alscon

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Settling the Steppe



Anyone who played in the Tarim Basin – or anywhere close to the nomads, really – knows how immensely annoying – and sometimes dangerous – the seemingly endless amount of raiding adventurers can be. Not to mention the horselords themselves in all their OP-ness.


So I played a game in which I decided to start as a feudal lord – and only expand into the steppe, eradicating every last nomad on the map. I picked the lord of Cherson in 867 - a single Goth at the edge of the Khazar Khaganate under the Byzantine Empire. Thought it would take a while. It's been one of my most enjoyable playthroughs, actually, and one I can heartily recommend.


And with the end of my Etichonen AAR, I've been thinking that I can put this tale on screen. So here it is – Settling the Steppe.



Unlike my previous AARs, this one will most definitely not be accompanied by a bunch of screenshots. I apparently did take a few of strange occurrences, and they'll help me retell the tale. For the rest, I'll rely on the character screens - and, for once, the chronicle.

So the format of this one is going to be history book-style. We'll see how that will work.








Petronas Thaticos

(*804 - † 25th Apr, 870)​


Not much is known of Petronas Thaticos' life. Only that he became Count of Cherson at some point, and was a scholarly man.

...that's about it.

Upon his death, he was succeeded by his son, Philaretos.


F739WQo.jpg



Philaretos the Heretic


(*844 - †16th Dec, 888)


With the rule of Philaretos, the ascension of the Thaticos dynasty begins – insofar as the man is mentioned in Byzantine chronicles, for various reasons.


For one, it is because he served as Basileus Basileios' commander on a few occasions. With a preference for heavy infantry, he led the Byzantine army to victory in Salerno and Amorion. He also chose his liege lord's side in the revolt that shook his reign in 888.


Religious Upheaval in Cherson


Philaretos' main mention in the chronicles concerns the religious situation in Cherson – something which quite certainly left him traumatized. When he took Herakleia for his liege, the situation must have reminded him so much of the fate of Cherson that he ended his own life.

In 871, Paulician preachers gained an extensive amount of followers in Philaretos' county. Faced with indifference by their lord, the rhetoric grew more and more aggressive – until the Paulicians rose up against Basileios, dreaming of a safe haven for their faith on the Crimean coast.

Due to the distance across the Black Sea, the Basileus was naturally unable to react immediately, something the rebels clearly hoped would persuade him to leave them alone. The 5th November 873, the rebels sacked Cherson. While Philaretos could escape, both his wife and his brother were captured and murdered by the heretic mob. Basileios crushed the rebellion soon after, but Philaretos' scars would never heal.

He remarried, and Countess Konstantine surely played an important part in persuading the Count to turn towards Rome in hope of salvation. Now he was a heretic himself, albeit a tolerated one, as proven by his use as a commander.


Konstantine, always marked by poor health, bore him a single child, Cixila, in 882. The Count survived her by one year, until he ended it himself, leaving the little girl ruling over a mostly heretic population in a region repeatedly raided by nomads.
ZNZW0tR.jpg
 
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Bullfilter

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Ah, I get to start at the very beginning, a very good place to start! ;) Interested to see how the format works, too.

The Count survived her by one year, until he ended it himself, leaving the little girl ruling over a mostly heretic population in a region repeatedly raided by nomads.
Hmm, put that way, the start was not very promising ... but from a little thing, a big thing must have grown!
 
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jak7139

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Cixila will, hopefully, lead the realm to greatness. Long live the Countess!
 
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RustyHunter

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I like the summary of each ruler, it is a good way of understanding what happened even though there aren't many pictures. The only thing I'm concerned about is pictures, my Medieval Crimean geography is not exactly the best.
 
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Nikolai

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A tragic life for the poor count.
 
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alscon

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Ah, I get to start at the very beginning, a very good place to start! ;) Interested to see how the format works, too.


Hmm, put that way, the start was not very promising ... but from a little thing, a big thing must have grown!
And as the playing part is already done, I can also promise - as an added bonus - that the AAR will reach the end date!

