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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Fivoin

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The Sons of Raghnall
By King of Men, Scotland​
Crisis of Conscience

July 18th, 1121
Raghnall Hall (formerly Dunkeld Hall), within Edinburgh Castle
Morning

Maldoven_Euna_zps3186a14b.png


Maldoven Raghnall and his wife Euna in 1121. Notice that Maldoven is a coward, and that Euna has three times his brains and guts.​

Maldoven took a deep breath. Today, by God and all the saints, he would really do it. His heart hammered, but he gritted his teeth and made himself step forward. His grandfather nodded pleasantly, smiling.

"Good morning, Maldoven."

"Grandfather," he burst out. "I must speak to you."

"Certainly! Speak then."

"Privately, please." The inevitable gaggle of courtiers that hung around Ragnvald would not make matters any easier. Ragnvald's eyebrows rose, but he nodded agreeably, always ready to favour his grandson and heir. "Very well, we will speak in my chambers. Wait here," he added to his retinue.

"What is it, Maldoven?" he asked when they were in his room. Maldoven took a deep breath. Now, at last, he had to defy the old man, or he never would. It was a deeply frightening prospect; true, Ragnvald had never been anything but kind to his grandson and heir, but Maldoven had seen how he treated those who got in his way. That was, in the end, what had brought him to this pass.

"Grandfather - I have decided. I will, I must, cast the vote of Lothian for Duncan." There, it was out! Maldoven cringed internally in expectation of a burst of rage, of the famous white eyebrows drawing down in the scowl that even now, in Ragnvald's age, intimidated warriors and priests alike. Instead, Ragnvald's brows creased in puzzlement.

"Duncan?" For a long moment the old man seemed not to understand what Maldoven had said. Then his eyes flew wide in startlement. "Duncan Dunkeld? Old Malcolm's son?"

"Yes, grandfather," Maldoven whispered. Surely now the rage would come.

"But if you do that," Ragnvald said, in the tone of someone pointing out an obvious problem, "then Atholl and Argyll will do so as well; and then the throne will pass back to house Dunkeld."

"Yes, Grandfather. I know that." In spite of his fear Maldoven felt a spike of exasperation; surely the old man could not really believe he hadn't thought of that? He knew he wasn't the sharpest sword in the Raghnall armoury, but come now!

"But then why on Earth would you do such a thing?" The old man sounded more confused than angry; but there was an undertone of hurt as well. Maldoven clenched his teeth against sympathy; he loved his grandfather, but... the facts remained. He looked aside, not quite daring to look Ragnvald in the face as he explained.

"Because we're in the wrong. Because Malcolm was the rightful king of Scotland. Because - you did wrong, grandfather. I'm sorry. But it was wrong." With the words out, he dared look at Ragnvald again. The old man's face had set in lines of granite under the bushy beard, and his eyes were hard now.

"Do you think I don't know that?"

Maldoven blinked; apparently he wasn't the only one who could be exasperated by the obtuseness of a relative.

"Of course it was wrong! Of course he was the rightful King! Well, apart from Macbeth's claim being pretty good when you really look at it, but he was long dead." Ragnvald's lips drew back, exposing the yellowed teeth. "And do you think it was right to betray Macbeth? You'll give up the kingship, will you? And what of the duchy, and the earldom? You were born the son of an earl and grandson of a Duke. You've never owned nothing but the armour on your back and a good sword. You've never killed your way to the top; no, you've had others to do that for you! And now you have scruples? Do you think noble titles are given by the White Christ descending from Heaven? They're won by blood and treachery, and nothing else. Ours the same as every other Scots duchy and earldom!"

Ragnvald's eyes blazed, and Maldoven recoiled from his scorn - and from the very good point, which had not occurred to Maldoven, that even his own title might be tainted. He felt himself go pale as the implications sank in. Did he, in fact, have to renounce all his titles to be shut of Ragnvald's sins? He was not sure if he was really principled enough for that. He groped for an answer, something to push back the sheer force of will emanating from his grandfather - unfair, that such an old man should still be a powerhouse of certainty and willpower, when Maldoven was sure of nothing! But he could think of nothing, except that he needed to speak to his confessor again; perhaps the bishop could clear up his confusion. Ragnvald was still glaring at him, waiting for an answer. At last some piece of advice - from his grandfather, ironically enough - he'd gotten once floated up in his mind: When you're beaten, retreat fast and save what you can. You'll want every man for the next time.

"I - you may be right, grandfather," he stammered out. "I didn't think of that." It grated on him to admit it, but it might mollify Ragnvald and had the advantage of being true; he was not sure he could dissemble in the face of that piercing glare. "I'll, um, be going now." He managed to back out of the room without saying anything more about how he would vote, which relieved him deeply. Another minute under that famous glare and he would have promised to vote for himself again, or indeed for Lucifer himself if Ragnvald had demanded it, just to get out where he could breathe freely.

-------------------------------------​

July 18th, 1121
Raghnall Hall, Edinburgh Castle
Evening

"You wanted to see me, sir?" Euna curtsied deeply, while her mind whirled. What did the king want? To be secretly summoned to the chambers of powerful men - and while he often had guests in here, she couldn't help noticing that it also held his bed - was not her idea of a good time; but Ragnvald was an old man as well as powerful, well past his three-score and ten. On the other hand power sometimes kept men virile... but there was no use speculating. If Ragnvald was going to try to seduce her, she had her knife if it came to it; and it might not. A liaison with the king might be useful, after all.

"Your husband, Maldoven," Ragnvald said. "Describe him for me."

Euna blinked. If that was a prelude to seduction, it was the strangest one she'd ever heard. Could the old man be getting a bit senile? But there was no harm in playing along.

"His eyes are grey, and set close together," she began, not mentioning the slightly pole-axed look of bovine stupidity which was a frequent feature of her husband's eyes; but Ragnvald interrupted. "Not his face, woman! I know what he looks like! Describe his mind!"

"His mind?" Euna strove to keep the surprise out of her voice, but it was hard to do. His mind wasn't, in her opinion, Maldoven's most prominent feature; it was going to be hard to describe something she'd often struggled to detect. Still, the king gestured impatiently, so she'd better try to come up with something. Did he want his grandson flattered? No, she decided; he was looking for her honest opinion, for whatever reason. Well then. Still, there could be no harm in a bit of diplomacy.

"He is not a quick thinker," she understated cosmically, intending to continue with a platitude like "but his thoughts sometimes run deep," which was true in the sense that they were so deep as to be completely hidden from her; but the King again interrupted her. "Yes, I've noticed that," he said dryly. "But perhaps I phrased my question badly. What I want to know is, is he stubborn? Having chosen a course, does he stick to it through thick and thin?"

Maldoven, who sometimes changed his mind three times in a day on whether he wanted lamb or beef for dinner? "Ah - well, sire," she said cautiously. "He's not very stubborn, no. He's usually amenable to a good argument." Or a bad one, or any argument at all.

Ragnvald sighed. "All right," he said. "I'll stop dancing around it. His vote. Will he cast it for himself?"

God help her, was Maldoven on about that again? Euna rolled her eyes unthinkingly. "Christ have mercy," she groaned. "Has that cursed bishop gotten to him again?" Then she remembered who she was talking to, and flinched. But Ragnvald didn't look angry, or not at her, anyway.

"Again?" he said. "You knew about this, then?"

Now it was clear to Euna what was going on; politics, not sex. And - might Ragnvald be an ally? he presumably wanted someone of his own blood to succeed him; and while Euna didn't give a damn whether Maldoven inherited the throne of Scotland or a one-acre farm in the Hebrides, their son Gilmichael was something else entirely.

"He's been talking about the vote, on and off, for a year now," she said, deciding to be candid. "Every time he talks to that bishop, de Strathardle, in fact. Then when he talks to me, he changes his mind."

"Ah," Ragnvald said, a little sadly. "So even if I convince him, I can't rely on it sticking." He seemed to be talking mostly to himself now, but Euna responded anyway.

"I'm - afraid not, sire. He - well. He's my husband, and your grandson. But the fact remains that he is as steady and stubborn as a weathervane."

"I'd hoped you would tell me otherwise," Ragnvald sighed. "But I can't say I really expected it." He was quiet for a pensive moment, then changed the subject abruptly. "This de Strathardle, now. Appointed by Malcolm, was he?"

"Ah - that was before my time, sire." Before Euna had been born, in fact; or Maldoven for that matter. "He's been bishop of Fortngall since long before I came here. But, yes, I suppose he was. Bishoprics are in the King's gift, no? And Malcolm was king before you, and you didn't appoint him; so..."

"Yes. And Malcolm had, if nothing else, a gift for inspiring loyalty." Ragnvald smiled grimly. "Except in the highest ranks of the nobility, of course. Treacherous as snakes, we are. That's how you become a high noble in the first place."

Euna blinked, deciding she wasn't going to touch that one with a stick, any more than she would have poked a rattlesnake. A remarkably apt analogy, in fact, she thought with mordant humour. "Um. So you think de Strathardle is influencing Maldoven to favour the Dunkelds out of old loyalty? It's - yes, it's not impossible."

"Perhaps I should have killed the old bastard after all," Ragnvald muttered.

"Why didn't you?" Euna asked, genuinely curious. The king was a hard man, shaped by a long life full of wars; he had led his own troops in the field against Malcolm, and he'd been past sixty at the time. The mercy he'd shown after his victory had always seemed uncharacteristic to her.

Ragnvald rubbed his forehead. "Yes, well. I didn't want his blood on my hands. There's enough there already. He was an old man, his will broken; and right enough, he never revolted, and then he died. But he was a always a subtle one; if anyone can reach out from beyond the grave to trouble us, it's him. A mistake, perhaps; a moment's weakness... but it's done." He looked up, his eyes meeting Euna's. "We have, I think, a common interest here. If Maldoven does not inherit, then neither does Gilmichael."

"Indeed," Euna said, pleased to have it spelled out plainly; and it was 'us' now, she noticed.

"Maldoven can't be relied on to see his own best interest," Ragnvald went on. His face was setting into hard lines. For a moment the warrior chief who had led men to battle in England, Scotland and Ireland stood out from beneath the aged king, and Euna felt a stirring in her belly that Maldoven had never awakened. She understood why warriors had followed this man.

"Worse," he went on, "even if we browbeat him into submission - and that doesn't seem hard to do - we can't rely on him staying sensible. I can keep him under my thumb while he's here in my castle. But" - he smiled grimly - "he won't be using his vote until he is, very thoroughly, outside my ability to influence."

Euna licked her lips. "I might be able to keep him focused," she said.

"I don't doubt that," the king nodded respectfully, "so long as you're in the same room with him. But the voting conclave will be closed to everyone except the electors. Six Dukes of Scotland, all forceful men of character; and Maldoven. No, my lady; I fear we dare not rely on even your persuasion. Indeed, the problem is precisely that Maldoven is so easy to persuade."

Euna nodded, and decided to say straight out what the king was only hinting at. "That is true. But - consider that Argyll and Atholl are willing enough to vote for Maldoven, who is a grown man and whom they think they can influence. Gilmichael is only a year old. The English are in Teviotdale, the French in Ireland; I doubt they'll be glad to vote in a child king."

"I'm not dead quite yet," Ragnvald said dryly, and Euna flushed; "but you're right. Even if I live another decade, Gilmichael would only be eleven. But the thing about the good Dukes is, they can be bribed and will stay bought; they may be hard to convince, unlike Maldoven, but once you've got them persuaded they will damn well stick to it."

"I suppose," Euna said doubtfully. "But if there's no obvious Raghnall candidate, won't they try to form their own factions? One for Atholl, one for Argyll..."

"No doubt," Ragnvald agreed. "But elections are risky, as we well know. So if we offer one of them what looks like a better chance at the same power, he'll jump at it."

"You're thinking of a regency?" Euna frowned. "Chancy, at best." She thought of Gilmichael strangled in his bed by an agent of Atholl or Argyll - herself sent back to Ireland, or packed off to a nunnery to pray thrice daily - no, no. "I'd almost rather rely on Maldoven's vote."

