Empty America

Discussion in 'Finished Timelines and Scenarios' started by Constantinople, Jul 20, 2014.

  1. Constantinople Trump is Temporary, but hey, Brexit is forever Banned

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    Empty America
    Written by Doug Hoff circa 2003. Reposted with permission.

    (Hop, Vinland, circa 1010 a.d.)

    Thorfinn Karlsefni took a good look around. Not a bad settlement, all things considered. Sod houses (including one serviceable bathhouse) coming along nicely. And they found the vines that they were looking for and some very nice fields of wild wheat. Definitely better than Straumfjord, where they had wintered. A hundred and sixty men, all told, and a handful of women, including his wife Gudrid, widow of one of Eric the Red's sons. Thorfinn likes this place, just upstream from the estuary of a little river, which he has named Freydisi, after Eric's daughter and near a little lake, which he has named Snorri, after his son.

    It is spring and the land blooms. Strange creatures roam the fields and woodlands, like nothing that Thorfinn had ever seen before. Giant beasts, the most terrifying of which is a great cat with fangs like spearpoints. And some huge, shaggy walking beast with a nose like a great serpent. It had taken twenty of Thorfinn's best men to bring one of THOSE down, but its carcass had given them so much meat that they had to leave some of it behind and blankets for a dozen families. (One of the young men was working on a saga about that already.) One other creature, like a giant rat with tail like a paddle that swam like a fish, more than half as tall as a man, with teeth that could chew through tree-trunks, yielded amazingly waterproof fur. This land ... this was a land of marvels, just teeming with life, both strange and familiar.

    But no men.

    He didn't know how big this Vinland was, exactly, just having bumped around the edges a little looking for a suitable spot for a settlement, but he had a feeling that it was bigger than Iceland and Greenland combined. But there was no one to greet them. That just seemed strange, such a big place with no one in it. Thorfinn shrugged. More room for us. As soon as he can, he is sending a couple of ships back to Iceland to pick up more tools and other supplies. And women, they will definitely need more women. If they were going to stay that is.

    And looking around at his bustling little village, Thorfinn Karlsefni figured they would.

    1010-1080 a.d

    (Vinland/Markland/Europe)

    Over the next 70 years (a period that Vinlanders [FN3] will call The Landnam, i.e. "the land-taking"[FN4]), the little Norse settlements prosper and grow, spreading both inland and along the coast of Vinland [FN4a] and Markand (Newfoundland). The sod houses are, in time, replaced by sturdy log cabins with thatched roofs. Longhouses with a single great room morph into "passage houses" with multiple living quarters, stables and storerooms. The Norse tend to be farmers with strong inclination towards animal husbandry, so trees are cut down and fields are plowed (domesticated versions of the wild wheat and some imported crops).

    But the Vinlanders are not just farmers. Hunters range far and wide, bringing back meat and pelts. The most prized furs are from the giant beaver (Castoroides ohioensis, 3.3' at the shoulder, weighing in at 450 lbs), whose waterproof fur makes for excellent hats, cloaks and lining for boots. Wooly mammoth (mammuthus primigenius) hunts are periodic affairs, due to the number of men that it takes to bring one down, and the meat and furs are collected in common and distributed equally to all the hunters. A number of attempts are made to domesticate the mammoth, with mixed results. Many frustrated owners simply give up and slaughter the beasts for food and fur. Some owners succeed (generally by capturing young mammoths and raising them in captivity) and plow their neighbors fields for profit. Keeping a mammoth is an expensive proposition, though, and the great beasts never become common domestic work-animals. Giant elk (megalocerous giganteus, 7' tall), on the other hand, prove to be _very_ handy to have around for plowing and dragging timber.

    Dire wolves (canis dirus) and saber-toothed cats (smilodon fatalis) keep Vinlanders who venture into the woods on their toes, but both are hunted for sport and for fur. Many hunters recover dire wolf cubs after killing the mothers and undertake the rather perilous (some might say suicidal) task of domesticating wolves that stand five feet at the shoulder. It is a rough go, as you can imagine, and the wilds of Vinland are littered with the gnawed bones of men whose decedents will never walk their pomeranians down the streets of Vinland cities with little plastic bags over their hands ... But a domesticated dire wolf makes a hell of a sled dog, so the stalwart Norse persevere.

    The fishing off the Vinland and Markland coasts is ... well, incredible. The Norse were not big into fishing as a rule, they tend to be a practical people and not inclined to pass up the free-food bonanza that teems in the offshore waters. You cannot dip a line in the ocean without pulling out a cod. Fishing boats routinely struggle their way back to Hop and the other coastal villages nearly swamped by the weight of their catch. Vinlanders also venture to sea to hunt whales with hand-thrown harpoons. Fishermen move down the Markland coasts, setting up camps and drying areas for their catches. Fresh-water fishing is nothing to sneeze at, either. The rivers and lakes positively overflow with salmon. The vast stands of excellent timber just boggle the minds of the Icelanders. No scrabbling for driftwood, here.

    The population of Vinland booms. Life in Iceland is kind of rough by comparison to Vinland. Most of the good land there is already taken, so Icelanders (especially tenant farmers who have had it up to here with workin for da man) head for Vinland in droves. (Greenland does pretty well, too, but is rapidly outstripped by Vinland.) Similar conditions prevail in Norway, and so a steady stream of Norwegians (with a smattering of other Scandinavians and a few Irish) is heading across the Atlantic for greener pastures. And it is not only land hunger that propels the Norse across the seas, but also the consolidation of royal power in Scandinavia. Norse had gotten kind of used to small-scale political organization, and they liked it. Vinland offered itself as a place where Vikings could be Vikings, rather than subjects. To the extent there is any government at all in the first 70 years of Norse settlement, it tends to be ad hoc democracy and/or local headmen, depending upon the inclination of the locals.

    Iceland became Christian in a.d. 1000 and mainland Scandinavia sometime before that. Many of the early Norse settlers in Vinland either remain pagan or revert to paganism once they arrive. Later immigrants are Christian, however, and the pagan population is quickly swamped. Vinlanders themselves have a fairly live-and-let-live attitude towards religion, and sectarian violence is largely unknown or (where it does crop up) is generally just window-dressing thrown up over feuds that really have their origins elsewhere. Still, pagan Vinlanders tend to cluster off from the
    Christians, electing their own godarir (chieftain-priests) and shying away from the scattered areas where the Church's law is actually enforced.

