, the Norman men-at-arms and camp followers soon bent their backs to constructing battering rams and a siege tower. Ibn Abbad did not try to interfere with the construction works by sallying forth; he was either trusting in Siracusa’s formidable fortifications or hoping for reinforcements and did not want to spend any of his troops prematurely.

But come September, still no Muhammadan reinforcements had arrived. Just two or three weeks more, and enough siege engines would be ready to assault Siracusa, or so the Greek engineers had assured Marshall Serlo. He had conferred with them until late into the night, and now he felt as tired and spent as after a hard day of riding. He had wolfed down the meal of cold chicken Hoel hard turned up for him, and now he was ready to go to bed. Like the other senior officers of the army, he did not have to camp in a tent, but had taken up residence in a confiscated farmhouse.

He was just taking off his shoes when Hoel stuck his massive head through the door: “Visitor, Marshall. One of ‘dem Arab boys from Count Roger’s host.”
“So? What does he want? It’s already past midnight, for Christ’s sake.”
“He’s kinda excited. Says he has to see you, and see you now”, Hoel answerd in his taciturn way.
“Well, if it’s so damn important then show him in”, grumbled Serlo, again slipping into his shoes.

A few heartbeats later, Hoel led a middle-aged bearded Muslim warrior into the room, probably a light horseman, as Serlo guessed from his dress. There was a score of these in the Apulian host, where they fulfilled an important role as skirmishers and in protecting the flanks of the main battle line.
“Speak up, man”, said Serlo without any ceremony. “What’s so important that it cannot wait until tomorrow?”
“I wanted see Count Roger”, the Arab warrior answered in heavily accented Italian, “but Count is with Duke, and guards not let me go to them. So I come to you. Please, Marshall, you must come quick. Messenger from my brother-in-law come find me in camp, tell me that my borther-in-law wait for me in trees. Messenger tell me he want me to bring Norman lord, he help take Siracusa.”
Serlo grimaced: “What’s this rubbish? How’s your brother-in-law in a position to help us?”
“He is officer of Ibn Abbad. He sneaks out of Siracusa and wants to meet Norman lord. He tell me to bring lord quick, before men in town notice he is away. Please, Marshall, come quick. I already use much time looking for Count Roger, maybe brother-in-law already away.”
“It’s a trap”, spat Hoel and grabbed the much smaller heathen warrior, snarling at him: “Do you think we’re stupid? You’ve got men lying in waiting ‘in trees’, to either kill the Marshall or take him for ransom!”
“Let go of him”, said Serlo calmly, ending the struggle of the two men before Hoel could bring his ox-like strength into play and maybe twist the Muhammadan’s head off. “Tell me, where is the meeting to be?”
“In olive trees on hill with Greek church.”
“Don’t believe him, Marshall”, interjected Hoel once again. “I tell you, it’s a trap.”
Serlo slowly shook his head: “But what if it’s not? No, I’d like to hear what this officer of Ibn Abbad has to tell us. I think I will go with this fellow here.”
“Then at least take along a few of our boys. Give me some time, and I’ll rouse them.”
“No time”, the Muslim soldier protested. “I already use much time. We go now, or maybe brother-in-law already away.”
“Alright”, said Serlo. “We go immediately, you and me and Hoel here.”

With that, Marshall Serlo stood up from his rickety stool and picked up his sword from the table. Being worried for the safety of his master and companion of many years, Hoel tried once again to protest and to get Serlo to at least don his chainmail, but to no avail. The young Marshall explained that if he risked his life, he didn’t want to at the same time risk that the man they were allegedly going to meet lost his cool and fled while he was taking the time to armour up. Cursing their Muhammadan visitor under his breath, Hoel followed the other two fighting men out of the farmhouse and into the darkness of the night. Near the farmstead, the warm southern night was still punctuated by a few scattered campfires which had not yet died down completely, but beyond, where the trio was heading, all was pitch blackness.


Edited to re-upload picture.
 
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Aug 3, 2008
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Enewald: Yes, the Normans were none too bad. Which might just be why I am playing with them. :cool:

And they sure like killing Muslims. But no better than the Muslims like killing Normans. :D So let’s see how the little trip to Sicily is going to turn out.

phargle: I am convinced that the wealth of Napoli came as a complete surprise to Duke Robert once he had captured the town. Yeah; definitely. :rolleyes:

And as to the trap thing, let’s just see what the siege of Siracusa has in store for Serlo. Will he be known as Serlo the Hero? Serlo the Ransomed? Serlo the Dead?
 
Aug 3, 2008
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Chapter Four: In Which A Marshall Converses With A Deposed Prince

“Hate is a powerful thing”, his uncle the Duke had told Serlo. “Kingdoms have been brought down by no more than one man’s hate. A ruler must know how to harness hate, his own and that of other men. And I shall harness this infidel’s hate to undo Ibn Abbad.”

