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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

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Palermo, Kingdom of Sicily.

As the Hungarian spoke, Maria was surprised with his candor.

"You waste no time, do you? Rather frank. I appreciate that."

A smile enveloped her face.

"Although an Angevin, it seems Queen Maria and I share more than just a name and title. The question is, What does her vision of Naples look like?"
 

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A smile could be seen through Szipos' beard as the Queen spoke.

"When our late King, Lajos the Great, invaded Naples many years ago to press his claim there was great concern that hungarian power in the adriatic would become too great. Therefore an agreement was made that Lajos would ascend to the throne of Poland, and this was confirmed by the Pope of the time. In turn, Lajos was not crowned King of Naples."

"The results of the succession in Poland is not yet known, yet the balance in the Adriatic is fragile today as it was back then. Therefore the Queen has no plans of acquiring lands west of the adriatic ocean, by the will of the late Pope and for the better of the stability of the lands in the region.

"Still, Charles of Durazzo is a menace and a threat. The Queen might therefore be willing to support others with a strong claim on the Kingdom of Naples to remove this threat. And then it would by far be preferable if the new ruler of Naples wished to enter in a friendly relationship with Hungary."
 

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Palermo, Kingdom of Sicily.

Maria smiled.

"Ah, back when the world was a simple place. There was one Pope based in Avignon, and the Greek Emperor was a schismatic dog."

Several brown nosers in the court laughed at the joke. Maria had a hard time telling when she was funny or not because of such people.

"If Hungary has dropped her claims to lands in Both Sicilies, then there should be little reason for Palermo to be hostile to Buda. We have noticed that Naples and Venice have been chattering a bit about an alliance, while Naples is actively pursuing their bogus claims to your throne. I understand completely why Hungary feel the way they do."

Maria looked directly at the Venetian diplomat as she spoke to the Hungarian.

"Those damned republicans have no souls."
 

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The old man nodded.

"We are hoping that the venetians will ply their trade peacefully and not interfere in a succession that does not concern them. The Kingdom of Hungary has nothing against merchants, even though they should not do their business at swordpoint." He coughed before continuing.

"We hope that arrangements can be made that will ensure peace and stability in both the adriatic as well as northern Italy. Surely it must be more profitable even for Venice to trade peacefully than to waste enormous amounts of resources fighting wars."
 

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Palermo, Kingdom of Sicily.

"Well, since Genoa's defeat, northern Italy seems rather secure at the moment. It is the south that seems to be the bigger question. Perhaps Hungary and Sicily can solve that so that countries such as Aragon, France, Venice, or England do not have to."
 

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"That I believe, would be beneficial for everyone involved" Szipos replied. "If we were to cooperate in such an undertaking we would be connected through our croatian ports." Almost like an afterthough he added. "It would be preferable if Hungary had a port east of the adriatic where royal control was greater though"

"Be that as it may, it seems like we have common cause. The Kingdom of Hungary can sadly not send much in the ways of fighting men to Italy right now. But there might be other ways we could be of aid to eachother."
 

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Palermo, Kingdom of Sicily.

And that was where Luis Fadrique d'Aragon chimed in.

"If I may, your majesty... As I was Vicar of Athens during the time between your father's passing and your coming of age, I would dare say that I am qualified to speak of military affairs in the region."

"By all means, Luis."

He continued.

"Charles is not called Charles of Durazzo for no purpose. Durazzo is a vital city as far as the Eastern Adriatic is concerned. That would make for a good port for the Hungarian crown."

"True, but how does that help us?"

"I suppose since Hungary claims to be unable to send a large number of men to assist us, we would need them to send funds to assist in the recruiting of mercenaries."

"Perhaps. Signore Szipos?"
 

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Szipos nodded.

"Financial backing is certainly an option. The Queen of Hungary has access to great sums of money both from her own estates and from various bankers. With the mother church being what it is, this is a delicate matter. Therefore we must be careful and not move too great haste."

"As far as any threat Charles of Durazzo can land on the balkans, I am confident that the hungarian army will have no problems whatsoever dealing with them."