    By 1080, Vinland has its own bishop (who actually resides in Norway) and a growing population of priests and some fairly impressive churches. The Church turns a tidy profit by Vinland - its tithe in furs, skins and ivory (walrus and mammoth) is nothing to sneeze at, especially for a frontier province. The seeds of conflict are sown by the tithe. The Bishop (none to happy about the fact that pagans continue to resist conversion in Vinland and that no one seems real eager to convert them at swordpoint) decrees that all Vinlanders - pagan and Christian - must tithe. Practical reasons underlie the decision - Vinland Christians (many of whom were not exactly devout to begin with) were lapsing into paganism to try to duck the tax. But in 11th Century Vinland, there really is no one to enforce the diktat aside from individual Christian headmen, whose own compliance is spotty, so the decree goes largely unenforced.

    Tithing aside, trade booms between Vinland and northern Europe, primarily Norway and the British Isles, both of which trade raw and finished iron tools and weapons and luxury goods for Vinland furs and hides. A fairly steady stream of knorrir (merchant ships) make their way from Scandinavians trading centers like Hedeby, Kaupang and Birka to Vinland and back. Vinland also has a very healthy trade with the cities of Dublin and York. From there, Vinland products make their way into European trade and Vinland seeps into European consciousness. Adam of Bremen is fascinated by Vinland and spends a lot of time annoying various traders by pestering them for information about this new land, eventually cobbling it all together into the first major work on the subject, with a tongue-tying Latin title that will not be reproduced here.

    And in 1070 Vinland gets its first major influx of 'political' refugees [FN5]. A fleet of ships led by Hereward the Wake brings an influx of Saxons to Vinland's shores. Ironically enough, they are fleeing subjugation by the Vinlanders' Norman cousins. The first wave brings with them a small monastic community and invaluable illuminated manuscripts of the Peterborough Abbey. Other monks also follow - preserving the written texts such as Beowulf, and the dream of the Rood. Seeking a new land where they can be their own masters, the Saxon settlements - Niwe Wessex and Niwe Mercia [FN6] are soon thriving and pushing inland. Nothing succeeds like success, and the prosperity of the Vinland Saxons acts as a powerful draw upon those who are now serfs (villeins) in what was once their own land. A steady trickle of Saxon runaways manage to make it to both Norse Vinland and the Saxon settlements.

    By 1080, Vinland has a reputation of being not only a prosperous land, but also a free one. Distance, the uncertainties of travel and the cantankerous nature of the inhabitants, all combine to make it damn difficult for the traditional sources of authority in Europe (church, nobility and monarchy) to exert their power. Far-seeing guardians of the European status quo will come to see this, become alarmed and think upon ways this intolerable situation could be remedied.

    Part 2: War-Wolves of Vinland - One [FN7]



    1080-1105

    (Vinland/Europe)

    1080 is a big year for Vinland [FN7a], what with the arrival of Bishop Alfric, a young Norwegian cleric. The Christian citizens of Hop are generally very happy that Vinland has been proclaimed its own see with a resident bishop. They go to great lengths to welcome him - starting construction on a modest [FN8] cathedral (which will continue, in fits and starts, for 40 years), a splendid fieldstone Residence [FN8a], and they even rename their city Anskar, after a saint who was an apostle to the Scandinavians in the 9th Century. The bishop is accompanied by a not-insignificant coterie of priests and other Church officials. Alfric makes no bones about the fact that he is there, not only to shepherd his flock, but also to fleece them - the tithe and Peter's Pence are to be paid, end of story.

    The population, both immigrant and native-born, continues to grow. Most of the immigrants continue to come from Scandinavia, Iceland and Ireland. Vinland receives a very healthy influx of Swedish pagans, as the forced Christian conversion of Scandinavia continues. Not all the immigrants are free - many are Irish slaves and indentured servants, brought to work the fields and labor in the towns [FN8b]. One thing that Vinland needs possibly more than anything else is labor - with land essentially free for the taking and gold to be made in furs, there is not much incentive to remain an urban laborer for any great length of time. With labor - especially skilled labor - in such short supply, guilds rapidly establish themselves and become very powerful in Anskar and the other towns.

    Farming and animal husbandry are the occupations of most Vinlanders. Every rural longhouse has a vegetable garden bursting with cabbages, peas, onions and other Scandinavian plants. Chickens and turkeys scratch in the dirt. Some farmers tend sown crops - primarily barley, hops [FN8c] and flax. Newcomers are Vinland are delighted to discover that virtually every small farmer has a few pigs rooting around his homestead, pork being a high-status meat in Scandinavian society.

    Hunters continue to push deeper and deeper into the interior, seeking out the giant beavers, scimitar and sabre-tooth cats, and mammoths and mastodons whose furs and hides fetch such an enormous price in Europe. And lets not forget the non-megafauna, such as seals, whales and so forth. As the Vinland economy grows more sophisticated, the dynamic of hunting changes. No longer primarily a part-time job of farmers seeking cash and skins, full-time hunting parties now roam the land. Skinning a mammoth is hard work, especially getting to the hide underneath a beast who has fallen on his side.

    Torsk (dried cod) imported through Bremen quickly becomes a not-uncommon food in the Holy Roman Empire - and skins and ivory flow out of Vinland and gold, silver, luxury goods, weapons and iron tools flow in. The Vinlanders also indulge in what could only be characterized as an orgy of boat-building. Overwhelmed by the quantity and quality of timber available and the wealth of fish in the Vinland seas, the coasts and inlets of Vinland and Markland now swarm with boats of all sizes [8b]. Timber being widely available, the holdup is sails. However, it is quickly discovered that mammoth hair is long-fibered enough to make excellent yarn. Unwashed, the yarn is water-resistant enough to make serviceable sails.

    The upswept, dragon-headed prow and broad square sail is now seen up and down the northern seaboard of the New World, and much of Vinland's trade is carried in Vinlandic hulls. The Vinlanders do not explore for its own sake and are not mapmakers by any stretch of the imagination, but they begin to get the idea that they are living at the northeast tip of a very large landmass. A number of Norse are convinced they are living on the fringes of Utgard, the land of the giants, which circles the world of mortal men. Given the animals they have encountered, it is an excusable mistake.

    Government in Vinland essentially mimics that in Iceland. The althing, or general assembly, meets once a year in Anskar. However, the governing body of Vinland is the Logretta, a quasi-legislative, quasi-judicial body made up of prominent men. The only official is the logsogumadur or "law speaker" who, at meetings of the Logretta, pronounced the applicable law to questions
    before the body.