And that’s exactly what Duke Robert had done, mused Serlo. His nightly Muhammadan visitor had not led him into a trap, but to a clandestine meeting with an Arab from Siracusa by the name of Ahmad. This young warrior had been grievously insulted and belittled by his lord, and Ahmad was just the type who could not allow to let any slight go unavenged. He was commander of a tower garrison, and he offered to let the Normans in by a postern gate his tower guarded. And Ahmad hadn’t even asked for anything in return. He obviously thought himself a noble man who would never sell out his city for base motives – all he did was making sure that Ibn Abbad got what he considered a just punishment.

And thus one man’s hate had delivered Siracusa into Norman hands. A few days later, on the appointed night, Count Roger had led a score of hand-picked Norman knights to the tiny postern gate and had it found open, as promised by Ahmad. The Normans had discovered that the entire tower garrison was fast asleep, apart from a few men on guard duty. Most of the Muhammadans were hacked and stabbed to death while still on their pallets, then Count Roger and his men had emerged from the tower into the city and raced to the nearby gate. The surprised guards of the gate had been overcome after only a short struggle and the Normans had taken possession of the gate, immediately throwing it open to admit their comrades.

And that had been it. By the first light of morning, the alleys of Siracusa had been swarming with Norman warriors. The shocked Muhammadans had failed to set up an unbroken line of defence across the city, and realizing that his cause was lost, Ibn Abbad had grabbed what treasure he could and headed straight for the harbour to board a ship to take him to Africa. He never made it. The Arab lord of Siracusa was slain by some unknown hand, and much of the treasure got dispersed among the men of the Norman host.

Another man who was that day slain by an unknown hand was Ahmad, though Serlo suspected strongly that Duke Robert was behind this. ‘Never suffer a traitor to live’, his uncle was fond of saying. Well, it didn’t make a difference to Serlo wether the Guiscard had ordered the murder or not. The world certainly wasn’t any worse for one less Judas, the Marshall thought.

A few of the great lords of the Norman host had hoped that Duke Robert would give Siracusa to them, but after being involved with planning the entire campaign right from the start, Serlo would have been surprised if his uncle had not kept a prize this prescious for himself – which of course he had done. But the booty of Siracusa had been rich, and the Duke had rewarded his retainers generously. Serlo had received a few pieces of costly Arab furniture, a set of hammered silver chalices, a number of richly embroidered courtly robes in the Muhammadan style, a large pouch of pepper, two bales of silk, and, most prescious to him, a spirited Arab courser. He was now as rich as some lesser counts back in Normandy. None too bad for the son of a poor Norman knight who had been driven from his impoverished manor in a feud, Serlo congratulated himself.


Two years had passed since these events, and apart from some bloodshed in the neighbourhood feuds that were ever-present with the irritable Norman lords, they had been peaceful years for Apulia, giving it the much needed respite after the years of intense warfare. Serlo had returned to his Apulian home, the small fief of Montemilone with its fortified donjon, and had largely remained there to enjoy the spoils of his success and to tend the land. Only twice had he left for any length of time, both times to spend a month or two with his uncle, accompanying him on his ceaseless circuit of his realm. The Apulian soil was good, and with Serlo for once at home to oversee his tenants in person, the harvests had been good, too. Serlo’s livestock was healthy, his stores were brimming with grain and cheese and olives to see him comfortably through the approaching mild Italian winter, and in his cellars the wine was fermenting.

The demesne of Robert Guiscard (yellow) and the holdings of his vasslas (orange) in the fall of 1071:


But a fellow Norman passing Montemilone on his way back from Siracusa, where the Ducal court was currently staying, brought disconcerting news. The Duke was worried. In North Africa, the still youthful Muhammadan King of the Zirids had passed away this summer in his decadent palace in Tunis. Being he last of his dynasty, he had willed his kingdom to his distant relative and neighbour al Nasir ibn Hammad, the fierce and warlike King of the Hammadids. Even now, al Nasir was moving to take possession of his inheritance. This unification of the the two kingdoms was creating a new major Muslim power in North Africa, reaching from the distant west all the the way to Tunis – and on to the small island Sheikdom of Malta, just off the coast of Sicily. The Guiscard deemed it very possible that al Nasir might use Malta as a stepping stone to the rich lands of Sicily, using the reconquest for Islam of the recent Norman acquisitions on the island as a welcome pretence to extend his already considerable power.


The new power in the south

* * *

Never before had Serlo seen his uncle’s court so abuzz with activity like these days. Over the midwinter, the few really cold days the south of Italy ever saw, Robert de Hauteville had taken up residence in the County of Lecce, in Brindisi on the Adriatic Sea, and he had invited all great lords of his realm to celebrate Christmas and New Year with him. But even more so than ordinary gatherings of the barons of the realm, this was not to be an occasion of mere socializing, Serlo had been informed by his uncle. The Duke of Apulia wanted to set his vassals at ease with feasts and hunting, and he wanted to capitalize on their religious feelings around the birth of the Saviour. True to his reputation, the Guiscard did even take advantage of this high religious holiday to get his barons into the anti-Muhammadan mood he needed.

