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    The realm rejoices as Paradox Interactive announces the launch of Crusader Kings III, the latest entry in the publisher’s grand strategy role-playing game franchise. Advisors may now jockey for positions of influence and adversaries should save their schemes for another day, because on this day Crusader Kings III can be purchased on Steam, the Paradox Store, and other major online retailers.


    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

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The year is 769 anno domini. The Western Roman Empire is but a distant memory, faded into the sands of time. In the west, the Germanic Kingdoms that overran the Western Empire continue to squabble over it’s corpse, while the true Emperor rules from the east, in Constantinople. The Pontiff in Rome refuses to recognise the religious legitimacy of the eastern Patriarch however, still claiming to be the sole head of the Christian faith.

In the Kingdom of the Franks, Pepin the Short, son of the legendary Charles ‘The Hammer’ Martel, has died, leaving his kingdom divided between his sons. Karl, the eldest, inherits the West Francian realm, while the younger, Karloman, rules the realm of Middle Francia, the inheritance of the Frankish realm split in two between the brothers. Neither brother is happy with their father’s choices, with Karl in particular claiming himself as the legitimate heir to all the Frankish realms, which Karloman resists.

As the power struggle for the throne of the Franks begins, Karloman must marshal all his resources to struggle against his elder brother’s ambitions if he hopes to stop his brother’s attempts to usurp him, and claim the throne of a united Frankish realm.


OOC: Hey all. This is my first time doing an AAR so feedback and constructive critique are welcome for this one in particular. The conceit of this AAR is that it's from a 769 start playing as Karloman, younger brother of Charlemagne. Historically, as we know, Karl won the resultant power struggle over the Frankish realms and went on to found the Caroliginian Empire and lay the foundations for most of medieval Europe's most prominent kingdoms. But what if Karloman, not Karl had survived?...

August 769, Brie, capital of Karloman Karling, rightful King of the Franks,



He crumpled the parchment between his fingers, face twisted into a small snarl. If his wife hadn’t known Karloman’s anger was not directed her way, it might have been a frightening thing.



“She won’t agree.” His voice sounded angry but distant, like it was coming from far away across the sea, “she refuses. My own mother refuses to talk to my usurping brother to try and convince him to rein in his ambitions. She dishonours the wish of our late father, her own husband, to split the inheritance between his sons.”



Gerberga, Queen of the Franks, looked up from the baby toward her husband. “Well it’s not shocking, she had agreed to serve in his court over yours.”

“No,” he agreed quietly, “Not shocking, but… disappointing. I had hoped she shared my desire to avoid a quarrel, or at least, to try and ensure our rivalry did not spill over into open warfare.”

In Gerberga’s opinion, love him though she might, neither Karl nor Karloman had covered themselves in glory in this dispute. Karloman’s call for a duel just days after the death of their father had ended in Karl being scarred and slashed across the face, but neither one had yielded their claim on each other’s lands, despite Karloman’s victory. Karl’s lords were strongly in his camp, bar a few malcontents, and Karloman had already dodged two assassins, presumably sent by his brother, in this year.



“Perhaps she feels she cannot publicly respond to your calls.” She suggested, trying to soothe Karloman’s frayed temper, “she is, after all, serving at your brother’s court. If she has so publicly aligned herself with him, responding to your calls for talks could be construed as treasonable by your brother’s lords.”

“My brother’s lords know full well that he would not consent to see his mother as treasonable,” Karloman shook his head, “No, I’ve lost our mother for good. She has chosen the elder son over the younger, as I feared she might from the beginning.”
“Your soldiers are ready then?” she asked, prompting her husband’s next thoughts.

“Not yet, the training of the newest batch proceeds apace, but my brother’s army still looks to outnumber us if we take the field for now. I had hoped his wounds from our duel would kill him first, but it seems it is not to be.”


“You will find a way, husband,” Gerberga replied, awkwardly. She was unsure of what this proud, prickly young man who so despised his elder brother wanted her to say, and so decided to retreat to safer ground, returning to coo and play faces with Pepin, the infant babe, and her husband’s heir.



Assuming his brother didn’t kill him first...


November, 769.

Gascogne, Realm of West Francia,



“What do you make of it?”

Loup, the Duke of Gascogne, had directed that question towards his friend and advisor, Thiaddi. Wise but lowborn, the two had grown up together into adulthood. Loup knew his eldest friend was one of the few who could be trusted to receive such sensitive intelligence as that which the letter contained.



“It does indeed seem to imply what you think my lord,” came the reply, “Buried beneath the courtesies, King Karloman seems to imply he seeks your support in ensuring the death of his brother, your liege lord.”

“That’s what I thought,” Loup grinned, and Thiaddi privately thought that those lopsided teeth gave him a wolflike grin. Duke Loup was aptly named, “Well he knows I bear Karl no love, nor should I. The man’s a viper, and a poisonous one at that.”

