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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Cornelius Rex

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Hello (again),

it's been a while since I attempted an AAR (back with CK I) and never finished one... but the last game I played took a different bent and I started taking pics just in case. So this AAR has a narrative and very fast start before going slightly surreal with the last two rulers, the Glorious and his son.

I'm picking a cranky, old and rather doomed Swedish king and letting him show, playing RPG (it's a pity he was before the AAR really kicks off, he was a lusty goat as well and got along well with his daughters in law and about half of Sweden's females...). 1066, Catholic, no mods, no edits or cheats, Roman DLCs at start and more later on.

The goals changed with time, but one was finding a way to beat the Hordes before they run out of doomstacks. Another was (in true Crusader fashion) to convert the whole map. Not all were achieved :) and I did learn a few things. Not least about mixing inheritance laws...

The updates will be coming in very fast as I need to finish in about a week. In any case, comments will be appreciated.

1. The tale of the Fowler, chapter I: Horns in the mist.
2. The tale of the Fowler, chapter II: The coming of the hordes.
3. The tale of the Fowler, chapter III: Varangians go home.
4. The Good.
5. The Great, chapter I: The going got tough.
6. The Great, chapter II: All together now.
7. The Glorious, chapter I: A new beginning (and a bout of digestion trouble).
8. The Glorious, chapter II: A day at the gallows.
9. The Glorious, chapter III: Who you gonna call?
10. The Glorious, chapter IV: The red tide and the war of the Popes.
11. The Glorious, chapter V: The Will of Justinian.
12. The Glorious, chapter VI: Queens and Crusades.
13. The Glorious, chapter VII: No one, no one stops my party.
14. The Glorious, chapter VIII: Quality time with the family.
15. The Glorious, chapter IX: Cheats, deaths, viking orgies and generally small wars.
15. The seven-year itch.
(16. The End?).

Hope you find it interesting :). Best regards,

Miguel
 
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Cornelius Rex

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1. The tale of the Fowler, chapter I: Horns in the mist.

They call me the Fowler. And the Usurper. And the Antichrist. And many more inventive things, like the ones they tell me they heard you say.

They can call me anything they like, as long as they don't call me late for dinner. And you, little twerp, can call me anything and it will change nothing. Your will still be a hostage in my court, and your father will stay in my dungeons until he rots and falls in pieces. But fear not. It won't be in these overcivilized land. It will be in mine.

Sweden.

It all began in Sweden, at a time when Sweden was small and half pagan. At the time his Norwegian in-laws were battling and conquering the Saxon kings in England, my ancestor Stenkil the Old was ruthlessly pacifying his realm and educating the pagans to the north and east. It's not just that he revoked the rebel's titles and burned their homes around their ears, it's the way in which he used his allies' armies that made him feared. By the time of his death he'd carved up the Finnish and Estonian lands, he'd made the Eastern Baltic a Swedish sea, and Sweden was no longer the smallest midget of the North.

Sweden was then, as now, an elective realm. After giving titles and land to most members of his dinasty, my ancestors were spoilt for choice: we had several good kings in a row. Good for Sweden, that is.



Sweden grew to the East, to the frozen tundras of Rus. With Halsten the Wise, we visited the sons of Rurik, and I fear we found them lacking in the vigor of their ancestors. So we took their land and taught them Catholicism. We slowly but surely ground down the pagans around the Baltic and the steppes… and if we ground also a few Polish kinglets, well, none missed them much: they had unpronounceable names. My ancestors didn't stop until they ran into the Cumans on the East and the Danish on the west… and picked as much Scandinavia as they could along the way, when the Norwegian kings weren't looking.

But such things become a habit. And it's not as if we had the Norwegian's entertainment of warring in England. So, once we ran out of Orthodox and Pagans near home, the Swedish fleet went south.

To Andalusia. Yes. You know, we may have been Norse and dressed weird, but we've always had a fondness for learning. We had an outpost at Corduba for years, and our envoys brought us both learning and interesting news.

There was a Muslim crusade going on at the time and the Christian kingdoms were being pushed back. Nobody expected the Swedes. Not least because the invasion was small and mostly mercenary. But they didn't write that on the sagas, oh no. They only mention the thrashing we gave them, the way they broke. We've been snagging up the Peninsula ever since. Nowadays we're reduced to taking provinces and duchies off the Christians kinglets in the North, since we also ran out of Muslims there.



Not that we didn't try to hold on to the fun, you know. We did invade Mauretania. One of my ancestors reached Mali. It's fun the way they took to horned helmets in those lands. Especially considering the type of horns they put on them…

And yes, you guessed it. Our learned men then went to Alexandria, and eventually to Constantinople.

But I digress.



There came a time when the Swedish king held so much land that he could have created five other kingdoms. But, being of a practical bent, he liked his furniture in flat packages and his kingdoms few and well-ordered. So the king of Sweden is automatically king of Finland, but neither Rus, Estonia, Lithuania, Portugal or all the rest have emerged.

His successor, Stenkil the Quarreller… was not quite as tidy. He was a bit too creative, a free and impulsive soul, maybe an artist in his heart. Indeed, he was so creative using the Kaiser's armies in his own wars that he had too many killed very far away from the place they were sent to defend. The Kaiser (I think it was his uncle at the time) took it badly, and had him excommunicated. My ancestor was sorely pained. He paid through the nose to have the Pope lift the excommunication, then tried to excommunicate his uncle. Not being able to, he decided on regime change: he supported a rival claim, and threw the Luxembourgs from power. The Holy Roman Empire didn't quite recover until recently.



But, having travelled, my ancestor saw the uses of an Empire. And being a ground-breaking innovator, as well as a ruthless bastard with a trained army, he decided to get himself one. He dug at Denmark until he hollowed it out, and then usurped the crown. Norway… Norway was easier, it was not united with England at the time and half of it was already Swedish. So in a very few years, he managed to proclaim himself Emperor of Scandinavia.

His eldest son inherited the Empire, and the second the kingdom of Denmark. The third didn't last long, so Norway is still linked to the crown. It is since that time that my dynasty has become hereditary, and also, by a coincidence, that all our kings have lacked brothers. It's like a sad, sad curse. And a cottage industry, to be sure. We're become world leaders in the assassination trade.



Besides the bout of fratricide, Halsten the First was good with the family. He supported their claims to lands, duchies and even kingdoms, starting thus a nice tradition that has served the Empire well. The first was Scotland, then, in the times of Filip the Great, came England. Our Norwegian cousins objected but, well, eveything's in the family at least. Indeed there are so many landed descendants of Stenkil that consanguinity in Swedish marriages is a given.

It does lend them a bit of piquancy, after all.
 
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Cornelius Rex

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The Tale of the Fowler - Second part: The coming of the hordes

While we were having fun in the North and West, the South and the East of the known world were in turmoil. And it was not a nice, ordered turmoil as in a Norse invasion. It was the Mongol hordes, who burned, tore down and generally massacred people with no regard to proper procedure. No waiting in line for the slaughter, and definitely no meatballs. They cut the hands off, instead. So difficult to cook.

Maybe I should have mentioned that my early ancestors were not the Crusading type, so at that time, the king of France was king of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem held most of the land from Egypt to Anatolia. A fissiparous realm, but there it was. Until the Ilkhanate erupted from the steppes and came almost to the Mediterranean.

What stopped them wasn't Jerusalem nor France, not even the Byzantines. The Muslims were in no shape to do any stopping by then. No, it was the northern Mongols, the Golden Horde. For some reason, they got tired of carving at the Cuman kingdom, and went South past the Caspian and into Persia. The Ilkhanate was crushed by its own Tengri brethren. We don't know how or why, although a very fetching girl seems to have been involved.

But we knew they were coming for us next. Our lands at the time bordered the Cumans on the North, and touched the Horde, and we didn't like what we saw. Bad table manners, outdated interior design. And roaming hordes of horsemen.



Bjorn Ironside, the fourth Emperor of Scandinavia was an enterprising person, a capable soldier. He certainly wasn't the most trustworthy of men, but you can't have it all, apparently. He surprised Christendom, not to mention the Tengri, with a Holy War of invasion on the Golden Horde. He managed to rout their 75.000 horsemen in a year of epic battles. He then had to rout the Cuman reinforcements, because the heathens were allied. He wrested a blooded piece of steppe from the barbarians…

… and then did it again, and again.