    The once harmonious relations between Christian and Norse [FN9] begin to break down. Alfric is none too happy about the continuation of paganism in Vinland. Initially, anyway, the Vinlanders are very resistant to the idea of forcing their Norse friends and neighbors to convert, and calls for strenuous efforts to bring the Norse into the Church are largely ignored. The Norwegian authorities are none too keen to stir the pot and the Vinland Allthing has many, many pagan members. Not only are the Norse left to practice their religion, more than a few Christians 'lapse' back into paganism, as it seems to be a good way to dodge the Church's taxes (which are paid at church on feast days). The problem looms large for Alfric, who insists that, since the Norse are living in a Christian land, they too must pay the tithe, and demands cooperation from the Norwegian and Vinlandic authorities in collecting. The groundwork for civil and sectarian strife is laid.

    As Vinland prospers and grows, its existence continues to seep through European consciousness like a drop of ink in a glass of water, although most of the consumers of Vinlandic products have no idea where they come from [FN10]. Tales of huge hairy elephants and gigantic wolves are received entirely without skepticism or even real surprise - the idea of a far-off land populated by monsters fits in with a 11th Century European world-view. There is still no clear idea about the size and shape of the New World, or even that Vinland is a separate continent from Europe or Asia. European thinkers are used to the idea of sparsely inhabited or uninhabited reaches to their north, although none so far have proven to be so lucrative for trade. Of course, this uncertainty does not prevent Pope Gregory VII, in a hastily-added provision of Dictatus Papae [FN10a] from proclaiming "all newly discovered lands in the west" to be a papal fief.

    Europeans simply don't know if they would run into anything if they struck out across the Atlantic from Spain or France. The idea of striking out into the trackless Atlantic is not on the European mental horizon, as it were. The tools for reliably navigating large open bodies of water simply don't exist yet, and the northern Europeans dominate the Iceland-Greenland-Vinland route.

    Most of the European effort is not put into sending their own hunters to Vinland, but rather trying to do each other out of the profits already being made. English traders make a killing acting as middlemen for Vinlandic exports to Western Europe. Scandinavia serves the same function for the Holy Roman Empire and Eastern Europe, although coastal German cities try diligently to establish direct contact with Vinland fur traders.


    (Niwe Wessex / Niwe Mercia)

    The English in the New World have been busy. As William the Conqueror goes to work divesting English nobles of their estates and handing them over to his Norman followers, the initial rag-tag influx of refugees is followed by a rather unwelcome stream of disenfranchised English nobles, most still professing loyalty to Edgar the Atheling, the English claimant to the Throne [FN 11]. While Edgar himself plots against (and, along with King Malcolm, occasionally attacks) the Normans from Scotland, the Earls (and so forth) go to work immediately carving large domains for themselves, and soon what was once a fairly harmonious pair of little colonies has been greatly expanded and fragmented [FN11a]. It works like this: the dukes stake out land for themselves then ask for a writ from Edgar to govern it. Edgar, his palm suitably greased, dispatches the writs post-haste. Not that he has any recognized claim to the New World himself, but upon landing, the initial immigrants claimed the whole New World in Edgar's name. The formalities must be observed. A bastardized version of pre-Conquest English pre-feudalism takes root and spreads in the New World. In 1072, Edgar is ousted from Scotland and, after some intervening misadventures, departs to Flanders. From there, he attacks William in Normandy, with the assistance of King Phillip of France, to no discernable effect. In 1074, Edgar (now back in Scotland) realizes this is going nowhere fast. Essentially, he has two choices - he can take a boat to the New World and try to unite the squabbling dukedoms. Preferring to serve in heaven than reign in hell, Edgar joins William's court, effectively renouncing his claim to the English throne. Once they learn of it, the dukes have their own choice to make. They can transfer their allegiance to William or ... something else. They are not inclined to become Norman vassals. It was one thing to be technically loyal to an easily-bought refugee 'king,' and quite another to submit to one who is looking more and more powerful.

    The other new arrivals are from the Danelaw in northern England. Having enjoyed something like domestic autonomy under the English kings, they see the writing on the wall with William's consolidation of power. Hundreds, stripped of their lands, they take ship to the New World. Not inclined to live under either the Vinlanders or the English, they establish themselves in a brand new colony between them [FN12].

    (Vinland, 1105)

    The ruins of the Froharg have long stopped smoldering and are covered with a light dusting of early-spring snow. It is Hrafnel Freysgodi's land, and this was his temple, dedicated to Freya, the goddess of fertility. Hrafnel is a prominent Norse magnate and godar [FN13], with expansive land holdings, several longships and over a hundred men - farmers, hunters and seamen - owing him loyalty. His name is great in Vinland, prominent and respected in the Logretta, where he leads the Norse faction. It is the collapse of the Logretta that led to the attack on Hrafnel's land and the burning of the Froharg. The Christian contingent in the assembly declared that henceforth, the laws of Vinland would be written in a great book that would be kept in the custody of Bishop Alfric and the logsogumadur would have to go to the bishop, who would tell him the law. It is a decisive shift in power from the Logretta to the Church, the fruit of twenty five years' worth of clerical attacks upon the Vinland's inherited religious tolerance. Norse Vinlanders protest vigorously, but they are outnumbered. In the end, the Logretta divides between Christian and Norse and each group declares itself to be 'out of law' with the other, effectively inaugurating civil war.

    Shortly after the schism, Bishop Alfric dispatched lay officers to collect the tithe from Hrafnel, under the belief that if he could force such a prominent Norse magnate to acknowledge the authority of the Church, he could bring his co-religionists to heel.

    He is wrong.

    The bishop's men make it far enough onto Hrafnel's land to burn his temple (as an affront to the White Christ) when they are ambushed. A swarm of arrows whistle out of the forest, striking them down as the stand in the temple clearing, the flames silhouetting them against the darkness of the forest. Bellowing with rage, Hrafnel and his men charge out of the woods, hacking and slashing with their swords and battle-axes. Only one of the bishop's men survives, and he run he runs terrified down the path through the woodland. In the weeks that follow, Vinland and Markland erupt in a paroxysm of communal violence, a terrible cycle of attack and retribution. Farms and hamlets are sacked and burned and whole communities are put to the sword. Women and girls are violated and murdered or carried off into slavery. Norsemen and Vinlanders, organizing themselves around hunting parties or companies loyal to local headmen, fight scattered but fierce and pitiless engagements throughout the colony. Each side struggles not just for the upper hand, but for sheer survival against an implacable enemy who was once their neighbor, their friend, their kin.

