Not Yet Lost (Chapter X): Crisis of Faith

Author: Malafides
Published: 2017-08-19, edited: 2018-11-03

Part of the campaign:

Not Yet Lost (1320 - 1392)

Previous part:

Game: Crusader Kings II

Not Yet Lost (Chapter IX): Let Reason Prevail

Images: 35, author: Malafides, published: 2017-04-19, edited: 2018-01-24

My son Kazy's at home in the springtime. He loves to play outside, unfettered by winter coats. The sun blazes in the blond hair he shares with his father. But when he turns to look at me, there's a note of sadness in his smile, a note of desperation. His eyes are mine, but there will always be a divide between us. I keep the truest part of myself locked away, and he can sense it. He loves me, and he wants to be close to me, but he can never know me. He can never see what I am.
The time had finally come to push the Teutons out of Prussia. My husband and I gathered our forces West of the Vistula, then met the Teutons in Briesen.

I was so sure goddamn sure of myself. I felt untouchable. When we first clashed with the Teutons, we outnumbered them 5 to 1. But pride always cometh before the fall. 5,000 Teutons marched from Galindia as a horde of mercenaries descended from their capital in Marienburg. Briesen was not my window of opportunity -- it was a trap.
The Order's horsemen-for-hire shatter our left flank and slice the Polish army in half. I lead the army in a fighting retreat.
When Vainius finally arrives, we unleash a storm upon the Teutons. Vainius catches a small army in Gdansk to keep them from joining the real battle. After licking our wounds in Plock, we return to Briesen to settle the score. Our enemies outnumber us at first, but we have a swarm of our mercenaries nipping at our heels. The Second Battle of Briesen squelches the Teutons' last hope at survival.
In March, Philly Six comes of age and lands a mass of Norman ships in Marienburg. 10,000 French Knights sack the city and break the spine of the once-holy Order. Then he rides into Krakow to marry my daughter, Salomea.
The Teutons once towered over us. Now the Order is like a ruined castle, a reminder of forgotten power and squandered virtue.

_____

[Editor's Note: Painting by Jakub Rozalski, found here: https://www.artstation.com/artist/jakubrozalski.]
The Teutons will waste their dying years in Livonia. Their lands will make a fine addition to my husband's titles: Spycimir Piast, King-Consort of Poland, Duke of Masovia and Prussia. Sounds sexy.
My mother's murder sours the taste of victory.

The distance between us matches the distance between me and my own son. We haven't seen each other since her divorce from my father, but I always hoped we'd cross paths again. Is this God's punishment for my sins? My grief muddles together with guilt. For all my power, I could not protect her. The man who killed her had no reasons beyond insanity, yet he goes unpunished. The Mad Mayor of Heidelberg sits insulated by his city and by his lord.

Once again, I must become the instrument of justice. I must do what man and God cannot.
Another death changes the face of the German Empire. Duchess Anna of Austria dies, leaving her lands to her son, Gotzelo de Luxembourg. When the young man comes of age, his Austro-Bohemian Kingdom could make a dangerous foe -- or a useful check against the Emperor, like his ancestor King John the Blind.
As I plot revenge, Ziggy comes with tribute. Poland's cup runneth over, and the Duke of Silesia makes sure none of that prosperity goes to waste.
I return my eyes to pages of information my Penitents have uncovered on the Mayor. Still, I feel Ziggy lingering. I look up and watch him shift his weight from one foot to the other, his dark eyes darting from guard to guard. I catch his gaze and stare him down.

"Well?" I say. "Is there something else you want, or are you just admiring the room?"

He swallows a lump in his throat. "Your Majesty, I have always been your faithful servant," he says. "Even in the darkest days, I never raised hand nor word against you."

He glances at the quill laying across my table. Ink spreads out from the point, coloring the parchment underneath like blood from a knife. He looks up at me again, a nervous confidence glowing in his eyes.

"Surely," he continues, "my years of service deserve some reward."

A mere look to my guardsmen is all it takes for them to close in slightly, just enough to raise the hackles on the back of Ziggy's neck. The brief sound of feet moving across the floor leaves an ominous silence in its wake.

