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Lalalilo

Second Lieutenant
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„The world sunk in the shadows of the Three Mountains”

The Ryukyu Kingdom (1429–1879) was located in the Ryukyu island chain, the largest of which is Okinawa, between modern day Japan and Taiwan. A special maritime trade agreement with Ming China, which placed it as a tributary state, allowed the Kingdom to play an important role in the trade network of the region. However, because of its size and weak military capabilities, it was invaded by Japan in the beginning of the 17th century, and was a dual vassal of both China and Japan until 1872. The de facto annexation of the islands by Japan occurred 7 years later. Its culture is a mixture of Japanese and Chinese influences with indigenous elements. The Ryukyuan Kingdom is also sometimes referred to as The Three Mountains because the Okinawa island was divided into three principalities named Hokuzan (Northern Mountain), Chūzan (Central Mountain) and Nanzan (Southern Mountain). The unification of these three principalities occurred in 1429, and is considered the beginning of the Ryukyu Kingdom. In the grand strategy computer game Europa Universalis IV, conquering the world as Ryukyu, a deed not easy with any other country to begin with, is considered the hardest possible achievement.The following story is based on the presumption that Ryukyuans are one step away from achieving just such a feat…


Vardo
Citadel located inside the northernmost fortress in the finnmark (Northern part of present day Norway) amter (Administrative division name – roughly the equivalent of a county/province)
Coalition of Nordic Kingdoms
29th of March1796
Siege of Vardo: day 143
14:42
12°C

In the deepest part of the citadel of the Vardo fortress, shadows dance on the walls in tune with the slow flicker of several candles, as three men loom over a desk. The faces of the men and the items located on the desk alternatively light up and disappear in darkness as the candles conduct their little dance. The stench of mould and sweat can be felt with each new breath, and each exhalation is accompanied by a small cloud of vapour. It stays in the air for a second or two in ever changing form, before finally dispersing.A sign of still lingering vitality. These four men and the 647 soldiers they command still cling to their life, although calling a few hundred ill-equipped,hungry and freezing men with broken spirits and some with broken bodies -soldiers - can only be considered an exaggeration, as is calling their current existence living.
Four years ago, the Coalition forces numbered almost 130,000 souls split into four proud armies, each roughly the same size. The first battles were tactical victories at best, yet they were more than other seemingly more capable militaries could manage. Taking into account that the Ryukyu’s seemed destined for a succession crisis and were also fighting two other wars and putting down several rebellions at the time, there was a faint light of hope that perhaps the enemy could be defeated. Empires rarely last forever and the Ryukyu Empire seemed to have begun showing signs of tear. But with time, a new ruler was chosen from amongst the Ryukyuan royal family without causing internal turmoil, both of their wars concluded in victories, and each uprising was quenched either by sheer brutality, bribe or via negotiation. Clearly the empire had avoided or perhaps averted a possible downfall. And not for the first time either. The Nordic Kingdoms now stood as their latest and final conquest. Slowly, but surely the armies of the Three Mountains were reinforced, and even battles that could be considered as small successes,in time turned out to be nothing more than unnecessary prolongations of the inevitable. As Cities, forts and members of the coalition either fell or surrendered of their own accord, only one possible outcome remained for the Swedes who decided to fight on alone, and the Vardo fortress was to become the witness of the world’s last act of defiance and its ultimate defeat.

The room is currently silent. Apart from the three men, there is only one servant standing against the wall closely observing and waiting for a chance to provide them with whatever they deem necessary. Actually, that statement would have been true in the past,before the war.Now he is observing and waiting for a chance to provide the men with whatever is available. And that wouldn’t be much, as you can imagine would be the case in the last phase of a lost war. The man, or rather a young adult to be more specific, is fully aware that his time is rapidly coming to a close.He is performing his duty not from a sense of loyalty or diligence, but more so, because by doing what he was taught to do from an early age gives him a moment of respite, that allows his mind to ward off thoughts of his impending demise. As currently nothing is required of him, a lone drop of sweat, despite the cold, is making its way across his forehead. His eyes are fixed on the four men, waiting for the slightest sign to act. Each passing second of being useless, brings the ever creeping sensation of death closer and closer.It is hard to stay focused in times of idleness. One by one all other thoughts part and give way to feelings of dread, despair and dismay akin to a sky slowly being consumed by an ever ravenous swarm of locusts.

Suddenly, one of the men raises his hand grasping an empty cup, gesturing a demand for water. The servant conducts the task of retrieving, pouring and returning the jug with a certain lethargic quality, which in other conditions would be met with a reprisal, but now goes about unnoticed. Whether it is a deliberate act to gain a few more precious seconds of serenity, or just another example of the apathy exhibited by people under prolonged dire conditions is impossible to judge. But it should be noted that the man requesting the water, Gustav III of Sweden also places the cup against his mouth and sips the liquid in it, in a tortoise like manner. He slowly puts his cup away and turns his eyes to the other two figures standing next to him. They are, in order from his left side: his beloved son and heir prince Gustav IV,and major general Johan Christopher Toll current commanding officer of the last remaining shambles of an army.

The king of Sweden runs his skinny finger over a map of the fortress. “Here, here and perhaps here. These are the most likely places that the next assault will take place. What say you, commander?” his gaze shot up as it locked on the withered face of Johan Christopher Toll, a man who under different circumstances could have achieved much more.

- “I have placed the men here and decided on having sentries conducted by the less injured soldiers in these four places. We should be able to reinforce them in a matter of minutes. Although, please forgive my frankness, your majesty, I see no chance of the fortress withstanding another assault. Especially if the enemy attacks simultaneously here, here and here. We are only playing for time, gaining weeks, or more probably days, betting on the hope that perhaps those cursed devils will decide to continue the siege until we die of starvation, or until the fortress is nothing but a heap of ruins.”

- “And for how many more days will our supplies last?”

- “With the current number of men and the current rations? We have ample amounts of water and ammo, but we have food for a maximum of two weeks. I say the men won’t be capable of combat in three weeks. Maybe sooner.”