"None of them are to be trusted with an actual regency," Ragnvald agreed. "But the prospect of marrying the regent; there's something else again."

"Ohhh," Euna breathed, understanding. "Now I see." If she was named regent for Gilmichael, she would rule Scotland for at least a decade, depending on when Ragnvald died. Even after Gilmichael came to his maturity, he would surely listen to his mother. If, of course, the king's ploy worked.

"They're not stupid, these Dukes," Euna said. "It's not a question of shaking my tits at them and watching the blood rush from their heads."

"No," Ragnvald agreed. "Shaking a regency, on the other hand - that'll make them gasp to marry you."

"If I'm available," Euna said, and met the king's eyes challengingly. They'd been dancing around it; but politics in Scotland was not a game for little girls, or squeamish men. If they were going to get rid of her husband, of Ragnvald's grandson, then she wanted it said out loud, not left to implications and tacit understandings. After all, the king had just proposed that they play at tacit understandings with the Dukes, and with her own marriage oath as part of the bait; she would not have him think he could play thus on Euna.

"If you're available," Ragnvald said steadily, then looked down. "I wish Edward had lived," he said sadly. His son, Maldoven's father, had died of lungfever when Euna was a child. "He would not have made this necessary." He paused for a long moment. "Well. Dead is dead. I think I'll arrange a tournament. Accidents happen in tournaments. Perhaps I'll give Maldoven a gift; say, a good coat of mail."

Euna nodded, but it was still hints and shadows, nothing said straight out. "You mean to kill Maldoven," she said, gently. The king flinched, pain in his eyes.

"White Christ help me, yes, I do." He clenched his jaw. "Or perhaps I should rather call on the old gods, for this. Loki help me, then. I love the boy, but - I'll not let him spoil what I've built here. I should not have let Malcolm live. Now I'll pay the price of that mistake, with Maldoven's life."

It was said, and there was no point in dwelling on it. Euna resolved that she would try her own plan to kill Maldoven, rather than rely on the king's; she felt no pain at the thought, and who knew but that the king might flinch at the last moment? Or his plan might fail from other causes; tournaments were chancy things. But the king had no need to know about that.

"I am sorry for your loss," she said instead, and went on before the king could brood about it. "We should have a means of communicating in secret; it would be best if nobody suspects that we are allies in the matter of the succession."

"You're right," Ragnvald said, rousing himself from his thoughts. Once again the warrior chief stood out in the strong bones under the face of the king. Ragnvald had sacrificed men before; had seen comrades swept away by storm, slain in desperate fighting to seize a well-guarded tower, sent them to shore up a shattered flank until the enemy's center gave way. He would not let his sadness at the weakness of a well-meaning grandchild prevent him from doing what must be done to preserve his dynasty.
 

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One Upon Time in the East
By Ike, Novgorod
Road to Civil War

After his appointment as the Regent of Novgorod-Rostov, Väinä continued to bring wealth to his family by finding out dark secrets of other nobles and then blackmailing them. It was a lucrative business but at the same time it brought more enemies for Väinä. There were no attempts on Väinä's life after the previous once had failed but the nobles tried to persuade the Grand Prince to imprison Väinä and lock him away in the darkest dungeons of Novgorod, those same dungeons that the dwarfs lived. The dwarf's little knifes were becoming dull as they were not needed for sometime since Väinä wanted to redeem his ways and stop killing those in his way. For now at least. But eventually there came a time when the dwarfs were once again needed. March 1087 Stanislav I became the King of Rus at the age of 16. And the Regency was ended. Väinä returned to be a Count and King Stanislav I started to listen to other nobles. There was growing tension between several noble lords in eastern Russia and now that Kingdom of Rus existed they all wanted their shares of the land, the more the better. But King Stanislav I was against these warring vassals and decided to rise the authority of the crown over the vassals. The vassals were too afraid to do anything but they held their grudges against the King.

Once again the expertise of Väinä and his dwarf assassins were needed. The nobles wanted King Stanislav dead but they were too afraid to try it so they needed someone with skill and experience. So Väinä went back on the drawing board to master his plans and by 1094 they were ready. Nobles flocked behind Väinä's cause and everything was ready. On March 30th 1094 the dwarfs assassinated the King by dropping a Gargoyle on him. There was not much to left to recognize but something went wrong. The nobles betrayed Väinä and he was imprisoned on the charges of assassinating the King. Stanislav I three year old daughter, Darya, was crowned as the Queen of Rus. But the nobles still wanted a low authority and in 1098 the Civil War broke out. The young queen was in trouble and many nobles saw this and decided to declare themselves independent. All this happened while Väinä was in jail and unable to do anything.

It seemed like that neither side of the civil war were winning and the war drag on forever with more and more nobles leaving the fight to pursue an independent life. Queen Darya I had no choice but to let them go or she would risk losing her throne. The situation was made worse when the pagans of Perm decided to raid the eastern holding of Rus in 1103. Unable to defend the people in the east Darya I left them to be ravaged by the pagans. Rus was in turmoil and the foreign powers saw this too, after the conquest of Finland, Sweden moved to conquer the Russian pagans in the north while Rus was fighting against her rebels. All seemed lost to the Queen until in 1107 she received a letter offering help and begging for pardon. It was from Väinä's wife Anna, who was also the Aunt of Queen Darya. She plead for Väinä to be released in order for him to help against the rebels. Queen Darya saw her opportunity to stay as the Queen and she ordered an immediate release of Väinä and his dwarfs.

But Väinä had other plans. He returned to Novgorod and gathered his armies and declared war against Queen Darya I, a war to depose her and establish his wife Anna on the throne thus securing the line of succession for Väinämöinen. The end of the Rurikovich was nigh.
 

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Hell Wants Its Master
By Kuipy, Bavaria​
The Walfen accounts

The Walfen accounts (1130-1152) are now generally acknowledged to be the work of a single author, one Gustav of Walfen, a soldier of fortune who, by his own account, came to miss, at the age of thirty-seven, “three fingers, sixteen teeth, the better part of my nose, my left ear, three portions of my scalp and a large chunk of my left calf.” These and “other injuries” added up and made it difficult for him to keep and soldiering ; this is where his limited literacy allowed him to take over in 1130 the task of bookkeeping and chronicling for the mercenary Company of the Pyke, to which he belonged. His handwriting was awkward, his spelling idiosyncratic and inconsistent, and in times of great activity he would resort to various abbreviations and rudimentary short-hand. It has been theorized that he might have been schooled in some monastery ; certainly he was a devout and even superstitious man, an scribbled raging invectives against the Cathars who rised in South Germany during his troubled tenure.

Over time (maybe once he came to understand no one was really reading the chronicles) he allowed himself to write on more personal matters than just the dealings and doings of the company. Walfen dutifully records the battles and events, the military and political turmoil of the early twelfth century, where south Germany and North Italy erupted in a dozen different petty wars as local nobles protested the increased authority of the Emperor and their sidelining to the benefit of Dutch and Prussian potentates, as Italian magnates sought as ever independence and Byzantines' encroachments grew bolder and bolder. Sometimes the company deserts an employer has failed to pay it for too long. Occasionally it later works for the same employer once he comes by more funds, with seemingly no hard feeling on either side. But it changes patrons a lot, and often fights against erstwhile allies, which leaves Walfen disturbed but philosophical and inspires him his most frequent aphorism : “It was God's will and we got paid.”. The sentence comes up, notably, each of the four times the Company takes the castle of Chur, each time for a different patron.

But he also gives us a glimpse of that troubled decade from a more popular point of view than in other contemporary sources. He waxes on the many hardships and small joys of soldierly life, of blistered feet, marching hungry and praying for a wounded comrade to get better. He mentions in passing the attempts of peasants to hide their daughters and foodstuff. Of the latter, he speculates that, since they cannot have found everything, they do not leave the farmers empty-handed by taking all they found ; in any case he will pray for them, and the remark does not come as entirely cynical. He recounts how a group of hedge knights asking “what war was on”. He calls for the murder and buggery of a less than grateful employer. He mentions in passing, that they slept in “the village I was born”, with no further comment. Perhaps most interestingly for the modern historian, he talks of duke Ludwig von Hentzau.

In November 26th 1134, Walfen, in own worlds “encountered the duke as we shitting together, and we had a talk”. They would meet again and come to a friendship of sorts. As attrition and betrayal took their toll on his habitual levies, Ludwig relied increasingly on mercenaries when he could afford them ; in this context, the two men's proximity is maybe not entirely surprising. Walfen describes the duke as “a worried, bitter man” who rued the Northern German's influence and the opportunities he thought they took from him. Although he did not neglect more immediate targets, his lifelong ambition was to secure a royal crown for him and his descendants. He showed “no interest whatsoever in religious matters”, but, maybe unfairly, “great jealousy and contempt for the Emperor and the Brennenburgs, who had secured crowns for themselves and now sought to prevent him from obtaining one.”

The account's last, short entry is dated of July, 5th 1152. Underneath it a different, more clumsy hand took the effort to write “Walphen (sic) died the 6th of July. He died in a fight there was with the Company of the Hat. He was a good man and a good soldier. May the god (sic) have his soul.”, an then the accounts end.

Gameplay stuff and stuff like that

AI/Falador HRE increased the Crown Authority, which prevented me for seeking the kingdom of Bavaria and threatens to cost me all the fine claims I gathered. It sucks.
 

Fivoin

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Suum Cuique - Brandenburg Rising
By Wraith, Brandenburg​
The Price of Petty Grudges

Near Magdeburg, Germany, July 5, 1158

It seemed that the House of Brennenburg would see no end to its inter-dynastic grudges during its presumably long lifetime. First it had been the Billungs - now they were a shadow of their former selves, barely holding onto their ancestral holdings in Brunswick while the von Brennenburgs amassed a great kingdom spanning from Prussia to Bohemia. Now it was the Salians. Alexander I had been a steadfastly faithful servant of the Salian Emperors all his life, yet such loyalty had proven to be his downfall when the Salians and the Billungs plotted to put an end to his great ambitions. Alexander II had feigned loyalty of his own in order to crush the Billungs and Salians in retaliation, and now the King of Frisia bore the mantle of the Holy Roman Emperor. Both men had always gazed hungrily upon the Baltic coast possessions of the Salians, conquered almost a century ago by Emperor Heinrich IV. Now, with their power base shifted from Germany to Jerusalem, the time was ripe for a strike. The county of Mecklenburg had been lost to Waldemar Salian barely a decade ago, ruthlessly seized while Prussia-Bohemia suffered from a conflict of brother versus brother; now was the time to take it back. The simple little county was the cause of yet another terrible war to ravage the German countryside. Now, the battered and broken remnants of the Bohemian army marched away from the burning city in disarray under cover of dusk. They were barely held together into a discernible, orderly formation by the superhuman efforts of two men - Duke Rajmund Premyslid and Caspar von Brennenburg.

Duke Rajmund from an old but gruff man, face hard and seemingly chiseled from stone. He was the finest military mind in the kingdom, and that was why King Karloman I von Brennenburg had made him his marshal. His reputation as a leader was wholly earned and wholly necessary - his short stature would otherwise lead him to be the laughing stock of fools and foreigners. Caspar von Brennenburg was the King's youngest brother, and the only one of them who remained free and unchained, a testament to his steadfast loyalty. His youth was reflected by rather boyish features - many a man had underestimated one of the strongest arms and most skilled warriors in all Bohemia.

"The mercenaries have already fled into the countryside, damn them," said Caspar. "Can't rely on men who fight only for coin."

"Your brother was a fool to believe that mere numbers would win the day," said Rajmund. "Especially when the vast majority of them were the sell-swords."

"We had thrice their number!"

"And they ambushed us as we forded the Elbe," Rajmund replied, coldly. "And where is His Majesty now?"

Caspar glanced down at the ground, narrowing his eyes and scowling into space. "Dead. His squire spirited the body away in the thick of it."

"I would knight the boy, then," said Rajmund, grunting in begrudged respect.

