Prologue

Revan86

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THE LIONS OF OLOMOUC
a CKIII Ironman AAR
Duchy of Moravia, 867


BOOK ONE. East and West

PROLOGUE
A Debate in the King’s Courtyard
Early Autumn, 866


Saints_Cyril_and_Methodius_Hand-Painted_Orthodox_Icon_1.jpg

Icon of Saints Cyril and Methodius, Apostles to Moravia

Midday was coming, and the sun was steadily climbing the firmament, filtering down in spotted rays through the forested sky overhead. Although through the dark, gnarled branches of oak and the smoother, lighter branches of hornbeam no trace of human habitation could be seen, the whiff of wood smoke mixed with the more rancid airs of tannery and butchery in his nose, and the distant barking of dogs in his ears, were the first hints to Bohodar that they were nearing a city. And that city would be Velehrad.

Bohodar Rychnovský was part of a lengthy procession that wound its way through the woods of central Morava towards the king’s court. With an easy touch of a gauntleted hand and a gentle call to his mount, he slowed her to a canter and brought himself solicitously back beside the archdeacon’s mule. With worry, he looked toward the elder man’s face. The archdeacon’s long jet-black beard, now streaked with iron grey, folded and perched upon his spare chest as the holy man continued to be lost in thought.

‘Your Grace,’ Bohodar ventured. ‘Are you well enough? Should we rest?’

The archbishop glanced up at Bohodar sideways, with one dark brown eye. Bohodar always felt a little uneasy around the archdeacon. That wasn’t his fault, though. The archdeacon was humility, sweetness and kindness personified toward everyone he met. But although that put most people at ease, it gave Bohodar some misgivings. He always felt like the archdeacon – the man who had taught him to write not only in Greek, but also in his own language with an alphabet he and his ‘baby brother’, Father Constantine, had conjured for the purpose – knew a little too much, could open him up and read him like a book if he so chose… and that perturbed the young knieža of Olomouc. The archdeacon favoured him with a slow half-smile.

‘I am well, praise God,’ he said meekly. ‘As for rest, I can do without. We are close enough now. Please, do not worry so much about me, lad. The old monk Methodius has plenty of miles in him left.’

Bohodar nodded his head and fell silent, but he kept his horse at a canter alongside the archbishop’s, as the deacons bore their banners and swung their gilt smoking censers before him. Bohodar stifled a chuckle as he noticed the rotund subdeacon Vojmil among them, his bushy red beard hiding an ample double chin, bearing his massive paunch proudly and belting out from the Psalter as he held an icon aloft. The knieža felt as though Archdeacon Methodius bore with all the pomp and glitter with a kind of studied stoicism. He used it, celebrated it, understood its value. Methodius never denigrated or sneered at anything beautiful. But for himself, he wore plain black, and his only ornamentations were a pectoral cross and an icon of the Holy Mother of God – both made of wood, not gold or gilt metal. At times like these, Bohodar half-wished that Methodius, his teacher and mentor, would avail himself more directly of some of these showier trappings, straighten his spine and jut out his chin a bit. But that was never his way. Methodius chose to sway instead through humility and self-denial. Bohodar understood this, admired it, and was at the same time a bit exasperated by it.

The young nobleman was convinced – indeed, his own learning was proof – that this mission that Methodius and his brother Constantine were on was righteous and noble, and blessed by God. If Christ wanted to call the Slavs to him, why could He not do it in their own language? Why did these nemeckí priests and bishops insist that they must come to preach to the Slavs in Latin? It made much more sense to him, seemed much more just, that God could speak to the heart in whatever language that heart spoke. Methodius never showed any effrontery on his own behalf, and indeed he went meekly where he was called. But Bohodar felt it in spades for him. Thinking thus, he was riding tall and stern in his saddle as they came within view of the main gate to Velehrad – the holy man’s sworn paladin ready to defend him against all who might come against him, whether Frank or Italian.

And now Rastislav King of all Morava had summoned the kindly archdeacon to him – and the message that he had sent with his seal of authority had been of dire import. He had been called to answer a council of bishops that had gathered in Velehrad. The messenger had not said anything about which bishops had come, only that they had charged him with heresy, ecclesiastical trespass and fomenting schism. There was no way he could not come in person to answer these charges.

Seeing the procession afar off amidst the trees, with its gilt-fringed banners held high, censers swinging, and psalms for protection and intercession wafting up in harmony, the watchmen readily swung open the heavy timbered gate that led inside the long wooden stockade that surrounded Velehrad. The familiar sights and smells of the city met Bohodar at once. The smoke of wood fires and hearths mingled with the scents of slaughtered and curing meat, the sweet warmth of baking bread, and the sharper tangs of tanning hides, offal and excrement both human and animal. Chickens clucked and dogs barked from beneath the overhangs of steep-roofed rough-timbered zemnicy. Children clad in undergowns – or in nothing at all, the late autumn still being fairly warm – women in their aprons and men with their caps and tunics, all turned out to see this procession make its way into the city. Some folk crossed themselves piously as the censers, holy books and banners went past with their bearers. Some even chanted along with the psalms, remembered or half-remembered. Others muttered and spat.

Methodius kept riding forward in humility. He did not keep distant from those who came to him, but made the sign of the cross with his hand and gave blessings to those who came forward to ask. Children who came up to him received a warm smile beneath the black-and-iron beard and a kindly pat on the head or a playful swat, as they seemed willing to receive. One thing had to be said for Methodius’s way of doing things – it was rather infectious. Bohodar already had his purse out, and was giving pieces of silver to beggars and orphans along the road.

As the High Hall of Rastislav, king of Morava, hove into view, a sombre mood fell over the procession. The Frankish bishops had already arrived with their retinues. Their mitres were perched lofitly as they looked upon Methodius’s procession with ill-concealed hostility. Bohodar scanned the retinues and tried to place them – if not by their faces, then by the devices of their attendants. One level white brow and hard mouth under a silvery beard made themselves known to him at once. They belonged to the Moravians’ neighbour to the southwest, Archbishop Adalwin of Salzburg – who had been claiming jurisdiction here for years. Lower than him was a slightly younger man, fair-avised and with a kindlier face. Though he didn’t know him to look at, Bohodar knew him by the shields of his retinue: he was the suffragan of Augsburg, and his name was Rizzo. And the third and least prestigious bishop’s device he didn’t know at all: it was a party per pale sable and argent.

Moving in the throng with the grace and poise of a hind in woodlands, someone in the last bishop’s party caught Bohodar’s eye as they went past. It was held by the great heavy braid over her shoulder, gleaming with fine chestnut polish. The nemka’s head quirked as she sensed the Slovien lordling’s intense regard. Knowing she was watched, her dark heavy-lidded eyes lifted suddenly with a fetching sparkle. The beauty-mark under her left cheek twitched upward as her rose-petal lips curved into a puckish smile. Bohodar shook his head quickly and wrenched his gaze away from her… but even as they went by, his organs of sight of their own will kept going sidelong towards her.

The riders in the procession dismounted and handed their animals off to the stable-boys who came to fetch them. Meekly and without a word, Methodius took up the final place among the clerics assembled there, and the Sloviens in procession were the last inside. That suited the Frankish bishops – they had evidently been kept waiting long enough as it was. Bohodar also made no word of complaint, as the heavy chestnut braid belonging to the fetching nemka swayed with her graceful step not two paces in front of him as they entered the hall.

It took the space of a few breaths for Bohodar’s eyes to adjust to the flickering torchlight inside the hall, coming in as they did from the brightness of outside. The long, steep-raftered, smoky hall would have been inviting, though, if it weren’t for the grim errand they were currently on. Behind the middle hearth – now unlit and cold, for it was not yet needed – Rastislav King of Morava stood from his high seat to greet the inbound clerics. Adalwin made a fairly stiff and reluctant obeisance, followed by Rizzo’s more suave one. When it came to Methodius, the deacon merely placed a hand over his heart and gave a gentle bow – it could have been a greeting to a king, or it could have been a monk bowing in passing to another. Rastislav gripped the deacon in a warm hug before he took his seat, but made no other show of affection. Bohodar as well came before his liege and kinsman, knelt and kissed his ring, before he took a seat among his party.

‘I bid you welcome, you who hold the keys to bind and loose in heaven,’ Rastislav intoned through his hoary beard. ‘I am most pleased that you could all come together here in amity and brotherhood, as befits the servants of Christ.’

Bohodar shot a sharp look at his king. There was little of Christian amity and brotherhood here at the moment… indeed, Bohodar could feel the chill, haughty hostility of the Frankish bishops toward this elderly deacon. But the face of his liege was bland and benign. If there was any admonishment in his greeting, he had kept it well-hidden beneath a plausible veil of affability and goodwill. Rastislav was a man of many moods. Bohodar recognised – and valued – in his liege the gracious open-handedness and genuine beneficence that had caused so many of the Slavic lands to flock to him. But he also knew well enough that Rastislav was equally generous in his rage and not a man to be crossed, even by his own close kin. It had been only two years before that his king had been captured by Ludwig the Pious, and forced to swear fealty and surrender hostages to the German king – Bohodar among them. But Rastislav had been neither slow nor lenient to avenge, for only last year he had gone on campaign and wrought blood and fire across the Danube.

‘I wish us all to remember this well in light of the weighty matter which brings us here,’ Rastislav went on, his voice still placid, ‘and judge not in haste, but with true judgement.’

‘That is well said, Your Grace,’ Archbishop Adalwin spoke up. ‘And I hope it is with true judgement that we can clearly acknowledge here the great injury that has been done to the body of Christ. It should be a matter of great shame for us all, that we have allowed this petty wrangling and bickering to occlude from our sight the demands of His truth.’

Bohodar ground his teeth. And who is it that has been doing the wrangling and bickering? he thought.

‘The first of Christ’s apostles in this territory were, as Your Grace understands well enough, representatives of the Diocæses of Passau and Salzburg. We obtained, and were granted, licence both by the Holy Father in Rome – and by the worldly authority of the Emperor. This is not a self-interested plea on our part. We have the best interests of the Slavic flock foremost in our minds and in our prayers. Being as yet young and inexperienced in the faith, the Slavs require a firm shepherding hand. And that hand must be guided by a magisterial authority which is singular and unquestioned. This man—’ here Adalwin levelled a long index finger from one draping sleeve toward Methodius, ‘—this man has, with disregard for proper Church discipline, with brazen contempt for the honour of the Holy Father’s ecclesiastical authority, with total disdain even for common courtesy and hospitality, undertaken upon dubious authority to hold unsanctioned Mass in profane language, and to teach his spurious doctrines in a jurisdiction which is not his. In so doing, he has undertaken to betray Our Lord again, to split His very body. I plead with Your Grace and with my fellow bishops here to see justice done. Have this man removed from your territory, and the rightful bishops and priests restored without question to their prior appointments!’

‘And the three of you who have come here,’ Rastislav spoke calmly to Adalwin, ‘you are all united in your resolve to see Methodius removed?’

‘We are indeed, Your Grace,’ Adalwin jutted out his silver-bearded chin. ‘My brethren in Christ, Rizzo of Augsburg and Adalwald of Grisons, have come with me to your honourable court to support me in the right, and to see justice done.’

This was too much for Bohodar, who leapt to his feet. ‘You speak of the sanctity of jurisdiction, Your Eminence,’ he began hotly, ‘yet you bring these men from afar off to the west, who have jurisdictions of their own to mind, to press your claim here, like some pettifogging clerk before a town magistrate? In God’s name, are you not afraid to overshoot your mark? Let them return to Augsburg and Grisons, where they may better tend their own flocks! And let those who are called to serve here, serve here.’

Methodius had turned and motioned for Bohodar to sit down and be still, but it was already too late. Having been set on the scent of an injustice needing to be righted like a raw hound pup, Bohodar Rychnovský would not be easily dissuaded from it. The holy deacon rubbed his temples in dismay at the brashness of youth, and began murmuring a fervent prayer to God upon his breath. And now here was the Prince-Bishop of Salzburg, a high governor among the lords spiritual and a mighty Frankish nobleman in his own right, being challenged out of turn in a royal court by a half-heathen twenty-year-old Slovien. Some in the court began to cower from the gathering storm upon the Prince-Bishop’s dread brow. However, others among the Slavs gathered in the hall began to nod and murmur their approval of this lad who had stood up and spoken a fair point of good sense.

‘Take care, boy,’ Adalwin answered Bohodar, ‘for you put your soul in grave peril in your sinful presumption. Do you truly think the man you defend has come here to serve out of holy disinterest? Do you not realise the evil that he represents? Have you no knowledge of the wicked plots and court intrigues this man’s party has undertaken?’

Methodius did not answer this, but continued to pray silently. Bohodar glowered. Adalwin, with a theatrical sweep of his sleeve, went on:

‘Your Grace, although it pains me to speak ill of any man of holy discipline, I feel it is important that you be acquainted with the facts of the case. This Methodius was, and remains, a pupil and a close confidant of the reprobate false bishop and usurper Photius in Constantinople. The grievous crimes that Photius has committed against Christ’s church are threefold. First: he was rushed with no pretence at decency through his ordination. Second: he was ordained by the defrocked Bishop of Syracuse. And third: he was appointed to a see which was already held lawfully by another – the rightful Patriarch Ignatius. And now this Methodius – tutored well in the arts of dissension and schism by his devilish master – seeks to spread the same disorders and confusion here in your territory, by appropriating to himself the authority which rightfully belongs to better men.’

‘I cannot pretend,’ Bohodar answered in an insouciant tone that edged into sarcasm, ‘to be as well versed in the subtle plots and manoeuvres of faraway courts as Your Eminence. I can’t answer for this Photius. But what authority has Methodius usurped? He came to these lands a deacon. He has remained a deacon as long as he stayed here. When has he ever wrangled after such titles and honours?’

‘That’s enough, Bohodar,’ Methodius urged him. His voice was quiet but commanding. But Adalwin was quick to the punch. He gave Bohodar a condescending smile.

‘Alas, poor naïve boy! Do you truly not know how such upheavals and chaos begin? The worst of heresiarchs always come in the plausible sheep’s clothing of humility and meekness, the better to insinuate themselves among the flock. They approach with soothing words and sweet reason first, the better to lull men of goodwill before they bare their teeth.’

‘In that case – you say you have our best interests in your minds and in your prayers,’ Bohodar pressed on. ‘I take you at your word that you wish to guard us from error and false teaching. Why not, then, welcome a teaching of the true precepts of Christ our God, in a tongue that even the unlearned and unlettered can hear and understand? When the disciple that Jesus loved tried to stop a man casting out devils in His name, did not Our Lord Himself tell him, “Whoever is not against you is for you”?’

Adalwin was indeed angry, but he was far too jealous of his own dignity to stoop to continue arguing with this hothead. He also had a far better read of the room than the youth did. And so he turned instead to the King, spreading his hands wide in a calculated gesture of humble supplication. ‘Your Grace, do you not see my point? Observe, when the teaching authority of the Church is divided and undermined, how easy it is for confusion to quicken and spread! I appeal to you – for the sake of your own authority – put a stop to it before it blossoms into rank heresy.’

