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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

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Miscreant

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Prologue

November 5, 1189​

Neptune had raised cold wind from the north that was beating a light rain into the sails. Water struck canvas in persistent muted rhythms, echoing the drums from the camps of King Richard the Lion-Hearted, fading into the horizon off the stern. Flames played against the night sky above Messina and cast wavering shadows across sullen faces of Sicily's sons and daughters. Weary admirals of Tancred's fleet nodded grimly in consolation with wizened generals of King William the Good's army. These men had fought generations worth of wars together in a few short decades. First Greece and Cyprus, then Saladin and a horde of heretics. Germans from the Holy Roman Empire.

Tonight was neither the first nor the last time they would watch men die and cities burn. But tonight was supposed to be filled with music instead of flames; tears of joy in place of cries of anguish. Tonight was supposed to be peace and celebration. Richard's sister had married William, and it was thought that this alliance between England and Sicily would allow both Kingdoms to stand off against France and Germany, bringing a peace to their children that neither realm had ever known. On his way to the Holy Land, the Lion-Heart had stopped in Messina to celebrate. It would turn out that his Lion-Heart did not extend to finance, as a dispute over his sister's dowry (and perhaps a bit too much wine) threw Richard into a frenzy and he sacked and burned the city of his would-be ally.

Fewer than a dozen ships had escaped, running into the embrace of their beloved Mediterranean. Chief amongst the group was a hulk Christened Salacia, who had seen her captain grow from a Greek pirate to a Sicilian privateer and now – as of this evening – a landed noble. Margaritone di Brindisi, “the new Neptune” struggled to keep the joy from his face. Yet his eyes twinkled with the reflection of his wife and son, who he had left on the island of Cephalonia. Count palatine in name only, Margaritone had long ago realized that Cephalonia was an untenable holding against the Byzantine Empire. War holdings were transient and no true place to plant roots. Tonight, though, he had gained something worth the celebration his compatriots had been expecting. Taking one last glance at the Sicily he was leaving behind, the former pirate withdrew to his quarters to write his wife of his good fortune.

My father tilled the soil of another man's land. His son – my brother – served as steward for another man's coin. I raised my sword to fight another man's war. But our children will know the pleasures of court and country. Their children's children will sit the thrones of Kings and Queens. And their children's children will live to hear the name Brindisi ring from every corner of the Christian world. For today I have land. A rock to call my home. A castle in the restless sea. Malta.

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Miscreant

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Book I – Margaritone di Brindisi
Chapter I – Seeds of a Dynasty (1192 - 1199)


Following the exodus from Messina, Margaritone made one final visit to Cephalonia. There he loaded his wife Marie, son Gugliemo, and daughter and granddaughter both named Maria – along with various courtiers and the small treasury he had collected – onto Salacia for her final voyage to the Castle Sliema on the isle of Malta. Once there, he arranged for Chancellor Ioulianos of Ithaca and Bishop Aurelio of Lefkas – serving as Court Chaplain – to visit Mayor Abbondio of Mdina and Bishop Ambrogio of San Pawl, respectively. Having witnessed the power of vassals during Tancred's ascension to power, Margaritone was eager to win the support of his local Mayor and Bishop.

Realizing his rapid rise to power would have solicited ill will from those envious of his good fortune, the Count of Malta asked his Spymaster Secondotto to keep his ear open for any plots developing in court. Having fought the much learned Arab realms of Northern Africa and the Holy Land for years, Margaritone carried a healthy respect for technology and ordered Marshal Angelo di Corfu to pursue advances in warfare with a specific focus on siege equipment. To the rest of his court, Brindisi espoused the virtues of farming techniques and a respect for the power of legalism.

Meanwhile, Gugliemo – heir to Malta and Cephalonia – had sired a daughter by his first wife, who died during childbirth. Margaritone was consumed by his desire to find a worthy match for his son and so turned to the one place he had trusted for news during his long years as a pirate and sailor – the taverns. There, he heard tale of Richenza von Valkenburg, a courtier in Heinsberg who was known to hold her own in discussions of trade and taxes. Scribbling out a hasty letter proposing the marriage (quickly accepted), Brindisi would soon be rewarded with his first grandson – also named Margaritone – in 1194. Margaritone would go on to foster his namesake, for whom he had grand designs.

Though content to tend to his own small holdings, Margaritone was nonetheless disturbed at the revolts of Duke Simon II of Sicily (his direct liege) and Prince Roger, Duke of Apulia in 1192. After all, Tancred was the man whom he had served his entire adult life and who had granted him the County of Malta. Thus, in 1196 he arranged the betrothal of daughter Maria to Prince William d'Hauteville, second son of Tancred and younger brother of Roger. Having cemented his allegiance to King Tancred of Sicily, Brindisi settled into a quiet, comfortable life. Little did he know that war would soon beckon to him one last time.
 
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Nikolai

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Nice. I like your style. :) Good luck!
 

Hyena Dandy

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So very subscribed.
 

unmerged(96639)

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Yarr! Very nicely written, with an interesting backstory. Malta's in an interesting position: very vulnerable to the Barbary types, but also in a prime spot for expansion to Africa. I look forward to seeing what you'll accomplish.