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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

newtype0083

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May 24, 2008
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Yoink, my claims now.

Thank you for the pretty maps with oh so many colors! In my opinion almost everything gets better with maps.

Gameplay question: What is your strategy for granting lands and titles? Seems that you've been keeping most of the land in the hands of the powerful dukes, who have only been granting a few of their counties to vassals. Or did you grant those lands first, then elevate one count to duke above his peers? Do you worry about having such powerful vassals rise against you?
 
Aug 3, 2008
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Enewald
Surprisingly well, thanks to the many titles Bohemond has created towards the end of the conquest. I have checked, and by early 1117, he has a “respectable” reputation.:eek:

RGB
Well, this Baybars was already good enough. What happened in the AAR was not just my poetic license but actually the reality. Baybars really saved Jerusalem from certain “liberation”. Without him, the crusade would most likely have succeeded; with him, the crusaders still have not taken Jerusalem, and I’m already quite a few years further into the gameplay. So I guess my Baybars is a sufficiently important figure in medieval Islam. :D

RossN
Well, you know how it is with Germany in CK. Though I have to say that it has fared not too bad north of the Alps. Up there, the revolts are finally dying down and the royal power seems to be consolidating. The strange Provencal-Bohemian realm also clings on to life, but is nothing much to write home about.

And a crusade against Sevilla is long overdue and actually far more important politically than one into Palestine, but with that crusade’s goal so long unresolved, a crusade into Iberia is of course stupidly, pointlessly blocked. :mad:

newtype0083
I do also like maps, but I’m not so happy with the last one – it’s colours are imo too gaudy: I unfortunately forgot to decrease the coloured layer’s opacity before I flattened the layers, and I’m too lazy to do the map again. :D

As to the tiltes, Bohemond does only rarely grant away smaller holdings and then make one of the counts duke, he usually keeps adding to one – loyal – count’s holdings and finally names him duke. He’s just not afraid of these guys. With royal prerogative law, he has scutage at 100%, meaning that even if one of them rises up against him, he’s too dirt poor to field a proper army and will easily be crushed. :D

jordakelf
Thanks – I have to admit, I’m a sucker for maps. And yes, such infeudation maps would really cut on management times for larger realms.

Ok, guys, that’s the feedback for now. Next is the new POV character(s). I hope to have the chapter up within 24 hours, but please curb your expectations. :rolleyes:
 
Aug 3, 2008
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Chapter Thirty-Seven: The Man Who Would Be King

Neither branch nor twig was stirring. In the pristine air, the woodlands of the central Apennine Mountains were still sleeping their wintry slumber beneath a dusting of feathery white blanketing the broken ground and draping the gnarled mountain oaks, the chestnuts and the plane trees and clinging frozen to the last tiny twig of the evergreen cedars. The weak glare of the winter sun hanging low in the blue Italian sky twinkled in thousands and thousands of crystals of ice and cast a magic garden’s enchanted sheen over the mountainside.

Still far off, a violent rustling in some unseen thicket disturbed the perfect stillness of the winter morning, and a mad scrambling, acompanied by the tumbling of dislodged pebbles, rushed down the snowy mountainside. All of a sudden, the wildly swaying stands of a thicket of gorse released a roe rushing down the mountainside, panting, its dark eyes wide with pain and fear. As she sped down the mountain on uneasy legs, she left a sprinkling of red on the virgin snow in her wake.

A ditch cut into the rocky earth by the melting snows in spring but now dry barred the path of her desperate flight, and she made to leap across it. It was an easy jump, and she had often cleared far broader ditches and ravines – but this time, the distance was too far. Her leap was feeble and far too short, and her cloven hooves found no purchase on the steep opposite bank of the narrow ditch. She tumbled back, and half slid and half fell into the dried out brook, thin legs flailing in the air. For a heartbeat, she lay there trembling from pain and exhaustion, then she forced herself back up.

She could not do it. Her legs buckled underneath her, and she fell again. Once more she tried to rise in vain, and once again, and every time she fell, searing jolts of agony lanced through her body. As she lay ther thrashing, the snow under her, deeper here in the shallow ditch, was quickly soaking through with crimson – it was her life draining from her through the hole the broad hunting arrow had made into her side.

Now, as she lay trembling and kicking, unable to rise, her murderes were quickly descedending the mountainside, three men on horses following the trail of her life’s blood in the snow. The man in the lead was richly dressed in heavy wools and costly furs, tall and middle-aged, hairy and powerfully built, with ill-contained anger contorting his uncouth features. “There she is”, he shouted to the boy following hot his heels. Powerful hands reined in a neighing piebald gelding with a brutal, uncaring tug on the reins. “Now down there with you and and finish her off, blast your hide!”