For the Duke wanted to solicit his great vassals’ support for yet another campaign against Sicily. Every day of the festivities, Roger de Hauteville, the staunchest proponet of the conquest of Sicily and maybe the plan’s ultimate originator, had dropped remarks about the wealth of Sicily and told anecdotes about the island’s fabulous riches, firing up the Norman lords’ inborn greed. Now, on the very last afternoon of the year 1071, Duke Robert had called his barons to a council. Count Roger, Herman da Intimiano, and Serlo himself had been briefed by the Guiscard to voice loud support for his proposals. To further emphasize any religious feelings the Norman lords might have, the council was to be held in the chapel of Brindisi Castle.

Serlo was somewhat early – in fact, he was the first of the Norman lords appear. When he entered the chapel, only one other person was present, a youth on the brink of manhood. Serlo immediately recognized the square-jawed, sullen-looking boy, for he was another of his many cousins, no other than Bohemond de Hauteville, bastard son to Duke Robert. Calling the youth a bastard was somewhat unfair, though, as Serlo knew, for his cousin was much rather unlucky than a proper bastard. Bohemond had been born a prince and had upon his advent been hailed as his father’s heir apparent. Had his fortunes been different, young Bohemond would now be a lord of the realm. But when Richard di Aversa had started to make advances to Count Gisulf di Salerno, the Guiscard had felt that he had to beat his brother-in-law to this important ally. Some documents had been ‘discovered’ showing that Bohemond’s mother Alberada di Buonalbergo was closer kin to her husband Duke Robert than allowed by canonical law, and a sympathetic Pope had annulled the marriage. Robert de Hauteville had thus been freed to marry Count Gisulf’s sister Sigelgaita and forge the alliance he coveted, but Bohemond had been made a bastard, born in a wedlock that had been declared to legally never even have existed. Though Bohemond was kept out of sight most of the time, largely to the wish of his stepmother Duchess Sigelgaita, who wanted to secure her own children’s position, Serlo had at several occasions spoken with Bohemond and didn’t believe a word about the alleged too close relation of his parents and his inbreeding. Bohemond was of the quiet type and kept much to himself, but behind his guarded and sometimes spiteful eyes slumbered a keen intellect.

The two cousins greeted each other, Serlo heartily, and Bohemond in a somewhat reserved way.
“Are you praying, cousin?”, asked Serlo, his voice echoing up and down the empty nave of the small chapel.
Bohemond shook his head: “No. Waiting for the council.”
“For the council?”, exclaimed Serlo. “I am surprised. And glad, too, that your father has asked you to attend. You are certainly old enough to witness the proceedings.”
The deposed prince clenched his strong jaw and shot Serlo an acidic glance: “He has not. But he will bring Roger. Now that Roger has turned ten, the hag has talked father into taking him along, so that he might learn how to rule. But I am four years the whelp’s senior and …”

Bohemond fell silent as another cousin Hauteville entered the chapel and crossed himself, Robert de Hauteville, Count of Benevento. The young Beneventine Count, in age about halfway between Bohemond and Serlo, was known to combine the warlike spirit of the Hautevilles with a profound piety. This made Serlo almost certain the he would endorse a campaign against the Muslims of Sicily, but it meant also that he regarded the bastard Bohemond with particular derision. Acknowledging the former prince with no more than an offhand snort, he started to converse with Serlo.

One after the other, the Norman lords arrived for the council, foremost among them Count Roger of Reggio and Messina, followed by Abelard of Taranto and Robert of Benevento, and a score of minor Norman barons, hard-bitten veterans who had won their fiefs not by inheritance, but by virtue of their swords. Only one man with a long line of lords as ancestors was among the gathered men, the Duke’s brother-in-law, Count Gisulf of Salerno, who had been an honoured guest of the festivities and had also been invited to lend his wisdom to this day’s council. When all were finally present, the lanky figure of Herman da Intimiano entered, heralding the arrival of the Duke.

The Guiscard entered side by side with his son Roger, heir to both his father and his childless uncle Count Gisulf. For this double fortune, the Normans of Apulia called young Roger ‘Borsa’ – ‘the Purse’. Though Bohemond kept to the back of the assembly, his father couldn’t fail to notice him immediately among the but two dozen men. If the lord of Apulia was surprised at his bastard’s presence, he did not show it. Nodding to the gathered barons, he prodded young Roger between the shoulder blades to keep him going down the nave and turned casually to his bastard son.

“You will leave”, he said simply, the words not a command, but the declaration of a fact. And even though the Duke had topped fifty and his reddish blond hair was shot with grey, his arm was still strong and his hand hard, and few doubted that he wouldn't hesitate an instant to use them. Sparing himself the indignity of further public humiliation, Bohemond gave a curt bow and left the chapel with a stiff stride, his set face hard and unreadable as a stone. He had wagered to gain himself a bit of public recognition, and he had lost, Serlo thought. Still, it was amusing to see son and father side by side for once – though still displaying traces of the chubbiness of youth, with his broad shoulders and determined look Bohemond was the spitting image of his father. Even if he had wanted, Duke Robert would never have been able to deny his bastard son.

The council went much as planned. Duke Robert and his one surviving brother Count Roger painted vivid pictures of the wealth of Sicily and of the danger to Italy and all of Christendom should al Nasir, the newly arisen power in North Africa, deign to appropriate himself of the island’s resources.