"A port city such as Durazzo would have been a valuable asset for the hungarian crown indeed. Not to mention that it would give my Queen a great deal of pleasure to deprive Charles of that from which he derives his name."
 

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Palermo, Kingdom of Sicily.

The queen was beaming. All this talk about humiliating Charles made her quite happy.

"This seems to be another area where I agree with my Hungarian counterpart. Charles is a miserable little fool whom is unworthy of his fellow men so he picks on women. He killed Giovanna, he sent a man to assassinate me, and he will probably do the same for your young monarch and her sister as well. He is a cruel and desperate man."

She sighed.

"As you are not in communion with Avignon, his excommunication probably means little to you. However, regardless of who the source was, it was certainly justified. He is a man who I would not mind seeing deposed, and I certainly would not be opposed to contributing what I could to see it happen.

The conversation was not a loud one. It was possible that the other diplomats in court could understand bits and pieces of it, but the voices were not raised, as they were using casual tones. No one would be able to catch the entire conversation from standing at a great length from the throne. This truly was the Magna Curia of Frederick II, a magnificent building.
 

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Szipos nodded in grim agreement.

"Charles of Durazzo is a villain indeed, kinslayer and oathbreaker!" The only thing that prevented him from spitting was that he did not want to soil the Queens floor. "Can such a vile man even be considered to be of the House of Angevin anymore? Surely there is a special place in hell for someone that has done deeds as black as him. No, if this taint on the House of Angevin can be removed, then so it shall!"

He then seemed to become sad. "Yes, the schism in the church is a heavy burden for us all. As unlikely as it is we can only pray that the Holy Father in Rome does the same as his counterpart in Avignon. Actions of which I and many other hungarians does applaud on this issue. Still, as much as the division of the church saddens me, it does open some possibilities as well. We have still not heard anything from Rome about the hungarian succession though."
 

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The date was Tuesday, the 28th day of April, 1383. Only half of the ships bound from Germany made it to Messina in time for the planned landing. Sensing this as a bad omen, some of the "vespers" of the city went back on their commitment to von Kues and ordered their underlings to take up arms. These "vespers" were not prayers, but men. Powerful men whom were not formally nobility but were powerful enough to throw their weight around on the island. These men had large numbers of servants and their own private armies. The term first became used after the revolt in the 1280s. Roughly one third of the city's landowners welcomed the Germans and some 10% took arms to assist them. However, the vast majority of the city either stayed in their homes or took up arms against the invading army. In some parts of the city, the fighting continued for several hours with no end in sight. A small Saxon unit was encircled by hostile Messinans and they were being routed left and right before a miniscule unit of Sicilians under a Pro-German "vesper" showed up and diverted enough attention in order to save the Saxon knights from extinction. Roughly one tenth of their strength remained and they regrouped behind a shipyard that was being renovated. They were looking for someone to give them orders, and no one wanted the job. The commander had been the first to die. However, one of the few survivors who had any real experience in combat decided to volunteer. He was a minor noble that had little remaining family that had survived the black death. However, he had lost an eye in a previous battle and was deemed too old to be worth promotion. His name was Freiherr (Baron) Walther II von Grimma, a decorated veteran, but today he would earn a nickname that made his name sound tame. His first order to his men was to stick together and charge at the enemy head on. Since the Messinans had mostly lost their formation, this supposed suicide order was a great success. von Grimma himself killed five men during a short skirmish in a crowded alley, including one who was approaching him from behind with a rapier. A Saxon comrade witnessed this and, after the skirmish, referred to Walther as "Der Sensenmann" (The Grim Reaper). The name took hold, and when the sun rose on the 29th, the entire city was under Saxon control, as were several nearby towns in the northeastern portion of the island. Although he did not actively participate in the battle of Messina proper, The young Friedrich did deliver the Coup de Grace to two men in the nearby town of Milazzo. When word reached von Kues of the achievements of the man from Grimma, he summoned Walther before him.


