Not Yet Lost (Chapter XII): The Sword of Damocles

Author: Malafides
Published: 2018-01-23, edited: 2018-02-17

Part of the campaign:

Not Yet Lost (1392 - 1444)

Today we're celebrating my coronation. And where is the King? Oh, just hiding from his guests in the chapel. At least it's quiet in here. God, I feel like such a failure. I can schmooze with the best of them, put on the kingly front and smile behind a veneer of confidence -- but at the end of the day, I'm still me. There's no escape from that.

"Are you alright?" my wife's voice sounds from behind me. Just hearing it seems to soften the air.

"I'm fine," I sigh. "Just taking a breather." I wheel around to face her. The moonlight makes her red hair glow like the stained glass all around us.

"I know what you mean," she says. "I'll keep them distracted." She turns to leave.

"Wait," I say. "Don't go."

She stops, turns back to me. I can feel my heart shuddering inside my ribcage. Funny how it does that. We've been married for eight years now, but she still makes me weak in the knees.

"Can we have this moment alone together? Please?"

Rycheza smiles. She walks back and wraps her arms around me.

"Of course, Kazy."

I shut up. Close my eyes. Savor the cold night around me. Breathe her in. I open my eyes again and like a dream come true, she's still there looking up at me. I glance at my gaudy robes, all red velvet and gold embroidery.

"I look ridiculous," I grumble.

"Oh, come now," Rycheza says. "I think you look very handsome."

I roll my eyes, smile, blush. I'm at least a foot-and-a-half taller than her, and somehow I feel small in her arms. I was born way too lucky for my own good. She had to marry me, but she didn't have to love me. I offer God a little thank-you in my head, while we're in His house.

"I feel like a child in my father's clothes," I say. "Or my mother's, I guess."

Rycheza snickers. "That would be quite the sight, you in your mother's dress." She reaches up to trace a teasing finger down my chest. "Would the hem even reach your knees?"

I waggle my eyebrows at her. We both freeze, seeing who can keep a straight face the longest, until I finally crack. Rycheza bursts in as soon as she knows she's won. For a few glorious moments, the chapel's contemplations and the party's unrelenting pressure both give way to simple joy. Then it fades into giggles and chuckles, and the world comes back into focus.

"I miss her," I say. Rycheza stares down at my shoes. Her hands clutch before she catches herself and forces them to loosen. I look down at the top of her head and run a hand through her hair.

"I'm sorry, honey. I know you weren't her biggest fan. But it's true. She's gone, and now..." I trail off and swallow the lump in my throat. "There's just this big, empty hole. And I'm supposed to fill it."

My voice cracks.

"And I don't know how."

Rycheza looks back up at me, but she's looking through me. Her brows knit into an expression of faraway terror. Tears start to well in her eyes. Then they glance to mine. I wipe the tears away with the hem of these ridiculous robes. Then she pulls me closer. I can feel her heartbeat reverberating in my bones.

"Your mother...she..."

She sighs and buries her head in my chest. She rubs her nose against me, smearing a thin line of snot across the velvet. Then she pulls away again to look me straight in the eye. Her faraway look is gone. Her eyes are teary, but they burn with quiet passion.

"Your mother casts a long shadow," she says. "But you offer something she couldn't -- kindness. That's what the country needs right now. That's what the world needs. And the people will love you for it. I already do."
Dobie was like an uncle to me, and he was Mom's closest friend. Now his son is dead, just like my first two children. I'll raise little Wanko as my own.

___

[Editor's Note: I really hate all of the diminutive nicknames the game gives as regular names. "Wanko" and "Spytko" are not proper Polish names. "Więcesław" and "Spycimir" are.]
King Vainius of Lithuania is more than a brother-in-law to me. I've always seen him as an older brother of sorts, someone to look up to. Mom was always comparing him to my grandpa, the man I'm named for. He's kind of my hero.

When I sent my envoys to re-confirm the alliance between our countries, he received them with hospitality -- but in the end, he turned them away.

