King Stépan IV's pleasure dome at Kragoneidin, on the shores of Lake Polishov

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Bordurians Sighted!

While Syldavians sleep deeply after their Christmas feast, dreaming of their just-eaten roast goose and sugarplums, a patrol of Bordurian cavalry probes Syldavia's mountainous eastern frontier.  These men and their horses are hard indeed, inured to the privation of the trail and to the snow. They ride through the frontier town of Vukaselo, making off with horses, lambs and plum brandy with barely a noise, and disappear into the mountains.   Later, an aged veteran swears that the men were Wallachian light cavalry, feared servants of the Bordurians.   What does this forebode?


These are unfinished figures which I have been painting in quiet moments here and there during the holidays.  They are 18mm Eureka SYW cossacks, painted to resemble a few illustrations I have of 17th and 18th century Wallachian boyar cavalry, sometime allies/subjects of the Ottomans.   They will, I hope, be finished shortly and then can march to join the rest of my Bordurian force.   The unfortunate village is of course a quite innocent Christmas town, one which has seen quite a few holidays but never a hostile cavalry patrol.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all of you from the King of Syldavia and all of his subjects!  Best wishes to you and yours for a happy and productive New Year as well!   Please ignore the "humbugs" coming from the Despot of Borduria!


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Holiday Properties 1

We are now well embarked on the holidays over here in the Kingdom of Syldavia. I am back in my hometown visiting my family with my own young little family with me, and I am anticipating a fine stretch of days with nothing more important to do than read, eat very well, enjoy family time, visit old friends and indulge in a few other pleasures like pints of stout, skiing, skating on the lake and soaking in the hot springs. Busy busy busy! Clearly it is good to be home.

The goal of this post is to do a do a little tour of a recent terrain project. I have been on a bit of a terrain binge in recent weeks, including the purchase and painting of some commercial models from JR Miniatures 15mm European range, the conversion of one of these models and the construction of a couple of scratch-built buildings. All of this effort comes from a decision to improve my townscapes and rural landscapes for my Syldavia/SYW project. The impulse for this upgrade comes from a trip to Paris I made on business last August, where I stole the time to revisit Les Invalides and the Musée des plans-reliefs, the astonishing collection of 18th century dioramas of important fortifications and fortified towns. It is an amazing and underappreciated collection; the dioramas were commissioned by Louis XIV and later kings and studied by the likes of Vauban and Napoleon. The collection has been subdivided since I first saw it in 1980, but the half still on exhibit in Paris (consisting of models pertinent to southern France and the Atlantic Coast, the rest are now in Lille) has been expertly restored and is now beautifully housed and light to great advantage. The skill of the original craftsmen who worked on these models is to be seen to be believed and it is both inspiring and humbling to see what they accomplished with hand tools and excellent but unprocessed raw materials (for example, raw silk was dyed, chopped and sorted to make foliage). My first visit spurred me to attempt my first terrain boards, buildings and fortifications, to actually attempt paint my Airfix HO scale Napoleonics and to play a wargame with actual rules (Voltigeur, if I recall). One could say that it put me on the path to wargames before I knew such a thing existed and well before I knew anyone who undertook this hobby. So, it should come as no surprise that my second visit sparked a new attempt to reproduce the AHH! effect I had in the museum. A noble quest though utterly vain of course! I’m still well off the mark but I’m pleased enough with some of what I have done recently and have learned how I might do some things better.

Chateau Trompette, Bordeaux

Fortification at Marseilles, I ve lost track of its name. 
The gallery was dramatically light, but too dimly so for my little camera 

Anyhow, on to the Syldavia project. Syldavian architecture as depicted in Hergé’s book consists largely of fairly humble structures (excepting the King’s medieval/Romanesque castle and Baroque palace) with raw or plastered masonry and clay tile roofs. Many buildings seem to be artifacts of the Middle Ages or at least could pass as such. Also, there are a conspicuous number of towers illustrated in the book, including fortifications, some church towers and most notably mosques’ minarets. I already have a number of buildings from JR miniatures 15mm Italy range (the old Architectural Heritage line, probably my favourite line of 15mm buildings), and several more of my own scratch-built buildings which were intended to pass for Italian farm and rural town buildings. These are perfect for Syldavia’s coast and southern regions. However, I have something different in my minds’ eye for Syldavia’s highland interior. There, the use of more wood and a gothic rather than Italian look seems more in keeping with the alpine context and Slav and German-influenced cultural setting. I also wanted to have some fortifications, both to dress up the town and for use in games.

My first building is a tower, built with masonry-texture blocks cast from LINKA moulds, glued to a wood dowel about 1.5 inches in diameter. Ideally, the tower should be quite a bit thinner than that as a 1.25 inch wide tower in 15mm is a very substantial structure, but this size proved to be a sort of physical limit. LINKA moulds are vey flexible and can be bent and taped around something to impart a desired curve to one’s blocks, normally cast in hydrocal cement. A 1.25 inch diameter circle appears to about the smallest one can effectively make with a LINKA mould; the rubber began to noticeably pucker and deform with the stress this curve produced. At this curve, it also proved very difficult to retain wet hydrocal in the mould so I made the blocks with white hardware-variety epoxy putty and green Milliput. Both of these materials worked well in the moulds; the white epoxy putty set quickly and retained a degree of elasticity if it was removed from the mould a little early. This flexibility helped me fit the blocks to the dowel. The Milliput also worked well though it is much slower to set. Its longer period of malleability also helped me tailor certain pieces to fit, as needed. The LINKA blocks fit together admirably well but the circumference of the dowel did not fit the pre-determined size of blocks precisely. I had to fill gaps with small LINKA bricks and with Milliput which I then gave a suitable texture. Painted, the gaps aren’t so obvious and, in fact, the small irregularities in the Milliput patches help break up the uniformity of the blocks’ texture.

The unfinished tower - I see here that I shoud have filled some joints with plaster a little more rigorously!

I added some buttresses at the tower’s base, and a ring of rampart blocks glued around the top, with some added Milliput details. This work was rather easy. I finished it off with a tiled roof made quickly from card, the eight identical roof panels were erected in pairs over a base which later served as the eaves, and were crazy-glued in place. This step was somewhat delicate but adding card shingles over top hides the inevitable imperfect corners. It is also much easier to model the tiles in card than in putty. Once dry and solid, and sealed with thinned white glue, I solidified the roof by filling it with hydrocal cement.

Tower with roof attached

The roof is attached by a nail which fits into a hole drilled into the dowel at the top of the tower; it is detachable. The roof isn’t exactly symmetrical but it works and I’m not going to fuss with it any longer! Finally, in the attempt to obtain a second and different roof line, I built a smaller watch tower for the tower top with a second very steep roof, also made of card. This detachable spire is also affixed by a nail. It is a bit roughly finished but does give a much different looking tower, one that evokes to some degree the profile of a minaret. A better model of a minaret should be taller and/or thinner than this model however and I will have to put aside the LINKA moulds and go with a simpler method to model one.

Alternative roof: watch tower and  spire

Building models by this method (LINKA blocks, epoxy putty) is quite a bit slower and fussier than the very nice and efficient card buildings Stokes Schwartz discussed some weeks ago at his blog here.

However, I’m largely happy with the results I have obtained, even with the greater investment of work, as I like the masonry texture which paints up easily and I can have three different buildings with the core of the tower I made by swapping roofs or leaving it off entirely. I can make another different roof if the mood strikes me one day. Being constructed of epoxy putty, wood and hydrocal cement, the tower is solid, very durable and has a bit of heft. It ought to last for years and years, even through Bordurian sieges.