Rastislav cast a fearsome glower at Bohodar. ‘The Prince-Bishop has the right here, Bohodar. Though you are kin, do not trespass too lightly on my sufferance. While the lords spiritual are holding discourse, it would be best for your health—not to mention your soul—to hold your tongue behind your teeth.’

Bohodar’s eyes blazed, and for one awful moment, Methodius was afraid the young man would incur upon himself the wrath he was tempting. But at last he obeyed his better sense. The blaze passed, and he gave a slow nod to the king, and sat back in his seat. There was an expression something like a slight smirk on Adalwin’s face as he continued his harangue against Methodius that made the deacon’s young noble acolyte fume the more. But he obeyed the command laid upon him by the king without complaint for the remainder of the session, until the king retired. After that, Bohodar was among the first in the hall to stand, stride to the door and burst out into the open courtyard.

Antsculdigi,’ came a light voice behind him.

Bohodar turned, and he found himself face-to-face with the disarming young woman of the long, lustrous chestnut braid whom he had noted on the ride into Velehrad. Bohodar guessed she was his senior by perhaps four or five years, yet she was all the more striking for standing so near before him. Her strong cheekbones and slightly snub nose would not be to every man’s liking, but Bohodar found them endearing – all the more so for a pair of lively zibeline eyes which glimmered with intense passion. But just now they were turned upon him seriously.

‘Did you mean all of the things you just said?’ she spoke in an Alemannic lilt. ‘About our bishops? And about the Slavs’ need for Slavic teachers?’

‘Every word,’ Bohodar answered her stoutly.

Those glittering dark eyes widened. ‘Truly? So then, you do not acknowledge the prior rights of the men who risked life and freedom to preach to you the word of life? Who healed your sick and helped your poor, who brought you the Gospel? What indeed of the claims of hospitality?’

Bohodar frowned – not in displeasure, but in serious consideration. ‘I am grateful indeed to Reginheri of blessed memory – the Frankish bishop who sent the first priests among us. He’s the one who baptised my parents, and we have never ceased to commemorate him at prayer. But we Slavs are not yet firm in the faith. We need guides who know our speech, who understand us. The Frankish bishops today should be tutoring students and ordaining priests here, not continuing to send them to us from afar.’

‘But does not the very newness of the faith in these lands argue,’ replied the German girl, ‘that the Slavs are not yet ready to receive such tutelage? Is not some time needed before local priests can be appointed? I am sure that that will come in time.’

‘Under Adalwin’s tender care, I’m sure,’ Bohodar scoffed. ‘You heard him in there. His mind is all on power struggles and court politics. What does he care for the tiller of the soil or the milker of the cows?’

The German girl bridled, lifting her chin belligerently. She replied hotly: ‘That is his office, and it is his by unquestioned right. If he is jealous for the honour of the Church among the princes of the world, can he be blamed for it? Would you have all bishops be obsequious and spineless, shifting with the winds as they blow? Bishop Adalwin has it right. Maybe what you are seeking is not truth, but disorder.’

Bohodar was about to make his own angry retort, when a hoarse voice called out across the yard of the king’s hall.

‘Mechthild!’ cried the exasperated elderly Adalwald, the bishop of Grisons, in whose retinue the girl belonged. ‘For shame! Do not speak so familiarly to a man you don’t know!’

Mechthild – now Bohodar had a name to match the striking face – turned a thought toward Adalwald, bit back something that may have been defiance, gave Bohodar one last aggrieved glance, turned her braided head and strode off. Bohodar was left incensed as he looked out after her. He was still breathing heavily when Deacon Methodius approached him, having been loosed for the moment from his obligations within the hall. The holy monk had seen and heard the entire exchange.

‘Can you believe that infuriating female?!’ Bohodar fumed. ‘Who does she think she is?’

Methodius regarded his young pupil placidly before answering his question with a wry smile. ‘A loyal daughter of the Church… and someone who strives after justice. Remind you of anyone you know?’

Bohodar began a chuckle, but again he had that unnerving feeling that Methodius was seeing straight through him – reading him like an open book. And he didn’t like one bit the implication that the holy monk was making. ‘What? You think she’s like me? That nemka?’

‘We are all children of the Most High,’ Methodius told him. ‘German, Slav, Greek, African, even Saracen. All of us are made in the image and likeness of Christ. Though you may look different and speak different tongues, the two of you are far more alike than you realise. And what’s more…’ here Methodius paused.

‘What?’ asked Bohodar.

Methodius fixed him with a look that was suddenly stern. ‘Be sure you treat that girl with due respect. She might make a fitting wife, but take care not to overstep your bounds in pursuit of her, or place her womanly honour in danger.’

‘What? Wife? Pursuit?’ Bohodar laughed aloud. ‘Is that likely? You saw how she behaved just now.’

Methodius made no reply, but leaned forward toward the young Slovien lord and tapped the side of his nose. Bohodar Rychnovský found himself at a loss for words once again. The benign, sweet elderly monk seemed to see within him, seemed to understand the stirrings of his heart even before he felt them. Clearing his throat, Bohodar made an attempt to change the subject.

‘And what of you, Father Deacon? Tell me they didn’t defrock you. Or expel you!’

‘God be thanked, no,’ Methodius answered him. ‘Rastislav still remembers well and with gratitude when he sent for me and my little brother from the City. He wouldn’t so lightly cast me off. But Constantine and I do need, I think, to make a little pilgrimage to the Holy Father in Rome, and soon – if indeed for no other purpose than to clear the air around these questions of jurisdiction in Morava. I have no wish to be at odds with any in Christ’s Church, not even with Adalwin.’

Bohodar nodded understandingly, but he still feared for his teacher. Who could know what the Holy Father in Rome might tell him, or how he might rule? Even if Rastislav had not cast him out, the penalties from the chief see in the Vatican might be equally if not more dire.

‘Do not worry so much,’ Methodius patted Bohodar on the shoulder. ‘I will not leave my flock alone or friendless here. Gorazd is staying. So are Sava and Angelar. And of course, in Olomouc I will be leaving Vojmil to tend the church while I am away.’

‘Oh, joy,’ Bohodar muttered. The rotund, red-bearded subdeacon was not among his favourite of people. But better to have him than no one at all.

‘And remember what I told you about the other matter,’ Methodius inclined his head toward the clerical party from Grisons across the yard, where Mechthild still was. ‘God bless you.’

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Table of Contents

Revan86

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INTRODUCING
lionsofolomouc.png

Starting scenario: 1 January 867 (normal difficulty, ironman)


For this AAR, which I expect to be as narrative-heavy as my past AARs going back to 2006, I am going to be starting off playing a custom ruler: Bohodar Rychnovský, the twenty-year-old Duke of Moravia. Bohodar’s pretty stereotypical for my AAR starter characters, though on balance he’s probably most like Maelwine of Durham from my very first stab at narrative AAR writing. He starts off as a vassal of King Rastislav. He’s maxed out on CC points for achievements (400), and he has got one minor inheritable trait (he’s bright). And he’s a bit of a goody-two-shoes (compassionate, generous and just). His education is astute intellectual: I’m RPing him as a student of Saint Methodius, and therefore he is literate in his own language, Slavonic.

I say this is an ‘ironman’ game, and that’s technically true, but with a couple of modifications. I am using local, not cloud storage, and am keeping backups. There are two reasons for this. The first is archival: I’ve run into problems in the past losing save files for my AARs, and it isn’t a pleasant experience. The second is for storytelling purposes. Keeping static versions of selected exit saves helps me keep track of events and go back to add detail to my game notes. So in terms of gameplay it’s not a ‘pure’ ironman game, though I intend to treat it as though it is (i.e., no going back and starting over from previous static saves). I made some tradeoffs for the sake of crafting a narration.

A few tentative goals for this playthrough:
- Either becoming King of Veľká Morava myself, or an independent ruler in my own right
- Spread Orthodoxy among the West Slavs
- Bring glory to the house of Rychnovský!

So, dear readers, please sit back, relax and enjoy!

EDIT: After some thought, and after considering the glacial pace of the first few chapters before we get into anything interesting gameplay-wise, I have decided to divide this AAR into seven 'books'. Tentatively, these books are as follows:

Mechthild, Duke Bohodar slovoľubec, and Bohodar mladší
Blažena, Bohodar mladší and Pravoslav
Douce, Eustach, and Rebeka

BOOK ONE. East and West (866-911)      BOOK TWO. A Sound Foundation (911-1001)     BOOK THREE. Built to Last (1001-1107)


Czenzi, Bohodar 3., and Vojtech 1.
Bohumila, Kaloján chrabrý and Radomír 3.
Ekaterina, Radomír 4., and Kulin

BOOK FOUR. Heroism and Heresy (1107-1220)     BOOK FIVE. Legacy in Steel (1220-1268)    BOOK SIX. Caught in the Middle (1268-1388)


Ilse, Róbert, and Vojtech 4.

BOOK SEVEN. The Last Knight-Errant (1388-1453)​


[WARNING: on account of the rise of Adamitism in EE, many images in this Book 4 will be spoiler-tagged.]

As you can see, Book 1 and Book 5 cover much shorter time-periods than the others; these represent the rules of my founding character (Bohodar) and the most renowned and warlike character I've played so far (Ján the Valiant). I'm thinking of striking a balance between narrative and history-book styles in this AAR by having these two books be more narrative-heavy, and the others deliberately less so. I may use the 'history-seminar' at the St Michael Archangel University setting in my fictional 'modern' Olomouc more liberally in these sections.

Table of Contents
BOOK ONE. East and West (866-911)
PROLOGUE: A Debate in the King’s Courtyard
ONE: Hurried Vows
TWO: Winter in Olomouc
THREE: Wratysław’s Revolt
FOUR: Risâlat
FIVE: The Infant Queen
SIX: Wolf and Boar
SEVEN: An Unlikely Friendship
  INTERLUDE I: Two Moravias
EIGHT: Zbrojnoš
NINE: Blažena
TEN: A Letter to the City
ELEVEN: Taking Sides
TWELVE: No Game, A Successful Hunt
THIRTEEN: Investigatiouns Alchemickal, Medickal and Mystickal
FOURTEEN: The Other Side of Right
FIFTEEN: Beware the Quiet Ones
SIXTEEN: Gathering for the March
  INTERLUDE II: A Reading
SEVENTEEN: Seeds of Doubt
EIGHTEEN: Two Women's Honour
NINETEEN: Hydra
TWENTY: Dying Too Fast
TWENTY-ONE: A Gentlewomen's Agreement
TWENTY-TWO: Westrogothian Excursus - Parts I, II, III and IV
TWENTY-THREE: Upon the Return
TWENTY-FOUR: From the Slopes of Mount Silpios
TWENTY-FIVE: Vazal silou – kamarát voľný
TWENTY-SIX: The Gardener and the Fool
TWENTY-SEVEN: Words to the Wise
TWENTY-EIGHT: Troubles on the Northern Border
TWENTY-NINE: Faithful Tas
THIRTY: Dying Wish
THIRTY-ONE: Bohodar’s Last War
THIRTY-TWO: Lover of Words
  INTERLUDE III: The Legacy of Bohodar slovoľubec

BOOK TWO. A Sound Foundation (911-1001)
ONE: Paragon
TWO: Blindfold
THREE: Downfall
FOUR: Banquet at Bedanford
FIVE: Golden Braids
SIX: Second Place
SEVEN: The Blind and the Ugly - Parts I, II, III, IV and Coda
EIGHT: Silesia Gone Over - Parts I, II, III, IV and V
NINE: For the Remission of Sins
TEN: Panzdaumanis pastanga
  INTERLUDE IV: Symbols and Signatures
ELEVEN: A Promise Four Generations Old
TWELVE: Doctor Deceptive
THIRTEEN: Ready for the Pounce
FOURTEEN: Masters of Milčané - Parts I, II and III
FIFTEEN: Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre
SIXTEEN: From Zhořelec to Sadec
SEVENTEEN: A Necessary Sacrifice
EIGHTEEN: In Confidence
NINETEEN: The Fury of Silesia
TWENTY: Drink to Be Forgotten
TWENTY-ONE: The English Campaign
TWENTY-TWO: Bijelahrvatskići Vindicated
TWENTY-THREE: On Two Fronts
  INTERLUDE V



Glossary
ahoj - hello (inf)
blbec - dumbass
dedko - grandpa
Dedo Mráz - Grandfather Frost
deti - children, also aff. dim. for sailors
dobrodruh - a swashbuckler, pirate or viking
fousek - a kind of hunting-dog, a pointer
gašparko - jongleur, clown or street performer (character loosely analogous to Punch)
gestinja - European chestnut (plant)
Gospodi pomiluj - Lord have mercy / Kyrie eleison
jazyk - tongue, also language
jurod - holy fool, fool-for-Christ
kamilavka - a flat-topped, round black hat worn by Orthodox clergy
kancelár - chancellor
kňažná - duchess, wife of a duke
knieža - prince, duke
krušína krechká - alder buckthorn (plant)
najatí - hirelings, mercenaries
napérstnik - foxglove, Digitalis (plant)
nochtki - marigold (plant)
najdrahšia - dearest one (f.)
nemec - German (m.)
nemka - German (f.)
nočník - chamber-pot
ocko - diminutive of otec, 'daddy'
otec - father
servus - hello (formal)
severan - Norseman (lit., 'northerner')
šafár - steward, bailiff
šikóvča - Scotch thistle (plant)
švábica - Swabian; also a not very nice word for German, because it sounds like the Slovak word for 'cockroach'
teta - aunt (aff. dim. tetuška)
večná pamäť - memory eternal, rest in peace - spoken in memory of a dead fellow-Orthodox
zbrojnoš - armiger, man-at-arms
zemnica - a dugout-style house, common among early medieval Slavs
zimoľubka - umbellate wintergreen (plant)

žrica - a Slavic heathen priestess in charge of sacrifices
 

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Chapter One

Revan86

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ONE
Hurried Vows
Late Autumn, 866


2021_06_09_2a.png

Autumn came in earnest to Velehrad. The wind grew chill and the leaves on the trees began to yellow and redden. In Rastislav’s great hall, fresh logs had been cut and were burnt and stoked to brightness and cosy warmth within the hearth. Although Methodius had departed with his brother, Father Constantine, from Morava that September on his sojourn to Rome, the other three Frankish bishops stayed in Velehrad for some time afterward… much to Bohodar’s chagrin. The young knieža was still in attendance upon his king. Rastislav had not yet forgotten Bohodar’s outburst in his court, and would not likely forgive it soon – and so it was incumbent on the lord of Olomouc to get back into his liege’s good books. It was a duty Bohodar did not relish, yet he did it fairly well. The bishops’ entourages were another problem. Prince-Bishop Adalwin of Salzburg had taken to ignoring him outright, which was probably for the best. But that young woman in Bishop Adalwald of Grisons’s entourage, Mechthild, was a daily source of aggravation for Bohodar.