With fluid motions, Jordan slid from his roan courser before the horse was fully standing and nimbly ran down to the frantic roe, half sliding on the thin sleet of snow. His father was already silently furious because of Jordan’s less than perfect shot with the bow that had led to the mad chase of the wounded beast through the forests of the wintry Apennine, and Jordan knew better than to risk a full outbreak of his father’s anger by tarrying. Wasting no time, he nimbly drew his long hunting dirk from its wooden sheath while still gliding down into the small ravine. Jordan surpressed a jarring moment of compassion, deflected the roe’s feebly flailing legs with his left arm and plunged the blade deep into the beast’s chest, finding its heart with practiced ease. The roe bucked once more, then it lay still forever.


“Well, you at least didn’t bungle up that, too”, his father’s gruff voice grated down from further up the slope. Was there a hint of pride in the clipped words? Duke Silvester, lord of Siena and Urbino and bastard of no less a man than King Bohemond himself, turned the head slightly around to bearded Pandolfo, who was sitting astride his grey mare in respectful attendance to his lord: “Fetch the beast and break it open.”

Pandolfo swiftly descended the ditch. He was a man the same age than Jordan’s father, and like Jodan himself allegedly the son of a nobleman’s bastard, though in his case not a Norman knight’s, but a Lombard’s, the people of his Jordan’s mother. The rugged Lombard was master of the hunt at Cagli, one of his father’s castles in Urbino on the eastern slopes of the Apennine. Cagli was a grim and forbidding place high up in the mountains, but the Duke liked to spend his winters here – to harden his son to the frost and to instill him with a bit of backbone, as he liked to say, but also as the Duchess liked the countryside; it was here that she had been born and spent her childhood. And Jordan didn’t mind one way or the other – he liked the rustic life and at Cagli, and he liked the local retainers, Pandolfo among them.

“Well done”, muttered Pandolfo under his breath as he passed Jordan on his way down. While the master of the hunt hauled up the oe from the ditch began to dress the animal, Jordan rejoined his father, who had now dismounted as well. Jordan both feared his father and was proud of him, but mostly he was in awe of the Duke. He was a huge man, almost a spitting image of the King, albeit on a smaller scale – but still one of the physically most impressive men Jordan had ever seen. His knights venerated their lord, who was ever the foremost in battle and who didn’t seem to know the meaning of words like fear or doubt and hesitation. There was a tale how Duke Silvester had as a young man, while out hunting, once been rushed by a brown bear and how he had wrestled the beast, gotten hold of his dirk and stabbed the animal to death, and how he had single-handedly raised an army and relieved the great hero Duke Serlo, and dozens of tales of martial prowess besides. Now that Jordan’s remote grandfather the King was fast becoming an old man, few doubted that Duke Silvester was the foremost blade of the realm, if not of the entire Christendom.

For some time, Jordan and his father watched in silence how Pandolfo strung the roe between two young trees and broke it open. Blood and entrails, steaming in the cold mountain air, were defiling the crisp snow, and the trees all around were quickly filling with malevolent crows and cawing jackdaws, waiting impatiently for the three humans to leave with their prey and for their own feast to begin.

“Silence”, his father’s silently hissed command intruded into Jordan’s observation of the birds. Ordering with a sweep of his long muscular both Pandolfo and Jordan to stay back, his father strode a took a few steps down the slope, moving with a nimbleness that would have surprised many in such a massive man. The Duke was peering down through the tress, and Jordan followed his gaze but could discern nothing out of the ordinary.


“Bows”, Jordan’s father ordered, and while Pandolfo and Jordan hurried to silently fetch their hunting bows from their horses and string them, the Duke drew the short sword he was using in lieu of a hunting knife. His heart pounding, Jordan still fumbled with the corded sinews of the bow’s string when he heard his father bellow down the slope: “Who goes there? Show yourself, or you’ll be sorry!”

There was a rustling of wings and a cawing from many beaks as the startled birds took to the air, but before these sounds subsided, Jordan’s father shouted once again, slowly advancing down the slope: “For the last time, show yourself, or we’ll stick you with arrows and cut your mangy hide to ribbons!”

“Don’t”, came a man’s voice up through the trees. “I’m alone and I mean no harm.” The tone and inflections were not a commoner’s – whoever there was must be a burger, or a clergyman, or maybe even a knight. Jordan saw finally movement further down the slope, and then, after a moment’s hesitation, the voice spoke again, but this time not in the local Italian argot, but in Norman French: “Silvester? Can that be you? Don’t do anything hasty, it’s me, Hugues of Spoleto.”


