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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

fabiolundiense

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Prologue


It’s as if I were waking up from a deep sleep, a transparent veil wafting off my face. My eyes begin to focus. I’m sitting at the head of a table. Also seated at the table are five mostly elderly men, one of whom is a dwarf. It comes to me that this man’s name is Jakub of Lekno. He is my Marshal. All have their eyes turned towards me expectantly. They’re waiting for me to answer. But what was the question?

"You do agree, Your Grace?" I turn to the one who has just spoken to me. Your Grace. Me. Ah, yes. I am Przemyslav Poraj, Duke of Greater Poland. The man who just spoke is Andrzej. I know him. My Chancellor. The way he spoke though, it was just as much a statement as a question.

"I must give the matter some thought." No comment -- always a good reply.

A look of incredulity passes over the faces of all around the table.

"Give the matter some thought?" cries a man on my left. A bishop. My Court Chaplain. "May I remind Your Grace that he is not getting any younger? The most eligible brides have already been taken."

"Enough," I say, and stand up. I remember then. They’re waiting for me to agree to a wedding. My wedding. I recall vaguely that they have proposed a candidate. But even though I can’t remember who the lucky girl is, I know my answer is no. I need time alone. I need to get my thoughts together.

"Meeting ajourned," I intone automatically. The words come easily. This is something I am used to doing and saying, apparently. All five men rise. I turn and almost fly from the room.

I know the building I am in. I know my way around. But at the same time, I don’t know how I know. I find my way to my room and lock the door. "Who the hell am I?" I whisper out loud.



******​






Diary of Andrzej, Chancellor of Greater Poland.

16 September 1066


The Duke’s behaviour the past two days has tried the Court almost past all limits of endurance. Thank goodness, he seems to have snapped out of it now. He has changed, somehow. For the better, in my opinion, but change is always suspect. Yesterday, after brushing away the subject of a choice of wife, he disappeared into his quarters until evening meal. Then he was full of questions about politics. He was almost tripping over his words, the questions came so fast. Unusual questions. He asked about Apulia, France, Mallorca, Rome, Constantinople, and even a little about the King. Mostly he asked about the Holy Roman Empire. The fact that the Duchy of Greater Poland shares a border with the Kaiser’s provinces of Lausitz and Brandenburg both fascinates and frightens him. Most peculiar.

I raised the matter of the Duke’s marriage again, in private. He refused categorically the Court’s choice, and announced that he desired a bride from a foreign Court. That incorrigible old gossip, Bishop Bogumil of Gniezdno, was summoned to the Duke’s quarters. The Duke interrogated Bishop Bogumil half the night. This morning, the Duke departed post haste for the city of Dijon in the Kingdom of France. He is determined to marry Constance, daughter of the Duc de Bourgogne.



******​



I rode like the devil, arriving in Dijon only fifteen days after leaving my house in Poznan. (People call it the Ducal Castle, a name I find pathetically pompous. Maybe in a hundred years, when I’ve had some work done on it, it will look like a Ducal Castle should.) My arrival, unsurprisingly, caused a stir, but I was welcomed most civilly by Duke Robert of Burgundy. (Notwithstanding my credentials, and the amazing fact that I speak French fluently, the letter from Bishop Bogumil helped to smooth things over.) His Grace was duly flattered when I asked for the hand of his daughter Constance. He said he would give the matter very serious consideration, naturellement. There was a moment of embarrassment when I blurted out that I would like to get married as soon as possible. It was not, I concede, very courtly behaviour. But Divine Providence was on my side.

The day after I made my request, the Duke organised a wine-tasting party in his cellars with its collection of exquisite vats. We were all feeling quite merry when a messenger appeared. In his hand was a letter for the Duke from the King of France. France was at war. The Holy Roman Empire was attempting to seize the county of Gent. As a vassal of the France, the Duke was expected to participate in the defensive war. In these circumstances, my host consented to the wedding.




all that luscious Burgundy red



I didn’t say anything to Duke Robert, but somehow I just knew there was going to be a war over Gent. Just as I knew without anyone telling me that Duke William of Normandy was going to invade England.

I know many things about myself. I am Polish, although I have no recollection of my parents. I have no brothers or sisters. I can speak Polish, Italian, French, Latin and Greek fluently. Plus a smattering of German, Swedish and English. The same is true of my liege lord, King Boleslaw Piast of Poland, which makes me think we had the same tutors. But who am I really? Or perhaps I should say, what am I? I have thoughts -- memories, I could swear -- of Apulia, Aragon, even the Sahara Desert! I have cravings for Italian wine. Most mysterious of all, when I look at my family name I can’t help thinking of a hot breakfast gruel.... But I also love hunting wild boar and elk, pale winter suns, and the eerie noises that emanate from within the dark, Nordic forests.

I know that I am Przemyslav Poraj, Duke of Greater Poland. I govern three provinces: Poznan, Lubusz and Kalisz, the northernmost regions of Poland, on the left bank of the river Vistula. In addition, the Prince-Archbishop of Gniezdno is my vassal. All told, I rule over a decent crescent of territory forming the northwestern border of the Kingdom of Poland. But I also know that I have a goal. To found a Great Dynasty. It’s as if the meaning of life was to attain that goal, as if I were passing some kind of test. Be it from God or from the Devil, I have to meet the challenge. Which is why, I suppose, I was in such a hurry to get married.




The Duchy of Greater Poland, anno Domini 1066



And a challenge it certainly was. The astonishing fact is that there are practically no women in my duchy, hardly any marriageable girls in all of Poland! My liege lord King Boleslaw has a wife, but she’s of Russian extraction. Orthodox of course, not even Catholic. His only surviving brother is also married to a Russian. Neither of them has any children. None of the men in my Council, let alone my Court, are married. The rulers of my neighbouring counties are also single, and have no sisters. The King of Denmark, on the other hand, has fourteen children. Every one of them seems to have a different mother. I had considered one of those, the Princess Sigrid, as a potential wife. She is eighteen years old to my twenty, but she already has an illegitimate child of her own who is four! What if it turned out that the poor thing was the result of incest? Too disgusting. No such history in the Poraj Dynasty, s’il vous plaît!

With my new bride Constance at my side, we shall found a dynasty of Princes, maybe even Kings!




Long live the House of Poraj!
 

fabiolundiense

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I. 1. Home Sweet Home


Constance de Bourgogne became my wife on the 4th day of October 1066, at midday. The wedding feast lasted well into the night.