- “Can we lower the rations further?”

- “I am afraid not sire. They are currently consuming 2/3 of their normal intake and they can barely muster the strength to perform basic tasks, let alone garrison an entire fortress built for five times their number.“

- “How are their spirits?” – the crown prince of Sweden inquired

- “The same as ours. Everybody who wanted to, already deserted during our march from Lulea. Those who stayed with us, will stay with us until the end.”- replied the general.

- “That is comforting to know” - Gustav IV looked at his only living parent, the King – “You know we won’t be able to repel them again, Father. And we lose strength with each passing day. Let’s use up all the food now, let the men make the most of the time that God left us, given the current circumstances, and in two or three days I say gather them all up, and attempt one final sortie. Death awaits us anyway. Better to die like a ferocious wolf, biting and clawing until the end, than a hunted down fox in his hole waiting for the jaws of a hound to snap his neck . Let us choose the time.Let us choose when the thread of fate is cut.”

A grin appeared on commander Toll’s face – “How poetic, sire. Your youthful lust for glory is commendable, yet completely unnecessary. We will inflict much heavier losses on them within Vardo, were their superiority in numbers and armament can’t be used to their full potential. Outside you would perhaps get one shot off with your pistol, hitting the air before them, never coming close enough to use your rapier. Here they are in your pistol’s range and doors are great bottlenecks which, prior to death, would enable you to perhaps cut down at least…”

- “Enough!” – Gustav III shouted as his fist hit the desk, emitting a loud whump. The cups and the candles wobbled for a second, before stopping and returning to their usual state of stillness. “Enough talks about dying…” a noticeable trace of distress appeared in his voice.
- “Forgive me, my Lord, yet as the current commander, I have no tactical choices available to me with the exception…” – the voice of commander Toll became mute as the king’s thoughts began to drift to the past. The toll these years took on him suddenly became that much more visible when the candles illuminated his tired face for a second. But even worse was the wear endured by his soul. A king is used to making rulings by which others prosper or wither, gain or lose, live or die. It is something he must grow accustomed to, given the number of decisions taken on a daily basis. Gustav III certainly had no trouble making judgement and rarely felt any signs of guilt or remorse. Some rulers must or even prefer to share this burden with others, but this was not the case for Gustav III, who dismantled the last vestiges of the Riksdag (Swedish house of assembly), when such an opportunity presented itself, and took great pleasure in manning the reins of his state and its destiny personally, or at least in the capacity for which one is capable of ruling by himself. But some decisions weigh more than others.

Such was the case with the one decision that was now crushing him. Four years ago in response to an offer of a Ryukyuan envoy he met with Christian VII, and together along with their advisors and military officials debated on whether to join the Ryukyuan Empire as an official allied kingdom, which could barely be considered a glorified vassal state. Refusal meant war. The Three Mountains were just starting to gain a foothold in the Balkans, and all of Europe wasn’t really aware with what they were facing. The few skirmishes and lost colonies in Asia and Africa, definitely installed a sense of uneasiness, but recapturing them was simply not economically feasible or advantageous until the right time came along. And from a European perspective that time was not far along.The empire seemed to be an overextended blob on a map, too culturally, religiously and ethnically diverse to manage efficiently. So when two different alliances which included the Poland-Lithuania Commonwealth, the Tsardom of Russia, the Habsburg Monarchy and many parts of the Holy Roman Empire decided to wage war, Gustav III began to lean towards fighting. When news of large unrest in the empire reached the court debating in Malmo, it seemed the Ryukyuans bit off more than they could chew and were on the brink of collapse. The King of Sweden managed to drown out any objections put forth by Christian VII, or by anyone else for that matter. The prospects seemed favourable, and the King hoped for an increase in renown and a chance at obtaining some profitable colonies this time, perhaps in India, unlike the earlier failed outings in New Sweden or in the so-called “Swedish Gold Coast”. His son would one day inherit the foundations for a truly powerful Swedish Kingdom.

His son. He and the possibilities that would lay before him commanded his hand and ruled his thoughts, as he signed the declaration of war. The boy was a keen observer, understanding a lot for his age, and seemed more than capable of ruling competently one day.Of course he had his vices like everyone. He was short-tempered and lacked patience for some of the more mundane tasks of running a kingdom day-to-day. Yet all in all, the future for the house of Holstein-Gottrop and Sweden seemed secured. Now four years later all that lay before his son were days, perhaps weeks of a dreadful existence, god only knows how much more. With that one stroke of the quill pen, as the ink settled on the parchment, he sentenced his son, his house, his compatriots and his realm to death. His sons eagerness to part ways with life, for the last couple of weeks served as a grim remainder of the consequence of that one action.

“…as such all that’s left is to figure out how to cause as much casualties to the enemy as possible.” – the major general concluded.
Gustav III returned back to the present, he would address commander Toll in a moment. He turned to his son and began speaking “Dearest son, I don’t…” when a sudden chill enters the room and blows out two of the candles, increasing the darkness for the next couple of seconds.The servant once more jumps at the chance to do anything remotely useful and begins relighting the candles. Another few seconds of blissful ignorance.As the doors open, Guardsman Kjell Gustafsson storms in and yells in an nervous voice “They have commenced the assault”.

Any chance for the servants mind to catch a breath of calmness is gone. There is no more escape from reality. The crown prince seems displeased as his attempt at heroism becomes impossible. Toll stoically begins loading up his pistol with fresh powder. The King leans on the table to keep his composure as his heart sinks in his chest. So not days or weeks, but only hours remain. As he begins to straighten himself up, he notices the servants terrified face in the warm orange light of the candle, as he finishes relighting the second one. The King thinks to himself, he looks so much like my boy…


Vardo
Ryukyuan encampment outside the Vardo fortress
Ryukyuan Empire held territory
29th of March1796
Siege of Vardo: day 143
09:27
-15°C

Kumi-Gashira (Japanese lieutenant) Tomoji Miyagi sits cross-legged on a small hill in the earthworks surrounding the Vardo fortress. Banners containing various logograms are located on his right.Most of them are symbols for the many different regions of the Empire, the elements or animals. They all look rather lifeless without a hint of flutter.Among them is the one of his platoon,which has earned the distinction of using the logogram of Chuzan . A banner with a character of one the three sacred mountains of Ryukyu is only given to the most distinguished units, who have proven themselves in battle numerous times. Miyagi’s unit,consisting of 50 men from all over the empire, had many occasions to earn it in the last 25 years.