A short little while later, Jordan and his father were indeed joined by Hugues de Joigny, Count of Spoleto, a distant relative of theirs – inofficially his father’s half-cousin or so, if Jordan wasn’t much mistaken. He remebered having met Count Hugues, Duke Renaud’s younger son, once or twice before, but then, he had looked very different. In his memory, Count Hugues had been a dapper, fleshy man, but the figure emerging from the trees was neither. He was unshaven and dishevelled, his fine travelling clothes dirty, and dark rings under his eyes gave the Frankish baron a harrowed demeanor – as did the grim set of his mouth.

“What is it, cousin”, Jordan’s father asked before Count Hugues had even reached them. “What brings you here, alone, in such state?”

“Treachery”, spat Hugues. “Treachery and murder. But say – have you some food? I have not eaten in almost three days.”

Jordan’s father motioned for Pandolfo, who fetched the round hard cheese he had packed for this hunting trip. Count Hugues received it with a curt nod, but was by that time so deep in the outrage that was his tale that he forgot to eat. And outrageous the Count’s tale was indeed. It began with a message he had received from his father only one week ago, just a few days after Christmas:

“It said that he was taken ill with a fever and that he felt that his end was approaching. He asked me to hasten to him – you must know that in the past months, he had increasingly realized what a low creature my brother Guillaume really was, and there had been signals that he wanted me, and not Guillaume to succeed him. Now, with his end near, the message told me that my lord father had finally made up his mind, and it also told me to come with speed – he wanted to see to my smooth and unchallenged succession. So I departed Chieti in all haste, taking only three trusty retainers with me on the hard ride north to Ascoli, my father’s favourite residence.

“To cut a long story short”, Hugues continued in bitter tones, “when we came near Ascoli, Giscelin, my father’s old squire sped up to my party. He had terrible news, and he beseeched me to turn back. It was a trap. My brother, that black-hearted swine, had come to Ascoli, allegedly to celebrate Christmas, but in reality to murder his own father! Giscelin told me that he was sure that he had smothered the old man in his sleep, for one morning, my noble father was inexplicably dead! And as chance had it, Guillaume was at hand with an unusually large party, to quickly ascend the ducal throne!”


Jordan was aghast – surely, that couldn’t be! He was not naïve and knew well that knights were not above stooping to cold-blooded murder in pursuit of their goals, but killing one’s own father? It couldn’t be. But then, maybe… Jordan’s mother had often impressed on him with bitter words how basically all her relatives had been wiped out by agency of his aunt Yolanda just so that he could one day inherit Ravenna from his uncle Count Malacresta. And the same string of misfortunes had befallen the Attaleiates dynasty of Dyrrachion, and only last year the the ruling family of another Greek principaliy, leaving only Prince Gausbert’s son Ramon to inherit. There was of course no proof whatsoever, but still, people were whispering. And in all those cases, with the the Attaleiates and the Bryennioi as well as with his own relatives the Montefeltros, the casualties had often been children, infants and toddlers even – so maybe it was after all conceivable that a son should murder his own father.


“Anyhow”, Hugues continued, “it seems that my brother has sealed the letter to me already in the night he has killed our father, with the signet ripped from a still warm finger! And had dispatched the messenger to Chieti well before the morning, to speed to me and bring me here before I might hear of my father’s death. And once I was there, he intended to murder me, too! Giscelin had not yet finished his report, when riders wearing the colours of the Marches came in sight. They sure had meant to slay me as long as I was unaware, but when they saw Giscelin with me, they realized that I was warned, so raised an alarm and spurred their horses at us. They outnumbered us two to one, so we tried to flee back to Spoleto, but suddenly, the countryside was swarming with my brother’s henchmen! They were thickest to the south, so our retreat was cut off. We ttok the direction where there were the least enemies and fled into the mountains, but even there, the pack closed in on us from all directions. We tried to break through their ring, into the north, where it seemed thinnest, and at the cost of all my companions save one, we made – and even he received a wound that was his death before the night had fully fallen. I took his horse to have a spare one for change and cut ever north, remembering that you liked to spend your winters at Cagli, and hoping to find you there. I’ve ridden for three days and have since yesterday seen nothing of my pursuers, but I’m not sure whether I have really lost them – so please, let’s hurry!”

Thoughts were tumbling through Jordan’s head. Murder and treachery, an ambush and a mad, lonely escape in the middle of winter, and pusuers howling for blood – what a great adventure! He was thrilled, the blood singing in his temples. But there was also anxiety. Was that what it meant to be a nobleman in his grandfather’s realm? Strive and distrust and kin-slaying?

Jordan looked to his father, insecure. The Duke’s jowl was set, and a frown wrinkled his heavy brow. “Yes, we better hurry”, he said. “Pandolfo, go get your horse for the count. We’ll ride ahead, and you’ll follow on foot.”