For Mechthild, it was by no means a chore to attend court; unlike Bohodar she was a natural social butterfly, and was constant in attendance, where she seemed to thrive. That would have been well and good. Except: whenever Bohodar’s hazel eyes met Mechthild’s dark ones, it was only a matter of time before a spirited argument broke out between them… usually started by Mechthild herself. Somehow she always managed to find just the right angle, just the right tone, to provoke the Slovien to react… and clearly she took a perverse pleasure in it.

‘It is only natural and just,’ she remarked one time to an aged burgomaster from the Austrian march, just loud enough for Bohodar to overhear, ‘for the Slavs to respect their elders, and give proper place to those who are senior in age and in rank. That is a blessing indeed, though that lesson seems to have been lost on some of you in my generation.’ Here she pointed her slightly snub nose at Bohodar and smirked. ‘I hear that in Olomouc they let their youth run quite wild.’

‘At least we respect our elders enough to speak their language in church,’ Bohodar shot back. ‘And we don’t add words willy-nilly to the Symbol of Faith to confuse them, the way you nemcy do!’

Bohodar still remembered Methodius’s words to him about her. He tried to see the commonalities between himself and Mechthild, and treat her with kindness. But every single trifling matter seemed to be grist for Mechthild’s snipes against him! She made fun of the cut of his hair, his manners at the table, the state of his garb, the presence or absence of his retainers. On other occasions they simply exchanged jibes: ‘Stubborn brute!’ ‘Silly wench!’ ‘Beardless child!’ ‘Stuck-up švábica!’, and so on.

And then came the day when Mechthild pushed him too far. With… unexpected results.

‘I don’t know how you men of Moravia can manage, being so lavish and wasteful!’ Mechthild had her arms crossed and was leaning forward pugnaciously toward Bohodar. ‘And you’re the worst of the lot! It’s a wonder you’re able to keep one copper in a threadbare scrip at all before it slides out from between your oily fingers!’

‘I won’t be nagged about my silver by any woman, let alone such a churlish scrounger as you!’ Bohodar glared back, drawing himself up to his full formidable height. ‘Do I ever pity the man who’s fool enough to fall for you; he’ll never get a moment’s peace.’

‘Ha. I wouldn’t envy the poor drudge whose lot it will be to look after you, you lackadaisical spendthrift. You’d spend the flesh off her bones and the clothes off her back,’ Mechthild sneered.

On any other day Bohodar would have snapped straight back at her for that. But instead, this time, he clamped his jaw tight and ground his teeth, then stormed out of the hall. Puffing a stormy gale, Bohodar went around one of the wooden corner posts to rest himself under the low overhang of the roof of the hall, and relaxed his shoulders and back there. He leaned back with a sigh, closed his eyes and massaged the bridge of his nose. Why on earth did Mechthild insist on needling him like this?

As if his thinking of her were some sort of witch’s charm, when he opened his eyes again and looked level, he saw Mechthild herself standing in front of him, her chestnut crown not two feet from his nose. Her dark brows were lifted in a look of intolerable sympathy. He groaned.

‘What do you want now?’ Bohodar asked. ‘Why can’t you just leave me in peace?’

‘So the Slovien stallion has finally reached his wind, has he?’ Mechthild attempted a jab. But her heart wasn’t quite in it. She shook her head. ‘I thought you enjoyed our sparring. That’s why I kept it up.’

Bohodar blew out a gasp of exasperation. ‘Enjoyed it? You plague! You no sooner see me than you’re flinging your barbs. What kind of a man would enjoy that?’

Mechthild’s sympathy screwed into a scowl. ‘Fine!’ she burst out. ‘Be that way, you lumbering oaf!’

With a swish of her braid, she turned to leave. Under some compulsion—Bohodar didn’t know what—he laid a hand on Mechthild’s shoulder. She swung around again with a yelp, her dark eyes blazing and her nose turned up toward him. It was then that Bohodar noticed there was a subtle blush on her high cheeks. Bohodar grasped her hard by both shoulders.

But it was Mechthild who drew Bohodar down by the tunic laces and planted her lips firmly on his, twining her arms over his shoulders and around his neck. Thunderstruck, Bohodar found himself entirely without the use of his wits for a moment, but then he was enveloped in a warm, pleasant haze. His arms folded themselves around her waist, and the two of them slid back under the shadow of the overhang. For a long time between them they exchanged no words, but their lips and their tongues kept busy all the same, with gusty sighs of hot breath. Mechthild tugged at Bohodar’s tunic and dug her fingers into his back, pressing and rubbing up against him with her hips and thighs.

‘Bohodar…’ Mechthild murmured to him. ‘Please, you’re making me weak. I’ll fall into sin with you.’

Bohodar paused between their kisses, and regarded her intently. The woman he was holding between his hands had placed herself there willingly. And by the way she held her lower lip hungrily between her teeth, he could tell that despite her weak protest, she would go with him willingly to any secluded spot or hiding place he might see fit to bring her. And yet she was jealous enough of her honour to have warned him of her burning, even as she was losing herself to it. This must have been what Methodius meant before with his warning: ‘take care not to overstep your bounds’. The young knieža held Mechthild a little ways away from him.

‘What shall we do?’ asked Mechthild.

Bohodar took a deep breath and held it. What was he to do with this bewitching, bewildering, attractive, irksome nemka? He blew out that breath and made up his mind.

‘There’s an oratory just east of here,’ Bohodar told her, ‘if you’ll have me. And if you’re willing to be blessed by a Slavic priest.’

Mechthild answered not with words, but by drawing and pressing as near him as she could within the tight confines of their clothes, and grabbing as much of the Slovien’s broad back as she could with her hands and arms. Bohodar held her head against his shoulder for the space of a few breaths and toyed with her braid in his fingers.

The wooden-steepled Oratory of Saint Vitus in Velehrad was situated across the unpaved road from a cluster of adjoined zemnicy around a common yard. Three old men loitering outside the zemnica opposite the oratory, in the shade of the overhang, quietly enjoying bowls of small beer, were bemused to catch sight of a young couple – the dark-haired lad in a lordly green, the chestnut-braided lass in a plain brown homespun – hurrying hand-in-hand in furtive haste into the oratory. About an hour afterward, the two of them emerged again. Although they didn’t kiss or hold each other or even speak when they came out, the smouldering exchange of glances between them spoke volubly enough. They quickly dove out of sight off the main road… but not before they were seen once more.

One of the three old men shook his head and chuckled to the others. ‘Mlade ľudie.

The other two nodded and added their own appreciative chortles.

