Not Yet Lost (Chapter XI): Black Madonna

Author: Malafides
Published: 2018-01-18, edited: 2018-02-17

Part of the campaign:

Not Yet Lost (1320 - 1392)

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Game: Crusader Kings II

Not Yet Lost (Chapter X): Crisis of Faith

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

Time is the great conqueror. We may win small victories against the foe, feel the waves of history crash against us, stand firm and utter, "No." Yet no mortal can endure this war of attrition forever. The struggle ends only with the world.

I was young and beautiful once. I had so much undiscovered life before me. Now the larger part of my life lies behind me, and the undiscovered country beckons. Time may have taken its toll on me, but my wrinkles are my proudest battle scars -- for what foe is more fearsome than Time itself?

The monks presented me a holy icon from God knows where -- a Black Madonna made by St. Luke himself, painted on a cedar tabletop from the house of the Holy Family. I see myself in her, darkened by my sins. But the dirtiest work can be the holiest, too. This sacred treasure will find a new home in Częstochowa. She will bless my country once time has erased me, along with my sins.
Soon after his triumph at Herakleia, Adrianos forces the Turk to the table and reclaims another sliver of Anatolia for the decrepit Roman Empire. Like a startled bather clutching at rags to cover herself, the Varselonikoi rule with only the thinnest veneer of legitimacy. This victory is a big feather in Adrian's hat, even if his gains are barely mappable.
I celebrate a triumph of my own -- my son's marriage to cousin Ziggy's daughter. She's a beautiful girl with a brilliant mind, like a lighter reflection of my own. She always maintains a perfect composure, though I can still see the glint of terror in her eyes when she looks at me. Rycheza will keep her husband safe, when my time has come.
I've taken to visiting the Black Madonna at her monastery. I dare not voice my sins with the brothers among us, but Our Mother knows my mind. I tremble when I think of God's judgment -- but she will shower her mercy upon me. I know she will.
Meanwhile, the world fractures all around me. Kaiser Heinrich VIII is finally dead, and the Imperial Crown passes to his son, Heinrich IX. It's not a popular decision. As soon as he takes the throne, three of the Empire's most powerful princes rise up in revolt.
Not even pious Poland is safe. As our people flood into lands once held by foreigners, they grumble beneath our yoke. Now a charismatic young preacher has whipped his fellow Pomeranians into a frenzy.
The mass of heretics descends on the Bishopric of Gniezno, one of Poland's most holy sites. 250 retainers stage a brave defense, but their bravery is not enough to stop 5,000.

My forces arrive to a massacre. The walls of the Church are stained with the blood of holy men. Our soldiers repay the favor, but we cannot raise the dead.
The civil war in the Empire ends quickly, leaving it weaker than ever. The House of Mecklenburg has fallen. In its place, the rebels elect Adalberto Dandolo, a popular but powerless Italian. He'll be happy to spend his reign feasting in his palace at Tyrol, leaving his German vassals free to do whatever the fuck they want. There's no way that ends badly.
God punishes me for my schadenfreude. Today, a future King has died. My son suffers the same grief I did as a young woman -- his firstborn came into this world in sickness, and left this world soon after.
Like my father before me, I'll drown my sorrows in blood. The Empire is feeble and begging for conquest. Stettin will make a fine gift for my dear cousin Dobiesław.
King Vainius backs us up as our troops gather in the East.
Meanwhile, King Philly advances from the East. The Germans are caught in a pincer and powerless to escape.
As Polish and Lithuanian troops clash with the Holy Romans, King Gotzelo de Luxembourg gets unhorsed and trampled. He succumbs to his wounds after a week of agony.
Now boy-king George rules over Bohemia and Austria. The House of Luxembourg was my grandfather's greatest fear. Now they tremble before the might of Poland.
The King of Naples joins the war to curry favor with the Emperor. No matter -- the war will be over long before his armies arrive.
With the island of Wollin sacked, all of Stettin has fallen into our hands.
A German horde comes pouring over the Elba to meet our armies in a last-ditch effort to turn the tides of battle. They must be drunk. The numbers may be equal, but our superior cavalry and the river stretched before us make their chances slim.
Sure enough, the Battle of Greifswald is a massacre. Over 12,000 Germans lie dead for nothing. Soon after, their Italian Kaiser agrees to peace.
Now it's the other Rome's turn to fall. The Varselonikoi have long conflicted with the Orthodox Church for their Western roots. Adrianos' attempts to minimize the clergy's power have not gone over well. The Patriarch has sided with his most unruly subjects in an effort to oust him from power.
Before Polish soldiers can even leave our borders, Adrianos is killed in battle. His legitimized bastard takes the throne and spurns his father's wife, and the family she hails from. Fine then. Let both phony Romes burn.
How quickly glory fades. The Battle of Herakleia seemed like it was yesterday, and now our alliance is in ruins. Today, my dearest cousin, my closest friend is dead. Every web I wove, we wove together. Our sins are intertwined. Only Dobie truly knew me, and he loved me nonetheless. I know I'll join him when I die -- whether that's in Heaven or in Hell, I cannot say.
His son looks to be a promising replacement as my spymaster. He's the spitting image of his father, full of zeal and machinations.
But sickness takes him too. One grief follows another in this world.
Time is knocking at my door, and cousin Ziggy hears it. As the vultures circle overhead, he attempts to steal Sacz from the Archbishop.
I will not let my grandfather's gift be torn away so easily. I convene the Wiec to condemn his blasphemy. Before they can pass their judgment, I send him a letter, along with a gift of my own: a lock of Rycheza's hair, procured by one of her handmaids.

"To my cousin and brother-in-law,

I may be close to death, but I have breath in me yet. Have you lost your fox's wisdom? While you are on your hunt, do not forget that your daughter is in my court, and at my mercy. Beware the wounded she-wolf, brother. There's no telling what she might do."
Zygmunt begrudgingly withdraws his soldiers from the archbishop's lands, but his cunning won't end here. Soon he'll be my son's burden to bear. Worse yet, where one brother-in-law has betrayed me, another has died. King Philip VI of France died clutching his heart, and no physician can determine the root of his mysterious and sudden illness. Now a swarm of bumbling regents must lead their country while a child sits on the throne.

The order I worked so hard to build is collapsing all around me. They say the failing of great rulers is they cannot imagine a world without themselves -- will Time bury my great kingdom along with me?

I must build something that will stay. Even when a King dies, the laws they make can live beyond them. My son is a good man, but his manhood has given him that luxury. To be King, to survive, I had to sacrifice my soul. I don't know if God will ever forgive me for that.

Perhaps He'll be more lenient if I leave a better world behind. I grease some palms to pass a new statute that guarantees the rights of women to divorce an unfaithful or abusive husband and to inherit property from sonless fathers. It's a small step, but it's a step nonetheless.

And with that last act, I let Time wash over me, and leave the world behind.
"True, it is strange to inhabit the Earth no longer,
to use no longer customs scarcely acquired,
not to interpret roses, and other things
that promise so much, in terms of a human future;
to be no longer all that one used to be
in endlessly anxious hands, and to lay aside
even one's own name like a broken toy."

--Rilke's Elegies

Next chapter:

Game: Crusader Kings II

Not Yet Lost (Chapter I): The Kingdom Restored

Images: 40, author: Malafides, published: 2017-01-27, edited: 2018-01-24

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