And yet again. It's sad to say it, and our dynasty did have some prestige problems because of it later, but old Ironside was more worried about destroying the Mongol threat than about the honour of his word. He made war on the Horde three or four times, and at least twice on the Cumans, launching a new campaign some times even before his own wounds had healed. He pushed the Horde south of the mountains. Our Finnish horsemen have owned the northern steppes since then. We would have ridden South on their retreating tails, but the Khan went and converted to Christianity. Good move, the bastard. Nestorian. Not the most prestigious flavour of Christianity, but it did stop us.

The Cumans… well, they lasted a bit longer. My father Markus the Just, the son of old Ironsides was in no such hurry. He even let his noblemen do their own bits of war on them, as they routinely do in Northern Africa or Iberia. Between them, they slowly cleaned the heathens, and some remaining Orthodox holdouts, from the northeast.



He did some other interesting things, to be sure. Mostly what I've kept at for most of my life: snagging bits and pieces of the Holy Roman Empire when they bicker against the Kaiser, picking a bit at France.

He also laid the groundwork for our current situation in Ireland, where the King's son is a righful Stenkil. Some judicious marrying and behind-scenes slaughtering, in the Swedish tradition. No large troop movements that time.



All in all, he played by the rulebook. Which, after grandad Ironside, was mightily appreciated by all.
 
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The tale of the Fowler - Third part: Varangians go home

And so we arrive to my times, and eventually yours.

I am the second Bjorn to be Emperor of Scandinavia. By comparison with my glorious ancestors, my own doings were so puny that my people named me for my entertainment. Bjorn the Fowler. Facetious, but I can't complain.



After all, I fowled and raised buildings, but I did little to expand the empire or Christendom. Granted, I bothered the Kaiser in a friendly way, but I've left Bohemia and Hungary in peace, sort of. The moors and the Mediterranean seemed too far away to worry.

Until, that is, I usurped the Byzantine empire fourteen years into my reign. That did surprise a few people. Especially the Byzantines, I hear. Don't know why, considering who was my mother…



I must say I'm enjoying the double crown. So many of your compatriots converted to Catholicism so fast, and so many of the resisters were dumb enough to put their own necks into the noose. The Patriarch's been a helpful friend.



It's fun to have so many more titles to give to prickly courtiers. It's pleasant to watch the Bosphorus and the flow of ships, almost as many as at that immense hive of commerce, Gotland, and without the smoked mackerel smell.

I like exploring a new culture. For instance, one wonders at some Caucasian bishopric names.



I can even put up with the occasional petty revolt and uprising. There seems to be a lot of that these years.

The only thing I dislike is the Varangian Guard, and that's because they seem to dislike me so much. That, and the great pox I got a few years ago. One would think such a cultivated people would be more careful washing. Byzantine courtesans, forsooth.

But, as I said, you can't have it all, apparently.

These last few years have been pleasantly entertaining. In 1329 I finally got around to usurping Bohemia… and I enjoyed Duke Vitek's face as I turned and gave the title back to him. What a confused sour lemon.



In Greenland and Vinland, I now rule new lands beyond the sea, apparently, although besides some nice skins and feathers, all it's brought me is a reminder that I'm no longer fit to board a longboat. Still it's pleasant to see the Norse blood so alive.





I'll be leaving back for the North shortly; I'm tired and, fowler or not, have already left my mark in history. My son, the King of Ruthenia… already has Constantinople, and seems to like the place. He will have my problem as well: what can one do to match ancestors like ours?

I don't know. Maybe he'll try to noose the Byzantine kinglets back into the realm. Maybe he'll try to rebuild the Roman Empire… although that would mean really taking up the Kaiser, who's snagged up Italy. And Venice. And Jerusalem. Oh well. Maybe he'll fowl.

Who can tell?

As for you, Anastasios, you will remain at my court by the Baltic until you learn to appreciate the mists. You will inherit your father's titles, if his regent can defend them until he dies in prison.

You will decide whether to join my son or to oppose him. I won't be there to help either of you. But if you'll heed an old viking's counsel, you'll marry an Stenkil girl and ride the North winds instead of cowering from them.

Now, go. I wish to rest.

 

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The Good

Markus the Good was probably the most gifted ruler of Scandinavia. Also, he came to the throne a grown man, knowing the world and its wiles.



The life of Emperor Markus was marked by tragedy from the start. Specifically, from the start of update 1.1.1, which among its bugs makes it impossible for the emperor to cede titles to his heir beyond the first countship. Being a straighforward person, Markus gave the titles to his grandson, then killed the boy.



Getting away with this was bad for his soul, six of his seven sons, two of his wives, and several neighbors and bystanders. But I' getting ahead of myself.

What? Who am I, you ask?

The nerve! I could ask the same! Hmpf! Sit down, and pour the mead. I can't drink it, but I like the sound.



Markus had many sons; the second, Bjorn, was a very able soldier who petitioned to join the Varangian Guard. Granted, that meant only moving next door, but that bunch were always in the thick of battles. And he was honourably licensed with all his limbs and a longshipful of booty from conquests.

Not that there were too many of those, considering. Markus was a long-term person, mostly concerned with rebuilding the rickety Byzantine empire, and specifically with having it all convert to Catholicism. He got it halfway done.

Besides that, his early decade was mostly peaceful. He built up, raised sons and daughters, made friends and influenced people, for instance the Republic of Capua (holders of a chunk of North Africa and another of Italian coast), which became vassals in 1335. Peeved a bit the Gotlanders, who had it all for them until then, but there it was. It took him fifteen years to start seriously badgering his neighbors. By that time, grateful subjects already called him The Good.

It helped that his targets were not very controversial. In 1351 he launched a raid on the quarrelling Arabs and swiftly nabbed the Duchy of Alexandria. It was widely celebrated,although for sometimes surprising reasons. The Byzantines didn't quite understand they were now under Catholic rule.



Oh well.



It also helped that he had really bad luck with his targets: his ancestor the Quarreler would never have got that far if fabricating claims had been so hard back in the day. The Byzantine kinglets proved very adept at the dagger, and the Nordic chancellors had a real hard time.



Markus the Good was the calmest ruler of the Empire to date, and the most peaceful. He was also the most ruthless and probably evil. His massive strings of assassinations inside and outside Scandinavia, and his prowess at not leaving proof, was probably the last factor explaining his peaceful reign. And maybe even his fame. Who would dare call him a Fowler, for instance?

But he certainly was farsighted, and achieved religious and political consolidation. He spent in conversions ahead of armies, and he maneuvered his enemies into marriages that many would rue.

His death was not nice. But he was very old, and it happened behind closed doors.

 

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The Great (Part I): The going got tough

What? Is it that time again…? Ok, I'm coming, I'm coming.

Emperor Borkvard the Great was son to Markus the Good and a third daughter of the Kaiser. He was no genius, but he was the right man at the right time. And let me tell you, the place was tight indeed.

Borkvard was competitive. In his father's house, you literally had to do your best to survive: if you stopped watching the ball for a second, it could bounce you off a window. You had to be decisive, quick, and ambitious. That prepared him for what was to come. And if that's not enough of a spoiler, I don't know what is.

At the time he managed to do his father in, the Stenkils ruled the Empire of Scandinavia, comprising England, Scotland, Denmark, Gotland, and more than a thousand counties, lots of them ran by kinspeople. A cadet branch ruled independently in Ireland under Halsten the Cruel.



Nasty fellow. But our nasty fellow.

Not like the one that came out of the steppes just months into Borkvard's reign, in 1360.



Thank God, he fell on the lap of the Nestorians of the Golden Horde. Or so the Scandinavian Court thought.



He, and his horde. Which numbered almost one and a half hundred thousand riders. Riders that lived off the ground and were not affected by attrition. By 1362, having carved a huge chunk of Persia off the Mongols, Timur turned that massive army North into Scandinavia.

Borkvard's first defense would have made his father proud. He had the Iron Khan murdered. And then his son, who was almost as hard. But that didn't stop the hordes, and kind of peeved them.