"My van was turning the tide, dammit!" Caspar shouted, clenching his teeth and lightly punching the neck of his horse; the beast bucked in silent protest, but maintained its instilled discipline. "If Karl hadn't been hit...his death was what broke the men."

"They were broken long before that, boy," Rajmund replied. He spied a pair of men - lacking their arms - attempting to steal away from the bedraggled column into the night. He turned to a flanking knight and nodded wordlessly. "More deserters. Best make an example." The rider swiftly caught up with the fleeing men despite their attempts to quicken their pace, and cut both down without hesitation.

"Waste of able bodies," Caspar sighed, shaking his head. "KEEP TOGETHER, YOU LOT! NO REST NOR RATIONS UNTIL WE REACH POTSDAM!" he then bellowed, pointing and gesturing at the tired troops with great emphasis and enthusiasm.

"You Brennenburgs are all fools," Rajmund said, rolling his eyes and shaking his own head. "You have lost so many of your own by fighting these petty grudges. These 'crimes' were carried out decades ago. Best to let the past stay in the past and build a new future."

Caspar narrowed his eyes. "Best watch your tongue, dwarf. And think. If you don't repay your moneylenders, what do they do? They come back and take what they wish by force, because you have demonstrated your weakness and poverty. What do you think happens when you don't repay the murderers of your kin? Your blood?"

Rajmund remained silent. "We say 'Suum Cuique.' The Salians chose their path long ago. The Salians chose their path long ago, and one day - be it now, or decades from now - they will come to what lies at the end of that path."

Rajmund grunted in amusement. "And what would that be?"

Caspar jabbed a thumb at himself. "What we - they who act to shape the world - set there."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Snakes in the Sheets

Castle Brandenburg, July 16, 1161

King Martin I von Brennenburg stood stooped over a table covered by numerous maps of northern Germany. Across from him were Hermann von Hiddensee, his spymaster, and the diminutive Duke Rajmund Premyslid, his marshal. The flickering fire of torches cast an eerie glow upon the small war councils, their bodies casting long shadows across the charts. Each man wore a hard expression a he studied the maps and the markings that marred them, eyes narrowed and brows slanted in persistent scowls.

"The tide is turning then?" Martin finally spoke. "Where is my uncle's army now?"

"Caspar is pursuing the Salian army south from Rostock," said Rajmund, pointing at the appropriate point on the map. As much as he respected the man's expertise, Martin privately found it comical how Rajmund had to stretch and strain himself to reach said point on the table. "They may have beaten us for most of this war, but now we've got them on the run."

"News from Franconia, Your Majesty," said Hermann, grinning with his sinister yellow teeth. "And it is indeed good news. Engelbrecht Salian has raised the flag o rebellion against his brother. He seeks to usurp the crown of Jerusalem."

"This must be why Waldemar's army in the field has been so weakened," said Rajmund. "He must be lacking supplies and reinforcements due to fighting this revolt at home."

"Yes, yes," Martin sighed, waving a hand impatiently. "And I trust my uncle will be able to clean up on his own." Martin held up a hand to shield his gaping mouth as a great yawn overtook him. "As for me, I think now is the time to retire. Did the carpenter have a look at my bed, as I asked?"

"Not today, Your Majesty. But he shall tomorrow," Hermann answered. "What did you say was the problem?"

"A strange hissing or creaking sound," Martin replid. "I suspect the frame is merely aged."

"Ah. well, as I said, it shall be fixed tomorrow, Your Majesty," said Hermann, nodding his head. "Good night."

"Good night."

Three hours later, Martin von Brennenburg would be lying peacefully asleep, blissfully unaware of the venomous snake lurking beneath his sheets. He yelped in alarm at a sudden, stinging pain to his left leg, swiftly leaping into action by seizing the adder and frantically attempting to strangle it to death. His guards arrived quickly due to the ruckus, but they burst in to find the King limp on the floor, dead hand still wrapped in a vice-grip around his killer. The guards sent for the spymaster, who promptly arrived in a state of breathless shock.

"The work of Waldemar Salian, no doubt. The man was always a conniving snake," Hermann said as he knelt over the King's corpse. "He turned to the captain of the guard. "Are the boys safe?"

"Yes, milord, they are under heavy guard by my most watchful eyes."

Hermann nodded. "I must send word to the Queen. Queen Mother now, I suppose. We must organize a regency immediately," Hermann glanced down at the dead King, shaking his head in despair. "Damn the cunning of that man. Karloman does not have the legitimacy to continue pressing the family's claim to Mecklenburg."

"What do you mean?" asked the captain.

"It means the war will have to be ended, inconclusively," Hermann answered. "But perhaps it is not so terrible as it seems. This damned war has cost us so many men and resources, resources we could have been using to fight Werner's little rebellion. Now, perhaps we can crush him like the insect that he is." Hermann raised a hand to his chin, pausing in thought. "Fetch the servants and alert the undertakers. Best clean up this mess."
 

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Hell Wants Its Master
By Kuipy, Bavaria​
The symbolic nature of stuff

The symbolic nature of stuff

Though ignored and often misunderstood by foreigners, Königsmark is the most popular card game in greater Tyrol, and the closest thing the Tyroleans have to a national pastime. The state, which would usually frowns at any reminder of the Hentzaus’ rule, has given in to the game’s popularity and sponsors both high-level competition and Königsmark Studies departments in several major universities. Various idiosyncratic versions remain, the most famous of which are the German rules, the Italian rules and the Innsbruck rules.
In königsmark, three players (although the third one is typically a child or played by one of the other two players), each one named after one of the first three rulers of Greater Tyrol, each one using only one suit of a 52-card standard deck : spades, clubs and diamonds (Hentzaus have no hearts). Each player, on his turn, draws a card, if there is any left in his suit, and plays one from his hand, if he can, or otherwise passes, until one players plays a king and wins (“is king” in königsmark parlance). What card can be played depends on all the cards played before and their orders, according to complicated rules that have changed overtime and vary significantly between versions; one (almost) constant constraint is that one jack from an other suit must be played to play a king, except for the king of diamond. A skilled player will therefore hold on playing his jack until he has his king in hand is fairly sure he can fulfill all other conditions to play it quickly enough (but never on his next turn, as a jack of one’s own suit is a prerequisite for playing other, essential cards). This explains many Tyrolean sayings, like “playing one’s jack” for taking a risk with no hope to back out of it (not unlike Menander’s “the die is cast”) ; “two jacks down” for a tense confrontation ; “three jacks down” to describe a situation that is bound to end soon or has been prolonged for absurdly long. The player’s roles are as follows :

[*]Rupert, or the “Knave” (the Knappe), uses the suit of spades and plays first. On the first turn he draws a hand of three cards, which he keeps hidden. Rupert’s role emphasizes bluff, deception, and aggressive play, echoing Rupert I von Hentzau’s brash and deceitful strategies, just like the small hand might be an allusion to his humble origins.
[*]Ludwig, or the “Slave” (the Knetch), uses the suit of clubs and plays second. His hand consists of the entire actual suit, face up on the table. On the other hand, many additional rules limits him in what he can play, so much that, even with an almost full suit, it is not rare to see an inexperienced player pass turn after turn in frustration while the two other players play continuously. This parallels of course, the reign of Ludwig I von Hentzau, who inherited large estates but ended up unable to achieve much because of political circumstances. Ludwig’s role rewards a controlling, analytical play and long-term thinking.
[*]Otto, or the “Brave” (the Knab), uses the suit of diamonds and plays third. His hand consists of only one card, which he draws and plays on each turn. Contrary to the other two players, he has no restriction on the card played, so he may very well win on the first turn by drawing the king of diamonds, which force the other two players to hasten. His success, as in war, is therefore entirely random ; it explains why, in most case, a third human player is dispensed with, and the Slave or the Knave just “plays” the Brave as well ; and it also parallels the life of Otto I von Hentzau, whose entire life seemed determined more by luck than by calculation. A fourth child, Otto was just young enough to escape his fratricidal brother Heinrich's assassinations, and just old enough to inherit once Otto was caught after the first three murders ; his early years were worried by a six-daughter streak, but eventually he produced three healthy sons ; he had to give in Upper Burgundy under overwhelming duress, but the eventual relaxation of imperial authority, more through Prussian action than his own, allowed him to subjugate independent Bavaria and, the first of his kin, to “be king”.

Despite the asymmetrical gameplay, computer analysis shows königsmark to be reasonably balanced. With perfect play, odds of winning are very close to 1/3 for each player in most variants (the Innsbruck rules give a noticeable edge to the Slave, almost all others a slight edge to the Knave). Nevertheless, most experienced players have a favorite role. Common prejudice is that Knave players are creative and audacious, while Slave players are clever and trustworthy, although these notions have been recently challenged. In an ironical extension, “this one is good at playing Brave”, or variations thereof, is a common ironical saying of someone with little qualities of his own. Conversely, playing all roles equally well is often considered the measure of a capable and well-rounded man. “Knave, slave and brave” is something of a stock compliment to anyone, and a typical descriptive of heroes in Tyrolean novels.


Gameplay stuff and stuff like that

New guy, lost half of my territory, conquered some more, became king, going to reconquer it all.
 

Fivoin

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Once Upon Time in the East
By Ike, Novgorod
The Last Queen of Rurikovich

The end of the Rurikovich rule over Rus came swiftly as spring storm. Both Queen Darya I and the other rebels were taken by surprise and the confusion caused by the usurpation of the throne by Anna I ended the civil war. Queen Anna I was to become the last of the Rurikovich rulers in Rus, even though descendants of Darya I ruled Grand Principality of Rostov under the rule of the first Finnish kings. Anna I was already closing her 50's and it was only a matter of time when the crown would be passed on to the sons of Väinä. It was in 1113 when the crown was passed to Ukko I, son of Count Väinä and Queen Anna I. The line of Rurikovich in Rus had ended and the remnants were driven out of Rostov after the death of Count Väinä Väinämöinen in 1118 by King Ukko I. Kingdom of Rus had been divided between Rus and several independent Grand Princes, who all fought each other for power. King Ukko I tried to establish relations with the Princes but his efforts didn't bear fruit so he decided to take them by force. One by one the Grand Princes bowed before Ukko I and Rus became unified once again but Ukko I wanted to secure his position as the King and he started to establish new laws, a tradition that would follow his heirs. The Grand Princes soon realized that there was no escape from Rus after several failed attempts for coup and independence. King Ukko I died in 1132 in his bed and his son Lemmetti was crowned as Lemmetti I of Rus.

Lemmetti I continued to fight off civil wars after civil wars. His reign was bloody and his dungeons filled with traitors. Even though Lemmetti I tried to be a kind ruler, he was forced to imprison many counts and Princes, many of them visited his dungeons several times and eventually died in there. The Rurikovich tried to usurp the throne in 1140 but they failed and they were executed. King Lemmetti I started the Russian Crusade against Perm in 1141, a Crusade that would eventually see the fall of Perm and Cumania. But this Crusade caused the death of King Lemmetti I in 1114 when Russian armies engaged the armies of Perm at the fields of Suzdal. The battle was won but King Lemmetti I died in the hands of the enemy. When the news reached the court, Ukko Väinämöinen, the eldest son of Lemmetti was crowned as Ukko II of Rus.

The reign of Ukko II would saw the Russification of Rus and the rise of the Dwarfs.
 

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Al Andalus - Azulejo Tiles for all
By BaronBowden, Andalusia
Two Girls, 1 Title
1066-1083

Starting from humble beginings, BaronBowden just wanted to bring his region's beautiful tiles to the world. Through commerce, royal gifts it didn't matter. Everyone should enjoy the masterful Azulejo Tiles.
To this end he married and brought his wife to live in his windmill. Where she quickly got pregnant and gave him 2 daughters. Upon the news his liege promptly sent him a letter. The contents boiled down to 'nobody likes your tiles, present yourself to lead my armies, and then after winning the war for me could you pay a quick visit to the headsmen for tea' Whereupon showing up to the dungeon presumably for a quick visit, BB was beheaded.

n1JH3OX.png


His daughters were not renowned for their beauty infact all over the lands there was widespread confusion as to whether they really were women. The next 15 years were long, without any plots to export the masterworked tiles however someone had heard of the plight of Grenada. The French king. Upon hearing there existed such ugly women in the world as to be virtually indeterminable from men, declaring himself a lover of all things good looking the French King set out on a Holy War to take all of Grenada for himself.