It was 25 years ago when he left his small village in the Tohoku region in the north of Honshu to fight in the Empire’s army. The arduous situation of his family was the main factor for his decision. He still could remember the face of his mother, dripping in tears, holding on to his clothes so tightly, as if she knew it was the last time they would see each other. But there could have been no turning back. She died 4 years ago. It took the letter from his sister with the news, two years to arrive. Letters travel slow when they must span half the world to turn up in the hands of their intended addressee. As he read that letter he found that he had a hard time remembering her face, though he still could recount the warmth of her hand on his cheek. Yet the news hardly made any sort of impact on him. He knew she was someone important, and he knew he should have felt sadness, but to him she was like a reflection in the water, distorted, someone who was dear to him in another long lost and forgotten existence.

The army became his new life, but to say it was a new family would be an exaggeration, for it is hard to imagine a harsher one. First came the training. The Ryukyuan military had a very fierce training regime. It was implemented after the surrender of Ming China in the beginning of the 17th century. Ryukyuan historians and military leaders were fascinated by Genghis Khan’s conquests, thanks to a plethora of historical documents regarding the Yuan dynasty. They had come upon the notion that the Mongols successes were a result of the incredibly bleak conditions of a nomad lifestyle on the steppes. Freezing winds in the winter and a scorching sun in the summer. Inedible grass as far as the eye can see. To survive one had to adapt, sometimes living of mare milk for days. This was a recipe for creating the world’s most resilient military and for vastly increasing the Ryukyuan’s military potential known as the “third pillar of military might”.

Of course the training only resembled some aspects of the horde’s lifestyle, but after one year, each soldier was prepared to thrive in circumstances that would greatly hinder those of other armies. Fear and hunger, heat and cold shaped Miyagi’s body and mind. When he was deemed ready he became a komono (Japanese equivalent of a page) with the unit he now commands, which back then did not share its current renown. His first battles were skirmishes with peasants during a revolt in Champa (present-day southern Vietnam). Being a part of the lowest rank in the Ryukyuan army, this was a time of humiliation. Komono’s received meager wages and rations. They were the last to choose spoils, often ending up with worthless trinkets. Although not quite as awful a period as the time spent training, he still went to sleep hungry and cold on many nights. But this was also the time first friendships were born. The sort of bond between people that can only bloom on the battlefield, impossible to recreate in any other condition.Although he still longed for home, this was the one and only period were he could say without a doubt that the army was like a second home.

After two years of skirmishes with rebels in different places around the empire, including India and China, he achieved the rank of Ashigaru (Japanese infantry). One month later war broke out with the Ottoman Empire and his unit was relocated. They weren’t fighting poorly armed peasants with sickles, but a regular army. Although inferior in every aspect ranging from weaponry, organization to morale, they were still vastly superior to anything his unit had ever fought. Of course the Ryukyuans would have simply overpowered them with sheer numbers anyway. This was a direct result of the revised “second pillar of military might”, which allowed any person from the Empire, regardless of race or background to join the army. The previous version only allowed citizens of Ryukyuan territories in Ryukyu, China, Japan and Korea to be a part of the military force. The revision came after subjugating Persia in the second half of the 17th century and discovering the history of Alexander the Great. This greatly increased the manpower capacity of the Empire.

During the war with the Muslims, which lasted for 8 years, the unit’s losses were few and far between, and it was that period that gave them their first recognitions. Still the unit lost a few souls during the campaign, two of which were people who, Miyagi had no doubt, deserved the distinction of friend. A couple of other unit members suffered injury and were sent to their homes. It was then that it became obvious to Miyagi that just as one cannot become attached to something that is far away, one also cannot be attached to something that may be lost in a blink of an eye. His family was already becoming more distant, and from this moment on he tried to distance himself from other comrades, to ease his pain if they should fall, and to ease their pain if he was to die. But such things are easier said than done, and despite his best efforts, as often happens in life, other people had become replacements in the role of friend. One cannot shut himself out from the world completely. Newer recruits began referring to him as “Uncle”, for the advice he handed out to them, often proving invaluable for survival.

The next 10 years spent in Arabia and Crimea, consisted mostly of fending off ambushes and raids. “Shadow warfare” it was called. Losses to death, injuries and attrition were small, but noticeable. Miyagi was being surrounded by more and more unfamiliar faces and slowly becoming the soldier with the most combat experience.Because of his experience with battling Muslims his nickname expanded to “Uncle Pork”. This was not out of disrespect, but as a sign that the adherents of Islam best keep away from him as they refrain from eating pig meat.

When the empire began its war in Europe, Miyagi was the second oldest soldier of the unit. Only one other person besides him had served in the unit since his time as komono - an old Kumi-Gashira who lost his hand from artillery fire in the third week of the war. His departure home resulted in Tomoji Miyagi receiving his ceremonial sai (Okinawan dagger with two metal prongs to the side) – a symbol of a Kumi-Gashira. The weapon itself proved handy and saved his life on more than one occasion. Miyagi proved himself a very skilled commander, who did not squander the life of his subordinates in vain,and in a span of just two yearshis unit gained the honour of having the Chuzan logogram inscribed on their banner.

Now it was four years and countless more victories later. He looked at the fortress in front of him. This war, all wars would end when it falls. He would not have to make the best out of other people’s judgements. The green banner would soon be just a memento, and his soldiers would go home, or wherever in the world they wanted to. It was all just a matter of time. Two, perhaps three weeks at most, probably sooner as some soldiers with their backs to the wall prefer to die in battle and mount one last hopeless sortie. Pointless loss of life. But no more. All in all since his promotion, thanks to his tactical prowess, his unit lost only two soldiers with seven injuries, none requiring longer than a couple of months of convalescence. The fact that he managed to keep his losses low, brought him more satisfaction than the elation felt after accomplishing another military objective.