Nordic armies were sent to face them, and (those that arrived) slaughtered without mercy, and without making significant dents in the horde. And while the horsemen gleefully rode among the Scandinavians, their vassal armies laid siege to the empire's lands.

So the Emperor changed tactics again. He eluded battle, but sent troop after troop to lead the Timurids into his lands, always melting into the ground just before battle, always farther and farther from the frontier…



… and the Timurid's general fell for it, maddened into murderous rage. No matter the size of the mosquito, he gave chase until it suddenly disappeared, and a new one prickled from a different direction. His army was led to Crimea and kept busy there.



Meanwhile, the massed armies of the Scandinavian kingdoms fell on the Timurid rearguard and massacred the defending levies. In less than a year, the lands occupied had been liberated and the Norse were conquering enemy land.

The Timurid Khan begged peace in July 1363. The most fearsome army the world had yet seen was unbeaten on the field, but their ruler was defeated...



… and, as they say, there was much rejoicing.

 

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The Great (Part II): All together now

Where were we...? Oh yes.

While Scandinavia and Christendom were celebrating, the Kaiser had died and our old enemies the von Luxembourg had grabbed the German throne.

Emperor Borvark objected. He lacked his father's nimbleness of fingers but had capable spymasters, and eventually caused a minority among the Luxembourgs in 1364, then launched a massive attack on the young German Emperor's homeland.



The Luxembourg cried "uncle" in February 1365, and Borvark assumed the Holy Roman Empire.



But he found it a poisoned trap. The German Empire was at the time Elective, and the Electors didn't appreciate being invaded. They smugly informed their new ruler that the Holy Roman Empire, and also Borvark's whole family lands, which were in it, were to be inherited by a young, worthy German lad. A Luxembourg, in fact.



Succession laws could be very hard to change in the Holy Roman Empire, and would require ten years in the throne in any case, so Borvark let the Reichstag enjoy the game while he pursued his: marriage with the eldest (and just very recently widowed) daughter of the son-less king of France, which he achieved in March 1365.



He also turned an unsuccesful eye to Hungary and its warring factions, but at the time found no way to pry it open. He had dozens of claims on it, but the quirks of the Holy Father Paradox 1.1.1 made it impossible to make war for all of them at the same time.



The Timurids advanced South and West, menacing the Christian lands of Levant. So in 1369, the Scandinavians returned the visit to the sons of Timur the Lame. With massive armies (Borvark had given frontier lands to his most powerful subjects), they subjugated the enemy capital before the Timurids could even bring their horse back from the Persian front.



He would repeat the expedition in 1380, when the then much larger Timurid Empire was no more effective at defense. But that was much later.

Before, he had to deal with a resurgent Ilkhanate, and even their Hasshishim friends. Family links (sisters make good tokens) proved disastrous as the Ilkhanate tried to turn them into claims to the throne, and to act on them.





While he faced down foreign enemies, he kept domestic friends in check. He expended fortunes in bribing and celebrating his dukes (which he preferred to having them killed or imprisoned), and he kept raising counterweights to the powerful Gotland merchants.



This policy allowed him to change the laws of the Holy Roman Empire. By 1372, he had the Reichtag admit to a raise in his authority. Not much later, the German throne had Primogeniture succession laws.



In 1378, he seized a vassal's claim to conquer the breakaway Duchy of Jerusalem. Which again had the Orthodox partying for a Catholic bishop.





His neighbors the Knight Templars became vassals due to kinship ties and good sense. Not like the pesky Hospitalers next door.



In March 1379 his father-in-law the king of France died, having disinherited Empress Judith of any titles, but leaving her a claim on the Frankish throne. Her sudden, mourned death (she was 52, much older than Borvark) left that claim in the hands of the her son Prince Gunnar, the Scandinavian heir.

Borvark betrothed his son to the heiress to the kingdom of Hungary, made him a Count (because he couldn't do more), and busily and bloodily set to work to create a minority rule in France: a minor who eventually was, indeed, an Stenkil.

But France was an Elective kingdom. In March 1381, Borvark declared war on behalf of his son.



One year later, Gunnar was king of France.



Only Aragon and Hungary were out of the Dinasty's rule in Europe.



Emperor Borvark launched a conspiracy against the only son of the King of Hungary, who stood on the way of prince Gunnar's affianced bride. Before seeing it to fruition, in March 1382, very suddenly, he died.



We will never know what else he could have achieved. We know the Scandinavian Empire mourned him.
 
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[Note from the editor]

The next (and last) chapters wlll be played as role-play again. Emperor Gunnar is a very young, slightly ambitious but not very able kind of person. He was King of France for a year, and briefly a simple Count before that. He's very aware of his limitations and rather in awe of his responsibilities. In short, he's a bit gun-shy to start with but would love to do something remarkable. Also he's ethically more like his father than his granda.

At the time of writing this, Gunnar is wondering what to do with his life (and trying to stabilise the realms, while being single and with female heirs).

The only interesting challenge I can think of would be to recreate the Roman Empire... and see what happens when a very Catholic Emperor of Byzantium reunites the old Orthodox Patriarchates, Rome included ;). It should be hard as there are no easy casus belli (pardon my klatchian) on the Pope, which would probably not appreciate the idea either... and Venice has cities all over the map.

Alternatively, it could be weird to try to usurp the Nestorian Mongol empires. I don't think it can be done, but who knows? What are the requirements?

World domination, if at all possible, looks like a lot of doomstack miniwars (inviting another round of uprisings all over the map) ... and the Timurids are too large to be killed off unless there is a Crusade (anybody knows how to get the Pope to call a Crusade in CK2?).

In short, suggestions to make the remaining years interesting would be appreciated, and (if at all possible) will be acted upon. As long as they don't involve separating the crowns :).

@Dovahkiing, thanks, I hope you liked the rest of the build-up. Nice AARs :).

Looking forward to your ideas, best regards,

Miguel

PS - If I have time enough, the Chained Monkeys (TM) will be making a comeback too.
 
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Cornelius Rex

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The first months of Emperor Gunnar were a time of unexpected celebration. The young ruler paved his way to the heart of his subjects with generous gifts of gold and titles, which increased both his subjects' goodwill and his own prestige. He was also swift and ruthless with popular uprisings, and a deft hand at interior decoration.

The Scandinavian Empire tottered briefly on the brink of political and financial collapse, but by early 1834 the tide was ebbing and the sand castle still stood. The Emperor felt confident enough to start throwing his weight around, just a bit.


From the Book of Handy Historical Quotations, page 345.

A new beginning (and a bout of digestion trouble)

The Council Hall at the royal palace in Sodermanland was a mixture of old and new, Norse wood carvings on the high ceiling beams, Byzantine gold mosaics and English tapestries on the walls, Iberian tessellated wood and Cossack worked leather on the furniture. The food on the table came from every corner of the world, from Africa to some definitely cheese-smelling place. Sharp-edged swords, axes and shields from every land shone among the icons and the huge oil lamps. The October weather outside was definitely Swedish.

The young Emperor looked around the room. The people gathered were as diverse as the weapons displayed on the walls. Faces were grave, but no longer gloomy. Duke Emelrich of Upper Burgundy, the Chancellor, seemed to have lost his ulcer on the way from Vannes, where he was still unsuccessfully trying to find a way to wrest the Duchy from the Prince Bishop. Marshall Baldr, the leader of the Varangian Guard, had lost the funny nervous twitching of the cheek. Duke Leon of Armenia, on the other side, had found some of his weight back at last, and the Steward was munching through the viands in a determined effort to recover his roundness. The Chaplain, Bishop Bror, had clearly stopped pulling at his own beard in anguish and was petting a large white cat on his lap.



The Spymaster, on the other hand, would not be coming. He was kept in the Levant by a bad case of steel between the ribs. Oh well. Omelettes and all that, as the Frankish said.

- Your recommendation, then?

- Sire - harrumphed Duke Emelrich -, the Council is unanimous. Gunnar af Zarghun is as devious as they come, paranoid indeed, ambitious and proud. He could be a very sharp knive in your hands. Loyal family, too, and nice patriotic name.