HWa5kUI.png


With the money stockpiled from BB selling tiles constantly, brave warriors were bought, and eventually to the surprise of all the French King decided he missed his Gardens & Wine. In retaliation war was quickly declared to retake a province from the French King lost in a different war, and won as well. Celebrations could be heard through the small kingdom and some commemorative tiles were put on the family windmill.

sxO8mBN.png


But things were not well in the kingdom. The sister commonly referred to as 'the uglier' had a hostile merchant at her gates. He also had heard about the fantastic tiles, and had decided to take all the production for his own. A lowly Duchy in Genoa, with all the mercenaries hired to fight off the French, the war looked to be comparatively easy versus the last. Life is full of surprises with AI.

M2EMXdL.png


In 20 short years the already small Duchy of Grenada had been cut in half.
 

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Al Andalus - Azulejo Tiles for all
By BaronBowden, Andalusia
3 Stooges
1083-1107

Like any good coming of age story, it began with some teenage angst and a surprise twist. IT went something like this. BB Jr was searching through her/his father's old chests. And found some men's clothing. Unsure what to do with it, he put them on and miraculously discovered.....
tDEnuV7.png


Included in the chest was a note. "My least ugly daughter, I hope this note finds you well. I wrote this note while drinking Sangria and admiring the most recent tile work in our villa. I hope you are in good spirits and that you have found a man who will marry you for your land. May he be merciful and not marry another 4 women and lock you in the oubliette. If he should ever ask for your thoughts, please relay this important message to him. Don't ever trust merchants, they are clearly OP, and France... I fear they look to expand into our homeland. Oh and try to make friends. Tell jokes your personality will shine through the warts." Just as BB jr was finishing the note wondering as to what his fate would be in life, a quizzical scene played out infront of his home.
4QKDKan.png


Remembering his father's words regarding making friends, BB Jr. thought to himself, hmm what a perfect opportunity to befriend this strange donkey riding fellow while at the same time potentially avenging the stolen lands from my better looking sister. Forgetting all about his father's cautionary note regarding Republics being OP, BB Jr. let slip the dogs of war.
O1vJWHi.png


Surprisingly Genoa capitulated on all fronts, ceding almost all their lands in Iberia. This was quickly followed by a rambunctious party where Barcelona and BB Jr. stayed up late drinking together. Promises were made, future borders drawn up and dreams for a future Iberian sphere of peace, prosperity and interfaith dialogue and communication were sown. As the night gave way to morn, Barcelona and BB Jr. sealed the deal with Barcelona asking BB Jr. if he would go for a ride on his trusty steed
IRjEqtj.png


Alas the dark clouds were not noticed on the fated ride, and while BB Jr. attempted to regale Barcelona with his wonderful personality there were signs of trouble. Maybe it was the constant denigration of Allah, or the fact BB Jr. threw up all over the back of the 'steed' Barcelona dropped him off back at his windmill and promptly left. Days turned into weeks, which turned into years before BB Jr. would see his friend Barcelona again, but before that day came a knock. And standing before him was a man he remembered well.
D2wGCSj.png


Gathering up his father's old armour and trusty scimitar leaving for the field of battle BB Jr. thought to send a letter to his friend Barcelona to ask for assistance.... as soon as he stepped outside, greeted by the sight of Barcelona's armies lined up with the Frenchman, something snapped in BB Jr. No longer would he have friends. No longer would he know warmth and long rides on a donkey. There could be only one in Iberia.
MGr4MCL.png
 

Fivoin

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The Sons of Raghnall
By King of Men, Scotland​
Highlands Rising

Introduction: Child 163

Oh, cam ye frae the Hielands, man,
an' cam ye a' the wey?
Saw ye MacDonald an' his men,
as they cam in frae Skye?

(Chorus): Wi' a derrum-a-dru; an' a dree, an' a drum; wi' a derrum-a-dru-drum-drey!


So begins one of the innumerable versions of Child 163, "The Battle of Harlaw", omitting for impatient modern audiences the introduction of the narrator and his meeting with "Sir James the Rose, and wi' him Sir John the Graeme" (or Gryme, or Graham, depending on how much the writer feels like Anglicising the name) and instead beginning with their interrogation of this useful informant. From the historian's perspective, this is just as well; for neither of these knights is to be found in any other source touching the battle in 1171. A "Jimmie, called the Rose" appears in court records of the border marches in the fourteenth century, but no mention is made of him being a knight; nor would a border reiver frequently arraigned for stealing English cattle - admittedly an offense which the marcher lords of the time viewed with some forbearance - be likely to lead the armies of the Kings of Scots against their rebellious vassals. The Grahams, likewise, while prominent in the wars with England, are not noted for mixing it up with Hielan' clans. (Riding-names from south of the border are quite another matter.) We may conjecture, then, that the version of the song collected by Child has been mixed up with another ballad, telling the story of some now-forgotten Border raid. The army that broke the Highland Rising was led, in feudal fashion, by King Ranald, his brother and heir-apparent Morgan taking the right flank, as is attested by the carvings on their respective tombs in Edinburgh Castle. It is, however, not completely implausible that they might have stopped to interrogate random wayfarers as to the whereabouts and strength of their enemies. The scouting of feudal hosts was a notoriously slipshod affair. Even if we do not take the dialogue as word-for-word accurate, then, it may give us a reasonable feel for the mood of the King's army, unsure of whether they'll be fighting today or living tomorrow, but knowing that a formidable host of Hielan' savages is somewhere in the vicinity and spoiling for a fight.

MacDonald on the March

Aye, Ah cam' in thro' the Dunkeld lands,
an' doon by Netherha',
an' Ah saw McDonald an' his men,
a-marchin' on Harlaw.

Wi' a derrum-a-dru; an' a dree, an' a drum; wi' a derrum-a-dru-drum-drey!

An cam ye near, an' near enough?
Di ye their number see?
Come tell tae me, John Hielantman,
what mecht their number be?

Wi' a derrum-a-dru; an' a dree, an' a drum; wi' a derrum-a-dru-drum-drey!

Aye, Ah cam near, an' near enough,
and Ah their number saw:
There was fifty thousand Hielantmen
a-marching on Harlaw!

Wi' a derrum-a-dru; an' a dree, an' a drum; wi' a derrum-a-dru-drum-drey!


There was, of course, nothing of the kind. Even as late as the twentieth century, a state power with powers of registration and compulsion unimaginable to a medieval lord might have found it difficult to raise fifty thousand fighting men from the territories of the Dukes of Moray. In 1171, the entire feudal host of Scotland was nowhere near fifty thousand, and if it had been, it could not have been gathered in one place without starving. Nonetheless, it is clear that Fergus, Duke of Moray and Laird MacDonald, had raised a considerable army, perhaps as many as eight thousand men if we allow him mercenary gallowglasses from Ireland as well as the fighting tails of his vassals. If we assume instead that he relied only on the muster of his clans and septs, he would have had perhaps five thousand; in addition to MacDonald, men of Sutherland, Mackenzie, Ross, Mackay, and Sinclair are known to have fought at Harlaw, and we may conjecture that other northern clans were also present. The very heavy casualties of "Red Harlaw", described by all commentators as an unusually bloody battle in an age not noted for well-organised fighting retreats, no doubt account for the very circumspect behaviour of the obstreperous northern lairds in the generation following the Rising.

Approach March

Fifty thousand, then, should not be taken literally; but it does appear that the King's army was somewhat outnumbered - perhaps as much as three to two - and we may well believe the account of some dismay in their council following the traveller's report:

"Gin that be true," says James the Rose,
"We'll come nae muckle speed.
We'll cry upon our merry men
An' turn oor horses heid."

Wi' a derrum-a-dru; an' a dree, an' a drum; wi' a derrum-a-dru-drum-drey!

"Oh na, na na", says John the Graeme,
"This thing it canna be.
The gallant Graemes were never beat
We'll try what we can dee."

Wi' a derrum-a-dru; an' a dree, an' a drum; wi' a derrum-a-dru-drum-drey!


Note the pun on the dialect word 'dee', here meaning both 'die' and 'do'. It is not clear whether the Graham's objection is to the intelligence they've just received, or to Sir James's plan of retreat; he could plausibly be saying either "MacDonald cannot possibly have fifty thousand men" or "We cannot possibly retreat". If the latter, it may be worth noting that this is not necessarily the pig-headed honour of a nobleman too stubborn to adapt his strategy to the situation; medieval armies were not noted for their agility in maneuver. If MacDonald was at all close, James may simply be saying that a retreat without fighting could all too easily become a rout, leading to the certain destruction of the army without even a chance at victory. In such circumstances, offering battle even though outnumbered may be the best of bad options.

Hielant Charge

At this point, it appears that the narrator is conscripted, or turns around to go with the King's army; or perhaps we are to take it that he is no chance-met stranger but rather a scout. At any rate he ceases to report the conversation about the size of McDonald's army, and instead turns to the battle itself:

As I cam on and further on
And doon an' by Harlaw,
They fell fu' close on ilka side.
Sic strokes ye never saw.

Wi' a derrum-a-dru; an' a dree, an' a drum; wi' a derrum-a-dru-drum-drey!

They fell fu' close on ilka side,
Sic strokes ye never saw,
For ilka sword gaed clash for clash
At the battle o' Harlaw.

Wi' a derrum-a-dru; an' a dree, an' a drum; wi' a derrum-a-dru-drum-drey!

The Hielantmen wi' their lang swords
They laid on us fu' sair
And they drove backwards all oor men
Three acres' breidth and mair.

Wi' a derrum-a-dru; an' a dree, an' a drum; wi' a derrum-a-dru-drum-drey!


Here we can detect at least a faint hint of the actual course of the battle - and note that the narrator has taken sides; they are now 'oor' men. King Ranald appears to have deployed his men in a classic medieval array, with three battles each consisting of a core of heavy pike - schiltrons, the traditional hedgehog formation of Lowlands armies - with supporting archers in the gaps between the schiltrons. The central battle was echeloned somewhat forward of the other two, and took the brunt of the Highland charge, as Ranald had no doubt intended. MacDonald, relying on the sheer shock power of thousands of screaming clansmen, attempted no maneuvers - in any case of doubtful utility with his undrilled and unarticulated troops - but simply launched a death-or-glory light-infantry charge. His men appear to have fought naked or nearly so, throwing aside their wool coverings before beginning their attack; if so, Harlaw is nearly the last gasp of a practice first attested more than a millennium earlier, when the Gauls (a confederation of Celtic tribes) who sacked Rome fought naked, relying on the favour of the gods for protection. MacDonald's men were at least nominally Christian, and while they may have invoked the Lord of Hosts, or any number of local saints, for protection, it is likely that they would have fought in armour if they could afford it; the same is probably true of the Gauls. The Highlands, while rich in fighting men, have always been poor in everything else; there is, we may note, a reason why the Celtic cultures that were found all over France in 390 BCE were reduced to a thin seaboard fringe by 1171. Nonetheless, their charge was just as formidable as it had been when Quintus Sulpicius's six legions fled the Allia; Ranald's central schiltron was driven back in some disarray, and seems to have been on the verge of disintegration.

Counterattack

Brave Ranald tae his brother did say,
"Noo, brother, dinnae ye see?
They'll driv us back on ilka side;
we'll be forced tae flee!"

Wi' a derrum-a-dru; an' a dree, an' a drum; wi' a derrum-a-dru-drum-drey!

"Oh na, na, na, ma brother dear!
This thing it canna be.
Ye'll tak' yer guid sword in yer haund
an' ye'll gang in wi' me!"

Wi' a derrum-a-dru; an' a dree, an' a drum; wi' a derrum-a-dru-drum-drey!