Well, nobody expects a single county to take on the Khazar horde - it must take a lot of time.
Cixila will, hopefully, lead the realm to greatness. Long live the Countess!
Long may she live!
I like the summary of each ruler, it is a good way of understanding what happened even though there aren't many pictures. The only thing I'm concerned about is pictures, my Medieval Crimean geography is not exactly the best.
I could try to put together maps of the extent of the realm at the end of a reign, though they will very likely be somewhat inaccurate.

As for the starting situation, I've found a screenshot from Cixila's reign which wouldn't fit in the history of the Thaticos dynasty anyway, so I've planned to include it as a bonus picture. It should show her situation well enough.

AqPUvHY.jpg

King Simeon of Bulgaria got known as the Kingslayer... for having himself sawed in half. He was possessed, so that might have played a part.
A tragic life for the poor count.
Philaretos really didn't have an easy time. One had to be made of really stern stuff to survive in Cherson at the time.
Interesting start. I have tried it before but it felt kind of like watching paint dry at first, as I found it difficult to take on the nomads with the income of a mere count. I figure it'll be much more fun to read of someone's experience instead :D
Yeah, it takes a while for an opportunity to arise. Also, even if you manage to win a war against the nomads, you have to build a castle quickly or it falls back to the nomads again. And even if you do build a castle, the land is nearly worthless for quite some time. So you don't exactly snowball to an unstoppable monster, and still need to face the hordes in all their glory, hardly weakened from their defeat.

And even after these initial hardships, at some point the Mongols will show up, ready to undo all your previous work...

Which is what makes it so interesting and fun once it gets going. Though of course you also have to limit yourself to solely conquering nomad land, or things get much easier. You can always spend the time it takes for the opportunity to come watching the world go crazy - and that's nearly guaranteed.
 
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Cixila and Theudis I

alscon

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Cixila the Builder


(*882 - † 10th July, 932)


Leading the County since she was a young girl, Cixila's reign was dominated by the fear of nomadic incursions.

Mostly ignored by the Basileus and court politics, Cherson was an easy target for the Khazar Ashina clan. They sacked the town shortly after Philaretos' death. Both of Cixila's aunts were captured, and while one of them, Aspasia, died as Khan Çat'n's prisoner, another was forced to become a concubine of some nomadic warlord. This experience would be a guideline for her reign.

When the regency was over, Cixila's efforts were concentrated on improving Cherson's defences. The taxes were all spent on walls and military training facilities, and the Countess was often present in Constantinople arguing her case, only to be ignored by the ruling Basileus at the time, having no time for a heretic Goth and her heretic people.

She put herself as well as her children in service of peace with the nomads, as she married a Dulo. The blood of Attila in his veins, the Ashina respected Cixila's son Theudis enough for him to marry Peksen, daughter of their Khan.

But these marriages didn't save Cherson from multiple nomadic raids over the decades of her rule. Paired with the town's improved defences, the damage was reduced, at least. The Countess was soon beloved by her people, despite their religious differences.

In 932, Basileus Drakontios had enough of Cixila's pleads and had her imprisoned. The slight that caused her imprisonment has been lost to history, but it is likely that Drakontios thought her involved in a plot against his life, likely in exchange for a pretender's support. Perhaps he also thought that she was involved in the great revolt against his rule, which had come to an end a few months ago and whose perpetrators he had executed.​

The Basileus' fears at the time were perhaps not entirely unfounded – if not self-made –, as he was a hated monarch with a challenged intellect. He ended up being assassinated in 936.

Cixila didn't grow accustomed to her cell, as she died not long after. A beacon of justice and beloved leader of her people, put in chains by the tyrannical Drakontios, became a favourite motif for Gothic painters of the renaissance to represent the injustice of the Gothic people's treatment at the hands of the Greeks, although the truth is likely somewhere in between.


vaulAuN.jpg










Theudis I, the Dove

(*908 - † 16th March, 944)
Duke of Azov since 939


Theudis' epithet dates back to his days at his mother' court. The young man was beloved at court, peaceful, happy. His marriage to the nomad princess Peksen also seemed to be harmonic enough. None would have thought that the Dove would later become a man bathed in blood - more than once, and not just due to “circumstances”.