The Emperor nodded.

- I know the man. Sharp indeed, and his ambitions don't look like the ones that could get in the way. Have him brought in later and I'll swear him in as my new Spymaster. I need someone to keep my dear cousin Akhutai in check, in case he gets any ideas.



- Yes, sire.



- He gets on my nerves. As for the Timurids, Captain Baldr, any news?

- Not yet, sire. Your loyal vassals the Kings of Denmark and England are ready, and the hosts of Götland almost ready. The Scots should be there soon, apparently had some trouble with a punctured bagpipe and had to return home for a new one. The heathen are busy on the Levant front, blast them, they've torn another limb off the KIngdom of Jerusalem, and they don't seem to be preparing to ward us off.

- Better then to wait, my lord. - purred Bishop Bror, showing a fine collection of yellow ivory. - Those steppe chiites already lord it over several Catholic provinces. The Pope may call a Crusade any time now.

- I doubt it. - The Emperor tented his hands, broodily, and the crown slipped briefly onto his brow with a hint of lèse majesté. - As long as we hold Jerusalem, Alexandria, and most of the Testament lands, I'd be surprised if he took the trouble. And besides, while the Kingdom of Jerusalem exists, any Crusade would only help it back on its feet. No, - he concluded - we can't wait on the Pope. Proceed with Operation Noseblow as soon as the Scots arrive. And remember: have no mercy.

- No, sire.

- Kill as many of our soldiers as it takes, but have those provinces under heel before the spring. Or we will lose the war.

- Yes, sire.

- You may go. Elmerich, - the Emperor turned to the Chancellor, who swallowed fast half a chicken, while the Marshall scampered from the hall walking backwards, tripping a burning blazier over a nearby eunuch, who caught the bowl to avoid it clanging on the floor, and burned horribly in the oil before another eunuch put the fire out in an unexpected way, all in utter silence.



- I hear the Prince Bishop does not budge. Any hope of the Hospitallers accepting the vassalization proposal?.



- None yet, sire - the Duke put on a sad face. - … and besides they're at war again. If we could effect a regime change, and get a Stenkil kinsman in the place of Grandmaster Ubaldo… That worked with the Templars in your father's time.



- We'll set the Spymaster on it, but I'm not holding my breath. How about Venice?



- The Grand Mayor keeps his nose high in the air, sire. - The Chancellor shook his head. - Won't budge. And the Götlanders' poaching his last trading posts is not helping either.

- The hard way, then. Which reminds me… my good Bishop, how are preparations coming along for the wedding?

- Well indeed, sire, well indeed. The Magyar king has not backed out as we feared. Your vassals look forward to it as well.

- He's either senile or has a serious reason for it, and we'll eventually find out… I'm not complaining, anyhow. My father wanted Hungary in our realm, and I'll get it for my son. Whenever I get one, which I intend to be fairly soon. Don't smirk, gentlemen, it's unseemly. - The Emperor stood, and so did his Council. - Well, to work. You all know what you have to do.

- Yes, sire! - With enthusiasm and noise of chairs pulled back, spurs cleaving stone, and eunuch getting out of the way.

- Let's get it done, then. Off you go. And do try to avoid burning down the place on your way out, gentlemen.

- Yes, sire! - A bit more meekly.

- And call the Imperial Physician in, would you. It seems something in the food doesn't quite agree with me. It's this French cooking, can't get used to all the avec.








 

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A day at the gallows





"Good morning, Master Cenwulf."

"Eh? Oh! What?"

"Sorry to intrude, sir, but it's almost time. We should get ready."

"Ready, eh? And who the hell are you, if I may ask, what?"

"My name is Sigurd Jeeveson, and I will be your host this afternoon."

"Jeeveson, eh? My host, eh? But you're English!"

"Actually Saxon, sir. From Blimey-on-the-sea. Here, let me help you with these rags…"

"Lay off my clothes, you collaborationist!"

"As you wish, sir, but they're crawling with louse, and I've brought a selection of fine linen for you."

"Oh."

"Indeed, sir. May I?"

"Pray do, yes, master Jeeveson. And how come you're helping the foreign conquerors and all that, what?"

"Well, sir, you know how it goes. It pays the bills, and you do get to travel and meet interesting people… allow me that sleeve, I think it's the blood that's sticking it… here."

"Ouch! Blimey!"

"Yes, sir. On-the-sea. Charming place, if I say so myself. As I was saying, I've been traveling with His Grace for the last few years, and made the most extraordinary acquaintances."

"Travelled, have you? I bet he's needed your services."

"Indeed so, sir. He's very much an on-the-spot man, sir. You are very much the exception to his rule, if you will pardon my pun."

"Pun? Ah! Oh. Yes, I get it. Very droll."

"Thank you, sir."

"He must have had to deal with a lot of uprisings, what?"







"Well, certainly, sir. Three at a time more than once, indeed."

"Right ho! How many succeeded?"

"None to date, sir. Bloodily squashed and all that. Although if I may offer some consolation, he's always dealt rather fairly with the rebels. None of that Danish death-by-famished-goat tradition, or Byzantine blinding and castration."

"Well, that is some consolation."

"Yes, sir. Plain old Danish live evisceration and quartering is the norm."

"Augh."

"Lasts less than an hour, sir. The goats could take weeks, I hear."

"Bloody vikings."

"That they are, sir. On the other hand, peasant leaders are hanged by the neck until they die."
"How very demeaning. I hear hung people soil themselves."

"Yes, sir. Among other special effects, much appreciated by the public."

"And the nobles? I imagine there have been dozens of uprisings already. Pretenderships, protests for vassal rights and all that?"

"Well, sir, sorry to disappoint you, but no. The Emperor has discouraged them."

"I should think so! Bloody iron glove on the iron hand and all that, what?"

"No, sir… here, will you take the sponge and do that yourself, please, I wouldn't touch it with a a barge pole, no offence meant but there's layers of it, sir… "

"Yes, it forms a kind of crust after a while, what with the lack of proper amenities… ouch, I think the skin is coming off with it."

"And a bit of rotten flesh, by the smell of it, sir."

"Wouldn't be surprised. But you were telling me about the Emperor's dark tricks to discourage uprisings. Pray go on. Ouch."

"Well, sir, he's actually bribing them by the wagonload. As soon as a faction gets started, its members become the Emperor's most ardent friends. Not a single rebellion has reared its head."

"Oh blimey."

"Yes sir. On-the…"

"Yes, yes. How about the adventurers?"

"We've had a couple of visitors of that persuasion, yes, sir. On the other hand, quite a few Stenkils have gone against the Timurids in this time. Sadly none have come back."

"Too bad. That's my toe, if you don't mind."

"Oh, sorry, sir. Here, have it back."

"Thank you. And what about conspiracies?"

"All types, sir. Here, try these boots on, they're hardly used. Over one hundred and sixty plots at the same time at last count, sir. But the current Emperor has decided to let them all run. Says they're not worth the trouble."

"Rightful imprisonments and executions?"

"Very few, sir. He's taken to help lift excommunications and talk kindly to the rebels. I hear he has the most extraordinary effect at close quarters."



"I bet he uses torture, what."

"No, sir, he never calls me in. But he does wield a mean gold bag, he does. According to the census, only five Dukes are not ardent loyalists at the time."

"Blimey indeed."

"Certainly, sir. It's an specially enticing place during the shrimping season, if I may say. About the Emperor, he's freeing the insolvent and title-deprived now, too. All in all, the dungeons are down to less than two dozen people nowadays. It's almost a ghost town, sir. "



"Must be sad for you, what?"

"Indeed, sir. So many fond memories, every corner has its scream. Alas. Are you finished dressing up, sir? May I help you walk out?"

"I can hold up, disgusting Scandinavian lackey. No offence meant."

"None taken, sir. It goes with the job. Here, this way, please."

"After you, collaborationist running dog. No offence meant."

"None taken. But I must insist, sir. Regulations. This way I can stab you in the back if you run away."

"Well, we can't break regulations, can we? Not you, a sniveling, groveling tool of Imperial oppression, grinding the face of the peasantry with an iron spiked foot. No offence meant."

