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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

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Upon reading the letter from the queen, a large smirk graced Friedrich's young face. The sixteen year old margrave had been around politics for his entire life. This message from Maria oozed with attempts to reassure herself that she was in control. Friedrich summoned von Kues. "Nikolaus, read this." , he said. As von Kues' eyes could be seen motioning left-to-right, line by line Friedrich's smile grew. "Correct me if my understanding is flawed, but she stated that my army is not permitted within Siracusa itself. Fair enough, We will march all the way to the gates of Siracusa, showing this document at every town. This will make capturing that city so much easier." He couldn't help but laugh. "Not exactly, Milord. I assume she expects you to arrive by sea, as it states that we are not to expand into 'her' territory." Friedrich pulled out a dagger. He put the dagger to a map of the island and began to tear at it along the line separating occupied Sicily from Maria's lands. "Where does her territory begin? Where does mine end? She is the daughter of a pathetic tributary who practically kneeled before the Angevins and agreed to call his kingdom Trinacria. Descended from bastards. Both Sicilies are mine, the bitch can keep her precious Trinacria, since it seems to be nothing more than an insignificant tributary title anyway." Nikolaus sighed. He had hoped Friedrich had more political savvy than this, but it seems he had earned the nickname given to him by his peers in Saxony -- 'The Warlike'. His refusal to act in a civil manner could jeopardize everything. Luckily, if Friedrich died, there was always Wilhelm. "Well, Milord, I suggest we do not take her words lightly before reinforcements arrive. Her navy is vastly superior to anything we could raise, and, as you know, if Naples were to involve herself, we would be encircled by our enemies. It is best to play along with her. I know the girl very well, mind you." Friedrich scoffed. He knew von Kues was right, but he didn't like what he had to say. "Very well, Klaus. We shall do it your way. But I want the armies ready to assault should she decline our offer. And if she accepts, I want the armies ready anyway. There's still Jerusalem, and there's still Naples. I will not let my ancestors down, and I will not be removed from this earth until I am good enough to be known not as Barbarossa's heir, but as Barbarossa's equal." With that, he threw the dagger and ironically, it landed in the heart of Germany, near Ulm. "...An omen. Apparently, I am to revive Swabia as well."
 

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Man of Honour
Dec 14, 2003
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Palermo, Kingdom of Sicily.

On the evening of the second Monday of May, 1383, Queen Maria arrived in Siracusa, a city in fear.

The populace had learned of how close the Saxons were, and at times could even hear their marches, sung in German. There was no siege, as of yet, but if talks failed, nothing was certain. Messina's walls were as strong as Syracuse's, and they fell within days.

Before going to sleep, Maria decided to give a speech to the people of the city, especially the military contingent.

"People of Siracusa, I will do what I can to ensure you do not meet the same fate as the occupants of Noto, Ragusa, Messina, and other towns in the east. However, I promise you, I will not relent and bring German shackles and bondage to you all."

She didn't get the applause she had hoped for, but the people seemed to be relieved. Even if she failed, there was an outpouring of support from German princes. She arrived at the Palazzo Bellomo and immidiately ordered for the preparations for the next day's festivities. Maria wouldn't oversee the work, however. She was exhausted and went to sleep.



(As this happens days after the events at court in Palermo, Hungary can still talk to the queen.)
 

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Szipos bowed deeply to the Queen as she spoke to him yet again.

"Your Majesty, with the chaos of the current circumstances it may not be wise to make any hasty decisions on these matters. Know that the crown of Hungary will look on these events closely though. Especially if your northern neighbour should choose to intervene."
 

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Friedrich arrived in Syracuse punctually on Tuesday evening, without his uncle, without von Kues, and without von Grimma. He came virtually alone save for two personal bodyguards and a butler. Upon meeting with the queen, he kissed her hand, turned, and took his seat at the table. "Milady, I wish to be frank with you. My family have strong ties throughout the empire. Let us end the bloodshed now before Bohemians join my armies and besiege this very city. Marry me, become my wife, produce my offspring, and stay in your beloved palace. This is the only way for you to truly get what you want. Any other route ends with you being removed from power. Your supposed heir is hated by both Pontiffs, after all."
 

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Palermo, Kingdom of Sicily.

Maria went out of her way to show no interest in Federico. She all but yawned as the virile boy kissed her hand. When he concluded his speech, she unleashed a retort of her own.

"Well, I too shall be frank. While my heir may be hated by seemingly all of Europe for his father's recent actions, another of my heirs has decided it would be best for him to protect his investment. The grand-nephew of the Elector of Rhine Pfalz is this heir I speak of, and his elderly grand-uncle wishes to see him on my throne. He isn't alone, either, for that matter. The house of Jülich are interested in offering assistance."

She sighed.

