Not Yet Lost (Chapter IX): Let Reason Prevail

Author: Malafides
Published: 2017-04-19, edited: 2018-01-24

Part of the campaign:

Not Yet Lost (1320 - 1392)

Previous part:

Game: Crusader Kings II

Not Yet Lost (Chapter VIII): Heart and Stomach

Images: 33, author: Malafides, published: 2017-03-01, edited: 2018-01-24

Milobrat Piast was the last gasp of resistance against my power. I've proven my right to rule on the battlefield, and no man can stand against me. Many men have tried, but I am no weak and feeble Queen. I am a King, and I have shown them all the price of pride. Now I rule this nation like a tyrannical husband rules his battered wife. All I have to do is loosen the chokehold and they'll be eating out of the palm of my hand.
My greatest threats now lie outside of Poland. Karijotas died soon after our peace talks with the Teutons. Now his son Vainius sits upon the throne, still in his minority. His Regents re-affirm our alliance, and his marriage to my half-sister.

Poland and Lithuania stand unchecked in the East as the Golden Horde continues to collapse beneath its own weight. The slow-burning Russian revolt against the Mongols keeps both people neutered. Sure, I could step into the power vacuum -- but my descendants could get sucked into the same downward spiral. If I crush those cockroaches today, they would rise again tomorrow, just as they rise against the Mongols. No, let them rebel for another century. As long as they suffer, Poland will thrive.
No, our ambitions still lie to the West. Lithuania may be able to help us crush the Teutons, but they'll be little help against the Kaiser.

For that, I'll need the King of France. He's still too young to rule, and his Regents have been reluctant to agree to a formal alliance. With Poland's inner demons conquered, they've changed their tune.
The new Archbishop proves a much smarter man than his poetic predecessor. Where Glogowski tried to undermine me with his writings, Jakub ingratiates himself instead. He invites me, Spytko, and Dobie to a week of revelry in Sacz, seeking to intertwine the Polish Church and the Polish Crown. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
With King Karijotas dead, Skirgaila splits Lithuania in rebellion. He's just following in his father's footsteps. King Lubko revolted twice and fought for decades to usurp the throne, only to be overthrown himself.
The Polish cavalry charges into Minsk, where Skirgaila's soldiers scrap with the royal army.
Skirgaila has no desire for pitched battle. Before our men can meet the enemy, Skirgaila retreats from King Vainius' army and slips into the Russian forests. He's a man without honor -- finally, someone I can respect.
Meanwhile, Count Branicki gets murdered by Pomeranian spies. It's hard to call the act an unjustice -- after all, he was the one poking around, gathering support for a Polish invasion. But justice is a pliable thing. In time, his death will help provide my case for war. My good friend Archbishop Jakub will take his place as Chancellor. Since the Count was childless and freshly-ennobled, my husband will make sure his lands in Southern Prussia are well taken care of.
Skirgaila's plan is not working out very well. He split his army at the beginning of the war, hoping to meet back up in Orsha. Terrified of the Polish army, the other half shelters behind the Dnieper and declines to meet him. Skirgaila will have to settle for our company instead. We give him a warm welcome.
Already, one of France's envoys threatens to unravel our newly-woven friendship. As Polish nobles busy themselves with their requisite brown-nosing, this human escargot leaves a slime-trail of opinions wherever he goes. He stuffs his face with our food and drinks himself into oblivion, but he drones on about how miserable Krakow can't compare to Paris whenever his mouth is open. Anyone unfortunate enough to understand his language must bite their tongue and suffer through.

I won't have anyone shit-talking my city. I introduce him to the Hedwig School of Diplomacy to help control that tongue. Today, I'm teaching him an important lesson: drunks and balconies don't mix.
Skirgaila surrenders, humiliated by a teenager. His fate will be the same as his father's. At least their spirits can mingle in the dungeons of the Lithuanian King.
This should be a happy day for King Vainius. After years of regency, he was finally crowned last week. Today, two countries celebrate his wedding to my half-sister. But I can't find any happiness on his face. Sure, he's been smiling all night. But it's a practiced smile, a costume donned and discarded as the situation merits. Most 16 year old kings would be happy to bask in their own glory, but not this one.