As he looked to the sky and noticed that a pinch of white snowflakes began falling, he began hearing footsteps cracking the tough frozen snow, heading towards him, louder and louder with each passing moment. A messenger came up to him and handed him a letter from the Monogashira (Japanese equivalent of a captain). Two minutes later, when he read its contents, his peace of mind was gone replaced with a feeling of grief and unjustness. An assault was ordered. The emperor demanded his triumph now, not in an uncertain number of days in the future. More men were going to die. Miyagi thought to himself, if my letter with the news of my mother’s death took two years to arrive, couldn’t this one from the emperor be late by two or three weeks? He darted up and began slowly walking to his unit’s tent to deliver the order. He was aware that for some of them it will be their last.

Vardo
Citadel located inside the northernmost fortress in the finnmark amter
Coalition of Nordic Kingdoms
29th of March1796
Siege of Vardo: day 143
19:20
11°C

The last thing Guardsman Kjell Gustafsson managed to say before dying was “Do not let them get to this door! Protect our King!”. Just as he finished that sentence a cast lead ball ripped through his throat. In a matter of minutes his brain would send its last electrical impulse. Sadly, he died unaware that his last words were understood by no one as was the last Swedish soldier to die in the passage leading to the King’s chamber.

Commander Tomoji Miyagi brushed his sleeve against his eye. “Condemn this blasted smoke” – he thought to himself. Tears began pouring down his cheek. “Prepare to breach that entrance”. The Swedish soldiers managed to put up a fierce resistance, despite overwhelming odds. Whatever lay beyond that door, must have been something substantial, as the closer his unit got to it, the more tenacious the defence.They had incurred heavy losses. Seventeen were dead and ten lay scattered around the fortress injured, unable to carry on fighting. “A cornered animal is indeed the most dangerous.” – Miyagi reflected grievously – “I’ve lost more men today, than during this entire campaign” He looked at a young recruit from the middle east. ”You there, you were trained in lock picking. You know what to do”. There was an eerie stillness around him, gunshots from around the fortress had stopped, and the only noise that could be heard was the moaning of wounded soldiers, as if the very room they were trying to get into was the last place not yet taken by Ryukyuan forces.
Inside the chamber the silence outside did not go unnoticed.

-“What’s going on. Why has all the noise ceased?” – asked the frightened servant

Commander Toll explained without a sign of emotion in his voice - “We have about 30 minutes before they finish lock picking that door. Is everyone prepared? King? Crown Prince? You, servant”

Each of them replied with a different tone. The Crown Prince’s “Yes” was filled with disappointment and frustration, the servants stuttered “Yyyyes” contained only fear, and the King’s fast “I am” mixed a strong feeling of accepting ones fate with a hint of hope that perhaps not all is yet lost. Pistols laid on the desk had all been loaded and were ready to use.
-“Now all that is left is to wait…” – Commander Toll summed up the situation.

Back on the outside Miyagi’s Monogashira nonchalantly approached through the rubble, and the dead and wounded bodies lining up the walls in the passage and yelled:
–“What is going on?”

- “We are lock picking that door. It will take about half an hour.”

- “Nonsense, this is the last part of the fortress with any sort of fighting. Whatever is behind that door, I want it now. You there!Mix some gunpowder, honey and egg whites and apply it to the door and hinges”

“Bloody fool, he hopes to gain glory for himself, but using gunpowder in windowless corridor is an unnecessary risk” – thought Miyagi to himself. He issued a command – “You two do as instructed. The rest is to fall back with me”.

Ten minutes passed before an explosion knocked the door down. The Monogashira and another soldier stood too close to the blast. The first only lost hearing in his left ear, the second suffered major burns. The defenders hidden inside the chamber are startled by this turn of events. Even major general Toll requires a second before finally taking a pistol. “This is sooner than anticipated” – He thinks to himself and instinctively begins shooting. As soon as one pistol discharges it is dropped, and another is taken. He manages to fire off four pistols, hitting three Ryukyuan soldier, before being shot himself. He stumbles and falls against the wall. He is the first of the Swedes in the room to die.

Amidst smoke men begin pouring through the door and more shots are fired. The Kumi-Gashira enters the room as the sixth person. Four of his men lay dead with two people standing behind a desk and taking shots, although their aim seems to be horrendous, as exemplified by the number of smoking pistols before them. “Look at their clothes. That must be the King and the Crown Prince!”. He aims his pistol at the younger person and hits him in the chest. He will endure many minutes of whizzing and shortness of breath. A slow and painful death. The King has used all of his pistols and takes out a rapier. He attacks a Ryukyuan soldier, by kicking him in the shins and piercing his stomach. As more men enter the room, Tomoji Miyagi barks an order - “Stop shooting!”. He takes out his Bongukgeom (Korean double-edged sword). - “His head is mine by custom. I will end this.”. As he slowly approaches Gustav III of Sweden, he sees that the King taking up a defensive stance. “Kumi-Gashira look!” – one of the soldiers says while pointing at the desk. A young man in visibly worse clothes, jumps out from under it and begins running at the Ryukyuans with a rapier. “For Sweden” – he yells. Just as he is about to puncture a surprised soldier, his rushing attack is cut short with a throw of the sai from the Kumi-Gashira. It lands in his eye and he drops dead instantly. “A gallant act of courage from a worthless servant.”- thought Miyagi to himself – “Again this cumbersome thing had proved useful. A lucky throw, but at least I managed to save one of my men.” At that moment, the King’s rapier falls out of his hand, the last will for fighting gone from his body. He says in distraught to himself “Son…, no…they might… have spared you…”. No one in the room could understand these words of a utterly broken man. Before tears begin forming in Gustav III’s eyes,Kumi-Gashira Tomoji Miyagi hacks his Bongukgeom into his neck. The cut should be cleaner, but this disregard for technique is not intentional, but simply a result of a tired soldier committing his last act of violence. The King’s body falls down. Three more hacks and Gustav III’s head finally comes off. With iti n his hands, he begins slowly walking to the body of the last soldier of his unit to fall…