“Yes your lordship,” Thiaddi always felt it wise to agree with Loup when the subject of King Karl came up, The Duke’s long rants against the King to his servants and staff could last all day if he were challenged.

“Well I’ll certainly not say no,” Loup grinned savagely, “And God be known that I’d prefer the younger brother over the elder from what I’ve heard of him. Karl’s too busy siring hunchbacks and fawning over Lombard Princesses.”

“Shall I send the reply in the affirmative then, Your Lordship?”

“Save it,” Loup replied, “This is one letter I’d rather write myself…”
 
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Welcome! Interesting start. Please be safe.
 

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1607149400019.png
1607149400019.png

The Political situation of the Frankish Realms, October 770.

770, anno domini, the city of Vermandois, October.




“Is the food not to your Lordship’s liking?”

The politest of phrases from the most wretched of faces, King Karl’s scar was an exercise in grotesquery, poorly-healed tissue forming a huge fissure over the top half of his nose, and running clean along his face to come to rest just beneath the right eye. In Loup’s opinion it was a pity that Karloman’s blade hadn’t struck truer, and blinded that formerly handsome face for good.

“One must forgive my face Your Majesty,” Loup replied, sour grimace giving way to a savage smile, “A long ride with only one’s servants and retainers for company does naught to improve the mood,”

“Well, god willing that tomorrow’s feast and hunt will cheer you up,” Karl replied, that easy charm that won him friends so well showing up.

Loup had to fight the urge to grimance at that, aware that both the King and his mother were watching his reaction. There she was, that smirking witch that Pepin had married, Bertrada, who had spun her servants webs like a spider until they had covered all of Karl’s lords in them. Nothing that happened in the realm passed without her knowing, it was rumoured, and her position at her son’s side was his most formidable advantage.



“In Gods name,” Loup murmured, “So shall it be,”

Apparently satisfied with that, Karl had turned to one of his other guests, busily conversing over his brother’s raids along the southern border of the realm. But Loup once or twice felt a prickling sensation on his neck, and even had discreetly caught Bertrada’s eye.





“The old witch knows,” he said to Thiaddi once the two were safely away off into the night after the feast that night.



There was no need to ask whom Loup meant by ‘the old witch,’. He spat it in such a tone of contempt that he only ever used for one creature of the female species.

“The Queen Mother?” Thiaddi shook his head, brown eyes barely visible in the dim gloom of the night, “She suspects, but no more. Had she known, we’d be dead already. She's not one to rest while threats to the King still linger.”


Loup continued, in a low voice as his stride towards their resting place for the night became increasingly agitated, “You’re sure the bowmen you sent for have arrived? If they’ve even gone a small way awry-“

“Then we try again another day until it works,” Thiaddi interrupted firmly, “Have no fear Lordship, while these things cannot be known for certain, we have planned well for this day.”

Or rather, Karloman has, and I have, Thiaddi knew full well that Loup couldn’t ‘plan’ for anything that didn’t involve stabbing something with a sharp object.



“Have no fear,” he continued, “the squabble for the throne of the Franks will be settled soon enough.”




1607149562537.png

The conspiracy against King Karl intensifies...
 
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October, 770, Brie, The Capital of Karloman.

“You’re sure?” The King asked, brow furrowed.

“Yes lord,” the servant bowed, “Duke Robert’s agents have confirmed your questions. The child that grows within the Queen is not yours. They intercepted her rendezvous with the Count of Charolais.”

“Then I am betrayed once more,” his voice was calm, but Karloman’s fists visibly clenched atop his throne. Turning to his nearest retainer, a burly, spear-wielding man who stood beside the King as he dispensed judgement, he rattled off a series of instructions

“Take thirty riders and set out for Charolais, where you are to take Count Nibelung into custody, and bring him here to face trial for adultery and treason. Inform the court of his arrest and summon whichever two lords are on the nearest of the holiday estates here in the capital to serve as witness to the trial.” Turning back to the servant, “As for you,” the King’s face was a grimace, “Summon my wife to me.”

Following the birth of his second child, a daughter, Gaudildis, Karloman had nursed his suspicions since the news of his wife’s third pregnancy had not been as pleasing to her. Her previous pregnancies had been accompanied by laughter, this one by perturbed anxiety. His own visits to her bed while he travelled the realm to rally support for the upcoming war with Karl had been few and far between, and she had barely been able to meet his eyes…

His own suspicions had been roused, and he had ordered Robert to have his agents shadow his wife. If she had been pregnant by another, her lover would have needed to be told about it, either by letter or meeting. Clearly, she had not been able to resist the lure of a secret rendezvous.

The Count of Charolais, that is the one. A pretty face, charmer. A pity. I thought I knew Gerberga better than that, I’d not thought she’d be fool enough to let a pretty face be enough to put a bastard in her belly.



In the guards strode, the Queen between them. She was not shackled, though from the tone of their body language it was clear she was being escorted under threat of force.



“Husband, what is the meaning of this?” she demanded, tone querulous, but tinged with a hint of uncertainty.