As Pandolfo scrambled up the slope, Jordan’s father swaggered up to Count Hugues. “Don’t worry”, he said, laying his beefy left soothingly on his cousin’s shoulder. “Cagli is near, and I’ll know the lay of the land well. Any pursuers—“

The sentence was never finished. Duke Silvester swung his entire body behind a powerful blow of his massive like fist, drawing Hugues into it with his left. Like a mallet, the fist connected with Count Hugues’ temple, and Jordan’s relative collapsed. Aghast, Jordan watched the Count of Spoleto twitching as feebly as the roe had, just as vainly trying to rise. The, a callous kick to the head knocked him out completely. “Stay down, damn you”, the Duke spat.

“My lord father”, Jordan began haltingly, only to be cut short. “What do you think, boy”, the Duke snarled. “That I should throw my support behind a hunted, landless fugitive and back him up against a duke? Guillaume’s in control of the Marches – if Hugues here wanted his father’s legacy, he should have ben more careful before.”

“But what then are you going to do, my lord? Are you going to deliver him—“

“Into the hands of his brother? Surely not. Think, boy! It might buy Guillaume’s friendship, but he has proven that he is a treacherous bastard – such a man’s friendship and alliance is worth nothing, is not to be relied on. No, I’ll race to the King, and I’ll inform him that Duke Renaud has not died a natural death but has been murdered by his son. All power in this realm comes from your grandfather” – father sometimes referred to the King in private as Jordan’s grandfather, but never as his own father – “and so will any gain from this matter. I will speed to Palermo and once again proove my worth to our lord.”

Father cast a sharp glance towards Pandolfo, who was hanging back with the hoses, trying to look impassive and unconcerned. The emphasis in the Duke’s next words was for both his and Pandolfo’s sake, Jordan realized: “And not a word of this incident, or the count. The King need not know everything. I’ll make up a story how I learned of Renaud’s murder, but Hugues here won’t figure in it. Guillaume’s brother will remain missing, his whereabouts unknown. Maybe he was after all murdered by Guillaume, too, who’s to know. I’ll keep the fool locked away in the lowest dungeon of Cagli – who knows what he will one day be worth as a bargaining chip, or to blackmail Guillaume.”

Apalled, Jordan nodded agreement, and Pandolfo also hurried to assert the Duke that he had understood. When the retainer was loading the inert form of the Count of Spoleto – no, the former Count of Spoleto, Jordan had to remind himself – onto his horse, his father stepped up to him and growled silently: “Don’t look like a girl about to cry, blast you. What do you think how power is won? By prayer and good deeds and dealing fairly? I am what I am – and you are what you are – because I seized power, against all odds, and at any prize. No matter what it took, I showed your grandfather my worth, and now I’m a duke! And I’m going to continue showing it to him. He will recognize me, and when he’s gone, I will wear the crown, I, not that weakling Gausbert. And when I’m gone, you’ll wear it after me – so don’t look like a bleating sheep, damn you!”

While Jordan’s father had been speaking these words, an ill-contained anger had rung in them ever more clearly, and by the end, the Duke had almost been snarling. Finishing, he dealt his son a slap in the face that sent Jordan into the trampled snow, his ears ringing with both the blow and what they had just heard.

* * *

The mood in the lavishly decorated Great Hall of the palace at Palermo was a decidedly subdued one. The shapes of the dozens and dozens of courtiers, Muhammadan and Greek, Norman and Italian alike, were clothed in somber colours, mostly black, and the conversations of the clusters of men were hushed, with no loud voice, let alone laughter, to be heard.

But this unusual atmosphere was lost on Silvester, called de Hauteville, as he stormed into the hall, head thrust forward on bull neck. He ploughed through the sea of lordlings, without a word shouldering aside those who did not move out of his way in time. His eyes were on the far side of the chamber, with his father, the King, and with the group of truly important barons and officials flocking around Bohemond’s towering shape. For a heartbeat, Silvester’s gaze lingered on his half-brother, Richard. It had been almost a year since he had last seen him, and in this year, Richard had practically grown into a man, and a man cut out even more in both their father’s likeness at that, even though a huge ungainly nose marred the otherwise regal countenance. Any day now, Richard would probably take up the reins of his duchy of Apulia – yet one more stumbling block on Silvester’s road to the throne.


“My lord King”, Silvester called over the heads of those still between him and the wooden lord’s dais on the far end of the Great Hall, and again: “My lord King! I have travelled from Urbino in the midst of winter! I bring grave news, and I need to speak to you alone, my lord.”

