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

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The good professor's dream turns unpleasant: Duke Jiri's meets the Baron

Baron Javor Dokovic, a well-dressed and well-built man in his thirties with carefully-tended good looks betraying a certain vanity, black hair and a close-cropped black beard, lolled in his chair in the Duke’s hall in Douma. It was the largest chair at a table set up in front of the hall’s great hearth and the Baron had come to find it quite a comfortable place since he had installed himself in the hall two days earlier.  To his right, at the far end of the hall, stood the empty Ducal throne on a low dias.  It was an ornate, Roman-style affair carved with the forms of animals and gazing at it had started Dokovic thinking, as would any man of similar ambition.  However, the stress of his present situation was hard to ignore.  The Baron looked down at the table in front of him and toyed with a plate of fruit and sipped from a cup of watered wine while he reflected on the last few days and those just ahead.  He was, in fact, in a pickle.  He had been sent by his superior, Count Branko Nikolic governor of Djordjevaro, with 150 soldiers to scour the duchy of Hum of conspirators plotting against the Bordurian regime.  These orders came ultimately from the Viceroy himself.  The Monastery of St. Narcissus in Starisveta, like many others in Syldavia, was believed to be a nest of plotters loyal to the old kingdom.  Javor’s orders were to enter the monastery, determine which “brothers” were members of old noble families and arrest them.  This the Baron had done; he had arrived at Starisveta at the head of fifty soldiers, put his hands on all of six likely suspects and, well, if a few heads were broken along the way, how better to send a message?  Having cowed the town, the Baron and his troop marched away without further ado.  So far so good, but things went awry from that point on. 

Only a day later, news came of a sudden uprising west of Starisveta along with disturbing tales of Bordurian officials having been taken seized.  Dokovic sent his prisoners on to Djordjevaro, gathered up all of his troops and marched back to Starisveta, where he stopped to obtain information about the rebels and their location, and then they continued westward.  This territory was unfamiliar to the Baron and the guides he conscripted in Starisveta must have been conspirators as well, for he walked straight into an ambush.  The Baron’s small force was confronted with a much larger body of troops and, dissolving quickly into panic and disorder, they fared very poorly.  He lost essentially all of his infantry in a few minutes.  The Baron beat a hasty retreat with his cavalry and a few infantrymen who were lucky enough to have been picked up by the riders; he had now perhaps seventy men, with many now injured.  Fortunately for him, most of the rebel force was composed of infantry and missle troops who could not close on the Bordurian cavalry.  Dokovic and his horsemen got away without much pursuit.  Dokovic paused once again at Starisveta to regain his breath and, hoping to rekindle the spirit of his shaken troops, he ordered them to burn the St. Narcissus monastery in revenge.  This gesture seems to have failed however as many of his soldiers grew even more fearful of reprisals and others seem to have gained a thirst for pillaging…  

The Baron and his men were wary of potential enemies everywhere they went in and everyone they met.  Arriving, spent and fearful, before the gates of Douma, the Baron had menaced and coaxed his way in.  His men were now recovering their spirits in seclusion and in relative safety and the wounded were being treated.  Soon, reinforcements from Djordjevaro were likely to arrive.  The Baron and his men would be safe at that point but there would also be a second commander in the picture as well, no doubt that upstart Luben Jurvec.  But how to master the situation before the reinforcements arrive?  If I could get control of some of Hum’s forces, that could be enough, even just of the levy...  It is pretty much an emergency anyhow, the levy ought to be raised and in the absence of the Duke (ha! what luck!), who better than me to command them?  

The Baron had indeed tried to put his hands on a force of levy soldiers arguing that he was acting in the name of the duchy’s ultimate liege lord but he had been met with resistance so far.  That Castellan Drogo was a stubborn man who offered legal justifications for any and all of the arguments the Baron mounted to take control of Hum’s forces.  His argument was mostly brute intimidation, but it was hard to intimidate with his battered force now more or less in the shelter of the Duke’s household.  The previous evening Dokovic had tried as well to bluff and cajole the Duchess into seeing that the levy was called up, but the formal supper had turned into a long blurry night full of cups of wine, and his head was still a bit foggy because of it.  The simpler plan would be to find evidence of complicity in the uprising here in the Duke’s household.  With such evidence, the Duke’s authority could be officially expunged and the door would then be open for all sorts of opportunities, a new Count of Douma, at least...  That Duchess Franka is thoroughly charming but a clever and wicked creature muttered the Baron to himself while feeling his pulse thudding away in his forehead.  It would not surprise me in the least to learn that she was somehow involved in this uprising.  It was at this point that Baron Javor Dokovic’s thoughts were interrupted by the doors of the Hall suddenly swinging wide open and striking against the stone walls.  He started and winced, and while he looked up, he was hailed in a loud voice crackling with displeasure:

