Not Yet Lost (Chapter VII): Penitence

Author: Malafides
Published: 2017-02-01, edited: 2018-01-24

Part of the campaign:

Not Yet Lost (1320 - 1392)

Previous part:

Game: Crusader Kings II

Not Yet Lost (Chapter VI): Homeward Bound

Images: 35, author: Malafides, published: 2017-01-27, edited: 2018-01-24

The air is still frozen with February. The hooves of Spring echo in the distance, but she's still a month's travel away. For now, winter refuses to loosen its grasp on the country. The roofs and streets are covered in snow, still falling in little teardrops.

My people must see me like they see the snow -- white and pure and innocent. That's why they're shut up in their houses, leaving the capital in eerie silence. Today is my coronation day. Today belongs to me, but tomorrow is anyone's game. The people love me, but they have no faith that I can survive. Poland's petty nobles are eager to tear the country to pieces for the sake of their own wealth and power.

Let them underestimate me. Let them think I'm innocent. The appearance of weakness will be my greatest strength. By the time they can see the lion in the lamb, it will be too late to escape me.
Soon after my coronation, God favors me with a child. I pray His Grace will save this one.

Spycimir and I were almost parents once, when we were still teenagers. But the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. My son died before he was ever born, just like my would-be brother.
I still feel the loss of that child. The worst dreams are the good ones. Sometimes he's a baby, warm and happy in my arms, suckling at my breast. Sometimes he's a child, and I can hear the pitter-patter of his feet running through the castle courtyard. Then I wake up, and the moonlight on my husband's face reminds me of the truth.

He might be a lunkhead, but he's my lunkhead. I couldn't stand him growing up. Then we lost our child. With his temper, I thought he'd be angry with me. Instead, he just cried and cried. He summoned up a reservoir of kindness I never knew he had, and together, we made it through.

Now God has given us another chance. Soon after my accession, I stripped the Germans of their lands and took it into my own domain. I might have admired the Margravina of Brandenburg growing up, but she has no love for me. Now my husband and I control most of the country.
Our cousin Zygmunt controls Silesia, some of the most precious territory on the planet. Towns patterned after Magdeburg are growing like weeds along the riverbank. Ziggy is happy to take advantage.

He's got a real knack for business, and the burghers love him for it. The clergy? Not so much. Let's just say his preference of city over church is not only one they take issue with.
Ziggy is married, but he prefers the company of men. Rumor has it that his childhood friendship with a young peasant is more than platonic.

The Duke could make a dangerous enemy -- but the potential for blackmail could turn him into a useful ally instead.
The Bishops of Nowy Sacz have gotten stronger and stronger since they gained power at the turn of the century. My grandfather rewarded their support with control of Sandomierz and the title of Archbishop.

Now the Archbishop could become a dangerous enemy. Mikolaj Glogowski's poetry gets recited throughout the land, but he was conspicuously absent at my coronation and suspiciously quiet thereafter. The pen can be mightier than the sword, and his could cut me down.
But Usciech Piast is the true enemy. The Duke of Kuyavia tried to flex his power even before my father's death. He even had the audacity to declare war against the Chancellor, the Duke of Pomeralia!

My father convened the Wiec to force him into peace, but I have no doubt he will strike again. The man has no respect for royal authority, no respect for the Mother Church, and no respect for me. He is the very embodiment of this country's corrupted nobility. Usciech is eager to return to a divided Poland where his decadence can know no limit.

I won't give him the opportunity.
The childless Duke of Pomeralia dies. He was a useful man -- but he's more useful dead.

The Jew Giza of Taraz takes his place as my Chancellor. The nobles would tear him apart if they could, but that means all his loyalty belongs to me.

By the dictates of my father's law, the Duchy of Pomeralia passes to me. Usciech is furious, and denounces the inheritance.
I wasn't planning on keeping it, anyway. I toss it to my distant cousin, the former Count of Slupsk.

Dobiesław will make the perfect Spymaster, and he's devotedly loyal to me. In truth, we're cut from the same cloth, and we've been close friends since we were children.

So let Usciech think he's won, for now. This is still my victory. Now that I've scratched Dobie's back, it's time for him to scratch mine. We have a vision for the future that will crush the petty nobles once and for all.
My spies slip into Kuyavia to keep an eye on the Duke. His every mistake will become my opportunity.
My son is born with the dawn of the next winter. He has his grandfather's eyes, but he's got Spytko's dirty blond hair. For a few days, all thought of politics dissolves.
But even a few days is too long. I can't afford to be complacent. I host a feast to celebrate the birth of my son and the Son of God as well, but it's all for show. If you want to control the people, you feed the face and keep them distracted. Bread and circuses, bread and circuses.

As they celebrate, I arrange a murder. For my son to live, Usciech must die.
But first, I have to deal with a distraction of my own.

My old hero Gunhilda Ascanian has been rabble-rousing in Magdeburg. A lot of Germans are not too happy with Polish overlords or the Polish settlers streaming into their lands. The former Duchess wanted to return to the Empire and her seat in Brandenburg, but her movement swallowed her up.