Seoul
Imperial Palace in Changdeokgung
Ryukyuan Empire
17th of June1799
Victory audience before the emperor
16:00 P.M.
29°C

As a newly promoted Monogashira Tomoji Miyagi was kneeling before the emperor, his chancellor and countless advisors and nobles, he couldn’t help himself from pondering on the awkwardness of the Empire he served.Despite calling itself the Ryukyuan Empire not many elements of it were truly Ryukyuan. Of course the nobility and king all wore traditional hana-nunus (Literally means “flower cloth”. Okinawan traditional clothing now known as bingatas, characterized by colourful flower patterns), and the music played was koten (Classical Ryukyuan music), but everything else was foreign.The military ranks and structure were Japanese, the government type, writing system and fondness for meritocracy was Chinese, the capital was in Seoul and the language a mixture of Rykyuan, Korean, Mandarin and Japanese with many words simply taken directly from conquered territories. This was without even mentioning all the European elements adopted from their traders, and captured colonies and territories. He had never even seen the Islands. Even the Emperor and the Chancellor visited the Ryukyu islands strictly for ceremonial purposes that occur once or twice a decade. The faces all around him contained all possible colours that a human can have. “Ryukyuan empire indeed” – he thought to himself.

Shortly, it would be his time to present his gift to the emperor. A samurai who distinguished himself could take the head of a fallen enemy. After being cleaned, perfumed and stuffed with powdered rice to stop blood and fluids from leaking, such a head was taken back to the base camp, where all the details of the act were written down on paper including the time, date, name and rank of the deceased, and the name rank and weapon of the victor. Such a memento was cherished, and was a symbol of a distinguished warrior. But his trophy was different. He had the severed head of the last ruler to oppose the Ryukyuan Empire in a poach. A worthy gift to the emperor. And not his only one…

The chancellor was finishing his long speech, detailing the events that have led to Ryukyu becoming the most powerful nation on earth. The dream that King Sho Shitatsu had during the fifth month of his rule (11th November 1444). It was considered the most important event in Ryukyuan history. He awoke at midnight and began giving out orders to explore the islands south of Ryukyu. Soon expeditions began, and the Ryukyuans began colonizing the islands of Leyte and Samar. Other islands followed, and they began engaging themselves in conflict gaining land in Southeast Asia. When the Portuguese arrived, instead of isolating themselves like China and Japan, they began to rapidly westernize, despite strong internal opposition. The newly acquired European weapons and tactics became known as “the first pillar of military might”, giving the Islanders a distinct advantage. Soon they began meddling in the Sengoku wars in Japan, slowly gaining a foothold and subjugating the entire four islands in a span of fifty years. The conquest of Japan began a period of 230 years of almost constant warfare with campaigns in Korea, China, India and the rest of the known world. The chancellor in a exalted voice said “Now, our current glorious emperor has managed to surpass his great ancestors.The world is ours. A new era of peace is to begin!” The Emperor, sitting above him in his throne seemed pleased with himself. “Behold the head of the last person to refuse our rule” – the chancellor concluded.

He aimed his finger at Miyagi, who stood up and approached the emperor in proper ceremonial fashion. Out of his poach he took out the head of the King of Sweden and placed it carefully before the emperor. “Witness the symbol of our might. Only possible because of our benevolent…” – the chancellor continued praising the emperor. Miyagi slowly reached into his pouch again, and took out another head. The emperor, intrigued, waved his hand at the chancellor, signalling him to be quiet, and enquired “Is that the head of the crown prince of Sfed…Swet… of that Northern Kingdom?” Miyagi shook his head. “No it is not. It is the head of the last soldier from my unit to die in combat. A reminder to your majesty, that decisions do not only bring glory and triumph..” A gasp of shock ran through the audience chamber “Impertinence!!! Execute him now!” – the chancellor shouted. As the Guardsmen surrounded him, Miyagi stood up. He did not want to die on his knees. The last thing Miyagi thought about before being impaled by the Guardsman’s spear was that at least this conclusion was only his own…
 
Last edited:

Luiz Felipe

Corporal
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Aug 19, 2013
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Very nice idea! And write in a foreign language so correctly as you did is a great achievement! I struggle badly at that...
 

Lalalilo

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Thanks for the reply. English isn't really a foreign language to me (I lived abroad for some time), although it might be a bit off from my native Polish (then again Joseph Conrad had the same problem :). One thing that always causes me a lot of strife are the different spelling and punctuation rules between American English, British English and Polish.

A good general rule if you want to improve your writing in a foreign language (speaking from my experience learning other foreign languages) is to read as much native literature as you can in that language. For English I would especially recommend Hemingway as he doesn't have a tendency to use fancy words, while still retaining a proper style. You'll get there eventually, but like every other language learning skill it could take a lot of time (as in years), and since many native speaking authors aren't satisfied with their level of using the language, don't expect to actually know when you reach it. I know quite a few people who know English strictly as their second language, and are capable of speaking on the highest possible level of proficiency, yet still feel their English is lacking. I will read your little lama story later and give you my feedback.

Regarding the contest like everyone here I'm not completely satisfied with my little story, as the looming threat of exceeding the word limit crept up on me sooner than anticipated. I wanted to make the main theme of my story which is making decisions and reaping the consequences a bit more apparent. In the end I had to choose if I wanted to make quite a lot of cuts and end it properly, or leave most of the story intact and make some concessions in the later part of the story. I choose the latter option. If I had about 1000-2000 more words to use I would flesh out the story of Miyagi a bit more, add a proper description of the Ryukyuan elements (and other Asian ones too)and change the whole ending. Everything would more less be the same, but I really wanted the story to end at the same time as the game. Instead I had to race through Ryukyuan history and have the chancellor say it.

