Imperium Romaniae (A CK2 HIP Latin Empire AAR) - Chapter 2: Obedience (1224-1229)

Published: 2017-03-03

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Imperium Romaniae (A CK2 HIP Latin Empire AAR)

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Game: Crusader Kings II

Imperium Romaniae (A CK2 HIP Latin Empire AAR) - Chapter 1: Robertus Augustus (1220-1224)

Images: 85, author: CargoShortsSensei, published: 2017-02-28

With my first son born, the reality of my position truly dawns on me. I am surrounded on all sides by enemies, power-hungry vassals, and men of foreign religion. I must stay vigilant and preserve and strengthen Romania; if not for me, then for Phillip.
I find Marie languishing in bed, as usual, as I return to our quarters on a hot summer night.

"What's the matter, my dear?" I ask, sitting on the bed.

She draws the covers closer to her small frame. "Everything I do has made me tired since I gave birth," she admits. "I don't believe I'm ill, I just... I don't know."

I pray that she is not ill. Phillip needs a strong motherly figure in her life, and I need a rock of an empress at my side.
King Demetrius has supposedly tightened the leash a bit on his subjects, with changes in his crown laws giving him a tad more authority. I keep an eye on him; no one poses a greater threat to my crown than he does.
Meanwhile, I learn from my uncle, Duke Robert of Strymon, that Prince Geoffrey has begun praising me at meetings of the Saint Matthew's Faction. I may have earned Villehardouin's respect after all.
Sad news reaches our shores in early November. Pope Honorius III, who had officially named me Emperor just under five years ago, passes in his sleep. After some weeks, the cardinals have chosen Pope Silvester IV to be his successor. Curiously enough, the man is a Dane; he's the first non-Italian pope to be chosen since Adrian IV in 1154.
Early in 1225, Geoffrey approaches me after a privy council meeting.

"Your imperial majesty, I have... thought on something for quite some time," he begins, looking a bit uncomfortable. "My seizure of the Duchy of Athens was entirely against your will, and I have realized the error of my ways. I would ask for your forgiveness now, as well as your blessing. If you officially recognize my suzerainty over Otto, I will guarantee you my support in a council vote should you need it."

After considering it for a brief moment, I decide that it would be much more advantageous to have Geoffrey indebted to me than to hold my ground on an issue that had essentially already been decided. I accept the offer.

[Okay, so somehow, Otto had all his lands taken over directly by Geoffrey - like, they're part of his de mesne now. Otto, however, still is "Duke of Athens" and is still a direct vassal of me because he holds some barony in Corinth. So by accepting this, I gained a favor for essentially nothing. *Shrug emoji*]
With Duke Otto officially becoming a vassal of Geoffrey, he was forced to resign from my council. With no other major direct vassals left, I decide to appoint Mayor Frederick, a local trading lord from just across the Golden Horn, as my new steward.
King Demetrius corners me just after an ordinary lunch, looking angry.

"The Duke of Strymon constantly insults me backhandedly at council meetings, my emperor," he says, looking rather upset. "He is rightfully my vassal, as per the Kingdom of Thessalonica's de jure borders. I ask you for a transfer of vassalage."

"King Demetrius, you certainly must know that it is not in my best interest to lose my uncle as a direct vassal," I counter.

"Emperor Robert, you certainly must know that it is entirely my best interest to gain that vassal."

We stand there, a few inches apart, eye-to-eye, as if about to fight.

"I cannot, and will not, allow you to take the Duke of Strymon," I deadpan.

Demetrius straightens out his back a bit and smiles just slightly. "In that case, your imperial majesty, I'd like to request indefinite leave from your council."

We both know what he means.

"I understand," I say. "You are dismissed."

As soon as I can, I find my uncle and tell him to rush home to his fief, that Demetrius is coming. He is certainly grumbly at my passive stance towards the King of Thessalonica's aspirations, but I tell him I cannot do a thing until Demetrius calls his banners.
Just six weeks later, Demetrius does just that. He issues an official declaration of war against my uncle, and begins to compiles his army. Robert, having prepared, does the same.

I consider my options.
Stretching the word of the law, I send an official demand to Chalcidice, telling him to lower his arms. In return, we would all pretend like this never happened at all, and I might even be inclined to owe him a favor.