"Enough sabre rattling. I could easily have you removed from this city, from this earth, and even have your armies removed from this island. However, your claims are not entirely without basis. My ancestor Manfred was indeed a bastard who was later in life legitimized by his father. What do you offer, besides empty threats? Why should you be chosen and not a von Jülich, or even the man whom I intended to marry, a d'Altavilla?"
 

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Friedrich smiled. He used some of the diplomatic courtesy his mother had taught him. He wrote a letter and handed it to his butler, who then disappeared out of the room. "Well, Milady, where your claims are disputable, a union of our lines would make them indisputable. It is either you or I who is the rightful sovereign by blood of Sicily. The other candidates do not claim it as birthright of blood, but of a document. The same argument goes for Naples, and for Jerusalem. While your father in a moment of weakness was forced to pay tribute to Napoli in exchange for them renouncing their claims to Sicily, my family have been forced to make no such concessions. I do not claim the kingdom of Trinacria as my own, but the kingdom of Both Sicilies. Surely with the politics in Hungary as they are, and with Sicily surrounded by subjects of the Roman pontiff, you must have thought of what would happen if you chose to rid the world of Charles of Durazzo? If you share a bed with one of the empire's foremost princes, you're rather likely to succeed. My family has ties to the Luxemburgs and the Bavarian Wittelsbachs, after all." He handed her a document. It was arguably a fair compromise, but as she was a sitting monarch and she would have to share her throne with an invader, it would probably not be seen as such.
 

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Man of Honour
Dec 14, 2003
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Palermo, Kingdom of Sicily.

Maria didn't seem impressed.

"A century of inactivity does a lot to weaken a claim. Certainly, your ancestor Frederick the first of Meissen had a rather strong claim, but you are the fourth. You stand to gain a lot more from this than I do."

After reviewing the document, she let out a sigh.

"A twenty-one year old sitting monarch, unmarried with no siblings. It's no surprise that men are literally killing in order to fetch my hand and gain access to my bed. But when I portray men doing so, I see strong, strapping men in their mid-to-late twenties. Dukes or sons of Kings... You're a Margrave, not even the elector of Saxony..."

She looked at the document once again. It was clear that she was wavering quite a bit.

"This proposal is not satisfactory. I will consider having my own proposal drafted. In the meantime, You are welcomed to return tomorrow evening for more discussion, however, you are not permitted to stay within the city of Siracuse. Should you still be here by dawn you will be arrested."
 

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Man of Honour
Dec 14, 2003
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Siracusa, Kingdom of Sicily.

On Thursday evening, Maria sat at the table waiting for the Margrave to return.

"How incredibly rude of him! He dares to attack me, kill my subjects, demands to share my throne and then makes ME wait? The sun went down two hours ago."

She scaled the room. She noticed more guards than usual, but made little of it. She had bigger concerns. She was growing sick of Syracuse and yearned to return to Palermo as soon as she could.

"Nothing is getting done here. The foreign emissaries are in Palermo, and the Syracusans live every day in fear."

Finally, as if on cue, Friedrich arrived, walking with a swagger and a smirk on his face.

"So, Maria, have you come up with a counterproposal?"

Maria was furious.

"No. Actually, I couldn't find any way to reword it to my satisfaction. You see, no matter how I worded it, it would still contain something that stated I would be marrying you, and it seems that is simply beneath me."

Surprisingly, Friedrich took the news rather well.

"I expected that, actually. However, you see, Maria, whether or not you're willing to write it yourself, I will be beneath you, as well as on top of you. Rather shortly, actually."

He presented a new document, less compromising than the last on his part. It was sure to enrage Maria and her advisors, but he didn't seem to care.

"Is this a joke? Lives are at stake. Hundreds have died already."

Friedrich bowed.

"No, Milady. This is not a joke at all. You may be asking yourself why my proposal is... more bold than it was before... You see, because this time when you invited me to return, you didn't include anything about not bringing my army with me."

Maria's face dropped upon hearing that.

"A few of my agents in Trapani have arrested Signore d'Altavilla, and are holding him captive. As for Syracuse, men from all over Germany are surrounding Syracuse as we speak. I will not have to besiege the beautiful city of Palermo, and I have no intention of doing so. It will be my capital, after all."

The queen got up from her seat, looked out the window, and surely enough saw thousands of men under German banners outside the walls of the city.

"If you sign, they will go away. All of them. If you do not, I warn you. I was given a hefty sum of money from His Imperial Majesty, Wenceslaus. This beautiful and ancient city will be leveled. How long has it stood, four millennia?"

Maria looked at two of her most senior guards. They approached Friedrich and commanded him to stand up.

"This castle is still mine, and you have committed a crime against the crown. I may not have killed the other Frederick, but you?"

She laughed. Strangely, Friedrich joined her in the laughing, then he too looked at some guards who were guarding the entrance to the room. They locked the entrance and then walked over behind the queen.

"Shall we be beheaded together, my love?"

"You sicken me, you snake!"

She spat at Friedrich. He pulled out his arm and wiped it off of his face and into his hand.