Theudis' transformation from dove to bird of prey began in the late days of Cixila's life. Ashina raiding parties, left entirely unimpressed by one of their own living behind Cherson's walls, often adventured into the county, pillaging indiscriminately. In Theudis' mind, diplomacy had failed.

When his mother was imprisoned by Drakontios, he also knew that he would have to expect no help from Constantinople. So after he took the reins of the county, he turned towards Rome. Pope Ansatasius III had declared his intention to launch a crusade for the glory of God – and the Dove managed to convince him to send the crusaders against Khazaria.

A crusade against a nomadic realm was clearly not going to be easy. Theudis convinced Anastasius by pointing out the possibility to settle the land with good Christians, both advancing Catholicism's reach to the east and eliminating a major, Jewish, threat. He also pointed out that most nomads probably didn't follow any religion anyway and only lived to raid.



None of them would have fathomed that this crusade, launched in 932, would last longer than they would live, especially not Theudis, a man of merely 24 years. In the end, it lasted 45 years – people lived their whole lives during this crusade, and throw more than Khazaria into turmoil.​


The Endless Crusade

The Khazars were ill-prepared for an attack of entire crusading armies, and they definitely didn't expect the Chersonians to actually attack them instead of the other way around, so Theudis managed to surprisingly drive off a far larger force in Theodosia. With the arrival of more crusaders, more initial victories followed – but soon, the Khazar clans were organized and united against the invaders, who hardly managed to achieve any other victory against the nomadic army.

This caused a lot of dispute amongst the crusaders, who split up and mostly erected forts in empty territory – only to find them razed a week, month or even years later, when the Khazars came. As time went on, the war only brought forward the worst in man, one excessive cruelty followed by the other.

The dispute reached its height already in the third year of the crusade, when it culminated in a duel between Pope Anastasius, who had taken to the crusade's cruelties like a fish to water, and the Captain of his Guard, during which the latter slew the Vicar of Christ.


pqZmIXc.jpg




With Anastasius' death, morale of most crusaders reached an absolute low. The united Khazar horde was too strong for any remaining crusading army to oppose, and they went from victory to victory.​

Theudis of Cherson avoided the big nomadic host as well as he could, and established a sizeable presence of Goths in Azov, killing any nomad he found on the spot. The Gothic presence in Azov was secure enough that in 939, Pope Urbanus III confirmed him as new Duke of Azov, the fortifications deemed strong enough to not be razed by the horde immediately.

Theudis was named Patrikios, then Anthypathos by Drakontios' successor Eugenios, who recognized his successes in the north, though without sending any aid. The newly-forged Duke didn't give that much thought, as he kept leading his army through nomadic land, often enough marching through the ruins of forts built by either his own men or the other crusaders.

Theudis' army no longer numbered a few hundred Goths from Cherson. With his county's people settling in Azov and the man himself proclaimed a leading crusader, his army was more like a band of adventurers from all over Europe, held together by a sizeable presence of order knights. Most other crusader armies were similarly composed, with the nobles withdrawing from the empty land after ten years of mostly senseless wandering.

Those left were either true zealots, Papal mercenaries, order knights or people hoping for a better life – mostly only to find death.


The Khazars had subjugated a few tribes to the northwest, and as Theudis found himself unable to hold on to Crimean lands, he tried to occupy these already existing tribal fortifications as 944 began. In Turov, Theudis fell gravely ill, and died not much later, a victim of the harsh winter.

His son and heir Kyrillos was less than three years old. This boy would leave a mark on history – but the Endless Crusade still raged on, as it would for over three decades more.


