There were three deaths that year, the year of our Lord fourteen hundred and nineteen. Three deaths, and each of them significant in its own way for the Margrave of Meißen. First came the death of Rudolf III Elector of Saxony, in the month of June. Then the came the death of King Wenceslaus of Bohemia, with all the terrible events that that passing unleashed. And finally there was the death of my father. Each, as I say, significant in its own way for His Excellency the Margrave.
His Excellency the Bleeding Margrave, I should say perhaps, in honour of my dear departed father. That is how he usually referred to his overlord, if he referred to him at all, and he generally avoided doing so. A tyrant he called him, the Tyrant of Misni, referring to the Castle of Meißen where the Margrave lived. And if he could avoid paying his taxes and tributes at all he did that too. "What does that tyrant care for us, Johann?" he would ask me. "What has His Excellency the Bleeding Margrave ever done for us?" I, barely into my teens, had no answer to give him. I therefore accepted the judgment of my father. Little did I know then what part the Tyrant of Misni was to play in the story of my own life.
Rudolf III's successor as Elector of Saxony was his younger brother Albrecht, who became Albrecht IV of Saxony. Rudolf had died leaving only two daughters and no sons. Albrecht was not even married. Everyone knew that the House of Ascania was rapidly dying out. The Margrave, Friedrich IV of Meißen, had already inherited some of the Ascanian lands, but now his hopes were quite obviously set on the Electorship itself. However there were the Hohenzollerns of Brandenburg to contend with on that score, and it was the Emperor Sigismund himself who would obviously decide in favour of one candidate or the other. The Tyrant of Misni would evidently have to find some means of worming his way into the Imperial favour.
The death of the Emperor's brother, King Wenceslaus of Bohemia, provided a less than perfect opportunity for winning the Imperial favour. For with that death all hell broke loose in Bohemia. Wenceslaus had tolerated the Hussites, even taken their side on occasions, but as for his brother the Emperor Sigismund - ah, that was another story! It was he who had signed the death warrant that had sent Jan Hus to be burned at the stake four years earlier. This man was now to be crowned King of Bohemia. Over the Hussites' dead bodies, as they say.
And if the Emperor could only be crowned King of Bohemia over the Hussites' dead bodies, then so be it, said he. There would be death aplenty in Bohemia. But the heretics were strong, and the Emperor needed all the help he could muster. A less than perfect opportunity, as I have mentioned, for His Excellency the Bleeding Margrave.
But these deaths were distant and unimportant to me. The son of a mine-owner in Freiberg, what did I care about the heresy that was tearing Bohemia apart? Or indeed about the Electorship of Saxony and whether a Wettin or a Hohenzollern would win the Imperial favour when the Ascanians were no more? My father had a business to run, and I was just at the age when I was being called upon to take my part in running it too.
I had never particularly liked the mine. Those square dark openings in the hillside had always held a vague fear for me. I still remember the first occasion that my father had taken me to accompany him on one of his routine visits to the mine. Our house was not far from the diggings, and the autumn sun shone as we walked up the track to the main tunnel entrance. Nevertheless I felt a vague uneasiness, a fear of the unknown. Nor did our lamp-lit tour of the underground chambers that day do anything to dispel my unease. I gazed with a fascinated horror at the diggers who sweated and laboured all day long like worms eating into the bowels of the earth. I clung fearfully to the rickety ladders as we clambered up and down the narrow shafts, often having to go for a time without light. I shivered in the damp cold that reigned everywhere in those subterranean chambers where the sun's rays could never penetrate. And all the while the "slosh-gloop" of the pumps, the creaking of winches and the rumble of wagons added to the impression that we had descended into an altogether different world. When we finally emerged into daylight once more, I heaved a sigh of relief to see the sun and breathe the free air again.
I had been back a number of times since then, and had begun to learn all about the mine. I now knew the foreman and some of the workmen too. I had learned a lot about mining and metals. My father's mine was a silver mine, and I now knew something of how silver was found in veins under the earth, and how tunnels and shafts could be dug to get it out. I knew about the problems of water accumulating in the tunnels, of the noxious air that sometimes built up, and about the dangers of carelessly erected timber supports. It was certainly no easy way to make one's fortune, digging it out of the ground.