"And what does my faithful servant request?" I breathe.

"Silesia has flourished under my rule," he says. "The city of Krakow would do the same."

I've never seen such audacity in my life. I can't help myself. I bang my fist against the table and start to laugh. He knows I could never accept an offer like that. He knows what I could do to him. So what is he really planning? His frail body looks so easy to break -- but curiosity gets the better of me. I'd rather see this all play out.

"You forget yourself," I rise from my table. "You rule by my good graces, and nothing else. Is your life not reward enough for your services? Are you so ungrateful to your King?"

My men push closer. One reaches out and grabs his arm. A look of terror passes across Ziggy's face -- then he looks back to me. I hold up my palm and my guard releases him.

"Rest easy, cousin. You will be repaid -- but not like this."
My Penitents penetrate Germany. They disguise themselves as highwaymen and murder the Mayor. They make strange bandits indeed -- where most take gold and silver, mine take only a hand. I'll treasure those bones like a holy relic.
Further West, Duchess Anna "the Confessor" turns to a version of the Cathar faith. The religion's doctrine of the genderless soul helps legitimize her rule, and her theological genius endears to her subjects. I admire her gumption, but neither the Alps nor her faith can protect her from Mother Church's wrath. The Savoyard Crusade is almost over, and the King of Naples is poised to seize her country.
Months after his last visit, Ziggy sends me a letter asking to cash in on his favor. If he cannot have Krakow, he says he'll settle for the Hungarian county of Zwolen. I see what he was after now -- he only asked for Krakow to work his way down. All this time, his real plan was for me to wage war on his behalf. The Hungarians were once our allies, and Elizabeth d'Anjou was a childhood hero of mine. Lucky for Ziggy, I'm bored. A battle with the Spider Queen sounds like a thrill.
Her forces storm into the Bishopric of Sacz before mine can coalesce. We cross the Vistula and meet them in the hills of Zakopane. The terrain is on their side, but the numbers are not.
As we crash against the Carpathians, an arrow sails through the air and kills my horse. I fall to the ground, and a Hungarian footman nearly takes off my head as I squirm to my feet. His blade cuts a swath down my face, but my Penitent Knights ferry me to safety. I spend the nights in terror, thrashing with fever on my sickbed, flashing back to my father's death in Hungary. Hell fills my dreams and my thoughts. Could this be the end?
I pass the rest of the war in Krakow, writing hymns. The people seem to love them, but my music was not intended for their ears. I am begging God for mercy.

Let us pray, in contemplation,
while we pray in lamentation.

With eyes tearful, hearts repenting,
let us grieve without relenting.

Lo, the sun and stars are fading,
sadness, nature all-pervading.

Host of angels, sadly weeping.
Who'll explain their deep bereaving?

Mountains, cliffs and rocks are crumbling,
sealed tombs opened, loudly thund'ring.

Why such sorrow, desolation?
Overwhelming all creation?

_____

[Editor's Note: This is actually from an 18th century collection of hymns called the "Gorzkie Żale," or the
"Lenten Lamentations," but I thought it fit. Here's a modern version I like in particular:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrslsEmMSSo]
Blasphemy's contagion continues to spread through the West. Once conquered by the Hafsids, a militant group of local Fraticelli liberated the island from North African rule. When Duke Azzo d'il Keffe refused to bend his knee to Honorius, the Pope's forces reoccupied Sardinia. With victory just inches from his grasp, Honorius dies, passing the honor of conquest to his successor.
The bishops elect Clemens VI, who brings Sardinia back into the fold. Instead of turning it over to some other Catholic noble, he absorbs the island into the Papal States.