That is it for the tower. Next up – fortifications!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Jiri receives an unexpected omen on the road to Douma

The morning following his encounter with the returning Syldavian exiles, Duke Jiri set his newly-expanded army marching back toward Douma.  Jiri rode at the head of the column where he chatted with Count Josip Marklin and a few of the other exile leaders who he had invited to join him.  East of Starisveta, Jiri’s route back to Douma brought them through a range of low but rough and rocky hills.  There, the ancient Roman-built road wound along a steep-sided ravine cut by a fast and shallow stream.  Rounding a bend, Jiri’s army approached a gorge created by an imposing cliff on opposite side of the ravine.  Less than a hundred yards down the road, at the far end of the cliff, was a small bridge.  Merely a few yards away, however, was an old woman in ragged clothing at the side of the road above the stream.  Taken by surprise, she turned quickly to look warily at Jiri and his men and then stood aside to give them space to pass.  She had been watching a flock of goats on the opposite side of the narrow ravine and a young shepherd who stood on the hillside opposite, above the ravine.  The goats too were taken by surprise by the sudden arrival of the men, their big horses and their jingling harness.  A very big buck and a few kids had begun to venture out into the centre of the cliff while the dams and most of the kids hung back.  All froze and turned their heads to gaze at the men and horses.

Alarmed, the kids on the cliff nimbly turned and scrambled back to their mothers, who herded them to safer ground up the slope toward the shepherd.  The buck, however, hesitated, taking one fateful step further into the cliff face.  Then, after looking back at the departing kids, it too turned back.  However, it was a big and ageing beast with think flanks and both stiff legs.  While it turned, its back pushed against the cliff face.  Seeking to regain its balance, the buck dislodged the rocks under its hooves, knocking them into the gorge.  The buck scrambled to keep its footing, its hooves scraping in vain an instant against the loose rock, and then he too slipped, cartwheeling, into the gorge, crashing into the rocks edge of the stream in front of the dismayed onlookers. 

The old woman gasped as the buck fell. One of the men with Jiri cried out "Ha! A pair of silver crowns says that brute of a buck gets up !  Have you ever seen such a beast?"

The buck did struggle to get up, but its foreleg was clearly shattered and he finally stopped, lying back down in the water and trembling.  The old woman cried out a second time when she saw him maimed: "Oh no – my poor buck! He is finished! Who will lead my goats through the snow this winter?"

Jiri looked down at the buck and its ruined leg, and then motioned to a mounted archer to finish the animal off.  Turning to the old woman, Jiri said "Your animals took fright because of us, ma’am.  It is not my wish that my passing should bring you misfortune.  Please accept this compensation.  It should be enough to buy you a fine buck or two."  Jiri dismounted and handed the woman a handful of silver crowns.

The woman took the coins, looking warily with a cloudy eye at Jiri as she pushed back her stringy hair and bowed.  "Thank you, my lord, you shall save my flock and my family.  We were trying to lead the flock to the bridge so that we can go to the market.  Fate!  None of us can escape it when our time is up."   The woman then gazed distractedly down at her ram, which was now lying still, his battered and sun weather-bleached horns peeking like crescent moons out of the reddening water.   She then spoke again, cleverly to Jiri : "You are the Duke, yes?  This is your omen, my lord.  For a gold crown, I will read it for you, I will ."  She poked a crooked tree-root of a finger at Jiri as she spoke and nodded. 

"What?"  replied Jiri, astonished. 

"The old gods still live in these hills, my Lord.  They know the fates of men and sometimes it pleases them to reveal them to us, if only we know how to listen.  A gold piece, my lord – I’ll read your story for you. Men like you seem to always want to know what is lies in store for them…".  A few of the riders with Jiri crossed themselves, a few others pulled out evil eye beads and murmured prayers. 

Jiri too was suddenly chilled by the insistent and weather-beaten woman, but he was certainly superstitious enough to want to know what she saw for him as he set out to fight the Bordurians.  Besides, with his men and the exile leaders all around him, he knew that he could not seem too fearful of what she had to say.  This had better be good news, or else there will be second thoughts through the army within the hour… and she had better not make a joke of this either…  Jiri thought to himself.

"Here is you money, woman, what do you have to say, then?"  Jiri kept his back to his men and steeled himself for her story. 

Pointing down at her dead and bleeding buck with its horns still arching above the water, and then at the Ducal flag which fluttered behind Jiri.  She exclaimed "Two white crescents against red – the buck is YOU, my Lord."  A few soldiers nodded in assent "Yes, its true - the horns are Duke's the two white crescents."  The woman continued: "He was always a strong brute and so damned proud and stubborn!" Some of the men snickered at this and Jiri squirmed a little.  "But, so strong as well and he always knew his way in the worst of weather and snow.  That buck was as sure-footed as any animal I’ve even, he never put a foot wrong in his life until today.  But goats are so…hard to predict … sometimes.  He changed his mind and tried to turn about when he should have gone straight on across that cliff.  He would be waiting for us at the bridge now if he had bone that ". 

"You, lord Duke, you too are poised on a cliff.  No matter what, tough footing, your dams and kids going off somewhere else behind you, you can’t turn back now OR YOU WILL FALL!"  The old woman wagged her crooked finger again at Jiri’s face, as he blanched and recoiled a little.  He didn’t back off quickly enough however, as she grabbed his cloaked shoulder with an unnaturally strong hand and forced him to peer down into the gully, pointing at her buck with that boney finger.  "Look hard at his carcass, my lord.  His head points to the north but his broken leg points to the east.  That is the way he should have kept on going.  Your fate, great lord, is that way, to the east."  The woman released Jiri the then made a grotesque sort of curtsey "Thank you, my lord, for listening to an old woman. That is all I have to say.  Good Day!" she said, and then scuttled up the bank on the other other side of the road, where she seated herself behind some trees and counted out her money. 

Brushing himself off and bemused, Jiri remounted his horse and gave the order to resume the march.  "On to Douma.  And Travunje!"  

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Die is Cast!

Gregor Mihailovic, Velimir Milutin and Duke Jiri rode back to the rebel’s line with Jiri’s standard-bearder and his bodyguard trailing behind, both feeling increasingly agitated.  They headed toward the leaders of the rebel side, a ring of over a dozen two dozen men in all, all of whom had their attention fixed on Jiri.  Velimir, Duke Jiri and his two men reigned up about a fifty yards from the line, Jiri let his horse prance while Gregor continued on and then began to speak with his peers.  A crowd began to gather in a ring around the commanders while sergeants in the battle line adjacent struggled to keep their men in formation; the eyes and ears of everyone were trained on the discussion breaking out amongst the commanders.

A cranky voice called out, cursing, on the fringes of the crowd: "Get out of my way, Oaf!  Who is that riding back with Gregor Mihailovic? Blast it, Mirko, there are too many people, I can’t see past – move over! Is that the precious Duke?   Must be, with that fancy horse.  And there is a flag. Ouf - I can’t see a thing!  Mirko…! "

A taller man beside the first answered “Yeah, it is the Duke but be quiet, Blago.  I’m trying to hear what they are saying.  They are talking – some of them are having a go at Gregor, I am not sure that they are saying.  It looks a little hot!  Wait, they are waving the Duke over now, here he comes. He is talking to the bosses now …”.

“So, what is he saying, then?” 

“Oh ho!  He is demanding that we surrender!”

" What? Surrender? Did he say that?  Did that peacock just strut up to our line and demand we give ourselves up?  What an … "

" Will you shut up, Blago?" 

" Well, that takes some nerve, I have to say.  Who does he think he is?"  