The feast and the wedding are behind us now. Well, below us, more precisely. We stand on the roof of his keep at Šiauliai. Even at night, the summer air is buggy and oppressive. Muted folk music filters through the cricket songs outside. Vainius looks up at the stars like a starving fisherman, desperate to reel one in.

I break the silence with a platitude: "Beautiful ceremony."

Vainius stifles a bitter chuckle and looks down at the village below. "Aye," he says, "and in such beautiful country."

Vainius turns to look at me, studies my face. He's at least a head taller than I am, big and broad-shouldered, but he's still a teenager figuring out how to hold himself. "How could anyone respect me, ruling from this podunk town?"

The boy is right. Šiauliai is no true capital. It's nothing more than a border fort built to stymie the Teutons. Now it's almost obsolete, with a small village clustered around it like barnacles stuck to the belly of a ship.

"I am no true King without Vilnius," he goes on. "But no, that lies on another branch of the family tree." He fumes and shakes head, clasps his hand across his face. "I'm sorry. I didn't bring you here just to whine." He sighs and looks back out into the distance. "I just wish I knew how you and your father did it." Again, he locks eyes with me.

"My Kingdom is just one giant dysfunctional family, a bunch of uncles and nephews jostling to stab each other in the back. How in God's name could I keep it all together?"

I see the worry in his eyes, the nervousness -- but not a shred of hopelessness. I see the same determination I learned from my father. They seem like men made from the same mold. I offer Vainius a smile.

"My father's most important lesson was this," I say. He's too tall for me to rest a hand on his shoulder, so I clasp his arm instead. "No man can rule alone. You will be your country's great king, and I will help you become him."


______

[Editor's Note: "Šiauliai" is roughly pronounced as "SHO-lay." Beats me, man. Lithuanian is confusing.]
Vitebsk will be Vainius' first step towards greatness. These lands were once part of pagan Lithuania, until his uncle Algirdas converted to Orthodoxy and challenged his father Gediminas for the throne. Algirdas lost control of his country to heretics, and the Rurikids wormed their way in soon after -- but his children have brought chaos to Lithuania ever since. Lubko and his descendants are all the spawn of Algirdas, Lord of Vitebsk. At long last, King Vainius shall bring them to heel. With their lands in hand, he may at last have the power to retake Vilnius from his treacherous kinsmen.
Despite the wayward religion of Vitebsk, the sons of Rurik rush to their brother's side. This comes as a surprise, but apparently these Russians hold blood more dear than faith. It's a lesson to remember -- further proof that Poland must not over-involve itself in Russian affairs. The great Kingdom that Vainius envisions will make the perfect bulwark against them.
As our troops stare down the Russian armies across the river, Dobie delivers some startling news. My own brother-in-law is plotting to kill me. No matter how many cockroaches you squash, another will scurry forth from the dark.
I'd like to make an example of him, but my husband puts his foot down. Spytko loves me, but he knows what happens to traitors. His heart is too soft to let me give his brother the same treatment I gave to Usciech or Milobrat. I smile and nod and promise mercy.
I offer Wielesław my forgiveness, so long as he agrees never to conspire against me again. Both our promises are hollow.
The Russians have been prowling the North, refusing to engage our forces for months. Finally, they've made their move. Our scouts saw their armies cross the Dwina into Polotsk and sent word to Vainius. He told us to stand down. If the Russians knew they were outnumbered, they would never allow a decisive battle. Vainius has been occupying their capital with 1,000 fewer men, taunting them into action.
As soon as the sons of Rurik charge, Vainius' scouts give us the signal. Now Polish horsemen can storm over the Dwina without fear of interception. We catch the Russians in a pincer and make mincemeat of their men.
The young Duke of Vitebsk tripped over himself surrendering. He's happy to give up Orsha if he can keep his capital.
After Vainius' victory, my other sister celebrates her own Big Fat Greek Wedding.