    And now, Hrafnel has called an allthing of the Norse of Vinland, to unite their forces and to forge a common battle plan for the desperate days ahead. Dozens of prominent men from all corners of the colony have gathered to stand in the torchlit forest grove, around the ruins of Hrafnel's temple, to hear his call for the extermination of the Christians of Vinland. The paintings of later days show them, big, bearded, glowering men, clad in heavy leather boots, rough wadmal [FN14] breeches and shirts and long fur cloaks. As befitting the times, all the men are armed and armored. Many wear thick leather jerkins [FN15], but the wealthier among them come clad in chainmail. All carry swords, spears or battle-axes and wear round helmets [FN16], some with a chainmail fringe over the back of the neck and iron loops to protect the eyes.

    Hrafnel cries for land to be soaked in blood, for the Norse to drive the Vinlanders into the sea, then to take to their boats and to wrest Iceland from the Christians. His fellows roar full-throated approval and pound their shields with the flats of their swords or thrust their spears in the air. The fury of the Northmen rings throughout the forest. But then, above it all, a clear, loud cry is heard:

    "Norse of Vinland, hear me!"

    The savage war-cries suddenly fade as the assembly turns as one to face the speaker, standing at the edge of the clearing. He is a grizzled old man, silver of hair and beard, bareheaded and clad in long gray robes. Using a spear as a walking stick, he strides through the crowd towards the ruined temple around which they are gathered. Flanking him are six ferocious men, dressed in bear skins, clutching spears, swords and battle axes. The Norse part soundlessly to let the man and his companions through.

    By the flickering torchlight, they can see that the old man in the gray robes, carrying the spear as a walking stick, has only one eye. A patch covers the other eye, but not the mass of scarring that covers the side of his face. Every man in the clearing stands stunned, looking at the silver-beared man in gray robes who only has one eye and who holds a spear as a walking-stick. Standing in the ruins of the temple of Freya, in the middle of this now-silent assembly, the one-eyed man speaks:

    "I am Erik Einauga, new to this land. I was born in the great city of Constantinople, where my father was a captain of the Varangian Guard, protectors of the Emperor. We were at sea, when our ship was taken by the Saracens, who slew my father but spared me and raised me as a warrior. Though the Saracens thought they made me a Musselman, like themselves, from my father I knew I was a Norseman. Like my father before me, I became a captain in the service of a foreign master and slew countless numbers of my lord's enemies. Six years ago, I stood on the steps of the great al-aksa-moschee in Jerusalem and fought, sword to sword, the great King Tankred."

    If any of the men in the crowd were skeptical, not a hint of it showed on their faces.

    "Though we fought as fiercely as any men could, Tankred and his knights overwhelmed us and drove us from Jerusalem. I alone managed to escape to Haifa and the sea. I made my way north, because I knew that is where my people were. In Iceland, I learned of a new land, where men could live free and keep the sidur [FN17] of our fathers and grandfathers. So I came here, and I heard the bishop and priests of the White Christ speak hatred of the sidur. And I saw the great numbers of the followers of the White Christ. I knew, then, what must be done. So I went into the wilderness to find the Norse a new land, away from the priests and their hatred. And I found a land to the south along the banks of a great river. A land of rich, black earth, vast sweet lakes full of fish, flocks of birds that block out the sun, and forests teeming with life.

    If we are to survive and follow the sidur, we must leave this place and go to this new land of the south. And I can lead you there ..."

    Empty America Part 3: War-Wolves of Vinland - Two

    1105

    (Skogrland [FN18])

    Word of the one-eyed stranger spreads through Vinland like wildfire. Among the Norse, there is no universal consensus that they should flee. The Norse are, after all, a fighting people, and those in Vinland are no exception. Through the years, they have been bloodied in feuds, family and communal. But this is different - it is a war to the death. Hrafnel Freysgodi and some of his allies, all opposed to leaving, lead their men into Anskar, where they sack and destroy the main church and the bishop's residence. But they are driven out with heavy casualties by a Christian counterattack.

    Christian Vinlanders outnumber the Norse by two to one, and as the violence continues to escalate, it becomes clear that, if they are not to be wiped out entirely, they must either convert or leave. Chastened by the battle in Anskar, even Freysgodi comes to believe that they must depart. Einauga is constantly at his elbow now, in his gray robes, broad hat, and walking staff, as they travel the land, cajoling the reluctant and organizing [FN19] the Norse exodus. Those skeptical of Freysgodi (who has a widespread reputation as being an overbearing, arrogant boor) are won over by Einauga. They look into that one eye and know that they must do has he would have them do.

    In the days and weeks that follow, the Norse take to such roads as their are in Vinland - tracks for pack-horses and mammoths, really - and make for the coasts. For most, this is not a long journey - the Scandinavians who settled Iceland and Vinland have a cultural preference for farming near the sea. The first flotilla, seventy ships in all, is ready. Commanded by Freysgodi and guided by one of Einauga's bearskin-clad men, it takes to the sea, moving south along the coast of Skogrland. Before long, they spy signs of human habitation - the Saxon colonies of Niwe Wessex and Niwe Mercia. Many of the Norse are surprised to find the English here, but others are not. Contact between the Norse and the Saxons in the New World had been sporadic and isolated, although a number of the Saxons were are of the conflict that was rending Vinland and fear that one side or another would move south. Here and there, ships that left Vinland ill-provisioned visit coastal Saxon farms and barter for food. For the most part, the encounters are friendly enough, even though many of the Saxons are terrified and many of the Norse highly suspicious.

    As they move further south, however, Einauga's bearskinned lieutenant starts taking a hand in managing the flotilla. Norse warriors splash ashore and drive off the handful Saxon inhabitants of a large island off the coast [FN20]. The Norsemen are given strict orders to remain there, construct a stockade and await more arrivals. The soldiers christen it Streymoy, after an island in the Faroes. The rest of the flotilla moves on, making landfall at the mouth of a great south-flowing river [FN21]. This river valley, explains the bear-warrior, somewhat uncomfortable with the evident solemnity of the occasion, and the lands to either side are yours.

    Now Freysgodi takes over. He names the river "Thjorsa," [FN22] and their new home, "Domstolland" [FN23]

    Freysgodi orders the construction of a Domhring [FN24] in a clearing on the riverbank, near where the river enters the sea. In the center of the circle of stones, he places the Thorstein, the granite pillar of Thor, taken from the ashes of one of the Thunderer's temples in Vinland. On the Thorstein, he places a simple gold ring, its runes clearly visible in the flickering torchlight. One by one, the men approach the Thorstein, place their hands on the ring and swear an oath to be true to the sidur, to each other, and to Domstolland.