"Call off your guards. Now."

Maria ordered her guards to stand back, and in return, Friedrich did the same. He then walked over to the queen and wiped her spit all over her mouth.

"Sign the document. This will be the last time I ask you as my equal. The next time, you will be in the stocks."

Begrudgingly, Maria signed the document. She handed it over to Friedrich, who smiled and took his seat at the table. He mockingly looked over the document for nearly an hour before adding his signature as well.

"By the way, my love, Signore Cusano will rule as regent until the wedding... And, until then, we'll be forced to sleep in separate rooms as well. I promise I will try to contain myself, although I'm sure it will be harder for you."

The young Margrave, so full of egotism, thought he was as great as his forebearer and namesake Friedrich I Barbarossa. He left the palace and returned to Messina with a small detachment of his army, while the vast majority of it maintained their position around Siracuse. It wasn't quite a siege, as they had no intention of entering it. However, Maria was trapped in Syracuse until the wedding, which, according to the treaty would be a month later in Palermo.

OOC: For game purposes, It already happened, but we've yet to RP it.
 
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Man of Honour
Dec 14, 2003
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Messina, Syracuse, and Palermo, Kingdom of Sicily.

This wedding was different than most. As the wife-to-be was all but imprisoned in Syracuse and the groom-to-be was banned from entry of Palermo until the wedding. Thus, there would be no rehearsal, and the actual event could be rather chaotic.

When the day came, two parties left eastern Sicily, independent of one-another. From Messina, Friedrich V von Wettin with a small bodyguard unit traveled west to Sicily, with Friedrich sitting in a horse-drawn carriage, but sadly, he was essentially alone. His new close friend, von Kues was in Palermo, running the government until the conclusion of the wedding. His uncle and Marshal was traveling to Palermo from Syracuse, escorting the bride along with thousands of other German soldiers. The only notable person in Friedrich's entourage was the famed von Grimma, whom exchanged stories of war with the young king-to-be on the trek to Palermo.

Finally, after quite some time, the walls of Palermo were visible to the Messinan party. The driver of the carriage shouted

"Approaching the gates, your highness!"

And with that, as if staged, a small band of men encircled the carriage and killed the driver. In the commotion, one of the horses broke free and ran. Friedrich, von Grimma, and two other guards were trapped surrounded by virtually a dozen men.

One of them sounded rather familiar.

"Saxon, your end is now. You will not take this kingdom from my family, nor will you take my cousin to be your slave in the eyes of God."

Two Catalans entered the carriage only to have their heads lobbed off. Sensing this was going nowhere, Count Luis had the carriage set on fire. This forced those inside to emerge, and a small battle ensued. After killing one man with only a ceremonial rapier, Friedrich was stunned to see that one of the men he fought was the original suitor of Maria -- the imprisoned Federico of Bavuso. This sighting enraged the young Friedrich, who ordered von Grimma to kill Bavuso that instant. Unfortunately, von Grimma was in the process of fighting two men at once, and Friedrich was left on his own.

Margrave Friedrich von Wettin of Meissen and Baron Federico d'Altavilla of Bavuso weren't that dissimilar. They shared a name, they shared the desire to marry Maria, they also shared heritage. They both saw themselves as the sole heir to the Hohenstaufen legacy. Federico from his mother, whom was among the last living Hohenstaufens, albeit of illegitimate descent... And the Margrave saw himself as the rightful heir for the obvious reasons. Maria and all of the other claimants were such because of Manfred, whom was a bastard son of Friedrich II. Federico, too was descended from a bastard son of Friedrich II. However, after all of the Hohenstaufen men had died, it was only natural, at least to the Wettins that the crown should fall to them. However, the empire had only recently been at war, and the diet decided not to assist in supporting their claim.

They stared at one-another and both began moving in a circular motion around the other. Federico had a sword, Friedrich only had a small rapier. While Federico could slash, Friedrich would have to thrust. An obvious disadvantage, but the young Margrave was still confident. Federico was in his thirties and had a wound in his abdomen from the assassination attempt against him some months ago. The two Fredericks grew impatient, and, without words or signals agreed to charge on eachother in stereo. As Federico neared Friedrich, the former screamed "AVE MARIA!" and swung his sword at the latter, who ducked and thrusted the point of his knife into the chest of Federico, reopening his wound.

Count Luis had survived the battle and began retreating in an attempt to escape. His horse passed Federico and he urged the wounded Baron to jump on. Using most of his energy, he successfully attempted to do so, and both Federico and Luis escaped.

As the carriage had been set ablaze and they were alone, Friedrich and von Grimma treked on foot to Palermo, but luckily they were already nearly at the gates.