The sudden switch to "Brave Ranald" is another indication of a lacuna or a mixup somewhere in Child's version. We hear no more of Sir James or John the Graeme, and the repetition of "This thing it canna be" would seem to indicate that the same speaker is intended. It is interesting to observe that the counsel of action is put in the mouth of the King's brother, while the King himself seems despairing. There is no obvious textual reason for this, "Brave Morgan" scanning just as well as "Brave Ranald"; why then does not the King get the glory of advocating the attack? It is for precisely such reasons that oral traditions are a valuable supplement to the written record: The little hints of character and courage that gleam through the centuries give us what no amount of multiply-attested dry facts can.

Political Interlude

Some versions of the ballad insert a rather unbelievable interlude in the battle at this point, in which Ranald sends a servant to fetch his armour:

Brave Ranald drew his men aside,
Said, "Tak your rest a while,
Until I to Drumminnor send,
To fess my coat o' mail."

The servan he did ride,
An his horse it did na fail,
For in twa hours an a quarter
He brocht the coat o mail.


This is clearly not credible, and is omitted from most modern performances of the ballad. Rather than try to explain it in terms of the tactics of the day, it seems preferable to look to politics. King Ranald's near-mythical ancestor, Ragnvald I, is said to have fought at Stamford Bridge, where the Norwegian army was (according to saga) routed through being surprised and caught without its armour. Surely the episode of fetching the mail coat is some reference to this ancestral event; but what its purpose may be we cannot tell at this distance in time. Satire, commentary, editorial? Perhaps it is meant to comment on the strategic unpreparedness of the King; it was the disaster of the Northumbrian War that had sufficiently weakened his grasp on the throne - more accurately, his immediately available forces - that MacDonald thought he had an opportunity to establish the lairds' right to settle their own disputes. If Ranald had been able to call up the army that marched to defeat at Newcastle, MacDonald would, presumably, have come in meekly when he was called upon to "answer for his breaches of the King's peace"; or, if meekness is unbelievable in so stiff-necked a laird, he would at any rate have kept to his mountain fastnesses and defied the king to come fetch him out, rather than offer battle on his opponent's home ground. As it was, he instead sent word that the breach of the king's peace was an offense not found in any ancient law of Scotland, which was true, and that he was therefore innocent of wrongdoing, which was at least arguable; and that "as for me, the King his peace shall not protect those guilty of doing harm to me and mine; and if it likes not the King that it be so, let him look to the peace of his own lands!" This haughty challenge - in more modern language, "I'll burn and pillage what I damn well like, and if you don't approve you can get an army together to stop me" - seems to have caught Ranald by surprise, hence his lack of numbers at Harlaw. Nonetheless he had an ace up his sleeve.

Decision

Then back to back the brothers twa
Gaed in among the thrang
And they hewed doon the Hielantmen
Wi' swords baith sharp and lang.

Wi' a derrum-a-dru; an' a dree, an' a drum; wi' a derrum-a-dru-drum-drey!

The first ae stroke that Ranald struck,
He gart MacDonald reel
And the neist ae stroke that Ranald struck,
The great MacDonald fell.

Wi' a derrum-a-dru; an' a dree, an' a drum; wi' a derrum-a-dru-drum-drey!


This should not be taken literally. Ranald's trick was not in his own personal fighting skills, but in having a small cavalry reserve - nothing that would have decided a battle on the Continent, nor even in the English civil wars, but deadly against a Highland clan muster of undrilled infantry armed with swords. Ranald does appear to have personally led the charge into the Highlanders' right flank; if it is unlikely that he personally exchanged blows with MacDonald, the fact remains that it was this intervention which won the battle for the Lowlanders, and established the King's Peace as a fact of law, if not always of life, in Scotland. The private armies remained, as did the feuds; and in truth the King's writ did not necessarily reach very far into the mountains. But the time of open warfare between the lairds, with formal declarations, set-piece battles, ransomed captives, and all the other paraphernalia of feudal conflict, was over.

Aftermath

Such an achievement was not bought cheaply:

Sic a kyvie amang the Hielantmen
when they seed their leader fa';
they buried him in Leggett's Den,
a lang mile frae Harlaw.

Wi' a derrum-a-dru; an' a dree, an' a drum; wi' a derrum-a-dru-drum-drey!

Some rade, some ran and some did gang
They were o' sma' record
But Ranald and his merry men
They slew them a' the road.

Wi' a derrum-a-dru; an' a dree, an' a drum; wi' a derrum-a-dru-drum-drey!

If ony man should speer at ye
Of them that's gaed awa'
Tell 'em this, and tell 'em plain:
They're sleepin' at Harlaw.


MacDonald in fact survived the wounds that "gart him reel", and was eventually ransomed by his relatives, unlike most of his army. The men "of small record", of course, were not worth anything to a captor, and were consequently slaughtered out of hand; it may also be that Ranald explicitly ordered a massacre as a means of terrorising the Highlands into submission. If so, it seems to have worked. MacDonald, at any rate, troubled his reign no further, whether for lack of men or because his wounds bothered him; if, as still another version of the ballad claims, "the sword ran in an ell" - that is, the length from a man's elbow to the tip of his finger - then we can well understand that his enthusiasm for fighting may have been rather dampened.

Linguistic Commentary

The Lallans dialect in which the ballad is most often sung, like all Scots dialects short of actual Gaelic, is a variant of English in which much of the old Norse influence has been retained, Norman French is much less prominent, and some older pronunciations survive. For example 'mecht' has the Germanic 'ch' sound of Bach where modern English 'might' has dropped the diphthong and shifted the vowel differently; this pattern also occurs, among other places, in 'nicht' versus 'night', 'brocht' versus 'brought', and 'dochter' versus 'daughter'.

As a further demonstration, we can note that the soft 'ch' sound is difficult to produce, in fact it is the last to be mastered by both Norwegian and German children, who often elide it into 'sh'. Consequently it has disappeared, along with grammatical cases and consistency in spelling, from English, a pidgin of at least three languages; wherever it appears in Scots we can see the long Norse, as opposed to Norman French, history of the northern part of the Isles. This is perhaps at its clearest in the word 'church' (two soft consonants), which is recognisably cognate (granting a vowel change) in German 'Kirche' (second consonant is soft), Norwegian 'kirke' (first 'k' is soft, like the German 'ch'), and Scots 'kirk' (both consonants hard).

With this in mind it becomes rewarding to look for the cognates, at least for those who enjoy such intellectual games. For example, 'mair' for 'more' is pronounced exactly the same as its Norwegian cognate of the same meaning, 'mer'. Likewise with 'haund' (English 'hand') and Norwegian 'hånd'. 'Neist' for English 'next' is, again, clearly related to Norwegian 'neste', and more closely so than either one is related to German 'Nächste'. 'Speer' is not a weapon, but a verb meaning 'to ask', related to Norwegian 'spørre'. Finally 'ilka' is related to Norwegian 'hvilken', meaning 'which'; here the cognates seem to have taken different paths of meaning. We can thus give the translation "drive us back on every-which side" for Ranald's "driv us back on ilka side".
 

Fivoin

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Hell Wants Its Master
By Kuipy, Bavaria​
The wolf and the lamb reconciled

the imperial camp near Schaffhausen, Northern Alps, 15 June 1180

Children, as a general rule, are permitted to weep in public, but emperors are not. The person in which both categories overlapped was snivelling as little as he could and wiping red eyes, but Baldewin held it together as if he understood the stakes, which might have been the case. He took a long, sad look at his father’s corpse, which two squires had laid down on a trestle table, and beyond it. His gilded armour had been removed, and someone had bothered closing the dead man’s eyes, but otherwise he lied on as he had fallen on the battlefield, his clothes sweaty and dirty, his face covered in grime, his scalp and beard matted with gore.

The man who had brought the body to the camp, alone, stood opposite, staggering with fatigue. Lean, grey-haired, a fur cloak around his bony shoulders, he looked like an old, limping wolf, eyeing the young Emperor as he would a tender lamb. Around him the German dukes and counts growled with hatred and anger, like hounds. But they gave him a large, fearful berth.

“You killed my father.”
“Not me. One soldier of my retinue. I shall give you his head if it would save mine.”
“But it was on your orders. And you chose to rebel against him.”
“Yes.”

The wolf appeared exhausted, but unafraid. In front of him the lamb fought back a sob; everybody watched.

“Now you come to ask for mercy.”
“No. I come to take my place back at your vassal.”
“My father crushed you.”
“And I will not begrudge him his last victory. But you need me like he never did. Because you are in danger. The Dutch within the Empire, the Prussian without… I was never your real enemy, though your father could not comprehend it. All he wanted was to confiscate Baden from my dear cousin.”
“Don’t trust him!” the duke of Burgundy snapped. “All he wants is to join the Empire again and scheme against me… Against us.”
“Aye, duke. And all you want is nobody scheming against you, the better to scheme against your young emperor. Is it false ? My troops fought well, but I do not think they killed as many as are missing from this camp. Did you send half your troops back to your seat before your liege was cold ?”
“Is that true ? the emperor asked.”

The duke went crimson, and many others looked disturbed.

“My personal retinue is still here, your Grace. I gave some of my own vassals their leave in view of urgent matters.”
“And they did not take a night’s rest, after fighting the whole day? They took the roads in the darkness? Otto went on. That must have been very urgent indeed.” He turned to the boy emperor.
“They are all eyeing your throne, your Grace. I am not. Look at my grey hair, I will not get another chance to rebel, and your father proved I could not get away with it anyway. Maybe my son and my grandson will give it an other try. By then they will be yours to deal with, and you will be a man, with allies of your own and obedient vassals. Meanwhile you need a big bad wolf chained at your feet, to frighten them curs into behaving.”

The lamb looked at the wolf again. Otto von Hentzau looked absolutely exhausted. At near sixty he was an old man. A hard day’s ride with what troops he could scramble for, a sleepless night spent planning for a desperate last stand, a day-long, bloody battle, the chancy flight across the hills, and finally that midnight ride with a dead man in tow had wearied him beyond what human forces could endure. Still he endured, inhumanly. Baldewin could read the devilish strength in his gaunt limbs, the continued insolence in his smirk. He hated that man for killing his father, and the king hated him back for standing in the way of his ambitions. But still, he found himself wishing to grow like him, and Hentzau had understood first what he could only now see, had understood it even before his father’s death : kill Kaiser Adolf, and the wolf’s and the lamb’s interests would, however briefly, coincide. What a extraordinarily frightening man to behold.

“Well then, Hentzau, kneel.”

The king went down on stiff knees, and Baldewin I walked around his father's corpse to give his murderer the accolade.

“I’m still taking Baden away.” The boy emperor whispered when they kissed.
“Aye, Otto whispered when the kissed again, and I’m still teaching my grandson to rip your empire apart.”

hentzau_05_01_zps334e100f.jpg

Defeat or victory ?

Gameplay stuff and stuff like that

Went out of the HRE with Wraith (Bohemia), realized it was still too big for us to tackle when it came back for our stuff, slunk back in and then conquered tons of stuff inside the Empire.
 

Fivoin

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Hell Wants Its Master
By Kuipy, Bavaria​
The best avoided dangers of inebriation

Stübbig, Eastern Tyrol, 1204

Gustav Blau was almost certain to become first lieutenant to the captain of the guard of Dietmar, Hugo von Hentzau of Nordgau’s chambellan, when the current first lieutenant passed away. That would have been more prestigious when the Hentzaus of Nordgau were actually counts of Nordgau, and not a destitute branch of barons in some Austrian backwater; but that backwater it was enough to make him a big man, and everyone knew his gruff temper and greying whiskers. So when the guard came back from the War of Independence, and made for the one tavern in Stübbig, all the other patrons cheered him and asked about the war.
“It’s won. By our allies.”
“You mean that they took the brunt of the fight? Or that they profited more than us from the victory?” the publican asked. Gustav just shrugged, and someone else interjected.
“Have you seen the king?”
“Aye.”
“What is he like?” Karl the cheesemaker said through rotten teeth.