Karloman did not answer, but instead gazed about the room. The watching courtiers felt a chill emanating from that handsome, unlined face. A man of barely nineteen years, the King’s face radiated anger. Those who felt his gaze fancied that those pale eyes almost burned into them.



“It has been proven to our satisfaction that Gerberga, once called Queen, has betrayed us. She has consorted to bear a bastard that is not of her lawful and recognised sovereign and husband.”

Gasps around the room, as the colour drained from his wife’s face.

Serves you right, he thought savagely. anger at this new betrayal suddenly surging within him



“This is no laughing matter. Betrayal of a King is treason, and to treason there is only one punishment.”

Silence reigned, everyone present knew how this would end.



“Imprison the former Queen and have her escorted to her royal chamber. Keep her there, under guard, and allow her only enough sustenance to feed herself. Agents have been dispatched to arrest her conspirator in her adultery and treason, and the two will be executed together. Should they confess and repent, I can promise only a swift and painless end.”

The Count of Paris dared to step forward, “Your Majesty, may we know the identity of the Queen’s accomplice…”

“You may,” Karloman replied, face impassive as he watched the guards seize his shaking wife by the arms, “Count Nibelung, of Charolais, whose presence here shall be manifest in a fortnight. If he confesses, then his death shall be as swift as that of the former Queen's."


Silence reigned, none daring to interrupt the King in such a mood. “Let this be a lesson,” Karloman continued, voice deadly and quiet, “Treason is not to be tolerated, it is to be rooted out, and cut away before it infects the rest.”

Confident that the silence in the room meant the lesson had taken root, the King moved onto other matters.


“You do not come to hear me speak of treason my lords, you come to hear me plan for war with my brother. I fear in that regard I must disappoint you, for it is unseemly that brothers should do battle with swords in hand over the spoils gifted to them by the works of their fathers.” Ignoring the somewhat inconvenient fact that Karloman had already done precisely that in their duel months earlier, he moved on, “I do not intend for there to be war, and so long as my brother’s armies make no aggressive moves towards my inheritance, I shall make none towards his. Come what may, all Franks are brothers in arms, and it is unseemly that they should shed each other’s blood over a sibling quarrel. There shall be no war that is not forced upon us.”





Let the rats scurry off to deliver that message to Karl, and to mother. He was well-aware his brother had as many spies in his circle as he had in Karl’s. He would not declare war against his brother, and they would bear that message. How Karl reacted remained to be seen…



But whatever came next, the blame would not be on his head...

OOC: Karloman seems to have bad luck with his family members doesn't he? Let's see how he handles Karl now that he's openly stated he's not going to go to war with him...
 
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War? No! Arranged Accidental Death? If I Must!
 
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I love this AAR!
Karloman, also, seems very sympathetic to me...
I add that your writing is very fluid and helps me understand how to improve my own writing. Thanks ^^
 
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I love this AAR!
Karloman, also, seems very sympathetic to me...
I add that your writing is very fluid and helps me understand how to improve my own writing. Thanks ^^
My thanks! I'm trying to give each character a bit of individualised personality, based where I can on their in-game traits as well. Karloman being sympathetic is intentional, given he's the principal character for at least the first bit, so I'm glad he's coming across that way. He's still a medieval warlord though, so we'll see how well he stays that way as his story twists and turns. Needless to say, I'll keep a watch on your AAR as well:_

I'll have another update up later today:_
 
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November 770, Court of Karl Karling, King of West Francia


“What do you make of it?” Karl asked Bertrada, Queen Mother of the Franks

“Of Karloman’s words?” His mother sighed, “If he means what he says, then it means he intends to seize power without the need for war, not that he means to stop pursuing you. His raiders still probe the border to the south, even now. That doesn’t sound like a man intent on peace. But he means to cast you as the aggressor, the greedy conqueror, seeking to steal more than is his due.”

“That’s what I thought,” Karl sighed, subconsciously raising his hand to touch the scar that now marred his once handsome face, the scar that Karloman had given him when they had met just weeks after father’s death. “God’s will I have tried to get him to see reason.”

“You are the elder,” Bertrada replied gently, “Karloman resents you for it, always has. By our traditions you are the senior of the two, but he persists in attempting to push you aside out of envy.”

“Envy, a sin worse than all others,” Karl nodded sadly, “I must pray tonight, will you meet with the Lombard ambassadors until I am able to return to discuss things with them after supper?”

“Of course my son,” Bertrada replied, as Karl strode to leave the tent, “And what of the hunt?”

“Not this again,” Karl snapped, “I made clear that I intend to carry on with this. While Karloman continues to defy me the Pontiff in Rome will consent to crown neither of us as King of the Franks, and I need to keep the lords that are sworn to me. The Lombard alliance, if it bear fruit, will enable us to encircle Karloman to the south as well, but I need the hunt to proceed to discuss battle plans for the campaign next year away from prying ears, and sniff out those who might be contemplating a switch of allegiance,” he continued, casting a meaningful look at her.