    And they vow that they will have their revenge.

    Freysgodi and the other men agree that those in the ships that follow them shall all land at this place and swear this same oath.

    The Norse then move up the river valley, seizing a number of small Saxon settlements and enslaving the inhabitants. More and more boats arrive in Domstolland and thousands make their way to the Domhring to swear the oath. Ari the Wise, who arrives in one of the second wave boats, takes the oath but is somewhat discomfited by the palpable anger seething all around him at the Domhring. Trouble is coming. Beware the fury of the North Men.

    Fury indeed. After depositing their women and children safely in Domstolland, the third and forth waves of Norse immigrants vent their rage upon the inhabitants of Niwe Wessex and Niwe Mercia. Commanding the third flotilla, Gizur Teitsson carves a broad swath of destruction the length of the Saxon colonies and returns to Domstolland laden with plunder and slaves. Just as the Saxons are getting back on their feet, the fourth wave sweeps over them. The Saxon Earls try to organize resistance, but the bad blood and lack of unity that have been sown among them is their downfall - some Earls bribe the Norse to pass them by, and provide guides to steer them onto the lands of their rivals. But others assemble their sheriffs, thegns [FN25] and peasant soldiers and march against the Vikings. After series of short, one-sided battles in which many of the Earls themselves fall in combat, the Saxons are defeated. The survivors hold a witan [FN26] in Niwe Wessex at which they agree that the only course of action left to them is to pay the Vikings to leave them in peace, and they dispatch an embassy to Domstolland to negotiate. The problem is that there is no one to treat with, really. Freysgodi has moved up river to stake out a vast estate and is, at the moment, busying himself with getting his own household re-established. The Domstollanders have not yet convened a new Logretta, and there is not really anyone who can claim to speak for them. In the end, the Saxons wind up making a private deal with Teitsson - his men and ships will protect Niwe Wessex and Niwe Mercia in exchange for tribute, payable in gold, furs and food. Teitsson is allowed to set up a longhport [FN27] on the Saxon coastline, from which he and his men can sortie.


    * * *


    Meanwhile, back in Vinland, the One-Eyed Wanderer and his followers are rounding up the stragglers as the last and largest of the Norse flotillas prepares to depart. On a gravelly beach on the coast of Vinland the boats and a great crowd of men, women and children are gathering. The Christian Vinlanders have not sat idle while their pagan neighbors make for the water. They move in, seizing whatever they is left behind. And the communal violence continues. Norse are ambushed on the trails to the coast and many parties have to conduct a fighting retreat to make it to the boats. With the last large group of Norse gathered at the water's edge, the Bishop's men make their move. A ring of iron closes in around the embarkation point.

    It begins at dawn, as the last of the Norse are loading their ships. More mob than army, the Vinlanders attack the last of the pack-trains. A general alarm goes up among the Norse, who rush to the aid of their fellow refugees. Throughout the woods, a dozen desperate skirmishes rage. Einauga is everywhere, bringing order out of chaos, assembling the remaining men into some sort of coherent line, which charges the onrushing Vinlanders, driving them back in bloody disorder.

    Einauga leads his men back to the waterline. The Christians are routed, but they will regroup, and be back in greater order and numbers than before. "To the boats! Get the women and children on the ships! Get the loaded ships out to sea!" The Norsemen's blood is up and they want to continue the fight, but they look into that one glimmering eye and do as they are bidden.

    As Einauga predicted, the Vinlanders gather their wits and charge again, this time moving down the beach in a disciplined svinfylking [FN28]. Einauga looks around. Most of the men are helping the women and children into the ships, and there are still dozens, children and gray-haired elderly, mostly sobbing with fear among heaps of their possessions. He summons his berserks, who gather around him, biting the edges of their shields and raging for battle. Einauga points his spear-staff at the charging Vinlanders. "There are your foemen!" The berserks charge down the beach, howling and waving their battle axes and swords.

    Above the din of battle, Einauga hears it. The howling of great wolves. Peering through the trees, he sees them: six dire wolves in iron collars. War wolves, trained to kill, rushing headlong through the forest towards the water. The lead beast is enormous, even for a dire wolf, and his eyes burn red like fire.

    Einauga looks down the beach. His berserks, outnumbered ten to one, battle furiously amidst the throng of Vinlanders, turning the surf red with their enemies' blood.

    Einauga then looks at the huddled group of terrified refugees and hurriedly waves the eight or so able-bodied men over to him. He is abrupt. "Two men for each wolf. The first takes it on his shield, the second attacks from underneath. Do you understand?" The men gape at him, as if certain that he is mad, but they nod. They are farmers and tradesmen, not Vikings, but each of them knows he cannot refuse his bidding. Einauga smiles fiercely. "Good! And fear not, should we fall, we will feast in Valhalla ere this day is out!"

    They hurriedly form up a line protecting the refugees. "Remember!" Einauga shouts, standing before them, "The lead wolf is MINE!" With that, he whips off his tattered gray robe, revealing a shirt of glimmering chain-mail. He casts down his staff and draws his sword, which blazes in the early morning light, revealing the runes etched in its blade.

    "Come Fenris!" he roars, "Come great wolf! My sword thirsts for you!"

    And then the wolves are upon them. Shrieking in terror, Ottar, a tanner, feels his forearm snap as a great wolf, fangs gleaming to tear his throat, and smashes into his wooden shield in mid-leap, its fore-claws slashing at him around the edges. Bjarni, a turkey farmer, masters his trembling limbs long enough to dive under the wolf and plunge a borrowed shortsword into its belly. The wolf falls to the earth. Drenched in the beast's hot blood, Bjarni struggles to his feet, holding his weapon aloft and yelling in surprise and triumph.

    And so it goes. The least - but in the end the greatest - men of Vinland, drive off and kill the remaining wolves. The berserks are eventually overwhelmed amid heaps of their slain. With the time bought they bought, the last of the Norse refugees struggle or are carried through the surf to the ships and are gone.

    As is the grey-bearded, one-eyed stranger, last seen grappling with the greatest of the dire wolves amidst the chaos on the beach, is gone. From the safety of their ships, the Norse scan the shoreline for any sign of him or the wolf. But there is none.

    The last boats to leave Vinland behind catch a fair wind, and are on their way south.