The gates were opened upon their arrival. Perhaps only because Maria had not yet arrived and the guards wanted to ensure her safety. Regardless, for the first time in his life, Friedrich stood in the capital of his namesake. Friedrich II of the Holy Roman Empire, known by his peers as 'Wonder of the World', He had held his court in Palermo as the Sicilian crown was his first and favorite. The Saxon could understand why. Palermo was greater than Dresden, than Messina, and even greater than Syracuse. He agreed with his ancestor that the city was a fitting host to an imperial court as he walked toward the cathedral.

Upon arrival at the cathedral, he met with von Kues and told him of the events that transpired earlier. von Kues then told him that this was a blessing in disguise, and that he should go about the wedding as if nothing had happened.

Some hours later, Maria arrived, surrounded by German soldiers. Friedrich, showing compassion, banned them from the cathedral. He would take Maria on her word.

As the ceremonies progressed, it was interesting to see who was in attendance. Most of the groom's family were there, with the exception of Balthasar, who remained in Prague. However, virtually none of the bride's family were present. Her bastard brother stood in the back, unnoticed. Her teenage cousin, also named Maria was present, even though her father, Count Luis had staged the assassination attempt earlier that day. Perhaps that was a mistake, or perhaps an oversight.

An Avignonese priest read to Maria, while both an Avignonese and a Roman read to Friedrich, each trying to shout louder than the other. It became a spectacle and a competition, and it entertained the hundreds assembled rather highly. Friedrich couldn't help but chuckle. Unfortunately, Maria, still rather upset, couldn't do more than muster a false smile.

Maria was hesitant when it was her time to recite the traditional vow. Friedrich muttered to her under his breath that Bavuso had broke out of prison earlier and his fate lied in Maria's hands. The Queen kept her word and took her oath before God. Friedrich then, mockingly hesitated as he rolled his eyes and put his finger to his chin. He then recited his vows, taking his oath. As the ceremonies drew to a close, an impromptu coronation went on and Friedrich was crowned King of Both Sicilies, while Maria was crowned yet again, even though she had been with her father's death years earlier. After the coronation, Friedrich kissed his mother and the entire party left back to the palace for celebration.

Neither Maria nor Friedrich had ever met her bastard brother. Rumors of his death had been circulating for years and had been accepted by most, however Friedrich's agents assured him otherwise and pointed his attendance out to the king. Friedrich ordered his arrest, which happened just as festivities began at the Palace of the Normans.

Friedrich had mixed feelings. He was greatly pleased that the wedding and coronation were both successful, but he was still enraged with the events that took place outside the city walls, and he wanted revenge.

After the dancing was over, some guests were permitted to sleep at the palace. All of Friedrich's relatives were to stay, as was the younger Maria, as was von Kues, von Grimma, and, naturally, the royal couple, who departed to what was once Maria's, but now their room.

As Maria sat on the foot of her bed, she remembered the events that took place there months earlier, with Federico breaking in and telling the story of Charles of Durazzo's supposed plans. She thought of her father's death, and of nearly having Federico executed. She sighed and put on a facade as Friedrich approached her. As they consummated their union, it made Maria feel more alive, but only briefly. When it ended, Friedrich kissed her on the forehead and left the room. She was emotionally drained and went to sleep.

Friedrich, only sixteen, had no experience prior to that. However, he rather enjoyed himself. The event did little to subdue his thirst for revenge, however, and he broke into the younger Maria's room and sealed the door behind him.

The younger Maria had not been asleep. She was looking out the window at the city. When she turned around to see the king in his robe, she didn't know what to say.

"...What.. brings you to my chambers, my king?"

A devilish grin revealed his intentions, and yet, his words masked his motives.

"I have come only to ask if you enjoyed today's festivities."

Maria was a smart girl. She was rather mature for thirteen and received glances from all kinds of men. She knew what he intended to do, so she decided it was better to gain something from it and participate actively than the alternative.

"I have indeed enjoyed them, and I thank you for asking. However, I left myself feeling envious of my cousin. I won't be able to marry any time soon. Where is my cousin? Is the queen asleep?"

Friedrich smirked.

"Yes. Today's events were rather hard on her. She had a long journey, the ceremony was rather emotional, and... Well, she was understandably tired."

The two looked out at the stars in the sky. Several hours later as the sun began to rise, Friedrich returned to his room, luckily, Queen Maria had not yet awoken.

They both slept through the day, waking up virtually in unison shortly after sunset. Friedrich met with von Kues and spoke more about the assassination plot.

"It is not a matter to worry over, Your Majesty. Maria has received a letter from the Elector of Pfalz. We shall duplicate it and state that the second was retrieved from one of the assassins."

"That sounds perfect. You have my blessing."

The next morning, men placed the new Coat of Arms of the King and Queen on the wall above and behind the throne. It was both large and elaborate, containing titles and claimed titles of both the King and the Queen.



Friedrich and Maria stood and watched as it was completed. Both were satisfied, although Maria wasn't fond of how the Aragonese arms of Sicily had been placed. She thought the arms as a whole were quite good, however, and convinced herself that her marriage would be a happy one. Court was open once again, only this time, Maria was not alone on the throne.
 