The horde now follows Werner von Gorlice. He may be a landless noble, but he's a charismatic general with wide popular support. He'd rather establish his own personal fiefdom than turn it over to Gunhilda and the Empire.
These Germans will make the perfect guinea pigs. Oh hush, I know that's an anachronism. You don't interrupt a King.

My father kept a small retainer of personal horsemen, but I have expanded their number. They'll cut their teeth in the Magdeburg Revolt. When they're done, they will fulfill an even greater purpose.

I raise my own forces, but I send a letter to each of my vassals. I tell them that this is my battle, and I would not risk their men for it.

To take their place, I become an alchemist, transmuting Jewish gold into Russian steel. I won't just defeat this mass of rabble. I'll make an example out of them.
"I'm sorry, yermajesty," the man grunts. "But he woke up just before I started stabbin'. Managed to stick 'im one pretty good, but I couldn't pin 'im down. He started yelpin' and hollerin', squirmin' around like a fish. Had to get outta there 'fore the whole thing done got cocked up."

He shakes his head, his one good eye avoiding mine to stare at the table. The other is cataracted over. It can't help but stay fixed on me. He sighs and steals a glance at the room around him, draped with tapestries and carved in stone. I'm sure this worm has seen things I can't imagine, but he's in my chambers now. It might as well be the lion's den. No one even knows he's here.

"Worry not, dear servant," I say. "God will reward you for your efforts." I slide a bag of silver across the table. He pours the coins into his hand and his gaze oozes over them. I pull out a bottle of wine my servants prepared for this very occasion. "Usciech's time will come. For now, let us celebrate."

I pour myself a glass, then one for him. I can see the thirst in his ugly mouth. He'll never have wine this good again. I raise my glass and he follows along, wearing a wide grin. I let a smile creep onto my face.

I bring my glass to my lips, only a centimeter from touching the flesh. It's already bottom's up for the bodyguard. He laps down the whole glass, then slides it forward for a refill. I smile and comply, but by the time it's full, he's already started trembling. He's poisoned enough people to know what it feels like by now. His mouth yaws open in recognition, but it's too late. His body stiffens and he lets out a low moan, then a shudder passes through his body. His head falls and cracks against the table.

"To the Lord's justice," I say. "May it light upon us all."
Von Gorlice has proven incapable of managing his men. While he dithers in Brandenburg, three quarters of his men wander into Silesia, plundering and pillaging all the way. My troops move through Opole to catch them in Wroclaw with their pants down.
The result is total slaughter. Von Gorlice keeps riding forward to reinforce his men, with no survivors to warn him of his folly.
When he sees our soldiers barreling towards him, von Gorlice runs back to Magdeburg with his tail between his legs.

Let him and Usciech enjoy their last days of freedom. Soon, both shall know the taste of justice. The Duke has thwarted my efforts time and time again. It's time to end this game of cat and mouse, and crush him between my teeth.

Where swords have fallen short, my stories will strike true and pierce the heart. I send whispers through the country, spreading word of Usciech's perversion. They say that no child in his court is safe from his advances -- not even his own son.

It's all bullshit, of course. But I'll make him drown in it.
In late June, my soldiers finally catch up to von Gorlice's forces.

I won't give him the pleasure of martyrdom or the release of execution. He can rot in my dungeons instead. In time, his hunger will eat away his righteousness.
Soon, my vision will become reality. But not yet. Before I purge the corruption from within, I must seek security from without.

My half-sisters will make the perfect bargaining chips. In one fell swoop, I can forge an alliance, fortify my position, and send a potential rival far away.

The Lithuanians are my first priority. The promising young Prince Vainius will make an excellent match for my sister Elzbieta, named for her Aunt, the late Queen of Hungary.
My next attempt at alliance is somewhat unconventional, but if the Pope should turn against me, it might be nice to have some allies in the Eastern Church.

Eufrozyna's already got a Greek name. It seems only fitting that she should marry a Greek to top it off.
Finally, I arrange a betrothal between my youngest sister and the boy-king of France. He's in a fragile position now, but he could prove invaluable if he holds onto power. A Franco-Polish Alliance should turn the Kaiser into a bedwetter.
Glogowski's written some...pretty suggestive poetry in the past. He doesn't say anything outright, but he's an expert on beating around the bush when it comes to his altar boys.

Now he's finally turned his attentions to political writing. My spies tell me he's working on a satire of my coronation. A bit of a shame, really. I enjoyed Glogowski's poetry, but I can't let him or his work see the light of day.

As snow melts in the wake of Summer, I declare an epidemic of vice throughout the land. Greedy nobles took advantage of the Kingdom's partition for two centuries. They exploited the country's weakness to strengthen their own hold on power, living lives of decadent debauchery.

What my forefathers brought to order, I shall bring to the light.
Over the last year, Dobie and I have forged my father's guard into an instrument of true power.