Before leaving for the Flemish front the next day, Duke Robert provided suitable wheels and horses for our journey back to Poland. We departed with the intention of stopping often in the nicer towns along our route -- Epinal, Saverne, then over the Rhine to Heidelberg, Coburg, Erfurt, Dresden, Potsdam. We would be crossing various domains of German Counts and Dukes, all vassals of His Imperial Majesty Heinrich Salian, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. Although I felt uncomfortable travelling through that vast realm, I wanted my beautiful new wife to have a memorable experience. Unforeseen agitation, alas, disrupted all plans for a romantic trip.

Just as with William of Normandy’s invasion of England, I knew to expect unrest in the Kaiser’s domains. I just wasn’t quite sure where. The unrest found us with no problem. An army of several thousand passed through Heidelberg just as we were preparing to leave. They were on their way south towards an Alpine crossing. We learned then that there was massive unrest in Italy and in the Rhone valley which bordered on Duke Robert’s domains. Once the army was away, I hastened our pace and changed our itinerary. Instead of heading northeast to Coburg, we headed due east for Nuremberg and the city of Prague.




leaving Heidelberg behind



A courier from Krakow intercepted us there. My liege lord King Boleslaw II required my attendance at Court as soon as possible.

Exhausted, we arrived a week later. The King had prepared a charter instituting Low Crown Authority in Poland. As a vassal of His Majesty, it was my duty to express my opinion on the proposed law. Without hesitation, I signified my approval.




Constance’s first view of Krakow, the capital of Poland



We were received with gracious hospitality by the King. It pleased me immensely to be able to present my new bride to him. Formal presentation was also made to Queen Wyszeslawa. Presentation at Court is usually a moving, unforgettable moment. Not this time, however. The Queen, as usual, looked about as welcoming as an infuriated wolverine. We posed for an official portrait. I only wish my poor Constance could have looked less miserable.



/

Przemyslav and Constance, Duke and Duchess of Greater Poland---------------------------------------The King and Queen of Poland



We did not dally in Krakow. I was eager to get my wife settled in Poznan. It was the start of December when we arrived. I learned that my domains had witnessed their share of armies on the march. The Grand Prince of Kiev, allied with the King of Norway, had supposedly intended to participate in Norway’s plan to invade England. Their lack of geographical schooling proved their undoing: they didn’t know that one couldn’t march, but had to sail, to England. The Grand Prince of Kiev had no ships. His men turned back, or else scattered in the Norwegian wilderness. The result was that King Harold Godwinson of England successfully wore down the invading armies of both Norway and Normandy.

The next few months were devoted entirely to populating my duchy. My noble Councillors were duly enchanted with their new Duchess. Their own unwedded status now seemed to them highly unsatisfactory. The winter of 1066 - 1067 turned into a season of match-making. A pair of French brides were found, two Norman girls, daughters of Baron Richard d’Avranches. Helisende, the elder of the two, was betrothed to my Spymaster, Siemomysl of Zielona. The younger one, Maud, was given to my Marshal Jakub. I had offered her to my good Steward Tomasz, but when he admitted having begun a relationship with a certain Agnieska, employed in one of Poznan’s more obscure taverns, I exhorted them to tie the knot.

“I expect you men to improve your manners,” I announced to my courtiers before their promised spouses arrived at Court. “I do not want the Baron’s daughters to be writing home about slovenly behavior or filthy habits in my Duchy. That goes for you too, Steward.”

Our first summer together, Constance announced that she was expecting a baby. I was overjoyed. Children are what make a dynasty. Children and territory. I was Duke of Greater Poland with dominion over three provinces. But I needed more. I wanted more. The thought of being landlocked like Kiev was intolerable. Gaining direct access to the sea was as important to me as begetting children. The lands between Poznan and the Baltic Sea were held by warrior tribes of heathens. I had a puny fighting force. I ordered my Marshal to push the training of more and more peasants. If I was going to conquer heathen territory, I needed an army capable of waging war.



******​





Diary of Andrzej, Chancellor of Greater Poland.

10 March 1068


The King’s Christmas Banquet this year, which His Grace imprudently refers to as the ‘Banquet From Hell,’ was a disaster. The roads were particularly icy where the winter sun melted the snow during the day, and night froze the melt. His Grace almost changed his mind about going, but the Duchess insisted they at least try to make the voyage. Road conditions improved as they approached Krakow. They arrived safely at Court.

They quickly realised into what nightmare they had travelled. The atmosphere, according to His Grace, was acrid with despair. The King’s brother, Prince Wladyslaw, had fallen ill in his mind. Strange, blood-curdling screams could sometimes be heard at all hours of the day and night. The Duchess’ obvious condition drew much attention from well-wishers. Unfortunately, it only heightened everyone’s awareness that the Queen was still childless. His Grace said that she looked at the Duchess as if she would tear the unborn baby from her womb.

His Grace presented his Marshal and his French wife. Whereas the King’s courtiers usually laugh at Lenko because of his size, he astounded them all when he began conversing in French. It is true that he has picked up the language rapidly from his French-born wife. It was, however, not enough to create general merriment. The day after the banquet, everyone departed quickly.

The Duchess was delivered of a child, a son, in February. They gave him the curious name of Laurentius. I am sure that no one in the whole kingdom of Poland has ever heard such a name. Their Graces’ initial joy evaporated when it was observed that the babe was born with a defect, the harelip, in common parlance. The Duchess swears there is no history of the trait in her ancestry. His Grace, who possesses no knowledge of his own ancestry, has returned to brooding on that subject.

The army has increased a quarter again in size, thanks to Marshal Jakub’s efforts. His Grace is obsessed with the idea of gaining access to the sea. He speaks more and more in terms of dynasty and destiny. I pray this does not signal the beginnings of the same disease that afflicts His Highness Prince Wladyslaw.




Prince Wladyslaw, Duke of Mazovia, brother of His Majesty the King



******​
 

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Really like the writing style and the overall feel I'm getting from this. Looking forward to more.
 

fabiolundiense

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Really like the writing style and the overall feel I'm getting from this. Looking forward to more.
Thank you muchly, Rebel. I just hope to write so that people will get as much enjoyment out of reading as I am getting out of playing this game (so far)! :rolleyes:
 

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fabiolundiense

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I. 2. A Turbulent World


There is much rebellion in the Kaiser’s domains. Reliable information reaches Poznan only sporadically, but one has only to venture a few leagues west into the province of Brandenburg to get fresh news. The Duchies of Savoy and Provence have shaken off the yoke of the Empire. Bohemia, Poland’s immediate neighbour to the west, has taken up the banner of revolt. The King of Denmark, seizing a golden opportunity, has invaded the county of Hamburg.

My Marshal has trained a few hundred men in the last two years. I thought it was time they gained some fighting experience. Scouts were despatched to reconnoitre the settlements of the Pomeranian tribes north of Gniezdno. Alas, their reports deflated morale. For all the tribes’ barbaric attire, they outnumbered the Army of Greater Poland almost two to one. We needed more recruits and more training before we could provoke the heathens.

