Italy and Beyond - Part Three: Dies Irae

Author: Malafides
Published: 2017-01-27, edited: 1970-01-01

Part of the campaign:

Italy and Beyond

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Game: Crusader Kings II

Italy and Beyond - Part Two: Folco\'s Revelations

Images: 23, author: Malafides, published: 2017-01-27, edited: 1970-01-01

Tremens factus sum ego, et timeo
dum discussio venerit atque ventura ira
quando cœli movendi sunt et terra.
Dies illa, dies iræ, calamitatis et miseriæ!
Dies magna et amara valde
dum veneris iudicare sæculum per ignum.
Requiem æternam dona eis Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

I am made to tremble, and I fear
the foretold judgment and the coming wrath
when the Heavens and the Earth shall move.
O, that day, that day of wrath, of calamities and miseries,
that day of great and boundless sorrow
when thou shalt come to judge the world of man in fire.
Grant them eternal rest, O Lord,
and shine your perpetual light upon them.
I loom bleary-eyed atop Castle Canossa tonight. Satan has stolen sleep from me again. The sun is still hours from rising, along with the people of Italy. They dream of a better world, like sheep counting sheep surrounded by a pack of wolves. In this dark hour, I am the only waking soul to watch over them.
Still the Devil wears me down with each sleepness night. I can feel God getting farther away as Satan reasserts his grip on my soul. Even Queen Alfonsina noticed on her monthly visit to Florence. She encouraged me to spend some time alone, to clear my head away from the temptations of power. The realm will be safe in her hands during my absence.
In my seclusion, the Devil appears before me again. I can feel the breath caught in my throat like a swarm of locusts struck suddenly dead. Satan has not been strong enough to show himself since before the exorcism, but it seems his weakness was only temporary. I was a fool to think the Prince of Evil would be so easily cowed. This time he comes in the shape of a black dog, its eyes gouged out and bleeding, its pink tongue dripping black ichor onto the stone.
"Trouble getting to bed, my darling?" His voice rubs against itself like an insect's legs. I dare not answer. "I could help you," he says. "Give me your body, and I'll let you sleep forever." The air thickens with the Devil's perfume, an admixture of ammonia, feces and rotting meat.
Christ returns my tongue to me. "By God," I swear, "you shall never have my body again." My hands are shaking. "I belong to God alone." The Devil laughs.
"Don't kid yourself," he says. "It's too late for you. You belong to me. You've always belonged to me, body and soul. God has come for you at last -- but can He save you? Can He erase the sins you've committed in my name? I can read the book of your desires. I know what you want. And I know what you've done."
His empty sockets spring to life as sinews knit together and eyes regrow into his skull. His left eye looks like the Duke of Spoleto's, but his right belongs to the Duke of Ferrara. I call both young men my nephews -- they look up to me and call me father, since they spent the latter days of their childhood with me after their own fathers' untimely deaths. With their eyes, Satan reveals the sins of my past. They trusted me, but I committed the great crime of the Greeks against them. My wife the Queen has always been there for me -- but how can she compare to these beautiful young men? Even now they see me as I saw my own illustrious father. Perhaps they too have pushed my error into the recesses of their memory. But Satan will not let sleeping dogs lie.
"I know what you really are," he whispers.
I shut my eyes and plug my ears as the Devil murmurs through the night. Until the sun comes up, I face the corner of my chambers and lash the evil from my body. Like Christ, I shall purify the world in blood.
Good news greets me when I emerge from my seclusion. Pope Alexander III has passed into the arms of the Lord, and Pope Lucius II has taken his place on the Throne of Peter. Alexander III hated me, and I could hardly blame him. God has blessed Lucius with a kinder, more forgiving heart. He understands that despite my sin, I now stand with the Lord.
Murder is hardly a sin in the name of the lord. The Doges of Ancona happily followed my father into battle against the Kaiser, then joined the Kingdom without complaint. Doge Igino denies his place as my vassal, and thus my divine right as King. Enrico shall be the instrument of God's revenge against this insolence. He spent the first two years of his adulthood in Constantinople, where he would not tempt me. God sculpted Enrico with care, and his beauty would shame Adonis. Now he will come to Ancona to take his first life. I couldn't be prouder, but it makes me nervous to be so close.