    Footnotes


    [FN1] OK, lets try this again. Originally, to the extent that I envisioned the TL as a whole, I was thinking about a fairly small collection of Norse settlements, with a population of maybe 50k by 1380, with a minimal impact upon European history and that of subsequent explorers. After the initial responses, I took a second look and decided to make it somewhat ... bigger.

    [FN1a] The sagas describe it as wild wheat. More recent scholarship indicates it could have been wild rice. I am going with wild wheat.

    [FN2] No kidding. Hop. There are varying theories about where it was. I am going with OTL's New Brunswick. At some point, should I get ambitious, a map of Empty America, including Vinland, will be posted along with the TL on www.althist.com.

    [FN3] Over time, 'Vinland' comes to refer not only to the area initially settled, but also to all of Norse-occupied North America.

    [FN4] Not a formal, legal affair such as took place in Iceland, but a reference to the settlement itself.

    [FN4a] Later research places Vinland settlement likely in New Brunswick, possibly on the shores of Fundy Bay. So, I am going with that. So it is: Early Vinland (New Brunswick/Northern Maine/Nova Scotia), Markland (Newfoundland).

    [FN5] Credit for the Saxon emigration idea and details goes to John Ruddy (jruddy98PLUS1@hotmail.com).

    [FN6] OTL Massachusetts Bay Colony area.

    [FN7] Alas, poor Warren Z.

    [FN7a] "Vinland" here is shorthand for the entire colony, including Markland.

    [FN8] By European standards, but it is the greatest construction project in the New World at the time.

    [FN8a] The largest stone house in Vinland at the time, by far. Most Vinlanders continue to live in their wooden longhouses, which now tend to be subdivided into individual rooms, and wood shingles have replaced thatch roofs for most prosperous farmers.

    [FN8b] An important distinction between Vinland slavery and OTL's slavery in the U.S.A. is that slave status was not hereditary. The children of an Irish slave laboring in Vinland were free.

    [FN8c] Like all truly civilized people, the Vinlanders like their beer.

    [FN9] Yes, Christians as well as pagans are Norse, but I am going to use the term as shorthand for those who are adherents to the Norse religion.

    [FN10] Like spices in OTL.

    [FN10a] March, 1075.

    [FN11] Thanks to Chris Williams for this idea.

    [FN11a] Including not only OTL's Massachusetts, but also Long Island and southern New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. Their claims are much larger than the area actually occupied.

    [FN12] In the area of OTL's Maine.

    [FN13] Chieftain-priest.

    [FN14] Homespun wool.

    [FN15] Properly tanned, the skin of a mammoth is extraordinarily tough.

    [FN16] One thing is for sure - the helmets did NOT have horns.

    [FN17] "custom"

    [FN18] From the Old Norse - "Forestland." i.e. North America.

    [FN19] We are not talking about a LOT of organization here. This is no
    D-Day with precise timetables, it is very ad hoc and chaotic. Whenever a
    sufficient number of ships are full, they depart.

    [FN20] OTL's Long Island.

    [FN21] Of course, OTL's Hudson River.

    [FN22] A river in Iceland

    [FN23] "Judgment-seat Land." Hey, you'd not be too cheery, either, under the
    circumstances ...

    [FN24] "Ring of Doom"

    [FN25] Officials who (in the Saxon colonies) serve military function.

    [FN26] A king's council, but here without a king.

    [FN27] Raiding base.

    [FN28] The preferred Viking battle formation, called "the boar." I picture it like a Zulu impi - a great mass in the middle, with "horns" of flankers on either side.
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2014
    Crying, Ritos, Adamant and 1 other person like this.
  2. Constantinople Trump is Temporary, but hey, Brexit is forever Banned

    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2005
    1106-1110

    (Niwe Wessex)

    A snapshot of the English settlements in the New World.

    Most of the inhabitants of these settlements are first or second-generation immigrants. Niwe Wessex is top-heavy with Saxon nobles, who were, after all the ones getting the high hard one from William and his Merrie Men. But most are peasants, residing in small clutches of wooden, thatch-roofed houses, surrounded by fields sown with barley or wheat. Field clearing was a common enterprise of those who settled in the vicinity, but each man holds his own furlongs - strips of the land that he plows, plants and harvests. As in England (generally speaking), the land is parceled out in hides and hundreds and shires. The Pre-Conquest earls and thegns who made it over generally lay claim to a huge expanse, call it a shire, and set to work with their peasantry. As you might expect, most of the claims are unpopulated woodlands. On the up side, most peasants have more furlongs than they could have realistically have hoped for back in the Old Country. Closer in to the little hamlets, they grow vegetables and raise fowl, pigs and cows. Sheep roam the woods and pastures. There are independent farmers, scattered here and there, mostly they are early immigrants who made it to Skogrland without any noble 'patron,' or latecomers who show more enterprise than most. The peasants' fealty to their lords rests upon inertia and fear - there are monsters and Vikings in the woods, so the vast majority are disinclined to strike out into the wilderness. The Church does its part to keep the peasantry in line. More than a few Saxon bishops made the trek, as did a number of priests, whose parishes in England were taken over by Norman-sponsored monastic orders. As in England, many of the priests are married - just as Rome's writ on celibacy went unenforced in the English countryside, it does not hold sway in Niwe Wessex. As the Norman church cracks down in England, more and more married priests uproot their families and depart for greener pastures.

    The nobles are eager to get peasants for their vast landholdings (after all, there's not much point in being an earl if you have to pull out stumps yourself), so there is a concerted effort to woo Saxons away from England. After the first shock of the Conquest, however, this proves increasingly difficult. The peasantry in Norman England is not nearly as disaffected as their Saxon overlords. Unlike the nobility, the lot of the peasantry remains largely unchanged. Not enough of them are discontented enough to make a perilous sea voyage to be a peasant someplace else. Refugees from the failed rebellions against the Normans arrive in spurts, but that unpleasantness is largely over by the late-1080s. Crop failures in 1103 send some more peasants across the Atlantic, but again, simply not enough to meet demand.

    So, like the Norse, the Saxon earls eventually turn to the great slave-ports of Ireland and simply buy the help they need. Thus, at the base of the New Wessex pyramid, there is a mishmash of free Saxon peasants and Irish slaves working the land.

    The Norse raids of 1105 send the Saxon colonies reeling. They have not a lot of surplus wealth (and no surplus population) to go around, so the Vikings' plunder, murder and slave-raiding hits the settlement very hard. And not only the peasants. Many of the nobility are killed trying to defend their lands. Others are seized by the Vikings and held for ransoms which no one can pay and are then murdered or enslaved in Domstolland.