“And do so he will”, the Guiscard declared with loud voice. “He will either be called in as an ally by one of the Muhammadan lords of Sicily, or he will come on his own accord, to capitalize on the weakness of the divided Sicilian Muslims. I say let not him capitalize on this disunity, let us profit from it! Let us cross over into Sicily now, immediately, as long as al Nasir is busy consolidating the realm he has inherited and quelling any opposition to his rule! Let us take Sicily and its riches now, as long as al Nasir is still unable to interfere with us! What say you, my friends?”

True to their briefing, Serlo and Count Roger and Herman da Intimiano did immediately shout their approval, but there was little opposition anyway. Most of the Norman lords were all for this plan right away, and the slight reluctance of some was easily overcome. Come the new year, the Apulians would once again carry the sword into Sicily.
 
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Enewald

Enewald Enewald Enewald
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Another charge into the muslim isle.

Ah well, soon he shall be a king.
 

phargle

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The initial scenes of the Norman conquest of Syracuse make the Muslims come across as hapless victims to a Norman war machine. The subsequent cramped council is also a fun read. You've got an obvious love for the source material.
 
Aug 3, 2008
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phargle: Well, I’m portraying the Normans the way I see them. I can’t view them much other than a bunch of utterly ruthless, treacherous, greedy land-grabbing adventurers without the least concern for right or wrong; also a tad unsophisticated, but very cunning. It is hard to see how a handful of newly-arrived impoverished foreigners could have gone from owning but a horse and weapons to being lords of southern Italy and Sicily in but a single generation otherwise. And while I certainly don’t want to moralize I do also try not to forget – or let forget – that war isn’t glorious, but cruel, terrible, and bloody. In Siracusa, the Muslims became the hapless victims of an enemy’s war machine, but I am quite convinced that they would have victimized an enemy no less, given other circumstances.

Enewald: If I remember correctly, Robert would have been able to declare himself King already after conquering Siracusa – but I decided not to as the necessary expenditure would have postponed further expansion in Sicily.
 
Aug 3, 2008
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Chapter Five: In Which A Marshall Counts The Dead

Half a year later, Serlo found himself back on Sicily, leading the biggest army as yet raised by the Hautevilles. About 7500 fighting men of all nationalities, Normans as well as Lombards, and Greeks no less than Arabs, had been ferried across from Italy or raised in Sicily itself, and all the great Norman lords were with the host, the Counts Abelard, Robert, and Roger de Hauteville, and of course the Guiscard himself. But large and powerful as this army may be, it was still just slightly larger than the one of the wealthy Sheikdom of Palermo. And with the Muhammadans fighting on their homeground and profiting not only from better knowledge of the terrain, but also from shorter lines of supply, much would depend on a quick early success. If the campaign got bogged down, it would be to the enemy’s advantage.

But Serlo and his uncle had devised a plan to force this necessary early success. Ayyub ibn Ziri, the lord of the Muhammadans, held two powerful strongholds, Palermo on the north coast, and Agrigento on the south coast. Of these, Agrigento was the less important one by far, with no more than a quarter of the Sheik’s military strength concentrated here. The Hauteville battle plan was centered on striking quickly and decisively and forcing Sheik Ayyub to give battle before he could join his forces from north and south. To this end, nephew and uncle had decided to strike out not against the tempting target of the weaker forces at Agrigento, but against Palermo. The forces of Agrigento were so weak that they would never allow themselves to be drawn into a battle with the several times larger Apulian host. But the forces at Palermo were strong, estimated to number about 5000 men, and a force this size might on its homeground feel confident enough to go head to head with even a somewhat larger force – especially when it saw its olive trees burned down and its vineyards uprooted. And exactly this was the Norman plan. The land around Palermo was exceedingly rich, the most fertile farmland in the entire Mediterranean, and Palermo derived much of its famed wealth from it. The Norman would strike out for this region and start defiling it, hoping to draw the Muhammadans out of Palermo to do battle without allowing themselvs the time to wait for any reinforcements from Agrigento to arrive. If such a battle was won, it would give the Apulians a decisive early advantage.

So Serlo and his uncle led a host of some 6500 warriors out of Messina, striking out towards Palermo. While Messina behind them remained devoid of fighting men, a garrison of 1000 men-at-arms under the command of Herman da Intimiano had been placed into Siracusa. This force was to safeguard the city from any attack from Agrigento and should involve itself in offensive operations only later on, when the field army had won its victory. On their march, the Apulian main host kept close to the cost, avoiding the sunbaked mountainous interior of the island, which was hard to traverse for any army, especially in the merciless glare of the Sicilian summer heat. Using the remnants of the ancient Roman coastal road and thankful for what little coolness was carried on the slight breezes from the Tyrrhenian Sea to its right flank, the army made good progress. Outriders ranged ahead of the main body of the host and up into the mountains rising up sharply on its left flank, both to scout for any Muhammadan troops which might lie in waiting and to pillage the countryside, as the Norman plan entailed causing as much damage to the land and people as possible to entice Ibn Ayyub to come forth and give battle.