Then came the fateful day in October 1419 when my father took me, as it turned out for the last time, to pay a routine visit and inspect the diggings. We were nearing the end of the visit and were waiting at the foot of a shaft while a load of ore was winched up before climbing the ladder ourselves. I suppose the rope was frayed and must have snapped. In any case we suddenly heard a fearful noise above our heads and could tell that the load was hurtling down upon us. Each of us dived in different directions, I deeper into the mine, my father toward the entrance to that tunnel. The load crashed down smashing into the side of the tunnel beside my father. Perhaps one of the timbers gave way and then a whole section of the tunnel roof and part of the side of the shaft caved in. I fell under the impact of a load of rocks, but was spared the brunt of the collapse. The lamp I had been holding was smashed and I lay in the pitch blackness for some moments with the noise of the falling rock ringing in my ears. Then I gradually heaved my legs from under the rockfall. Miraculously I seemed to have escaped with only cuts and bruises, and could get unsteadily to my feet.
"Father!" I cried into the darkness. "Father! Are you all right?"
There was no answer. At that moment a cold chill crept into my heart. Surely my father could not be dead? I stumbled forward in panic, only to find my way impeded by a mound of rock. Then a terror seized me. Not only was I all alone, I was trapped, buried alive in the depths of the earth! Feverishly I began to heave and pull at the rocks, but to no avail. Some came loose but more just came sliding down.
"Father!" I cried again, and now I could hear the terror in my own voice. "Father! Answer me!"
Still nothing but an awful silence, with a sound of distant dripping further down the tunnel. We had just come from the end of that tunnel, which was not far away, and I knew there was no-one else there. I was cut off from the rest of the world by an immovable pile of rock.
"Help!" I cried, and now I was truly sobbing. "Help! Father! Someone!"
But whether anyone heard or answered, I could not tell. I could certainly hear nothing in reply. Slowly I sank to my knees.
"Oh God," I whispered, "Please! Please get me out of here!"
And what if God himself could not hear a cry from the depths of the earth?
"Please!" I shouted then at the top of my voice, "Please! Get me out of here!"
Then I collapsed to the ground again sobbing, and there I lay for how long I do not know, in an exhaustion of terror, surrounded by the dark damp chill of the mine, my cheeks wet with tears and my legs now hurting badly from the wounds I had received. And all the while there was no sound at all, save for the horrifying drip, drip, drip of water.
I am playing as Meissen (which I have written as Meißen in the story so as to be more accurate) with version 1.09, AGCEEP 1.39. Meissen begins as a one province German minor, and in case anyone is wondering I chose this country at random, as I prefer to do, from the starting countries available in the AGCEEP Grand Campaign. The first interesting thing that happens is that Bohemia breaks apart in the Hussite Wars, so that pretty soon the neighbourhood of Meissen looks like this:
Hesse is my ally and Alliance Leader. Meissen gets a ten-year CB on the Hussites when they appear
I thought a one province minor would be a bit of a challenge but I soon noticed that Meissen annexes its one province neighbour Saxony by event in 1422, so that makes things a little easier!
This AAR is going to be nothing like any of my previous AARs. As you will have spotted, it is an attempt at a serious work, and I am not at all sure that I am going to be able to pull it off, but I wanted to have a go nevertheless. Let me say right away that it will CERTAINLY NOT span 400 years. I have played just eight years and already there is enough material in my notes to spin the story out to a full-length novel, but what is more likely is that we will follow the story of Johann through his lifetime, perhaps sixty years or so. In any case I reserve the right to end the AAR anytime I feel like my only promise being that I will try to bring the story to a satisfactory conclusion whenever that time comes.
My intention is that it will be roughly 50% totally made-up story, 50% following the events in the game, the two being woven together as much as possible. That way I can create an interesting plot for my characters and yet still claim it is a "real AAR"!