Not Yet Lost (Chapter IV): Love and War

Author: Malafides
Published: 2017-01-27, edited: 2018-03-25

Part of the campaign:

Not Yet Lost (1320 - 1392)

Previous part:

Game: Crusader Kings II

Not Yet Lost (Chapter III): Blind Ambition

Images: 30, author: Malafides, published: 2017-01-27, edited: 2018-01-24

For all my triumphs on the battlefield, I still meet failure in the bedroom. Why? I've been married for almost a decade and all I have is a daughter to show for it. I love my wife, but I can't dismiss the thought that Judy doesn't feel the same. Am I being cuckolded? What's wrong with me? I'm supposed to be Mars, but instead I feel like Vulcan.
With Blind King John dead and buried, his son gets crowned King of Bohemia. He was born with the Czech name Wenceslaus, but like his father, he spent his youth wining and dining in the French court. He goes by Charles IV in honor of his uncle, the late King Charles IV of France. The world has had its fill of Charlies, so I think I'll call him Winnie.

King John lacked common sense, but at least he made up for it in courage. My brother-in-law is a bonafide ninny. He's devoted most of his life to religious studies with little understanding to show for it. Bohemia's churchmen stand behind him, but its nobles scheme against him, calling him the "Pfaffenkönig." If you don't speak German, that means the "Friar-Fapper."

OK, so it means the "Priest's King." But I think we all know what's really going on. I reconfirm the non-aggression treaty between our countries, but I decline to offer an alliance. His father waged a pointless war and abandoned me in my hour of need. How can Winnie offer any better?
The chamberpot that is Croatia bubbles over with Blagai's rebellion. Since the death of King Charleth, it's been unclear who exactly is in charge of Croatia. The teenage Queen goes in and out of hiding as Regents flip back and forth between several local powers. Blagai is not the type to fuck around with political intrigue. He'd rather decorate some spikes with his enemy's heads.
With his house now in order, Narimantas declares war against the Teutons. When he first converted, he sent letters through the West denouncing their bloody oppression of the local people. With Catholicism entrenched in his Kingdom, Narimantas claims that the Teutonic Order is a decaying corpse that must be put to rest, even if he has to tear it apart one piece at a time.
The Kaiser declares war on the Duke of Milan, attempting to incorporate the county of Graubunden into the nascent Swiss Confederacy. Heinrich VIII is no idiot. He knows the Electors only chose him so they'd be free of imperial meddling. He intends to shore up his popularity with the burghers and merchants of Germany to strengthen his position. He's not content to remain a puppet emperor -- for now, the Empire is weak and divided, but the Niklotids could become a dangerous enemy.

I have other things on my mind.
It's been a year since I came back from The Blind Man's War, and I've hardly seen my wife. She says I'm the one who's been absent all these years. To be honest, we've both been avoiding each other. When we do spend time together, I can feel her trying to be warm, but it's trapped under a layer of ice.

I got drunk enough to complain about my marriage to one of my servants last night. First came the beer. Then came the vodka. Then came the tears. I woke up with a hangover and a deep sense of regret, but I did remember some advice. Wojtech said that his wife always gets randy when he buys her some jewelry, and hell, I'm a King! I can offer some of the finest jewelry in the world.

I find Jutte in her study this morning, poring over the Bible. Her nose almost brushes the page, as always. The sky is pink and my eyes are throbbing.

"Judy?" I say. I give her open door a tap to announce my arrival, but she startles anyway. The Good Book falls to the floor. She picks it up, finds her place, and saves it with the book's red ribbon.

"My Lord?" she says. Her eyes are still fixed on the Bible's cover. I clear my throat.

"I, um. I thought..." Shit, I went in blind. I was so surprised to actually see her I forgot I had to say something.

"I got you something. I thought you might like it."

I stride over to her like an awkward teenager and rest the rubies on her desk. She looks down at the gems, scoops them into her hands, and watches the light filter through them. For the first time in months, she meets my eyes. Maybe Wojtech was right.