    After surveying the damage, the surviving Earls [FN29] and so forth of Niwe Wessex meet in witan. Earl Siward chairs the meeting, since he called the witan and it is at his greathall. [FN 30] The earls eye each other uneasily. There is still a lot of bad blood circulating from the Conquest. The sons of Earls Morkere and Edwine, for example, are still arguing about who was responsible for a number of debacles that followed the Norman invasion and overthrow of Edgar. The Norse raids also created their share of hostilities between those who were hammered by the Vikings and those who were able to pay bribes to be passed by. Many eye Earl Leofwin angrily - he made the deal with Teitsson which allowed the Vikings a base on Saxon soil. A number of the earls think he exceeded his brief and was (for his own purposes) paving the way for Niwe Wessex to be reduced to a Norse tributary. After the preliminaries are taken care of (and this takes a while), Siward gets down to business. It is clear that if the Saxons remain in their current state, they will eventually be subjugated by the Norse in Domstolland. Not all agree with that and take umbrage at the implied slight to their fighting abilities. Siward persists - they need unity if they are going to survive. Aha! many cry, here is the true agenda: Siward wants to make himself their overlord. Shouting to make himself heard over the din and pounding on the table, Siward denies any intention to invest himself with supreme power. His denials are not credited by the skeptics. Eventually, the meeting steers itself towards a single question: if the Saxons can persuade a person of suitable royal lineage to take up the crown of Niwe Wessex, with the earls swear allegiance to him? After much grumbling, there is a general consensus. They will not submit to each other, but they will support a king. So it is decided. Much more argument ensues about who will actually return to Europe to find a king. Lingering suspicions disqualify Siward and Leofwin, so eventually Earls Alwin and Wivar are chosen - they dislike each other intensely, so the earls figure that they would not conspire against those who stay behind.

    And they are off. As both are outlawed in England, they must proceed with caution. After a harrowing voyage across the North Atlantic, they arrive in Dublin, where fortune smiles upon them [FN31a]. In Dublin, they locate a grandson [FN32] of King Harold II, of Stamford Bridge and Hastings fame. Like his father and uncle, young Magnus Eadmundsson was enjoying an interlude as a pirate captain. He is not particularly enjoying it at the moment, though. Pickings have been thin of late and the crews of his four ships have mutinied for lack of pay.

    And then two earls from a rustic but promising dominion approach Magnus and ask him to be king.

    Magnus has to think about it ... for a few minutes. Like most of those who ply the waters around the Isles, he is familiar with the New World. He and his crews have hit a Vinlandic trading vessel or two off the Orkneys and scored big, so he knows that there is a lot of wealth to be had across the Atlantic. Being canny, he does not disclose his present difficulties to the two Earls. The eager nobles keep sweetening the pot. He will have vast royal lands and any followers he brings along will be similarly endowed. After Magnus decides he has extracted as much from the two earls as he is likely to get, he "reluctantly" agrees. Siward and Leofwin are ecstatic and, when Magnus is finally able to extricate himself from their jubilant grasp, he makes his way to the waterfront to hunt up his cronies.

    He knows his men well, and finds his two primary lieutenants, Gilroy and Niall, in a bawdy house. After bursting into their room and shooing away the (three) whores, Magnus straddles a chair and lays the situation out for them. By the time he is done, they are all grinning, laughing, and calling downstairs for more beer.

    It takes some time to get going. Magnus and his cronies round up their captains and crews then, dipping liberally into the purse that the earls brought with them, secure horses, weapons, slaves and sundry equipment. In the end, it is seven ships that make the crossing, packed stem to stern with gear and unsavory characters from the Irish corsair ports, all of whom have sworn loyalty to Magnus. For his part, he has promised them power and fortune.

    The royal flotilla receives a warm welcome in Niwe Wessex. The nobles assemble, congratulate Siward and Leofwin on their success. At a ceremony presided over by the Archbishop, a former pirate is crowned Magnus I, King of Niwe Wessex [FN33]. The earls perform rituals of submission to their new king and accept him as their lord.

    Once crowned, Magnus takes hold of his kingdom and moves to consolidate royal power. The dragon standard rises above Niwe Wessex.

    The first order of business is a secure succession. Magnus marries Judith, the daughter of one of the more powerful noble houses. He decrees that all the inhabitants of Niwe Wessex are vassals of the monarchy, directly obligated to him. He imposes new duties upon the earls - they are obliged to build bridges, maintain roads and (of course) provide military service. Magnus also appoints a plethora of new sheriffs, responsible to him, who command the fyrd [army] when it is mustered and administer the kingdom during peacetime. The royal courts take jurisdiction over appeals from the shire courts. All orphans are decreed to be wards of the King, who controls their property until they reach majority. Magnus also takes the Niwe Wessex church well in hand. He will invest all bishops who are also vassals of the king and have the same obligations as the lay nobility.

    The earls begin to think that they traded a Norman overlord for an English one backed by Irish hooligans.

    Magnus is canny, so he realizes that he must earn his salt as king. He calls out the fyrd and, personally leading the troops, he seizes the Viking longhport that Teitsson established on what is now his domain. He keeps the fyrd assembled while he awaits the Norse response.

    It is a great gamble, since the Vikings in Domstolland greatly outnumber his own men ...

    Empty America Part 5: Jorvik State of Mind

    1105-1130

    (Domstolland)

    The Norse of Vinland have hit the jackpot. None of the farmers who make their way up the Thjorsa river valley are in awe at the vast expanses of fertile land just waiting to be settled. And not all of it needs to be cleared, either - there are many fertile meadowlands waiting for them. As fast as they can get out of the boats, they are staking claims and setting up their households. The river itself is languid waterway, easily navigable deep into the wilderness.

    Streymoy Island is a plum as well - the land is remarkably fertile and much of it does not need to be cleared. The waters of the lower Thjorsa teem with fish - sturgeon, bass, herring - and whales frolic off the coasts of Streymoy. The woods on both the mainland and the islands teem with game, both megafauna and .. er... regulafauna. One terrifying addition that most in Vinland did not have to deal with previously is the shortfaced bear [FN34], an enormous beastie (about the size of a moose) that is quick, agile, aggressive and decidedly carnivorous. As if dire wolves, sabretooth and scimitar tooth cats were not enough. Husbandrymen (i.e. most Domstollanders) are quickly engaged in a battle to drive off the carnivores to protect their sheep, fowl and swine.