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Man of Honour
Dec 14, 2003
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Palermo, Kingdom of Sicily.

Friedrich sat on the terrace, admiring the sunset reflecting off the Mediterranean waters. He knew in his heart that he wouldn't be able to enjoy such simple privileges for long. Too many people had desires on the lands he had so recently fought for. His troops were veterans, and they had learned the territory. He was confident that if there was conflict, he would win.

von Kues quietly closed the door and stood behind the king.

"I hope I am not interrupting anything."

"Not at all, Klaus. What is the trouble?"

Nikolaus smiled. The young king was taking the pressure rather well, or so his facade suggested.

"I'm sure you remember the letter you received from Charles of Durazzo... Add that to the two letters your wife received from Pfalz and Jülich, and it's evident that we may be entertaining guests."

Friedrich stared out at the night sky. There was little response from him to the remarks.

"And speaking of your wife, do we know if Maria can be trusted? She might support..."

Friedrich turned to von Kues and with an icy glare, he replied.

"She will not betray her vows. She is a Christian, and she has my seed inside of her."

This was the first Nikolaus had heard of any pregnancy.

"Congratulations are in order then. I'm sure it will be a son. God smiles on you."

"And what if the child never sees daylight? She could die in childbirth, the child could be executed by Neapolitans, or worse."

They both sighed.

"I assure you, Pope Clement will not permit for her to be divorced, and she would never consider conversion to Rome's church."

"And if those issues weren't enough to make one worry, it seems I also impregnated the girl. What if she gives birth? Should I kill her? Imprison her?"

For the first time, Nikolaus didn't seem to have an answer.

"Well, uhm... Countess Maria is the heiress of Malta. If it is a son, you could simply give him Malta. It has usually been the demense given to bastards."

Friedrich sighed.

"I suppose killing would be a bad idea. I would hate to have my hands stained with the blood of the innocent. Perhaps this will work out after all. Has there been any word on the location of Luis?"

von Kues began to pace.

"Luis has been spotted in Athens. I suggest you have him killed before he becomes too large a problem."

Friedrich pounded his fist.

"No. If I were to kill him, his daughter would become Countess of Malta and be in court more often. I do not need such attention. People will surely wonder who would be the father of her offspring. She has lived a guarded life."

"Why not keep her in the basement of the cathedral? It gets no use as there is no inquisition at the moment. When she gives birth, you could have the child taken away, and you can pretend the ordeal never happened."

"That sounds to be the best idea. Has my uncle arrived in Germany safely?"

"Yes, sire. Wilhelm is in Meissen, governing in your name as we speak."

"And what of my brother Wilhelm?"

"It would be unwise to have him come to Sicily at this time. Perhaps he can be crowned after the potential for war is lowered. In the mean time, Hungary and Bohemia seek a Wettin to attend the marriage of Queen Maria. Perhaps you can send him."

"Splendid. He is not yet of marrying age, but I am sure he would be interested to see how it works. Make it so."

"I forgot to inform you, Sire. Marshal von Grimma claims that the attempts to better fortify Syracuse and Messina have been successful so far. It won't be so easy for anyone to duplicate our actions."

Friedrich's first and only smile of the night came with that news.

"Make sure the Baron of Bavuso is taken alive. I do not wish to make my wife any more hostile than she already is. She slowly accepts me more and more each day, but it still evident that she wishes I had never come to this island."

And, after that discussion, much action was taken. Countess Maria was moved to the basement of the Palermo Cathedral, and the younger Wilhelm's coronation as Duke of Noto was pushed back. Saxon veterans were put in charge of Sicily's new multiethnic army, and the only question left was who would lead the navy.
 

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Man of Honour
Dec 14, 2003
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Palermo, Kingdom of Sicily.

In his mind, Friedrich recognized the Hohenstaufens as enlightened rulers, as opposed to the barbarians who succeeded them. King Friedrich I (aka Emperor Friedrich II) was the monarch who truly defined Sicilian culture. While brought up in Saxony, Friedrich still recognized the superiority of that Hohenstaufen culture over what had replaced it. He decided it was time to begin his own enlightenment.

He began writing his memoirs, but after filling several pieces of parchment, he was told by a servant that the court had run out of parchment paper.

"How in the name of all which is sane could that be possible?"

"Well, Sire, Her Majesty used much of the royal supply during her recent correspondences."

This certainly piqued Friedrich's interest. His brow raised more than it was thought humanly possible.

"Where, pray tell, is Maria now?"

"Her study, Sire."

And with that, Friedrich began power-walking his way to Maria's study room, dragging his feet on the floor like some sort of primitive man. When he reached the room, he noticed she was reading.

"What is this? Diplomacy you decided upon yourself without consulting your king?"

Maria laughed.

"My king? If you mean my husband, yes. I did not consult him before writing to Pope Clement as my husband is not of my faith."

Friedrich gritted his teeth.