“I am working to root out Karloman’s agents in court my son,” she replied, “And when I do, I’ll see to it that we turn some of them to your advantage.”

Karl nodded, “I trust you mother, but I don’t trust that my brother has not planned some nasty surprise for us. This move of his is… unexpected. I was certain he would move first with his armies. It’s not in his nature to be patient. Especially not when he knows that war looms.” He turned back to face her, “I’ll leave tomorrow with the others in the morn, as planned,” his face softened, “Do take care of yourself whilst I am gone,”

“And you, son,” the Queen Mother whispered softly into the night. But Karl had disappeared through the flap of the tent, and was gone…



In Amiens, Kingdom of West Francia.

The hooded man drew astride of the bowman leaning against the tree, the dim morning light barely illuminating his mottled cloak. As he dismounted, gesturing with a hand for the servant sat atop the nag next to him to grab the reins of his horse, he straightened awkwardly, legs feeling sore in the manner typical of one who rarely rode astride the great beasts in Gascogne’s stables.



“You made it then?” he asked, drawing close to the bowman so he could speak in a low tone.



“Aye,”


The hooded man waited, but his interlocuter did not elaborate.


“I hope your talent for confusion proves as useful as your knack for understatement in the days to come,” the hooded man replied swiftly, “Much is depending on our success in this operation,”

“Not least of all your head,” the bowman replied bluntly, “Have you fear, serving man, you and your lord do your duty to our King, and my friends and I shall do ours. When the arrows fly, it shall be naught but a tragic accident, a terrible shot misfired in the midst of the chaos of a hunt, and the hounds shall not sniff us out afterwards neither.”

“Of course not,” the man beneath the hood responded, “You’ve been informed how things will go, you’ll be in the hunting party when it leaves on the morning of the 18th It is likely that there will be three groups of hunters spreading in different directions, but we will make certain that you are in the King’s party. When the hunting horse wearing the colours of Gascogne stumbles and falls, the next task will be yours.”

“Just be sure that your King suspects nothing,” The bowman replied, mistrust plain in his voice, “It’s vital we not be discovered before the time comes,”

“Since it’s my head on the line if it fails bowman, you can rest assured it shall be done cautiously,” the hooded man replied, with a snarl. “Take up your arrows on the morning of the 18th and strike true, and all shall end well.”


He left, without giving the bowman a chance to respond, waiting to where the servant, head bowed and eyes low on the road, stood astride his horse, patiently waiting for him to return. The hooded man mounted up, seized the reins, and clicked the mount onto the road once again.



They rode in silence for a few miles, the sun now beginning to peak through the breaking cloud.



“Is all prepared, Thiaddi?” the servant asked, face now visible beneath the cloth cowl he had used to conceal his face…



He smiled, “Aye your lordship, the bowmen are prepared, it’s only left to us to ensure the right fellows are with us in the King’s party. God willing it, King Karl will meet his end.”

Duke Loup’s face answered beneath the cowl with a twisted, wolf-like grin of his own. “So shall it be.”


November18th 770, Amiens, the Western kingdom of the Franks,


The two days of the hunt had brought the court of Charlemagne from Vermandois to the woods of Amiens. For few of the lords could resist a good hunt, thus most had accompanied the King on the travels. That the hunting party doubled as a gathering of those who were in the Kings inner circle for his coming war against Karloman only made their presence more necessary.



Or excusable, in the case of the Duke of Gasogne. Out of favour with King Karl, who plainly disliked him, his rule of a large Duchy necessitated his inclusion in the war plans. He had rode with the King for the past two days of the hunt, discussing war plans by day and reading dispatches by night, his high spirits disguising the growing restlessness swirling in his gut.



“You alright Loup?” The King inquired, “You look a little sickly,”

Loup swallowed, cursing himself inwardly, be more careful, you’ve come too far to mess this up now,

“A little indigestion, Highness,” he replied, forcing a smile, “The saffron at last night's feast was a little fine for my taste,”

Frowning the King grunted as he shifted in his saddle, though months passed, the wounds he had sustained in his duel with Karloman still troubled him a little. “Delicate stomach eh?” he chided, “Well now, never mind that, the servant thinks the dogs will have found the trail soo- Ah, there!”

The handler was running their way,

“Sire! The hounds have caught the scent, there’s a small clearing to the west where they can drive the fox to ground!”

“Then let’s go! The hunt resumes!” The King dug his spurs into his horse as the great beast lurched forward, Loup hurriedly doing the same, mind racing as fast as the galloping hooves beneath him. The King’s hunting retinue, having strung their bows to loose them, rapidly scrambled to follow along after him

I do hope they’re ready…



Onward they rode, through the lightening wood across a jagged stream and broke into the open foothills. The dogs brayed as they raced across the field, chasing a white fox, sides streaked with blood and sweat…

The Duke of Gascogne and the King aside one another and the hunting party rode into the base of the foothill, greeted by the barking of dogs, bows drawn as they ran down the fox…



The Duke’s great horse almost stumbled and he flew forward in his saddle shouted for help, reaching down, he yanked on the King’s reins as if to support himself to remain in the saddle and pull himself up…



“Loose!”