What was I thinking? Why attack heathen tribesmen? Certainly not for motives of pre-emptive security. Barbarians weren’t so great a danger. To my mind, the Holy Roman Empire was the only real threat. It was like a fungus, a mould on bread or cheese. Unchecked, I feared it would continue to spread, spoiling the original beauty of whichever land it touched. It was my mission to guarantee that it would never soil any part of my demesnes. By conquering small areas of pagan territory, my armies would gain military experience. Later, when we were stronger, we could deal with the Kaiser.



******​



Another year passed. Life around my mini-Court was becoming a lot more enjoyable. With most of the Ducal Purse going on expenses for the army, little remained for any building improvements. Even so, there is something about the innocent laughter (or unhappy cries) of infants that makes any corner of the world a brighter place.

In the month of August 1069, Constance’s father, the Duke of Burgundy, passed away. We made the journey to Dijon. We could not be there for the funeral, but my wife needed to make a second farewell to her father’s house. We discovered that her brother, the new Duke, was not on the best of terms with the King of France.

Discussion rarely steered far from the subject of the Holy Roman Empire. Rebellion continued to spread there. Bohemia, continued to hold its own against the Kaiser’s men. Hamburg had already joined Provence and Savoy in separation from the German Crown, and seemed happy enough to swear fealty to the King of Denmark.




Heinrich IV Salian, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, has no claims



As with our first trip in 1066, we were intercepted on the way home by a courier. Prince Wladyslaw, my king’s demented brother, had passed away. All his lands had reverted to the Crown. Once again, we turned east. Since Bohemia was in rebellion, we avoided Prague, taking a detour to Olomouc and Sacz before heading north to Krakow.

The King and Queen were visibly distraught. Prince Wladyslaw, the King’s only brother, had died childless. The Royal couple itself still had no heir. The future of the House of Piast weighed on Their Majesties’ minds. The King began confiding in me. We spent hours and hours together. We had horses saddled and went riding in the countryside. At the end of the week-long visit, King Boleslaw and I had become friends.

Constance and I were invited often to Krakow over the next two years. Those visits brought me great pleasure. Constance, on the other hand, grew weary of them. It was not easy to get along with the Queen. Fortunately, Her Majesty’s demeanour took a sharp turn towards the better when she got pregnant and produced a son, Prince Boleslaw, in 1071. To our surprise, the new-born prince had a harelip.

“Are you sure you and your friend aren’t related?” Constance asked me.

Although not ever-present, the riddle of my ancestry stayed close to my thoughts. I couldn’t just bring up the subject out of the blue. Asking openly in noble houses, even friendly ones, whether anyone knew other families with the Poraj name would only bring contempt and a suspicion of base origins. Church records produced not the slightest clue. I thought that was very strange. The appearance of the harelip in the Piast prince as well as in our son Laurentius might be evidence of some blood connection. But it was certainly not my place to be the one to bring up the subject with the King, no matter how strong our friendship.

The next year, Constance presented me with another son. No harelip this time. He was perfect in every way. We named him Alexander. At the same time, Marshal Jakub’s wife also gave birth to a son. They named him Dobrogost. My loyal courtier himself brought in his first-born to show me a few days after he was born. There were tears in the Marshal’s eyes. As Constance and I admired the new-born babe, it became patent that Marshal Jakub’s tears were not caused by joy alone.



/

Alexander Poraj, second son of the Duke and Duchess ; Dobrogost of Lekno, son of Marshal Jakub



A few days later, I summoned Marshal Jakub to a private audience.

“Your Grace.” Being a dwarf, his profound bow brought his forehead too close to the floor.

“Rise, Marshal. I have torn up your letter of resignation. You are a most competent Marshal, there is none better, and furthermore the men look up to you. I refuse to let you go.”

“No one looks up to a man such as myself,” Jakub bristled. “They are as tired of me as they are tired of the exercises I have been imposing on them. I do not serve Your Grace in the position I currently hold. I can teach them nothing more.”

“It so happens that I agree, my good Marshal. Your current position is pointless. I’m changing it. But you are still Marshal of Greater Poland.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“No more exercises is what that means. You are leading our men to war.”

No, we were not yet powerful enough to take on the Kaiser. However, others had already taken that challenge upon themselves. The Holy Roman Empire was riddled with foyers of rebellion. One of those foyers was almost next door. I had sent an envoy to Prague, offering our help in the Duke of Bohemia’s revolt against the Kaiser. I had just received a reply.






An excited, although nervous, anticipation buzzed through the whole of Poznan. Our boys were going to war! It was the first time that Poraj banners would be preceding a host of foot soldiers and cavalry into battle. Our boys were not to be the stars of the show -- they would be joining up with the larger and more experienced army of Bohemia. Nevertheless, expectations ran high. Stars or no, all were expected to return home the following year with the priceless reward of combat (and survival) experience.


******​





A humble farm 12 leagues south-east of Poznan

21 October 1072


The farmer’s wife studiously folded the dough, pounded it, rolled it, added some more flour, then folded it some more.

“Old Grzegorz’s mule ran off again. Wasted half a day chasing after it,” said her husband from the table where he was slurping his soup.

His wife made no reply.

“Only the youngest boy helping him now,” continued the farmer. “Might not get all the apples harvested before a freeze.”

His wife slammed the dough onto the tabletop. “The Duke’s gone to fight with the Master of Prague.”

Her husband made no reply.

“It’s not right.”

“Not your place to tell a Duke what’s right or what’s not, woman.”

“Not saying it is.”

Only the sound of dough being kneaded could be heard in the kitchen.

“Going out to bring in the geese,” said the farmer, rising from the table.

“We made a vow,” said his wife, adding more flour to the dough.

The farmer slipped on a cap and out the kitchen door.




******​
 

fabiolundiense

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Enjoyed that dialogue at the end there haha. Great update.
Plan is to have a number of such dialogues in this AAR. Before CKII, I didn't know I was this much into RP :blush:
 

fabiolundiense

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I. 3. Nothing Is What It Seems


Our boys did not return the following year. We did not see them again until the summer of 1075, two and a half years after the mobilization. That was much more valuable war experience than I had initially bargained for! The price, unsurprisingly, was bittersweet.

First reports from the Bohemian front were confusing. The dashing Count of Olomouc, who was to take charge of the contingent from Greater Poland, was replaced by another Count. Our boys were instructed to await his arrival before engaging the Kaiser. That was all very well, except that the noble lord in question took his time assembling his own contingent.


“Your Grace will be pleased to learn that the Army of Greater Poland
is eager to engage the enemy,” wrote Marshal Jakub; “the weeks spent
waiting -- unnecessarily, if Your Grace would know my opinion -- for
the promised Bohemian Lordship was not wasted in the least. Daily
scouting has acquainted us with an acute perception of the lay of
the land, the hills, the rivers and where they can be crossed, etc.”