At last, the hour of judgment has come. Lucifer has mounted the Caliph and threatens to bring Jerusalem back into his kingdom -- but God has blessed my brother with the cunning to survive the Devil's armies. Bonifacio once marched with my father to send them back to Hell, and now God has blessed me with the honor of fighting beside him.
All of Italy's armies now flock to Pisa's port. The sky is still pink with the dew of sunrise. As I walk to the stables, a dove perches on the back of my horse. The sight Dolorosa's hide terrifies our enemies, her many scars like stars in the night sky. She will strike out at anything that dares to touch her, but the dove's feet are so light that she doesn't react. His eyes are almost human, but they shine a celestial blue, and a crown of thorns rests a hair's breadth from His head. Tears stream down my face and my knees buckle in the presence of the Lord.
He needs not speak not command me. He speaks with His gaze alone: the Lord requires a human sacrifice to secure our victory over Satan.
Our forces ride the sea on hundreds of galleys, and my "nephew" Ubert will win the glory he deserves. Ubert has not been blessed with Enrico's beauty, but he is mighty as Alexander, and his heart outshines them all. His family has always been entwined with mine. His grandfather Ubert I was my father's closest friend. When he fell out of favor in Aquitaine and left for Tuscany, he served my father as his most faithful Steward. My father rewarded his friend's service with the Duchy of Ferrara, but his friend died. The new Duke resisted my rise to power, and Satan tied my spies into a noose around his neck. This sin cuts me deeper than any other. I owe Ubert the opportunity to win the glory he deserves. I care for him more than I have ever cared for anyone -- but I must keep him at arm's length, at least for now. We must sail in separate ships, and sleep in separate tents.
As we approach, Bonifacio fights the Heathen in Petra's rocky passes. He knows he is fighting a losing battle, but he doesn't hope to win. He knows he must only cling to life and await the coming wrath.
Years ago, I came to Jerusalem on pilgrimage and swore to God to protect His Promised Land. Today I fulfill that promise. On the first of May in the Year of Our Lord 1151, I kiss the earth and draw my sword, already whetted with guilty blood.
The Caliph and I square off in the eye of the hurricane, each at the head of our armies. He shall wither before me.
An emissary from St. Peter arrives in Ascalon and rides South to greet my victorious forces. He tells me that Lucius has decided to grant me absolution for the murder of my nephew and my niece, cleansing my soul in the eyes. At first this victory in Heaven seemed greater than any victory on Earth. But as the Pope's messenger conferred God's graces upon me, the Devil whispered a reminder: I had won no victory in Heaven. The Pope could offer forgiveness for Matteo and Adelasia's deaths, but not for my brother's, and not for Ubert's father. Those sins must remain in the darkness, and so must I. I know the Bible by heart, and I have realized my place in the order of things. Like Pharaoh, Saul, and Judas, I corrupt myself so godlier men may make it pure. God hardened Pharaoh's heart to prove his power and deliver his rightful punishment. The prophet Samuel made hapless Saul a King so the righteous David could replace him. It was Christ who fed Judas the bread of the Devil, and made the Devil enter into him. Then Jesus said unto him, "What thou doest, do quickly." And Judas went out into the night. God works in mysterious ways, and even evil may serve his purpose. Satan is only a small piece in God's great game, and I am His pawn.
We ride into Darum and siege what the heathens occupy. Our forces are strong enough to cut through their defenses in an assault, but the desert has already taken its toll. 20,000 men have become less than 12,000, and there is more work to be done. At least they will sleep with the Lord. I will never know such pleasure.
The flies nip at Christ's wounded Kingdom even as she lives. The Templars and the Hospitalliers form the bulk of Bonifacio's armies, forced to sink into retreat. We must wait in Darum and heal this injury before we can tend to the next.
The Devil clicks his pincers and closes them around us. A Frisian messenger comes panting from the North to deliver a terrible message: the Kaiser has taken advantage of our defense of the Holy Land to invade the Kingdom of Frisia. Godfred van Willemsted is Italy's closest friend abroad. The laws of God and man alike demand I come to his aid, but I have no troops to do it. All of Italy's fighting men are in Jerusalem, and every one is needed. Only my personal retinue of pikeman stand ready to fight, but they are required to keep order in the realm. The Frisians must stand strong against the Devil -- it is Christian to suffer, and it is only right to die for the Lord. He shall know His own when they come before Him.