The archers aimed at the fox… the dogs brayed, and the Duke heard a cry from to his right. Shouts, screams and the cry of fear and pain.



“The King!, Help the King!”

He sat up, clean in his saddle, “Your Majesty!”

Karl’s eyes were widened, his grip slackened… His white knuckles opened and he toppled from the horse. Seeing him fall, Loup caught sight of an arrow embedded in his back,



“Idiots! You’ve shot the King! Help him!”

He dismounted, running, shouting, screams and cries from archers and fellow nobles alike.

“Who fired that?” “I didn’t see!” “Was it you?”

“Get a physician!” Loup snapped, gently turning the King over. The arrow had gone clean through the robe. No breath escaped

In the confusion, none had seen the accusing glare that the King had been aiming at Duke Loup with those widened eyes just before he toppled from his horse…



The physician was summoned, but it was not enough… King Karl Karling, Lord of the Franks, was dead, the cause ruled of a terrible accident during a fox hunt…



Nobody ever managed to discover which archer on the hunting party had fired the shot that had accidentally struck the King in the back. There had been too much confusion, too many shouts and the King’s horse had stumbled just before. Those few who knew otherwise were not prepared to say so, of course… Thiaddi arrived to see Duke Loup shake his head and the physician meet the watching crowd's eyes...

"Send for a litter. The King is dead."





November 19th, The city of Paris, 770

The execution of Count Nibelung had proceeded without a hitch. Down the axe came and off the head came. He had confessed under torture. Yes, he had seduced the Queen. No, neither of her two living children were his, the affair had begun after their births. Yes, the third child in her had been his. No, she had not been an unwilling participant. All this the King had known already, but the lords needed to see, needed to witness.



When Gerberga’s sentence was established, she had cried, shrieked, begged her husband’s mercy. Karloman’s smooth, unlined face had been cold, ordering the headsman to collect the Queen for execution next.



He had left the court then, daring to meet the eyes of the few lords whom were known to be unhappy with the punishment. Regardless of the crime, treason was a heavy offense, and Gerberga had been one of them, a noblewoman, and known to many of the lords present since she was a small child, as Karloman himself had.



But none could do anything about it. Her punishment was prescribed in the laws, and neither God nor men would condemn a King who upheld such penalties in the face of such baseness. If any would have condemned him, it was for the death of the unborn bastard in the Queen’s belly. But most understood, no King would suffer a living reminder of his cuckold’s folly in his house. Bad enough that he be made a cuckold at all…



“Report, Robert,” he said quietly to the silent council of his principal after the executions. The faces of the men assembled were pale, terse. It had been a difficult day for them all.



“News from the border, My King,” the Duke Capet had replied softly. “Your brother is dead. A hunting accident they say. He was struck from behind by an arrow and fell dead off his horse while they chased a white fox.”

“I see,” Karloman replied, not meeting Robert’s gaze. They alone among those in the room knew full well that the death had been no accident.



“Will you ride for Vermandois in the morning? Your brother’s boy survives him, but he is barely an infant, and a crippled hunchback and a bastard too boot. Your brother left no trueborn issue. The throne of the Franks is yours. Ride now to your brother’s capital, and I’m confident his lords will cleave to you, if only for lack of an alternative”

“Does anyone here disagree with that assessment?”



None did, the King could see. Robert was right, what alternative candidate to Karloman would be credible to assume his brothers inheritance? Better to move immediately and claim it, lest his brother’s lords get any ideas about raising up one of their own as a pretender. Men foundered when lacking firm direction, and tended to make their own plans, rather than plans for the good of the kingdom.

“Than we ride together tomorrow, where I shall assume my role as King of the Franks.”


1607324274577.png

The Assassination of King 'Karl' Charlemange, King of the West Franks, brought a premature end to the sibling rivalry over the Frankish realms.



OOC: This was a big one. Both Karl's first wife and his brother fall, at almost the exact same times...
 
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Well, that's as working as a Swiss clock.
Honestly my impression is that the Queen Mother is a bit confused and unprepared against the situation. I guess she valued tradition and stability above everything...
Let's see how this unravels...

BTW: that's nice to see how Karlmann planned thoroughly everything :)
 
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Well, that's as working as a Swiss clock.
Honestly my impression is that the Queen Mother is a bit confused and unprepared against the situation. I guess she valued tradition and stability above everything...
Let's see how this unravels...

BTW: that's nice to see how Karlmann planned thoroughly everything :)
The Queen Mother supported the elder brother over the younger, which she thought was the true and proper thing to do to maintain stability. How she reacts to what's happened and where it all goes next, you'll have to wait and see. All I'll say is... she's not finished yet as a player in this AAR.