"Is that what this is all about? I hope you haven't promised my conversion to your little frenchman in Avignon. Saxony is still dear to me, and I will not lose Meissen in order to please Antipope Robert the First."

Maria rolled her eyes at his words.

"You are the one who emphasizes on your intent on grabbing both Sicilies. I was able to secure most of the second Sicily from Clement at a small price. Your own Roman uncle has stated that the empire refuses to take sides, so how would taking a side harm you?

Friedrich began pacing.

"This isn't about me. I have two uncles and two brothers. I have a mother. I had a father, may he rest in peace. None of them support this Clement, and my doing so simply because he is whom you support would be..."

Maria smirked and began to belittle her husband.

"You share MY bed. You share MY throne. You share MY food and MY palace. You stand behind the walls of MY city on MY island. What difference does it make if you change your stance from 'neither' to 'Avignon'? You are here as MY husband."

Friedrich's fist began shaking. He thrusted it upon Maria's desk and put a crack in the top.

"Would you really bring harm to the woman who carries your child? If I die, you can be sure that the rumors of invasion from Naples will be nothing in comparison to what will come later."

Friedrich sighed.

"What has Robert offered? Recognition of something miniscule in exchange for my soul?"

Maria smiled.

"Actually, he has recognized virtually all which I have asked him for. All you have to do is lead the armies and convert to the mother church."

Friedrich wasn't happy.

"You make it sound as if I was a supporter of Wyclif or a Greek. I am simply sixteen years of age and have not made a decision on which corrupted priest I wish to allow to ransom my salvation."

Maria's mood softened.

"See for yourself."

She showed him all of her correspondence with Clement, beginning with the initial letter after her engagement to the Baron of Bavuso.

"You sure have been busy. What has the Duke of Anjou had to say in response to this?"

"I sent him a letter, but received no response as of yet. If you and your vast armies from the Empire are on board, I am sure he can be coaxed to agree."

Friedrich smirked.

"You deserve more credit than I thought. I had presumed your primary role to be the breeder of my offspring. Perhaps more cooperation would be fruitful."

Maria smirked.

"I wish I could say the same. However, I am more fond of you than I am of this ugly desk. Albeit the desk is old, but certainly not worth keeping. Perhaps if you put a few more dents in it, we would have ample reason to replace it."

Friedrich then bolted the entrances to the room and turned to his bride, grinning from ear to ear.

"Tonight you will be giving me more credit than you may be willing to admit now."
 

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A fleet of ships flying the Roman insignia arrives at the harbor of Palermo. At first, the dockworkers and local boys take little notice of it; Romans were as familiar a sight as clouds in the sky in Palermo. What did attract notice though were the two men and woman that stepped off the ship. As the two men and the woman, clothed in Imperial purple, touched their feet on Sicily, dockworkers dropped their tools, the local boys chattered excitedly, and women gasped. As the ship was unloaded, the Imperial visitors and their retinue made their way to the palace, followed (at a distance) by a crowd of young boys, imitating the graceful step of the Romans.

Their arrival at the palace was heralded several minutes in advance by a Jew the Romans had brought with them, fluent in Greek and German. Word of Frederick von Wettin's coup had indeed reached Constantinople. Abraham, a little uncomfortable, strode into the court and announced, "Your Royal Graces! It is my honor and duty to present unto You the most distinguished and Imperial Graces, Emperors Andronicus and John of the Roman Empire, and the most distinguished and Imperial Grace Maria the Bulgarian." Abraham then bowed, and stood aside while the doors of the court opened. Emperor Andronicus IV, first son and heir of Emperor John V, walked into the court, flanked by his wife the Empress Maria of Bulgaria and son, Emperor John VII. Dignified, they walked to the center of the court, and Abraham the Jew got ready to translate. His talents were not wasted.

"King Frederick, Queen Maria," Abraham began. His Greek was a little rusty, and it wasn't helped by the strange upper-class Greek Andronicus used. "We have come to Sicily to offer your Graces the perpetual friendship of the Roman Empire, both from enemies foreign and domestic. Your Graces, threatened, as we are, by Charles, Duke of Durazzo, and also, as we are, by Selim, Duke of Ottomans, have much to offer the Roman Empire, and we, the Kingdom of Sicily." Emperor Andronicus paused, both to gather his thoughts and to let Abraham finish translating. Abraham thanked God that he at least had the decency to speak slowly. After Abraham finished, Andronicus continued. "I must be frank with you, King Frederick. The Turk is on the move. They have neglected to recognize our envoys, they have raided Roman territory, and most disturbingly, an unfriendly sign arrived in Constantinople the day before we left. A small dog, strangled, with a letter explaining that.. what was it? 'So this dog is, so ye shall be.'"