"None taken. Can't grind it so well these days, sir, what with them all being celebrating the Emperor's victories and capers. A shame, if you ask me, but there it is. And will you please lay off the descriptives, sir, you're making the guards nervous."

"Aha! And pray tell me, master Jeeveson, what else could they do to me now?"

"Well, sir, there's always the goats…"

"The… Ah! Yes. Well. Sorry."

"Indeed, sir. Up those stairs, if you please. We'll almost there."

"And tell me, master Jeeveson, what capers?"

"Well, sir, you know how people talk. The Emperor has a streak of earthy, human unpredictability that goes down very well with the common folk. Like when he personally belted a bunch of drunkards and brought them here by the ear."



"Goodness".

"Yes, sir. Apparently they were singing too loud in the middle of the night, and it was appreciated."

"And how were those victories? All against popular uprisings?"

"Oh, no, sir. The Empire's been at war against lots of interesting foes. There were the Timurids…"
"An exotic people, I hear."

"Definitely, sir. Less exotic nowadays, after our invasion we brought back a lot of hostages, but they do have a peculiar and interesting culture, if I may presume to give my opinion."



"Pray presume."

"Thank you, sir, I will. Here, let me open the latch… There were the Hospitaler knights from Gibelin, although they mostly played and mortified... and there were the Venetians, sir, a prickly lot. The Empire's pushed them out of Italy at last."





"Not many enemies more, what, with the Hungarians finally inside the tent pissing out? Did he take on the Egyptians?"



"Sadly not, sir. Nor the Malians. The public bets on them before every Keynote, but it's been all rumors up to now, we know he's up to something but it's hard to guess what. But we've had a lot of very exciting visitors. There were several independent city-states and independent kinglets burrowing inside the Empire, and they're being brought in. The rulers often came here, sir, same way you're going."





"Well, I wouldn't call some country doge 'exciting' exactly…"

"Oh, but sir, you should have seen the Hasshishims! They had a secret outpost in the Levant, and it took years to find and rout it. An exciting chase, it had all the populace listening to the travelling bards. Their Emir only gave up when a Scandinavian army was at the gates of his main mountain fortress. An impressive place, too, even from afar."



"The mountain views?"

"And the weed smoke when they burned the fields, sir. Definitely in a class of its own."

"Blim… I mean, I don't wonder."

"No sir, you've surely seen it all. Here we are. Please put your feet on the trap, that's it, well done. Will sir be wearing the hood today?"

"No, I'll leave those modern fashions to dandyfied Nottingham archers like cousin Robin. Just a shroud for the eyes, if you will."

"Most discerning, sir, indeed. Elegance in simplicity. Are you ready?"

"Ah… just one question. Where has the Emperor decided to put my remains?"

"At Blott-on-the-Landscape, sir. Very scenic place, I believe. Old Norse worship place of some sort, apparently."

"Blimey."

"No, sir. Blott. Ready? Here we go."

[Twang. Swoosh.]

"Ggggg…"

"Yes, sir. Very well put."
 
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Cornelius Rex

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Sorry for the wait, I've been playing to the end of the game... and confirmed that after Gunnar the Glorious comes the End :D. Plus a lot of other strange things in the game. Maybe because it was migrated, but...

I've also found a lot of things I'd like to ask other players about, but that would be kind of a spoler now :). Just as a curiosity, by game-end there are no Catholic heretic counties on the map... and the only Orhodox counties are Nestorian.

Now, it's just a matter of putting several hundred pics into a story, not too long hopefully. But the Glorious had such a long and turbulent reign that it may be a bit difficult...

Due to the lack of comments :) I don't know if there's any preference for gameplay, attempts at humor, or narrative... I plan on continuing with Jeeveson and the Council.

Regards,

Miguel
 

Cornelius Rex

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Who you gonna call...?

"Good morning, master Cenwulf". The voice in the dark made Cenwulf jump in his straw, scared as a shy rabbit. "Rise and shine!"

"Eh? Oh? What? Not again! Wait, does it mean it was all a dream?"

"Oh, no, sir!" The voice rumbled good-naturedly. "Not at all. You definitley hung."

"Then I'm dead?".

"I think the technical term is 'hanged to within an inch of your life', master Cenwulf. Someone decided you could be useful after all, but we could not spare you the exemplary hanging. It'd be bad for the children and we'd have to return the ticket money, too. You see, my office needs some help, and His Grace has loaned you to me. But wait, I'll call for a torch… Guards!"

"Yes, sir!"

"No! I mean, what, are you drafting me as a collaborationist? Me?"

"Here, sergeant, put your light in that hook. Master Cenwulf needs help to see things right, I think."

"Chuckle chuckle, sir. Call me if you need something else, will you?."

"Oh, definitely, sergeant."

The dancing light of the torch showed a windowless, small room, almost a hole in the ground, part built and part excavated and thoroughly covered in greenish slime and rotten straw. The straw twitched visibly. Cenwulf shivered in retrospect and looked at the tall, portly, dignified and otherwise hateful figure that was also observing him.

"Now, wait, just because you have me in this dungeon it doesn't mean you can make me a turncoat, you know, what?"

"Oh, no, sir, I wouldn't dream to."

"Then what…?"

"I was hoping you'd decide to turn yourself into a live turncoat, sir. Instead of a buried-alive rebel."

"Buried alive? But, I mean, blimey!"

"I see you remember my hometown, sir. Most appreciated. And yes, alive. Guards refuse to step in here even to stab at miscreants. Apparently the stains on the floor have a life of their own."

"And, er, just what would I have to do? Carry the rope, make the knots, deal out the wisecracks…?"

"No, sir, all that needs special qualification, if I may be so blunt. No, the hangman's office has a little-known department called 'off-site correctives', sir, and that's where we need a bit of help that you are very qualified for."

"Indeed? And just what does this do, then, master Jeeveson, if I may ask?"

"Certainly. By the way, there's a huge spider on your elbow, right, that's it, well done, sir. I see we have you well measured."

"Arrrgh, what a stinking mess. Wonder what that thing had eaten?"

"They feed on the insects that feed on the worms that feed on the prisoners dying in this room, so it's all good protein, sir. Probably healthy, too. But to business. The 'off- site department' is in charge of conducting officially sanctioned disposals of foreign dignataries, without the hassle of having them come for a visit."

"Ehm…"

"We perform our services with discretion and reasonably good taste, using the minimum of force and causing the minimum of collateral damage. Not to mention expenses."

"But I don't think I…"

"Of course this jobs has strong requirements. One must be able to travel far and fast, hide among the local gentry, operate independently to pick and deal with one's quarry. One must be effective, and certainly not squeamish. A large part of our job attends to the needs of under-age dignataries and their families".

"But, I mean, blimey…!"

"No, sir, never there, at least not yet. It's normally in foreign parts. His Grace has a thing against doing off-site work on-site, as it were."

"But you want to turn me… are you telling me… is this… you… master Jeeveson, are you talking assassinations, by Jove?"

"Oh, pooh, pooh, sir! Why use those fancy foreign words when we have our own? Hassashinations indeed. I prefer 'executions'. Or 'disposals'. 'Disappearances' is not bad, of course, except too many times the customer is still there at the end of the job, only in several bits and pieces…"

Cenwulf bit his lips, and spoke very calmly at first and then heatedly.

"And pray tell me, master Jeeveson, what makes you believe I'd be qualified or even interested in the job? Why would I turn into a tool of oppression, tyranny and general bloodletting? It's just this kind of collaborationist that we will hang higher from the tree, comes the Revolution!"

"Oh, sir, about qualifications, your work during the uprising was quite the eye-opener! You managed to infiltrate in several cities, and to slaughter whole oppressor families, dogs included, without getting caught. And you rose to lead the uprising, which I understand took at least as much nimble knifework."

"Eh, well…"

"And about the interest, you see, I think you might like to wait for the Revolution alive and wielding a knife on foreign aristocracy."

"But…!"

"Especially considering the alternative."

"Oh, well, blimey…"

"No, sir, not Blimey. This hole. Locked up. No light, no food unless you can catch the spiders before they catch you, and all the water you can lick off the wall."

"Sigh."

"I thought, so, sir. This way. I'll get you another set of clean clothes."
 