This is a desperate last measure, and Demetrius knows it.
Demetrius's response is simple:

"Alea iacta est."

What a pompous cunt he is.

Unfortunately, this outright rejection of my authority sets a dangerous precedent. It proves that I am emperor on vellum, but not in steel.
I am brooding in my study one evening when Marie seeks me out.

"Are you alright, my lord?" she asks.

I know that her calling me "lord" is a play at making me feel a bit more empowered than I actually am, and for that, I appreciate it. It fails miserably to comfort me, however. "Robert," I mutter. "I'm not your lord."

She sits down next to me and wraps her arm around me. "I'm sorry, Robert," she says in a voice barely above a whisper. "I know it must be terrible seeing this happen to your uncle."

I nod. The Duke of Strymon had introduced me to this realm, made me feel at home here; he was my most trusted advisor. If he ended up in servitude to King Demetrius, he would be compelled to leave my court. Who then would I turn to, Geoffrey? I mentally scoff at the thought.

"Melancholy will not help you," she says. "I know this firsthand."

"What else can I do?" I ask, reveling a bit in my misery.

She sits there with me for a minute, stroking my hair.

"I'm pregnant," she says.

My spirits lift as I turn to her to find her smiling. "Is it a boy or a girl this time?" I ask.

"One can't be sure, but I believe it will be a daughter."
Feeling a bit refreshed, I quickly pen a letter to King Demetrius. In it, I inform him that he has been relieved of his duties as a commander of Romanian armies, and announce that I've sacked him from my privy council.

This news will no doubt anger him, but that is not my concern.
My search for a new spymaster ends when I learn of the reputation of a certain Mayor Gerald of Kibotos. Supposedly, the man is a spider without equal. I send him an invitation to my council, which he accepts.
With the help of Marie and Gerald, I begin to plot against King Demetrius. While murder seemed a bit too cruel for me, I convince Gerald that kidnapping the Lombard would send a proper message. We begin to test the waters and see who might be interested in plotting against the man.
I also send my uncle a large donation, hoping it would help him fight off the King of Thessalonica.
More shifting occurs in my privy council. An anonymous source in my court has compiled extensive evidence against Bishop Adrien, and the documents are irrefutable. I inform Adrien that he has been relieved of his duties as my court chaplain, but that he may stay in Constantinople as my court physician, as no better candidate was evident.
I recruit Bishop Arnold of Herakleia to move to my court and serve as my official advisor on religious matters. Within a year, my close circle of advisors has changed considerably.

[A cynical bishop, how lovely!]
I manage to find those willing to plot against King Demetrius across the realm, mostly men who were concerned with his growing power. Men who are French and Italian alike line up around the block in order to help contain his power.
The two armies meet in the county of Strymon, and my uncle loses the battle decisively. Things look bleak for the Courtenays of Strymon.
Marie's old horse, a beautiful creature named Gunnar, died in early 1225, and she has been desperate to find a new one since. Drawing from my personal treasury, I splurge on her, buying the finest horse money can buy - a sleek black mare, kind in its disposition. Marie names her Adolfina.
On November 8th, 1225, Marie gives birth to our second child - a daughter. After some discussions, I convince Marie to name her Emelisse, after my caretaker and tutor back at Namur. 