The Norman advance towards Palermo

On its third afternoon in Muslim territory, a cloud of dust rising up from the slopes to the host’s left heralded the hasty return of a troop of Apulian outriders. The riders had driven their horses to the brink of collapse to speed the news they brought: Deep in the interior of the island, across several ridges and valleys, they had caught sight of the Muhammadan army. As it turned out, Sheik Ayyub ibn Ziri hadn’t waited for the Normans to make their move but had seized the initiative. Capitalizing from his superior knowledge of the land and his control over the countryside, he had struck out from Palermo, into the mountainous interior, right across the island towards Siracusa. It seemed that his entire northern army, probably around 5000 men, was on the march. Even if he hadn’t also mobilized his southern army – and the Norman barons were next to certain that he had – this host alone outnumbered the Siracusan garrison by five to one and was large enough to simply storm the city without the need for a long siege.

A hasty war council of the Norman barons was held. At first, many wanted to strike out inland, but when the leaders of the scouts briefed the barons on their reconaissance of the countryside, it became obvious that the Apulians stood no chance to intercept Ayyub’s host in the rugged mountains. A few voices were raised for pressing on towards unprotected Palermo and storming it, but more sober heads, Serlo among them, pointed out that yielding the eastern coast of the island to Ibn Ayyub would cut the Apulian lines of communication with the main land. The only viable option seemed to be to double back at forced marches towards Messina and then to follow the coast southwards, by the same route the army had taken in conquering Siracusa three years ago. This was the course of action decided upon, and the army set out immediately. The mood among the Normans was grim and subdued. Nobody deluded themselves – even if they would arrive in time to prevent the fall of Siracusa, the army would still be exhausted and completely spent from a week of forced marches.


The race for Siracusa

* * *

“Seems that Ayyub’s plan has backfired, heaven be praised”, Serlo explained to Hoel. “Somehow, his army must have been delayed while crossing the mountains, and his host is kind of trapped.”

These news had been delivered by the scouts this very afternoon, as the Apulian host was leaving the foothills of Mount Etna behind and entering the broad basin of the lower course of the Simeto river. Now, Duke Robert’s army was camping on the river’s southern bank, no more than a hard day’s marching north of Siracusa. Halfway between the exhausted Apulians and Siracusa with its well-rested garrison, near the scoastal town of Augusta, the camp of the combined host of Palermo and Agrigento, around 6500 fighting men, had been spotted.

“Trapped?” asked Hoel. “How so?”

To illustrate his explanations, Serlo used his dagger to scratch a raw map into the bare earth by the fire Hoel had built to fry some bacon for a late meal for him and his master. “Well, to his east is the sea, and to his west the mountains – and the locals assure us that between here and Siracusa there’s only goat paths leading up over them, certainly nothing an army could use. So Ayyub can either go north or south, but nowhere else.”

Hoel grunted in his typical stolid manner: “I see. And he must know we’re here.”

“Exactly. His scouts must have noticed our approach. Now he can’t attack Siracusa. If he does, we will take his army in the back and crush it between us and Siracusa. And if he turns north and attacks us, Herman da Intimiano will sally forth from Siracusa and he will be taken in the back all the same.”

“So what will he do?”

“I’m not sure. He might try to slip by Siracusa and escape back towards Agrigento, but that’s risky – you know well how vulnerable an army on the march is, and Herman has a thousand men in Siracusa, too many for Ayyub to effectively screen his host from while it marches off. So, if I were him, I would come at us here, and come at us quick. Hit us as long as we’re exhausted from the march.”

As it turned out the next day, that was exactly what Ayyub ibn Ziri was intending to do. He advanced and drew his host up in battle array on the slopes dropping down into the broad alluvial plain of the Simeto river. But the Apulian lords did not oblige the Sheik by attacking him uphill. They knew all too well that Herman da Intimiano’s own scouts must keep him informed of the enemy’s movements, and that he would in this instance be on the march. Time being entirely on his side, Duke Robert drew up his Apulians two miles from Ayyub’s position, down in the plain, where a small crook running towards the nearby sea provided them with water, wheras the Muhammadans had to make do without a supply of fresh water – a considerable drawback in the searing Sicilian July.

To entice the Apulians to meet his men on a ground of his own choosing, Sheik Ayyub sent his light cavalry down into the plain to ride around the flanks of the enemy and hassle him with javelins. Duke Robert and Serlo countered by sending in their own light horsemen, Muslim mercenaries all of them. In the ensuing skirmish, the horsemen from Ayyub’s host did soon win the upper hand, being more numerous than their brethren in the Guiscard’s service. After only a short skirmish, the Apulian horsemen fell back in some disarray, with the riders of Ayyub in hot pursuit – just as Serlo and Duke Robert had expected. Charging after their fleeing enemies, the Sicilian horsemen rode right into a quick succession of volleys from the Apulian archers, towards whose positition they had been deliberately drawn by the retreating enemy. Now it was the Sicilians’ turn to retreat, for some distance followed from the Apulian light cavalry.