A month later, France had conceded defeat and signed a truce with Kaiser Heinrich. The County of Gent was lost to the French Crown. Greater Poland, on the other hand, was intact, but had yet to participate in a single battle. The Marshal’s letters could not conceal his impatience.


“It is difficult not to imagine that this land is counting on Greater
Poland to fight their battles for them. Notwithstanding such an igno-
ble attitude, I implore Your Grace’s leave to initiate combat, even in
the absence of His Grace of Bohemia’s legate, should this period of
useless waiting not be brought to an end within a fortnight.”





enemies, enemies everywhere



The chance to prove themselves arrived in due time. My Marshal may have guessed correctly, for the Bohemian contingent barely matched our own. They apologized, saying that the main thrust of Bohemia’s army was already engaged further west and north. After a brief skirmish with Imperial forces, command of the joint army was ceremoniously handed over to Marshal Jakub. Every ploy of feint, thrust, withdrawal and redeployment was tested, their worth proved. In the final battle, the Kaiser’s men fell into Jakub’s favourite trap: forcing the enemy to attack after crossing a river while they themselves defended from the hills. In the spring of 1075, Heinrich IV conceded defeat. The victorious Army of Greater Poland returned home… but not before they had laid to rest more than half of those who had taken up arms at my command.

A great Summer Fair was celebrated in honour of the surviving soldiers. King Boleslaw himself sent his own message of congratulations. For a privileged few, an audience with the King was arranged that autumn. None were fooled, however, for the real reason for the Royal Audience was to celebrate the birth of another Piast Prince: Leszek, now second in the line of succession to the Polish throne. (And born, he too, with the harelip trait.) Besides a few of our men, two newborn sons would be presented at Court: mine and Constance’s third, whom we had named Bruno; and Siemomysl (who showed signs of being most bright and gifted), first-born son of my spymaster Siemomysl of Zielona and Helisende d’Avranches.




a most promising child



Despite our tragic losses, I could only exult. The Kaiser had been beaten! Once he had laid down his arms, Heinrich IV’s final tally surpassed my wildest dreams! Five valiant lords had successfully rid themselves of the fetters of fiefdom to the Holy Roman Empire! To wit: Pierre de Savoie, head of the Duchy of Savoie; Jaufret III of the House of Bosonid, lord of the now independent Duchy of Provence; Géraud de Genève, of the now independent County of Genève; and Artau de Forez, lord of the two independent Counties of Lyon and Forez. The County of Hamburg was surrendered to the King of Denmark. As for Duke Vratislav of the Premyslid House, though he remained Heinrich’s vassal, he had exchanged his ducal titles for that of King of Bohemia.




Provence, Savoie, Genève, Forez and Lyon libres!



I tried to explain to Constance, and to my Chancellor Andrzej, why the Kaiser’s losses made me so happy. All I earned for my trouble was perplexed stares. In truth, my reaction was entirely subjective. It resisted all attempts at analysis. All I could do was insist on constant surveillance of the ruling house next door. The Holy Roman Empire was a threat to Greater Poland as surely as the sun rose in the east and set in the west. No one would ever convince me otherwise.

The Royal Audience in Krakow had a tremendous impact on the morale of my heroes. The banquet that followed capped it off beautifully. Alas, my ebullient, jubilant mood vexed Her Majesty the Queen. At least, that is the only explanation I can think of for what would transpire in the months following the Audience. As we were leaving, King Boleslaw pulled me aside.

“I want to let you in on a secret,” he whispered.

“How many people are already in on this secret?” I whispered back.

“Don’t go being jealous. The Count of Czersk, it seems, has a treasonous streak. I’m going to deal with him.”

What was not a secret was that the Count of Czersk had gotten drunk at a private banquet and told anyone and everyone sober enough to listen how he would refurbish the Throne Room if he ever became King of Poland. Had he known what he would suffer as a result of his blubbering, he would, I believe, have preferred for someone to rip out his tongue.



******​





Diary of Andrzej, Chancellor of Greater Poland.

20 May 1076


The Duke’s Council this morning approved the allocation of seventy-five gold sovereigns to pay for celebrations marking the tenth anniversary of the wedding of Duke Przemislaw and Duchess Constance in the autumn.

The Council had already adjourned for the day when we received urgent summons to the Ducal Castle. His Grace was in the Great Hall in the midst of sad-looking wretches, their children, one or two barefoot servants, and enough luggage to fill five carriages. His Grace introduced them: the Count and Countess of Czersk, their family, and what remained of their staff and possessions. His Grace issued instructions to assist Their Lordships in every and any way possible. Each and every one of His Grace’s manservants was ordered to help carry the new arrivals’ trunks upstairs. Three rooms under the roof were to be set aside and “improvements” undertaken to accommodate the family. It was immediately understood that Their Lordships were not mere guests paying a visit; they were moving in.

The Council was convened to discuss finances. Only then did His Grace inform us that the King had stripped Their Lordships of their title. Henceforward they were but penniless refugees. The Steward stated flatly that there was not enough gold in the ducal treasury to support the lifestyle of two separate noble houses. His Grace retorted that for a start, the expenses allocated for the tenth wedding anniversary should be halved. The new arrivals, stripped of their coat of arms, would not be stripped of their dignity.

When asked why Lord and Lady Mazoviecki -- the Duke insisted they be addressed in that style -- chose to come here of all places to beg for asylum, His Grace astonished us by replying that it was his express desire that the House of Poraj should become one of the greatest Ruling Houses in all Christendom, and that it was the vocation of such a House to be a safe and welcoming haven for all noble persons fallen on unfortunate circumstances. He added that the more illustrious names could be found under his roof, the more prestige and renown reflected on the House of Poraj.

That eloquent declaration, as it were, did not quite answer the question. That mystery must needs be elucidated later.

Adopting the most unctuous of tones, the Steward commented that world renown would not buy the bread needed to keep the House of Poraj from starving. His Grace was content to say that he was certain the Lord Steward would find a way to make ends meet.

The Duke’s philosophy, I admit, shows as much nobility of soul as disregard for commonplace, material considerations. He is perhaps mad for dreaming of becoming a Great House, but it would be madder still not to do everything possible towards fulfilling that dream. Come what may, material considerations shall prevail. Lord Mazoviecki is blessed with a pair of daughters of a most pleasing countenance. When they come of age a few years hence, there will be no difficulty in finding them suitable husbands from the truly great Houses. No matter all that was said this extraordinary day, Their Lordships’ stay at the Ducal Castle is only a temporary inconvenience.