"Quiet, you ass!  He said surrender to him.  He is acting like a Duke, that's all!"

"What do we need him for?  We’ve lived for years without lords now. He’s crazy!  I didn’t come all this way just to…”.

“Shut up Blago – he is still talking, I can barely hear.  He says that he needs us to retake Syldavia.  He will lead us Travunia himself and overthrow the Bordurians.  Wait - he just said that he will return the land we once had.  Is that good enough a reason for you?"   

" Ack – I don’t need any pretty princeling to give me orders – and what is mine is mine!"

"Oh, so you would rather go back to the outlaw’s life in the woods would you?  Me, I’ve had enough of being hungry and freezing!  I want to go back to my home and he can get my land back for me.  How are you going to get yours back if someone is already living there?  You’ll need the Duke to be a judge for you.  And I daresay you will need a pardon from him to in the end, for all the dirty deeds you did the last twenty years.  You’re a bad, bad man my friend! "

"Huh… Look – is that old man Marklin going up to the Duke?  They say he is a Baron?"  

"Yes, that’s him, and better yet he was a Count, lots of land somewhere in the north, and a war leader years ago. Ha!  He is kneeling to the Duke.  The others are going to him now; I’d say they all are thinking about getting their lands back.  Like it or not Blago, you old scoundrel, it looks like you are going to be marching under the Duke’s banner now!"


An illustration of soldiers of the Duchy of Hum on the
march, from the Vita Ottocari Rex

Standing in the flank of Hum’s levy spearmen, and sweating under his gambeson, Bhojan Antic watched Duke Jiri ride across the valley.  The air around him was charged with tension but all seemed peaceful still.  A little behind him was Ritter Pawel Vitros, the Bordurian observer, and his two men.  Vitros watched tensely and muttered to himself.

Across the valley, Duke Jiri was to be seen approaching the rebel line.  A levy soldier near Bhojan cried out  "The Duke, he is all alone with them.  He must be crazy!"  Jiri seemed to be speaking to a group of men who then approached and knelt before him.  Jiri then rode along the rebel line with his flag bearer and bodyguard in tow and appeared to be exhorting the rebel soldiers.  Finally, he took up the banner of Hum himself and stood up in his stirrups, holding the banner high in the air.  What Jiri was saying was impossible to tell, but a great roaring cheer rolled across the valley, leaving the soldiers of Hum wide-eyed.  A makeshift and ragged flag of red and white cloth, Hum’s colours, appeared, waving in the rebel lines.  Duke Jiri reared his horse back on its hind legs, gesturing towards the rebel line and then towards his own.  The then turned to walk back towards his own troops.  A number of armoured men of the rebel side mounted up and fell in peacefully behind him. 

Bhojan heard Pawel Viros speak urgently to his fellow "Treachery!  Just as Baron Dokovic foresaw!  We must fly!"  A commotion suddenly broke out however.  A squad of armoured men seized Vitros and one of his men.  Mounted archers shot the other from his saddle as he attempted to flee.  The men of the levy looked on, most stunned and confused, but more than a few cheered the sight of the Bordurians being set upon.  Bhojan looked on warily; Pawel Vitros shot Bhojan an angry and urgent glare as he was hauled away.

 Jiri finally arrived with the rebels at his back and called out, smiling "Be at ease men and welcome your brothers and countrymen!  They are joining us and we shall join with them!  We march now to Travunia! "   

Puzzled whispers spread like wildfire amongst the men, interspersed with cheers here and there.

"Yes, to Travunia, where the people have risen up against the Bordurians!  They have the governor and his men trapped in the castle of Travunje and we shall help them!  Men of Hum, we go to war against the Bordurians!  To avenge a generation of injustices!  To avenge the lives of our countrymen lost in Bordurians' wars!  To avenge the House of Muskar! To avenge the sack of Starisveta!"

The two armies camped for the night where they stood and started marching in the morning.  In the dark of the night however, Bhojan rose and slipped away undetected from the camp.  Hours later, he stole a horse from a stable near Starisveta and sped off toward Douma, where he had an urgent report to give to Baron Dokovic.  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

11 November, Remembrance Day

Men of the Toronto Scottish going over the top, Vimy Ridge  April 1917

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Duke Jiri rode out to approach the two horsemen seeking to parley. He was mounted once again on his favourite horse, his gleaming black mare, which he allowed to prance for effect.  One of the approaching men was Brother Velimir, who was now openly wearing his sword over his clothes.  The other man, an extremely stocky man wearing simple armour, looked strangely familiar to Jiri.  “Hail, my lord Duke!” said Velimir and Jiri nodding in return. “We are grateful that you have accepted to parley.  Allow me to present the spokesman for the returning exiles, Ritter Gregor Mihailovic…”. 

“Gregor Mihailovic?  We have met before, I think”, Jiri interrupted.  Then, as he looked over Gregor’s own fine horse, which he also recognized, he knew when and where.

Gregor replied “Yes my lord, we met on the road a week ago, you were on your way north from Douma on a hunting trip.  You had the great charity to help my father and I with our broken wagon.  We thank you again, my lord”.

Ah yes, that was you?  By St. Vladimir! I took you for a farmer, or so you said you were.  You were on your way to Travunia to see your father home, no?  And yet here you are, in my duchy and at the head of an army.  I ask myself if you were entirely truthful with me, my good knight Gregor”. 

Gregor flushed a little, “Forgive me my lord, but I told you no lies.  My goal is certainly to return with my father to our old home in Travunia, though our road is far from straight.  And I am indeed a farmer.  My father was granted a small domain from the Duke of Zadar as a reward for his service.  It was nothing more than a farm really but it provided well for us, we raised the some of best horses in all of the Duchy!  I have long done my father’s service to the Duke as a knight but we have been farmers for most of my life. 

You were at the siege of Zadar then?  How is it that you escaped? 

My lord, the Venetians and the Crusaders arrived in ships and disembarked very quickly.  There were so many of them; the siege was all over and the Duke was dead by the time I arrived with men from my district on the northern frontier.  After the sack of the city, the Venetians started to seize the Duke’s lands and dispossessed his followers, like my family.  We fled and lost everything of course, except what we could carry with us.  There are some survivors of the sack of the city here with us, but not many escaped”. 

“But there are over three thousand of you here, I am told.  You cannot all be refugees from Zadar”, asked Jiri.  “Not all my lord. We followed an inland route to stay away from the Venetians, on back roads through the hills and forests.  Many Syldavian exiles have lived in those lawless places since the Bordurians came.  They took us in during our passage, and most have joined us, as have some of your subjects”. 

“Ah, the celebrated outlaws have come home too, there can be few Syldavians left abroad” repled Jiri, looking briefly over at Velimir who coughed impatiently.  Turning back to Gregor, Jiri continued  “Well, here you are in Hum.  What is it that you want here?  Are you here to offer me war?  Jiri pulled himself up in his saddle and put his gloved fist on his hip beside his sword hilt. 

“My lord, we have come to reclaim Syldavia from the Bordurians.  We will start in Travunia for that is where they are weakest, and so we wish to go there immediately.  We ask for your aid in this enterprise my lord, although we realize that this is difficult given the power of the Bordurians in your Duchy” said Gregor, Jiri flushed and scowled at the answer.  “At the least, we wish to have your leave to pass through Hum on our way to Travunia.  Hum is not our enemy but we are well prepared and capable of resisting anyone who tries to stop us.  We are strong enough to force our way through…”.