After only a few lackluster years of Palaiologian leadership, the House of Varselonikos has reclaimed the Eastern Empire. Emperor Michael IX was a snake in the grass, sure, but he couldn't outslither that den of vipers they call Rome. After just a few years in power, Michael met the business end of an asp and died without issue. Emperor Adrianos II Varselonikos is a capable man, and he could make a valuable ally, but he rules on shaky footing. He doesn't even control the Queen of Cities, still in Palaiologian hands. Instead, he makes his court in Athens, waiting for the right moment to strike.
Now it's time for my own victory, more lasting than any on the battlefield.

My father wanted to found a university in Krakow, to make our city an equal to any great capital of Europe. He died before he could breathe life into those dreams -- but I am alive, and I am ready.



_____

[Editor's Note: "Jogaila and Jadwiga as founders of Jagiellonian University," by an unknown artist in Krakow in the early 16th century.

In this context, that's King Hedwig, bottom-right. Top-right, Casimir III the Great. Top-left, Archbishop Jakub. Bottom-left, King-Consort Spycimir. Apparently the future artist didn't realize they were bearded.]
With his people behind him, Vainius turns on his cousin, Virmantas the Lecher. Virmantas is more or less a walking, talking scrotum, but he's the eldest son of Narimantas, Lithuania's first Christian king. He even held the throne for a few years, though he was only a child. He's hardly an inspiring figure, but he remains the Lord of Vilnius, inherited from his father.

The rest of Lithuania is happy to see such a man stripped of his lands and titles -- but when King Vainius demands his rightful capital, Virmantas refuses. He's coward enough to let his men fight his battles -- but they won't fight for long.
Vainius and I first envisioned this moment at his wedding. At last, it comes to life. Still on the way back from our war in Russia, my army is perfectly placed to crush Virmantas' troops while they scramble to organize. After a massacre at Trakai, my men continue home in time for Christmas.
Vainius' war is well in hand by the new year, but my blood's still pumping. I decide to organize a spear-throwing contest to celebrate our brave soldiers.
After Poland's greatest knights all test their might, I give them a surprise -- I don my old armor and try my hand. I made sure to keep even Spytko in the dark -- if my subjects knew what I was up to, they'd have let me win. Instead, my spear out-reaches them all. They don't need to let me win. None can match the true King of Poland.
Even as the world boils over in battle, I remain the calm at the center of the hurricane.
But there are still enemies within. I must return from the sword to the dagger.
It's time to take revenge on my brother-in-law -- but I can't break my promise to my husband. I swore I wouldn't harm a hair on his head. That works for me. I don't have to touch his body to crush his spirit.
It only takes weeks of investigation before my Penitents discover his depravity. Like my cousin Ziggy, Wielisław prefers the company of other men. I don't care who he fucks, but my husband is a bit more traditional.
I don't need knives to cut my enemies down. Mere words are enough to shatter a brother's favor. As rumors spread through Masovia, Spytko is forced to denounce and disown his brother. Spytko sobs into my arms the following night. I run my fingers through his hair and coo my cold condolences.
The truth may be enough to damn him, but I want to see him squirm. This one uncomfortable truth will seed a field of lies. All Wielisław has left is shame and misery.
With no one left to protect him, the Penitents close in. His brother can't save him now.
I never break my promise to husband. The Penitents are eager to draw blood throughout his trial, but I force them to stand down. Wielisław will spend his life in prison, without the touch of light.

These are the moments I live for. To take a man's life and peel it apart like a leaf stripped down to its veins -- it makes my whole body glow with pleasure.
But history won't remember me for my cruelty. When I return from my visits to the dungeons, well fed by unanswered pleading, I dream of the university to come. In these bricks and mortar, I will build my legacy. will control Poland's scholars and scientists, her priests and poets. I will write my own story, and this sinner will be made a saint.

And what shall our school's motto be?

Plus ratio quam vis.

"Let reason prevail over force."

Next chapter:

Game: Crusader Kings II

Not Yet Lost (Chapter X): Crisis of Faith

Images: 32, author: Malafides, published: 2017-08-19, edited: 2018-11-03

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