Baron Walther von Grimma ("Der Sensenmann")


Walther, along with three more established veterans were each given command of 1/5 of the total remaining Saxon army, which had grown to four times its lowest size (at the end of the battles) due to the last of the late ships arriving. The last fifth was under the direct command of the Margrave of Meissen, although that was mainly symbolic as Friedrich had no command experience. Friedrich and the Cardinal set up their headquarters at the Messina Cathedral, the final resting place of King Konrad I, the father of Konrad II, the latter being the last king recognized by both the Sicilians and the Saxons. At the cathedral, Friedrich placed his bloodied sword on Konrad's tomb, and vowed in his prayers to come back for it once he had (hopefully) secured the rest of the island. While Friedrich was sightseeing, von Kues had a letter sent back to the mainland, intended for Balthasar, describing the battle, casualties, and what would be needed for success.

(To be continued.)
 

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Palermo, Kingdom of Sicily.

It was the 28th of April. Exactly two weeks before the wedding was to happen. Federico was growing impatient as he received no response from the Avignese Pope. His daily walk was elongated this day. He continued on for several moments, even though his legs grew tired. This would prove to be a mistake, as a man drew his sword and approached him. Federico pulled out his own sword and prepared to do battle with the man, when another man with a dagger pierced him from behind.

"Why?"

It was all he could say. His life did not flash in front of his eyes, he just wanted to know why he was being targeted.

"We are the kingmakers in Sicily. a century ago we decided to pick the House of Barcelona, expecting them to continue the Hohenstaufen legacy. That was a mistake. If Maria were to die now, so would Sicily. We can't allow that."

The guards assigned to Federico found him alone moments later. He was bleeding profusely, but alive. After he was bandaged, he was taken back to the palace, momentarily, until word reached Palermo of the events in Messina. At that time it was decided Federico would be best protected in Trapani. Maria, on the other hand, would stay in Palermo. The wedding would have to be postponed unless the Saxons could be removed quickly.

 

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The date was Tuesday, the 5th day of May, 1383. One week to the day since the first Saxons landed in the northeast. On this day, German reinforcements which had landed earlier in the Southeast made it to the outskirts of Syracuse, a city which remains under control of the crown. After he was informed about the city of Noto being secured, he proclaimed his brother Wilhelm to be the Duke of Noto and heir to the Kingdom of Sicily. (a historical title given to Alfonso I's bastard son a few decades from now)

However, the capture of Noto was to be understated by the siege of Ragusa. No, not "that" Ragusa, but the large town in Sicily. This town was very loyal to the throne in Palermo and offered more resistance than any other town in the southern campaign. The siege of the town continued on for days, even though its commander, forty year-old Wilhelm von Wettin, the youngest of Friedrich's uncles (and, as such, an entirely seperate identity from his nephew and namesake, the newly styled Duke of Noto) was given the best of the new arrivals when he decided to join the campaigning. A Pro-Maria revolt in newly captured Modica forced Wilhelm and his southern army to abandon the siege of Noto. Instead, Baron von Grimma and his mostly Sicilian "Brigate Morte" were removed from Messina and sent to end resistance in Ragusa. They sailed for a short period before docking at Noto and traveling on foot to Ragusa. Without adequate iege equipment, They were able to manage to capture the town within a single day. Despite this, Friedrich promoted his uncle Wilhelm to "Marshal of the Kingdom of Both Sicilies", and opted not to even meet with von Grimma.


Baron Walther von Grimma ("Der Sensenmann")


Von Grimma had his own concerns. At any time, Count Juan of Malta could arrive with a large force and send the Saxons into a retreat. They did not have any significant fortified cities in the south. Catania or Siracusa would be essential. However, von Kues rebuffed his requests to order an incursion further north from the southern spearhead. von Kues intended to use the southern army to push west into the towns of Agrigento and Canicatti.

By the morning of May 9th, there had been no major decisions made as far as future assaults. However, that afternoon all of the commanders were ordered to report to Messina by the next night, the 10th, or face demotion. All of the army heads arrived and sat at a large table, only to be dictated to by von Kues. It had been decided that Wilhelm von Wettin would be removed from the southern theater and von Grimma would take over his command there. The marshal in his role as uncle of the 'rightful' King would lead a new army in a planned third front assault. However, there were not yet enough men for such an assault to take place. It was really just a way for Friedrich to find other things for his uncle to do. Friedrich loved warfare, but he looked at it on a grand scale. The Wettins had no place endangering themselves on the battlefields. They were to give orders and let disposable commanders carry out those orders.