The French King protests the expansion of Rome's temporal power. Clemens refuses to relent, so Philly Six appoints a new Pope in Avignon and reignites the Western Schism. The Southeastern edge of his Kingdom is now governed by loyal Bishops. It's a check against the restive Southern lords and the Italians in Rome.
Adrianos tried to push North against the Bogomils, but the Paulician Bulgarian Queen foiled his conquests. On the edge of defeat, she renounced her heresy, swore fealty to the Patriarch, and returned to the Orthodox Church. The Emperor was forced to go home with nothing. Now he turns to Anatolia for his fix of holy war.
The Teutons are on death's doorstep now, waiting for Vainius to strike the final blow. In an act of desperation, he sends me a letter, begging me to let his Order live on in some petty barony. If he thinks I'd let such an infection grow in the heartland of my country, he's deluding himself. It's good for a laugh, but I don't bother with a response. Why argue with a corpse?
The Spider Queen gets squashed fighting in her sister's wars against the Venetians. I admired her once, but now that I've surpassed her, I can only see her weakness. She maintained power for decades, and that's difficult enough for a woman to manage in this world. But what does she have to show for it?
Her son now rules Hungary, but he bears his father's name. All the Angevins have left is the Kingdom of Croatia, neutered by decades of incompetence. Their lazy Queen is helpless without her sister to fight her battles.
Old Heinrich is at it again. The Kaiser knows better than to attack Poland by now, but he's happy to capitalize on Hungarian weakness. Pozsony will soon become Pressburg, and Matthew Csak is powerless to stop it.
As soon as the Germiyans surrender, Adrianos pushes right through them to attack the Karamans. I send a few thousand soldiers to give him a hand and keep an eye on the situation.
As the Polish battalion lays siege to Konya, they spot a massive Muslim army marching over the hills. Our scouts send word to Adrianos, lest they all be massacred.
The Byzantines reach us before the heathen. Together, we charge the enemy in the Battle of Herakleia.
Kazy has become a good man, and he'll become a good King, but he has no guile. His future wife must protect him from people like me. Rycheza has always been a bright girl, but she still has the luxury of innocence. I have to take that away from her. Part of me is jealous that she hasn't had to know what I know. But the day will come when someone must.

I take her on a tour through my dungeons. She shakes and cries and pleads. She even pounds her little fists against me, but I refuse to let her out until she's seen it all. Before we emerge from the darkness, I grasp the handle of the iron door that leads back to the beautiful world above.

"I'm leaving now, but I'll keep you here forever," I warn her. "Unless you make me a promise."

The girl has no sobs left in her. All her tears are mixed in with the blood on my dungeon floors. A dumb nod is her only response.

"You must never tell my son what you've seen here. You must protect him all your days. I may die, but if you fail, then I will drag you with me to Hell. Remember this lesson, my darling. You have loved me all your life -- and you never saw the monster I am. The world is cruel. You must be crueler."
Reports of Herakleia have already become legend by the time they reach us. United Catholic and Orthodox forces cut down an army of 12,000. With this battle, Adrianos hopes to etch his name in the rock of history.
The Pope in Avignon dies, replaced by Urbanus VI. His predecessor Innocentius VI was at least a learned man. To maintain my alliance with Philly Six, I begrudgingly offer him my recognition. Urbanus VI is known for nothing but ignorance, mendacity, gluttony and greed. How can I bind my faith to such a charlatan?
The Popes in Rome are little better. Clemens VI must've overindulged at the Papal Christmas Party. Soon after the festivities ended, his life ended as well. His replacement is hardly inspiring. Pope Nicholas VI is full of empty zeal with no wisdom behind it. His true faith belongs to gold, not to God.
The world is plagued by the unworthy, the unbeliever, the infidel. Will I burn with them, when my time has come?

The Virgin Mother wept for her son, who sacrificed Himself for love of mankind. What must she think of me? I have sacrificed my own soul so my son could live. Can it still fly to heaven? Or is it so weighted down with sin that it must sink to Hell?

I cannot know the Lord's will. I cannot cleanse the blood from my soul and change the past -- nor would I. All that I've done, I've done for the sake of righteousness. Only God can judge me.

Next chapter:

Game: Crusader Kings II

Not Yet Lost (Chapter XI): Black Madonna

Images: 27, author: Malafides, published: 2018-01-18, edited: 2018-02-17

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