2021_06_09_3a.png


~~~​

‘I hear I am to congratulate you on some hasty vows,’ Rastislav told Bohodar later after summoning him to the back alcove of his hall, where none other might overhear. Bohodar’s cheeks were in high colour and there was a sort of untouchable elation to him, bespeaking the more-than-agreeable way he’d spent the prior afternoon and night. ‘You made rather the conquest of that lively little Swabian. Given the way the two of you quarrel, it might bode ill, or it might bode quite well for you. Have you already sent word to her kin and hosts back home in Swabia?’

‘I have, Your Grace. I am still waiting for Ermenwulf’s reply.’

‘And I trust you’ll still do your duty as my knieža and host a more fitting ceremony in Olomouc?’

Bohodar nodded. ‘It will be fitting. But I do not plan to make my bowers and townsmen pay for it.’

2021_06_09_6a.png

Rastislav looked his young kinsman and vassal over appreciatively. Though he still resented Bohodar’s outburst toward the Prince-Bishop and the resulting political bind it put him in, the munificence of the lord of Olomouc toward his own subjects nonetheless met with his approval and sympathy.

‘When do you return there?’ he asked.

‘We talked it over. Mechthild and I intend to spend the Holy Nights’ feast here in Velehrad. We’ll return to Olomouc by the middle of January.’

‘A good plan,’ Rastislav nodded understandingly, stroking his full white beard. ‘However, I hope you will return often to Velehrad. It is not such a long ride from Olomouc. I stand in need of a šafár to look after my lands and household here in my absence; the office is yours if you would be willing to accept it.’

Bohodar made a deep obeisance of gratitude. ‘It would be my honour, liege.’

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filcat

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Very good, detailed character building. Kudos.

By the way, remarkable details on linguistics, in this case exonyms.
Why did these nemeckí priests and bishops insist that they must come to preach to the Slavs in Latin?
The nemka’s head quirked as she sensed the Slovien lordling’s intense regard.
‘And we don’t add words willy-nilly to the Symbol of Faith to confuse them, the way you nemcy do!’
Fun-fact (apologies if already known):
slavic exonym for german tribes as nemets (němьcь) to nemetskiy (nемецкий),
through crusades culminated into arabic naming for germans as nimsa;
even ottoman administrators used this root to name austrians-habsburgs-or all germans as nemche (nemçe). Later in 19th century french gained dominance, so (from alemanni) allemand was borrowed; therefore name for germans is alman in contemporary turkish.
 
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Chapter Two

Revan86

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Very interesting, @filcat! Yes, I did know the etymology for the Slavic name for Germans, but I was completely unaware of its borrowing into Arabic and Turkish.

At any rate, here at last is -


TWO
Winter in Olomouc
17 January, 867 – 17 April 867


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The road between Velehrad and Olomouc was four fairly comfortable days’ travel between them. The dirt track, grooved along its sides by the ruts made by wagons and trodden down hard by the passage of feet and hooves, wound its way between the high rolling Vysočina on one side, and the southwestern edge of the Carpathians on the other. In the middle was seated the Morava basin, which made for some rather treacherous crossing in the spring. But right now, in the chill of winter, the placid countryside was blanketed over in an enchanting pearly white. The wizened, gnarled boughs of oak and ash, the jutting broomsticks of poplar and hornbeam, stood naked and black against it, in their groves that fingered out along each side of the road, and occasionally enclosed around and shadowed it. The waters which might burst their banks with the thaw now lay silent and stony. It was an easy enough road—even if travellers would be grateful each night for a warm hearth and a dry bed with a good straw mattress and a heavy wool blanket or two.

The newlywed couple and their small entourage of men-at-arms and retainers were happy to take their time on the road, taking the full four days between Rastislav’s settlement and Bohodar’s. The married couple occasionally bickered and jibed goodnaturedly between them, but for the most part both of them were still and thoughtful, each sometimes stealing studying looks at the other when they thought the other was turned away.

2021_06_09_4b.png

For her part, Mechthild, even if she thought her new husband hot-headed, sentimental and a bit too easy-going with his money, had beheld and recognised in Bohodar a sweet-natured and fair-minded soul. Yes, getting along with Bohodar wouldn’t be a problem… and now she had a better idea of how much teasing he could take, in mischief or in earnest. Her eyes lingered appreciatively as well on his broad shoulders, his shapely neck, his hips and rump as he rode. Oh, and could he ride! She found her tongue gliding slowly over her teeth as she remembered how those firm, strong hips had wheeled and pumped behind her, that night of sweet fiery consummation, and anticipated how they would oblige her at dusk when they reached the next enclosure.

Bohodar was a bit less sanguine about this Alemannic woman he had taken to wife. She wasn’t anything like his younger dreams of the woman he might marry. He remembered both Methodius’s prediction and his admonishment about her. If he had anything to say about it, he would hold her in honour and endeavour to keep her happy. She was lettered and learned—that boded well for their future together. His home wouldn’t be empty and void of intelligent discourse. She also had a degree of social grace and skill that would be welcome in the keeper of a household. And in a strange sort of way, he was coming to see what Methodius meant by their similarity. Mechthild held dear the ways of her forefathers, the mores of her kin, and the principles she had been brought up with – indeed, in her way, she was quite honourable. But after all she had said about Moravia, about Slavs, and about the Constantinopolitan rites of the church he held dear… could he keep her happy? He worried most of all, not about his wife’s character or fitness, but about his own abilities and duties as a husband.

They stood over their first night in Kostelany; their second in the slightly larger town of Kroměříž; and their third in Troubky. All three were collections of steep-roofed hamlet dwellings with common yards and thin strips of field which were shared between the dwellers for their sustenance; the dwellings were meagre, and the most any of them had for protection were short ditches with wooden stakes. But the knieža, the new kňažná, and their party were invariably received with hospitality by the village elders. In Kroměříž they were met personally by the burgomaster. A younger man with short-cropped orange hair and an early-growing paunch, Mechthild noticed that although his bland, well-fed face was beaming constantly throughout their reception, his eyes kept darting back and forth, and his smile occasionally seemed not altogether sincere. She took a slight dislike to him.

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‘That was Blahoslav,’ Bohodar told her tolerantly. ‘He keeps my stables for me, and inspects my men-at-arms and their gear. I know how he might seem… I’ve had to double-check his work on occasion, since he is not particularly straightforward. And he routinely eats and drinks past his welcome whenever he comes to stay at Olomouc.’ Bohodar added, in fairness to him: ‘But the townsfolk here seem to like him, so he can’t be all bad.’

‘Do all your burgomasters enjoy such privilege?’ asked Mechthild.

‘Not all of them,’ Bohodar owned. ‘There is one other: Zubrivoj. He’s the burgomaster of Hradec up near Opava. He doesn’t have any formal office with me in Olomouc, but he does have a sizeable network of contacts – I often rely on him for finding information that some among my court want to remain hidden.’

On the fourth day they reached Olomouc. The low-riding disc of the sun was sliding down and being swallowed by the bare black branches along the horizon. By the time they reached the stockade and the town gate, nones was already long gone and the vespers bell had not yet rung from the steeple of the tall wooden church.

The gatekeeper offered his knieža a hearty hail, and the wooden gates swung open to admit them all. Mechthild looked curiously around the enclosure. Though the outer wall swung widely out of her view to either side, she could nonetheless tell from the narrow angle between them that the town was built along a roughly triangular plan. The Morava River ran outside the wall along the eastern side of the town, while a millrace bubbled past and through one section of the stockade to rejoin its mother at a confluence south of town on the road they’d just arrived on. Surely there would be a watermill with an upright wheel further to the north. To Mechthild’s eyes it was still something like Velehrad in miniature. The zemnica-style dwellings with their grey wooden rooves and slat siding were spaced much further apart than the much more parsimonious Swabian town houses she was used to, allowing for common yards and street-side kennels, chicken coops, even the occasional byre or stable for common use.

The folk in the street wore heavy homespun woollens. The more affluent among them had them lined with furs or embroidered with colourful patterns of red and blue. The tongue that they spoke, Mechthild would have called ‘winidisc’, or Wendish, in her own. But it was in fact a language that modern scholars call Late Common Slavic, whose literary form survives as Church Slavonic. By this time the Moravians and Sloviens had their own dialect of it, just as the Bohemians, Poles, Polabians and Obotrites living further to the north and west had. At this time, a Russian or even a Serb who visited Olomouc could have spoken in his own tongue with a native speaking hers, and have been at least roughly understood.

They cantered together along what was clearly the main road, running north-south. In addition to the mill, Mechthild beheld around her a couple of bakeries, several potters, a tannery, a fullery, a weaver’s shop, cobblers, carpenters and both black and whitesmiths. The same business of haggling and other converse, animals in the streets, folk going about their daily work and leisure, could be seen here as in Velehrad. Being smaller, Olomouc also seemed to have a bit fresher air… or perhaps the cold was numbing her nose to it.

2021_06_14_96a.png

The road took a sharp swerve to the right as it crossed with another, and then continued to curve rightward – away from the setting sun, and toward the fastening at Olomouc, where of course the knieža of Olomouc would keep his residence. The road arched upwards like a cat’s back into a causeway that traversed a narrow but deep trench—the last line of defence if the stockade was breached and the town taken. The fastening itself was perched upon and behind a considerable earthen rampart, and though the posts were suitably more ornate and the whole edifice was both taller and longer, the construction of the building itself was built of the same grey timber and steep sloping roof that the zemnicy in the town were. Again the Lord of Olomouc was greeted by hails of ‘Servus!’ from the watchposts on the rampart, and they were warmly admitted within.

Bohodar lit down from his horse, and then helped his bride to do the same from hers, handing them both off to the grooms to be stabled. Bohodar and Mechthild held each other by the arms long enough for them to notice their own hearts quickening. But then Bohodar cleared his throat and turned toward the main hall of the fastening. He seemed to be thinking deeply about something, or perhaps had some business that needed attending quickly.

‘Zdravomil!’ he called out. ‘Ahoj, Zdravomil, are you here?’

A cough, tell-tale by its rasping hoarseness, answered him. A slender man with a gaunt face and a scruffy brown beard appeared at the doorway of the long main building.

‘Here, my knieža,’ the bearded man answered him.

‘Zdravomil, did you visit the locksmith as my messenger instructed?’

Zdravomil reached to his belt and handed to Bohudar a ring of heavy black cast-iron keys. From the importance with which he presented them, Mechthild guessed that these must be the keys to the fastening, as well as perhaps one or two of Bohudar’s manors. These, the lord of Olomouc handed to her. Seeing Zdravomil’s questioning brow, Bohudar told him:

‘Zdravomil, this is my wife Mechthild, from Stuttgart. Mechthild, this is my šafár and the keeper of my household, Zdravomil.’

‘A pleasure to make your acquaintance,’ Mechthild nodded warmly to the steward. ‘I expect we’ll be seeing a lot of each other from now on! I intend to be active in the affairs of the house – not to boast, but I do run a fairly tight household.’

Zdravomil nodded curtly, and then turned to Bohodar. ‘I beg your pardon, milord. I wouldn’t presume to tell you how to run your household affairs. But is it wise for her to be given the duplicate keys so soon, the sight of your holdings unseen? And would it not be better to have a… period of probation for her before she assumes the responsibility?’

Bohodar turned fondly to his new wife. ‘Not to worry, Zdravomil. Mechthild is a woman of character, even if the two of us have our disagreements. I think we can trust her implicitly.’ He laid a friendly hand on her shoulder, stroked her arm familiarly… and let it linger there a couple seconds longer.

2021_06_09_9a.png

Mechthild looked up into her husband’s filbert-brown eyes, perhaps half-expecting to see sarcasm or preparing herself for a jibe to rebut. But she saw nothing there but kindness and trust. He was sincere about it. And in heavy cast iron, she held in her hands the proof. What was this stirring, this warmth within her now? She knew the febrile heat of lust with him well enough, and enjoyed it. But was there something deeper here? She couldn’t tell yet. But she was touched indeed by Bohodar’s compliment.

‘Of course, milord. And I meant no disrespect toward you, milady.’ Zdravomil gave her another nod, a bit deeper this time. ‘It is only that milord tends to be a bit lavish with his gifts, and he occasionally acts with undue haste. I have told him many times that he should keep a better weather eye on his expenses.’

A hint of mischief played on the edge of Mechthild’s lips as she gave the šafár a look of distinct approval. ‘You and I are going to get along just fine, sir. And if you need someone to back you up on that front, let me know. I’m happy to add my weight to yours.’

Bohodar threw up his hands with a gesture of mock disgust. ‘Fine, fine. But please, before we continue aiming darts at my head, why not let’s head inside before our hands freeze off?’

The returning party went into the hall. Bohodar found to his approval that there was already a great log burning happily in the hearth, and a neat stack of wood beside it. He took Mechthild by the hand and led her considerately in front of it to let her warm her hands from the road, standing beside her to do the same. Mechthild did not notice at all a cowled man quietly come up alongside them. It gave her a start when he began speaking not two feet off to her left.

‘Welcome back, milord.’

His voice was meek and soft, but Bohodar turned toward it as though it was long familiar to him, and embraced the cowled man warmly. ‘Radovan! How have you been?’

‘Well indeed,’ answered Radovan mildly. Mechthild noticed a neatly kept yellow beard beneath the cowl. ‘You will be happy to know that Ermenwulf of Grisons has already sent word to the young lady here, congratulating you on your marriage and wishing you both great happiness.’

‘Very good, very good,’ Bohodar grinned. ‘I knew I could count on you. And you got the fire ready for us before we got here.’

Radovan gave his head a self-deprecating shake. ‘Others deserve the credit, not I. Oh, and do let me know if the bed is to your liking, milord and milady. I will let you retire; I know it has been a long journey, and there are no other pressing matters of business. Now, if you’ll excuse me…’

Mechthild shook her head with a wry look. She knew she would have to get along with all four of the men she’d met on this journey, and she was looking forward to the challenges and opportunities that came with running a lord’s household. Her hands fell to the keys she had been given, and again there was a surge of warmth in her heart. She had Bohodar’s trust. Mechthild wasn’t quite sure what that meant for her yet, but she valued it deeply.

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This has now advanced into remarkable, with admirable effort on the details; highly enjoyable read. Kudos.

The road between Velehrad and Olomouc was four fairly comfortable days’ travel between them.
Have to comment without knowing its accuracy, but this is an impressive annotation, kudos, on one of the highly entertaining subjects of fiction: The time to travel between locations, of specific or non-specified distances.

It is always a problem for self when it comes to identify the time to travel between any locations, real or fictional, in history or in future, especially when an actual d&d campaign is played (generally with fantasy pre-classical to medieval themes), as the time to travel a distance always escapes the understanding of our modern thinking.

It does not help in this case, but would like to share this for curious ones: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World - orbis. A great resource to estimate the time to travel between actual locations or to approximate it for imaginary ones, considering the distance, the roads, their availability, means of transportation, and the season.

The wizened, gnarled boughs of oak and ash, the jutting broomsticks of poplar and hornbeam, stood naked and black against it, in their groves that fingered out along each side of the road, and occasionally enclosed around and shadowed it.
This is a list of description for the road, therefore it is beautiful by default.

Apologies for name-dropping, but cannot stop self to contribute on this, and have to crudely paraphrase umberto eco on the lists, the origin of culture by his definition, from a 2009 interview: To face infinity, to grasp the incomprehensible, to create culture, one does it through the lists, the catalogues, the collections, the encyclopedias, the dictionaries, as a human being, fascinated always by infinite space, endless stars, countless galaxies. (for more check La Vertigine della Lista)
 
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@filcat: Thank you, sir! That is high praise indeed, and I appreciate it. And naturally I agree with Eco... the explorations of the infinite always begin with the appreciation and the wonderment at the diversity of finite things before our eyes.

I realise I have been a bit late with it, but here it is:


THREE
Wratysław’s Revolt
30 June 867 – 13 July 868

Bohodar’s horse was at a flat gallop as he came within sight of the gates of Olomouc. The poor animal was panting and sweating underneath him by now, and its sides were heaving. Bohodar regarded the beast with sympathy. Murmuring to her, he promised her that she would be washed down, well fed and given a chance to rest once they were back at the fastening. But just now there were multiple reasons for haste. He called up to the gatekeepers as he neared the stockade, and the gates swung open to admit him. He slowed his mount as he approached, and went up the same main road to the fastening.

As he came within view of the earthen ramparts and the tall wooden building, he was pleased to see that both of the improvements he had instructed Zdravomil to see installed were rapidly being righted. The corners of the earthworks were being dug out further, sturdy foundations had already been set, and partial stonework and mortar were being laid. The townsmen and hired peasants were hard at work on them – but at the moment there was little to show apart from the rounded pits that would eventually rise five or six yards into the air. In between these, the bases of the outer wall were being strengthened and raised in stone. Soon enough, between them, they would be made into a proper enceinte in Frankish style. And that was well and good. Mechthild was within, along with her and his unborn child. Those two in particular, Bohodar felt he needed most to protect… and now, more than ever.

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Not for the first time, Bohodar cursed his own lack of preparedness and tendency to procrastination. He could not even muster four hundred soldiers across all his lands, and now there was an enemy force of nearly two thousand, which had taken the forest fort in Opava and all the lands surrounding it… and was now threatening to descend upon Olomouc.

It had been no secret to Bohodar, and indeed no secret to most of Moravia, that the elderly king Rastislav feared treachery from his powerful and discontent nephew, Svätopluk. And many of his manoeuvres at court, including Bohodar’s own elevation to the higher nobility, had been aimed at countering Svätopluk’s strength and heading off his attempts at treason. But in so doing, Rastislav had failed entirely to look in a different direction.

A little over a year before, in July, Wratysław, the Polish pan of Horné Slieszko (that is to say, Upper Silesia), had sent a messenger to Olomouc. Bohodar remembered that the errand the messenger had been asked to deliver amounted to a series of grievances against the King of all Morava – most of them involving disputes over the marches between Slieszko and Rastislav’s own sovereign held lands between the Vistula and the Olše rivers, and Rastislav’s heavy-handedness when it came to pressing those suits against him. Eventually the Silesian messenger had ended with an ultimatum. And Bohodar remembered the words of it quite clearly.

‘Now, will you stand with me and with the clear claims of right and honour, against this wicked tyrant?’

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Bohodar was indeed sensitive to such claims. But not knowing the particulars of them himself, his instinct had been to stand with his sworn liege, and he had given the messenger to know as much. Bohodar knew quite well that Rastislav could be an irascible, foul-tempered old man with a long memory for grudges. But he had been a personal recipient of the same king’s magnanimity, and he knew that there was a kernel of true nobility and honour beneath that bad-tempered exterior. And what mattered more, Bohodar valued himself too high to throw away the oath he had sworn to his king, over such a matter as Wratysław had brought before him. The answer he had sent back to his fellow vassal had been polite, but firmly in the negative. Still, evidently Wratysław had taken Bohodar’s rejection personally. He had sent his two thousand soldiers marching over the Oder, and had at once beset the town of Opava which was inside Bohodar’s own writ.

Bohodar had ground his teeth in frustration, because absent a strategic miracle – and God knew he was no strategist! – there was nothing his muster of five hundred could hope to achieve against such a force. He had had to cut his losses. And the burgomaster of Hradec, his finder of secrets Zubrivoj, was stuck behind those lines. He had tried to remind himself, difficult as it was, that Zubrivoj was capable of handling himself, and was probably better equipped than most to survive tight scrapes.

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But just now Zubrivoj was the least of his concerns. His wife and unborn child were waiting for him, there inside the fastening which was being further strengthened.

Despite his state of worry, Bohodar cracked a grin at another memory that came to his mind unbidden at the thought of Mechthild. She was still not quite used to Moravia’s wooden churches with their bulb-shaped segmented steeples and three-bar crosses… indeed, her first reaction upon seeing Bohodar’s chapel was to compare it to a barn. Bohodar didn’t know whether to be angry or to laugh at that. But once she walked inside, her attitude changed at once. The air inside had a sweet æthereal fragrance, born of the burning incense that wafted from the censers. The patronal icons stood on their mounts in the floor, and the gleam of candlelight and the glint of its reflection off the metal-encased images on the iconostasis met Mechthild’s eyes through the holy haze. Her tongue had been stilled, and she held herself with quiet reverence within the sanctuary, so humble-appearing from the outside, but within like being transported away from the earth.

And then – as Bohodar had instructed him – the heavyset Father Vojmil began delivering the Liturgy, not in Slavonic, but in German. Mechthild heard, disbelieving, the penitential Psalm of David chanted in her own tongue, and flung a sideways glance at Bohodar as bewilderment gave way to understanding. She sidled up closer to Bohodar and slipped his hand into his as they stood in the nave facing the altar. Mechthild added her voice to that of the choir as she recognised the German words of the hymns.

There had been a reading after that, which Mechthild herself had suggested. Examining Vojmil’s bookshelves for something suitable to be read, Bohodar’s eyes lit on the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebios Pamphilios, a well-read leather-bound copy of The Spiritual Meadow by John Moschos, and a rather disused Latin copy of Gildas’s De Excidio. Bohodar remembered fondly how he had tried to guess at Mechthild’s tastes as his fingers traced the spines. He had even previewed each of the narrowly-scripted works using the Příbram quartz reading-stone he’d begged Vojmil to procure for him. Eventually he went with Eusebios, thinking it would give grist to their – still sometimes heated – discussions of ecclesiology and theology. Indeed, when they retired from the church to the common room and Vojmil had begun to recite aloud, Mechthild’s eyes had lit up at once. It had delighted Bohodar to see Mechthild bent in contemplative concentration on the words of the History. Almost as much as when she favoured him with one of those half-smiles and complimented his choice of reading material.

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It wouldn’t have been long after that, Bohodar recalled as his horse clopped across the causeway, that Mechthild had started showing the signs. Her frequent use of the nočník, her complaints about cramps and aches in her breasts, and her wanting to eat more and stranger things – all pointed to the new life that was present within her. The old women of the court were the first to note the signs, and they flocked around her with every manner of rede and remedy and comfort. Bohodar noted wryly that for long periods he had been completely excluded from their company.

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When Bohodar had left Olomouc most recently early that July, Mechthild’s belly had swollen as big around as a potter’s wheel. Her mood had very nearly settled, having gotten past the queasiness and the melancholia and the rages of the middle months. Now she tended to spend more time sitting, as the pains and aches were more in her ankles from the added weight. The midwife had warned Bohodar as he left that she would be due any day now.

‘All the more reason,’ Bohodar had argued grimly, ‘that I need to ride out. I don’t want any harm to come to her, or to our babe. I need to keep an eye on the Opava woods, in case we need to make a flight from or stand against Wratysław’s men. The more warning we have, the better all our chances.’

Hence his current errand. Bohodar had seen it with his own eyes. Wratysław’s men had not come west into the Morava valley, but had instead marched southward toward Nitra. They would pass by Olomouc and leave it untouched. Perhaps Wratysław felt that he had made his point to Bohodar, and would liefer press forward against his direr enemy while he had the momentum. And now he was making haste back to his wife, for better or for worse. He crossed himself a hundred times with a ‘Gospodi pomiluj’ on every hurried breath, begged God’s forgiveness for his absence, and prayed for her health as he rode.

And now he burst in through the door of his fastening, and made his way to the rear and upper rooms where Mechthild had been sequestered. In his haste, he nearly ran down the slender, quiet, retiring Radovan as he was coming up the steps.

‘Your pardon, Radovan,’ Bohodar apologised. ‘How is she? Are they?’

Radovan gave a slight tilt to the head by way of answer. Bohodar was only slightly reassured by his chancellor’s calmness. ‘The midwife is in with her now. She won’t tell me more, but if my own wife’s experiences are anything to go by – the less news at this point, the better.’

Bohodar nodded, but then he heard a sharp shriek of pain, followed by a series of winded bellows from the room above. Again he crossed himself. ‘Gospodi pomiluj, Gospodi pomiluj, Gospodi pomiluj…’

Bohodar had no knowledge of a woman’s agony, but his heart wracked itself for the woman giving birth to his child in the room just above him. The least he could do now was be here. He had himself made known to the midwife that he was here, if that would bring Mechthild any comfort at all. Aye, that it would, she said, and she would let her know it, but her concentration is needed before her right now, and under no circumstances was he allowed inside the chamber.

Agonising hours went by, and the sounds of ragged breathing eventually subsided. Then there was silence for some minutes. And then—

Another cry. But lighter this time. Not Mechthild’s.

Then he heard Mechthild’s voice, tired and ragged… but happy. Bohodar let his shoulders relax against the wall and let his breath slowly, gratefully, escape through his lips. When the midwife came out to him again, he was ready for the smile that she greeted him with.

‘A girl,’ she told him. ‘A healthy girl.’

Bohodar knew he was grinning like what he was—a boy newly minted into a father. The midwife was understanding, and told him: ‘All has been cleared away, and she is resting. You may go into her now. Don’t stay too long, though—she needs her sleep.’

On legs trembling giddily, Bohodar stepped over the threshold and saw his wife—sweaty, haggard, exhausted, but happy—lying on the bed with the newborn already suckling on her breast. Mechthild saw her husband there and beamed at him her sheer relief, assurance and gratitude to God for this blessing they had been given. Bohodar stepped gently to her side and looked down at the baby she was holding.

‘What shall we name her?’ asked Mechthild.

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‘Viera,’ Bohodar said at once.

‘Viera?’ asked Mechthild a little doubtfully. ‘“Four”?’

‘It’s an old Slavic name,’ Bohodar told her. ‘It means “faith”, or “truth”.’

Mechthild mouthed an ‘ah’, and then nodded her assent. She looked down at the baby and crooned at her in Alemannic. ‘Holâ, suozi Vierilîn! Suozi suozi Viera! Guota magadla Viera… Iz, slâf in ruowa, Muoti ist bî, Fatti ist ouh bî, Vierilîn.

Bohodar and Mechthild were soon lost in admiring their new baby girl, whose red hair would soon doubtless darken into the same rich shade of auburn as her Swabian mother’s, but whose brows and nose and mouth were the image of her Moravian father’s. In the Moravian realm which had erupted into civil strife, theirs was an island of peace. It was with some reluctance that the knieža of Olomouc withdrew from his wife’s side. But the call of sleep soon came to both mother and daughter, and father kindly allowed it to claim them.

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Bohodar’s eyes lit on the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebios Pamphilios, a well-read leather-bound copy of The Spiritual Meadow by John Moschos, and a rather disused Latin copy of Gildas’s De Excidio.
Remarkable references, archiving them immediately for further reading. Kudos.


She looked down at the baby and crooned at her in Alemannic. ‘Holâ, suozi Vierilîn! Suozi suozi Viera! Guota magadla Viera… Iz, slâf in ruowa, Muoti ist bî, Fatti ist ouh bî, Vierilîn.
Impressive detail; can only express joyous amazement and own envy for this. Kudos.
 

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Can I just say this is some excellent character writing? I was hooked in from the first chapter, and will definitely subscribe!
 

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Remarkable references, archiving them immediately for further reading. Kudos.
Thanks! It's a little frustrating that the game references 12th- and 13th-century books that didn't exist in 867 in those events, and finding contemporary or earlier works that filled the same roles was a little challenging. Of these three I think I only have The Spiritual Meadow on my physical bookshelf.

As to the OHG dialogue, a lot of that is kind of a mashup of modern German grammar, OHG etymo entries and reverse-engineered Swabian dialect morphology... I have no idea how accurate it is, honestly. :p

Can I just say this is some excellent character writing? I was hooked in from the first chapter, and will definitely subscribe!
Cheers! Glad to have you on board, and glad you're enjoying it so far!
 
Chapter Four

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FOUR
Risâlat
10 August 868 – 25 January 870

‘You’re doing it again,’ Mechthild smirked.

‘No I’m not,’ Bohodar objected.

Mechthild chuffed, her nose turned upward in mock offence. ‘Ever since Vojmil stopped by with that letter, you’ve been insufferable. Looking out into the courtyard, waiting for that priest with the outlandish name that I can’t pronounce, who promised to bring you that book.’

‘Gorazd,’ Bohodar said automatically. ‘I suppose it’s Father Gorazd now. And… have I?’

‘You can’t hide anything from me, mîn êwagatu,’ Mechthild sidled up to him warmly. ‘It’s good you don’t go haring off after other women. But it’s still not fitting for a wife to have to compete with leather binding and calfskin for the affections of her husband.’ She put her hands on his shoulders and eyed his lips hungrily, again biting her own in keen expectancy. ‘It’s already after the Vespers bell. Viera’s finally asleep. And… you promised me a whole night.’

Bohodar patted Mechthild affectionately on the arm, but couldn’t help but cast another glance toward the courtyard. Mechthild lay a constraining palm on his jaw, and turned his chin back toward her.

‘No! No you don’t,’ she warned him.

Mechthild took his face in both her hands and began tenderly stroking his lips, letting hers float upwards toward them. She let out a deep sigh of want as they touched, and then opened like petals under sunshine. Slowly but firmly she began probing with her tongue, and let out a muffled gasp when she had succeeded in provoking him to respond in kind. Now she had his undivided attention. Bohodar put his arms around her waist, suddenly finding he had been looking forward to a night like this as much as Mechthild was. Arms twining around each other, their legs and feet danced a kind of clumsy round in search of the door to their room. Once they were inside, Mechthild closed it firmly. She grinned, and took him by the hand to the bed, which Bohodar had strewn with rose petals. She tugged the hem of her gown all the way up to her waist, then gently guided Bohodar’s hand up one smooth bare thigh.

Hier,’ she sighed. ‘You can turn my pages.’

2021_06_09_23a.png