No, I'm not crying. I just don't understand why he has to be so mean!
I look to Hungary for an alliance instead. Prince Stephen of Anjou will make a fine husband for my sister Eufrozyna.
King Matthew Csák ticks all the boxes -- he's a diligent ruler, a gentleman and a scholar, and unlike so many, he's accepting of the Jews. Hungary is really a natural ally for Poland -- I hate to think ill of her, but my mother was wrong to abandon them.
To cement our alliance, we join Matthew's war to crush Philip II Druget's revolt. It's mostly formality, since they've pretty much already got it in the bag. Their armies are joined by their Croatian and Lithuanian allies.

Wait, Vainius is already allies with Hungary? Why not me, Vainius? WHY WON'T YOU LOVE ME?
Sure enough, we make it South just in time to crush Druget's last ragtag excuse for an army. Vainius is already gone by the time we get there, so I pop by Esztergom for a meet-and-greet with King Matthew before sulking home.

Vainius' rejection isn't the only thing that's troubling me. I can't help thinking about that poor rebel Duke. The first Philip Druget rebelled against King Matthew's mother, and paid the price. Now that the Angevins that put his family in power have given way to the local nobility, his son made his own shot at a coup, and failed spectacularly. He was just following in his father's footsteps.
Rycheza visits the Queen of Sweden and lays the groundwork for an alliance between our countries. Lord knows why they let us men run anything at all.
In other news, the Pope in Avignon died, so now there's another one. Lucius IV's anti-semitic tracts made him popular with the French King. He's a charismatic speaker, but half the time he cites the Bible, he's just making shit up.
Meanwhile, Alexander V sits in Rome. He's a reform-minded Pope, a man with compassion that stretches beyond the bounds of his own religion. I feel torn. Poland's ties to France make me feel obligated to support Lucius IV. But Alexander V is a man after my own heart.
This schism has been raging on for way too long. They've been at it since the dawn of the century, and any peace has been more like a ceasefire.

Now heretics opposed to the Church are clustering in Slupsk and Poznan. I find their lack of faith disturbing, but I understand where they're coming from. I'm pretty frustrated with Mother Church myself.
Hungarian messengers arrive clad in black. King Matthew is dead. He was killed defending his Croatian allies against the Venetians, just like his mother. What fate will I inherit from mine?
The Archbishop wines and dines with Vainius, trying to bring him back into the fold. No dice.
Another Lubko rises up against Vainius, just like his father and his father before him. All they ever got out of it was a grisly death. How can he embrace such a terrible legacy?
Rycheza points out that this calamity could be a boon for Poland. I send Vainius a hefty bribe, along with an offer -- to help him crush his enemies, and renew our alliance at last.
This he accepts, and we head to the battlefield together.

He likes me! He really likes me!
As Vainius gathers in Pskov, I saddle up alongside my father and meet the foe in Jersika.
As we lay siege to Lubko's holdings, a letter comes from Rycheza -- her father is dead. My mother hardly had a kind word for Zygmunt, but I think she enjoyed having someone to play mindgames with. As for me, well, I liked him quite a bit. He was a good father-in-law. He died of an accidental fall off the parapets -- but my wife is convinced it was no accident.
She suspects her brother was involved in their father's death. The new Duke of Silesia is a big ugly brute of a man. He jockeys to become the Marshal of my armies, but I could never unseat my father. He seems to brush it off, but I can't dismiss my wife's claims. She's way smarter than me. If she thinks he did it, I think so too. For now, he remains loyal, and I can't punish someone without proof. But we'll see what the future holds.
The rebellion ends as soon as it began, and another Lubko heads to his fate in chains.
I may wear a crown, but I feel like a prisoner too. All the royal trappings in the world couldn't shake that feeling.

The Lubkos are locked in some endless cycle of blood, but my responsibility feels somehow heavier. At least he can die knowing his destiny has been fulfilled. I don't even know if I can live up to mine.

If I can't, there's more at stake than my family's plans.

There are real, living people who could die if I fuck things up. They look to me to protect them, to unite them, to keep them happy, to keep them safe. And there are hundreds of thousands of them. Millions, even!

I don't want to disappoint them, but somewhere in my heart, I know I will.

And if this Sword of Damocles falls -- how much blood is on my hands?

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