His father looked down upon Silvester. Even though he would be turning sixty later this year, the King was still the most impressive presence Silvester had ever known. Bohemond dwarfed even the tallest of his knights by head and shoulders, and he stood unbent even now – in fact, he looked at least ten years younger than his age. The King’s frame was still powerful and muscular, his jowls firm and unsagging, his visage unmarred by deep wrinkles, his hair only yet beginning to turn grey at the the temples. At an age when other men were only gaunt shadows of their former youthful selves, Silvester’s father stil oozed vitality, and, most of all, raw, unbridled power.


A moment of deliberation, a moment of being measured by slate-grey eyes, then a nod of the leonine head. “Very well”, the King said in his naturally commanding tone, carrying far on the battlefield and in assemblies alike. “Leave us. All of you.”

The swoft swishing of velvet slippers and the hard tread of leather boots on Muhammadan-cut marble tiles, a rushing of robes of Egyptian cotton, of watery silk and of heavy brocade, and the Great Hall emptied itself in a deluge of bodies. Last to go was that old infidel hag Zuhayra, almost bent double by decades of service to his father, hobbling from the hall like an old mangy crow in her habitual robes of black. As soon as the carved doubled doors finally banged shut behind the chancellor, the King addressed his son with a laconic “well?”

“Duke Renaud has been murdered”, Silvester blurted out – no use making long words, he thought.

His father’s lips contorted into the vaguest hint of a smile. “I know”, he said. “Five days ago, a messenger farrived from Guillaume de Joigny, bringing news of his father’s death at the hands of Hugues de Joigny, now a fugitive after his failed attempt to usurp the ducal power. Guillaume has asked me to endorse his succession to—“

“But it wasn’t Hugues”, Silvester interrupted his father’s speech. He beamed with glee at being able to impart such important news to his father, who had been misled, and to once again demonstrate his usefulness. “It was Guillaume himself!”

Bohemond stepped down from the dais and and shot Silvester a penetrating glance. “How do you know that”, he asked.

“I was spending winter at Cagli, and when I was out hunting, I came upon man dying from a war arrow in his back. I recognized him as Count Hugues squire, and even though he was already far gone, he coughed up his story. Count Hugues had received a summons of his father to attend him at Ascoli, but when the party from Spoleto arrived there, they found old Renaud dead and Guillaume in possession of the place. It tuned out that Guillaume had murdered his father and had then lured his brother to Ascoli to do away with him, too. Count Hugues’ party tried to hack its way out of the trap, and some actually got away.”

“And Count Hugues?”

“Was among the few who got away”, Silvester replied, struggling to hide his triumph. “He and his squire were seperated in trying to loose their pursuers. He couldn’t tell me whether his master was still alive, but he doubted it, with the blood-mad pack of Guillaume’s men after him. Then he croaked, and I learned no more.”

The King questioned Silvester more thoroughly, eager to learn as much of the murder of his brother-in-law Duke Renaud as he could, but Silvester was confident that his father did not see through his little deception. But then that had only been to expect, had he after all told nothing but the truth – with the insignificant exception of the identity of the man he had encountered near Cagli, and his eventual fate. The King was seething with ill-contained rage at Guillaume, more because of his deception than because of the kin-slaying, it appeared to Silvester. His father was determined to deal harshly with the Guillaume.

“But it wil have to wait a few months”, the King said. “I can’t travel to the Adriatic right now, or indeed leave Sicily. Or brethren in England have finally put together an army to liberate Jerusalem, and knights from all over Europe rally to them and the Pope’s fool’s errand. Their leader, the Duke of Gloucester, sent word that he intends to embark in the spring in southern France and to travel to Palestine via Sicily and North Africa. It seems he expects me to provision his campaign from my own stocks. Well, he and his fellows are in for a surprise. But I can’t leave Sicily right now, not with their army traversing the realm. Guillaume will have to wait.”

Silvester saw an opening for himself. “Well, I’m Guillaume’s neighbour. With your leave, my liege, and some of your troops, maybe I could—“

“No”, Bohemond cut him short, “Not now. I’ve already committed myself to another venture. It is a very minor one, but one that cannot wait, and that requires some of my armed force.”

“And what would that be”, Silvester asked, maybe a bit indelicatly, as he himself thought only a moment later.

“No doubt you will have heard of how King Peter allowed himself to be robed of what little crown remained him. Well, some of Peter’s fromer vassals seem to regard this as a chance for themselves – they would like to be free of all overlords and rather not swear to Peter’s successor Candido. Among those is that fool Cassio of Arborea. Just because he is married to my sister’s daughter, he seems to think that he can count on me as his ally – late last year, he has made me advances to this end. His envoy wanted to find out whether I would be prepared to extend my protection to his master if he refused to swear fealty to King Candido.”

“And?”

Bohemond grinned like a wolf – a grey old wolf who in his time has seen it all. “I signalled the envoy that Count Cassio should go ahead with refusing Candido. Cassio seemed quite emboldened by the news. I have learned that he had King Candido’s envoys dumped into the sea and declared himself independent lord of Arborea. He is counting on me.”