I would add some more content to Miyagi's audience with the Emperor (regarding the protocols and atmosphere of the Palace, not to mention a better explanation of why it is in Seoul) and still kill him off, and end the story on last day of the EU IV game before midnight, with the emperor waking up in the night and reminiscing about how the Ryukyuans managed to get where there are, what was sacrificed, if indeed it was a better world under their rule (I wanted to make sure to add elements evidently showing that the world is behind 100-150 years in technology than it was in real life, also many revolts and rebellions still lingering, burned and pillaged cities and so on) and his own personal decisions (including the necessity of killing Miyagi although he had some sympathy for him. It would end with a lingering feeling of uncertainty exactly on midnight to emphasis that the Ryukyuan history in the story took part simultaneously to the time frame of the game.

I had really hoped to win (like everybody who took part), and took the whole EUIV time frame approach, although I pondered for a long time if whether to choose a more specific moment in history (as in one that really happened and go from there) and make the story more intimate (less characters, story more focused on them, with history only in the background) or go for a grand scale sacrificing character depth, but making the story feel more like the game. I choose the latter, but I guess the gamble wasn't a good one. Oh well. Congratulations to the winners (I can't really even be envious, until I've read them. I am more than certain that I would choose them over my own work).

I would also gladly welcome more feedback (and especially criticism).
 

dpfarce

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Hi, thought I'd stop by this thread too!

You have certainly picked an ambitious story, with Ryukans (Ryuku-ans?) somehow in Scandanavia. While this is an alternate history contest, such a massive leap from reality into fiction will take far longer than 5000 words to accomplish. I can certainly appreciate how quickly the word limit crept up upon you, and can only ask you to be a little more restrained in your imagination! Other than that, perhaps you would like to expand, write in Polish, and self publish a short novel. That length would be more suited for an ambitious story like yours.

Your English is certainly better than my German (!), but you make a few simple (for lack of a better word) mistakes, such as switching between past and present tense periodically. This can be confusing as most English verbs (e.g. watch and watched, locate and located, etc) have the same past-tense form (-ed) and the same adjectival form (also -ed) (!!). So perhaps in come cases you were trying to use an adjective but incorrectly used it as a verb, followed by a present tense verb. This is without even mentioning how some verbs are "always" adjectival (e.g. 'be' (!!!)), but at the risk of descending into another unhelpful grammar lesson, I'll end it here.

I really enjoyed your story as it attempts to use history as a 'viewing lens' into varying cultures, and the implication that history is full of living, breathing people who are not just characters seeking to robotically conform to the 'arrow of history'. Again, I can only wish that you expand upon this premise and write a short novel, exploring these ideas more deeply without an arbitrary word limit.
 
Last edited:

lukebn

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At Lalalilo’s request, I’ve done a complete breakdown of what I think works and doesn’t in this story. Consider yourself warned—it’s long!

I get the sense that you knew you had a compelling premise but couldn’t quite nail down what made it compelling in the story. In the game, conquering the world with Ryukyu is interesting because it’s a feat of skill. In a story, it’s got a different appeal: this unknown, utterly alien culture roars in out of nowhere and imposes a wildly different political order on the world. The fear and confusion and hopelessness that creates must be monumental. Imagine the Aztec Empire the day the Spaniards start taking control—yesterday they were masters of their little world, today they’re just a flimsy obstacle to be tossed aside. The story definitely begins to capture this in the scenes focusing on the Swedish defenders, but abandons them halfway through, in my opinion to the detriment of the story. Your story doesn’t really address why Ryukyu wants to conquer the world, but that's fine, I don’t think it needs to. I don’t think it necessarily even needs to address how-- one day they simply came and washed away the old world.

So that’s an aspect of the premise that evokes emotion. Importantly, even though none of us have ever been conquered by a mysterious outside power, the emotions involved are familiar: pretty much everyone has felt overwhelmed and helpless in the face of events beyond their control. That’s just one aspect of the premise you could aim for. The Ryukyan perspective might be more giddy exhilaration mixed with growing panic as they realize they’ve got their arms wrapped around a tiger, since the world’s just too big and fierce a place to hold still for long. But I think you need to pick a strong emotional perspective—one that’s rooted in the premise—and stick with it. The Ryukyan and Swedish perspectives are both interesting but the story’s just not long enough to tackle them both in depth.

Having both perspectives also gives the reader the most information about what’s going on, and sometimes you actually want the reader to be a bit in the dark. Imagine the scene where the Ryukyans are blasting their way into the citadel from the Swedish perspective instead of the Ryukyan perspective. The defenders don’t know what’s going on, and neither does the reader, which is suspenseful! The banging at the door stops. Silence. The seconds turn into minutes. The waiting is as painful as the knowing. Still silence. Have they left? Has God somehow saved the Nordic Kingdoms? For a few delicious seconds—the last moments of happiness he will know—the guard lets his mind wander to victory, and thinks of touching his daughter’s hand again, and dreams of growing old with his wife. And then the door explodes and he knows that he will die.

As well as using the premise to form a unique emotional perspective, you should try to go back and extrapolate it out to as many interesting historical results as you can come up with. Conquering the world is the least interesting thing the Ryukyans do. The really meaty part of the premise is what is the world they’ve conquered like? What happens to a defeated nobleman in Russia? What is life like for a Jewish merchant in Ryukyan Amsterdam? What kind of lies spread about the Ryukyans in the last Nordic fortresses holding out against them? Who resists and who collaborates? For whom is life better and for whom is it worse? How does Europe, after more than a millennium of war, cope with peace?

Lalalilo said:
Vardo
Citadel located inside the northernmost fortress in the finnmark (Northern part of present day Norway) amter (Administrative division name – roughly the equivalent of a county/province)
Coalition of Nordic Kingdoms
29th of March1796
Siege of Vardo: day 143
14:42
12°C
Nicely efficient way to set the scene, especially the temperature. My only problem’s with the first two lines, which should be more like “Fort Vardo, Finnmark Province.” It doesn’t matter exactly where Finnmark is or what an amter is, all we need to know is it’s cold, remote, and Nordic. The first and last are clear from this passage; that it’s remote is an important detail but one that should be revealed in the text of the story.
Lalalilo said:
In the deepest part of the citadel of the Vardo fortress, shadows dance on the walls in tune with the slow flicker of several candles, as three men loom over a desk.

