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

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

History of Syldavia Chapter 4 : To arms!

Seeing that a substantial body of men under arms were spontaneously amassing in his territory and sizing up the potential of the moment, Duke Jiri Almazout of Hum decided that the moment had come to strike a decisive blow. He rode out with a strong force of men to meet the rebels.  With a dramatic flourish, Duke Jiri cast his lot in with the rebels and suddenly found himself proclaimed leader of a full-fledged rebel army.  The Almazout family, Dukes of Hum for generations, had followed the earlier Syldavian kings as vassals more or less until the Bordurian invasion, but had not joined the field at the final ruinous battle that extinguished the dynasty.  Their loyalties had therefore been sufficiently murky to escape the Bordurian purge and they had kept their resentment of the Bordurians carefully hidden.  But seeing a crisis coming, and with the political connections to realize what was happening in the abbeys, the Almazouts had also made sure to remain in close communication with the monks of St. Stanislaus.  They had judiciously chosen their moment to act.

Duke Jiri first made a hurried trip to Travunia to organise the jumble of trained soldiers and rabble turning out there and to capture the Bordurian garrison in the town of Travunje.  This he did without much trouble as the garrison was demoralised and poorly lodged in weak fortifications (they had only recently been re-installed there after being expelled from Dbrnouk). The garrison had been effectively held under siege in their crumbling castle by the popular rebellion which erupted when they tried to force their way through the stout walls of the Abbey of St. Stanislaus in search of evidence of rebellion. 

Having forced the garrison’s capitulation and with the region governor imprisoned, Duke Jiri visited the abbey of St. Stanislaus to receive the blessing of the monks.  According to Abbot Remedio’s chronicle Ottocar, Rex regis Syldavinae, Jiri was met by Brother Demetrios, now extremely ancient, blind and bed-ridden. Demetrios gave Jiri his own blessing, reportedly saying “We have waited long in the hope that Prince Branislaw would return.  I fear that this was a vain hope and but by the grace of God another is revealed who his ready to step forward and to take his place.  Let us pray that Duke Jiri may lead the Syldavian people to recover the right and honour we have lost.  O, may God will it that I live to see our victory!”.  With that, Brother Demetrios directed the monks to lead Jiri to the hidden final resting place of Muskar I.  Jiri is reported to have passed a night-long vigil at the shrine praying for a clear plan how to conduct a campaign against the Bordurians.  When he returned to the abbey, Brother Demetrios produced the Mace of St. Vladimir, which had long since been smuggled out of Klow by the monks and so well hidden that few of the monks of St. Stanislaus knew of is presence.  The mace was presented to Jiri in order to rally Syldavians to his cause.  This act in effect granted Duke Jiri the right to claim the throne if he could turn out Syldavia’s occupiers. 

Duke Jiri realised that news of the gathering army of rebels would have reached the Viceroy’s deputies in Klow.  He knew as well that the most direct road to Klow, along the Wladir River, was blocked by the bridge at the fortified town of Djordjevaro.  Passage there would require a difficult siege or a costly assault.  Duke Jiri decided on an alternative plan to bring his force to the enemy.  First, he sent a lieutenant to gather the forces left around Douma and to feign an advance towards Djordjevaro in order to deceive the garrison there into readying themselves for an attack.  Duke Jiri intended to bring the bulk of the army into the highland valleys through the pass of the Sjetinuja River, from Zeta into the eastern end of the Wladir.  This route was long and difficult but was little used and unpopulated.  By following it, Jiri thought that he would be able to arrive unannounced and unopposed in the highlands, and put the Viceroy’s forces into disorder before they could adjust to his presence in their rear.  It was however a dangerous plan should his army be defeated by the Bordurians early on; the retreat of a broken force back through the pass would be a disaster. 

Duke Jiri, his army and its train of wagons, pack mules and flocks of St. Stanislaus’ sheep marched east from Travunje for Zeta.  There they encountered the pretender Branislaw and his small army encamped amidst the smouldering ruins of a newly-pillaged villa near the ancient town of Duklja.  An account of the meeting comes to us from the Rex regis Syldavinae (keeping in mind that Abbot Remedio was not a witness and his habit of sacrificing objectivity for dramatic effect is well known).   The imposter, a wiry man with a sparse beard wearing Byzantine style-armour and a stained purple cloak, approached Duke Jiri and regarded him with an air of suspicion and haughtiness.  About him was a circle of well-armed soldiers; they were all weathered and experienced looking men, dangerous, hungry and, in this moment, more than a little nervous.  The rabble about them consisted of peasants, shepherds and a few men with proper weapons, veteran men at arms.  They were listless and indolent and some wondered why they had as yet only attacked farmyards and not Bordurian soldiers themselves. The impostor brandished a mace and challenged Jiri saying, in the strong accent of Skoder (the region east of Lake Skoder) : “Behold, countryman. I am Branislaw, returned to my people from exile to reclaim what is mine.  By the right of my kingly fathers, I command your allegiance to me and that of your soldiers.  You are welcome in my army.  Join me and we shall take revenge on our oppressors and the traitors”.  He advanced a dirty hand for Duke Jiri to kiss.  

Jiri turned to face his army and replied simply: “O Syldavians, the line of great Muskar is long dead!  But we have the means to rebuild the country Muskar left to us.  Behold the Mace of St. Vladimir with which he vanquished our enemies.  It has been kept for this day so that we may forge anew our country!  Thou art but an Imposter and a Brigand– come take the King’s mace if you dare”!

The imposter’s eyes grew wide at the sight of the mace and at Jiri’s oratory.  Panicked, he lunged at Jiri who struck him unconscious with the mace.  Jiri called for his horse and then, in a gesture worthy of Muskar himself, he offered pardon to any of the imposter’s rabble who joined him and the opportunity to hang with the Imposter to those who would not.  Duke Jiri then marched on to the mountain pass, with his reinforced army trailing behind him and his shepherd-monk-warriors scouting before him.  

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