~~~​

Long tendrils of auburn, immaculately fine, caught the glint of the first morning rays from the window. Bohodar watched them as they quivered from his breath. The dreamer that they belonged to sprawled luxuriantly next to him on the bed. The supple expressions and contours of her body, still glistening with the sweat of sweet exertion, showed her complete relaxation and satiety at last. Bohodar reached up a hand to trace one of her cheekbones down to her full lips, then let it slide down her jawline and slender neck to her collarbone and shoulder. Bohodar admired the shape, the smoothness… and was still awed by how warmly the mother of his daughter glowed, even in her hands and feet, by comparison with him.

Last night’s bout had been more spirited than any since their wedding night. In the heat of her throes, Mechthild had reared and rolled and writhed with reckless and wanton appetite. She’d sighed and moaned out her ever deeper need with every swivel. She yearned for the moment of digging nails and broken gasps, the sublime anguish before the release. Mechthild was a raging wildfire, and quenching her was hard and demanding work, however enjoyable. But what touched Bohodar even more was her afterglow. She slept sound beside him, assured of him, trusting him without fear or shame. The fact that she could sleep so angelically afterward spoke to Bohodar of a loyalty more lasting than mere lust.

Mechthild stirred and opened her eyes. Stretching, she ran her fingers over her husband’s chest and down over his navel. A sleepy smile crept over her lips as she turned over and hugged him, throwing one naked thigh over his waist, and nestling her cheek against his shoulder.

‘It’s strange. Before I came to Velehrad, I never thought I could make it with a younger man. I thought I needed someone older than me, more experienced,’ Mechthild mused. ‘But then I hadn’t met Bohodar of Rychnov. You give me sweet, and then you give me firm.’

‘I know what you mean.’ He gave his wife a squeeze around her middle. ‘I never dreamed I’d marry a nemka, a westerner, an older woman. But what dream could ever compare? Those were shadows, Mechthild. You are light.’

Mechthild gave a slight ‘hm’ and snuggled in closer. ‘That’s high praise, given how much you read.’

Mechthild immediately regretted her choice of words, as her husband’s shoulder stiffened and his neck craned beyond her to the window. She rolled her eyes and let out a sigh, but the expression on her lips was tolerant, even smug. ‘You bookworm! Fine. Go to your priest and get your book.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes. I know you won’t be able to concentrate on anything else until you have it. And at night I want you to concentrate on me.’

Bohodar sat up and began to dress himself, trying but not altogether succeeding to hide his eagerness. They had been married only a year and a half, and yet she already knew him this well… and accepted him. Not all husbands could be so lucky, he mused. As he got on his hose and wrapped his ankles, he cast another look of appreciation back at his wife. Her hair was spread beneath her in a thick, lustrous sheet, and her smooth skin, despite its slightly dun cast, still shone rich and unblemished. She had propped herself up on her near arm, showing off the firm round hillock of her hips to its best advantage. She rested her other arm atop it, letting her hand droop complacently over her auburn love-grove.

‘Be back soon.’

Bohodar leaned back across the bed and gave his wife an affectionate kiss before he left the room. With a spring in his step he lit down the stairs and crossed the hall to the doorway. Tired though he might be, it had been a good night. And the lure of rare knowledge from regions south was dangling before him. Stepping out into the courtyard, he took a deep breath of the warm summer air before going down from the castle to the wooden town church. He crossed himself before the door and bowed, as was proper to do, but he did not go within. Given the way he had spent the night, it would not be right to enter the church yet, before a full bodily ablution.

Still, he did not have long to wait to see a familiar face. A round face with a high forehead and a rather long straight nose that might have given him a mousy look, were it not for the great, bushy dark beard beneath it. Last time Bohodar had seen him, he donned a simple brown homespun. Now he wore a long black cassock and a flat-topped kamilavka, and he wore a pectoral cross wrought from silver.

‘Bless, Father!’ Bohodar cried when he saw him, and knelt to him, kissing his hand. Bohodar only ever bowed to clergy and to King Rastislav – and no others.

‘God bless you, Bohodar,’ said Father Gorazd. ‘You look well and happy. I hear I am to congratulate you – a husband and a father! I am glad that such a life seems to be treating you well.’

‘Thank you, Father. And your trip to Rome was safe, I trust?’

Gorazd gave a grateful nod. ‘Praise God, it was. Methodius brought us there without incident, and together with Constantine and several of us lower deacons and attendants, we made our case to Holy Father Nicolaus. We had gone expecting a cold greeting, but the Holy Father in Rome received us like brothers, and gave Methodius the kiss of brotherhood. Our stay was made very agreeable, and at the end, the Pontiff gave the blessing to Methodius as Archbishop, and anointed him personally. He also had us ordained as deacons and priests, blessing our mission to spread the Gospel among the Slavs. I am grateful that we received the aid we did, else…’

Bohodar nodded and crossed himself. ‘Amen.’

‘We are not without friends among the Franks,’ Gorazd told him, ‘which is one reason why I welcome marriages like yours. Satan is brewing a threat of schism in the Church, which is ever the target of his rages. Hopefully, your marrying your nemka will have staved it off, even if for a short while.’

‘May the Lord grant it.’

Gorazd made a slight ‘oh’, and then reached inside his cassock, producing a thick volume bound in brown leather. Gently, he handed it to the young knieža, who could not completely forbear from showing his eagerness in accepting it. Bohodar was by no means a covetous man, but books were the one exception to this rule, in particular rarities like this one. Reverently he opened the cover, and his fingers traced tenderly down the first leaf. Not for nothing was Mechthild bordering on jealous of Bohodar’s affinity for books! Bohodar traced the exquisite curling petioles of Arabic calligraphy, with their bacciferous clusters of diacritics budding above and below. This book had made quite a journey… compiled in Alexandria, it had found its way to Constantinople and then to Rome, where Gorazd had managed by means unknown to Bohodar to procure it. The Risâlat Maryânus al-Râhib of ’Abû Hâšim Ḵâlid ibn Yazîd, one of the greatest alchemical testaments ever compiled, now lay in Bohodar’s hands.

‘What do I owe you for this treasure?’ asked Bohodar.

Gorazd shook his head. ‘You needn’t give me money; merely promise me one thing. All true knowledge of creation, even if it is written by a Hagarene, comes from God and is good. We are assured of this in the first book of the Law. But let not the serpent tempt you. As you read, do not presume to know as much as God. Do not be tempted by pride of the mind. And use this knowledge only for God’s glory.’

‘I understand, Father. And I promise,’ Bohodar nodded in meek gratitude.

It was on his way back to the castle (still under construction) that Bohodar, as he perused the exquisite book he had been given, that a determination, already gestating in his mind, began to take a definite shape. The alphabet that Methodius had taught him would one day be used to teach all of the Slavs. Perhaps Bohodar could add to that mission by transmitting this text into Slavonic using the new alphabet. He already had a standard lexikon, published in Constantinople, of Arabic roots and their various Greek glosses. And once he had the Greek, he could render that in Slavonic easily enough. Already in his head he was mapping out how he would begin to approach the translation project.

2021_06_09_25a.png

Those first nights, Bohodar set up in the study of his castle and, after perusing the Risâlat through once, cracked open his Byzantine Arabic lexikon and several other reference books that had been translated from Arabic into Greek, referring in particular to and began taking notes for an intermediate translation of the first chapter of the testament. Conscripting a few other literate souls, Bohodar worked into the small hours those first nights, and let up only when his fellow scribes told him that the midnight hour had struck. He half expected Mechthild to be angry at his absence, but apart from a couple of lonely pouts she had remarkably understood him, and left him his space. After all, despite her outgoing nature and her competency for running the household, she too had had a scholarly upbringing, albeit one in Latin rather than in Greek. She knew the call of knowledge.

It was good to have Mechthild close at hand, because the frustrations of the translation project were many. Bohodar soon found to his chagrin that the translation process taxed both his energy and his patience. There were times when he came close to cursing both Ḵâlid ibn Yazîd and his monastic mentor Marianos for their obtuseness, and grumbled aloud in wonder that this testament might have anything of value in it. Several times, the Church readers he’d conscripted to help him with the translation had to nervously wake up their knieža from sleep in order to continue their work. Eventually he simply sent them home for the night. Of course, Mechthild welcomed this as well.

2021_06_09_26a.png
2021_06_09_28a.png

It came as no surprise to either of them, but they gave the thanks that were due when God decided to bless Mechthild’s womb again with a new life. Mechthild had her charge just as her bookworm-husband had his, and she bore with both philosophically. When at last it came time for her to lighten, it was easier for her knowing that Bohodar was close by. Indeed, Bohodar was far more attentive this time despite his work on translating the Risâlat. He had even hired as leech a well-known Frankish woman, Winfrida, who specialised in the afflictions that might visit new mothers – even though she was a fierce partizan of the Frankish king and the Latin Mass, and even though her reputation, despite a vast breadth and depth of knowledge for her tender age of eighteen, was not the most scrupulous.

2021_06_09_29a.png
2021_06_09_29b.png

‘You have grown almost fond, my knieža,’ Radovan told him meekly one morning.

‘Fond?’ asked Bohodar. ‘What on earth do you mean?’

Radovan smiled enigmatically. ‘I mean the lady kňažná. She isn’t merely a wife to you any longer, is she?’