These four men and the 647 soldiers they command still cling to their life, although calling a few hundred ill-equipped,hungry and freezing men with broken spirits and some with broken bodies -soldiers - can only be considered an exaggeration, as is calling their current existence living.
Good. This sets the tone nicely. People silently breathing mist is sad and spooky. Two things: “A sign of still lingering vitality” is something the readers can infer themselves, and the fact their men are hungry and freezing and have broken spirits is something that’d be more interesting to see firsthand than to be told about.
Lalalilo said:
Four years ago, the Coalition forces numbered almost 130,000 souls split into four proud armies, each roughly the same size.

As Cities, forts and members of the coalition either fell or surrendered of their own accord, only one possible outcome remained for the Swedes who decided to fight on alone, and the Vardo fortress was to become the witness of the world’s last act of defiance and its ultimate defeat.
None of this really matters to the story at hand. We know the Ryukyans won because here we are; how we got there is pretty much academic.
Lalalilo said:
The room is currently silent. Apart from the three men, there is only one servant standing against the wall closely observing and waiting for a chance to provide them with whatever they deem necessary. Actually, that statement would have been true in the past,before the war.Now he is observing and waiting for a chance to provide the men with whatever is available. And that wouldn’t be much, as you can imagine would be the case in the last phase of a lost war.
This is weirdly phrased. It's probably better to say how things are the first time rather than doubling back and correcting yourself.
Lalalilo said:
The man, or rather a young adult to be more specific, is fully aware that his time is rapidly coming to a close.He is performing his duty not from a sense of loyalty or diligence, but more so, because by doing what he was taught to do from an early age gives him a moment of respite, that allows his mind to ward off thoughts of his impending demise.
It’s good that even the servant has character.
Lalalilo said:
As currently nothing is required of him, a lone drop of sweat, despite the cold, is making its way across his forehead. His eyes are fixed on the four men, waiting for the slightest sign to act. Each passing second of being useless, brings the ever creeping sensation of death closer and closer. It is hard to stay focused in times of idleness. One by one all other thoughts part and give way to feelings of dread, despair and dismay akin to a sky slowly being consumed by an ever ravenous swarm of locusts.
Parts of this are good, like the sweat despite the cold. I think this passage can be even better if you find more ways to physically demonstrate the dread, dispair, and dismay. Here’s a wonderful scene from Once Upon a Time in the West. It's just people waiting around doing nothing for ten minutes, but you get a real sense of the characters from the way they wait. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_tt83itYA8
Lalalilo said:
Suddenly, one of the men raises his hand grasping an empty cup, gesturing a demand for water. The servant conducts the task of retrieving, pouring and returning the jug with a certain lethargic quality, which in other conditions would be met with a reprisal, but now goes about unnoticed. Whether it is a deliberate act to gain a few more precious seconds of serenity, or just another example of the apathy exhibited by people under prolonged dire conditions is impossible to judge. But it should be noted that the man requesting the water, Gustav III of Sweden also places the cup against his mouth and sips the liquid in it, in a tortoise like manner.
The lethargy, and the fact he’d normally be punished for it, are good details. This whole passage is awkwardly phrased though.
Lalalilo said:
He slowly puts his cup away and turns his eyes to the other two figures standing next to him.
[dialog]
- “Forgive me, my Lord, yet as the current commander, I have no tactical choices available to me with the exception…” – the voice of commander Toll became mute as the king’s thoughts began to drift to the past.
This dialog is too long. Find a different way to advance the story and introduce the characters, preferably one that involves more activity than sitting around a table. Maybe they’re patrolling on the wall, watching the Ryukyans watching them. Maybe they’re wandering through the citadel, eavesdropping on defenders. Or something.
Lalalilo said:
The toll these years took on him suddenly became that much more visible when the candles illuminated his tired face for a second. But even worse was the wear endured by his soul.

His son would one day inherit the foundations for a truly powerful Swedish Kingdom.
Mostly irrelevant. Only keep the details that tell you something interesting about the characters involved—I think the two important ones are the fact that they had the option to become a vassal state and refused, and the fact that Gustav is comfortable as an absolute ruler. Also try to find a way to integrate that information into the story itself.
Lalalilo said:
A sudden chill enters the room and blows out two of the candles, increasing the darkness for the next couple of seconds. The servant once more jumps at the chance to do anything remotely useful and begins relighting the candles.
I didn’t even notice this bit on my first read through, but this time it made me laugh out loud. Great detail.
Lalalilo said:
The crown prince seems displeased as his attempt at heroism becomes impossible.
Show don’t tell.
Lalalilo said:
Toll stoically begins loading up his pistol with fresh powder. The King leans on the table to keep his composure as his heart sinks in his chest. So not days or weeks, but only hours remain. As he begins to straighten himself up, he notices the servants terrified face in the warm orange light of the candle, as he finishes relighting the second one. The King thinks to himself, he looks so much like my boy…
This bit’s a great example of showing over telling. We know a lot about Toll from the fact that his reaction is to calmly load his gun, and a lot about the King from his need to physically prop himself up to maintain composure.
Lalalilo said:
Vardo
Ryukyuan encampment outside the Vardo fortress
Ryukyuan Empire held territory
29th of March1796
Siege of Vardo: day 143
09:27
-15°C
Doesn’t matter. The first one was good to set the scene, but they’re basically in the same place with the same temperature. All we need is to see Ryukyans doing stuff and we’ll know we’re in the Ryukyan camp.
Lalalilo said:
Kumi-Gashira (Japanese lieutenant)
Don’t explain stuff in parentheticals like this. If the reader needs to know exactly what it means, find a way to show them.
Lalalilo said:
Tomoji Miyagi sits cross-legged on a small hill in the earthworks surrounding the Vardo fortress. Banners containing various logograms are located on his right.