Image attributed to Duke Jiri Almazout, from  the  Rex Regis Syldavinae, by Abbot Remedio

Jiri responded quickly and coldly “Are you indeed? It is well that you are confident but from my perspective you are caught between the hammer and the anvil and that is regrettable.  You are driven from your homes but you arrive here as an armed force, unannounced and uninvited.  An army does not pass through a foreign country like breeze, without effect.  You have only to consider the misery that has befallen the “hosts” of the Venetians and the Crusaders this past year, in Zadar, here and in the Empire.  Your presence here imperils everything for us.  At worst, you invite the intervention of the Bordurians who will seek to destroy you and will willingly raze the whole Duchy to do so.  At best, you will become robbers and sow discontent. You will surely run short of supplies before long and what will you do then?  Your men will prey upon the common folk, who will turn against you.  You will spoil the honour of your cause.  I cannot allow that to happen.  And mark my words – you have a formidable army, but you have a long march across open ground between here and Travunia, and your cavalry is ah… sparse.  Are you prepared to try to fight me with my horsemen unopposed behind your lines?  With your women and children accomanying you and your strength spent down, you have even less ability to sustain a defeat than I do!”  Jiri glanced over at Velimir through narrowed eyes as he finished his sentence.  Jiri continued “The only solution for you that I know of, one that saves the honour of your cause and that of Hum, and that will keep Borduria on the defensive, is for you to surrender to me”. 

Gregor turned red and muttered as beads of sweat appeared on his brow.  Velimir took in a sharp breath of air and looked on tensely. 

“Yes, I said surrender.  Accept my legitimate authority and leadership as Duke and I will be able to lead you myself to Travunia and against the Bordurians.  With your surrender, and only with your surrender, we will have a clear and unified command, our two armies can fight together and the people will know to support you”.  Jiri saw that Gregor and Velimir were somewhat mollified by his explanation.  He continued “And, as Duke, I can ensure that the restoration of your lost lands and titles is legal and legitimate, or at least compensated.  We can start in Travunia.  This will probably be of interest to at least some of your number…”.   Jiri looked quickly from one to the other of the men before him, catching them both making unconscious calculations and looking like hungry pups with meat waved in front of them.  “These are my demands of you.  Do you accept?”

Gregor answered soberly, looking reassured, “My lord, I will put your demand to my comrades.  They are assembled and await my return”.  Velimir looked relieved as well.
‘Well, good then.  Let us go together and I will speak to them all.  And I would take it as a great favour to be able to review your troops in person, they look quite fine from other other side of the valley”.  Jiri spurred his horse forward to keep even with a surprised Gregor and Velimir, and gestured to his bodyguard and standard-bearer to follow.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Encounter with the Rebels

So, I've been trapped at the desk with a number of big deadlines the last few weeks.  I spent the scarce spare time I had on painting rather than thinking about 13th century Syldavia.  Things will be calmer for the next few weeks (I hope…).  Here is the next scene of Duke Jiri's story.

Encounter with the Rebels 

Alone in the ruined chapel of St. Narcissus, Duke Jiri and his son Konstantin held a whispered but intense conversation about Brother Velimir’s proposition to lead a rebellion and then left to rejoin the waiting army.  Soon the mass of men was put grumblingly back into motion, marching towards a dark hilltop a few miles off to the west.  A few hours later, at the end of the afternoon, Jiri lead his army over the crest of hill, to see the high wooded hill and the rebel army before him across a narrow valley, just as Velimir forewarned.  Jiri ordered his men into battle line and then marched them down into the valley, coming to a halt again on a long low terrace near the valley bottom. 

Across the valley, on another slightly higher terrace was the rebel army, arrayed in their own battle line, looking impassively at the Hum soldiers.  They were obviously more numerous than the Duke’s army, both of whose flanks were plainly overlapped.  Higher up on the slope were the obvious traces of a large camp, smoking campfires, tents, penned herd animals and women and children milling about.  Men in Jiri’s army began to mutter and grumble about their disadvantage: There are so many of them, this will be a hard day for us….  Sensing a spreading unease among his men, Jiri called out « Courage, men!  They make a fine looking army indeed, don’t they?  So much the better!  They may have numbers but we have the advantage of cavalry on our flanks, let them worry about that!  Stand tall men of Hum!  Turning back to survey the opposing line, Jiri  secretly suppressed a sly smile; he was impressed and a more than little delighted to see that the rebel force was indeed quite a bit bigger than he expected and so well turned out. 

Syldavian soldiers on the march, commemorated in the Basilica of St. George, Douma 

Konstantin pointed out a pair of riders descending from the rebel line, one carrying a white flag « They wish to parley ».Jiri walked his horse out in front of his battle line and motioned Konstantin to accompany him.  Once clear of his men, Jiri spoke to Konstantin « Son, the moment of decision is upon us.  I now know my own mind but you will have to live with today’s consequences for longer than me.  So, tell me, what do you think we should do? ».   Konstantin’s eyes widened a second but composed his answer rapidly «For the moment, the Bordurians aren’t in control of things in Syldavia and we have a small advantage.  I think we should use it while we can.  I say we should join the rebellion ».   « So be it » said Jiri with a grim smile.  « I will go meet these men, out of earshot of the army.  I need you to stay here and keep the men calm, there will be a little theatre if all goes well!  Speak to no one of Velimir’s plan and get your hands on Dokovic’s lackey Pawel Vitros and his men right away, we don’t need any reports getting back to the Bordurians”.  Jiri motioned for two chosen knights to join him, one his bodyguard and one who carried the ducal standard, and spurred his horse out to meet the approaching riders in the middle of the valley. 

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A question about site formatting

Hello all,

I recently changed the colour scheme of this site while fiddling about with Blogger's new templates and found that I couldn't replace the original.  The white and green replacement was a bit hard on the eyes and uninspiring, so I have switched yet again to another format.  If you have any opinions about this one (softer colours but perhaps the text is now harder to read?), please let me know in the poll in the right margin or leave a comment down below.



Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Climactic Meeting with Fate in the Chapel of St. Narcissus

Taken aback by the black-clad figure approaching him from across the ruined chapel, Duke Jiri finally recognized him, crying “Who?… Why? …Velimir Milutin!”.  Jiri was somewhat stunned, as he had not seen Velimir in very many years.  Velimir was one of Duchess Franka’s cousins, and he had been a prominent and accomplished young officer in King Wastrelmir’s army that was vanquished by Viceroy Surov.  Following that battle, he had been imprisoned and the Viceroy confiscated his baronial domain of Pivow in Wladruja.  Finally ransomed by his family, he left Syldavia an exile, gaining service with the Duke of Zadar.  That is no coincidence, Velimir surely knows some of these would-be rebels, thought Jiri.  Velimir had finally returned having taken Holy Orders as an initiate of the monastic house of St. Stanislaus, one of several socially and politically-prominent men who had became initiates in recent years.  And this is no coincidence either – these are the men who the Bordurians are trying to root out of the monasteries.  Jiri’s initial surprise at seeing Velimir faded rapidly as he began to calculate the implications of meeting this particular man. 

Jiri called out “Should I be surprised to see you of all people here, Lord Velimir?  Or should I say “Brother Velimir”  these days?”   

“Brother” is more than enough dignity for the like of me, a humble and landless man, my Lord”, replied Velimir with the slightest of bows. “And as for surprise, perhaps you should not be, as I have been in pursuit of you for several days now.  Forgive my imposition, my lord, it is imperative that I have an audience with you.  I bear the greetings of the Abbot of St. Stanislaus’ in Travunje, and have a message from him to deliver to you”.

“You wait for me in a burned-out church merely to give me the good Abbot’s respects?  You have something else to speak to me about, don’t you?  What is your business?”  replied Jiri.