Karloman got seriously lucky with that plot in-game to be honest, barely three plotters and about 56% plot power. But luck plays just as big a part as planning I guess.
 
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He upheld his promise to not declare war on his brother. Why do I think that there will be a day of reckoning?
 

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November, 770, anno domini



Hour by hour, they had deserted, the Frankish lords of Charlemagne riding out to accept his brother as King and plea for pardon. The King was gracious enough, swearing that no reprisal would be extracted from his brother’s lords who swore fealty and performed their duties faithfully. Few knew how the King’s jaw had clenched when uttering those words, pardoning their transgressions. As soon as they had heard of Karloman’s approach, accompanied only by his own small retinue, they had fled in their droves to take their oaths to him.



But the Queen Mother Bertrada did not join the throng of Frankish lords who headed out to pledge to her younger son. She waited, standing silent and tearless vigil over the body of her eldest son, Karl, which lay in state in the Chapel outside Vermandois. Her son’s outriders would be coming soon, she knew, but she had ignored all entreaties from her tearful servants to flee.



The morn gave way to the afternoon, and the noon to evening before she heard the galloping of onrushing hooves draw to a halt outside, heard the oaken door of the church swing open.



Karloman strode into the room, blonde hair seeming darker in the dim candlelit chapel. He looked, she thought, terrible. Thin, haggard and sallow-skined, his once-bright eyes sunk in hollow pits and a look of naught but grim resignation marking his expression.



“Is he here?” he demanded. He need not specify whom he spoke of.



Bertrada did not speak, turned her face away from him, merely motioning downwards with her hand.



Karloman did not cry out, nor spit, nor even speak in anger. He merely drew up beside her, bowed his head, and uttered a quick prayer to God for deliverance of his brother’s soul.



He seemed not at all diminished by death. Karl had always been a large, imposing man, only Karloman had inherited their father’s legendary shortness. Some men seemed shrunken and diminished in death, but his brother seemed much the same, save for a serene lifelessness across that scarred face. The beard was as full and healthy as ever, his lifeless lips formed into that vague but serene half-smile that had often marked him when amused or intrigued.



“You will need to send for the Pontiff in Rome to crown you King of the Franks,” were the first words his mother spoke to him.



“I have already done so,” Karloman replied, glancing at her face in the dimly-lit hall. “Are you going to ask me for pardon too?”

“I have done nothing worthy of requiring it,” his mother replied, voice defiant, but calm. “I followed the one I believed to be my rightful King, that he is dead now has no bearing on whether I was right or not.”

Anger began to spark in his face, “So you will not be pardoned?”

“I will not seek your pardon anymore than you will execute me for alleged treason, son.” She replied, laying slight emphasis on that last word.



“And what makes you think I won’t?” Karloman demanded, querulously.



“No man is as accursed in the eyes of God as a kinslayer,” she replied, and in the corner of her eye she saw him flinch as if struck, “And in your heart of hearts, you do not believe that the act of following your brother was akin to treason. I followed whom I believed right, as did many. You, for all your faults, do not condemn people for doing what they feel right just because it was inconvenient to you.”

“Attempting to aid those who would steal my inheritance IS treason mother,” he responded, “I don’t know what other word you would think fit to use for it.”



“And many would say you intended to steal your brother’s inheritance,” she glanced down at the corpse between them, “And some will now say you succeeded. But be that as it may you won’t execute me. My agents are too numerous, my reach too long. If I were to die, they would avenge my death upon you.”

“And what would those agents do if I let you live?”

“Whatever I commanded them to do, of course.” Bertrada replied simply, looking directly at him for the first time. The anger in her young son’s face was gone, replaced by only that terrible dull weariness he had worn when first entered. “And what I command them to do will depend on you.”

“Would you put their skills and your own to use for me, as you did my father and brother?”

“If I were requested to, for certain,”

“Would you have had them kill me, if Karl had asked for it?”

“I already attempted it,” she replied calmly, “Twice”.



“Pleasant to know Mother,” Karloman replied sarcastically, “Though I suppose I should be thankful for your candour, if nothing else,” he sighed, “Very well Mother, you’re forgiven. While I will not have you resume your old post as spymaster, you’re welcome to come to court with me and the other lords while we await the Pontiff’s reply to my request for a coronation.”

“He will say yes,” Bertrada replied confidently, “He only awaited this long because he felt uncertain as to whom would emerge victorious among the two of you. Now the Frankish lords are united, he will consent.”

“I pray you are right,” Karloman replied.



“You should pray for your soul,” she responded tersely, “And his,” she gestured sadly downwards, but did not shed tears. Not in front of him. That would be a weakness.



“Leave us then,” Karloman replied,



She eyed him carefully, “As you wish,”

Silently, she made for the door, that great oaken hulk scraping gently upon the floor as she closed it behind her.