Bohodar shook his head and drew his lips taut. ‘Of course she’s a wife to me. What else would she be?’

Radovan nodded self-deprecatingly. ‘Forgive me, milord. But if I may be so bold as to speak openly, one married man to another… if you do indeed start taking a liking to your wife, it is best to show it to her. And I don’t mean merely rose petals on the bed.’

‘What would you suggest?’ Bohodar asked. It was a bit unnerving how close Radovan had hit the mark.

‘I wouldn’t dare to do so intimate a thing as suggest something another woman’s husband would know best,’ Radovan said diplomatically. ‘Each woman is different in her temper and in her tastes. One might like poetry, another music, another riding in the countryside.’

‘Thank you, Radovan,’ Bohodar said, a bit snippishly. ‘I will give your advice the thought it is due.’

‘Milord is gracious,’ Radovan spread his hands, stopping just shy of cheek.

As it turned out, Mechthild gave birth this time to a big, healthy, red-headed and rosy-faced little boy – every bit the image of his mother, though she pointed out that his eyes were very much Bohodar’s. And this time, Mechthild made a suggestion for his name.

2021_06_09_27a.png

‘How about Radomír?’

Mechthild had not only done him the honour of looking for a Slavonic name for their son, but she had picked one that perfectly encapsulated all of his own hopes for his son’s life. Bohodar surprised himself with how deeply his wife’s suggestion touched him. Radovan had been right. Maybe he was growing fond of his wife.

‘“Happy” and “peaceful”,’ Bohodar nodded appreciatively. ‘Perfect. Radomír he is!’
 
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Henry v. Keiper

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That escalated quickly in the beginning there.

I assume Radovan's advice is related to some of the choices in the seduction/romance quests?
 
Chapter Five

Revan86

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@Henry v. Keiper: LOL, yup. And yes, Radovan is already giving Bohodar advice on the romance events...


FIVE
The Infant Queen
12 February 870 – 8 August 870

In another universe, in another reality, King Rastislav was overthrown by his ambitious nephew Svätopluk. Svätopluk, who had been given lordship over the Bohemians, had entered into a secret treaty with Karloman, king of the East Franks – and offered him his uncle in exchange for being made lord over all of Moravia. Rastislav, who erupted into one of his infamous rages at the news of this treason, made plans to have Svätopluk strangled to death at a feast. Svätopluk was tipped off about the plan, however, and set out on a hunt to avoid the trap. Rastislav took to horse and gave chase to Svätopluk, but was captured by Svätopluk’s men. The nephew sold the uncle, as agreed, to the Frankish king. Humiliated, bound in heavy iron chains, the elderly Rastislav was presented by Karloman to his father Louis the German. Jeered and mocked, the suffering Moravian king was sentenced to death, but Louis ordered that instead he should be blinded and thrown into the dungeon. That is where Rastislav died, around the year 870. Today Rastislav is commemorated as a saint by the Orthodox Church of the Czech and Slovak Lands.

0511rostislavmoravia.jpg

Saint Rastislav, Prince of Great Moravia​

In the universe of which I speak, the Rychnovsk‎ý family never rose to prominence. Not being supporters of Svätopluk, the political fortunes of Bohodar’s and Mechthild’s children waned, and they moved from Olomouc into the west, eventually settling in villages in the north of Bohemia as minor free villagers, burgomasters, church sextons and minor clerks. A few of them intermarried with Ashkenazi families that settled there later, and were allied by marriage to the Kafka family, which produced at least one famous novelist many centuries later.

But in this universe, the fork in the river of history diverged here, in the very same year of 870. The fickle whims of Fortuna did not so readily favour Svätopluk, instead lighting upon the chieftain of the Silesians, who seized them boldly. And Rastislav’s doom fell out in a very different way…


~~~​

Stillness fell outside the wooden stockade, where the two armies had clashed. The Oder flowed by, the last few ledges of February ice thinning and dissolving along its banks, calm and oblivious to the death that had raged above, despite the ribbons of red that trickled down over the lingering ice and swirled off into it. The elderly Rastislav opened his eyes with a groan, seeing for a moment only the cold, damp brown grass in front of his face, before the focus came back and he found himself gazing out over a field of broken bodies. The Mojmír banner had fallen – only a ragged fragment of the pole it had been hoisted on remained, with one warrior’s severed arm still clinging tightly to it.

Rastislav willed to stand, but couldn’t; only a nauseating wave of agony rewarded his efforts. With dread, the elderly king of Veľká Morava looked down at his legs. His left leg was whole and uninjured. But his right… he nearly slipped from consciousness again as he beheld it. Instead of healthy flesh, there was only a shapeless mass of pulpy red, still oozing his blood out into the grass. Grunting, Rastislav reached for his sword and scabbard, but they were beyond his reach. Three men, still upright, came into view. Hoping against hope that they were friendly, Rastislav reached up an arm to hail them. But those hopes were dashed straightaway as he recognised foremost among them the face of his erstwhile vassal Wratysław. As he drew near, the Silesian crossed his arms and smirked with grim satisfaction.

‘Not so mighty now, eh?’ he said. ‘You’re beaten. And you’re a king no more.’

‘Enough gloating,’ Rastislav grimaced. ‘If you’re here to kill me, get on with it.’

‘Kill you?’ Wratysław laughed bitterly. ‘Do I look like such a monster to you? No. I’m not here to kill you. In fact, I will gladly have your wounds treated as far as I am able, and then give you a horse and a week free of pursuit. You may go to the Franks, to Pannonia, to the Bulgarians as you wish. But you must leave Moravia for good. You are banished from here. Those are my terms.’

‘And Jarmila?’ asked Rastislav.

‘Worry not, your wife shall be sent with you. But Bratromila you must leave behind with me.’

2021_06_09_32a.png

‘If you lay one finger on her—!’ Rastislav shouted, knowing even as he said it that his threat was empty.

Wratysław shook his head. ‘I told you before. I’m not a monster. I don’t want your daughter’s life, or her body. But the semblance of an unbroken line must be upheld, you understand. She will rule Moravia in your stead.’

‘With you looming over her in the background,’ Rastislav spat.

‘I’m glad we understand each other.’

‘Bastard! You utter bastard!’ Rastislav raged.

Wratysław looked down at the Moravian king with a look of contempt. Then he said to the two men at his side: ‘Take him. Do all as I have bidden.’

2021_06_09_31a.png


~~~​

It was six days after that fateful battle, on the seventeenth of February, that Bohodar received the news of his liege’s defeat. He had been diligently at his duties in Velehrad as šafár, managing Rastislav’s household and estates while he was off campaigning against the renegade Wratysław. The news had come in the form of two errand-writs to Velehrad: the first one saying that Rastislav had fallen in defeat and was henceforth banished from Moravia, and the second telling Bohodar Rychnovský specifically that his services as šafár in the Mojmír household were no longer required.

Bohodar gave a snarl of frustration and crinkled the letter in his hands. Wratysław would not have forgotten Bohodar’s refusal to join him in rebellion. Of course he would be out of favour in the city of Mojmír now that Wratysław’s star was so clearly ascendant. There was no question either about the authenticity of the notes. They had been delivered as a fait accompli.

A significant part of him wanted to return to Olomouc at once. Mechthild was pregnant again. This time, however, the pregnancy had not gone well. She had gotten much sicker to her stomach than she had the previous times, and she was also wracked with debilitating headaches that kept her bedridden most of the day. Bohodar did want to be back at her side. However, his loyalty to Rastislav took precedence this time. He owed it to the king, even in his defeat, to see to it that his infant daughter was safely installed. Bratromila was only a year old, and Bohodar had only seen her once. Unfortunately, she was a pale and weakly little creature whose chances for survival would be slim if she were not surrounded by friends.

2021_06_09_35a.png

Bohodar put away his dismissal, folding it and stuffing it into his scrip. He drew out another sheet of calfskin, much more neatly unfolded it, and once again glanced down at the love poem he’d ventured to write in German to his wife.

Wir iozuo im gruonên tiuftal bilîba,
Ferr’nab fom hôhalpenpass,
Doh dû stês ana mîner sîta,
Unt’ farstehh’ dînen sorga mit spass.

Oh, daz ih eino bluomo wâr,
Fon dir fon wisa giphlockt zuo werdan,
Unt’ mit mîner lezz’sten suozi bringa dir
Entilîh noh ein wâris lecheln.

Odar wann ih ein gibirgsbah wâri
Ih wuorda mih al ein fur’ dih fullan,
Unt’ lâz dih trinkan bî ze ih truckan bin
Also wuorda ih dînen durst stillan.

Traz des skreckôns in mînem herzan
Ih bringa mih in die slaht,
Unt’ al ein mit lioba kempfa ih:
Eine einsama bruofunga mîner maht.

O rôta rôsa! Du hast mir frouwida birîtan
Wît ubari mînen fardionest hinaz.
Ih wâga iozuo, dih ouh zuo bittan:
Mahthild, sî niwâr’ du mîn scaz.


[Now we live in the green valley
Far from the high Alpine pass,
Still you stay at my side,
And your worries hide with laughs.

O that I were a flower,
To be plucked by you from the meadow,
And with my final sweetness bring you
A true smile at long last.

Or if I was a mountain stream,
I’d pour myself out just for you,
And let you drink me till I was dry
So I could satisfy your thirst.

Despite the terror in my heart,
With love alone I will to fight:
I bring myself into the battle,
A lonely token of my might.

O red rose! You have given me pleasure
Far beyond my own deserving.
I venture now to ask of you:
Mechthild, be only thou my darling.]

Mphm,’ said Bohodar to himself, still a trifle unsatisfied with what he’d written. ‘At least it’s better now than that silly nonsense about Aphrodite and eyes like winter hams that I came up with before.’ Bohodar had made well and truly sure that the entirety of that first stab at poetry had been scraped off the vellum and that only the words of the current poem were visible.

‘Radovan and his ideas,’ Bohodar scoffed under his breath. ‘I can render a rare Arabic alchemy treatise into Slavonic, and do it so well that Vojmil wants to make copies. So why does this kind of poetry give me such a problem?’

He didn’t want to admit it to himself, but he cared a great deal about how Mechthild would receive it, and whether she would welcome it or not. Writing for himself – or for a hypothetical audience of Slavic schoolchildren – was one thing. Writing for a wife for whom his bodily desire was turning into something deeper – that was entirely something else. The days after he sent it off by rider were some of Bohodar’s most anxious yet. Why was it this difficult? Why did he keep going back to his poem and looking for some imperfections, things he could fix? Why was it so hard to write this thing for a woman he knew and liked and cared about?

At long last, his rider returned with a single sheet folded fernwise bearing Mechthild’s response. Bohodar took it, half in dread of what might be written there. He cracked the wax seal and unfolded the letter. However, there was nothing at all written on it – not one word!

Puzzled and distraught, Bohodar almost missed what fell out from the lower fold of the sheet. He stooped to pick it up, and found between his fingers a lock of deep auburn strands, bound up neatly with a thread of Byzantine silk. At once he knew it for Mechthild’s hair, and a warm glow in his chest chased out the dread. He tucked the precious token safely away within the fold of his tunic, as close to his heart as he could get it.

‘Begging your pardon, milord,’ said a servant at the door. ‘Wratysław the Silesian is here to see you.’

Bohodar tried to suppress a curling lip. ‘Very well, let him come.’

In strode the Silesian, his crisp short beard thrust out belligerently. He strode over to Bohodar, crossed his arms, and bit out the words: ‘If it please you, Bohodar knieža, would you consent to being the kancelár for the new queen after she is anointed?’

2021_06_09_34a.png

Bohodar was stunned. ‘What?’

‘You heard me.’

Bohodar’s mind worked quickly. There must be something in it for Wratysław, who might play meek and honourable to others, but who was constantly angling after his own advantage. And then he hit on it. He raised a hand to stroke his chin thoughtfully, in order to hide the smile of satisfaction that was forming there. Wratysław needed Bohodar to check the power of Svätopluk, who was still at large and a threat to him… and not averse to fomenting plots against his close kin. If Svätopluk won a pitched fight against the Silesians, Wratysław would not fare well at all. So that was how the land lay! Bohodar wasn’t quite above feeling a bit of satisfaction that his enemy was coming to him to beg for political help. Well, well, well… he would play along. At least with someone loyal next to her Svätopluk wouldn’t move openly against Bratromila. And as kancelár he would be well-positioned to shield Bratromila at least in part from Wratysław’s greed for gain.

Bohodar made a show of hesitation. ‘I don’t know…’

‘In addition,’ Wratysław ground his teeth, ‘should you accept, I would see to it that the lord of Přerov swore a personal oath of fealty to you. I’m willing to let bygones be bygones here.’

2021_06_09_36a.png

Better and better! That placed Bohodar as the sole overlord of the full northern half of the Moravian heartland. Wratysław must be desperate indeed for support. Bohodar let out a sigh.

‘Very well. I shall take the office of kancelár, and the oath of loyalty from the lord of Přerov. Just remember that my loyalty is to Bratromila.’

‘I won’t forget,’ Wratysław promised. He bowed stiffly and then turned and left.
 
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filcat

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The Risâlat Maryânus al-Râhib of ’Abû Hâšim Ḵâlid ibn Yazîd, one of the greatest alchemical testaments ever compiled, now lay in Bohodar’s hands.
Great detail, superb -in great admiration for such details.

As to the OHG dialogue, a lot of that is kind of a mashup of modern German grammar, OHG etymo entries and reverse-engineered Swabian dialect morphology... I have no idea how accurate it is, honestly.
.

Wir iozuo im gruonên tiuftal bilîba,
Ferr’nab fom hôhalpenpass,
Doh dû stês ana mîner sîta,
(...)
Not going into details for its grammar due to reconstruction, but the sheer amount of the passionate effort is simply admirable. Kudos.


By the way, the situation looks grave; one can only wonder how long it will take until the next claimant war against the poor child-queen starts; impending, imminent, or prompt, hard to decide on the appropriate adjective.

Edit: Corrected grammatical mistakes.
 
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Chapter Six

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Thank you for the comments, @filcat, and I'm glad you're enjoying it so far! And yes, young Bratromila's problems are only just beginning. I'm afraid I've got a bit of a doozy here, though...

SIX
Wolf and Boar
8 August 870 – 8 May 871


Moravskoslezské-Beskydy-tipy-na-turistiku-2.jpeg

Along the border between Moravia and Silesia, north of Opava, run one strand of the Beskids. Sweet and crisp with the scent of juniper and spruce, the rolling sheets of forest fold into an endless distance through layers of pure white mist. Strands of silver ribbon wind their way among the low creases, gathering themselves together into deeper, stiller flows – and eventually making their way to the northward-wending Oder. On this day, cloud shade and sunlight played a vast and intricate patchwork upon the rolling landscape. He briefly checked his step as he paused to enjoy the air, lifting his nose and breathing deep before moving onward.