Miyagi’s unit,consisting of 50 men from all over the empire, had many occasions to earn it in the last 25 years.
Good. You know what else would be cool right here? Ryukyan banners representing units from places like Mexico and France.
Lalalilo said:
It was 25 years ago when he left his small village in the Tohoku region in the north of Honshu to fight in the Empire’s army.

He knew she was someone important, and he knew he should have felt sadness, but to him she was like a reflection in the water, distorted, someone who was dear to him in another long lost and forgotten existence.
It’s important that you know this about your character but this story is inelegantly placed. Give him a reason to briefly reflect on his past, like a pendant from his sister or something. Yes, that device is used a lot, but that’s because it works.
Lalalilo said:
The army became his new life, but to say it was a new family would be an exaggeration, for it is hard to imagine a harsher one said than done, and despite his best efforts, as often happens in life, other people had become replacements in the role of friend.

His unit gained the honour of having the Chuzan logogram inscribed on their banner.
This could easily be an interesting story on its own, and it’s got lots of great details, but this is not the place for it. Little crumbs of Miyagi’s background can be deployed to help characterize him, but having the whole thing just interrupts the flow of the story.
Lalalilo said:
As he looked to the sky and noticed that a pinch of white snowflakes began falling, he began hearing footsteps cracking the tough frozen snow, heading towards him, louder and louder with each passing moment.

He was aware that for some of them it will be their last.
Nothing actually happens in this scene. From the perspective of a character in the story, the entire thing is just Miyagi sitting around and then getting a message. Find interesting things for your characters to do.
Lalalilo said:
Commander Tomoji Miyagi brushed his sleeve against his eye. “Condemn this blasted smoke” – he thought to himself. Tears began pouring down his cheek.
Good detail.
Lalalilo said:
“Prepare to breach that entrance”. The Swedish soldiers managed to put up a fierce resistance, despite overwhelming odds.

He manages to fire off four pistols, hitting three Ryukyuan soldier, before being shot himself. He stumbles and falls against the wall. He is the first of the Swedes in the room to die.
This whole scene isn’t really connecting for me. The emotional stakes seem to be that Miyagi doesn’t want his men to die, and it’s sad that they do. But I don’t really know or care about any of his men the way he does. I’d care if, like, the Swedish servant from earlier died—even though he only had a couple beats, he had enough character that him dying would be sad. If Miyagi’s men also had a little bit of characterization, it’d be sad when they started dying.
Lalalilo said:
Amidst smoke men begin pouring through the door and more shots are fired. The Kumi-Gashira enters the room as the sixth person. Four of his men lay dead with two people standing behind a desk and taking shots, although their aim seems to be horrendous, as exemplified by the number of smoking pistols before them. “Look at their clothes. That must be the King and the Crown Prince!”. He aims his pistol at the younger person and hits him in the chest.
Their instant reaction on seeing the king and crown prince is to kill them? This is an unusual and potentially interesting detail that should be elaborated on. Why is it important they be taken dead?
Lalalilo said:
Seoul
Imperial Palace in Changdeokgung
Ryukyuan Empire
17th of June1799
Victory audience before the emperor
16:00 P.M.
29°C
It took three years to get to Korea? Did he get kidnapped by Circe en route?
Lalalilo said:
Despite calling itself the Ryukyuan Empire not many elements of it were truly Ryukyuan.

‘The faces all around him contained all possible colours that a human can have. “Ryukyuan empire indeed” – he thought to himself.
This sort of thing is interesting. More of this!
Lalalilo said:
He aimed his finger at Miyagi, who stood up and approached the emperor in proper ceremonial fashion.

The last thing Miyagi thought about before being impaled by the Guardsman’s spear was that at least this conclusion was only his own…
It’s good that you set up that this was something Miyagi was concerned about early, but the war-is-hell conclusion doesn’t really seem like the most interesting theme available in the premise. Also, we don’t really get any payoff on the Swedish characters; they just kinda get replaced halfway through.

This is a strong premise, and you’ve clearly got a knack for good character beats. Try to force yourself to describe your characters primarily by their actions. (Every rule has exceptions, of course. But it's easy to tell and hard to show, and most people could stand to practice the latter.)

Long scenes with people sitting around talking or reminiscing should be replaced with scenes where people actually do things, and those actions should convey just as much information as a conversation would. It’s not that the descriptions of the campaigns that brought the characters to where they are aren’t interesting, but they don’t drive the story forward.

Also see if you can make the plot more specific to your premise. Desperate last stands and officers fiercely protective of their men both have dramatic potential, but neither felt like it fully exploited the potential of Ryukyu conquering the world.
 

Lalalilo

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I'd like to thank you very much (and the others too for that matter) for your comment. Now when I look at my little piece of writing, I see from a story tellling perspective where I went wrong. That moment should have been when I knew I couldn't tell Miyagi's story properly and rushed through the whole exposition. That was pointless, and I should have known that the readers would feel disconnected. It's so glaringly obvious to me now, I'd kill to go back in time and change it, especially since you gave me so many awesome ideas. I simply cannot wait to read your story, first of all to experience it and then to see your craftsmanship and learn from it.

Damn now I can't wait for another shot at writing something. I feel like I learned so many new things, that I just can't wait to apply. Really, feedback is extremly important. Instead, of feeling angry or mad, I actually feel like I am seeing a whole new perspective of what to add, I can see what in my writing worked, and what didn't, what could have worked and what was forced and couldn't have.

Regarding ever expanding or returning to the story. I don't think there really is a market for Ryukyuan military conquest stories (can\t fanthom anyone paying to read something like this in Okinawa let alone English or Polish). Despite this I would like to thank you all for your comments and urge people to try to comment the other stories as means of improving writing skills through discussion and exchange of ideas. I will definately take a shot slowly giving out reviews over the next couple of weeks, as I can see some poor writers without even a single comment
 

lukebn

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I look forward to reading your story for the next contest-- I'm hoping it'll be for CK2, the bleak and funny characters moments in this story would fit really well with Crusader Kings.