“BARON! To what do I owe the unexpected pleasure of your presence in my Keep?”

It was Duke Jiri striding straight for him, still wearing his spurs, which clattered and scraped on the stone floor.  Baron Dokovic froze a moment “Duke…  Duke Almazout … you can’t be… you were hunting in the north…”.

“Yes, it is indeed me, I am back now, and sooner than you thought, eh?” came Jiri’s icy reply.  “Not a moment too soon at any rate.  I am gone but a week and what happens?  The Governor’s agents are raiding monasteries and setting off a rebellion in my home counties.  Hum was quiet when I left but you have managed to tip it straight into chaos.  What have you been up to? Surely these were not your orders?”  Jiri’s frustration was finally getting the better of him. 

Baron Dokovic, now on his feet and feeling his own temper rising, tried to mount a response saying, with brittleness “I am acting on the orders of the Governor and of the Viceroy.  Hum is home to a network of conspiracy, it is my job to expose the plotters and root them out, and that is what I have done”.  After a moment Dokovic added, insinuatingly: “Going into the monastery was a regrettable necessity, but it was something that might have been avoided if the present authorities in Hum had kept a better eye on its affairs instead of lavishing its time on deer and ducks…”.

Deer and ducks ?  What incredible impertinence! Jiri fought to retain his cool  “Exposing the rebels ?  By what I have seen, it seems that they are happy to oblige you, having come out and attacked you in the light of day.  You have clearly succeeded!  And yet here you are, passing the day in my Hall with your force broken, while the rebels grow in strength daily.  I am not impressed by your work so far!”
Baron Dokovic replied “The Governor requires that you aid in suppressing this revolt, nurtured in your Duchy.  It cannot spread elsewhere.  I will require, to begin with, the levy to be called up immediately.  I will take command of them and then…

“You will do no such thing” Jiri snapped back.  “I remind you that you are in the territory of Hum and I am lord here.  The Governor is the Viceroy’s man and you are the Governor's man, but the Governor has no authority to call up the levy in my fiefdom, only in his own.  Here, in the south of Hum, that right belongs to me and to the Viceroy.  The levy must, in any case, fight under MY command, that is the law". 

Rebuffed, the Baron resorted to his final argument, saying “To make myself clear, my lord, you remain in your fiefdom at the sufferance of the Viceroy.  The Viceroy requires your diligence in the suppression of this revolt.  You will therefore lead your troops against the rebels as soon as possible”.  Seeing that these words had a sudden sobering effect on the Duke and, thinking quickly on his feet, the Baron quickly added “You are of course to lead your troops in the field.  I am to coordinate your activities with those of the Governor…”.

Grinding his teeth, the Duke growled  “I don't need supervision and you haven’t enough force to hold Hum without me.  I shall meet the rebels with my men and see for myself what they are made of.  I do not underestimate them and I won’t be running home with my tail between my legs”.

“So be it” said Baron Dokovic, icily.  “I remind you, the Viceroy requires a victory and an end to the rebellion.  I shall take my leave of you then, my lord Duke”. 

Left alone in the hall, and overcome with frustration, Jiri took up the chair that the slippery Baron had been sitting in, his own banqueting chair, and struck it against the floor with all his force.  The chair splintered with a resounding crack and fell into pieces.   Jiri tossed the broken wood he held in his hands into the fireplace beside him and then stormed out of the room.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A quick reunion for Duke Jiri at Douma

So, I'm back after a short absence.  I've had two weeks of deadlines and there are a few more such weeks in the offing, with the end of the semester, exams and marking upon us.  I'm sorry that the blog has suffered from a inattention during this time but I see that people have been dropping in nevertheless, no doubt searching in vain for signs of life! Many thanks for your patience and interest. 