5kd1Bh4.jpg


With Theudis I, the Thaticos dynasty began to leave a real mark on history. As the initiator of the Khazar crusade – later known as the Endless Crusade – it is with him that the expansion into the steppe began. While some later generations honoured him as a warrior, leading his people from the front against the threat of the nomad raiders, some modern views of the man picture him as a ruthless, genocidal conqueror, far more cruel than all but the most vicious of his contemporaries. Be it as it may – the Endless Crusade changed the course of Eastern European history more than anything else, its effects felt throughout the entirety of the Catholic world.​
 
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jak7139

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Though Cixila and Theudis may have died horrible deaths (one in the dungeon, the other from Russia's winter) they both achieved something. Cixila built up the Capital and Theudis expanded the realm

Also two questions:

What are the bonuses from having Attilla-blood?

How were you able to take Azov during the Crusade? I thought you had to win the war first to receive any land.
 
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Nikolai

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Seems Theudis is getting an overly bad reputation from modern day people.
 
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Bullfilter

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King Simeon of Bulgaria got known as the Kingslayer... for having himself sawed in half
Sure it wasn’t just a magic trick gone wrong by an incompetent (or cleverly vengeful) court jester? :D

The Basileus' fears at the time were perhaps not entirely unfounded – if not self-made –, as he was a hated monarch with a challenged intellect. He ended up being assassinated in 936.
That’s what you get.

The dispute reached its height already in the third year of the crusade, when it culminated in a duel between Pope Anastasius, who had taken to the crusade's cruelties like a fish to water, and the Captain of his Guard, during which the latter slew the Vicar of Christ.
Woah! If that doesn’t disprove Papal infallibility, I’m not sure what does! What a mess that and the rest of the Endless Crusade appear to have been. Though perhaps it distracted the nomads for its duration?
 
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alscon

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Though Cixila and Theudis may have died horrible deaths (one in the dungeon, the other from Russia's winter) they both achieved something. Cixila built up the Capital and Theudis expanded the realm

Also two questions:

What are the bonuses from having Attilla-blood?

How were you able to take Azov during the Crusade? I thought you had to win the war first to receive any land.
Both their contributions were critical for the future. Theudis wouldn't have been able to seize Azov without Cixila's administration, and future Thaticos built on the Endless Crusade. And while Cixila's death was undeserved (or not - perhaps she was involved in the revolt against Drakontios), Theudis lived by the sword and just barely avoided dying by it.

Horse archer morale, personal combat skill, a little opinion bonus with a few cultures - and, most usefully, the ability to send children away as mercs.

A crusader state. During a crusade, whenever you fully occupy a duchy outside of the target kingdom, you can take it for your beneficiary (leaving them as tributary) or, as Theudis did, for yourself. Comes with a levy penalty for quite some time.
Seems Theudis is getting an overly bad reputation from modern day people.
A cruel man basically waging a war of extermination, he's gone a bit beyond the length those people would understand he could go in defence of the raids.
Sure it wasn’t just a magic trick gone wrong by an incompetent (or cleverly vengeful) court jester? :D


That’s what you get.


Woah! If that doesn’t disprove Papal infallibility, I’m not sure what does! What a mess that and the rest of the Endless Crusade appear to have been. Though perhaps it distracted the nomads for its duration?
That's an idea :p.

Professional hazard of being Basileus, I guess. Drakontios certainly deserved it though.

Anastasius had to be quite certain of said infallibility when he agreed to that duel. After all, he was a 63 year old coward fighting the guy who is responisble for his safety.
I can only imagine that the horde leaders would have laughed if not for the multiple armies swarming through their lands. The nomads' tactic was simple enough not to be impacted - one doomstack to rule them all.
Oh, What a Wild Ride that We Are in For! Wrong Religion, Wrong Culture; tough to get in good with Liege!
At least Catholicism is merely misguided and not full heresy like the Paulicians - else, Cherson would quickly have been revoked. As it was, the Goths simply had a very strained relationship with Constantinople.
 
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Kyrillos I

alscon

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Kyrillos I, the Young
the Lionheart
the Castellan
Saint Kyrillos the Myrrh-Streaming


(*10th May, 941 - † 1st July, 994)
Duke of Crimea since 973
King of Gothia since 978



Kyrillos never saw his father, and his mother was viewed with nothing but suspicion back in Cherson. But with the Endless Crusade raging on, his upbringing was – some might say paradoxically – safer than his predecessors', for no raiding nomads marched against the town's walls. His tutors took good care of the boy, while his army marched on under the Dove's banner.