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1388-1392 - The red tide and the white robes

[Interlude. Cheapside, London]

"There goes a man who could spill blood, yes sir, I don't mind admitting it".

"Cheers to that, sir".

"Bottoms up, Jeeveson."

The couple lounged at a street-side tavern, downing jars of warm English beer at the pass of a burial procession. It was solemn and impressive, and followed by the masters and apprentices of the Butcher's Guild. Their Grand Master had recently passed away due to a disagreement with a meat hook.

"What a year, Jeeveson, what? To think that when you recruited me His Grace was in bed and we were bored to death."

"Indeed, sir. So much work, so much stress. I'm glad to be home again."

"Pity the holidays are so short".

[End of interlude. Extract from Master Cenwulf's memories (unpublished)]

1388 was the year I started work for the Oppressor. Not Jeeveson, the other oppressor. The Emperor.

By that time, he had been six years on the throne, most of them busy squelching righteous popular revolts and greasing the pockets of the noble, not to mention saving the ass of his father-in-law in his own revolts.

The Red Tide of the Timurids had already swallowed all of Persia, including almost all of the Golden Horde and the Ilkhanate. Just as Jeeveson had told me, the Emperor had been busy, trying to consolidate ahead of them. But it was too slow: finding casus belli under the carpets, convincing, badgering, bludgeoning, and smoking the Hashashims out of their hiding holes by the sea.

The Red Tide just kept coming, and their levies grew stronger every year. It was a matter of time. So the Emperor tried a bit of that pre-emptive attack that runs in the family.



It worked, but not enough. And eventually the Timurids reached the Mediterranean. Only the Duchy of Mosul and a smattering of Christians held up. Indeed they managed to snag a Scandinavian province from under the Templars without war. By 1387, the Emperor was pestering the Pope to call a Crusade, and getting nowhere.

They also had a lot of quarrels about Church and State: the Oppressor, being Emperor of the West and the East, wanted to rule Rome, but the Pope laughed himself sick at the idea. Apparently he said some unkind things about lacking a male heir, too.



Then the Oppressor read a book. Books are those big square things monks and schismatics carry about to throw at each other, and apparently some of them have funny pictures. This one had funny ideas.



And he started doing funny things. In '89 he came up with an idea that most nobles voted straightaway, as there's nothing they like more than pissing the priests.



To confuse matters a bit, he sent the Department on a little tourism. We dropped a stone from the Rialto Bridge, very unintentionally, and so Venice had a new Doge, a new war, and (shortly) one province less in Greece.



I keep telling Jeeveson that it's absurd that the Oppressor can only make war on a claim at a time, especially when others can make it on him for several, but there you have it. 'Football is football', he says. Whatever that is, I'm not complaining, I like my job.



Anyway, that and the summer rebellions kept people distracted and by June he had secured the votes.



So in 1390 he did the same thing: when we were all happily trouncing each other at the Hippodrome, he was busy.



No, no that kind of busy. I mean the other kind.



The hair-raising, Christendom-shaking, what-was-he-thinking kind. February 7th 1391, the day we got an Antipope.

I met him that same day, a young twerp of an Italian bishop, still dazed at the news and the handshake. Well, having an Antipope can be nice. It gets you money, and protects our nobles from the blizzard of excommunications coming our way.

But the Oppressor wasn't done yet. That evening he sent us to visit the new murals at the Vatican, with a new toy invented by Jeeveson. It's a kind of varnish that sadly is very bad for the skin, and for everything else that isn't metal. We may inadvertently have left just a tiny bit on the rails in front of the altar, where the Pope grabs for kneeling…



Well, yes, OK. We killed the Pope. Sort of. It was almost an accident. Besides, technically for us he was the Anti-pope.

We didn't get caught, but we were seen. And the varnish had caught and eaten Jeeveson's nun disguise, so they saw his face among other things. The Swiss Guards took it badly, and their new boss didn't appreciate the service either. They ran after us just up to the frontier, where they were served with a severe notice.



Yes, you got it right. First he created an Antipope. Then he killed the one in Rome. And then he declared war on the successor to usurp the Throne of St Peter for his Antipope.

The Oppressor, I mean, not Jeeveson.



And he carried it through, not relenting even when (after shaking Jeeveson by the hand) he almost went the way of Sissinius...



One wonders what was in the friggin' book.

God didn't seem to take it too badly, and got Her Imperial Highness heavy with child for a third time, and the whole Empire prayed that it would be a male at last. With the probable exception of a few loyalist bishops.



And finally…



January 24th we had a new Pope. Official.



And a new province: the new Pope joined the Empire, just as the Oppressor had sought.



… and again, this confused the Orthodox in Constantinople no end.



[Intermission. Still in the curb-side bar, jars half-empty]

"Remember the hashahahhh… hashissshhh… hashshsiiii…"

"Bless you".

"… blimey, the bloody lot of weed-crazy bastards we found trying to return to the mountains of Archa?"

"Oh yes, I remember, sir. The sentinels were so blown that they confused you with a mountain goat."

"Don't remind me. Had to run like the dickens. Aren't they supposed to have a whole lot of houries or whatever's the name? What's their business with mountain goats?"
 

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[Editor's note: I confess to a certain sadness at the lack of comments :), the AAR will go on but I'm sorry it does not seem to interest more. Suggestions appreciated.]

The Will of Justinian.

[Interlude. Inside of a rather posh hostel, Byzantium.]

The door to the rooms opens and six people stumble in, four girls holding two men reasonably vertical. Then they all cascade onto the pillow-filled living room. The girls squeal, and the thin man in a beard sighs contentedly.

"Boy, that was a party, what?"

"You can say that again, master Cenwulf."

"Right ho. Boy, that was a party, what?"

Groans all around.

"I gather so, yes. Probably the largest ever held in this debauched city, and that's saying something. Isn't it uplifting to know that you have done your best to bring about such a desirable consummation of affairs?"

"Blimey! You still talk like that when you're up to the gills? Or do you need another pint?"

"Both, of course". The hangman smiled genially and went for materials. "Ops, we're dry!"

"Don't worry, old man. I think I know where the Patriarch keeps the wine for Mass... After me!"

And they trundled out.

[End of interlude. Extract from Master Cenwulf's memories (unpublished)]

You have to give the Oppressor something: he thinks vertically. Everything he does kind of stacks up. Until it falls, at least.

Our very own Pope Boniface was still timidly starting to warm the seat of the Holy See, and uncommonly happy with the Emperor, and the populace still having fun in Byzantium and Rome, when we were at war again.




The Venetians again, this time for a nondescript city in the Adriatic. The services of the Department were not required, since the Venetians had changed the Doge themselves, so we did a spot of tourism instead and Jeeveson taught me the basics of shrimping. It's quite the extreme sport, done right.

Then the Emperor sprang a new surprise. Or the Empress did. Spring it, I mean. We all hope the Emperor was involved, but she took charge of the springing part. And it was a boy at last. In March, a new son of Stenkil was born, and they called him Bordvark like his great ancestor.

It's the problem with Oppressors. You give them half a chance, and they breed and multiply. Lots of mopping up to do, come the Revolution, what.



A direct male heir changed a lot of things, and nobles fell on each other leaving the factions and showing their appreciation for the dynasty. Whole traffic jams ensued, and much fun was had by all, as Jeeveson put it.

In June the Emperor himself shared the news with the Venetians, taking with him a huge fleet and heading for the Venetian mainland. Which, as everyone knows, has been in North of Africa for a generation or three.



In the spirit of joyous celebration, he laid siege to Tripoli and filled it with festive bonfires. After he did the same with a couple of cities more, the Venetians got the message and surrendered.



You might wonder why he went to all that trouble for that hamlet hanging on a cliff, or why the Venetians hung on so hard. I did, and asked. And Jeeveson showed me a document hung in the Hagia Sophia cathedral: the Will of some old bird called Justinian.

It lists the lands that he decreed should be part of the Empire. The Byzantines believe that you just have to hold the complete duchies and bang! the Roman Empire will be back. Which is good, apparently. It will stop male hair loss and make the Blues win every race or something like that. Apparently the Oppressor found out and, being somewhat anxious to outdo his Oppressor ancestors, decided to try.



