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

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”. 

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Jiri calls a Council of War

Hello all,

I have neglected this blog quite a bit this summer, having been on the road almost continually - I'm just back from yet another trip, this time to Paris!  More on that later, suffice to say I spent all the time I could in some excellent museums (when I wasn't sipping champagne on the terrace, of course).  

When last I wrote, Duke Jiri had just returned from an eventful hunting trip to his stronghold in the town of Douma. During this trip he learned that there was a popular uprising in his Duchy and that the agents of Hum's Bordurian overlord, the Viceroy Surov, were working in various ways to impose direct Bordurian rule on his Duchy.  After vacillating like a Syldavian Hamlet, Duke Jiri has decided on a course of action...   I have written a new bit for the story of Duke Jiri (just read on below).  I have also prepared a little map of the Duchy of Hum, western Syldavia where I have sketched out the route of Jiri's recent travels and added some place names which have and will feature in the story.    

A Map of the western part of Duchy of Hum and the valley of the Wladir River.
The route of Duke Jiri's recent trip north to his hunting estate at Sokolbredo and of his precipitous return south to Douma are marked by solid red lines and arrows.  The number 1 indicates the location where Dragan the huntsman ambushed the Bulgar patrol, 2 indicates the shepherd's cabin where Jiri and his company spent the night and 3 indicates the location of the averted skirmish with the rebel party.   The main rebel army is located northwest of Starisveta and is heading slowly toward Douma.  The frontier of Hum is marked by a thick, red hatched line.  

Duke Jiri Calls a Council of War

Knowing that Duke Jiri would be seeking to hold a meeting with his senior officers, Duchess Franka hurried from her secretive meeting to deliver her load of bandage cloth to the temporary hospital she had organized.  She gave the place a quick and approving inspection as the nuns had worked unstintingly to sweep and scrub clean the old barracks, used more recently used as a hay barn and storehouse. Taking Franka in tow, the dour Abbess made a rapid tour of the wounded troops who lay listlessly upon piles of bundled straw and cots.  The Abbess then led Franka outside where she gave a curt whispered report.  "Duchess, the men you just saw are those with minor wounds, there are twenty eight of them.  Fourteen more are seriously wounded.  Half of these look very grave and we will likely see several succumb by tomorrow.  Also, corruption has set in the wounds of some of the men.  Poultices and the new bandages will help but we will need many more yet or others will perish entirely without need, even some of those with minor wounds".  "You shall have them, Abbess, and whatever else you need.  Perhaps it is best to plan on keeping this hospital open indefinitely.  Can you provide me a list of what you will need?"

Back within the Keep, Franka searched out the Duke.  She found him on the sun-drenched battlements, where he was assembling some of his most trusted officers at a table set up in the shade of a canopy. The battlements offered a sweeping view of the Wladir river valley to the north and east, the Adriatic to the southwest and, to the northwest, a range of low craggy mountains leading to Hum’s frontier.  Jiri was gazing intently off to the north.  Jiri had a calculating and decisive air about him and Franka sensed that his confidence had begun to return. 

Among those with Jiri were Lord Drogo, Stépan Gladic, Lord Teodor Krevelic and Jiri and Franka’s sons Konstantin and Uros.  Stépan was Jiri’s chief lieutenant and was nearly of the same age as the Duke.  A terse, observant and practical man, Stépan was the son of a Travunian noble who had fled after the Bordurian conquest, first into service with the Duke of Zadar and finally with Jiri’s uncle; he was also Jiri’s distant cousin.  Stépan had earned Jiri’s confidence trust many times during a long career spent in the saddle and training and leading men in the interminable petite guerre of the frontiers.  Lord Drogo was fully eighteen years older than Jiri and a life-long retainer of Jiri’s family.  The son of a minor knight, Drogo made a rapid rise as a skilled soldier and enterprising field commander, but was finally lamed by serious wound which prevented him from mounting a horse.  He nevertheless continued to rise in the old Duke’s favour because of his capacity to train soldiers and his intelligence (notably, he was highly literate).  He had tutored the young Jiri in the skills of a soldier and commander.  Once he became Duke, Jiri rewarded his teacher with a profitable fiefdom and the position of Castellan of Douma, de facto Governor of the Duke’s stronghold and base of power.  Lord Teodor Krevelic was Baron of Rivajow, a key town and fort north of Douma, on the edge of the territory administered by the Governor of Djordjevaro.  Lord Theodor’s family were long-time members of the ducal household and his estates would be the first to see Bordurian troops if the Governor ever decided make his presence felt within the Duke’s domain.

Hastening up the stair after Franka and arriving out of breath was Baron Dmitri Vajzek.  He was a young and inexperienced soldier but diligent in his duties and devoted to the Duke.  He was lord of the town of Brevelno, a town along the Wladir River north of Douma, in the heart of Hum’s farming heartland.  The region was a traditional bastion of support for the Duke’s family, young Dimitri already had a reputation as the dashing darling of the region.  

“Ah, Franka, you are just in time.  And Dmitri, my thanks for hastening to answer my summons” said Jiri, nodding at the young man, who had ridden hard from his estate a few leagues away to attend.  “Welcome back, liege” breathed Dimitri, “We rejoice that you are back and at our head.   We sorely missed you this last week with all the trouble that broke out”. 

“I chose an unlucky week for a hunting trip, that it sure.  I saw and learned much on the trip however, and just in time too.  We are in danger and were barely aware of it until now”.  Jiri addressed the group “My Lords, I’ve called you here because it is clear to me that this uprising that greeted the Bordurians is about to plunge us all into a crisis.  The goals of this revolt are still unclear to me but I am confident that there is more to this than the Bordurian’s clumsy move against the monasteries.  It was surely organized in advance. In any case, any uprising is a necessarily a challenge to my rule one way or another and I must act to end it quickly”.  The officers shifted uneasily at Jiri’s words.  He continued “And, at the same time, we must prepare ourselves for an even greater threat which I believe will come from the Bordurians themselves.  We are between the hammer and the anvil and we have no friends who can help us, but we are not entirely without room to move”. 

To be continued monday!