Realizing that he could not dislodge the Apulians from their position in the plain and seeing the dustcloud of Herman da Intimiano’s approaching host rising on the southern horizon, Ayyub did finally abandon his advantegeous position on the slopes and order his host to advance down into the plain. Until Herman would arrive, it was now 6500 Sicilians against an equal number of Apulians, the latter with aching bones and muscles from a week of forced marches.

* * *

“So – how many dead?”

“Nearly fourhundred”, Serlo responded to his uncle’s question. “And twice this number is wounded so grievously that they are out of the action, at least for now.”

The Guiscard pinched his reddened eyes with thumb and middle finger. Like his nephew, he had after the victory on the Simeto been much too elated, and also too busy, to all night long get even a wink of sleep. Now, as the sun was rising over the sparkling Ionian Sea, Serlo had found his liege on the edge of the makeshift camp, alone save for the company of Bran, his uncle’s favourite mastiff, to report on what the counting the casualties of the previous day had yielded.

The Duke hawked and spat into what little of the sunburnt grass remained after being trampled by thousands of feet before replying: “Experience shows that in one or two months, half of them will be well, and the other half dead. So that leaves us at about 6800 men. Any more great lords among the dead or severly wounded?”

“None”, Serlo shook his head, “apart from Herman da Intimiano, of course. Has your doctor already told wether he will make it or not?”

“Useless Greek”, Duke Robert cursed with a contemptuous sneer. “Told me that the wound was very serious and that Herman was in the hand of God. I wonder why I bother with one of the guys from Salerno* at all, when all he can do is give me commonplaces. But however - what about the enemy casualties?”

“We have found roughly 1700 men either slain in the battle or on the retreat, or dispatched after the action. Not quite twohundred more have been captured as slaves or for ransom.”

Duke Robert nodded, petting Bran’s massive head: “A few hundred more will probably be slain by our pursuing cavalry or simply slink away. So that leaves Ayyub with – how many?”

Serlo struggled for a moment with the numbers before answering: “Somewhat over 4000 men, 4500 at the very most. That’s it, uncle – you have achieved your early decisive victory. Now you outnumber Ayyub at the least three to two.”

“Aye”, the Guiscard with a lopsided grin of satisfaction. “And we must not give Ayyub time to recover and compound his disadvantage. His nearest secure base is Agrigento, and that’s where he will be retreating, no doubt. I’ll give the army one day to recover, but tomorrow morning I am taking three quarters of the host into Siracusa. You will stay behind with the wounded a few men fit for service. Give the men one more week to recover somewhat from their injuries, then follow me into Siracusa – unless of course you hear anything else from me before that time.”

And with that, the two warlords of the Hauteville family prepared to press their advantage.


Battle of the Simeto

* Duke Robert is referring to the famous medical school of Salerno. Here, Greek medical knowledge had survived since the antiquity. At the time, the doctors from Salerno were the best in Europe outside of Byzantine territory.


Edited to re-upload picture.
 
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Enewald

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Ah well. Not easy fighting ararbs. :p

Btw, why don't you join byzantine Empire?
You could be Kaisar? :D
 
Aug 3, 2008
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Alfred Packer: Well, unfortunately the victory on the Simeto migh well have been Serlo’s most glorious moment of the entire campaign. You’ll see what I mean.

Enewald: The tought of subordinating myself to the Byzantines never ocurred to me – and I guess it wouldn’t have to the Hautevilles, either. Normans and Byzantines were quite implacable foes, having fought each other almost ceaselessly since the 1040s. After finally having driven them off, my Robert de Hauteville will certainly not bend his knees to the Emperor.

So, you want the suzerainity over southern Italy back, Greeks?
Then come and get it! :D
 

phargle

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When playing Apulia, I go with the mindset of many "barbarians" who marched into Roman territory - we're holding it in the name of the emperor back east. Pledging to Rome makes Robert emperor within a year, and allows you to give Bohemond the duchy of Apulia, thus putting him in line to succeed his father despite being a bastard. If you can survive the war with the Turks and prevent too many vassals from leaving, a Catholic Rome is in the offing. And your military talents mean a conquest of Egypt is, while not trivial, do-able.

The descriptions of the warfare are good, conveying a sense of plodding success for the Normans. I'd love a more agile Arab foe but I know those island Muslims are not that strong- their disunity makes this a perfect stomping grounds for a conquerer. That at least is something Crusader Kings portrays perfectly.
 
Aug 3, 2008
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Chapter Six: In Which A Marshall Celebrates His Birthday

“Gedd’em, boys, gedd’em”, shouted Hoel. “Flush ‘em out!”