He wasn’t used to hunting alone – usually hunting and trapping were a family affair. But his wife was at home with their cousins and uncles and aunts, looking after the young bairns, who had been born around the middle of May. Today it was his job to bring back something for them all to eat. He lifted one white boot and toed at a rock, before setting it firmly down with a new determination. He knew that if he came back with ripe raspberries or clusters of mountain rowan, his loving wife and children wouldn’t turn them down – they would eat happily and give thanks for what they ate. But he owed them more than that, and game was plentiful here. The bigger prey, like bears or boars or wisents, might be out of the question for today’s hunt. Those were marks for a team of hunters: ‘two heads are better than one’, as the saying goes. He knew he would be needed to hunt other days, and his family wouldn’t thank him for getting himself killed. But, he was fully equipped even by himself to take grouse or partridge, a few conies, a chamois or a roe deer.

He adjusted his loose coat around a pair of spare, lean shoulders, and again cast his green eyes down toward the river. He was colour-blind, and had gone through his life without really understanding the difference between what others might call ‘red’ and ‘green’, but his sensitivity to movements in dim light and in the underbrush more than made up for this minor deficit in his vision. On the crisp summer air, still sweet and fresh with the smells of summer-ripe fruit and happy vegetation, he noted a certain musty tang. Yes. There was a chamois nearby – perhaps even two or three together.

Keeping a low profile in the undergrowth, and treading his way softly over the loamy ground down the hill, the hunter made his way down toward the running water. That would be his best bet for catching the beast off-guard and making a clean kill. With a skill and patience born of long practice, the hunter slowly descended the hillside, nearer and nearer his targets. By now he could note the telltale shifts in the patterns of light through the leaves, and the solid black outline of his capriform quarry became clear where the underbrush cleared and gave way to the bank of the stream. He crouched softly, almost to a kneel, gauging his chances.

But something made him prick his ears and turn his head, made the grizzled grey hairs on the back of his head and neck stand up. He wasn’t the only hunter out here. The sound of a snapping branch was soft, but it was low, and it still reverberated into the open air on the running water. Whoever the other hunter was, he had a heavy step.

Warily, without coming out of his crouch, the hunter turned his head off to his right. The other hunter, the heavier one, was richly dressed and heavily equipped. In his hand he carried a spear, and he had a sword and seax at his side and a quiver of javelins on his back. This one would be a lord among men, he guessed. He opened his mouth and was about to give his fellow hunter a friendly hail. But with a jolt of dread in his chest he noticed that the big lord was not at all interested in the chamois below them. No – the lord’s gaze was fixed not upon the four-hooved quarry, but on where he was! He was the mark, and this lord among men was neither a comrade nor a competitor, but his deadly foe.

In fear for his family as much as for himself, the green-eyed hunter backed out of his hiding-place and took to his heels. With long strides he leapt through the underbrush. The other hunter, the lord, might have better weapons and better armour, but the green-eyed one knew he had speed on his side, and his own wiry strength. Also, if it came to a fight, against this one it would be better to have the element of surprise on his side. Ideally, he could lure this lord back to his family and have them all take him on, and they would all stand a better chance. But he didn’t think he could get that far.

The chase was on. He could hear the heavyset lordling behind him pounding after him. He knew he had to get to cover in order to shake him. There was a thicket of bramble close by, and he being the smaller and lighter of limb between the two, he knew he’d have a better chance there, however it might sting in the immediate term. He leapt into the open and sprinted for the thicket.

Too late he realised he’d misjudged the distance. Almost as he was at the thicket, more so than the pain, he felt the jerk of impact in his side as the javelin punctured his coat and his skin, and dug deep beneath his ribs into his vital organs. He let out a breathless gasp at the mortal wound, and fell limply on his side. His sight swam. As his killer approached and drew the seax at his side from its scabbard, the last thing he thought was: My family… what will happen to my family?

~~~

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Bohodar Rychnovský knelt over the limp form of the wolf, having despatched it with his knife as quickly and as humanely as he could. He wrenched the javelin out of the animal’s side and peered down at him with a faint trace of pity. Judging from the white around his dark muzzle, this one was clearly a veteran, probably a leader of a pack – and his pack might even have a den nearby here. Bohodar crossed himself and offered thanks to God for a clean kill, and a word of apology to the wolf and its kin for his trespass.

Opava was the perfect place for hunting – that was one reason that he was building a lodge nearby for easier access to these beautiful Beskids. Although he enjoyed being outside, however, hunting wasn’t his favourite pastime. He wasn’t a big one for taking even the lives of animals, even though he well understood its benefits and the need for hunts as a matter of tradition. This, though, was a special case. Mechthild was still quite ill, and she bore their unborn child – now in its last month of gestation – heavily this time; of late, even though it was the middle of summer and quite warm and pleasant outside, she had been wracked with chills and clamminess, and she was in need of warmth for her sweat to break and her fever to subside. Although they had woollens and heavy cloaks enough at home, what was needed was something heavier… and a wolf pelt was just what was called for.

2021_06_10_3a.png

Bohodar lifted the limp form of the wolf up and hoisted it over around his shoulders. He would skin the animal and begin curing the hide here, before taking it back to Olomouc the following day. Hopefully this would help bring Mechthild back to health before she went into labour.

But she was in dire shape when Bohodar returned to Olomouc. Mechthild was sleeping fitfully when he came into the room. Her dun, normally impish face was now drawn and pale, and there was a thin sheen of clammy sweat on her brow. He did nothing to disturb her sleep, but merely pulled up a stool next to her and sat silently beside her. It surprised him how much her condition distressed him. By this time he had grown used to Mechthild. He had come to appreciate her graceful comportment among strangers, lightening the burden within his household of having to deal with them. He approved of her skilful advice the unflappable sense of fairness she brought to matters of law when they came to her attention. And even where they disagreed, whether about church matters or about matters of his personal expenditures, by now they were close enough that they became playful and self-deprecating with their own jibes. Even though Mechthild processed things aloud, in speech and gesture, and Bohodar tended to process things silently and introspectively, nonetheless by the end of the day he was thankful for her presence in his life. But now there was the real possibility that God might see fit to remove her from it.

He brought out the wolf pelt, now properly cured and dried, and draped it over Mechthild’s sleeping form. The animal fur bulged heavily outward over her swollen belly. Bohodar was gratified when he saw his wife’s fingers find the edges of the hide, and close warmly and appreciatively over the sleek grey fur.

Bohodar did not leave her side at all for the next two weeks. Their healthy little two-year-old came toddling in on occasion, and Bohodar would play with her a bit, before she came up to her ill mother with a young child’s sympathy – pure and heartfelt, though not yet fully understanding the stakes. If Mechthild was awake, Viera would cross herself and kiss her mother soundly on the cheek before going off with her nurse to play.

And then came the distress of labour, and Bohodar was again evicted by the midwife from his wife’s room. He stayed outside the room while from within the sounds of a woman’s excruciating exertions leaked out and tormented his ears. He wished that he could alleviate something, anything, of that pain, and was distressed that he could not. He heard Mechthild cry out once more, and then there was stillness. A long stillness. Far too long. And then there was a wail of grief and distress, but it was clearly Mechthild’s. No child’s cry answered.

The midwife emerged from the room, with a grave and apologetic look upon her face. She had with her a small, still bundle, and showed it to Bohodar.

‘I am sorry, milord. Your daughter… never drew breath.’

2021_06_09_38a.png

Gospodi pomiluj,’ Bohodar bowed his head. He lost his composure, and tears, unbidden and uncontrollable, welled up and fell from his eyes. ‘And Mechthild?’

The midwife set her mouth grimly, and delivered the hard news unsparingly. ‘It was a hard birth for her, and had not been well for some time before. It won’t be easy for her to recover from this one. I don’t promise that she will live. But I will do what I can for her, and leave the rest to the mercies of God and of the Theotokos.’

Bohodar nodded. ‘Yes, please do. And… thank you for all you have done.’

The next days were some of the most anxious and nerve-wracking that Bohodar had ever spent. He was still not allowed in to be near his wife as she was (God willing) recovering. Yet he still found he could not, and did not want to, stir too far from the door to his wife’s chamber in the castle. Several of those nights, he slept on a stool, leaning against the wall behind which his wife fought for life.

Eventually, however, his wife did emerge – dishevelled, weary, but with a normal and healthy colour to her face. Bohodar went to her at once and embraced her. But rather than smiling, she hung her head.

‘Bohodar,’ she told him, ‘I’m sorry. Sorry that I couldn’t bear our baby to life. God must be judging me, and finding me wanting.’

Bohodar shook his head firmly and held her all the closer. ‘In this, you have nothing to be sorry for. And God does not curse you. God loves you.’

It was still some time before Mechthild felt well enough to leave her quarters and the environs, much less to appear in front of other folk. Still she was anxious not to be cooped up, and ended up prowling her room much like a caged beast. In the end, the midwife and the physician both had to relent and allow Mechthild to join the great hall. Bohodar was pleased at this turn, as he took it as a sign she was coming back to her own old sense of poise.

Sadly, one of the functions that Bohodar was obligated to hold in Olomouc was one in which his new vassal, Prisnec Přerovský, would necessarily be in attendance. Bohodar wasn’t one for holding grudges, but he had quickly found that Přerovský rubbed him the wrong way. Although he was meek and subservient before the knieža to a point bordering on obsequiousness, he had a nervous tic which made him seem jumpy, and in addition to that Bohodar had seen an unpleasant gleam in the young man’s eye whenever he beheld someone suffering. That did not bode well. And now Mechthild was descending to participate in the function, and she was looking forward to speaking with Přerovský not one whit more than Bohodar himself was.

‘Oh yes—ha ha—rather an odd duck, that Socrates, eh? Kind of a wet blanket, seems like to me—hm. Don’t much blame the Athenians, no, no. Had to be done. I mean, who argues like that anyway? Me, I’d have had no patience for it. No. Not a bit of it. Would have popped him in the snub nose, says I. Hm. Ha. Anyway. What say you?’

Bohodar’s heart went out to Mechthild. There was a look of the profoundest dismay and chagrin on her cheeks. But she kept trying to get a word in edgewise against Přerovský’s insipid monologue. ‘Well, I—’

‘See, that’s just it! The fellow just chatters on, see, talking over everybody, and he leads people by the nose, so they can only say “just so” or “yes” to whatever he says. Ha! Wouldn’t that annoy you?’

Mechthild’s brow darkened grimly. If she were in better health, Bohodar knew she’d be able to enjoy the irony in Přerovský’s obliviousness, and laugh it off together with him later. But now she clearly wasn’t in the mood. With a deep breath, Bohodar decided it was well past time to step in.

He stepped up beside his wife. ‘True, Socrates didn’t do himself any favours with his own apology, which was aimed primarily to provoke his detractors. But then, saving his own life wasn’t his aim. He wanted to die an honourable death – neither to run away from his home, nor from his responsibility to speak the truth.’

Hidden from view, Bohodar hung his hand beside his wife’s. Mechthild took it and gave it a squeeze of gratitude.

‘Yes, yes,’ Přerovský sniffed, rubbing his beardless chin. ‘Very noble and all that. But the point is—’

2021_06_10_4a.png

Bohodar didn’t really remember much of the conversation after that, which was probably for the best. Přerovský had read a couple of the Dialogues, but he clearly hadn’t ingested their lessons, and it showed. But Bohodar was able to rescue Mechthild from having to put up with his inane blather alone, and she was clearly grateful. That was all that Bohodar needed to know; the only thing that mattered for the rest of the evening to him. One glance from Mechthild made him feel as though he could deliver a lecture on the Symposium on the steps of the Athenian Parthenon and receive nothing but acclaim.

Mechthild had taken him by the hand up to their room that night, and sat down with him on the bed. She kept herself remarkably restrained. All their clothes stayed on, but the happy meeting of their palms and twining of their fingers was somehow even more intimate than passion.

‘Tell me,’ Mechthild asked him, ‘where did you get this?’

She traced her hand over the wolf pelt below her on the bed.

‘In the Beskids,’ Bohodar replied. ‘North of Opava. It’s beautiful country; I’m having a preserve and shelter built up there for any hunting parties that might want to sojourn there with my permission.’

‘Would you take me there?’ Mechthild asked.

‘I’d love nothing better.’

~~~

2021_06_10_5a.png

Bohodar rode out with Mechthild early in May of 871, just about as soon as the weather turned good for hunting roebuck. They went past where the hunting lodge was being busily erected and stocked, and into the forests with a few retainers and hounds for company. Bohodar enjoyed the open, lonely hillsides: the rolling misty green of these northern slopes always charmed his eyes. But those same eyes kept straying toward where Mechthild rode, and he found her power to enthral him much greater. The sun streaming through the treetops in scattered shafts gleamed brightly off of her deep-red braid, and her face shone brightly with exhilaration and delight as she took in deep gulps of the fresh mountain air. That air was all the sweeter for the timely emergence of crocus, violet, bittercress and bedstraw, but the brightest and sweetest flower of them all was riding alongside him.

One of the fouseks began pointing eagerly, and Bohodar dismounted and took a couple of the retainers and followed where the wiry-haired hound was leading. Perhaps it had scented one of the roe deer. Carefully they went off the track and into the brush, and Mechthild followed on horseback and stayed within sight of them from the road. But the slope deepened and the fousek kept leading them downward, all the while pointing his shaggy muzzle toward something a bit further on. Mechthild tracked them as far as she could from the road, and too late Bohodar realised that he was out of her line of sight. He called the hunting dog to heel, and began climbing up again toward her.

Then he heard an alarming sound of fevered crashing through the brush, followed by a woman’s heavy breathing in fright. Without thinking, Bohodar began scrambling up the slope back toward the open road. There was Mechthild’s horse – tethered and safe – but no Mechthild. Bewildered, Bohodar looked around him for any sign of her, and gripped his spear in his hands. Then he heard a sharp cry of distress, and without thinking he plunged through the brush toward it.

He soon found himself in a small, sloping lea surrounded by spruce. A small, crooked ravine lay in the middle, and near the bottom he saw Mechthild on uncertain footing, leaning against a middling beech rooted just beneath her. Her gown was torn just under the knee, and her hands and face were scraped and bruised. Her eyes were wide with alarm, and fixed on something moving just up the ravine from where she was gathering herself up.

Bohodar followed her gaze, and it lit upon something that was moving in a slow, deliberate turn. Bulky and black, the beast stood about halfway up his thigh at the shoulder. A long, dark mane of bristles ran from its head down along its back. Bohodar caught the white gleam of a pair of long tusks, and following that, a malevolent glint in its beady dark eyes. It was circling back to face Mechthild, and tensing on its legs for a deadly downhill charge.

Rage and panic mounted within Bohodar. With a yell, he leapt out from the brush and charged just below where the boar was about to cross, couching his spear beneath his shoulder the way a rider might couch a lance. The boar was already in the middle of its rampage, and had no time to turn or baulk as Bohodar pounded across the ravine and sank the spear deep into the boar’s side just behind its front leg, driving straight into its ribcage and knocking it just enough off course to miss Mechthild’s tree. He kept going, heedless of the danger to himself, and pinned the two hundred pounds of irate, struggling, squealing swine as heavily as he could, even though it felt as if his shoulders were about to be torn from their sockets, or as though he was about to be dragged along behind the berserk boar like a ragdoll. He heaved and twisted and tried to dig in with his feet, and only with a supreme and agonising effort did he manage to throw the boar over onto its side. The boar grunted and heaved and kicked beneath the spearhead, but its efforts faded as the blood from its wound poured out beneath it into the soil.