I am reminded suddenly of something the Archbishop is fond of repeating: our days are but the briefest of passages; when we are gone, whatever the number of years we have lived, even the places where we stood remember us not. I should repeat that sentence to the Steward, that should cheer him up.



******​



As usual, towards the beginning of September, Constance and I received an invitation to Krakow for the King’s New Year Banquet.

“See?” I gloated. “He really doesn’t mind that we took in The Refugees.” It was Constance’s word, one we only ever used privately. At first the term had scandalized me. On Constance’s lips, however, it held no malice whatsoever.

“How awful of us!” she cried. “You do realise it won’t do any good not to bring up the subject of the banquet in their hearing. The more we keep our lips sealed, the more they’ll know we’re trying to spare their feelings, and the more they’ll think about this party they’re not being invited to.”

“Before I forget, I forbid you to speak to the Queen about them.”

“I never speak to the Queen if I can help it. Why? What’s going on?”

“Nothing. But Siemomysl has solved our little mystery.”

“Oh?”

“Apparently, as The Refugees were preparing to depart into exile, one of Her Majesty’s messengers came around to suggest that they might be welcome in Poznan. She believed their presence here would embarrass all the King’s other vassals, and that our popularity at Court would plummet.”

“That scheming cow!”

“So of course everyone at Court will pretend to be embarrassed, but they’ll all be wanting to know what’s going on with The Refugees. But they wouldn’t dare ask us outright...”

“Because they’re supposed to be too embarrassed to talk about them. So no one can mention them, but everyone will be thinking about them.”

“And the more we both keep our mouths shut about them, the more everyone will know we’re deliberately avoiding the subject, which will only make them want to know more ardently what it is we’re not telling them. Our popularity will go through the roof!”

“As if it weren’t doing just that already,” remarked Constance.

“You think so?”

“You men. Have you not observed, mon trésor, how more and more women at Court are discreetly copying the cut of my party gowns? My Burgundian party gowns,” she added before igniting my loins with a kiss.


******​
 
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Jokolytic

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Very nice, subbed!
 

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subbed

I, like the rest, just love your unique writing style.
 

fabiolundiense

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Very nice, subbed!
subbed
I, like the rest, just love your unique writing style.
Thanks muchly, people ! Really glad you’re enjoying this medieval romp.
So far I’m glad I chose to play as Greater Poland. This is only my second game and AAR. Somehow it’s a lot more fun than Sicily was !
 

fabiolundiense

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I. 4. A Mysterious Knight


The banquet hosted by the King to celebrate the birth of his third child as well as the dawn of the new year 1077 was by far the most extravagant affair the realm had ever seen. The variety and excellence of the entertainment -- acrobats, jugglers, musicians, fortune tellers -- was matched by the quality and succulence of the twenty-something course meal. Constance gracefully acknowledged that it was a fantastic party, and even flattered the Queen by performing the most exquisite curtsy Her Horrible Majesty had ever been paid. The Refugees were so far from everyone’s mind that it was almost as if they had been exiled from Court for the second time.






We travelled back to Poznan a couple of days after the feast, after lounging around doing nothing but recuperate from eating so much food. At home, everything was fine, everyone seemed in good spirits. Marshal Jakub moaned and complained about the lack of ‘real men’ in Poznan for him to train to become men at arms -- by which I knew that he was still elated with his success while fighting against such a foe as Heinrich IV.






To oblige him, I despatched Jakub to Gniezdno where I was sure the Prince-Archbishop would appreciate his training the local lads, something the Archbishop was utterly incapable of. Our heroes had fought and gained experience. But that was just a first step. The whole purpose of gaining experience in Bohemia was to make my duchy stronger. To expand. It was time to train for another war. This time, it would be for our own benefit.

I had studied the maps we possessed of the surrounding regions for hours. We had been keeping track of all movements and/or developments amongst the heathen tribes; the Pomeranian and Prussian peoples were a restless crowd. One crispy cold day towards the end of January, I made a decision. I would send a newly trained army to Chelmno, over which I held a claim (fabricated out of thin air). That province lay on the right bank of the Vistula. Over the last ten years, I had been elaborating a long-term strategy of expansion. As my Council members were all too well aware, I was determined to conquer the territories north of us and to reach the Baltic Sea. The easiest path towards the sea, in my view, was to follow the Vistula.

Judging from our most up-to-date observations, I thought we could not fail to take Chelmno. To be on the safe side, I summoned the Chancellor.

“Andrzej, I’ve decided to go ahead with the conquest of Chelmno.”

“As it please Your Grace,” he replied.

“The first move is yours. I am sending you into the enemy’s territory.”

Andrzej looked horrified but tried not to panic.

“Is this wise, Your Grace? Why should the people of Chelmno welcome me?”

“They won’t. For your own safety, you must make sure they never discover your true identity. Bribe, lie, impersonate, do whatever it takes to sow dissent amongst the chieftains. You know the routine: divide and conquer!”

I returned to Krakow in April to apprise the King of my decision. I wanted to approach Chelmno not from across the river, where various chieftains had erected stone keeps and towers, but from the province of Plock. The King gave his approval.

Andrzej, loyal servant that he was, outdid himself by fulfilling his mission by the end of the summer.






The news reached me in Krakow where I was attending a Summer Fair. The courier also handed me a letter from Constance.






I returned to Poznan bearing gifts I thought would soothe my darling wife, but these she rejected disdainfully.

“If I wanted baubles I would have married a rich and very old Marquis who would have obliged me by dying very quickly!” she exclaimed.

“Is it wrong to keep our House in the good graces of the King?” I countered.

“Your children hardly know you,” she retorted. “Does that please Your Grace?”

The sting of that remark infuriated me. I stormed into the children’s room. It was empty.

“Where are they?” I shouted, coming back to my wife.

She grabbed my arm and practically shoved me to the window. There, in the distance, I perceived two young boys on ponies. A trainer was instructing them in giving commands to their mounts. I was speechless. My children... my sons... were growing up... without me.

“Bruno is with his nurse,” Constance said while I continued to stare out the window.

I turned. She had her back to me. I went and put my arms around her. “Why am I such an ass?”

“Fetch your horse and go out to them,” she murmured, pressing herself against me.

I did. The pleasure of training with Laurentius and Alexander was indescribable. It made me realise just how much I already possessed right here in Poznan.



******​



I let the internal disputes in Chelmno sour while Marshal Jakub finalised our own military preparations. In June of 1078, war for the conquest of Chelmno began.

Victory came much later than I had planned, and at a far greater cost in both lives and gold. The war dragged on for fourteen months. Attrition was twice what I had expected. Saxon mercenaries were hired in February 1079 to hasten the expected outcome. They performed with unbeatable efficiency. However, when the province surrendered at the beginning of August and the mercenaries had been dismissed, there were less than two hundred gold sovereigns in our coffers.