“Yes, my lord, indeed I do.  My business - and that of the Abbot - is the same that brings you here to Starisveta.  It concerns this uprising and the Bordurians, and your own plans in all of this” said Velimir, suddenly wondering how to sweeten what he had to say.

“Well? Go on then”

“Well, my lord, it is this.  The Abbot wishes to ask if you are marching to meet the rebel force”.

“I am in my rights to do so.  By their presence and their acts, they have broken the peace of the Duchy.  Why is this the concern of the Abbot?” replied Jiri coolly. 

“My Lord’ began Velimir, fixing Jiri’s gaze with his own as he spoke and Jiri felt himself being sized up.  “I am here in the name of the Abbot to offer you this advice.  With all the respect due to your highness, you are embarked on a very dangerous course and the Abbot begs you to reconsider it.  First of all, I believe that you are overmatched, my Lord. I have seen these men with my own eyes, there are over 3000 men waiting for you – you marched here with nearly 2000 men I believe”?  Jiri flinched at this, the calculation was almost exactly his own count made that morning.  We have just arrived at Starisveta, how did Velimir come to have such an accurate count? 

“Your approach was well observed my lord, and not just by me.  You have mustered a considerable force overnight and that is a credit to the strength of the Duchy, but these rebels are no simple rabble.  The majority of them are Syldavians returning from exile, refugees and survivors of the sack of Zadar.  There are many experienced warriors and are well armed, my Lord”. 

“Hmph…. A lot of crossbowmen among them, I’ll wager” muttered Jiri. 

Velimir continued, “Er, yes, there are.  In any case, they are also quite homeless now. They have nowhere else to go and will surely sell their lives dearly.  You could win a victory here, but it will take a masterstroke worthy of Muskar or Belisarius, as they have the advantage of numbers over you and the ground they defend favours them; they are well settled in on a hilltop with thick woods on the flanks.   Loose this battle and you will lose Hum to the Bordurian Governor, who would be only too pleased to pick the over your Duchy’s carcass.  Any victory is likely to be bloody and your force will be greatly weakened – and how will you resist the Bordurians then?  Or the Venetians?  We both know that a conflict with the Bordurians is inevitable.  To fight these men here will be a disaster for all of us”.


“Yes, my lord, for you, Hum and for Syldavia.   It will also aggrieve the Abbot as he sympathizes with the plight and the cause of these “rebels”.  As such, the Abbot wishes you to take them under your protection”.

“He asks what?”

“I beg you to heed me, my lord.  You cannot win by fighting here, regardless of the outcome on the field.  You can only weaken the Duchy and aid the Bordurians to strengthen their hold on power. The only victory you can achieve is to not fight these men at all.  Instead, you should parley with them and hear their case for yourself.  They are no threat to you and they have no desire to attack Hum, they are here to overthrow the Bordurian yoke and to regain their lost lands and titles.  With your protection, they become your allies and together you will be strong enough to gain the upper hand on the Bordurians”.

“Hmph – if I do so much as leave these men untouched, I make myself a wanted man immediately.  It is quite a choice the good Abbot offers me”.  replied Jiri.

Velimir answered in a stern voice “Better a man wanted by the Bordurians than one unwanted by his countrymen. You will alienate the Abbot if you attack these men, and the Bordurians will eventually brush you aside if you are weakened by a battle”.  Seeing Jiri draw himself up in offended pride at this lecture, Velimir gave a slight rueful smile, saying “It is the days we live in, my Lord.   However there is a moment of opportunity open to us, right NOW”.  Velimir pounded a gloved fist into his palm to add emphasis.  “The Bordurians are weak and distracted for the moment.  There are revolts everywhere and they are spreading, not just here but in Klow and in Zympathia and in Travunia.  The word has not yet spread here, but just six days ago, the Bordurians tried to break into the St. Stanislaus’ itself, under the Abbot’s nose, and sieze a number of the Brothers, myself among them.  We were forewarned and we turned the tables on the Bordurians; we fought them off and the townspeople chased them back into the castle of Travunje.  We have them trapped there, both the Governor of Travunia and the major Bordurian force in the province, and they are under siege.  The fight against the Bordurians has already begun, my Lord, and the Abbot asks…begs you to join us.  Will you bring your men to Travunia and bring the siege to an end?”

Pausing for breath and drawing a step closer to Jiri, Velimir continued determinedly “These men from Zara are a gift from God, with them you have the numbers to tip the balance, clear the Bordurians out of Hum and Travunia and from there…”.

“Velimir, Hum hasn't the treasury to pay all these men” interjected Jiri.

“They do not ask for pay my lord, they want only their lands and titles restored, and to be led to battle against the Bordurians.  They only need a leader, my Lord, now in the field and later, to restore the old order”. 

“It will be difficult restore what is dead and gone; Muskar’s family is no more, Prince Branislaw is but a rumour”. 

“You, my lord, are the one who can lead us”.

“Me? Indeed?”  Jiri’s head began to swim at with this unexpected proposition.

 “My lord, my crux of the message from the Abbot is this, he will support you in leading the fight against the Bordurians and, with Syldavia reconquered, he will recognize you as King!

“King!  What? You offer me the crown?  Do you happen to have it in your saddle bag?”

“No, my lord, but I carry this token of the Abbot’s solemn pledge to support you in this war and to pronounce you King once you have won”.  Velimir removed a glove and opened his hand to reveal a jewelled gold ring which he place din Jiri’s hand.  “It is the Abbot’s ring, he swore upon it and upon the altar of St. Stanislaus to name you king.  Syldavia needs a king, and who better than you?  Yours is the most powerful and senior of the noble houses remaining from Muskar’s kingdom.  And you are related to Muskar though marriage, if I understand correctly…”.

“Well, I’m not sure that will hold up – there was an illegitimate child by a concubine… many Syldavians could claim Muskar as ancestor by the same reckoning…” replied Jiri dismissively but his mind was elsewhere.  The leader of a victorious army would in effect be King with or without the Abbot, but this promise would put the Almazouts on the throne officially, with Konstantin King after me, not just a warlord!  And it would give me the means to keep Hum secure.  Quite a solution – to save Hum, simply become King of Syldavia!  Or guarantee the extinction of the family if you fail…”.   

Having played all of his cards, Velimir watched Duke Jiri ruminate and then said “What do you say, my Lord?  Will you parley with the Rebels?”. 

Velimir’s question brought Jiri quickly back to attention.  Looking Velimir square in the eye, he replied “Tell your friends to expect my army in battle line before their position this afternoon.  I will parley with them there”.  Jiri turned, looking for his son, who had withdrawn to the door to let his father speak in private.  “Konstantin, my son, a solution presents itself to us.  We have much to talk about, you and I.  Right away!”

A few minutes later, Jiri saw the distant figure of Velimir speeding away to the west on his horse.  Up the hill at the army’s camp, Ritter Pawel Vitros, ever watchful of where Jiri went, saw the dark-clad rider heading away as well. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jiri marches to Starisveta

The early morning found Duke Jiri and his commanders before the walls of Douma, marshalling up their little army for the march to Starisveta.  The force comprised the town’s garrison and the levy from Douma and the surrounding countryside.  Enough newly-called up men were present, sleepy and only a matter of hours from their farms, that the organization of the army proved somewhat chaotic. 