Under the leadership of the Knights Hospitaller, the men were less inclined to avoid the Khazar host, and attempted to come to other crusaders' aid more than once, only to take severe defeats in return. No new settlements could be established in that time, and sometimes it looked like the crusade would come to an end soon, only for the Catholics to establish new forts in nomad territory.


When Kyrillos came of age, not many people placed much faith into the Young. The experienced knights leading the Azovian army had very little to show for in terms of success – surely he wouldn't do much better.


Naturally, they were proven right. Things didn't suddenly change.



The young Duke took charge of his army, and continued just as before at first. With royal armies rarely venturing into the steppe – mostly overconfident heirs, soon returning to their kingdoms with a bloody nose – he learned from the Hospitallers, who mostly followed Theudis the Dove's lead.


Kyrillos quite often met with the most tenacious crusaders – minor Irish lords, lowly Karlings, the Bonifazi, minor Polish lords - often lamenting that they no longer knew what their homeland even looked like. Going through the motions, saying that any day they didn't take a Khazar arrow was a good day.




The Miracle of Aqmescit


This went on for a few years, until a fateful day when Kyrillos' men came upon another nomad camp in Crimea, a few days' march from Cherson. As his men readied themselves to slaughter the Khazars just as they have done for decades, Kyrillos had a vision. When his men looked at the camp, they saw tents. The Young saw houses, walls, a church. A nomad testing his bow looked to him like a priest at mass. He heard a voice, telling him to bring them the word of God.


And so he did. No longer would any Khazar be senselessly massacred. Ordering his men to stay back, and calling upon his knowledge of their language learned from his mother, Kyrillos extended his offer, but most nomads tried to flee. Save for two – one warrior readied his bow on the Duke, and one blind, old woman fell to the ground.


The bowman loosened his arrow, straight at Kyrillos' face. The arrow hit its mark – only to harmlessly fall off the Duke's nose. He entered the church of his vision, and helped the old woman off the ground, mumbling a prayer – and the woman saw another arrow bouncing off his skin.


At the place of the miracle now stands Aqmescit's cathedral. Kyrillos went on to treat the Khazars like fellow humans, no longer the monsters of the past. The Duke became a true paragon of virtue.





While this compassion helped him to gain settlers for his cause, convincing nomads to become sedentary, his martial leadership was fuelled by a crusaders' zeal. In 973, the horde suffered its first defeat for ages on the banks of the Dnieper, and Kyrillos was named Duke of Crimea.​

Five years later, the Khazar Khagan Yilig, Duke Kyrillos and Pope Victor II signed a peace treaty. The Endless Crusade had finally come to an end, and the Kingdom of Gothia was born, independent of the Byzantine Empire.

MjULcU3.jpg





The Lionhearted Castellan


The church supported the efforts of the victorious crusaders to settle the land, and soon the endless plains were interrupted by stone walls. For three years, the new land was tamed; then, the Pechenegs attacked.


pdTqmRz.jpg


Kyrillos rallied his people, and would not yield that land to the savages again, but conserve it. This is where their future lied, no matter where they came from. Once adventuring crusaders, they were now all united under a single crown, all Gothians, all fighting for the glory of God.


The Pechenegs met Gothia's army in Saqsin. Kyrillos gave an eye in the defence of his crown, but prevailed. The young kingdom had managed to stand against a great nomad horde, and their king thanked the Lord with a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.


Upon his return, he claimed to be tasked with expanding the reach of civilization, and thus waged war against lesser Khanates. While victorious and filled with the experience of the Endless Crusade, the conflicts showed Kyrillos that Gothia, with its mostly virgin land, would not be able to stand on its own for too long.







The Sarkelian Inheritance


The new kingdom of Gothia consisted of the crown's land in Azov and Crimea, as well as the duchies of Sarkel and Itil.