The King was visibly in good humour as he continued almost cheerfully: “I expect Candido to stay his hand if he learns that I am protecting Arborea – but who knows, maybe Candido’s a moron, too? I won’t take any chances, and I’ll act as soon as the shipping season begins again. I am already assembling a host which Chales da Romano will take into Arborea, to chase off that ass Cassio and claim the county for us Normans.”


Bohemond chuckled and Silvester laughed heartily at hearing this, a laughter in which his father joined in. The King truly was a shrewd old devil. Silvester wished that he would be half as savvy once he wore the crown.

Father and son – even though this kinship was never mentioned or alluded to – talked on about Marshal Charles’ small expedition against hapless Cassio and how it would together with the crusading fleet crossing into Palestine prevent the King from taking immediate action against Guillaume. For Silvester, it was a rare instance of being alone and quite at ease, almost intimate, with his usually so cooly aloof and remote father. From matters of state – or rather warfare, for this was where Silvester’s interests lay – the conversation soon turned to more personal matters, with Silvester inquiring after the health of the King’s younger sons and daughters and his queen.

“The boys are allright”, Bohmond replied, “and so are the girls, I reckon. But the queen is dead.”


Silvester cursed himself silently for blundering. How could he have failed to learn of that? “I am sorry, my lord King, truly sorry”, he was racking his brain for appropriate words. “I had no idea that—“

“Never mind”, the King replied. “You came to me immediately, and you could not have learned. Almost nobody does. She died only the day before yesterday. Seems she was carrying her seventh child, and she lost it. The bleeding wouldn’t stop, and that was that.”

“I am truly sorry, my lord King”, Silvester repeated, sounding a bit sheepishly in even his own ears.

“Thank you”, Bohemond said. “That’s all right. As soon as the shipping season opens again, I’ll send to Greece for another one. Yolanda informed me that Prince Andronikos of the Aegean has a very nubile young daughter. Forgot her name, but I guess she’ll be your next queen.”


Bohemond smiled unpleasantly. “East is the way to go, Silvester, east. Constantinople beckons.”

“But first, my lord King, the west, isn’t it?”

“Yes”, his father laughed, a clipped, unpleasant sound. “First, Sardinia.”

* * *

Back in his own lands, Silvester learned that his father’s dealings with Duke Guillaume were not going well. Envoys were travelling to and fro between Sicily and the Adriatic seabord. At first Guillaume had been denying everything, but somehow, somewhere, others had accused him of parricide as well, and added evidence of their own. Details of the negotiations between Guillaume and the King’s envoys did not become known, but it seemed that Silvester’s father had demanded from Guillaume some kind of real or token submission of the duchy to royal disposal, something that Guillaume had refused. Murder or not, the Marches were his by right of inheritance, and he would not relinquish them even upon royal promises to immediately receive them back. Dark clouds seemed to be gathering over the Adriatic Sea.


The campaign against Cassio of Arborea on the other hand had turned out to go as expected, to be little more than a very minor episode, like an afterthought of history almost not worth mentioning in the great scheme of things. As soon as the Norman ships had made landfall in Sardinia and Marshal Charles had disembarked his host, he had received a mesenger from Count Cassio, pleading for mercy and attempting to buy the Normans of with pledges of tribute. Charles da Romano had of ocurse refused and marched towards Sassari, on the way sweeping aside what little resistance he had encountered. It soon had become apparent that Count Cassio had had no intention to stay and fight his wife’s uncle King Bohemond – instead, he had in all haste boarded the first ship that could have been readied and fled the island for Pisa, not even tarrying to collect the treasury. When Cassio’s vassals learned of their liege’s flight, their last bit of fighting spirit had gone out of them, and they had meekly surrendered to Charles da Romano. Less than ten days after his landing, Arborea had been his.


Silvester’s own plans were progressing less smoothly. Returning to his lands after an absence of seven weeks, he had learned that Count Hugues had disappeared, and it was only many months later that the Normans of Italy received word that he had somehow made his way into France. The dungeons of Cagli were deemed secure ones, and the impossible escape of Silvester’s bargaining chip remained inexplicable, a secret unsolved for the Duke’s entire life.

His son Jordan, who could have shed light on the mystery of Count Hugues’ escape, was not telling.

 
Last edited:

phargle

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Intriguing developments in a few posts. The Zuhayra pleading felt like a weaker portion to me, since it seemed she should have known better, and her sudden break into emotion stood in such contrast to her normal reserved self. That was more than made up for by this beautiful gem of an excerpt:

Last to go was that old infidel hag Zuhayra, almost bent double by decades of service to his father, hobbling from the hall like an old mangy crow in her habitual robes of black.

