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

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!"

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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

Parley


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.