In the first grey light of dawn, the half-Breton retainer of Marshall Serlo de Hauteville charged crashing through the sparse gorse and juniper bushes, half running and half sliding down on the gravel of the steep slope. In the chill of the mountain night he had led his squad of men-at-arms scrambling up the steep goat paths on the rugged opposite slope and over the ridge of the mountain, all of the time careful to avoid notice by the sentries posted by the Muhammadans. For long months the Apulians had suffered from sneak attacks by the enemy, but now they were increasingly turning the table on the infidels. Spread out across the slope, so as not to let any enemies slip through their lines, Hoel’s troop and a score of similar ones had stealthily crept up on the camouflaged Muslim camp hidden below them. Edging ever closer to the slumbering enemy, the Apulian footmen had eventually been noticed by a sentry, and the alarm had been sounded. With the efficiency of months of mountain warfare, the heathen warriors had immediately disentagled from their blankets and scrambled to their feet, at the same time snatching up what little equipment they still owned. Unfailingly true to their tactic of the previous months, they once again tried to avoid any engagement not of their chosing. Noticing the broad file of Apulian warriors charging from the higher slope down at them among screams and shouts, Ayyub’s men had turned to flee down the the steep incline. Skidding down after the fleeing Muhammadans, Hoel realized that his more heavily armoured men did stand not the slightest chance of catching up with the the flight of the mountain-wise sons of Sicily. But then, he wasn’t unduly concerned about the enemy getting away.

* * *

Serlo was cold and miserable. His limbs were stiff and numb from lying motionless on the chill and rocky ground which was sogged from a light drizzle that had stopped only a short time ago. What a wretched way to celebrate his 29th birthday, the Marshall of Apulia thought. His nose was running from the persistent cold he had had for the last five months, but he didn’t dare slip his hand out from his mail mitten to blow it between his fingers, for fear of drawing an enemy’s attention to himself. This was no way to wage a war – and he knew that his men shared his sentiment. For maybe the hundredth time in the past half year he thought back longingly to the opening phase of the war against Sheik Ayyub ibn Ziri.

After the victory on the Simeto river, the Apulians had soon followed the retreating army of the heathen lord. Ayyub had led his men past Siracusa and then westwards along the coast, towards his stronghold of Agrigento. The Norman barons had not been prepared to allow their enemy any opportunity to rest or regroup, and after only a short rest, the entire Apulian host had pursued Ayyub. But ibn Ziri had not yet been ready to face the invaders in another battle and had played for time. Grabbing whatever Agrigento had had to offer in provisions, equipment, and recruits, the sheik had left the town right before the Normans had reached it and had retreated to the north. Traversing the rugged interior of the island, he had made for Palermo. Duke Robert and the Norman lords felt that they had him on the hook and pressed on after him, but not without leaving behind a sizable host. These thousand men, commanded by Count Roger, had been charged with cordoning off Agrigento, where the citizens had raised a militia defense force and holed themselves in. The Guiscard had meanwhile taken all the other barons and the main force to press after Ayyub. For some weeks, the two hosts had manoeuvered around Palermo, Ayyub being reluctant to commit to another battle and hoping that time would wear the invader down. The Norman barons had finally decided that this could not go on forever and that some kind of decisive engagement had to be forced, and so they had deliberately allowed their enemy to occupy an advantageous position. Sheik Ayyub had taken the bait. He had believed that the Christians had finally made a mistake and had tried to capitalize on it. In early September, he had offered the Normans battle, and the Apulians had galdly accepted it, even though it meant that they would have to attack over broken ground where the knights couldn’t properly charge. Nearly 6000 Apulians had that day attacked an enemy of less than three quarters their number, and they had won a great victory. Half the Muslim army had remained on the field.

It had been a glorious victory, but since that day, the war had gone downhill for Serlo – or maybe ‘uphill’ would really be the appropriate term, the Marshall thought, because that was where Ayyub had taken to. Ibn Ziri had taken the remains of his shattered army up into the rugged mountains of the interior, and as the weeks had passed, more and more bands of stragglers had rejoined his ranks. Having been defeated twice and being too weakened to face the Apulians in an open battle once more, the sheik had instead resorted to a strategy of hit and run. Avoiding any proper battles, he did from now on draw on his men’s superior knowledge of the countryside to raid the Apulians whenever and wherever he wanted. Keeping almost exclusively to the high altitudes and splitting and recombining his army repeatedly, Ayyub had become as intangible as smoke – and just as smothering.

The barons had in the meantime decided to split their army. Half their host, split again into equal halves, had been assigned to besieging the two important towns of Agrigento and Palermo, while the other half was sent into the mountains to chase after Ayyub. This was the task entrusted to Serlo, the task that had kept him busy since mid-September – and now it was late March. When he he had received this command, he had been honoured, and he wouldn’t have dreamed that the task would be as tedious and drawn-out. Fall had turned into winter, and winter again into spring. Somewhere down in the coastal plains, Agrigento had recently fallen to an assault of Duke Robert, but as far as Serlo was concerned, this might have been in another, very distant world. His own world was all scrambling up and down rocky slopes, camping out in the open, and freezing his butt off in the rainy and surprisingly cold winter of the Sicilian mountains. A few times he had fought and won something approaching proper battles, but for the most part it had been chasing after ghosts and trying to avoid their ambushes.