It was, however, a clear morning and it promised to be a fine day for marching.  The light, still a soft gold after the dawn, glinted on the polished metal in the men’s armour, harness and weapons, and picked out the bits of red cloth (the colour of Hum’s flag) they wore .  The army, which was otherwise plain in homespun linen and wool, thereby gained a sparkling, dazzling effect for a moment.  Duchess Franka rode out from the town and joined Duke Jiri and her son Konstantin once the troops were finally in order.  She carried the standard of the Duchy of Hum in her own hands and rode holding it aloft before handing it to Konstantin.  The standard, showing a pair of decrescents, argent, on a field gules, also caught the light, glowing and pulsing as it fluttered at the head of the army.  This was not exactly typical behaviour befitting a Duchess but the soldiers were delighted and cheered the gesture.  Jiri laughed admiringly at how Franka instinctively found a way to take the lead, and to dispel with a grad gesture the anxious murmurings he heard here and there amongst the men …Are we really going to fight? How many of these rebels are there?  When will we come back?..

With a gesture from Duke Jiri, answered by the blast of a horn, the column shuffled into motion.  Franka rode with it a hundred metres before said her farewells.  She murmered a private word to Jiri and clasped his hand, into which she placed her scarf,  as a token.  She then led her horse aside and watched in salute as the column passed her by, before returning in the now quiet and empty-feeling town.  Jiri recognized the scarf, it was one she had let fall before him in a tournament many years before; he had retrieved it and tied it about his lance, the start of their courtship.   He turned in his saddle and tied it to the shaft of his pennon, held by a squire riding behind him. 

The army marched through the day, arriving dusty and thirsty in the late afternoon on a broad plateau near the town of Starisveta.  They caught up to Stépan Gladic’s force of levy soldiers on a high hilltop just northeast of the town. Having already been there a few hours, Stépan had his men fetch water, start campfires and prepare a simple meal for the Duke’s men.  The land sloped away to the southeast, to the sea, from the hilltop. From this vantage point the town of Starisveta was clearly visible, a cluster of red tile roofs nearly a mile away.  Also visible was the ruined, roofless and blackened hulk of the St. Narcissus monastery.  Smoke still issued from parts of it and its bell tower had partially collapsed, taking on the form of a broken and jagged tooth silhouetted against the sky.  Duke Jiri felt cold anger overtake him to see the mess that had been made of the place.  As word of the state of the monastery, one of Hum’s most prominent ecclesiastical sites, spread amongst the army, men lamented and spat in their fury, some crying out against the Bordurians.  Vandals!  Vagabonds! By St Vladimir! 

Stépan Gladic rode up and hailed the Duke  “We were not opposed but my scouts have spotted the rebels are only a few miles away.  I thought it best to find a position we could defend while we waited for you”.  Jiri nodded and gazed moodily once again at the ruin of the monastery.  Stépan continued “Why don’t we go get a look at the damage for ourselves while the men take their rest, my Lord?  The monks are awaiting your arrival, in fact”. 

Jiri agreed and turned his horse to follow the road to the town, with Konstantin and Stépan in tow.  A voice edged with anxiety cried out behind them behind them “My lord , where are you going?   Should we not continue on to meet the rebels before the light fails?  The voice belonged to Pawel Vitros, a Bordurian officer in the command of Baron Dokovic.  He had been sent along with a pair of troopers, to observe the progress of the ducal army and to give a personal report of the encounter with the rebels. The Baron had decided to not accompany the Duke’s army himself, in order to oversee the recovery of his wounded men and to prepare for the anticipated arrival of the major Bordurian force.  Pawel had reason to be anxious, he was a survivor of the force that had been massacred by the rebels and might well have been one of those who had burned the monastery.  He was worried that the sight of the ruined monastery would provoke a negative reaction amongst the soldiers, as was in fact happening. 

Glaring at Vitros, Jiri spoke bitterly “Ritter Vitros, I am going to the church while my men take a well-earned rest.  It seems appropriate to pray for a victory and for the safety of the men.  Perhaps while I am there I should pray for mercy for you and your Baron, who shall one day have to answer to God for the needless destruction of one of His houses…”

Pawel Vitros paled and slunk back speechless through the crowd of ill-tempered soldiers. He set himself up on the edge of the camp with his two underlings but kept his eyes on Jiri and the monastery.

Jiri and Konstantin entered the monastery grounds and saw up close the state of the place.  Few buildings still had roofs and many were completely collapsed or were roofless, the chapel included.  The air was acrid with smoke which still emanated from buildings and piles of charred wood.  A few monks. Their habits filthy with grey ash, worked here and there and animals walked about in groups, having been loosed form their barns before they burned.  Jiri was welcomed by a group of monks who had been attempting to bring down at the roof of a half-burnt barn.  The aged Abbot came out to greet the Duke and, clasping Jiri’s hands in his own, began a long and disconsolate description of the calamity that had befallen the monastery.  He then lead Jiri and Konstantin to the chapel and blessed them, gesturing at the gaping entrance to the roofless sanctuary before turning and withdrawing. 

Jiri walked into the chapel, ash swirling around his feet as he avoided piles of spilled roof tile and burned roof beams.  At the far end of the chapel, a figure moved.  A tall and solid man dressed in a black, travel-stained cloak and hood, seated on a stone pillar base, stood up and hailed Jiri making only the slightest of bows before walking closer.  “My lord Duke!  Welcome, your highness”.  Jiri was taken aback by the man, whose dress resembled that of a monk except for the horseman’s boots he wore, and for his bearing, that of one used to command.  Wary, he drew himself up and looked appraisingly at the man, thinking Franka warned me that one who would be an ally would seek me out – could this be him?   Having come to within a few yards of Jiri, the man pulled back his hood , revealing close-shorn gray hair and a stern face with chiseled features. 

Though it was years since they had last met, Jiri recognised him.  “Velimir Milutin!  he cried.  

Friday, September 17, 2010

Eve of departure

At the end of a long day organizing the levy soldiers and the wagons and mule trains to support them, Duke Jiri found himself at his table in the Great Hall accepting a silver cup of wine from his wife and then offering a toast to the officers and knights who were to ride with him in the morning.  A hearty cheer rising from the throats from the men and women in the hall answered the toast.  A second and more jubilant cheer came as a squad of servitors who were sweating from the kitchen’s heat hauled platters of roasted geese in.  With appetites honed by the imminent prospect of adventure, comradeship and of an encounter with unknown dangers, the Duke’s guests were in a high mood and so feasted grandly. 

Jiri and Franka left as soon as it was seemly to do so and retired to their chambers.  There, the two looked out from a window, onto the castle walls, the town and the harbour, which were illuminated by moonlight.  Waves rolled and crashed on the sandy shore, where a string of small fishing boats were lied up in an arc, left high and dry by the dropping tide.  A larger boat bobbed at anchor beyond the surf.  “The wind is changing, perhaps a storm is coming” said Franka.  “What will you do, Jiri, will you seek battle?”  “I will avoid it if I can. Barring a miracle, we haven’t yet the numbers to fight both the rebels and the Bordurians if it comes to that” said Jiri.  “Promise me something, Jiri; if you are offered a chance to parley, will you do it?  “Surely I will.  I do not intend to a useless battle”. 

“And now you must promise me something.  If things go badly wrong, you are to take Konstantin and Uros out of here.  You see that ship in the water there?  Her master is a friend to us, and well paid.  He is to wait here while I am gone and be ready to sail with you at a moment’s notice.  Take the boys and the treasury, pack what you can into a chest to buy what you need, to buy yourself safety, or an army with which Konstantin can come back to Hum. Go where you can, Sicily or Genoa even.  Be careful though, stay away from Venice, we are in enough trouble without having the Venetians holding our family in their hands…  We need to have quite a bit of luck on our side, Franka…”

“You will come back Jiri.  And I know how we can help our own luck along a little…”.   