Another bittersweet victory.

One person’s satisfaction, at least, was untainted with sorrow: the King’s. A Royal Tournament was announced, to take place in Krakow in November. The whole Kingdom was invited to celebrate the annexation of Chelmno.

“We can’t refuse,” I said to Constance.

“We can,” she smiled. “But you would doubtless be stripped of your titles, and then who would look after The Refugees?”



******​



Never in the reign of the present king had Krakow seen such a crowd, such nobility, such pageantry. A large open field east of the city walls had been festooned with standards, ribbons adorned every tree in sight, benches to seat a thousand paying spectators rose in a gradient facing north. In the centre was the Royal Box.

The Duchy of Greater Poland was receiving public honours. Constance and myself, Laurentius, Alexander and Bruno all shared the Royal Box as the competing knights paraded in front of us, each one presented by a herald dressed in multi-coloured livery. Everyone, including the Queen, glowed with excitement. Everyone, that is, except me.

“It’s nerves,” said Constance when I admitted my feelings of unease.

As we applauded the knights and their pages, my son Laurentius tugged at my hand.

“Papa, aren’t you going to joust too?” he asked.

“Yes I am!” I turned to give Constance a kiss. “Did the herald just announce another knight from Gniezdo? I thought we only had one.”

“You’re shaking!” she gasped quietly.

More than that, I was nearly overcome by a superstitious dread. There was something eerily unpleasant about all this commotion.

“Darling, what is it?” asked Constance.

“I don’t know. I feel... I can hardly wait for this to be over. I’d better go down and mount.”

I was the last to parade before the King and Queen. The cheering crescendoed into a roar of wild enthusiasm. “Poraj! Poraj! Poraj!”

The jousting began. I was eighteenth in a list of thirty pairs of knights. It was a foregone conclusion that I wasn’t going to win. It was all for show, perhaps a good laugh at my expense if I actually fell off my horse. It didn’t matter; I had already earned a different sort of crown.

As I sat on my horse awaiting my turn, I suddenly felt that I was being watched. I glanced to my left. A lone page stood off to one side. He had me in his eyesight. He was smiling at me. It was a weird, evil sort of smile. I looked away as the sixteenth pair rode away. When I looked back, he was gone.






“His Grace Przemyslaw Poraj of Greater Poland, and....”



I didn’t even hear the name of my opponent. I sauntered over to the east end of the jousting field and tried to put out of my mind the thought that over a thousand pairs of eyes were watching me.






It felt like an hour, but it can only have been moments that I lay on the ground in a world turned completely silent, and in utter agony. A crowd surrounded me. Little by little, I regained my hearing, sort of. Someone took my left arm. I cried out. The pain was excruciating.

Eventually, I was moved onto a litter. Then I passed out.



******​



Some days later we were on a barge sailing down the Vistula. It had been agreed that it was the least painful way for me to travel. In truth, I was feeling much less pain. I was feeling much less, period. I had no sensations on my entire left side except in my thumb and, oddly, the top of my temple. Only half of me could feel any discomfort.

We disembarked in Gniezdno after passing a couple of ruined forts on the right bank -- relics of the conquest of Chelmno. It took another five days to bear me in a litter home to Poznan. I had plenty of company with whom to make light conversation. But the more I tried to cheer people up, the more miserable they looked.

The room I used for private audiences had been transformed into a bedroom. A fire burned beautifully in the fireplace. I was slowly eased up into a standing position. Sitting was impossible, I had to either stand or lie down. A light supper was served. I fell asleep on my feet.

“This is not the end,” I nearly spat at poor Andrzej when he suggested I should ‘have a word’ with my heirs. “I am maimed, I cannot walk or sit, but I am not going to die.”

No one argued with me, but no one believed me.

Christmas arrived. The Chaplain sang High Mass in my bedroom. I was carried down to the Great Hall where the Christmas Dinner had been laid out. The entire household ate together. That included all the men of my Council, their families, and one special guest. At the start of the dinner, I read out a decree which I had prepared together with Chancellor Andrzej. The newly conquered County of Chelmno was receiving a new lord. Maslaw of Krotoszyn (the special guest), who was distinguishing himself as an excellent commander of men at arms, was created Count of Chelmno. Everyone rose to their feet and applauded. The feasting proceeded. Later, I retired with my family to my bedroom where the boys attempted to wrestle each other with their left arm tied to their side. Most of the time they ended up rolling around on the floor helpless with laughter.



******​



I awoke. It was May. It was night. Six months had passed since my fall at the Royal Tournament. The windows were open. A pleasant breeze made the linen curtains billow back and forth.

“Constance?”

She was at my side in an instant. My constant companion, my soul mate.

“It’s spring,” I murmured lazily.

“Hush, mon amour, save your strength.” I know she covered my entire face with kisses, though I could only feel half of them.

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered.

She placed a finger against my lips. I took it in my right hand.

“I won’t sleep. I promise. I’ll be waiting for you, Constance.”



******



 

DKM

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Wow, this is the first story I've read where I can actually feel the emotion coming from the words. Tis a sad ending.
 

fabiolundiense

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Wow, this is the first story I've read where I can actually feel the emotion coming from the words. Tis a sad ending.
DKM, the AI that lives in my computer hates me.
I was so into this character, so excited with a fantastic beginning, really liking the whole fledgeling family of this Duke whose name I can't even pronounce. So it killed him. I just wanted to lay myself down and starve to death. I should be getting used to being abused like this, but I don't :blush:
 

fabiolundiense

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I. 5. Seeing the World




Life had been a succession of lessons -- riding, swords, diction, grammar, Polish and French, Latin and Greek, German and Rus, arithmetic, rhetoric, history -- but everything changed after Papa died. Literally everything.

Lessons were over, said Mama. At least, lessons in the way my brothers and I had been receiving them. For me, the eldest, there would be no going back. For Alexander and Bruno, lessons would resume, but later. All three of us had become titled. I was, in name, Duke of Greater Poland. And I was Count of Poznan. Alexander was Count of Lubusz, Bruno became Count of Kalisz. They were now my vassals. So was the Prince-Archbishop of Gniezdno. Of course, all of us had Regents to do the grown-up job of running a County. But we had to keep abreast of everything that was happening.

After Papa’s funeral, everyone seemed busy. Yet the Castle became strangely silent. I could wander into any room; no one seemed to notice. That was okay with me. It gave me time to get used to other things. Things about me. Sometimes, I knew things I never knew before. It wasn’t exactly knowing. More like intuitions. They all seemed to be coming from Papa. They had to do with the notions of dynasty, desmesne and vassalage. Papa had always talked about living by the sea. Now I wanted to too.

