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

Sunday, January 31, 2010

History of Syldavia, Chpt. 2. The Fall of the Kingdom of Muskar I


Brother Demetrios of Travunje, in his biographical chronicle Vita Moscari, De Principio Regis Sildavinae, gives us a description of King Muskar in his later years : “The dread King, despite having occupied the throne for a score of years, remained in great health and resembled a young man in his vigour and his sharp instincts.  Always a great and strong man, he towered over most of his knights.  He was blessed with the bearing and the voice of command with which he cowed the young nobles of court, many of whom had known no other sovereign.” 

Even while his sixties and venerable for his times, King Muskar cut a terrifying political figure and managed to keep the restive nobles obedient through his charismatic leadership and his rapport with the common folk.  Undoubtedly, his readiness to mete out swift and severe retribution in the face of opposition, demonstrated on several occasions, helped to dull some noble’s instincts for rebellion.  The Vita Moscari relates that King Muskar faced and put down plots against his rule. On one occasion in 1139, he was the target of an attempted assassination while hunting in his ancestral domain in Travunia.  In the hunting party was a squire, the younger son of a noble family from the Bellicosow region that Muskar had reinstated after wresting the territory from the Bordurians.  Knowing that the King had let the hunting party pass ahead of him while he refreshed himself at a spring, the squire hid himself along the trail with a slaughtered hen to attract the King’s dogs.  The King finally came along with his dogs ahead, who fell upon the bait.  However, one dog, received as a gift from the Byzantine Emperor and an animal of rare intelligence, scented the hidden squire and warned the King with her barking.  The King spotted the assassin just as he raised his crossbow and was able to move in time, receiving only a minor wound.  Muskar then wrestled the now-terrified squire to the ground, disarmed him and bound him with his own belt.  The squire implicated his uncle, the Count of Tremens, and Bordurian agents in the plot.  Muskar quickly moved to apprehend the Count and his family.  The exact punishment that Muskar meted out is told only by rumours rather than by the admiring author of the Vita, but the count was executed and the family disappeared from historical records at that point. 

Muskar long showed no signs of weakening except for passing most administrative tasks on to his long-time counsellor Father Nikephoros, and his son Danilo, and giving up his favourite past-time, (campaigning, of course) in favour of doting on his building projects.  Nevertheless, mighty Muskar I finally fell ill and died in 1149, having been on the throne for twenty-one years.  The newly-crowned King Danilo, buried his father in the new St. Vladimir's church in Klow, in a sumptuous tomb befitting the founder of a dynasty.  If the nobles breathed a sign of relief and looked forward to looser reigns under Danilo, however, they were mistaken.  Danilo proved a masterful ruler cast in mould of his father, though he lacked the charisma and taste for battle.  He retained Father Nikephoros, who was more or less his political mentor and effectively kept the nobles under his thumb. Danilo never mounted a military offensive beyond his father’s borders, finding that the mountain ranges surrounding Syldavia provided natural and relatively easily defended frontiers.  He did, however, lead his army in responses to numerous raids into Syldavia, mostly originating in Borduria.  

The luck in Muskar’s bloodline ran out in Danilo, however.  Danilo had two sons.  The elder, Wastrelmir, was clearly more interested in racing his horses and in seducing the daughters of the court than in the affairs of State.  The nobles, who saw his indifference and self-indulgence, regarded him with antipathy.  Branislaw, the second son by Danilo's second wife, resembled much more his feared grandfather, but he was ten years the junior of Wastrelmir.

King Danilo passed away suddenly, and in somewhat mysterious circumstances, in 1162.  With the less than firm King Wastrelmir on the throne, the restive nobles finally had an opportunity to test royal power and this they did immediately. Wastrelmir could not obtain the obedience of the most belligerent nobles or the confidence of those still loyal.  The country suddenly lurched towards civil war.  Syldavia’s neighbours (chiefly the Bulgarians, through their vassals in Borduria) plotted to cut up the country and conspired with like-minded nobles in Syldavia.  Finally, in 1165, the viceroy of Borduria interceded «by invitation» at the head of an invading army.  King Wastrelmir was stirred to action, mustering his available forces and levying the peasants in the highland provinces.  He then established a defensive position in the Djrinje River valley leading to Bellicosow.  Teen-aged Prince Branislaw was to gather reinforcements and join Wastrelmir. 

It was a cursed day for Wastrelmir and Syldavia, however.  A grand trap had been laid for him. The traitorous Baron of Djordjevaro ambushed Branislaw en route to his rendezvous; his force was destroyed and Branislaw himself was never found.  Many nobles never honoured their duty to provide reinforcements and stayed home while others marched openly with the invading force.  Standing alone, Wastrelmir’s small army was met by a Bordurian army over twice its size.  The battle went badly from the start, as the demoralised Syldavian levy broke and fled when attacked by countrymen.  An eyewitness account relates that Wastrelmir, showing a resolution others had never seen in him, stood firm with his household retainers and with the rapidly diminishing ranks of his most reliable troops, raised around Klow and Istow.  The desperate battle effectively ended when the guard was overrun and Wastrelmir was cut down with them.  In a stroke, the Bordurians extinguished the dynasty of Muskar, and annexed Syldavia while securing the obeisance of those nobles who survived the battle.  Upon reaching Klow, Bordurian soldiers removed the skeleton of King Muskar from his tomb and dispersed his remains so as to remove all trace of their hated enemy.  They found the relics of St. Vladimir already missing, however, along with other elements of the treasury.



The Demise of King Wastrelmir, illumination from the Vita Moscari, De Principio Regis Sildavinae


With very little further resistance, the Bordurians installed a new and cruel regime, the viceroy seeing Syldavia as a source of money and manpower useful for aggrandizing Borduria.  Taxes on the commoners were ratcheted up, peasants became poorer and the architectural legacies of Muskar, such as the grandiose St. Vladimir's church in Klow, began to decay.  Small uprisings occurred here and there, resulting in skirmishes, round-ups of rebels and incipient outlawry.  Some, in furtive hope, whispered rumours of the return of Prince Branislaw.  Others, such as the now-landless nobles of Travunia and the stubborn germano-slavic farmers living around Klow and Istow, kept their arms hidden and sullenly waited for the winds to change. 

6 comments:

  1. Ah, does one hear the sizzling of bomb fuze in the back room?
    :)
    A

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  2. Things cannot stay so bad indefinitely! Looking eagerly forward to enjoy the next instalment.

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  3. A fine summary of events... a very plausible history. It sounds as though the traitorous nobles ill-profited from their treachery - as one might have expected of course. Treachery rewarded might become habit-forming...
    Cheers,
    Ion

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  4. I look forward to the next installment.


    -- Jeff

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  5. Hi all,

    I hope the story is of some interest to you - we are still some way from gunpowder let alone the SYW, but all in time. In theory, this should buy me a little time to paint a unit or two... a nice plan on paper.

    Arthur, and Jean-Louis: yes, I think that you two see where this is heading!

    Ion, Welcome! I looked at your blog - very interesting!

    Regards,

    Jim

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