Gustav grunted and took a long sip from the pewter tankard they’d offered him.

“He’s black-haired with a beard.”
“I mean, what is it like to meet him? To meet a king?”
“I said I saw him, not met him.”
“But you must have an opinion on...”
“He’s an imbecile and I almost got killed for nothing. That’s my opinion on him. Pieter? In case you do not know, you son did get killed. For nothing.”
The publican put a strong, hairy hand on his shoulder.
“Mind your words, Gustav. It could be bad for you.”
“And who is going to repeat it, Günther? You? The baron?”
That elicited a few tense chuckles. The Hentzaus of Nordgau had little love for an elder branch who had once given up their county to the Emperor. Günther threw his empty tankard on the ground and lifted an other one.
“To being alive! And drunk!”

That most present could get behind, and by then other guardsmen had come in too, and were duly toasted. For a few hours everyone rejoiced, even Gustav who after all was not unhappy to come out alive of the campaign, and except Pieter who slunk away with his grief, and on the morrow would punch Gustav in the face, after which he would weep and hey would both apologize to each other. Everyone was merry until that fool Karl had to ask Günther, who had seen the king and could therefore be supposed privy to the latter's decisions :
“So what will King Rupert do now ?”
“Well, Gustav answered coldly, what do you think he will do ?”
“Me ?” Klaus thought gave an honest if doomed attempt at thinking it through. “Well he has to finish what he has begun, has he not ? Crush what remains of the Empire and take Frisia.”
“Frisia is deep in Germany territory, idiot,” said Kurt who never missed an occasion to quarrel with his neighbor. If we war with Germany it should be over something close, like Swabia.”
“You're an idiot.”
“Anyway the most obvious move, the other Kurt said, is to make progress in Burgundy before France makes a move there.”
Johann, the butcher, interrupter him : “Italy is where the real riches are !”
“He really ought to give us a time of peace, Friedrich the horsemerchant said. Develop the trade and settle the land.”, which everyone shouted down at once.
“Hungary !”
“We got licked in our last fight with Hungary”, said Paul, a balding cheesemaker no one could remember having ever been in a fight. “We should ALLY with them, and divide Prussia among us.”
Ludwig, a weasely dropout from Nürnberg university, rose and banged his tankard on the table.
“ I say that, do you remember the Hentzaus of yore ? Dashing and dastardly rakes, lacking in everything but guts and attitude ! they took the world by storm and force and guile, carved themselves a realm at daggerpoint ! Well, what I am saying, now that he is a king, and rich, and independent, Rupert had become the antithesis of his forefathers, the square they used to scare. So he ought to give up everything, take to the road as a common outlaw, and scheme his way to the to all over again. Ad augusta per angusta.”

“And you, Gustav? What do you think?”
Gustav finished his beer and said :
“I think he will do nothing. He’s a fool, a coward and a sodomite. Worthless. May he die soon.”
Everyone stood in silence.
“You really should be careful with your words, the publican urged. They may have consequences.”
“They won’t and it just proves my point. To hell with him.”
And then they drank again, and that night the whole village went to bed thinking somewhat more poorly of its king. And across Tyrol-Bavaria, it happened in other villages, too, and unpleasant rumors started to spread.


Gameplay stuff and stuff like that

Rebelled with Bohemia and Germany for good, partitioned the Empire North of the Alps, made little progress in Hungary.
 

Fivoin

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The Sons of Raghnall
By King of Men, Scotland​
A few screenshots of the session.

Broad sails over North Sea go... my invasion of Scotland, to restore the rightful king, begins!

BroadSails_zps8184c8fb.png


The MacRaghnall Dukes (both of them!) rise in support of the king over the water!

MacRaghnall_Rising_zps001230d6.png


Alas, it was all downhill from there. Still, a MacRaghnall is currently on the throne of Scotland, so it's not all bad. The third image is more in the nature of comic relief. These unruly border lords can produce all sorts of tongue-twisters:

Jemtland_zps24b32b92.png
 

Fivoin

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Hell Wants Its Master
By Kuipy, Bavaria​
This is about last session, not this one.

Why thrift and savings always pay off

The first major war Tyrol-Bavaria had to face after gaining its independence might be the most perfect illustration of economic catalysts to a conflict ostensibly fought for non-economic motivations. The narrow realm three generations of Hentzau had cobbled together spanned enough of Europe that it intersected several important roads, including the Rhone valley, the Alpine passes and the upper Danube. This position, and the relative strength of its central authority, gave it the opportunity to control and exact much of the commercial exchanges between Northern and Southern Europe. Through a combination of high tariffs from the state and legally-backed price gouging by the population, Tyrol-Bavaria in the early 1200s claimed the lion’s share in benefits from transalpine trade.
The Tirolean lands, it is true, had been united before; almost all of them had been part in living memory of the Holy Roman Empire. But then two considerations had prevented prevarication to such an extant: first, the enormous and unstable empire simply lacked the central authority to enforce a coherent trading policy, unlike the much smaller and non-elective Tirolean monarchy. Secondly, emperors had to balance the returns from taxation with the long-terms interests of Germany and Italy, which mostly benefited from unimpeded exchange. Hentzaus had no such concerns, although they had enough sense not to turn trade though their lands into an unprofitable venture, or even a less profitable venture than the (long, hard) detour around them. However detrimental to Europe as a whole, that policy made them rich enough that in 1210, the income of Bavaria-Tirol approximated that of the much larger Prussia.

hentzau_07_01_zps273239f5.jpg


The war of 1214, in its two phases, illustrates the two kinds of opposition the policy faced, internal and external.

Internally, the whole system depended on strict application of the new rule ; all it took for it to collapse was for one wiseacre Herr controlling a particular pass to decide to half the standing tariffs, in the hope he could thus attract enough additional merchants to offset the additional loss, at the expense of the other passes (in other terms, to be as selfish within the kingdom as the kingdom was within the former empire). Rupert I understood that peril and worked continuously to uphold the general policy, which could only be done by curtailing the rights and freedoms heretofore enjoyed by the local aristocracy. It is that friction that explain the 1214 rising, not, in themselves, the complaints about Rupert's “lewd and unmanly deportment” that traditional historiography emphasized, and even less whatever pretensions to the crown a younger, distaff branch of the Hentzau might possess.

No sooner, indeed, had Otto von Znojmo raised his banner in revolt than most the Graffen and Herren raised in support of the challenger with an eagerness purely dynastic squabbles could scarce explain among a local nobility that stood no chance, in either case, to inherit. Only in King Rupert's demesne proper were loyalist troops gathered in any significant number, and even these scattered levies were often ambushed and decimated by feudal rebels before they could join the King's host. In fact, Otto might very well have won his gamble if the royal treasury had not been at an all-time high then, in prevision of the construction of several castles along the northern border. Putting these constructions back sine die, Rupert was able to supplement his 8,000 men strong army with roughly as many mercenaries and marched East first, toward the rebellion's cradle.

Then came the consequence of external opposition. Outrageous tariffs and growing local consummation in increasingly-settled Tyrol had reduced Italian exports to Northern German lands to a trickle, with severe consequences to the revenue and lifestyle of the local elite, and decreased the revenue from their own exports to the point of near-unprofitability. Goods such as wine, olive oil, glassware and spices saw their prices in Hamburg rise by as much as 200 % over a decade. While Prussia, during this period, pursued its traditional Hentzau-philic diplomacy in hopes of negotiating priviledged tariffs for their own imports (which it obtained to an extent), Germany proper, still tangled in its struggle with the largest remnants of the empire, adopted a more hardline position. Their 20,000 men invasion at the worst of Bavaria-Tyrol's internal struggles was therefore less over Swabia's long-forgotten rights to Tübingen, and more about sending a brutal, desperate message to Rupert that he could not get away with his naked economic aggression.

While Germany much larger army progressed unimpeded through the loyalist heartland, Rupert avoided them and marched ruthlessly on Znojmo, burning and pillaging everything in his path. His bloody capture of Otto's lands, and the savagery with which he punished proven or supposed “traitors”, ended the internal rebellion as soon as he offered amnesty for rebels and clemency for its leaders should they surrender at once. With the country again united, some 6,000 troops rejoined the king's army, almost all of which claimed to never have been rebels, but to have been delayed by various circumstances.

However questionable their loyalty, these fresh troops allowed Rupert to confront the weakened and weary German army and, in fact, to outmaneuver it and force a confrontation on Rupert's terms in the Neckar floodplain, which ended in the massacre of the invading force. German surrender came as a mere formality, and Hentzau control over European trade went unchallenged for the rest of Rupert's life.

Gameplay stuff and stuff like that

I built tons of economic stuff, my vassals jumped me, AIed Falador jumped me, I barely survived.
 

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The Sons of Raghnall
By King of Men, Scotland​
A Surfeit of Lions

Outside Aberdeen Castle, Scotland
June 7th, 1121
Early afternoon

The truce party bore no less than three banners: A green branch of parley, the Lions of England - and beside it, flying at equal height, the red tree on a golden field of the MacRaghnalls. The same banner flew behind Gilpatrick, borne aloft by his kinsman Harald, a little lower than the Lion of Norway. His Norse jarls had their pride, and would not allow his personal sigil to be held as high as the symbol of their country; but apparently someone on the other side thought differently. He glanced mordantly at Aberdeen Castle, where Scotland's Lion Rampant still flew defiantly above the central turret; but Morgan had not seen fit to hoist the banner of his clan. No doubt he was emphasizing the unity of his realm, rather than the primacy of his family; desperate men could afford less in the way of proud gestures.

England_zpsa961286e.png

Norway_zps8e5a8adf.png

Scotland_zpscf9b0f65.png


The arms of England, Norway, and Scotland: "Gules, three lions passant guardant pale or, langued and armed azure"; "Gules, a lion rampant or, crowned and bearing and axe with blade argent"; "Or, a lion rampant gules, armed and langued azure, within a double tressure flory-counter-flory of the second".

A surfeit of lions, Gilpatrick thought in brief amusement; and both England's and Norway's were gold on a red field, at that. The Northern kingdoms were more alike, in custom and law and speech, than they sometimes cared to admit. But his brief humour passed as the truce party came close; they might all be standing on a red field before the day was done. He raised his hand in salute, and was unsurprised to see that the hand that answered was slimly feminine. So, she'd come herself; good. That would make it easier.

"Agnes," he greeted his older sister.

"Gilpatrick," she returned, matching his measured nod.

"Our grandfather," he began obliquely, "him they called 'the Great', always meant for Scotland and Norway to be united. That's why he married our father to Queen Ingrid."

"That's true," Agnes allowed; but her lips twitched. "Perhaps you should give me your crown, then."

Gilpatrick's lips pressed together, and he controlled his temper. She had always known how to annoy him, especially when she thought she had the upper hand.

"All right, I'll ask you plain. Will you go away, and leave Morgan to me? The crown of Scotland is rightly mine."

"Is it, indeed? The Edinburgh Charter makes all children of the King's body eligible for election; my father was King of Scots as much as yours. And I've brought twenty thousand men to vote for me."

That was twice as many men as Gilpatrick had, if she was telling the truth. But he recalled a bright summer's day twenty years before, and a boy of ten summers sent off to hunt the red snipe while his older sister did something-or-other she didn't want him along for; Agnes could lie with a perfectly straight face. It had taken him all day to get back, empty-handed, to be laughed at by everyone who heard the tale. He raised an eyebrow skeptically.

"A good tally," he said neutrally. "Well-fed, hearty eaters, are they? Stout yeomen of Merry Old England, good trenchermen all?"

Nobody else would have seen it, perhaps, but his brother's eye picked out Agnes's tiny flinch, and he nodded to himself. His own army was carried by broad sails, and could range far up and down the coast for its supplies. The English host, however large it was - and it would likely include many lightly-armed farmers, no equal match for his mailed hirdsmenn - had come north on foot, and could not long remain in any one place, particularly one that the Norwegian army had already eaten bare.