Emperor Andronicus paused, and looked directly at King Frederick. He knew him to be the real power in Sicily now, his wife, the heiress of Sicily, a mere figurehead. "King Frederick, now is our chance. You are the Duke of Athens, also threatened by the onslaught of the Turk. You have proved your worth as a man of steel; you are, as a Frederick, King of Sicily, before you once was, the 'astonishment of the world'. The Roman Empire asks that you no longer fight fellow Christians, and direct your energies to fighting against the Muslim, the enemy of Christ and the Pope. If your Grace should do that, you shall have the eternal friendship of the Roman Empire.. and all the rewards that go with it." Emperor Andronicus stopped, and nodded at Abraham. After the Jew finished translating, he turned to King Frederick, and said simply, in German, "Sire, the Greek has finished his speech, and awaits your reply."
 

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Man of Honour
Dec 14, 2003
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Palermo, Kingdom of Sicily.

Friedrich listened closely as the words were interpreted, and then laughed at the terrible German of this 'Abraham' when it was concluded. However, his jubial tone would be short lived. He stood up from the throne, looked around the room and shouted in German.

"Raus! Raus! JETZT! Raus!"

The people in the court were confused. Many did not speak German, and those who did were unsure of whom the king wanted to leave.

Friedrich sighed and spoke rather clearly in Latin, enunciating in a way to mock those who couldn't comprehend his earlier ranting.

"All Catalans Out, now. I wish to speak to the Greeks without giving any biased foreigners the opportunity to bring harm to the Imperial family."

This was clearly a reference to the Catalan Company, which had almost a century ago brought Athens and Neopatrias under the rule of Catalan princes from Sicily.

After the Catalans left the court, Friedrich began speaking candidly.

"Speak not of the Papacy, friend. They are in a state of civil war, and I am sure that even in Thrace you can smell the bloodshed coming that cannot be stopped except through divine intervention. As for your remarks regarding my ancestor, Friedrich I of Sicily, He truly was a man without equals on this earth, and as his heir, I thank you for your words."

He raised his eyebrow and then whispered in the ear of a servant. A huge map was then brought out and placed on the floor.

"Thousands of Germans remain at my disposal, and the Catalans and Sicilians, albeit untrustworthy, are now mine as well. We captured Messina, which has much thicker walls than any city in Greece except for Constantinople itself. However, I must ask: What could the Romans possibly offer me? The Turk took Adrianople and has established his court there. He has destroyed the Serbian Empire and has surrounded the Eastern Roman Empire. Why would I endanger Athens by assisting you openly? What can the wonderous Roman Empire do for me in return for landing my men on Greece's shores to fight the spawn of Mohammed?"
 

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As soon as Andronicus heard Frederick speak in Latin, he breathed a sigh of relief. So the German was more educated than the typical Romanist he had to deal with.. with a wave of his hand, he turned to Abraham, and said, "It turns out, my friend, that I can speak to the King in German. Stay close, however." Then, walking idly over the map, he stroked his chin. After a few moments of mock study, he turned to King Frederick and spoke in Latin. "You speak the truth, King Frederick. I readily admit, the glories of Rome are somewhat diminished. However, I believe you overestimate the strength of Duke Murad. The Roman Empire commands roughly as many men as he, and our men are of better quality. While the Turk cannot drive us from Europe, neither can we. A stalemate, you might say." A grim smile crossed Andronicus' face for a moment. "But, just as the Muslims, void of any honor always, calls in reinforcements from his brothers, so can the Christian. Know this, King Frederick: you will not be fighting alone."

Then, kneeling over the map, Emperor Andronicus briefly traced an outline of the Thessaly region with his finger, and stood. "While driving the Muslims back to the desert is an admirable goal in itself, I do understand your.. desire for recompense. Should you go to war against the Turk, and help the Roman Empire drive them out of Europe or possibly beyond, then we shall grant you the region of Thessaly as a fief of the Roman Empire, with the same rights you enjoy as Duke of Athens. Most fair, I'm sure you'll agree."

Raising his eyebrow, he continues. "Furthermore, as I noted, the Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Sicily do have other common enemies, aside from the Turk. I can also promise you this, King Frederick: Aid us, help the Roman Empire to become stronger, and we shall be able to help you grow stronger as well.." It could not have been mere coincidence that his hand swept in the general region of Naples as he spoke.
 
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Man of Honour
Dec 14, 2003
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Palermo, Kingdom of Sicily.

Friedrich didn't seem impressed.

"Let's not call this Murad a Duke. He calls himself Godlike. He truly must be the Antichrist. He claims European soil as his own, calling this territory 'Land of the Romans'. He has not been recognized by any church. He is just another barbarian Khan, like Attila or Batu."

He smirked.