Bohodar’s hair was dishevelled, his cheek had been lashed by a branch, and he had cuts and scratches all down his arms and legs from his sprint. His lungs burned, and his joints ached mightily. Heaving, he wondered aloud: ‘Funny. Boars don’t usually attack folk this late in the season.’

He felt a warm weight press up against his back, and felt two arms encircle his middle and grip him as tightly as they could. A high cheekbone nestled against the back of his shoulder, and he heard a heaving sigh of relief. Bohodar ran one hand along Mechthild’s encircling arm.

‘Oh, Bohodar—!’ she breathed.

Tenderly, and with care not to touch each other’s wounds, Bohodar and Mechthild began to embrace. The shock and the tension ebbed and fell off the two of them together. Mechthild peeled away her husband’s torn tunic, and Bohodar ungirdled and shed his wife’s torn gown. She leaned obligingly; he knelt behind. And husband and wife, together, performed the time-honoured rites of May then and there in that lea, with all the sweet enthusiasm of the season: both still sore, aching and oozing blood, but both lightened by the sheer gladness to be alive.

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Chapter Seven

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SEVEN
An Unlikely Friendship
30 June 871 – 29 September 873

‘Hey, give me that back! I found it!’ Viera shouted.

‘No! Mine!’ her brother Radomír shot back, trucking off as he did so on his chubby legs, increasingly long and sure and formidable. It seemed to Bohodar that his son had no sooner started walking than he was already running.

‘Vieročka! Radko!’ their father called to them across the courtyard, with just enough edge to his voice to let them know he was serious. He fixed them both with a glare as they stopped chasing each other and came before him.

‘Now… what do you have there?’ asked Bohodar. ‘Show me.’

Radomír took his hand out from behind his back. He produced something black and oval in form, not exactly shiny but glossy, with grooves and plates. Bohodar peered at it. He distinguished two thick bowlike legs and a wedge-shaped head on the side facing him, both sprinkled with yellow spots. At the moment, both the legs and the head were withdrawn partway inside the shell, from fright at being handled by this boisterous, rough, fast-legged young human.

korytnacka.jpg

‘And where,’ he asked Viera, ‘did you manage to find such a handsome terrapin?’

‘We were down by the millrace, ocko,’ his daughter said, looking at her feet and shuffling them. ‘I spotted it first! Radko asked if he could see it, and then he stole it and ran back here.’

Radomír sniffled. ‘Just look,’ he said. ‘Not stole.’

Their father nodded understandingly. ‘Well, let me be clear about one thing to you. Viera, is the terrapin yours?’

‘No,’ Viera answered softly.

‘Whose is it then? Radko’s? Mine?’

‘God’s.’

Bohodar looked to Radomír. ‘See? Vieročka understands. The terrapin isn’t yours either. All creatures on earth belong to their Creator.’

Radomír nodded solemnly.

‘That being so,’ he added, ‘there’s nothing wrong with you both just looking at it. But be gentle, take turns, and don’t hurt it. When you’ve both sated your curiosity, go on and take it back down to the mill-race where you found it. Make sure you place its head toward the water, so it doesn’t get lost. I’m counting on you.’

2021_06_10_12a.png

Entrusted with this mission of mercy from their father, both Viera and Radomír nodded with solemn determination. They settled down in the courtyard to examine their find, and Bohodar was pleased to see that both of them treated the little black reptile gently as he had requested. He was sure that after they had finished examining it, they would indeed replace it where they found it, and do so with great reverence. Bohodar heard a soft chuckle behind him, and he turned.

Mechthild was standing just before the threshold, carrying their healthy newborn, Vlasta, conceived in that sloping lea in the lonely Beskids. Evidently Vlasta had just been fed, because she had nodded off to a sound sleep, and her head lolled gently in the crook of Mechthild’s elbow.

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‘They both take after you, you know,’ she told her husband complacently. ‘They might bicker and squabble, but when you appeal to their sense of fairness they soon see reason.’

‘Ah, now you’re fishing,’ Bohodar grinned. ‘Do you think I don’t know where that comes from? Do you think I won’t tell you? Who is the most fair-minded in our household anyway, I wonder?’

‘You sweet-talker,’ Mechthild laughed again. ‘Better to save that honey tongue for the meeting with the Opava burghers today. They’re more likely to need swaying than I am.’

Bohodar grimaced. ‘It’s a shame what the war with Wratysław wrought on so many of their families. Of course there must be some accommodations in the rebuilding, and I was thinking about making some concessions on taxation there. Especially as regards the walls. Those are, or should be, my responsibility in any case.’

Mechthild nodded. ‘That’s my thoughtful husband. Just don’t let them push you too hard on other matters. Remember your duties. That is good – but also let them remember theirs.’

‘Just as it should be,’ Bohodar nodded. ‘That’s my sensible wife.’

Mechthild chuffed and placed her free hand on her hip in mock umbrage. ‘Well. Someone has to mind the stores and watch the coffers here at home, doesn’t she?’

2021_06_10_15a.png

Bohodar was truly relieved and grateful to have married such a woman as Mechthild. When they had first married to keep from burning, as Saint Paul would have said, he doubted they would be able to get along together. Now, even if they fought sometimes, at the end of the day… yes, Bohodar was quite comfortable now saying that he loved his wife, and was sure that she loved him back. They understood each other well enough to not just tolerate, but respect each other’s quirks, and even continue their playful sparring. Bohodar had gained a reasonable grasp of his wife’s Alemannic mother tongue, and Mechthild for her part now regularly went to the Slavonic Liturgy at the wooden church in Olomouc.

He left Viera and Radomír in the care of their governess, and Vlasta in the care of his wife, when he went into town to hear out the delegation of the Opava burghers. As he expected, the meeting was not an easy or a comfortable one. The burghers of the northern Moravian villages were hardy, reserved and stubborn folk. They were not accustomed to asking for assistance in the first place, but when they felt that their right demanded it, they would not easily budge from what they felt was their due.

‘… the damage to our town fortifications and various places of business has been extreme, milord. Thieves from outside feel free to take what they please. Mothers and infants are without food or shelter; I don’t need to tell you, a father yourself, what that means to those who should take care of them. Please, knieža, if you could issue some tax concessions and send some relief…’

‘I hear you,’ Bohodar told the sturdy, round-faced town provost. ‘I’m not at all averse to sending relief – in both silver coin and in men – to help rebuild Opava. But the agreements on your tax contributions were made before I was appointed chief here, as you know.’

The provost bristled. ‘Milord, we were loyal to Rastislav, we have been loyal to you. And we will be loyal to the new Queen as well, but… she is a little girl, and her understanding so far in life has been limited. She’ll be no older than your little one, I’d warrant. The chief responsibility for the agreement on our tax levels lies with your lordship at present, and no other.’

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Bohodar sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. ‘I am aware of my responsibilities. And I am also aware of my own loyalties to that little girl. I tell you bluntly now: I will make no formal revisions to your town contract at this time – not with the regency still in place. With regard to the repair of the walls, however, and for the relief of the widows, orphans and families without dwellings in Opava, I am willing to personally contribute two hundred marks of silver. Would that be sufficient?’

The provost folded his arms and smiled a bit roguishly. ‘More than. Thank you, milord, that’s more than decent of you. We had agreed to hold out for one hundred fifty. And with regard to the tax levels, well… you can’t blame a fellow for trying, right?’

Bohodar shook his head with a brief laugh. ‘No, I can’t. With regard to the silver, my steward Zdravomil will see to the arrangements. And I’ll be praying to Our Lord for the peace and safety of Opava.’

The representatives of Opava all bowed and gave their thanks to Bohodar for his generosity, before filing out of the meeting-hall. Bohodar followed them out, where he nearly missed Radovan, standing unobtrusively in the shade of the overhang.

‘Lord Bohodar,’ Radovan hailed him softly. ‘Vojmil is asking for you. He says it’s urgent.’

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Bohodar groaned at the mention of his metropolitan. It seemed that whenever he had to deal with the rotund bishop that Methodius had foisted upon him, he was either there to complain of him or to ask for a favour which he couldn’t grant. When Bohodar had been conducting one of his spiritual experiments in the oratory, Vojmil had interrupted it and cast aspersions on the piety and propriety of his intentions. He had interrupted Bohodar’s sojourns into the mountains with his lenses and his observations of the stars in their spheres, saying it was not for the laity to know these things. And then he had the effrontery to ask Bohodar for the funds to buy a first edition copy of Saint Gregory Dialogos’s Pastoral Care, as though he had anywhere close to that kind of coin lying around! With Vojmil it was always either a rebuke or a demand, and although Bohodar was God-fearing and generous by nature, his bishop’s presence now always seemed to grate on him.

‘What does he want now?’ Bohodar grumbled.

‘An accident during a training exercise at the barracks. He wants you to come at once.’

‘Of course he does…’

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Still, Bohodar returned to Olomouc Castle and went straightaway to the zemnica standing within the outer walls that served as the lodgings for his personal retainer. He had gone expecting this to be a minor bump or bruise, but he could already tell it was not so from the ominous hubbub from the men around the barracks, swarming like angry bees. His steps quickened as he neared, and he broke into a flat run. He made his way within the barracks and, as his eyes adjusted to the dim, he saw Metropolitan Vojmil standing with a brazier over one of the bunks. On the bunk lay a slender twig of a man with dark brows and beard. His face was contorted with anxiety and confusion, and his skin was pale, clammy and covered in a thin film of sweat. His clothing below the hem of his tunic was completely sodden with a dark fluid that could only be blood. Bohodar saw at once the problem – the shaft of an arrow was protruding straight up from the man’s thigh. He crossed himself at once with a ‘Gospodi pomiluj’, and then ventured to ask:

‘What happened?’

‘Couple of us went to shoot the butts, milord. We didn’t see anyone behind them…’ his voice trailed off weakly.

‘Where’s Winfrida?’

‘Out of town – she had to make a visit to Přerov,’ answered one of the soldiers.

‘Lord Christ preserve us,’ Bohodar grimaced. He then turned on his heel and levelled an open hand at one of the retainers standing by. ‘You – fetch me some strong ale or wine. You – get me some tongs and a cauter—even a smith’s rod will do. Vojmil – a strip of your cassock. It’s long and clean. Now!’

The two retainers scurried off to their respective tasks, and the metropolitan bishop did not hesitate, but at once lifted the omophor from his neck and set it aside, and then tore one section from his robe and handed it to Bohodar. The wounded man was moaning as Bohodar took the strip of holy vestment in his hands and cinched it tight around his upper thigh, above the arrow. There was a slight glistening well of blood around the pulpy torn flesh, but as Bohodar continued to pull with his strength the welling began to still. Soon enough the one retainer returned with a cask of wine, and the other with not only tongs and a smith’s rod, but also a lit brazier to heat them in.

‘Vojmil, I need strong arms. Hold that strip of cloth in place!’

Vojmil at once knelt by the man’s side and placed his hands firmly, if a bit uncomfortably, on the man’s inner thigh, keeping the cloth tight. Bohodar brought the brazier closer so he could see by its light, and reached for the tongs. Examining the wound, he cursed:

Do riti, that thing’s in deep.’

Bohodar knew he had to be careful, otherwise he would slice through the artery taking the arrow out, and then it would be all over. First he snapped off most of the shaft, and then he lowered the tongs and carefully grasped either side of the metal wedge embedded in the poor soldier’s torn flesh. He stood, and then made one sharp jerk upward. The arrowhead, slick with blood, came out whole. A fresh issue of blood pooled in its place, but there was no pumping spew that would have told of a fatal cut to the artery. Bohodar took up the cask of wine and poured it over the wound to clean it, although this produced another gasp of agony from the patient. Bohodar then motioned with his elbow to Vojmil.

‘Hold either side of that wound together,’ he bade the bishop.

The red-bearded round bishop did as he was bidden at once, as Bohodar reached for the makeshift cauter and pressed the red-hot metal to the man’s broken skin. He heard the man’s muffled gasp of pain and felt the jerk of muscles writhing in protest beneath him, but he held the hot iron to the wound until it sealed and the bleeding stopped. Bohodar lifted the cauter and bent down to examine the work. It was crude, but the man would live.

‘Thank God,’ Vojmil crossed himself three times.

Bohodar turned his head to his metropolitan bishop with a new appreciation. He recalled that when he was still following Methodius, he hadn’t liked Vojmil that much. As a reader, his voice was loud and pompous, and his fat paunch spoke to easy living and greed of the flesh. And when Methodius had appointed Vojmil to be overseer of the flock in Olomouc, Bohodar had not only felt it a mistake, but he’d been at loggerheads with the man ever since. But now, he reflected, he had not seen Vojmil at his best. Many were the priests and holy men who would be jealous of their vestments, and keen to keep them immaculate. And yet Vojmil had torn his own cassock without a second thought when another man’s life had depended on it. Bohodar had thought Vojmil haughty and unbiddable, and yet here he was obeying his every command like a soldier. And together they had saved a man’s life.

Bohodar clapped the bishop on one meaty shoulder with a laugh of sheer relief. ‘And here’s our own merciful Saint Nicholas, not afraid to get his coat dirty in order to save a man.’

Vojmil, breathing heavily, shook his head. ‘No, Bohodar. I deserve no such praise. I stood still and mute like a lifeless wooden idol, and did not know what to do. It was your commands that gave me the will to do what was needed.’

But Bohodar would not be swayed from his newfound admiration and respect for his bishop. ‘Well, I imagine we’re all sinners in one way or another.’ He turned to the other soldiers in the barracks. ‘Can you tend to him now that his wound is sealed?’

One of the soldier’s bunkmates stepped forward. ‘Yes, milord. Vyško’s in good hands with us.’

‘Good,’ said Bohodar. ‘Take care, friend, and let that be a lesson to you not to go off behind the butts while your fellows are shooting,’ he spoke to the black-bearded Vyško, who nodded weakly in reply. And then he turned to Vojmil.

‘Come. We’ve still got three-quarters of a cask of good wine here, and I daresay we could both use a ladleful about now, if you’ll join me?’

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filcat

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Remarkable; reading it is not only highly enjoyable but now an absolute delight.

The words never known, giving birth to new dreams within the old ones, has to sink in the sea of dictionaries now, to see their hidden faces. - Apologies for the raw attempt on such a complimentary-review, but the words alone chosen for the descriptions have given rise to instant inspiration -and prompted a lot of digging in the dictionaries. Kudos for the rich vocabulary.

The joy of reading the first part in Wolf and Boar is incredible; remarkable diversion for the reader.


Of course; glad to see Mechthild and Bohodar surviving the pain of losing a child in the birth; hoping the worst days are over for the couple.
 
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Henry v. Keiper

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This really is turning into a roller coaster for the couple, but also for our dear titular lion. I am likewise curious what lies in store for their living children, given the circumstances.
 
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