Sarkel was initially attributed to Kyrillos' cousin Cixila. She died of depression, childless, in 989. Her heir was not the king, but a cousin on her father's side – Strategos Konstantinos of Sicily.


With Sarkel, nearly half of the crusade's gains were absorbed into Byzantium. The Lionheart was both outraged at his cousin's betrayal and confirmed in his belief that Gothia's steppe land would likely slip away from his crown.


He thus pledged his loyalty to Basilissa Parthena. Under the condition that she would not meddle into Gothia's internal affairs.


That pledge was soon tested, as the Khazars attempted to reclaim their land. With Byzantine assistance, Kyrillos managed to repel the Khazars in Zachlumia in 993.


That threat overcome, he directed his army against the wrongful heir, Konstantinos.




The Sicilian army arrived in 994. The Lionheart faced them – and despite achieving a victory, he was mortally wounded. It would be up to his son to reclaim the lost lands of Sarkel.​


Kyrillos' body was brought to Cherson, and as he was laid to rest in his tomb, his wound healed. The great king remained in such a pristine condition, even years later, seemingly asleep and ready to awake at any moment. Clearly favoured by the Lord, and with word of these miracles reaching Rome, he was canonized.


2ShAvWk.jpg








Saint Kyrillos, founder of the kingdom of Gothia, is shrouded in legend. While scholars debate the nature of the Miracle of Aqmescit, it is clear that the experience of the Endless Crusade forged the young Duke into a leader of rare ability and wisdom. The Goths say that in their darkest hour, Saint Kyrillos shall awake from his slumber, ready to lead his people to a new dawn. So far, he hasn't; which leads some to claim that despite tough times falling on Gothia, its darkest hour hasn't yet come.


In more practical terms, Kyrillos' “Codex Thaticos” has been a well-guarded secret weapon of the Thaticos dynasty throughout the middle ages, giving his successors an edge in most battles waged against the hordes, rarely changing their general strategy, even over the course of centuries.


His longsword, the Veil of Veronica and a dragon amulet from the far east became the regalia of Gothia, without which no coronation of a Gothic king could take place.
c7Bm8vQ.jpg
 
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Nikolai

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Indeed he proved to be a man of legends, and I’m sure his legacy will last for a long time.
 
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RustyHunter

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Kyrillos was quite the character! I'm really liking this style of AAR, it seems to work quite nicely.
 
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jak7139

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Kyrillos lead his people into the founding of a new Kingdom, but like all founding figures his life is shrouded in myths, stories, and idealism. A Saint, warrior, King, builder, and vassal. There is seemingly nothing he couldn't do.
 
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diskoerekto

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Thanks to @Midnite Duke I discovered this gem of an AAR! Great work!
 
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alscon

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Indeed he proved to be a man of legends, and I’m sure his legacy will last for a long time.
Well, his descendants are at least still alive in 1453, I can reveal that much without spoiling anything ;).
Kyrillos was quite the character! I'm really liking this style of AAR, it seems to work quite nicely.
A great man, rightfully made a saint. Glad you do :).
Kyrillos lead his people into the founding of a new Kingdom, but like all founding figures his life is shrouded in myths, stories, and idealism. A Saint, warrior, King, builder, and vassal. There is seemingly nothing he couldn't do.
While you are most certainly right, there is something he couldn't do - dying an old man in his sleep. But I guess that only adds to his legend instead of dimishing it.
A Great, Great Man! Could you elaborate on the crusade spoils? Did you take new lands and somehow continue to play as old character?
A truly worthy founder of a kingdom. Well, I simply played as a self-serving crusader, so Kyrillos took the kingdom for himself. As to the spoils, I took Azov and Crimea during the crusade, Sarkel and half of Itil as gains at the crusade's end. Those were converted into tribal lands, so the sizeable crusade chest was then spent on building castles everywhere.
Thanks to @Midnite Duke I discovered this gem of an AAR! Great work!
Glad to have you. Guess I'll have to unveil a few more secrets in return for @Midnite Duke ;).
 
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