Beautiful. Scarcely an excess word, and a complex image showing us exactly how Silvester sees Zuhayra. Silvester, despite his cunning and power in front of his son and retainer, came across as very simple and cowed in the presence of Bohemond - not a complex man, certainly not at all the multi-layered personality that we saw in Serlo. His son Jordan is more complicated, between not landing the shot up front but being able to deftly end his quarry's suffering, being willing to stand up to his father, and then following through on it to let the prisoner go. It says a lot about Jordan that he did it, and a lot about Silvester that he never put two and two together.

The hunt scene itself felt familiar. I know Bohemond hunted in solitude, and now I want to go back and see if you're calling back to an older scene. I really liked the moment of Jordan feeling unexpected compassion for the animal. That reflects for me my own love of animals, and made the story feel more three-dimensional with less than half a dozen words. Bravo.

I normally skim the history-book portions of this AAR, but I went ahead and read the recent one thoroughly. The outside references, the bias - it feels nicely authentic, and sets up what follows when Bohemond acts exactly as FitzRoy says he did not. There's a lot of successful connections between the two sides of the tale that drive home at your main point that history has few heroic rulers, no matter what the history books say.

It's fun to see confirmation that Bohemond, still vigorous and powerful, is eyeing Constantinople like some sort of Varangian. His pursuit of that goal is very ruthless and it, more than most anything else that has come so far, is what reveals the depths of his personality. Silvester's tirade after punching out the fugitive count is barely a single reflection, the slightest insight, of Bohemond's ruthlessness. I wonder if the style of dialogue you have given Bohemond in discussing remarrying is entirely appropriate to the character - when he talks about acquiring a new wife, a little of the majestic horror and murderous seriousness of the character seems to fade away, as though Stalin has taken off his mask and we see Arafat instead. The dialogue makes sense - two men joking about such matters - and fits into the rest of the description of Bohemond like a grey wolf licking his lips, a human predator militarily as well as sexually, but it was a little jarring.

But the conversation went on, and it ended with this:

Bohemond smiled unpleasantly. “East is the way to go, Silvester, east. Constantinople beckons.”

“But first, my lord King, the west, isn’t it?”

“Yes”, his father laughed, a clipped, unpleasant sound. “First, Sardinia.”

Abash'd Bohemond stood and felt how awful goodness is:

Abashed the Devil stood,
And felt how awful goodness is, and saw
Virtue in her shape how lovely; saw, and pined
His loss; but chiefly to find here observed
His lustre visibly impaired; yet seemed
Undaunted. If I must contend, said he,
Best with the best, the sender, not the sent,
Or all at once; more glory will be won,
Or less be lost.


Constantiniple it is, then.

Here be monsters, sir. You have planted the seeds of my wishing for Bohemond's death. The tragedy of it all is that his heirs would add to his evil a willful stupidity, making Bohemond the kinder.

- - -

I adopted Bohemond for a game of Chronica Feudalis, making him the father to my character. Two more people now know of the monstrous crusader and the de Hauteville conquerers of Apulia.
 

Qorten

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I think the Normans might need a less warlike and more nation-building person as their next king. Absolutely not rooting for Silvester.
 
Aug 3, 2008
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Well, well, well. Trust the phargster to not only make the 666th post in this thread but to also speak about the Devil and quote Milton in it. :D

In recognition of this I’m going to do an extra reply to his feedback alone – and also (mostly, really) because his comment was so long as to warrant a reply post of its own. Other feedback later.

The Zuhayra pleading felt like a weaker portion to me, since it seemed she should have known better, and her sudden break into emotion stood in such contrast to her normal reserved self.
I rather agree – and am quick to blame the game-play, which handed me this event. Zuhayra’s never been interested in wealth, so I re-interpreted her request. But of course she should have known better than to try. I tried to salvage that event, narratively, by showing Zuhayra as coming apart, as supported by her acquiring the Stressed-trait. That’s how I justify her outbreak. She’s losing it.

But I’m still far from happy with it myself.

Last to go was that old infidel hag Zuhayra, almost bent double by decades of service to his father, hobbling from the hall like an old mangy crow in her habitual robes of black.
Scarcely an excess word, and a complex image showing us exactly how Silvester sees Zuhayra.
Thanks. :) I’m almost pleased with this myself, if I hadn’t laid it on quite so thick.