In order for the third front to be a success, more men were needed. This meant either
A: Men would need to be diverted from one of the two other fronts,
B: Balthasar would need to find success in his talks with Emperor-elect Wenzel,
or C: They would need to bribe the Sicilian criminal underworld for support.

Friedrich prefered the first option, as it would be the least costly for him.

Wilhelm prefered the second option, as he believed that closer ties with the Emperor could lead to the transfer of the electoral seat from the Saxe-Wittenberg dynasty to the Wettins.

Von Kues prefered the third, as he had strong ties with the native Sicilian population -- many of which had become disenchanted with the Catalan monarchy.

Von Grimma, on the other hand, felt that a seaborne invasion of the western peninsula based around Trapani would be a naval disaster. He campaigned instead for an assault led by him from Messina to Palermo. He was again shot down by von Kues who called such a move suicidal and claimed that Federico d'Altavilla was a higher value target in the short term than the queen herself.

(To be continued.)
 

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Noto Region, Kingdom of Sicily.

The retreat was chaotic. No one had anticipated a second front. Noto fell and the mayor was forced at bladepoint to sign a document that recognized the brother of the German invader as Duke of Noto. Thousands of men fell back into Agrigento and other towns in the center of the island.


Sicily in early May after German offenses in the south halted.​
 
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A small boat crossed the strait of Messina, a small boat with a sail in the middle. Three persons sat in it, and one of them bore a letter to be handed to the one in charge. The city looked rather unsafe at the time being, but someone greeted them at the docks, and the letter was delivered.

Unto Friedrich of Meissen,

It has come to my intention you are invading Sicily, a land rightfully belonging to my crown. I am aware that your family has some ancient claim to that island, thought, the Pope has reconized myself as the only King of the Sicilies.

I wonder, what is your intentions in Sicily? I will never accept a person as yourself as King, but I can grant you a higher title on the island, under my sovereignity. I am able to bring the neccasery supplies to the island, be it men, food, or logistics. Without supplies, your campaign is doomed to fail.

Charles III, Roi de Naples, Jérusalem et Hongrie etc, Principe d'Achaea et Durazzo, Duc de Calabrie.
 

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A sealed letter arrives to Palermo, it is given directly to Queen Maria and it was sealed with the seal of the Elector.

 

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Mormegil said:
A small boat crossed the strait of Messina, a small boat with a sail in the middle. Three persons sat in it, and one of them bore a letter to be handed to the one in charge. The city looked rather unsafe at the time being, but someone greeted them at the docks, and the letter was delivered.

Unto Friedrich of Meissen,

It has come to my intention you are invading Sicily, a land rightfully belonging to my crown. I am aware that your family has some ancient claim to that island, thought, the Pope has reconized myself as the only King of the Sicilies.

I wonder, what is your intentions in Sicily? I will never accept a person as yourself as King, but I can grant you a higher title on the island, under my sovereignity. I am able to bring the neccasery supplies to the island, be it men, food, or logistics. Without supplies, your campaign is doomed to fail.

Charles III, Roi de Naples, Jérusalem et Hongrie etc, Principe d'Achaea et Durazzo, Duc de Calabrie.
Friedrich read the letter and was angered by it. The Neapolitans had renounced their claims to Sicily's throne ten years before. "This is absurd. I do not wish support from Naples, and I do not wish to do his work for him. This man is nothing short of an opportunist with no moral boundaries." He scoffed, and sent a Sicilian courier to Palermo with a note. The contents were private but it was rumored to contain a peace proposal.
 

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Palermo, Kingdom of Sicily.

Maria received two letters on the same day. One, positive and full of hope, coming from the Rhine. It contained words that promised support. This letter made Maria very happy, but it contained a statement that surprised her. It stated that the Aragonese branch of the House of Barcelona had been excommunicated by Clement VII. Both Popes had spit in the eye of her cousins, and the Elector of Pfalz wanted his heir and Maria's cousin to be named heir to Sicily, bypassing the Crown Prince of Aragon, her next of kin.