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Stépan Gladic meets the mysterious visitor

Stépan Gladic roused his troop of young knights in training, nearly three dozen men in all, and set them to work preparing their horses and armour.  Those who had made the long and hurried trip back to Douma with Duke Jiri were still tired and stiff, they grumbled to be turned out into the stable yard.  Despite the privileged origins of most of this group, Stépan had forbidden them the service of squires until they completed their training.  Until that time, they had the rank of common soldiers and they had to work alongside the common men tending the animals and their own kit.  Stépan had set a personal example in their training, himself working in the stables and in the mud, training riders, teaching the use of sword and lance, shoeing the horses and seeing to their health.  The regular cavalry troopers, mostly an experienced and competent lot who were used to Stépan’s egalitarian leadership, followed his example and looked at the young blue bloods with a mentoring, if  sceptical, eye.  Stépan managed to forge his polyglot group into a professional and loyal force of cavalry, probably the finest in Syldavia, and had produced a number of sound young officers.  Duke Jiri had desperate need of both and so was happy to indulge Stépan’s non-aristocratic vision of command.  His efforts were worthwhile, having produced capable and trustworthy officers such as Matija Cjerci, the messenger who had swum the Wladir in the night and evaded patrols to summon Jiri back to Douma.  Most of the younger vassal knights living on feudal domains scattered through the Duchy had passed through the same training and they provided a stiff backbone for Hum’s small army.  

Hearing the church bells clanging out the noon of the day, Stépan remembered the Duchess’ whispered command to him “…Be at the Market at Noon…”.  He gave the troops, suddenly stern-faced, their marching orders and then walked out of the Bailey and down into the town to the market square.  He stopped at a brewer’s stand at the edge of the market, where he bought a cup of thin beer and waited, looking over the crowd therein.  It was busy with anxious townspeople filling baskets with food and necessities with a sense of anxious urgency.  Across the market, beyond the stalls and people milling about, Stépan caught sight of a tall black-cloaked man standing in front of St. Gabriel’s Way, a side street Stépan knew well.  The man looked straight at Stépan and touched his brow in salute.  He then turned and disappeared into the side street.  Stépan muttered to himself Naught but trouble and war awaits you down there, Stépan and then looked sadly up in to the arms of a tall tree in the middle of market.  For a moment he watched larks flitting about the branches there and listened to their song.  He was jarred back to  reality by two loud oafs beside him at the brewer’s stand who, besotted despite the early hour, loudly speculated about the disposition of the rebels and of the intentions of both the Bordurians and of Duke Jiri.  Stépan took a last sip of his tepid beer, put down his cup and headed off down St. Gabriel’s Way after the black-clad man. 

Stépan quickly left the commotion of the market behind as he followed the twisting course of the ancient and narrow lane.  Looking down the road and into courtyard gates, he saw no one except a few children and stay dogs.  Finally, rounding a curve, Stépan finally came upon a place where the road widened and there was the black-clad man, tending the harness of a horse tied to a fence post.  His cloak, tattered and made of plain cloth, was stained with road dust; the chape of a scabbard poked out from its dirty hem.  His leather boots were considerably finer work. The horse was a powerful and well-made beast, dark charcoal in colour and as dusty as his master.

At Stépan’s approach, the man looked up. “Blessings upon you, Stépan Gladic”, ” he said quietly.  He narrowed his eyes a little as he spoke, the affectation gave him a distinctly appraising look.

“And upon you.  I have been half-expecting to see you turn up for some time now” replied Stépan.  The tone of both was formal and a little chilly.

“Ha!  Have you now?  Well, I have been all over Hell’s half-acre for days on end now, looking for you, and your blessed Duke!  I just missed you at Djordjevaro, you dropped quite out of sight after that…”. 

“So much the better.  We were trying to avoid being seen” said Stépan. 

 “Duke Jiri the hunter found himself the hunted, eh?  He didn’t expect that, no doubt … Well, you did well to stay out of sight, I wager that the Governor would have found an excuse to keep you as guests if you had passed by Djordjevaro.  I dared put my foot no further into that trap”.   

Stépan remembered but did not mention the measures they had taken to remain out of sight, just two days ago .

The visitor continued “So, my good Stépan, what do have you to tell me, what are the Duke’s plans? 

“We are to muster all available men immediately and march for Starisveta.  The Duke leaves tommorow” 

The visitor sighed.  “Hmph…  The Duke means to smash the rebel force?” 

“He means to disperse them at least.  It is his Duchy, would you expect less of him?  The Bordurians are pressuring him to intervene”, said Stépan.

The visitor replied : “Of course they are.  Look, I must speak in private with the Duke as soon as possible …”

Sépan interjected “Here? Now?  Is that wise?  My orders are to leave at once and the Duke is with his men, very much in sight… Besides, with that Baron Dokovic here, there must be spies as well”. 

The visitor thought a moment.  “No, you are right.  It would be better to meet when he is out of Douma.  I shall wait for him at the monastery of St. Narcissus at Starisveta, what is left of it. Can you bring him there?  It is vital…”.

“Yes, this can be done” replied Stépan.

“Good, I will leave immediately” said the visitor, unhitching his horse.  “You will not be molested at Starisveta so long as you do not attack. Good luck to you Stépan and godspeed.  We shall meet again ar Starisveta.

“Good luck to us all, my lord”  said Stépan

Mounting quickly, the man went off down the street in a clatter of hooves, nearly running over a beggar.  And then he was gone.  

An hour later Stépan was himself on the road to Zilusi with his troop of knights in training and a short wagon train of supplies.  

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The council hears Jiri's plan

Duke Jiri looked over his group of officers, gathered together on the highest battlements at Douma.  He had their rapt attention.  His just issued words  “prepare…threat…Borduria”  hung pregnant in the air and in the minds of the officers and all went still.  Jiri steeled himself and continued.  “I have called you up here so that we may speak in privacy a few minutes and not be disturbed by Baron Dokovic or some agent of his.  All that I say is in the strictest confidence.”

“The Bordurians are overextended and vulnerable and have been since the Venetians and their
Crusade arrived in our lands.  Our “friends” the Venetians have managed to convince the Bulgars to join their expedition against the Byzantines and so Viceroy Surov has had to raise both troops and treasure for his Bulgar overlords, even as he looses Ragusia to his supposed allies.  One could almost feel sorry for him!   Sorov has stripped inner Syldavia and Borduria of men and is raising new taxes.  He must be gambling on a quick success, as he is now weak at home and in Syldavia, and almost all of Syldavia is rife with discontent”.

“The tinder for a revolt in Syldavia was simply awaiting a spark, so Surov’s attack on the monasteries is just that.  It only makes sense if he sees that his power is slipping.  I think that he is attempting to forestall a real conspiracy and has reason to believe that the monasteries are at the heart of it”.   Franka pursed her lips as she listened to Jiri and quickly glanced over at Stépan, who, poker-faced, was studiously regarding the floor at his feet. 

Jiri went on  “ My agents report that the Viceroy has been concentrating his remaining forces in strategic places – Djordjevaro is the one that concerns us – from which he would be able to move against any threats or conduct offensives.   Normally, I’d say that weakness among the Bordurians would be a good thing for us, but this is in fact quite dangerous.  They getting desperate and they are capable of anything at the moment.   The Governor is even more dangerous; he was always rash and a slave to ambition and now he is left to his own devices while the Viceroy is away on campaign.  We must assume that he will act opportunistically to exploit any weakness or sign of rebellion amongst us to consolidate his power.  With the Viceroy far away and an excuse in hand, he could try to scoop up Hum as a fait accompli…”. 