Taking a glance at the serenity of final sleep upon his brother’s ruined face, Karloman gave one long sad exhale. After a few moments, he moved out behind the bier onto which the corpse had been laid in state, and gently knelt facing the altar.



He did not come out until dawn the following morning…
 
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Mother is tougher than combo sons! Please be safe, my king's scribe.
 
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What to say? The Queen is really A queen and Karloman seems to know that. Aside...I don't have a clear idea on how make her of use to Karloman. Any road I see, it's risky, especially because I can quite feel under her lines that she wanted to impress Karloman and waiting for the slightest sting of power for "punish" him.

As for Karloman...I already said but I repeat: he's sympathetic. he reminds me an Italian book "Invictus" about Costantin the Great (y'know, the one who said "Christian will be free" and got baptized on his deathbed). The scene reminds me when he had killed both Fausta and Crispus for adultery and Helene, the queen mother, storms and scolds him for "taking the easy not the right path".
And in the whole book he's constantly thorn between power and righteousness.

Indeed a powerful scene <3
 
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@Writewolf

"Torn between power and righteousness" is an excellent choice of phrasing it! I'm glad that's how it felt to you. That's how it felt to me, so if I conveyed that, then I succeeded.

And yes, the dynamic between Bertrada and her last surviving son will be a very interesting one for quite some time to come. It may not go the way one would expect, but we'll see:_) It's going to be a complicated relationship.

If I can make a guy who kills his own brother within the first few posts seem sympathetic, then I'm doing well so far with the characters:_ Thank you for that lovely feedback, that's made my day:_

Should be getting into some wars soon, so I'll try my hand at some battle sequences.
 
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This is an excellently written AAR! I'm curious to see what Europe will look like in Karloman's world.
He doesn't seem like a very pleasant person overall but now Francia is his and the kings of Europe should tremble.
Bertrada is sure to be livid about Karl's death and planning somethign, if I were Karloman I would get her to a nunnery far far away before things turn foul.
 
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@slothinator
Glad you're enjoying it! Yeah, Karloman has his faults, but then again, both he and his brother were equally willing to murder each other here.

Bertrada does have a sense of loyalty that is very strong, but to who or what is not yet clear, and whether that loyalty makes her a help or hindrance to Karloman is unclear. Suffice to say, she does have a large role to play in the coming years.

I'll have a post up tomorrow, dealing with some other events that begin occurring to the south and east of the Frankish realms...
 
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West of the Elbe, 771, Febuary

The caravan was set upon just before dusk as it travelled along the darkened roadside.



The few guards who had been hired to accompany it fled at the sight of the approaching raiders, screaming for plunder and blood. Mercenaries were not men inclined to give of their lives in such a hopeless struggle. Dead men won no gold, so when twenty Saxon axemen had run screaming from the forest edge, they had fled and left their employers in the lurch.



The Saxons had butchered the mules, stripped the valuables off the carts, rounded up and slain the wealthy merchants, even stealing the rich fabrics in which they garbed themselves, leaving their corpses naked upon the roadside, and then set ablaze the carts in which they had travelled.



Those who sighted the smoke from the burning carts smelt the massacre before they sighted it. And those who witnessed it were horrified by the butchery that had taken place.



For one, a monk who had seen the aftermath of several such attacks in recent months, the sickness with which he was greeted coming upon each fresh massacre was equalled only by the growing red sickness in his mind, the sickness of wrath.



This time, someone would pay for this. The affront that the heathens delivered against God would no longer be tolerated.


Early 771 anno domini



Pope Honorius II, Bishop and Pontiff of Rome and supreme religious authority of Christendom had made the perilous trip north. Even with his domains menaced by the Lombard Kings, they knew better than to forcefully obstruct him on his journey when he had been invited north to crown the King of the Franks. A king who, until very recently, they had been contemplating aligning against to block his ascension.



With Karl’s sudden death and Karloman’s ascension, all talk of a Frankish-Lombard alliance died, even though the new King had recently been self-widowed. Old king Desiderius had no available female progeny left, and his preference for Karl during the Frankish succession struggle had not endeared him to Karloman either. Knowing this, and Karloman’s interest in closer ties with the Roman Pontiff, he let him pass through to the lands of the Franks unmolested, likely fearing Frankish intervention if he provided Karloman with the slightest excuse to interfere.



Honorius was a rather small, mouse-like man, whose nervous eyes darted about from place to place. Karloman mentally labelled him a craven from the moment he set eyes upon him, for he always seemed to be looking for an escape to the nearest exit in the room. It would, of course, not do to let His Holiness know of his low opinion of him when he spoke.



“Welcome Your Holiness”, he bowed deeply and low, “The Frankish peoples are honoured to welcome His Vicar on Earth to our realms. May I trust that all is well and that you are prepared to officiate the ceremony, as we discussed?”

Up and down bobbed that nervous head, “Yes yes I read the letters,” Pope Honorius II replied, “I hope you appreciate the risks I took, travelling through Desiderius's realm to get here.”