So, when Brinje fell in December '92, I knew we would be back: there was another Venetian statelet buried in Croatia.



In any case it was a way to pass the time, as there was little else to do. The Aragonese Queen, Viscavlara the Just, was not only family but also refusing to join the Empire. The Prince Bishop of Brittany kept aloof. The king of Hungary was his father in law. Ireland was in the dynasty, if not in the family. No claims to be had on the few Christians left in the Levant. No fun at all in Christian lands.

Then, in 1393, and without proper professional assistance, the old man up and dies. The King of Hungary, I mean. And 'lo and behold', as Jeeveson said, the throne is in the hands of our Empress' little brother. Who gets a bright, new claim on it.





So, things looked that they'd get busy for us, and they did. In between sorting out noble infighting (he got a clerk just to fill in the forms to lift excommunications) and cruelly quelling rightful popular uprisings in the damnedest parts, he found time to call us in.





Getting to the Doge cost us a lot of money, but he was a discreet person. He didn't shout when he found us in his room. Didn't want to wake up the children, he said. Nice last words, when you think of it. Stiff upper lip, show the right spirit, and all that, what.

The war for that other city in Croatia was so short and boring that they forgot to include it in the history books. 'Sic transit gloria mundi', said Jeeveson, or words to that effect. I don't think anybody remembers the name of the place. Although it did have a nice ring to it.



And then, oh yes, the party got started.



That's when they began to call him Gunnar the Glorious.

Over at the Court, in Sweden, people smirked at the news and the title. But let me tell you, down here at Constantinople the crowds were unbelievable. And the silence when the Oppressor rose to speak. And the bedlam after that. Jeeveson says he doesn't remember everything he did that night, and the three days of partying that came after.

I, of course, do, but I'm not telling.

[Interlude. Interior of Hagia Sofia, huge din of laughter and music, the intoxicated Orthodox Patriarch heads an enormous, twisting conga line across the place. Somewhere near the head, two Saxons bounce and lift their legs in different directions.]

"… hey! And when did you say we have to report back, Jeeveson? … hey!"

"… ta-ta ta-ta rá rá, hey!"

"What?"

"Hey!"

"Oh, blimey... Hey!"
 

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Queens and Crusades

[Extract from Master Cenwulf's memories (unpublished)]

Things were not looking as well in other parts. The Shiite in Egypt had beaten back the Hospitallers, and the Shiite Timurids had gobbled up the Nestorian Ilkhanate and were terminally chewing on the Kingdom of Jerusalem and its Christian tributaries, which kind of spoiled the mood.



Other rulers also thumbed their nose at the restoration of the Roman Empire. Some were downright unpleasant in refusing the Oppressor's advances and attempts at inventing claims.



The Hungarians were so disrespectful they rebelled on the Oppressor's brother in law.



The Oppressor rather agreed with them, saying young King Borisz was a shame to the family and a brat without manners, since and had refused vassalization, so he claimed the throne for his wife the Empress. It did cost him a bit of prestige, but hey, he was the Restorer of the Empire now. Pater Patriae and all.



Armies got raised, packed and sent to the trenches. I was ready to join the butchering, practice is practice after all and one must keep a limber arm, when Jeeveson said to drop everything. We weren't heading to Hungary yet.



Apparently the Kingdom of Jerusalem had finally given up the ghost, as well as every county. The Empire joined in the Crusade, together with a lot of Scandinavian vassals and half the opposition in the war for Hungary, which made things all the merrier. Except for the Pope, who went and died. Sic transit and all that. He was a brief Pope, but good on the whole. At least he stayed bought.



One would expect the Oppressor to send his armies to the Levant, seeing as those were the lands to be conquered. But no. He went for the back door.



That's why one is a resurrected hired trash disposal operative, and the Oppressor is the one doing the oppression, I guess. It worked, though.



In Hungary he didn't fight the usual way, either. There were two factions fighting against his brother King Borisz the Brat, and one would expect the Oppressor to enjoy the help. Again, no. One of the rebels was doing too well for the Oppressor's liking.





So he sent us in a fast trip. Too fast to do things properly, if you ask me, but in the end we got him with the trick of the escaped luggage. Yes, the luggage was full of clothes with my name on them, but we were in a hurry. I couldn't stop to change the name tags, what.

So this is how things looked in July '94.



In August the Brat caved in, but things didn't change much. The Empress asked for 'a few little armies, Glorious dear' to keep her new rebellions in check, so the Scandinavians stayed put.



And of course, the righteous indignation of the masses found its expression. Uprisings came two at a time at some points.



Alas, none prevailed. The Revolution will come some other day, with more prepared leaders.

The Crusades weren't a lot of fun, if you ask me. The Oppressor's armies in the Caucasus did most of the sieging, while the Levant was hardly fought over, the Timurids preferring to have it out with the weaker armies and neighbors. They took the time to invade the Egyptian bits, which was slightly absurd on the face of it.



The Emperor then proceeded to mop up the counties in the old Kingdom of Jerusalem.



And eventually signed the peace without having put a foot on the Holy Land. He didn't get a lot of it in exchange for the blood of the Oppressed, either, but if you look at it the right way, he had got rid of the pesky Crusader states who didn't want to become vassals. In a kind of messy roundabout way. Now Kerak meekly vassalized in exchange for a pittance, and the Hospitallers were on their last leg. Everything else in the Levant was infidel land. If you're a hungry soul-less Oppressor, that's got to sound good.

Meanwhile Jeeveson and I were doing target practice with the luggage, bothering the prisoners with new card games, and generally bored to tears. That is, until February '97, when the Empress goes and pops up a new male descendant. That made two girls and, interestingly, two boys. Jeeveson kept talking about the fun of killing crown princes, what with pillow wars and acid baths and ingeniously poisoned sweets, but I hadn't had a chance yet, so I thought things were looking up.



Instead we got sent to Hungary to do try a little peacekeeping. It involved the discreet removal of several faction leaders, or failing that, the disappearance of the claimants they were backing. We tried both options and several methods, and learned a lot about reptile nasal insertion and the side effects of excessive sneezing. Beats the luggage trick, and it's always good for a laugh.

Not that the locals laughed. But at least they stopped slaughtering each other. One would have said they liked it, what.
 
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No one, no one stops my party

[Interlude. Discreet, spartan hall behind the Throne room, Imperial Palace. Maps cover the walls, tables and floor. The Emperor is with his Council, and alternatively pierces his Marshall and Chancellor with a most Imperial glare.]

"You're telling me it's too late?"

"It seems so, Sire."

"Because of the money? We are raking in more than three hundred talents a mont, and my warchest holds more than thirteen thousand."

"Because of the number of wars, sire. We can't usurp their empires and kingdoms, nor forge claims. We have tried. So we're stuck with Holy War as a casus belli. You can launch holy wars only for a duchy at a time, and they have more than a dozen in all. If you wait ten years of truce between each… you won't live to see it. If you don't wait, you will have serious trouble. If you raise levies for every war, it will take you years to gather them and your vassals will revolt before they reach the enemy. But worse, Sire, you will run out of men. You don't have the time to wait sieges, but need to assault, and the heathen lands left are old and very fortified. And you have huge levies, but they won't survive the travel to the front and the fight, attrition will get at them crossing deserts and mountains. If you use mercenaries, you will run through all of them and it will probably not be enough even if we can pay them."

"And," interjected the Spymaster, "don't forget Europe. Aragon, Brittany, Hungary, Ireland. The last two could eventually end in the family, but not in your lifetime. Unless we take some measures that would make you look, well…"

"Right. So I don't have the men, the goodwill or the time to take the peace of Rome to the known world, is that it?"

The Councilmen looked at their shoes and shuffled their feet. Eventually the Spymaster whispered:

"I'm afraid so, Sire".

The ruler stood straight in wrath, looking as Julius Caesar must have looked at the crossing of the Rubicon. Only with more hair. His eyes seared the cautious old men in the room, who kept studying their footwear.

"Watch me", he said, and left.

[End of interlude. Extract from Master Cenwulf's memories (unpublished).]