And if I may use the sentence phargle has singled out as an opportunity to be so pompous and overbearing as to offer a bit of advice to some other prospective narrative writers who may happen to know even less of the craft than I do: Once you have firmly established that you are describing a scene through a certain character’s eyes, like Silvester in this case, you don’t need to use phrases like “Silvester thought her an old infidel hag…” or “To Silvester’s eyes, she looked like an…”. Using such lead-ins is not only superfluous and at times awkward syntactically, it also widens the distance between reader and viewpoint-character; instead of bringing the reader closer to the viewpoint-character, it puts him at a greater distance. So if you think you already have sufficiently established that you are giving a certain character’s take on reality, stop telling the reader so time and time again. If you’re showing the world through a character’s eyes, show it though his eyes, don’t say all the time that you are.

Ok, enough unasked-for wise-cracking from me, back to the phargster:

Silvester, despite his cunning and power in front of his son and retainer, came across as very simple and cowed in the presence of Bohemond - not a complex man, certainly not at all the multi-layered personality that we saw in Serlo.
If he cam across thus, I’m very pleased – for that’s what I’ve been aiming for. I interpret Silvester’s traits and attributes in such a way that he is very brave, at times even foolhardy, (Reckless) and that he has a certain cunning, as expressed by his high Martial and very decent Intrigue and the traits Vengeful and Suspicious. But I see him as completely lacking in subtlety – Reckless and Diplomacy 0.

Jordan is more complicated, between not landing the shot up front but being able to deftly end his quarry's suffering, (…)

I really liked the moment of Jordan feeling unexpected compassion for the animal. That reflects for me my own love of animals, and made the story feel more three-dimensional with less than half a dozen words.
This reflects my perception of medieval people especially knights. Bloodshed is their business, and they certainly don’t think twice about killing an animal. It’s what they do, an everyday occurrence. But that doesn’t mean that they cannot at times feel a certain compassion for their prey, especially when they’re still young.

The outside references, the bias - it feels nicely authentic, and sets up what follows when Bohemond acts exactly as FitzRoy says he did not. There's a lot of successful connections between the two sides of the tale that drive home at your main point that history has few heroic rulers, no matter what the history books say.
Writing those gives me immense pleasure. As you know, I’m a historian and research fellow by trade, and writing excerpts from a book the interpretations of which are blatantly wrong is a – very private – joke of mine. History is not an exact science, much of it is down to how one interprets the evidence. The FitzRoy-passages are my sarcastic comment on my own academic circles, where it does often occur that two highly respectable scholars arrive at diametrically opposed results from one and the same evidence. :D

I wonder if the style of dialogue you have given Bohemond in discussing remarrying is entirely appropriate to the character - when he talks about acquiring a new wife, a little of the majestic horror and murderous seriousness of the character seems to fade away, as though Stalin has taken off his mask and we see Arafat instead.
You may well have a point here – but then maybe your expectations of Bohemond are too high. He may be a great force of evil in the world, but he is after all only human. We may not want to acknowledge it, but people like Stalin or Hitler or Pol Pot are humans like us, and they have human sentiments like we do, they shit and piss and sweat like you and I. It may indeed be jarring, and also subtract from the legend of super-men like Bohemond, but I consider it appropriate to show how fundamentally similar to us even the doers of great evil are.

Here be monsters, sir. You have planted the seeds of my wishing for Bohemond's death. The tragedy of it all is that his heirs would add to his evil a willful stupidity, making Bohemond the kinder.
I admit that I have enjoyed styling Bohemond ever more as monstrous – not simply evil, but practically devoid of conscience and pursuing his goals with a monstrous disregard for all and everything. What makes him such a force for evil in the world is not only that he is ruthless, but exactly the fact that he has a vision that’s bigger than himself – the vision of an all-powerful, unassailable Norman Empire he wants to build and leave as his legacy. Couple this to aforementioned ruthlessness and both his personal capability and the means at his disposal, and you’ve got yourself a monster.

This, too, is in keeping with my personal belief that the truly huge forces for evil in our world have always been people and organisations who believe in something bigger than themselves and strive for it, no matter what the cost for them – and others. These people with "visions" tend to IMO do far greater harm than those who are simply out for personal gain.

Bohemond is of the former type, and I think that it is this that makes him somehow strangely fascinating. Whoever his heir may be, Gausbert or Silvester, will likely lack Bohemond’s intelligence and also any grander vision and thus seem in comparison much “smaller”. There may come a time when we will be disgusted by this successor's petty evil and yearn back for Bohemond's grandiose one.

I adopted Bohemond for a game of Chronica Feudalis, making him the father to my character.
I’m flattered, and pleased that my characters are so inspiring. :) But Bohemond as a father – I think that this must be rather terrible, and incredible formative, oppressive force for any child, boy, or man.
 

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And this is a very different beginning. Well, a newly evident change, that is.

I have to echo phargle about the Varangian attitude...you might have thought that being an Empire in all but name for so long would have changed that somewhat by now. But the conquering drive doesn't slacken...