I hold her in my arms. Two young ones that were mine, now. It was slightly maddening to consider.
Emelisse was rather large coming out of the wound, and it becomes apparent early on in her rearing that she is rather large compared to other girls her age.
In response to high taxes levied on them by King Demetrius, Greek peasants rise up in Thessalonica. Not caring much for making the distinction between Catholic lords, they attack the armies of my uncle, and his forces are routed in an embarrassing display.
Disturbing news reaches us from the Muslim lands. Caliph Idris of the Almohad Caliphate declares his intention to kickstart further jihads against Christian territory. The notion frightens us, but we recognize that we are adequately shielded by the Greek state to our east. The good-for-nothing Orthodox are at least serving some purpose.
[I'm "the Drunkard" and I don't even have the drunkard trait. Good on you, Paradox.]
As summer wanes, I begin to think more about becoming more physically fit. While I'm entirely unwilling to alter my eating habits, I decide to at least make some effort towards increasing my endurance.
My six years or so of martial training have turned me into a somewhat competent fighter. Putting this to practice, however, is a whole other thing.
King Demetrius marches west and puts down the peasant revolt, executing their leader and exacting harsh vengeance on the people of Thessalonica. No wonder they rose up in the first place.
In December of 1226, I finally begin my gambit. My authority is so paper-thin that I'm more than a bit insecure about my position. I decide to pass a few laws giving me just a little more central authority - allowing me to raise higher levies, things like that. I pray that my council of minor lords will allow it to pass.
My uncle still technically serves on the council, and his approval is implicit. I reach out to Geoffrey and bring up that favor he promised me over two years ago; while he's a bit annoyed at willingly signing off on increased authority for Constantinople, he agrees to honor his deal.
I reach out to Bishop Arnold and put some coin into his hands in exchange for support. He agrees, and votes in favor of the legislation.
I also work some coin into the hand of Count Conon of Adrianople, who informed me that he planned to vote for me anyway, but that he'll also take the coin, thank you very much.
And with that, the sausage-making of legislation is over, and the law is passed. I now have marginally more authority. It is more of a moral victory than a substantial one, but it will suffice.
In response to Sunni rhetoric towards Jihad, Pope Silvester IV announces his intention to continue the Crusades as well. While the Fourth Crusade may have not exactly accomplished its original goals [*coughs in French while sitting on the throne in Constantinople*], the Crusade was still a grand and holy institution of the Church.
[This is mostly so you can get an idea of how big the de jure realm of King Demetrius is. Frankly, this makes no sense; Thessalonica should be a titular kingdom. Alas.]
Tales from the east reach our ears in Constantinople. Supposedly, a grand horde from the Orient has united the rest of the barbarians and has conquered most of the steppe. They now look outside of their lands and towards Persia, where the wealthy Khwarazmian Empire rules.

While the Muslims frighten any decent Christian, the pagan horseman should frighten him even more.
On August 14th, 1227, my uncle officially submits. Demetrius gains Strymon's sizable levies, taxes, and gets to bask in the sun for a bit and celebrate his small victory.

I attempt to write to my uncle, but I do not receive word back. I cannot tell if he's been prohibited from interacting with me or if he's angry at my inaction.
As Robert officially leaves my court, Mayor Gaucher of Raidestos is made my constable. Prince Geoffrey towers among my advisors, dwarfing their status and power.

Meanwhile, Demetrius sulks.
Count Baldwin of Philippopolis, a vile heretic until his last breath, meets a young end at the age of 36 when he dies on a hunting trip. The much more agreeable Conon is given the county.
As I continue to learn advanced military tactics with my models, I hear that a small tournament is being held in Constantinople. What better way to ingratiate myself with the people of this beautiful city than to grace them with my presence.

So my bodyguards escort me to the small shack in which the gathering is held. The guard's captain, Gerard, announces "Your Emperor, Robert of Courtenay, approaches. He wishes to compete in your little tournament."

The four teenagers look around at each other with panic written on their faces, as they recognize the royal purple that I wear. However, they didn't speak a lick of French, naturally. "I too am an enthusiast of this game and would compete in fair battle," I offer in broken Greek. "Who shall face me?"

The boys look at each other until their eyes settle on one lad, perhaps fifteen, and a bit fatter than the others. Kindred spirits, him and I. "I-I shall face you, your imperial majesty."

I join the boys at the table and begin to assemble my army. My bodyguards line the walls of the hut, hands on the hilts of their shortswords. "What is your name, boy?" I ask.

"B-Bellerophon, your imperial majesty."

"Bell... what? Never mind. I grant you the proper Latin title 'Bimbus.'"

Bimbus, as it turns out, is a natural at strategy. Every move I make, he sees before I make it; somehow, he is always several steps ahead of me. The dice do not entirely agree with me either. Eventually, his cavalry closes in on me, and I am finished.

"Do you yield?" he asked.

I consider scolding him in a petty manner for not addressing me properly, but I do concede defeat. I shake hands with young Bimbus. I intend to return after I hone my skills a bit more.
[*Checks watch* *whistles to pass the time*]
Marie takes ill in February of 1228, but thankfully, it was just a bad case of food poisoning. She quickly recovers.
After some months of intense training, I am confident in my abilities once more. I learn of the first possible play session in Constantinople and am overjoyed to get a second chance at besting my nemesis.