The idea of bypassing her legal heir made her uncomfortable, especially since His Holiness had been ignoring the letters sent by Palermo in recent months, as if he had abandoned Sicily. The Roman Pope had excommunicated all of the followers of Avignon, and Rome's agents surrounded Sicily. They had even invaded her eastern shores.

Then, some hours later, she received the Saxon letter. Friedrich of Meissen offered a truce if Maria would agree to marry him and allow both of them to rule together using differing titles. Friedrich warned that he had the support of the Luxemburgs, and that Naples, too, intended to invade.

This floored Maria. Naples had given up their claims years ago, and now the idea of Neapolitan invasion had become real once again. It could have been a lie orchestrated by Friedrich, but in Palermo, it was thought that Charles of Durazzo was the Antichrist. She did not hesitate to believe that Charles had asperations to seize Sicily for himself.

The Queen was caught between a rock and a hard place. She could betray Aragon and accept the Wittelsbach heir and future elector as her heir, but this would alienate Sicily from her strongest ally. However, it would bring them some much needed manpower at that moment. It wouldn't be good in the long term, but for now...

But, then, on the other hand, there was Friedrich.. and Federico.. The former was a German prince who demanded what he felt was rightfully his, spitting in the face of Maria, her dynasty, and the recent history of Sicily. But, if she would accept his offer, the conflict would end and Neapolitan invasion would be next to impossible.

Heidelberg's position on the church was unstated, but so was Dresden's. With Maria excommunicated by Rome and abandoned by Avignon, she was unsure of what to do. Federico was virtually imprisoned in Trapani to protect him from assassination. Her relationship with him was rather odd. She loved him, but she also hated him. He was not in her "league", and yet she was enamoured by him.

If Friedrich had been telling the truth, and that he had support from the Luxemburg realms, it was unlikely that Sicily would be able to defend herself without the support of Pfalz. However, if Maria wanted Pfalz's support, it was likely she would have to recognize the younger Ruprecht as her heir, which would cause a rift with Barcelona.

There were no entirely good options. No matter what she decided, people would be angry. The Catalan faction, including the powerful Count of Malta would not be pleased if she agreed to change her heir. On the other hand, if Aragon had been excommunicated, it would be wise to do just that.

She paced around her bedchamber for hours without end. Would she invite Ruprecht to Palermo, make him her heir, and grant him some titles? Would she send yet another letter to the pope? Would she decide to damn the risks and marry Federico as planned? Would she instead marry Friedrich of Meissen as he had demanded?

She didn't have any answers, and no one in the court seemed to have the courage to give any answers of their own.

By the end of the night, she had four letters prepared. She would go to sleep, and when she awoke she would sign one, two, three, or maybe all of them. Whatever she chose that next morning, Sicily's fate would be altered.

As she closed her eyes, she had a hard time sleeping. However, after a half an hour, she finally drifted away. The last thoughts on her mind before losing consciousness were of her father.
 

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Palermo, Kingdom of Sicily.

Maria awoke the next morning in a rough mood. She signed two letters and then went to court for the first time since the invasion began.

"Signore Szipos, Should you wish to continue our talks about succession in Hungary in Naples, I would be happy to do so. However, I ask only that you make haste in doing so. I will be temporarily closing court on Monday afternoon."
 
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Karel van Zwolle, or so he was named in the many nations he visited, was glad to deliver a letter from his most active customer, the Duke of Jülich, to Palermo.

Onto Maria d'Aragon, Queen of Sicily

Thanks to my neighbour, the Count-Palatine of the Rhine, it has come to my attention that the Kingdom of Sicily is under attack. Therefore, I have deemed fit the release of assets currently held by my cousin the Duke of Berg, and even some of my own, as the Duke is married to your cousin, Anna von Wittelsbach. Should you accept our aid, I will send my son Rainald, who as you may know is currently unmarried, to deliver all the aid I can to the kingdom of Sicily. Afterall, if he never leaves the gentle embrace of the Empire he might never find a wife.

Should you have a reply, you may hand it to the man known as Karel van Zwolle, who should still be easy to find in Palermo, and he will return the letter to me.

By his own hand,
Wilhelm von Jülich,
Duke of Jülich,
Prince of the Empire.