Almost a thousand young Polish knights flock to my banner, devoted to me and my holy mission. They have noble blood, but they cloak themselves in the black vestments of the clergy. These man are more than mere knights. They are my Pokutniki, my "Penitents."

Like Christ banishing the moneylenders from his temple, we shall purge the country of its sins. Tonight will be the first Ride of the Pokutniki.

They steal Usciech from his bed under cover of night and deliver him to my dungeons where I await.
Usciech stands before me on his knees, his arms clasped in manacles, his eye swollen from resistance. Blood trails from his busted lip. He glowers up at me, his teeth grit into a look of determination. I can see the weakness behind it. My spies in his court tell me his wound is getting worse and worse as fever starts to seize his body. Usciech's hateful glare breaks beneath a coughing fit.

"So it's come to this," he pants, "you miserable, shriveled-up cunt." A murmur of discontent ripples through the Penitents. One moves to unsheathe his blade, but I raise a palm to stay his hand. The Duke hawks a glob of blood and phlegm onto the floor. "Do you really think you can get away with this?"

And does he think he can scare me with words alone? I'm not some terrified little girl. I am the terror.

"Usciech Piastowic, Duke of Kuyavia and Prince of Inowroclaw," I say. "For too long, your immorality has infected the land. You have turned your court into the Devil's den, a harem full of innocent children. Not only have you violated your own son, but you have violated the laws of God and man alike. Now you stand before the Court of the Penitents. How do you plead?"

The knights already began to boo and stamp their feet as Usciech's bloodshot eyes go wide, his mouth agape in silence. The dungeon air hangs cold and suffocating around us as Penitent voices bounce against the stone walls. At last, Usciech finds his voice.

"M-my own son?!" he shouts. "My own son! Y-you...you...monster! Liar, animal, devil! How -- how could you? How dare you?" One of the men kicks Usciech in the small of the back. He lets out a yelp of pain, which becomes a wracking sob, and then a coughing fit.

"Court of the Penitents," I say. "Tonight, you stand as the instruments of God's vengeance. All those who find the Duke innocent, say aye."

The room is silent except for Usciech's labored breath. The black cloaks of the Penitent make them look like borderless shadows in this low light. I let my prey linger in uncertainty for just a moment longer. I want him to treasure the weight of this moment. I want him to realize it's his last moment unbroken.

"All those who find the Duke guilty of his crimes, speak now."

The dungeon erupts into agreement. I raise a hand to bring them back to order.

"Usciech Piastowic, the Court finds you guilty of sodomy, pederasty, and blasphemy. For these terrible crimes, I shall dole out your just desserts." Usciech locks eyes with me, as if he could kill me with his will alone. He'll have no such luck. I snap my fingers and the Penitents stand at attention.

"Strip him naked," I demand. Usciech protests, but one Penitent grabs him by the base of the skull and forces his face against the floor. The others cut his clothes off, their blades kissing his skin as they go about their business.

"Turn him over," I say, "and hold him down." Usciech struggles like a child resisting his parents' attempts to dress him. The men stretch him out before me. I make sure to meet his eyes.

"Unman him," I say. All the rage drains from Usciech's face, replaced by fear and desperation. Now that's what I like to see.

"N-no no no no no, please, please no," he stutters. "Your m-majesty, I beg of you, p-please, find some pity in your heart! I'll do whatever you ask of me, anything you want! I'll be your humble servant, please, please--"

A Penitent smothers his words with a black-gloved hand. As cold steel cuts through tender flesh, I can see the stifled scream in his face. When they're done with him, Usciech has nothing more to say. He's arrived at his second infancy, covered in blood and tears and excrement. All that's left for him is the oblivion of my oubliette -- sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
At long last, young Duke Leszek has been freed from his father's "abuse." I shall raise him as my own, teach him to curse his father's name and call me mother.
Now only the poet stands in my way. I'll spill his inkwell and cover his words in darkness.
Usciech's fate has proven my mettle to King Karijotas. He proposes an alliances, planing to divide the Teutonic Lands between us. I accept. The Lithuanians are too close to ignore. I know they must become our friends, or they will become our enemies.
Winter comes again, along with a new child. Last year I gave Kazy one little brother, named for my grandfather. Now he'll have two siblings to keep him company.
My belly swells with child, but idle hands are the Devil's playthings. The Penitents ride again to capture Glogowski and bring him before me.

It's too bad he has to go, but he's just too dangerous to live. The Court finds him guilty of sodomy. He'll spend the rest of his short life in prison, his fingers broken, his tongue cut out. I hope my cousin Ziggy will learn from his mistakes.
Glogowski was no man of God. It's up to me to do His dirty work.
My father always told me that no man rules alone -- but I am no man.

The righteous shall prosper in the crucible of my reign, while the wicked melt away.

And my work has scarcely begun. Let all sinners pray to God for mercy. I have none to give.

Next chapter:

Game: Crusader Kings II

Not Yet Lost (Chapter VIII): Heart and Stomach

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

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