"Kazy..." she says. It's sweet to hear the nickname, but it looks like she's at a loss. She smiles -- but she's shaking her head. There's something behind it, something I can't figure out.

"Thank you, my Lord. You are..." She swallows a lump in her throat. "You are too good to me." She clutches the rubies and clenches her eyes. Her lips tighten into a thin line. I can feel the silence tremble around us. Then a robin starts to chirp outside the window.

She opens her eyes. They're beginning to brim with tears. "I'm so sorry, my darling." She places the rubies on top of the Bible and paces to the window, her hands astride the sill. Then she whirls around and locks eyes with me, but she can't take the contact for more than a second. She looks down at my shoes instead.

"I need some time alone with God, my love," she says. "Perhaps we'll see each other soon."
As always, I turn to war to take my mind off marriage. The Kaiser is distracted, and I want in on the fun.
With his new base in Mecklenburg, the Kaiser catches me off-guard and marches into Poznan before I can gather my forces. Polish horsemen manage to escape over the Vistula and gather in Kujawy before the Germans can cut them off. The Vistula will be like a wall of water to defend us as we ready for battle.
As the Germans siege Poznan, we slip into Gniezno to outmaneuver his armies.
Once again, we slaughter the Kaiser's troops on Poznan's open fields.

I hate to admit it, but I only truly feel alive on the battlefield. They call me "the Great," but I can't even control my own marriage. Sometimes I wonder if this is all I'm good for.
As we continue our march into the Empire, my niece seizes control of Bârlad.
The soldiers of Narimantas are poised to conquer Lettgalia -- but the King is dead in his war camp, after days in a delirious fever, sputtering up phlegm. His crown now sits on the head of Virmantas, his 1-year old son. They called him Narimantas the Destiny-Grasper -- but his country's destiny remains unclear.
We fight a few skirmishes in Lubusz. Then the troops stand down for a winter vacation.
After a decade of civil war, King John Plantagenet emerges poor but victorious.
As Polish knights toast to Christmas and the New Year, the Kaiser remains distracted in the Alps.
A small German army approaches with the dawn of April. We spring forward into war.
We Poles have twice the Kaiser's mettle -- and twice the men to boot.
When King Narimantas defeated Lubko, he offered the Prince clemency in return for conversion. Now that Narimantas is dead, Lubko declares war on the boy-king for his own claim on Lithuania. Still, he holds to the Catholic faith -- he only followed Orthodoxy when it would win him support. Now he wants to twist the Mother Church to suit his purposes.
Our troops have sieged the fortress of Schlawe for months. I was hoping they'd surrender before winter, but no dice. They'll pay for their bravery.
Though we storm the fortress, almost 2,000 Polish soldiers lose their lives. It'll keep me awake at night, but better to die in a blaze of glory then freeze to death.
And in the end, I'm little more than a soldier in a crown. I too pay the price of war. German reinforcements arrive with the New Year and I crush them just the same, but their commander confronts me at the head of my armies and slices my hand off at the wrist. I let it be a reminder of all that soldiers lose. It's only the left one, anyway.
In March, Heinrich VII relents and turns over Slupsk to my control. It's a bittersweet victory.
Screw these Croatian motherfuckers, we're better off without them anyway!

Queen Gisele has supposedly come of age and taken the throne, but if anything, the people see her even less. Croatia's shifting Council of Regents now control the country even as war rages between the so-called "Royal Armies" and János Blagai's forces. Supposedly Gisele is cloistered in religious contemplation, or else in hiding to protect her life. Rumor has it the Queen has been locked up in Knin Fortress for years. Some even say she's dead.
My niece sends me a letter from the battlefield. The contents quickly become public knowledge.