The war against the Sheikdom of Palermo

The fall of Agrigento

Successes of Marshall Serlo de Hauteville

But after months of mountain warfare, his men were finally getting the hang of it. It had been weeks since anybody had missed his step and plummeted down some steep incline, and the knights had finally assented to dismount and fight on foot – but in this, a few legs broken by priceless chargers on the rugged ground had been more persuasive than all of Serlo’s arguments. With his men-at-arms becoming sure-footed and the Norman knights finally grudgingly cooperative, the Marshall had at long last been able to execute his plan. Leaving their horses several miles behind, Serlo had in the previous night led his fully armoured knights up a wooded valley. As stealthily as possible for mail-clad warriors with huge kite shields, they had sneaked among the dark trees and advanced some distance up a mountainside. Knowing how much this kind of operation went against the nature of his fellow knights, Serlo had not dared to lead them far. Better to err on the side of caution, the Marshall had decided and had ordered his men to spread out over the slope, crouch down and hide themselves without a further motion.

And so they had lain low for hours and endured the rain which had soaked into their padded gambesons. When the rain had finally stopped an hour ago, it hadn’t made any difference to the Apulian knights anymore, wet to the bone as they already were. Up in the branches of the pines and cypresses still dripping water, birds had commenced singing, heralding the lightening of the eastern horizon. And then, in the dim half-light of the early dawn, the Normans had heard it – distant shouts carried down from the slopes above, and soon also the sound of many men crushing through the undergrowth. It was now getting lighter with every passing moment, and Serlo lifted his head from the muddy ground to peer up the slope. Less than a quarter mile away he could make out violent swaying of the bushes – there was the enemy, driven towards him by their men-at-arms. Mindful of his own stiff limbs, Serlo thought it better not to have his men rise from the moist ground too late, and so he silently gave the order and stood up himself.

On both of Serlo’s sides, mail-clad Norman knights rose from the ground, rivulets of water pouring from their soaked-through gambesons. Under subdued groans and spat curses, the men stretched and made a few swings with their swords to drive the numbness from their cold and stiff limbs and to get ready for the battle. Soon, the first Muhammadan warrior came in sight. Trotting towards the enemy, Serlo ordered the entire Norman line to advance.


The dismounted Norman knights move to engage their enemies

With the red rush of the battle retreating, Serlo started to feel his bruised side, where the swing of a Muslim blade had caught him under the right arm. The chainmail had held, and the gambeson underneath it had absorbed most of the impact of the strike, but his ribs were still badly bruised, maybe even cracked. Feeling for the injured spot through the armour, Serlo thanked God that the infidel had had a sword and not a mace, in which case he would have been mashed up really bad.

All around Serlo, knights and men-at-arms were inspecting their injuries or tending to those of their comrades. Some distance away, the Marshall’s retainer Hoel was crouching next to another common soldier who was bleeding profusely from some kind of injury of the abdomen. Serlo had seen wounds like this before and doubted that the man would make it.

The Muhammadans had given the Apulians a hard fight, and many – too many to Serlo’s liking - had once again gotten away, but still it had been a clear Apulian victory and a considerable nip to Ayyub’s remaining military strength. It seemed that the campaign was finally entering its last stage, Serlo thought with relieve. Winter in the mountains had been bad, but the Marshall dreaded having to campaign in them in summer, when the land was baked by the merciless sun and even most major rivers dried out. But with some luck, Sheik Ayyub would be defeated before that time. And then, Serlo had been told by his uncle, they would immediately go on to wage war on ibn al-Halwas, Sheik of Trapani, and the last of the independent Muslim lords of Sicily. The foolish al-Halwas had obliged the Normans by ignoring Ayyub ibn Ziri’s pleas for aid and had even sent emissaries to Duke Robert. The Sheik of Trapani had pledged his friendship to the Guiscard, who had thanked the emissaries and declared his own friendship and goodwill towards al-Halwas in return. Well, the deluded infidel wood get a taste of Norman goodwill as soon as ibn Ziri was dealt with.

From these thoughts, Serlo’s attention was drawn to a knight striding resolutely towards him. The man was still in his armour, but he had taken off his helmet and drawn back his mail coif, and so Serlo recognized his fellow Norman as Humbert d’Alife, a landholder from the County of Capua and once one of Richard di Aversa’s men.

“A fine day, and a great victory, Marshall”, Humbert addressed him cheerfully.
“Aye, but could be better”, Serlo retorted. “A good many of Ayyub’s men got away again, and we will have to go on chasing them.”
A broad grin split Humbert’s brutal face: “A good many, aye. But not this fella here.”

With these words, d’Alife lifted his sword. Impaled deeply on the blade’s tip was an Arab’s severed head, the tongue lolling out of the gaping mouth and the glassy eyes gazing vacantly at Serlo. It was Ayyub ibn Ziri, formerly Sheik of Palermo. Maybe this wasn’t such a wretched way to celebrate his birthday after all, it dawned on Serlo.
 
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Aug 3, 2008
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phargle: That’s one nifty strategy you are using with the Hautevilles, I have to grant you that. For me, it is just not attractive as I always like to play some kind of plausible alternate history, and Robert de Hauteville being elected Emperor is none too plausible. But still – nifty, and fun, too.
 

phargle

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All I could think of during this update was that Dismounted Knights had been discovered in Messina, and I'm pretty sure that's further down the tech tree. :)

Oh, & those Norman shields are sex.