Our work in Hungary took a while, as they seemed to have a huge supply of claimants and pissed nobles, but we eventually finished them off. Not always at the first attempt, and not in the most absolute silence. There was that one who almost escaped the bear trap but got caught by the unmentionables… what an impressive, colourful voice. Pity nobody else heard him in the middle of that forest. And the one trapped on a church steeple, who refused to fall off for a full day, pleading and weeping and denouncing the Emperor's dark minions while his vassals tried to find a way to rescue him. Made quite a splash going down, too. Or the one who found the cannibal beetles in his food just a bit too late, he was noisy as well. But, as Jeeveson put it, who the dickens cares what the Hungarians think of us, what? It's not as if there were many left when we finished, anyway…





The Oppressor didn't miss us much, he was playing with his new toys. The Crusader states were no longer in the way, but two old Orthodox kinglets had resisted him for lack of claims (they didn't accept 'because' as a reason, most surprisingly). Now, he had bright new means of oppression: the Imperial Reconquest casus belli.



Of course, that was only half the fun. Since he had not technically declared the Crusade, there was no truce and he could just declare his own Holy War in the Timurids.



And just for good measure, on the Shia Caliph of Egypt. They boy ruler had just wrested the Sinai from the Hospitallers and was defending it from the Timurids, so complained loudly.

The war went as scheduled, mostly, although not everything were victories.



Running three wars and the usual number of huge revolts in strange places, all at the same time, was sometimes confusing, and also the enemy got an inordinate number of good generals. Ours were usually better, but for some reason that didn't often count.





Thankfully, as Mrs Jeeveson says, size matters. Army size, in this case. In December '97, cities started to fall.

The bad news is, some other things did. And we were not involved. The Spymaster always maintained he wasn't, either, but since the Emperor was no longer monitoring the couple of hundred simultaneous plots going on, he erred on the side of prudence.



He also brought the Imperial Heir, Prince Bordvark, into his wing of the palace, and took charge of his education.



In April '98 the Caliph and the Timurids gave up the Sinai. In July, the Frisian rebels gave up the ghost (Master Jeeveson himself took care of the ceremonies and played a bit with the new elastic ropes) and her Imperial Highness the Queen of Hungary brought us some new ones. Rebels, I mean.



The Emperor refuse to bother his troops and sent me instead. I opted for the falsely tame wooden rocking horse, with worked sweetly, if not as expected by the customer.



In the epidemic of sudden natural deaths that surrounded us, the Court Chaplain had a slippery incident and was substituted. Who better to guide the souls of the Empire, the Emperor said, than the one set up by the Lord? And so he up and drafted the Pope himself for the job.



A right pleasant man he was, too. No snootiness about him. Always ready for a laugh and happy to exchange tips about poisons and their effect on skin color, for instance. My kind of chap.

In late September '98 the Timurids finally realized the Oppressor's troops weren't going away on their own, and let go of the duchy of Damascus.



In the confusion, the Venetians somehow managed to snag a bit of our recently-acquired coast from under the noses of several armies. Said noses were almost cut and pickled when the Oppressor found out, but thankfully he was busy yelling our troops on.



… planning retaliation when he found out who was behind the assault on his family and Court.



Helana Queen of Ingland, no less. A kinswoman, married as usual to a kinsman who stood to inherit a bit too much. Also apparently wore a wig, had violet eyes and wore square-tipped shoes.

[Interlude. The Emperor's study. Gunnar the Glorious is pacing up and down in the flickering light, two nondescript men kneel in front. One of them is rather stately, the other wears a goaty beard.]

"… be ready. The war will end soon, and I want your teams to be on the spot to act just as soon as the carrier pigeons arrive."

"Yes sire".

"Any doubs?"

"No sire".

"No delays, no qualms, no considerations. Do not worry about the expenses or about being seen. Just do it."

"But… yes, Sire".
 

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Quality time with the family

[Extract from Master Cenwulf's memories (unpublished)]

And so, our days and our nights filled with work and adventure. It was a world of cloak and dagger (or flowerpot disguise and inaccurately wielded mallet, as the case may be).







The Oppressor did not mind what foreigners thought of him, so when traveling abroad we started to wield more effective and less discreet weaponry. At one time, Jeeveson's baggage included a piano, a box of carnivorous wasps, and his collection of bear traps. I tried to replicate the killer goats of ancient Italian-Danish tradition but there was some confusion and I ended up with a bunch of very naughty sheep. Not the same thing at all, although you wouldn't want to be locked in a room with them. They were naughty.

So, between adventuring upstarts attacking the Emperor (or looking like they might be thinking of someday attacking him, if the weather agreed) and Hungarian rebels attacking the Empress, we were busy like bees and almost missed the end of the wars.



It was easy not to notice: it took the Oppressor barely a week to launch the next. A small one, just to clear the Crusaders off at last, but there it was.



They needed a spot of quiet. What with wars, rebellions, uprisings, sieges, slaughter, piano-falling and wholesale plotting, t's hard to understand how the Emperor and the Empress managed to get a family life. In '98 they relaxed a bit, went to the coronation of the King of Cyprus, and took the time to raise a mean, ambitious future Oppressor… and even took care of making a little spare (I hear they hoped for an Oppressorette). Some people do manage to balance work and family life, apparently. And it was a good idea, too, seeing how people accidentally died in the Palace.





Can't congratulate them on the choice of names, though…



And of course not everybody was happy with the idea of more princes to share the booty. They started to compete for their parent's attention.





Which I could have told them was not a good idea, but we live to hope. Learning is for those that survive. It was sad to think that most of those boys would not be around when the Revolution came.

I would have liked to hang them so much, the noxious brats. You should have seen what they did to my sheep.
 
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Cheats, deaths, viking orgies and generally small wars

[Extract from Master Cenwulf's memories (unpublished)]

The war for the Hospitaller lands was so uneventful our Marshall died of natural causes, to his great chagrin. He was practically the only Norse-religion believer left (it was part of the job requirements of leading the Varangian Guard), and he took it seriously. There was a longship-burning ceremony, an open alfresco dinner and an all-night orgy in viking costumes. Old Baldr had never been so popular in his life.



And we would eventually have gone the same way, bored to death (or partied to death to kill the boredom), if the Oppressor hadn't been kind enough to send us some lively, feisty company. The matriarch of the Doria family spent the while with us and taught us quite a few tricks. Card tricks mostly, thankfully, but tricks is tricks when you're waiting for your ruler to finish his half-sabbatical and get on with seriously Oppressing the world.



Which didn't happen until the year 1400 was well on its way… Donna Doria was sick of Jeeveson's jokes by then, and even the naughty sheep failed to entertain her.





The East of the world in 1400 looked like this, with Tripoli, Cirenaica, Egypt, Venice, the duchy of Mosul, the Timurids and the Golden Horde. And one little rebel blob just there in the middle.



The West had a few holdouts like Hungary, Aragon, Brittany, and Stenkil-held Ireland. Too much was not blue on the map, and the Oppressor, fresh from a bout of family life, set to correcting it:







And of course cruelly repressing the year's crop of righteous uprisings that etcetera…





Proving that he was able to oppress both at home and abroad, he also managed to increase the family. A girl this time.



The small wars went well, so smooth that we started sending feelers to Aragon. The Timurid Emperor, feeling neglected, threw a tantrum. Which was silly if you ask me, but there it was.





The Timurid was so angry that he jumbled things and claimed half the list of counties in the world. The Oppressor didn't mind the new war, but he was really pissed at the declaration. It was polite and affectionate enough, but it was also pretty extensive. As the Glorious delicately put it, why the bloody hell could the frigging Timurid claim a dozen counties at the same time and he couldn't claim all of their duchies in one go, I'm asking you, eh, eh, answer if you can, you damned useless old goat of a chancellor? You can't, can you? Ah well, then you probably don't need that tongue.

An enigma hidden in a mystery. Even a paradox, probably. Not that it did them any good.



But it did put him in a murderous mood. Which was stoked when his dear and prolific Empress, the queen of Hungary, died of "natural causes". Seeing how many enemies she had, it was indeed only natural.



But if those Hungarian rebels had realised what they had coming, they would not have tried to get a child ruler. Not that way.