"Dear uncle,

Our family battles vultures in Slovenia while your men go on adventures in the North. How many Hungarians have died for the sake of your ego? Have you forgotten the oaths you made on the life of my late mother and father? My husband tells me that Polish nobles call the lands of d'Anjou a pit of vipers, but it takes one serpent to know another. I demand you answer for your dishonor."
After a decade of rebellion, a wedding ring has brought together what blood and iron could not. Hungary has been united by the marriage of Queen Elizabeth d'Anjou and Matthew V Csák, the Duke of Nyitra. With his father's bones languishing in his wife's dungeons, cowardly Matthew is eager to get with the program.

I know the real reason behind Lizzy's letter. I had to save her ass twice when she was still a little kid, and many of her subjects still view her as a foreign noble. She wants to prove that she calls the shots, not me.

So she wants a letter? I'll give her a fucking letter.
"To my dearest niece,

You wound me with your accusations! I have nothing but love for your sister, your family, and your country. Stories rise daily from the Carpathians applauding your victories against the Impaler of Slovenia. If I did not think you could handle his army of bandits, I would have joined you on the field.

But have you forgotten the great dragon to the West? If we give it time to lick its wounds, it will surely emerge from its lair to swallow us whole. Without what you call my 'Northern adventures,' the Kaiser could shatter us both against the Balkans while his armies burn Esztergom to ashes.

Let me bleed the beast while you restore order to your father's Kingdoms. By his memory, I swear I shall my sword shall not waver in its defense."

There. That ought to do it.
Now that the war is over and the d'Anjou twins are done barking at me, I have nothing to keep me busy. I still can't catch Judy without her entourage in tow -- somehow she surrounds herself with the court's most beautiful women, and they spend their days in religious service or else in private study. It's strange to admit, but I wish she would look at me the way she looks at them. I feel like a stranger to her.

I turn to domestic matters to clear my head. Between wars, I've managed a delicate balance between the nobility, the church, and the country's growing population of Jews and burghers. By delicate balance, of course, I mean they all hate each other and rely on my support.

That means I can cement the power of the Crown more firmly than ever before. My father laid the foundations of this Kingdom, but I've built it into a house of laws.
A tentative ceasfire brings more anxiety than calm to Croatia. The Regency has signed peace with János Blagai, but the Impaler still walks free without punishment for his treason.
I've been married for 14 years, and still I have no son. Jadwiga is the light of my life -- but I doubt Poland would accept her on the throne.

I ran into Judy on one of her rare visits to our bedroom last night. She didn't seem surprised to see me. The moon and a candle illuminated her face, knit tight with feeling but otherwise illegible.

"It's been a while," I breathe. She nods and stares at the bedsheets.

"Kazy," she sighs. "You're a good man. A good husband, a good king. A good father. But you deserve more than what I have to offer you."

She sighs and shakes her head. Light lines have begun to crease the corners of her eyes, but her beauty is undiminished.

"I have..." she starts, then closes her mouth again. She laces her fingers together at the hem of her dress. "I have sinned. I have sinned terribly, my dear husband. I have wronged you."

I still love her, but that love is an empty vessel now. We both reek of loneliness. Somehow I smile.

"Please," I say. "I understand. Or I wish I could understand."

The moon is thin and sharp overhead. "I thought I could figure out how to get you to love me. But I see now that's impossible."

A laugh bubbles from the void in my stomach. I shake my head.

"I don't know how it took me so long." I catch those eyes I've never been able to decipher. "I just want us both to be happy some day."
I buy indulgence from the Pope and set both of us free.
Judy's family is furious, but at least I take all the blame. Now Judy can live whatever life she wants, and she can always play the wounded party if people start asking questions. It's hard to argue with a Queen in exile. Winnie breaks our non-aggression pact and sends me a bunch of angry letters. I burn them all. Who needs Winnie the Ninny, anyway.

I stare off into the fireplace and drink away the pain while my envoys search for a bride. I fall asleep wondering what it would be like to be loved.

Next chapter:

Game: Crusader Kings II

Not Yet Lost (Chapter V): Look to the West

Images: 31, author: Malafides, published: 2017-01-27, edited: 2018-03-25