"You cannot trust most of your Christian brothers. The Serbian Empire consisted nearly entirely of Roman territory. The Fourth Crusade which took Constantinople was led by Christians, specifically my cousin the Margrave of Montferrat. Speaking of which, I find it deliciously ironic that your family has inherited Montferrat, and your cousin is an imperial prince of the Western Empire. Delicious. Equally ironic is that my wife is the rightful Empress of the Latin Empire. Regardless of those minor details, I suppose you are right. The Turk will undoubtably seek Athens along with all of what he calls "Rumelia". Therefore, I will in turn seek Thessaly. Two centuries ago, you had no friends in Christendom. Now, you can be sure that is not the case. Sicily will assist you, however if other Christians attack us, we will be forced to withdraw."
 

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Emperor Andronicus nodded to King Frederick's first point. "Of course, the Turk is little better than a barbarian. However, as you know, John Cantacuzenus did marry his daughter to Orhan, making Murad a nominal Prince of the Roman Empire.." Andronicus sighs, and changes the subject. He obviously didn't want to think about it.

As Frederick pointed out the ironies and the perfidy of Christendom, he nodded again. "Indeed, we are well aware of the.. difficulties between Constantinople and Rome. However, I gather that you are as I am - a man of the world, concerned with things that really matter, rather than differences overblown by bishops to increase their power." Andronicus smirked, and said, "I just wish though, that you Latins had learned to keep your Patriarch as under control of the Emperor as we did." Turning serious again, he continued. "I would also like to point out another irony, King Frederick. The wife of the Count of Malta is a granddaughter of John Cantacuzenus, an Emperor of Rome. That makes her daughter Maria a Princess of the Roman Empire, and a cousin of mine. I readily admit, King Frederick, that I have never travelled so far west as I have now. But, there is one thing I have learned from my talks with Latin ambassadors, that family connections are the best way to secure an alliance.."

Emperor Andronicus gestured towards his son John, co-Emperor and a young teenager of fourteen, who had remained silent, as he had been expected to. But now, he did. "King Frederick, since you are the guardian of Maria of Malta, I wish to ask you for her hand in marriage." Andronicus was proud of his son. He hadn't broken out in tears over fear, like he expected. He might make become a good man yet..
 

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Man of Honour
Dec 14, 2003
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Palermo, Kingdom of Sicily.

The King stroked his chin.

"This is true. Murad has Roman blood. However, did not Uzbek Khan of the Golden Horde marry a Roman princess? It seems the Eastern Empire defines 'diplomacy' as 'give your daughters to your heathen enemies'. I agree, the Latins are rather different in that regard."

He laughed, and his German commanders joined him in laughing.

"As for the Count of Malta and his daughter, I would refrain from making any judgment in that matter. The Count has fled from Sicily after a failed insurrection against my right to rule. Likewise, his daughter disappeared shortly afterwards. However, if she turns up I will gladly discuss the idea with my wife."

He thought to himself.

This could be a problem. The younger Maria is still being kept in the Cathedral's basement due to her pregnancy. Perhaps I will see to it that this pregnancy is ended prematurely so that she may wed this Greek and be out of my hair.

"However, let it be known that I will not bow before you or any man as his fief. James of Baux, the Latin Emperor died without a son, and his late sister adopted my wife nearly twenty years ago. As such, all Sicilian lands in Greece will remain independent of Constantinople's grasp. Whether the Fourth Crusade was a ridiculous and foolhardy mistake or not, the effects remain. Catholic states continue to exist in Greece, and should Thessaly join them, it would not be under the banner of the Palaeologi."
 

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Emperor Andronicus stung a little from the German's insult. He knew it was true; but what could he do about it? He needed King Frederick far more than Frederick needed him. Ignoring it, he continued to the issue of marriage. Speaking for his son, he replied, "Very well, King Frederick. It is unfortunate to hear of her disappearance; as a relative of hers, I sincerely hope she will return quite soon. In the meantime, I wish to ask permission for my son and wife to remain here in Palermo, while I continue to France to seek more support against the Turk. When Maria turns up, then my wife and son shall continue marriage negotiations."

Then, the stinging returned as the Roman Empire's claims to Thessaly were so cavalierly disregarded. But again, there was nothing he could do.. but they were lands peopled with Greeks, and with the proper incitement, would easily and quickly rebel against Sicilian rule. With a resigned nod, he said, "I accept your terms regarding Thessaly. So it is agreed: Should you attack the Turk and aid us in driving them out of Europe, the Roman Empire shall grant Thessaly to the Kingdom of Sicily, free of any feudal obligations."
 

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Man of Honour
Dec 14, 2003
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Palermo, Kingdom of Sicily.

Friedrich rose from his throne once again.

"Fair enough, Your Majesty. We are in agreement. The Turcoman will be removed from Romania. Your wife and son are most welcome in Palermo, and I will provide them with rooms befitting imperials. I'm rather upset that you did not wish to have them stay in Syracuse, however. I am sure you know that the only capital the Eastern Empire ever held other than Constantinople while still holding that city was Syracuse, under Constans the Second, I believe... Eh, Regardless. I wish you a safe journey to France, and that the French still have the heart for the Crusades. From what I have heard, they've become pitiful since the extinction of the main line of the Capetians."