Lord Drogo, the Castellan of Douma, anxiously paced the town’s walls early in the morning, fixing his eyes on the point on the horizon where the road north to Djordjevaro disappeared over a hillside.  He saw no one.  Four full nights had passed since he had sent young Matija as a messenger to bring Duke Jiri home from his hunting trip.  If all went as well as it possibly could, meaning neither Matija or the Duke were delayed by the Bordurians or by anything else, the Duke might arrive at any time now and none too soon.  Since Matija’s hasty departure, the situation in Hum had steadily deteriorated.  The rebellion appeared to be spreading and the captain of the small Bordurian force in southern Hum had proved to be headstrong and rash man.  His incursion into the St. Narcissus monastery had sparked the uprising and he had subsequently attempted a premature strike against the rebels, only to have suffered a crippling defeat from which he limped back to Douma seeking succor.  There were rumours of plots everywhere and now there was talk of a second Bordurian force marching south.  Lord Drogo rubbed agitatedly at his greying beard; No sign of the Duke yet, but at least there is yet no sign of any more Bordurians either

At mid-morning, Drogo walked again on the battlements and gazed northward.  He saw no one, not even the donkeys and carts of merchants and farmers on their normal comings and goings.  The countryside, like the town, was tense with expectation of coming trouble and most people were staying close to home.  Late in the morning, a young and sharp-eyed soldier who Drogo had selected as a watchman rapped on the door of the Castellan’s chambers:  “My lord, you ordered me to report anything of note.  A group of horsemen has crested the hill and is approaching the town.  Less than a dozen men, armed with lances”.  Drogo, in the middle of drafting a letter, threw down his inked quill and hastened to the ramparts with the young soldier in tow.  “Yes, I can see them too” he said.  The horsemen were descending the hill when the soldier exclaimed “My lord, I think I see a pennon, a red and white pennon”.  The young man looked back toward Drogo, proud to be able to confirm that which his chief had been so clearly eager to see. “That will be the Duke then, by St. Vladimir! Ha Ha!” Drogo slapped the rock of the parapet in excitation and could not help breathing out a sigh of relief as he felt some of his pent-up tension lifted away.  “I’m off to the gatehouse. You are to go immediately to inform the Duchess.  And be quiet about this – speak only to her and do not let this news reach our… guest…”  Drogo arched his woolly eyebrows meaningfully at the soldier then he turned and trundled off quickly.  The youthful soldier watched Drogo hasten away despite his awkward gait, the result of a slight limp (an old wound) and his portly frame.  Lord Drogo was normally a stolid and hard man, so the sight him so clearly rejoicing relieved the tension of the day. 

A few minutes later, Drogo could clearly see the ducal pennon fluttering in the breeze.  Duke Jiri was in the lead, riding smartly along on that wicked horse of his, then Stépan and finally the squad of knights behind.  The Duke made haste indeed, he left half of his party behind, including his fancy cook!  Drogo waited a few minutes more and then ordered the soldiers of the watch to lift the portcullis. 

Jiri looked up at the battlements ahead and spotted the heads of soldiers peeking out from between embrasures here and there.  There was the familiar mass of Drogo, now doffing his cap.  Jiri raised his hand in salute and the gesture was returned by a cheer from the men on the wall.  Then, passing through the gate, Jiri and his company were suddenly in the winding streets of the old town, confined by two and three story houses half-timbered and built of stone.  There were relatively few people in the streets, but those that were there quickly made space for the horsemen.  Stépan, somewhat amused, noticed that despite the long few days in the saddle, Duke Jiri suddenly had sat bolt upright in his saddle and had his beast of a horse prancing when they had encountered the townspeople.  He cuts a heroic pose when he wishes to, the Duke!  Stépan also noticed how the townspeople were looking up at Jiri with faces full of apprehension and expectation as he cantered by.  Stépan turned to look behind him, only to see the young knights slumping in their saddles or looking up distractedly into second-story windows.  He barked out a warning to look smart and took the ducal pennon himself, spurring his horse to make the pennon fly.  The gesture worked.  Every eye in the market square adjacent was now on Jiri and the pennon and people were now cheering the return of the Duke.