Sometimes I would go to the Cathedral where Papa was buried to sit by his sarcophagus. Every time I went, Mama was already there. We would sit close to it, not saying anything.




Duke Przemyslaw Poraj, requiescat in pacem



Papa’s Steward said we ought at least to have some other company besides mourning adults. There were the Mazoviecki kids, but they were all girls except for for the youngest, who was more Bruno’s age. Papa had said to stay close to the King, but the Royal Family lived in Krakow. (Besides, I didn’t like them that much.) Then the Spymaster said one day, jokingly, why didn’t we invite other Royal Families to Poznan? He informed us that there were several excellent candidates. Henri Capet, the King of France, was thirteen years old, just a year older than me. So was Alfonso Jimenez, the King of Leon. Ales Przemyslid, the King of Bohemia, was the same age as me. So were the Duke of Tuscany and the Petty King of someplace on the island of Ireland.

That gave Mama an idea. She would take us on a tour. Just the family. A pilgrimage to Rome. On the way, we could pay a visit to the Duke of Tuscany.

The Court Chaplain was not happy.

“I beg My Lady to reconsider. A pilgrimage is a noble, sacred enterprise. But full of danger. If anything should befall... you are, as you are aware, the whole lineage --”

“We are all in the hands of the Lord,” Mama replied. “If the House of Poraj is destined to die out, better to die as pilgrims than as sinners. But have faith, My Lord Bishop! The Lord blessed the House of Poraj with sons, not daughters.”



******​





A humble farm 12 leagues south-east of Poznan

15 June 1080


The farmer pried off his muddy boots and left them outside the kitchen door. To his surprise, there was no soup on the table. The fire in the hearth was blazing perfectly. His wife sat nearby staring into the flames.

The farmer sat down at the kitchen table to wait.

Minutes later, he said: “Staring at the fire won’t bring him back.”

His wife made no reply.

“Woman, you’re driving us both mad!”

“They got him,” his wife retorted.

Her husband made a grimace.

“Someone’s got to tell them.”

“Tell them what?” the farmer cried.

“Who they really are.”

“You’re not going anywhere near the Castle,” said the farmer firmly. “We made a vow.”



******​



We arrived in Krakow at the end of July. The King received us most warmly. We were given presents and an army of servants to attend us even though we already had our own. Mama, as usual, was the epitome of deferential elegance. But there was disappointment all the same.

“Lady Constance, I’m afraid I must command you to abandon all thoughts of going to Rome. The Kaiser is at war -- again. Tuscany is swarming with Imperial armies. I cannot permit you to put your lives in peril.”

What happened was that the crowns of Tuscany and Provence had somehow been united, resulting in Tuscany’s independence from the Kaiser. A turn of events Heinrich Salian would not tolerate. He was bent on reconquering Provence-Tuscany.




the Kaiser sees red



We had no choice but to concur. Mama decided that we were still on a pilgrimage. Instead of seeing Rome, we would visit some of Poland’s most venerable churches.

Lord Swietobor Kujawski, the Count of Kujawy, was also visiting with the King. A learned man who devoured tomes of books and corresponded with learned men from other noble houses, with a particular interest in architecture, he proposed to be our guide. Mama agreed. We visited several old towns and stayed at some very interesting inns, and saw lots of old churches.



/

venerable old churches in the Kingdom of Poland



The Count’s daughter Stanislawa, his only child, was also there. During our pilgrimage, the Count kept trying to include me in his learned conversations. I kept telling him I didn’t know anything about architecture, but he just went on and on. At one point, when he was in private conversation with Mama, I heard her exclaim that “they” were only children. That’s when I suspected that the Count was thinking family matters. Then I started paying more attention to Stanislawa.

The following year Mama made plans to take us on a trip to France. Once again, Kaiser Heinrich ruined everything for us. Imperial armies swept west to claim the province of Ypres from King Henri Capet. We didn’t go to Rome either, even though the Kaiser had reconquered Tuscany and Provence. Mama said she didn’t want to bump into Lord Kujawski again.

So instead we went to Denmark. We stopped to pay our respects to the King who insisted on taking us north on a hunting expedition. There in the lands inhabited by Swedish tribespeople, I got to see elk, those huge grazing animals, with my own eyes. I promised to come and visit again. I was beginning to understand what Papa was always saying about vistas stretching towards great rivers and, finally, the sea. The Duchy of Greater Poland had to expand.




majestic vista for majestic creatures



The following year, we did’t have a family trip. A letter arrived for me from Lord Kujawski. It was much better than any pilgrimage or herd of elk.






“You like her?” said Mama.

“Certainly! She’s okay. And she’s an heiress!”

In the end it was up to me. I wrote back to say that I agreed to the betrothal. We were married the following year, in 1084, the year I came of age.

In the four years since Papa had died, economy had been the number one priority. The revenues from the one province of Poznan, with next to nothing coming from Gniezdno, were nothing like what we had been used to when Papa was alive. But we had hoarded some gold. And I knew what I wanted to do with it. I was going to fulfill the Poraj dream. I was going to reach the Baltic Sea.

In the spring of 1085, a few months after getting married, I declared war on a Pomeralian tribe leader for the regions of Gdansk and Slupsk. And Stanislawa announced that she was going to have a baby.


******​
 
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fabiolundiense

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I. 6. A Castle By the Sea?


It was a long, painful war. The Pomeralians proved to be an unpredictable foe. Our own army managed to rout them early in the campaign. They would disperse and leave us to commence the siege of their forts. Then a whole new band of armed men would suddenly appear out of nowhere. Our men were caught between a hostile fort and fresh enemy troops. Attrition took a grievous toll. We lost many a brave man, including good old Marshal Jakub.

I had left Stanislawa in the care of Mama in order to take command of the campaign. After ten months of fighting I had to hire a band of giant Finnish mercenaries to complement our strike force. Their aid tilted the scales more firmly in our favour. Even so, the sieges took forever.

Stanislawa gave birth to a daughter. We gave her the name Adèle. She took after me in manifesting the cursed harelip.... At that time, couriers informed me that the Kaiser was coming our way -- not to fight me but to attack the King of Denmark. The Kaiser coveted the county of Holstein.

I returned home for a spell in the winter of the second year of the war. Mama said she was moving to Kalisz; she could be more useful to my brother Bruno than to me, she said. I was sad to see her go, but realised it was for the best. Stanislawa’s own mother had passed away when she was a child, and Lord Kujawski had never remarried. She had the Mazoviecki girls to help with Adèle, for which we were both grateful.

I returned to the Pomeralian front in the spring of 1087, but came home again at the end of summer. My brother Alexander, Count of Lubusz, was getting married. Following in Papa’s footsteps, he had chosen a French bride, Stéphanie d’Argentan, daughter of a Norman baron. The newlyweds had medallions engraved with their likenesses. It was the perfect occasion for us to have an official portrait of our own.