Satan strikes again! The peasant heathens of Damascus rise to wound Jerusalem in her time of weakness.
We shall not let such injustice go unpunished, but God demands we reinforce the Templars in the South and strike the Caliph's armies directly. He assures me that the armies of Jerusalem are under His protection.
We crush the heathen in the Battle of Aqbalah. In our first encounter, the Caliph rode at the head of his armies to face me directly, and I taught him to fear my wrath. He has chosen to ride at his army's left flank, but Ubert will punish his mistake.
Our armies move to the Sinai peninsula, ready to cut off Egypt's armies and secure a port for the voyage home.
With victory on Jerusalem's doorstep, the Devil digs his knife into my heart. Satan breathed his pestilence into the sea air of Ancona. My Dear nephew fell ill, and now his daughter holds Spoleto without even a year on this earth. When Satan cannot defeat God's armies, he lashes out at beauty itself.
God takes His revenge on the battlefield. Jerusalem's armies crash into Amman and quell the Shia Uprising. Soon the truly faithful will come into the fold, and Satan's own will return to their native country.
The Lord showers His blessings upon me. Soon I shall add one more sinner to the fire.
But God stays my hand. Let that be a warning to Doge Igino. His time of reckoning will come.
The ships bob up and down as the armies of Italy wait for a messenger. Bonifacio and I have come to terms with the Caliph around a table in El-Arish, but my brother tells me that his armies are grappling with an equal force that threatens to destroy them. If they win this battle, they will have squashed every fly that came to bite them. If they lose, then they will lose their corpse to the swarm. The soldiers get anxious -- only 8,500 men wait in the docks, with 12,000 brave Italians asleep in holy soil -- but when the good news comes, they rejoice. Each one of the Templars and the Hospitalliers are worth 10 heathen warriors. We're bound for home, but what home shall we return to? Will we have time at all to rest before the armies of the Kaiser call out for steel?
I cannot keep my faith from shaking. When I met Bonifacio on pilgrimage, I longed to be a man like him. He's my younger brother, but I'm less than a year his senior. When I took the throne, he'd already battled the heathen and won his place in my father's heart. My father had faith in his abilities even before he became a man, where he had no faith in me. But I am beginning to see the Devil in him as well. Bonifacio understands the game of power better than most anyone. His words are mighty, but his will is weak.
The battlefield hardens men of mettle, but he has become cowardly and retreating. We celebrated our victory with wine the night before my return and burned through the wick of the night. Then there came the sound of other drunken soldiers brawling for sport outside, with their men-in-arms cheering around them. Bonifacio froze suddenly, his eyes wide, the blood drained from his face. His hand shook and his wine glass shattered on the ground. When I called his name, he awakened to reality, but he could not answer me. He could only shudder, and then he started sobbing. Our father entrusted him with God's Kingdom, but I fear he cannot shoulder the burden.
Meanwhile, the Devil infests every corner of the world. The noble Michael Doukas who stood against the false Emperor of the Greeks has been punished for his righteousness. The Emperor let him keep his lands and his crown, but took his eyes away.
My son-in-law stands ready to avenge his father, strong in both mind and body.
God, forgive me! My heart is full of dread when I should have faith in Thee. Give me your strength, O Lord, and I will be strong for you. Already I have bested the Caliph on the field. Just as the Devil consumed my dear Enrico, God smote the Caliph with a holy sickness. He swims in a flood of blood and phlegm. Soon he will breathe his last.
There is hope yet in the North. Frisia is a wealthy Kingdom, filled with industrious weavers and merchants to fill its pockets with gold. Italian subsidies have allowed King Godfred wealth enough to hire mercenies and their Swedish allies march close behind. The Enemy has taken much from me, but I will punish him for every slight. My wrath shall make the Devil tremble.

Next chapter:

Game: Crusader Kings II

Italy and Beyond - Part Four: The Road to Hell

Images: 19, author: Malafides, published: 2017-01-27, edited: 1970-01-01

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