A few minutes later, the group was dismounting in the inner courtyard of the town’s keep.  Jiri turned the reins over to a servant and was met at the door of the keep by his wife, Franka, a tall, straight and spirited woman in her middle years, with long black hair and striking blue eyes.  The two embraced warmly, Franka exclaiming “Welcome back home my dear, it so good to see you.  This is a happy morning, everyone has been counting the minutes till you showed up!  I wasn’t sure when you would be able to return so quickly with all the trouble that has broken out.  But shh, before you say more, we have an unannounced guest (she strained at the work “guest”), Baron Javor Dokovic. He is a Bordurian officer, the one who started this uprising off at St. Narcissus’ in Starisveta.  He ran into trouble with the rebels three days ago and came running back here with his surviving soldiers and insisted on having shelter.  I thought it best to get them out of sight of the townspeople as quickly as possible lest someone did something rash, and some of his soldiers are indeed sorely wounded.  I have set up the old barracks outside the keep as a hospital.  He seems to be making himself quite comfortable in the Great Hall.  I daresay it is reinforcements he is expecting, not you!    You had best meet him now, before he learns you are here.  He is a dreadfully dreary man, but be nice anyway, won't you?"  Franka winked and grimaced at Jiri.  "We’ll talk afterwards, I have to check on the Sisters attending those wounded Bordurians”.  Franka slid neatly out from Jiri’s amorous embrace and ushered him down the entrance hall toward the stair leading to the Great Hall and pushed him to the door before turning and descending the stairs once again.

Jiri scowled to find have his homecoming spoiled already by having to deal with this Bordurian officer.  Using his ill-humour to harden his demeanour, Jiri pushed open the heavy hall door whose iron latch made a loud echoing “clunk” in the hall and strode in.  He was still wearing his spurs, which clattered on the stone floor.  Cultivating his deepest icy snarl,  Jiri growled loudly at the figure leaning back in his chair at the head of the table “BARON! To what do I owe the unexpected pleasure of your presence in my Keep?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Holiday in Borduria

Happy Easter!  I have been enjoying mine as much as I can and staying away from the computer!  It was incredibly warm here; 26 degrees C or something crazy like that.  That is about 12 degrees warmer than our previous record for this weekend.  The snow is almost all gone, a few weeks early!   No doubt it is the same in Syldavia, and the mountain rivers are raging with runoff.  It is warm and sunny on the coast however.  As always the orange trees on the Syldavian coast are already abounding in ripened fruit, even as they bloom!  But, in Borduria, it is still winter and the only thing more dark and grim than a Bordurian winter is a Bordurian summer...

For those who might not yet know it (I am hardly on the cutting edge of news here), there is a second blog out there addressing Hergé's Syldavia and Borduria from a wargaming perspective.  The blog, entitled Funny Little Wars Garden Campaigns - Borduria Calling can be  found here .  The blog is focussed on the 1920s interwar period, when a historical confrontation between tradition and iconoclastic modernity seems to have infiltrated most everywhere, from art to politics to military strategy, but practical experience had not yet wholly wrung the idealism out of either.  Paul, the site's author, is concentrating on Borduria for the moment at least and has published descriptions of Bordurian cavalry, tankettes and parade infantry.  He has shown a couple images of troops on parade in the charming Novi Grad castle in Szohôd, the capital of Borduria.  I love the atmospheric  pictures Paul has posted - Szohôd seems to be following the "Isengard" model for modernity.  No petit bourgeoisie Art Deco there!     Szohôd is quite plainly a perfect place to avoid like the plague. for a carefree holiday .

Paul has also pointed out of few of his literary and historical inspirations for his project.  He notes one, King Zog of Albania, whom I stumbled across trying to learn a little bit of real-world history for my own project.  King Zog had a very interesting career (see here) and could be a real model for the character of pistol-packing King Muskar XII from the Tintin book Ottokar's Sceptre; King Zog appears to have known how to use his when needed and faced multiple coup attempts during his career.   My version of Syldavia could just as easily had been fitted onto the map of Albania; I chose to move it a little further away from the core of the Ottoman empire however.

If you find the doubly-fictional Syldavia sketched out at this site amusing, you will very much like Paul's site so please go visit him at Borduria Calling.  Don't forget to surrender your passport at the border.  And all hope as well...