"Hearty enough," she replied calmly. "Come now, brother mine! If you were King of Scots already, with the lairds behind you, then it's true, you might retreat and harry and ambush, and drive me back home empty-handed. 'On foot should be all Scottish war, and burn ye the plainlands them before'; no? But you're as much a foreigner here as I. The crofters are keeping their stores in hidden places for you as much as me."

"The MacRaghnall lairds rose in my cause," he protested. "King over the Water, they call me."

"Yes, and do you think they care which MacRaghnall sits the throne? And they've felt the weight of England's hand, but Norway is unknown to them. Flattering names be damned."

He held up his hand. "We're getting sidetracked," he said. "Sister mine, do you care which MacRaghnall sits the throne of Scotland?"

"Yes, I do," she returned. "Do you? Enough to fight outnumbered twice over?"

He cocked his head. "Perhaps a compromise can be reached," he admitted. "Suppose you were crowned Queen of Scots, in your own right and name, with your husband only as consort. Who would inherit?"

"Theobald, of course. My eldest son."

"Who carries the name de Plage d'Or, not MacRaghnall."

"Men's laws," she shrugged this aside. "He has my blood; what do I care for the name?"

"Ah." He fell silent, thinking; then raised his chin defiantly. "That's our sticking point, then. I could agree to Scotland being yours, if it stayed in the family - by, yes, the laws of men; those are the laws we have. But you would unite the two crowns of the Isles; and then Norway would be overshadowed. How hard is it, even now, for us to match England, both the Rampant Lions together? Let those two crowns lie on one man's head, and there would be no stopping him."

"So much the better," she shrugged uncaringly, "if that man is my son."

"Well then. Bring your twenty thousand votes, and drive me from these hills, if you can. For I'll not stand aside otherwise."

GilpatrickKingNorway_zps2e99416c.png
AgnesQueenScotland_zpsef7977df.png


Royal sibling rivalry: Gilpatrick and Agnes. Note Agnes's trait of Ambition.​




Outside Aberdeen Castle, Scotland
June 8th, 1121
Morning

If Agnes did have twenty thousand men, she wasn't showing them all at once; Gilpatrick estimated no more than fifteen thousand on the lower ridge opposite his position. That still left his army outnumbered, three to two; and he had to keep watch against a sortie by Morgan's men, holding their ancestral castle against both invaders. Morgan's best chance was for Agnes to drive Gilpatrick from the field; the English army could not long sustain a siege in this picked-over countryside, and would have to chance an assault.

Still, Morgan's remaining men were not numerous; Gilpatrick's main worry this morning was his sister's army. Three to two were unpleasant odds, though numbers did not tell all the tale. He was relieved to see that his conjecture of the day before had been correct: Much of the English army was in grey wool, sunlight glinting only from spearheads and knives, not gleaming on mail and helmets as it did in his ranks. In terms of men who fought for a living and not for a campaign, the numbers were not so uneven; and the Norse army had only to hold the high ground, not to attack. There was rough ground to his front, hindering the English cavalry; his flanks were covered by stakes and breastworks, dug the night before. The position wasn't as strong as a stone-built castle wall, but Gilpatrick would not have cared, himself, to lead an army forced to attack it.

It seemed nobody on the other side cared to, either; there was movement in their ranks, but no sign of imminent attack. Gilpatrick squinted, wishing for the sharp eyes of his youth. They were bringing up - archers? No great threat at this range, although there did seem to be an ungodly lot of them. There was no need to give orders: His men knew what to do, and those who had bows were already sending arrows winging across the valley. One or two even found targets, and men fell on the other ridge. The air was still enough that Gilpatrick could hear the screams, if faintly; then a shout of command, in a good carrying battlefield voice: "All together - let the wild geese fly!"

A thousand shafts whistled across the valley, and Gilpatrick's eyes widened. It was like something out of a tale, as though an army really could darken the sun with its arrows - and even before the vast flight reached its peak, another was on the way. Although he bore axe and shield like most of his men, he had not expected to be in personal danger today; but now he felt his scrotum trying to draw up into his torso, and swallowed back an unpleasant metallic taste. He went to one knee, holding up his shield; the Norse ranks rippled as the men of the shield wall followed his example. The linden wood was light in his arms, although he knew that it would grow heavy as Satan's sins in any extended combat. He still wished it heavier. Arrows whistling down from such a height - the first flight struck, and his fears were confirmed. Two slim arrowheads punched through his shield, which shivered in his hands as though a berserk out of legend had hit it with an axe. Both missed his arm; but that was luck. Chisel points, like nothing he'd seen before, quivered mere inches from his face. A glance along the ridge confirmed his sudden fears. The narrow points struck through mail as though his men were so many unarmoured peasants. Men were down, clutching at arms to which shields were suddenly nailed, or at thighs suddenly pierced right through the mail and spurting blood. Not very many, true - but another flight of shafts was already whistling down, and two more were in the air.

Gilpatrick's instinct was to hunker down and hope for the best; but he forced himself to think through his sudden panic. The English couldn't have infinite supplies of arrows - but no, they'd have brought enough to win one battle, his sister was not such a fool as to bring a new weapon and not make it decisive. He couldn't rely on their running out. His own archers were nowhere near numerous enough to reply properly, although they were shooting back for what they were worth - better than sitting down and doing nothing, perhaps, if only for the feeling of doing something to control your fate. He could order a retreat behind the ridge, where the English couldn't see to aim - but then they would simply advance across the valley and shoot down at them, and it would be all the same. Or, worse, his army would dissolve into panic. No, retreat was an option of last resort; staying on the ridge to be shot was insane; that left - attack? Into the arrows coming down like rain? Hopeless, hopeless - but wait. If it were done quickly - and his mind suddenly leapt to the Scottish lairds who had risen to his banner. Cousins of a sort, but that was irrelevant now; the point was that their fighting tails were mounted and armoured. Poor imitations of English chivalry, perhaps; the Lowlands did not have much good grazing for heavy warhorses. But they were all the cavalry he had - Norway was still worse for horses, and even had it not been, he could not have brought many in longships - and they were armed to the teeth and, better still, armoured. If they charged, quickly, and got in among the enemy archers, they could wreak havoc enough among unarmoured men. They just had to get there.

It was a desperate plan, but all he had. Fighting the urge to dig into the grass as another whistling flight came down around him, he instead rose and ran to where Patrick stood. The rich Lothian lands - the heart of the MacRaghnall domains, in a sense, King Malcolm's gift to Ragnvald - had brought forth almost five hundred mounted men; and Albany to the north had nearly as many.

PatrickDukeLothian_zps590afbd5.png
LachlanDukeAlbany_zps1373e68c.png


The MacRaghnall lairds: Dukes of Lothian and Albany.​

"Patrick!" he shouted. "Get your men together, charge those archers! Get in among them and you can kill half of them, break their spirit - get back here before the English can react - win the battle at a stroke!"

Patrick stared at him, wide-eyed, close to panic. "Across that ground? You're mad!"

"I'll lead the charge myself! Just give me your horse!"

"Get your own damn horse! Nobody's charging into that!"

Gilpatrick gritted his teeth. Patrick's men were loyal to the Duke of Lothian, not to the King who was, after all, Over the Water; they wouldn't follow him if their laird didn't move.

"I'll make you Duke of Galloway!" he promised desperately. There was long bad blood between the Scots MacRaghnalls and their western neighbours. It meant another campaign to drive the McFergus lairds from their lands, risk and expense and endless, bloody skirmishing in the doubtful western hills - but that was a long-term problem, and he had a battle to win right now. Patrick looked suddenly doubtful and interested, gauging the ground between them and the English again. His jaw clenched in decision; but before he could draw his sword, another of the thrice-cursed flights of arrows came down. Two of them struck Patrick, one nailing his arm to his torso, the other spanging off his helmet. Men and horses screamed, and the moment was lost. Without a word, Patrick turned his horse about; his cousin Lachlan followed, and their men, and in a minute Gilpatrick's cavalry, local support, and left flank were all gone.

He stared after them for perhaps five heartbeats, at a loss; but there was clearly no bringing them back. He would have to try retreating his army down off the ridge - he could re-form the line just below it, and drive the English archers away wherever they appeared. It was even more desperate than the cavalry charge that had just disappeared, since the English were no fools and would cover their archers with their own heavy infantry; but he had no better ideas. Perhaps he could think of one if only he could get out of the arrow storm.

As he ran back towards his men, though, he saw that it was hopeless: The left end of the line was already following the cavalry. It wasn't a panicked rout, the hirdsmenn were veterans and knew what would happen if they simply ran, but they were very definitely retiring. What had been a cohesive army five minutes before was breaking into its constituent parts: Small bands of men who knew and trusted each other, men from the same farm or town or chief's retinue. Most of them would likely make it back to their ships, the English cavalry could not easily pursue over this ground, but Gilpatrick no longer had an army.

"Fuck Scotland", he panted as he ran; let Agnes have it, then, cowardly kinsmen and all, and welcome to it. It was his life, now, and every man for himself - well, no. His personal guards, he saw with a stab of pride, were standing where he had put them, at what used to be the center of the line. So, there was still such a thing as loyalty to one's salt. Ibrahim, their captain, came to meet him. "Sire. Perhaps we should fight another day?"

That was as close as Ibrahim would allow himself to come to suggesting retreat; Gilpatrick felt sure that if he ordered it, the man would dig in his heels and die where he stood, or charge the English army alone. But there was no point in wasting such loyalty. He nodded sharply. "Yes. Back to the ships. In good order, mind, we'll all die if we break up."

Ibrahim nodded, relief on his face - a man whose life was loyalty could still hope to live. "Right!" he shouted. "Three steps backwards, and mind it's only three!" The hirdsmenn stumbled backwards in unison. Some stumbled and fell, and some of those did not get up again; the arrows were still killing. Nonetheless they stopped after the three steps; Gilpatrick saw men bending down to pick up wounded comrades, and felt his heart swell even in the midst of horror. Then Ibrahim stumbled with an arrow through his knee, and Gilpatrick got an arm under his shoulder before he could fall. "Another three steps," he roared; "and mind we don't leave anyone for the English vultures!" Three steps at a time they retreated, until at last they were in the shelter of the ridge. Even so the arrows sought them out; but they were unaimed now.

"Form up! Quick step, back to the ships!"

Gilpatrick threw a quick glance over his shoulder as they retreated. The red-on-gold Lion Rampant was still flaring its defiance on Aberdeen Castle. But by the day's end there would be only one lion in the British Isles.
 

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Hell Wants Its Master
By Kuipy, Bavaria​
The respect owed to God and Sovereign

Deep in swabian woodlands, 7 september 1230


Bishop Pentangeli's neophyte beard itched more than his conscience, especially after a long forest ride in the heat of summer. Dust and sweat matted its tangled locks and burned the skin beneath, no matter how hard he scratched. That, he supposed, would be the worst part of his new faith. Other former catholic priests, especially the older ones or those in the hinterland, obtained dispensations easily enough. But a clergyman of any ambition had to make a show of enthusiasm for his new faith. Already, he had earned this mission, and if he succeeded, what could stand in his way ? He spat on the ground and dismounted.

The queen (former queen), in her carriage, kept her eyes down. She looked so frail and scared he helped her down himself, but otherwise he wasted no time on her. The soldiers had dismounted too, and looked at him expectantly ; under their hauberks and steel helmets, the ride must have taxed them harder than him in plain travel clothes, and they were eager to take some rest. Well, they would rest when convenient to him.
“You, announce me,” he ordered one of them. “You, stay at my side. The others, encircle the convent. Keep an eye on the road, and on the forest.”
The men dispersed and unslung their bows. They had been well-picked, he thought, not that he knew much of war and warriors. But obviously king Rupert did. The former queen kept her eyes down and would not move by herself. He pushed her softly, brushed the sweat off his brow and made for the cloister.

The abbess waited for him alone, and gave his proper cross a hard glare. She was tough, grey-haired harridan, almost as wide as she was tall. Her wrinkled cheeks hung around clenched lips, her big breasts sagged under roughspun robes, and he could see her hands were big and callused. He managed to curtsy the old tough fanatical brute without a smirk.