My bodyguards once again barge into the shack, though this time the boys look less frightened when it happens. I don't even bother with an introduction. "Where's Bimbus? I want him. Now."

The cherubic general sits across from me as we lay out our model armies. It is complete and utter silence; the whole situation is rather intense. Early on, however, it appears as though fortune is on my side; I get some solid first rolls and make the right moves, using my light infantry to harass his lines.

Eventually, a grand cavalry charge seals it for young general. The next Belisarius he is not. "I yield, your imperial majesty."

"What was that, Bimbus?"

"I said that I yield, your imperial majesty."

I smile, accept his surrender, and strut out of the shack with my pride intact, while I hear the teenagers bitch about how Creative Assembly *really* needs to release Shogun 3.
We learn that the Mongols have spread across Northern Persia. Hopefully, they do not mean to make a beeline for Anatolia; rather they bash their heads against the Persians for a few decades.
Mayor Gerald, who had been attempting to build support for the kidnapping plot in Chalcidice, instead writes a letter back to me, mentioning that he learned of some blackmail material implicating King Demetrius in the center of a very strange orgy that occurred in Kallipolis some years back. I tell him to run with it, and two months later, a letter arrives from King Demetrius, informing me that he has reconsidered his decision to participate with Prince Geoffrey in Saint Matthew's Faction.

It is a small victory, but it is something.
Speaking of Kallipolis, an outbreak of smallpox occurs in the city after spreading there via ship from the Greek heartland. I begin to consider the possibility of closing Constantinople to the outside if things were to get bad enough.
Mayor Gaucher and Prince Geoffrey both inform me that they plan to return to their home castles to wait out the smallpox outbreak. I grant them this, of course.
Meanwhile, the outbreak burns through Thrace. I'm typically not a paranoid person, but my thoughts remain with my family as the plague approaches. Young Phillip, four years old, and Emelisse more youthful still. The idea of them falling ill to the vile disease fills me with dread.
I learn of a Greek claimant to some lands in Trebizond and decide to grant him the right to recruit mercenaries in my land. Anything to weaken the standing of the remnant Greek states.
The Islamic world has decided to focus their attention to the east rather than west. Caliph Az-Zahir of the Abbasids declares Jihad against the Mongols in order to push them out of Persia and back up into the steppe.
A long day at work. With several members of my council gone, the burden of running the state falls mostly on me, and it is exhausting me. For once, I retire to my bed before Marie does.

"Robert," she says, in a voice just above a whisper, standing over me.

"Yes?" I reply groggily.

"I'm with child again."

I smile, and we think of names that night. Meanwhile, I make a decision that I aim to carry out tomorrow.
With my wife pregnant and smallpox approaching on all sides, I give my guards the go-ahead: they seal the great Roman walls of this city. In addition to this, they substantially tighten security around Palace of Bucoleon, allowing no one in or out.

This city shall survive the rigors of disease.
We learn that the pestilence engulfs countryside towns and forts near our great city. Reports come in of peasants dying by the thousand, and the Greeks of our capital suddenly become angry at me for leaving them to die.

It wasn't like there was much I could do. I have my guards crack down on any dissent that might crop up.
With my council so diminished, I decide to propose a small law change that would give me the right to revoke titles under "just reason." Vague wording aside, I try to push the idea that this would mostly be in an effort to eventually force Orthodox lords off of their land.
Quickly, my shell of a council approves the measure. At least this situation has helped in some small way.
To the east, we learn that the Mongols have continued expanding into Persia while the Jihad is on. Irony is sometimes delightful.
As the year turns to 1229, however, everything begins to fall apart. Emperor John Asen II of Bulgaria musters his forces and declares to the world that he plans on annexing Adrianople and Philippopolis, consider them to be a part of the rightful Bulgarian homeland.

My realm: plagued by disease, inefficient administration, and insubordinate vassals. Now the Bulgarians approach; the damned barbarians, with their hordes of men that obey the orders of John Asen as though he were God.

Crisis has officially overtaken my empire.
I call the levies. We are outnumbered, but we shall fight. *I* shall fight. On my watch, this empire will not lose a mile of land.

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Imperium Romaniae (A CK2 HIP Latin Empire AAR) - Chapter 3: The Four Horsemen

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