Still bowing, Karloman replied, “The encroachment of the Lombards on your Holiness’s domains concerns us all gravely. An affront to you is an affront against Him,” he straightened and rose, even daring to allow a small, conspiratorial smile to play about his lips, “In fact, I daresay there will be much time to discuss our response to Lombard aggression once the coronation is completed, Your Holiness. I am, as ever, yours and God’s servant.”



It is a somewhat droll game to play, the thought flickered into Karloman’s mind, unbidden, Karl would’ve said those words with conviction, even sincerity, but to me they sound hollow and empty. What good is a man of God if he only concerns himself with rule of his earthly domains?



The small, nervous man allowed himself a terse grin in response, “Yes I can imagine you are eager to get underway, so yes, once the formalities are observed, we can begin the coronation ceremony.” He relaxed visibly, allowing a look of sympathy to cross his face, “My condolences, Your Majesty, on the loss of your brother.”

“My thanks,” Karloman responded, “He was no friend to me, yet he was my brother still.”

And one I had killed, does this man of God know I wonder? And would he willingly deal with a kinslayer and a fratricide to get his domains back from the Lombards if he did?



“Allow me, your Holiness, to provide you a tour of our dominions here,” Karloman smiled, not allowing his dark thoughts to cross upon his face. This man was not a person to whom he could bear the shadows on his soul, “We believe you will particularly enjoy hearing of Duke Loup and his discussions with his local diocese priest last year…”

Around and around they went, though by the time Karloman had finished escorting his dignitary around, he had revised his opinion of him. Coward though he may be, but the way his Holiness had shown interest in everybody, asked insightful questions and even, once or twice, eyes glittering with mirth even in response to the ribald jokes and stories of some of the rough Frankish lords had shown he was more than a mere plaything to be pushed around. Honorius was a more learned and deeply intelligent man than Karloman had originally anticipated. Perhaps his friendship might be useful after all…



Still, his Holiness secured no firm commitment for intervention of the Franks against the Lombards, though Karloman had to admit he made a persuasive case.



“Have your agents heard anything?” he had asked Duke Robert as they had returned to the war room together to engage in council prior to the coronation.



“Desiderius appears to be making no further encroachments on Papal territory, though he’s holding the lands he took, which aren’t in keeping with the arrangements your father made regarding the Pontiff’s state in Central Italia... Now that all the Lombard princesses are married off, the prospects of an alliance are… slim.”

“He’s building support elsewhere,” Karloman realised, “He knows his Holiness is trying to draw the Franks into conflict with him, and he wants assurances of support from elsewhere when it happens.”

“That seems to be the most likely explanation, yes,” Robert replied, “With Karl dead and our kingdom united once more under your banner, any hope the Lombards had of avoiding Frankish intervention is dead.”

“Well I won’t be dissuading them of our intentions,” Karloman replied with a grin, “I made no firm commitments to His Holiness about his Lombard problem, but I see no reason to let them be aware of that for now. The more nervous they are of us, the less inclined they will be to provoke us.”



“You think there’s something to be gained by keeping the Lombards and the Pontiff nervous?”

“I do yes, best not to tip our hand too quickly, when we gain more by leaving both in anticipation.”

“I’ll make the arrangements,” Duke Robert replied, then he hesitated, about to speak before he was interrupted by the opening of the doors.



The King’s new council had been enlarged and altered since his ascension to the throne had been uncontested. Duke Loup of Gascogne was now a royal advisor, a reward for his assistance in the crisis over the succession, the Count of Paris was gone, stripped of his lands and office and banished for theft and extortion, his lands now serving as the new capital of the Frankish realm. But it was Karloman’s Master-At-Arms who was his most surprising choice, for Maurad ‘The Fearsome’ was completely blind in both eyes, despite his genius as a warrior and drillmaster who had taken over the training of the troops in the King’s demesne. His military skill was peerless though, and the King had grown to rely on his shrewd counsel in military matters over the past weeks.

It was counsel he would certainly need in the coming months...

Paris, February 2nd, 771 anno domini.



Clad in fine blue-grey robes, King Karloman knelt in the chapel before the Pope Honorius II and all the assembled lords of the Frankish realm. After blessing the reign of the King, the Pope placed the crown upon his head, and King Karloman Karling rose as the undisputed King of the Franks. The power struggle that had threatened to consume the kingdom after the death of Pepin the Short had ended, with insubstantial loss of life, and a reunited realm that did not need to heal from the scars of bloody civil strife.


And if the ghosts of the dead taunted his dreams and dogged the shadowed recesses of his mind, screeching ‘kinslayer’ and ‘fratricide’, then that was a cost that must be borne…

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Karloman was crowned King of the Franks on February 2nd 771 anno domini by Pope Honorius II.


OOC: Lots happening! Karloman is crowned, the Lombards encroach upon a Pope who courts a Frankish alliance and in the east, the Saxons are stirring...

It's about to get very interesting.
 
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