“Good day to you, Mother. I have been tasked with delivering a new novice to your institution.”
“Queen Binhilde is well-known to us,” she answered. No good day for him.
“Former queen. Her marriage to king Rupert has been cancelled on grounds of consanguinity, and she has decided to retire from the world, and spent the rest of her life among your order.”
“By the king's order ?”
“He would confirm it if he was here. As it stands he must prepare for his new wedding in three days.”
“He could not wait a week after disposing of his former wife.”
“Why ? He is neither divorced nor widowed. The marriage was cancelled, not dissolved.”
“A marriage His Holiness upheld.”
“You are mistaken. The Patriarch of Rome was only consulted informally regarding the possibility of cancelling the marriage, and did not give his answer as much consideration as he might have if would if it had been a former request. Seeing as he was busy with his ill-advised war with the Emperor, the King decided to consult instead the first of Patriarchs, his All Holiness Eustratios of Constantinople.”

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like you would'nt do it after a nine-daughter streak

“There is Patriarch of Rome, only the Pope. And a greek pontiff has no authority on the Catholic Church.”
“ I understand your confusion. I, Bishop Frederico Pentageli, was sent here also to educate you in the changes that have come to the church and how they pertain to your order.”
“ A moment.”
Two sisters had silently slunk by. She gestured at them to lead the former queen away, and she went without a word, eyes still on the ground.
“The two Churches,” he said when they were gone, are now in full communion. The pope has acknowledged the primacy of Constantinople and dissolved a few orders, but for those remaining, all you are asked is to acknowledge and embrace this communion. Laity will now follow the Greek rite, but this does not apply to you. In his great generosity and to facilitate a reunification that is his deepest desire, the Supreme Patriarch has exempted existing monastic orders from the change, except inasmuch as they welcome it, and in the time of their choosing.”
“And then our orders will be sidelined, or pressured into the fold separately one after the other.”
“Maybe, after our lifetimes. Your conscience can be clear.”
“My conscience will not be clear with treason, Father Pentageli.”
“Would you sacrifice the unity of Christendom to matters of rite and protocol, then? You know there is a single doctrinal difference between the churches, easily fixed. A synod will be called soon, where all five patriarchs will vote on the filioque clause.”
“Rite is doctrine.”
“Not so.”
“You waste your time. I will obey the pope.”
“But the pope himself agreed to mend the schism. He sent me and others to inform the provincial clergy of the new situation.”
“He agreed at swordpoint.”
“Not so. And even if he was, you would still not be obeying him, and so who would you obey.”
“My conscience. To martyrdom if needs be.”
“Oh, no.” Diplomacy having failed, he contemplated what threats he would made. To drive the point across he might have pushed a more slender abbess, but the woman in front of him looked more than able to fight back. So he just came closer and said softly:
“You will not be a martyr. There is one thing we want to avoid, and it is martyrs. If I need to make sure you do not punch me I will just have your hands cut. If I need to have your tongue cut I will have the flesh sewn by the best physicians. But you will not die a martyr, to goad some yokels into resistance. Is that clear?”
The brute fumed, blatantly accustomed to bully her way around the convent. He almost pitied the former queen.
“Is that clear, mother?”
“Yes, it is clear.”
“So you will behave?”
“I will obey.”
“Excellent. Just to be sure, a few of my men will remain behind. I guarantee they will not approach any of the women in the convent, or disturb you in any way. They will just camp outside, using provisions we have brought.”
The abbess glowered silently.
“Is that all?”
“Unless you have any further questions.”
“No. I have seen you enough.”
It could have been worse, the bishop thought as he retreated. All he had had to do was to show her who was in charge, as always, which was much easier than to live with a beard. Well, everyone had a duty.

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***
Tübingen, 10 september 1230

Mother Ursula barged unannounced into the queen's chamber. The little woman, who was sitting on her bed, lifted red eyes at her.
“Do you want this ?” the abbess asked severely.
“I never did what I wanted. I did not want the marriage either. He was the one who wanted it. He said it amused him to bed me... Because I was small and it angered his father. He said his former wife was... like me. When we were in bed he would...”
Ursula had not come here to hear that.
“But you did not want the divorce ? You did not want to end your life here ?”
“No...”
“Then come”
She lead her to the dark pantry, where they stood behind a door giving on the cloister. Two guards stood, silent in the full moonlight. Good, she thought, they would not need a lantern.
Sister Beatrix had rejoined them.
“Are you ready ?” Ursula asked. “ You know what you have to do?”
“Yes, mother superior.”
“Then do it.”
Beatrix glanced doubtfully had then queen. Obviously she shared Ursula's doubts, but she obeyed. They peered to the door opening until the refectory on the opposite side started to give off smoke. Who thought it a good idea to build the refectory so far from the pantry anyway ? So far the sacrifice was small. When the smoke got heavy they heard Beatrix scream, and soon the cloister was full of nuns and the few guards had left their post to gawk at the flames.
“On the other side !” Beatrix yelled. “The well is on the other side, near the gardens ! Hurry !”
In the confusion the guards did not notice none of them remained behind.
“Now we go.” Ursula said, and dragged the helpless woman by the arm like a disobedient novice.

***
Bishop Pentageli hurried to the king's side, all sweaty and dusty.
“It's done. You will not see your wife again.”
“Good work.” The king looked as superb as a king ought too. “I'll see you rewarded later, I promise. But today, please stay in the back benches of the Church, if you attend at all. If would not want us to be seen together so soon.”
“I understand.”
“Well, I have much to do. Good work, again. We shall talk tomorrow.”
He retreated and, as ordered, took a place in the back benches, already packed. It was going to be a grand wedding; his all holiness had accompanied the Princess to perform it in person, a sign that the Emperor intended to do right by enthusiastic converts.
The service was an ordinary one, with people gaping and drowsing. Down in Italy some parish would have an attendant repeat in Latin what the officiant said in Greek, while he pretended not to notice. But Greek instead of Latin did not bother German yokels who knew neither ; Frederico suspected half of them could not tell the difference.
When Princess Anastasia walked down the aisle he had his first, appreciative look at her. The princess was young, tall, and a stunning red-haired beauty. They also said she was witty and well-schooled in history and philosophy, and she managed to look at something else but the ground, and odds were she was not barren, and of course she was the Emperor's daughter, so altogether she was a remarkable improvement on the king's previous wife. A suitable reward for being the first monarch to openly embrace the Great Reconciliation.

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But then he could hear some sort of commotion outside, which only grew louder as the Patriarch droned on. It did not seem much to him, until a stone broke through the colored windowpanes of the Cathedral, and then it started to seem much to him.

“Sorry ! Sorry !” He jostled his way to the main porch, as confused people grumbled and gawked around him, barely noticing the service had ended.

The mob outside was furious, and the guards in ceremonial garb could scarcely keep them at bay. What was happening ? Then he saw her, them. The abbess and the queen, in the midst of angry peasants and burghers who poured to the streets into the cathedral square, threatening and vociferating. Soon the king was here too, haggard, and gave him the meanest look Frederico had ever been given.

“Here is you wife, king Rupert !” the old abbess was roaring over the crowd's shouts. “Your true wife ! Behold her, apostate ! Herod ! And you, good townfolk, behold the king who betrays his faith to take apart what God has united ! Who makes a mockery of the true Catholic Church ! Who puts a greek harlot in his bed of iniquity !”

For an instant her eyes locked with Frederico's, and she grinned. Try and talk your way out of this, they said. What was that about no martyrs, they asked.

“We can't hold them !” one of the guards screamed. “Strike to kill.”

He had to time to protest. When reinforcements come the square had already turned into a battlefield. Men-at-arms, ahorse, rode to the crowd, butchering indiscriminately. When one of them left his sword on the abbess, she looked to the sky in beaming pride, and let go of the queen who fell to the ground, under the horse's hooves.

It had all happened within minutes when he realized how his mission was an utter failure ; he scratched his cheek and then was struck with the unfairness of it all : for God's sake, he had grown a fucking beard !

***

No women in the twelfth century is arguably more famous, or had a larger influence, than Saint Ursula of Tübingen. For good or bad, her martyrdom in 1223 among nameless hundreds at the hand of king Rupert II's soldiers contributed to turn what might have been a relatively peaceful and bloodless reunion of Western and Eastern Churches into a bitter, hard-fought series of religious conflicts.

In less than a year the murdered nun as canonized, one of the fastest procedures of the sort. Shreds of kerchief allegedly soaked with her blood spread throughout Germany then to every reach of western Europe, and became objects of veneration. Where the Roman cult still held sway princes would build her churches ; where it did not, peasants would pray to her in secret.
Everyone found a reason for devotion in her. Kings could see her as a rallying symbol against the intolerable encroachment of the East, commoners as a victim of royal arbitrariness, small clergy as a model of rustic, common sense faith untainted by politics and wealthy prelates as an example of obedience and sacrifice to legitimate spiritual authority. In this multitude of interpretation, maybe, the reason for her popularity is to be found.

Gameplay stuff and stuff like that

When he was a count my little guy found nothing better to do than marry a dwarf. I killed her, he found nothing better to do than marry his dwarf cousin. And then when I became him the pope would not let me divorce. End of the schism ! I go with the flow and am satisfied to see that the patriarch, him, accepts, and nabs Khan's genius daughter in the bargain. Well, all Europe is at war now (and half of it angry at me), but it was worth it I guess.

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Europe in 1223
 

Fivoin

Deutscher Kaiser
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Feb 7, 2008
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Greece Rising
By JacobGood, Greece​
This account will try and go in the reasons why the Greek Empire rose to the heights it did. We all know how it ends, but this piece will focus on the events after Despot Andreas "the Kinslayer" Logos died quietly in his bed in 1239. After his death, Despot Narses I rose to the throne of Greece, Bulgaria, Egypt, and Nubia. This distinction of titles is important. Narses had spent his time in Egypt, where he devoured books on both ancient Egyptian theology, and the dying out Muslim beliefs. He met and married Princess Anthe, the Emperor of Byzantium's sister.

Narses was an enigma. He was a scholarly theologian, who identified with the Pharaohs of old. His passion for books was matched in equal measure by his slothfulness. He was content in his little world of Anthe and books. He was very arbitrary with his views.. reading something and switching his views to match what he read. He was kind to all, but deceitful and not well loved when he ascended to power.

In fact, within a year of taking power, 2 powerful factions challenged his right to rule, suggesting his sister was more suited for rule. The years following were a dark time for the Despot. He led troops well enough, even getting a scar from a duel with a rival claimant, but his indecisiveness hurt him. Here is where his wife Anthe comes in. She was powerful in her own right, being the Emperor's sister, but she was also Narses better in every way. Though they were both in love with books and the study of religion, she was zealously orthodox. She also was deceitful to all but her husband, and was patient. When Narses was scarred in single combat, Anthe convinced him to see the emperor. Athens was under siege, and all of their holdings in Greece were in pretender hands.

Narses had a meeting with the Emperor, who tolerated him because of his power and his sisters love. The emperor was gregarious and ambitious and had an acumen for people that Narses never did. Not much is known about this meeting, but when he arrived back in Alexandria, he gave a rousing speech to his subjects, saying "We are not Egyptian, we are all Greeks." This changed him from identifying as an Egyptian to being seen as Greek. He had been content with how he was seen, but even he could start to hear the whispers about his true loyalties lying with Egypt instead of Greece.


While Narses was raising troops morale, his wife was doing the dirty work. She arranged a 'peace delegation' with the rival claimant. She arranged for the rivals to meet in Athens to discuss terms. On the road to Athens, bandits attacked and killed everyone in the party. Anthe would later lament about the lawlessness in the land during those years. Later claims of the Emperors acting on his sisters behalf persisted. No proof has ever been found.

With the claimant dead, Narses delivered the knockout blow to the revolters, imprisoning the leaders, but proved just with his punishment. He had emerged from the crisis stronger than before, no longer arbitrary, no longer "Egyptian", and in control of the ascendant Greek Kingdom. His relationship with the Emperor would prove crucial in the coming years..