Mama had been writing to her brothers in Burgundy but received little in the way of reply. It was only thanks to Mademoiselle d’Argentan that we learned that two of my French uncles had passed away, taken by severe illness. More sadly still, they had died childless. Uncle Robert, Duke of Burgundy, had five children, three sons and two daughters. I thought it was a shame I had never yet met these cousins. Mama was more preoccupied by the fact that the Duke was still on unfriendly terms with the Royal Family of France.

Kaiser Heinrich’s Danish campaign was moving swiftly towards victory; his armies occupied the castle of Holstein in no time. He immediately opened another front in the southwest: he was going to reclaim the Duchy of Savoie.

Finally, after three and a half years of sieges and battles, the Pomeralian tribes surrendered. Slupsk and Gdansk now belonged to the Duchy of Greater Poland. I had reached the Baltic Sea.






“Your father would be so proud of you,” said Mama, her eyes damp. “He talked about this all the time.”

There was no denying it: I too felt a surge of profound satisfaction, something acutely close to a homecoming. A fierce desire to move my court to Gdansk swept over me. I put it aside; it was too impractical. We had ruined the strongest holdings in both provinces, it would take years to rebuild. But rebuild we would. I now controlled the delta of the Vistula River on its left bank. Shipyards could be built, a merchant city to generate revenues, a bishopric....




remains of a Pomeralian stronghold on the Vistula River



I returned to Court to learn that Lord Kujawski had passed away. The King announced himself in Poznan for the middle of January. He would formally declare my wife Countess of Kujawy, and recognise my new titles of Count of Gdansk and Slupsk.

Just before his arrival, that January of 1089, disturbing rumours flew from one end of the Kingdom to the other. It consisted of a single word: Assassins.

“What does this mean, Poraj?” the King asked during his stay. He had taken to speaking with me most informally, even in public. “My people are having visions of these savages bursting in on them in the middle of the night to rape and plunder.”

“People love to scare themselves for no reason,” I said. “These are just rumours, for one thing. It also appears that the name ‘Assassin’ does have a meaning. This band -- if it exists -- loves to murder. A band of cutthroats, then. Every province has them.”

“Countess,” the King said, turning to my wife, “nothing seems to scare your husband!”

“Maybe one thing,” Stanislawa ventured meekly.

“What might that be?”

“Not waging a war of conquest.”

That remark put a seriously thoughtful look on the King’s face, which he wore for the rest of his stay in Poznan. A small delegation of my generals requested an audience with the King. It was granted. They took the opportunity to tell their version of the conquest of the Pomeralian provinces. Their report consisted mainly in proclaiming what a brilliant organiser I was on the battlefield.






The King was duly impressed.



******​



1089 was a year of recovery for Greater Poland. The Finnish mercenaries had cost me two thirds of the duchy’s entire reserves. Economy once more became my top priority. That, and spending time with my wife -- in consequence of which, a son was born to us that autumn, on the fourteenth of November. We named him Laurentius. He too manifested what risked becoming known as the Poraj Mouth -- that cursed harelip.

I received the signal privilege of being able to stay at home with my family that year. My peers in the kingdom were not so lucky. King Boleslaw had declared war on the Pomeranian tribes in Wolgast. He was very obviously mimicking me. Whatever his true feelings towards Greater Poland, I was grateful not to be called upon to assist him in his war. Not that he needed any help -- the King’s army was much stronger than mine. Wolgast fell in the spring, after a campaign of a mere seven months, and the King’s armies returned home.

I continued to replenish the Treasury in relative peace. I had appointed a new Court Chaplain recommended to me for his missionary zeal. His achievements in no way disavowed his reputation.







******​



It was some months later when, crossing an inner courtyard after a routine meeting with my Council, I noticed a small honey-coloured horse grazing lazily by the main gate. This animal was more than vaguely familiar.

“Is this not Lady Constance’s horse?” I asked of the young valet waiting nearby.

“Her Ladyship inquired after Your Grace an hour since,” the boy replied. “We were told that Your Grace was in Council.”

No one in the Castle had seen her. There was only one place she could be.

She was sitting there, not saying anything, as had been our custom. She smiled at me when she noticed my approach.

“It’s been ten years, you know.”

I sat down as if thunderstruck. Ten years? Where had the time gone? And how long since I last stopped by Papa’s resting place? Mama seemed to read my thoughts.

“It’s not your job to count the days and months since his passing,” she said. She took my hand. “You must get on with your own life.”

So it seemed as if a cycle started all over again. War, marriage, new life, war in echo. A Pruthenian tribe started a conflict with their Lithuanian neighbours. The Pruthenians left their territory of Marienburg wide open. Marienburg was on the right bank of the Vistula’s delta, just opposite Gdansk. The opportunity was too good to miss. I ordered my fighting men into Marienburg. Again, it lasted years. Again I had to hire mercenaries. Stanislawa gave birth to a son -- no harelip! We named him Éric. King Boleslaw again followed suit, claiming the territories of Volhynia to the southeast of Poland. Given the meagre size of the army of Volhynia, there was no excuse not to conquer the two counties of Beresty and Vladimir Volynsky.




easy pickings for a King





My younger brother Bruno took wife. He chose Gruta of Budejovice, a girl of Bohemian origin, daughter of the Count of neighbouring Leitmeritz. My new and zealous Court Chaplain brought the Pomeralians of Slupsk to the Catholic faith. It took two and a half years to conquer Marienburg.






With the addition of three counties to the Kingdom and the cessation of hostilities on all sides, this cycle of conquest resembled the previous one in all things except for one important and utterly unimagined twist.


“His Majesty Boleslav II, by the grace of God King of Poland, commands
the attendance at Court of the Lady Stanislawa, Countess of Kujawy and
Duchess of Greater Poland, to receive such titles as His Majesty shall
see fit to bestow upon Her Ladyship.”​


His Majesty’s intentions were kept well secret until the day of the audience. Then, before an astounded assembly of every noble house in the realm, King Boleslav conferred on my wife the title to the newly conquered Duchy of Volhynia.






The honour shown to our combined houses was as stupendous as its giving was unexpected. What a way to shatter the monotony of war-attrition-conquest-recovery-conversion! In fact, however, it was but the beginning of a new cycle on unsought-for twists.


******​
 
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Rebel_

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Things are looking good, but knowing CK2, worse is just around the corner I bet.
 

fabiolundiense

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Things are looking good, but knowing CK2, worse is just around the corner I bet.
LOL Yeah, CK2 loves to torture. Actually, (spoiler alert) CK2 lets things get really good before pulling the rug out from under my feet.