“Why no”!  Cried out young Dmitri Vajzek. 

“Well, if we are clever, perhaps we can stop this from happening.  These rebels managed to catch the Bordurians by surprise and would have wiped out Baron Dokovic and his men if they had possessed enough horsemen.  They are no doubt better prepared than we are to fight at the moment; they are at least disciplined and experienced soldiers, as well as our countrymen.  Some will know the terrain.  However, this morning that worm Dokovic relayed an order from his masters that we are to take the field and put an end to the uprising as soon as possible. The Bordurians, or Governor Nikolic at least, will surely see any failure on our part to end the rebellion as a justification to intervene and move his army into Hum”. 

My agents say that Surov has amassed a little over 3000 men at Djordjevaro and has some more yet on the way.  That force is dagger pointed at me and it is bigger than the largest force I can put into the field save with all of Hum’s levy behind me, and such a force would include too many untrained peasants to be really effective.  It is quite possible for the Viceroy to overwhelm us once has recovered his balance. That would be end of the Duchy and of my family, and most likely the end of all of yours as well”.   The group around Jiri blanched and tensed at this declaration.  ”It wouldn’t surprise me if this whole rebellion business was a part of some vile plan by the governor to extend his power.  Imagine a Baron Dokovic installed here in Douma!"  Jiri, like a good Duke, was deliberately nudging his officers into a warlike mood and was grimly pleased to see outrage and anger on his officer’s faces as he sketched out a possible future to them.  “By St. Vladimir and upon my honour, this won’t be allowed to happen!” cried out Lord Teodor.

Jiri continued “No, indeed not.  So, we have no choice really.  We have to muster all available troops and move immediately to face down the rebels before the Governor, or the Viceroy himself, moves to exert personal control.  While we are moving, we must also be ready to deter any move the Bordurians might make to enter Hum in force.   My friends, I have come to believe that a fight with the Bordurians is inevitable and we must prepare ourselves for it.  We can’t leave a revolt to fester or fight two enemies at once, one always behind out backs.   We will face the smaller problem – the rebels – first, and then turn to face the Bordurians if the Governor dares to move while we are outside the walls of Douma”.

“Lord Teodor, have you any news of a force moving down the Wladir from Djordjevaro ? Dokovic hinted at such”.  Clearing his throat, beefy Lord Teodor replied “No my lord, our scouts have reported only more frequent and larger patrols. I stepped up our own patrols all this week to keep an eye out for your return from Sokolbrevo, they would have reported any force moving south.  However, I don’t know how you got by my men without being noticed, my Lord. Perhaps my soldiers are not up to their duties…”. 

“No, Teodor, we followed a different route coming south in order to stay out of sight, and a good thing we did.  But this is good news, it means we have a little more time.   And, my Lord Drogo, do you have any news of the rebels?  Where are they now, how many are they?”

“Ah my lord, it is your son, young lord Constantin, who should report, he undertook the last patrols in that direction”

“Oh, yes?  Well, what is your report Lord Constantin ?”  asked Jiri, swelling a little with fatherly pride.  Konstantin, somewhat nervously, replied “My lord, I have made two patrols with a troop of chosen horsemen.  The first time, the day after the Bordurians arrived here with their wounded, we sighted a large force of infantry a little over a dozen miles west of Starisveta. They must have remained close to their battlefield expecting the arrival of a second Bordurian force.  There was easily over a thousand men there, perhaps more were hidden in the woods.  Starisveta was burning, Father, the monastery was almost all gone.  The locals said that is was Baron Dokovic who ordered it burnt during his retreat from the battle ."  " St. Vladimir's beard! The vandals! " Jiri exclaimed, aghast and fuming.   Konstantin continued; «Yesterday, we spotted a cavalry patrol just a few miles west of Starisveta and so we kept our distance.  It looked like the rebels had advanced and moved camp.  We could see the smoke from many campfires» 

" Many fires ? Enough for a thousand men or more?"

" Oh yes, there were dozens of fires so I should think so.  The monks in Starisveta told us that  some rebels came to them and said that they meant them no harm.  And they invited any of the townspeople to join them.  These men apparently spoke in the accents of Hum, Klow and Travunia and Moltuja German.  We also saw a steady trickle of men, alone and in groups, heading west towards Starivseta, They looked like peasants for the most part but I imagine that they were intending to join the rebels.  Their numbers are growing by the day".

"Hmm… Men from all over Syldavia… I need to see them for myself, and as soon as possible " muttered Jiri.  "Stépan, Drogo, we need to raise the levy immediately.  We will need at least a thousand men right away in addition to the regular soldiers in Douma to meet this group on equal terms and at least two thousand to cow them.  We won’t have time to collect more than the local levy from the lower Wladir valley and the coast.  Perhaps we can find one thousand… ".

Drogo moved to speak but Constantin cut in first  "Forgive me father, but Lord Drogo and I… in your absence we took the liberty to call up the levy around Douma". 

Drogo continued « Yes my lord, once we learned about the presence of the rebels and the Bordurians, we thought it best to gather up the your vassal knights and the most capable local men from around the Wladir valley in case we needed to protect Douma.  As well, the Bordurians were demanding that the levy be called up and placed under their command.  So, we began to muster the levy from the countryside north of Douma as quietly as possible, to keep them out of the sight and control of Baron Dokovic.  Douma’s levy is still here.  About 800 men have assembled at the village of Zilusi, north of here.  It is in the woods off the Roman road and easily overlooked… ". 

Jiri broke in "easily overlooked  but still well-placed to strike at Starisveta or cut off the Djordjevaro road or relieve Douma if need be.  Well done, and my thanks!  This was an admirable bit of foresight.  With them we shall indeed march with enough men". 

"It was in fact Lord Konstantin’s idea, my lord" said Lord Drogo.

"Was it now?  Well, you have profited then from your lessons with old Drogo, lad!  So, speed is now of the essence.  I wish to march tomorrow to face the rebels, win a rapid conclusion and return before the governor is too tempted by an empty castle.  Here is my plan:  Stépan, you will ride this afternoon to Zilusi to take command of the levy there.  Take your troop of young knights with you.  March on to Starisveta tomorrow and wait for me on the plain east of the town”. 

“Lord Drogo, we will need to turn out the Douma garrison and town’s levy and prepare it to move.  I will march with the bulk of it at dawn tomorrow; 600 foot, 200 crossbowmen and 250 horsemen and meet Stépan.  That will give us a force of nearly 2000 men before Starisveta, with nearly all of our regulars ”. 

"Lord Drogo, you are to ready Douma’s fortifications for a siege as best you can and organize the muster of the rest of the general levy here.  I will leave you 100 footmen and 100 crossbows to garrison the town until we return.  Enough to keep the town’s door shut.  Lord Teodor, you are to organize the levy around Rivajow and the land to the west; these men you will use to garrison Rivajow and hold up the passage of the governor’s army, if he dares to move south.  Baron Dimitri, you are to muster the levy east of the Wladir, these troops are to go to the bridge over the Wladir at Kripat and be ready to move to Rivajow or Douma at my orders.  “Konstantin, you are to come with me, you shall guide me to these rebels yourself.  And that is the sound of Baron Dokovic’s voice down in the courtyard, we finish just in time!  I’ll tell him that we shall head out tomorrow. That is all, to work my lords!  Lord Drogo, let us inspect the walls together”. 

Dismissed, the group quickly dispersed.  Passing by Stépan, Duchess Franka whispered “We have a visitor.  He wishes to meet you.  Be at the market at noon”.