    The forests also are homes to a large number of mastodons ('olifaunts'), who nosh on the coniferous forests. Many are captured and tamed as beasts of burden. Stump-pulling and dragging timber is once again their forte.

    First things first, however. As soon as the exodus from Vinland is substantially complete, the Norse convene an Althing to establish a new government and organize the Landnam. The travails of the exodus from Vinland have instilled a new spirit of egalitarianism, even among the already democratically-minded Norse. The great magnates have, of course, lost all their land, so basically everyone who depended upon land as the source of their wealth and power is starting off at square one. On the other hand, those whose wealth was in more easily-portable form - the poultry and pig farmers who managed to escape with their livestock and the carpenters and ship-wrights who still have their skills and their tools, and the town merchants who still have their silver, have a leg up.

    Also, the wealthy men, the leaders with dozens or hundreds of followers have very clearly failed in their primary duty - to protect those who entrusted them with leadership. As a result, the rank-and-file Domstollanders are not particularly inclined to turn once again to their traditional leaders. Individual personalities come into play here, too. Teitsson is unpopular. By striking out on his own and setting up a loghport in Niwe Wessex, he has parted ways with the majority of Norse, who are tired of bloodshed and want to go about the business of starting their new lives (not that anyone is particularly inclined to return the loot they scooped up in Niwe Wessex). Also, there is a general belief that Teitsson was maneuvering to elevate himself above the rest of them for his personal aggrandizement. Freysgodi is somewhat more popular, since he appeared to be the favorite of the One-Eyed Traveler. But absenting himself upriver carving out a large estate while the rest of the Vinlanders were struggling ashore has alienated many. The Allthing is raucous and virtually uncontrollable, but ambitious new leaders emerge from the crowds.

    The government they establish has much in common with that they left behind in Vinland. The Logretta is elected through universal male suffrage (women who are heads of household, and there are plenty after the bloodbath in Vinland, also get to vote [FN34a]). It is, however, stripped of much of its judicial power as such was used by Christians in Vinland to oppress the Norse. Judges are elected at the local level, and the Logretta can hear appeals. The Domstollanders create a brand new office as their chief executive - Folkhagi ["leader" in Old Norse][FN35]. The Folkhagi is to be elected every five years by the Allthing.

    Much to his surprise, Bjarni the turkey farmer, (now Bjarni Wolfsblood) finds himself elected Folkhagi, after the leaders of various factions cannot settle on a candidate.

    There is also the small matter of defining the extent of their domain. After intense consultations with hunters who have been roaming the area for years, the Allthing claims dominion over the land extending south of the Mikill [Great] River [FN36] and east to the (newly-named, in honor of the struggle in Vinland) Vaettfang [Battlefield] River [FN36a]. The great lake to the northwest is christened Lake Heimdall, and the smaller lake directly to the north is named in honor of the god Forseti.

    By a wide margin, the Domstollanders vote to forbid Christians from settling in their land. Anyone immigrating to Domstolland must renounce the White Christ thirteen times at the Domhring. Lay Christians who refuse to convert, will be driven from the land. Clergy will be captured, tried and executed. The minority view, more concerned with mammon than Odin, is concerned that this xenophobia will hamper trade.

    When it comes to defense, the Althing reaffirms every Norseman's duty to keep weapons and bear them in defense of his Folk. The Norse are very conscious of the fact they have a Christian enemy on their eastern border and that Vinlandic hunters roam the northern woods. Men who will accept grants in the marches get much larger land grants and immunity from taxation in exchange for constructing and manning stockades. There aren't many takers. Simply too much good land is available for many men to want to take on such a task.

    Vis-a-vis King Magnus' takeover of Teitsson's loghport, the Allthing votes to designate it a private quarrel between Magnus and Teitsson, and if the latter wants to do anything about it, he will have to get the approval of the Logretta and the Folkhagi. Teitsson, outraged, storms out of the Althing, taking his followers with him.

    And so the Norse set to it. Over the months and years that follow, they clear the land and raise their livestock. They fish and hunt whales. Life goes on largely as it once did in Vinland, although increasing numbers of Domstollanders take up manufacturing trades. The Thjorsa river valley contains a great amount of easily-recoverable iron ore, and Domstolland soon is manufacturing its own iron goods and low-grade steel. And marble. The exodus has produced an major increase in piety in the Norse population, and a number of fine temples to Freya, Thor and Odin spring up in towns and on private lands. Having a mammoth or two around is a necessity for any quarry. The Norse aren't masons, generally, but they are learning.

    Another thriving industry is naval stores, both for domestic consumption and export. The pine forests yield large quantities of tar and pitch and many are growing hemp for ropes, nets and sail-cloth. Domstolland's woodlands also are a tremendous source of long, straight, strong wood for masts and hull construction. The advent of hemp fiber, combined with the ready availability of high-quality wood works a revolution in Norse ship-building. The wool that the Norse had been using for sails was comparatively weak, and had to be reinforced with a cris-cross of leather straps. The sailcloth coming out of Domstolland is strong, which makes large sails more feasible. The boats that are being built in Thjorsa river valley and on the shores of Streymoy Island are larger and more capable than those in which the refugees arrived. For fishing vessels this turns out to be very important. The Domstollanders are now quite a ways from the teeming cod fisheries off the coast of Vinland and northern Niwe Wessex, so frequent long round-trips are necessary. Larger ships mean bigger hauls and better accommodations for the crewmen.

    Larger crews are needed because of the frequent clashes with the Vinlanders, who are unhappy sharing their fishing grounds with the Norse and are particularly vexed by the Domstollanders' use of their coasts to dry their catches. The struggle over fishing rights takes the traditional Scandinavian form - raids and counter-raids. Most of the communities on Streymoy and on the lower reaches of the Thjorsa are stockaded or at least have a timber-and-earth fortification available within easy reach.

    The exodus from Vinland also shakes up the trading situation. The Hanseatic League takes the opportunity to muscle aside their competitors and soon has a major share of the fur and ivory trade from the New World. Entrepreneurs from further south also move in. Four ships from Grenada in al-Andaleus arrive one day in 1125, following the usual Iceland-Greenland-Vinland roundabout. The Andalusian nobility is mad for ivory - the current fashion is for ivory caskets - and they sought to cut out the middleman. They are willing to pay a lot more than the Hanseatic traders are paying. The encounter is a strange one. Sophisticated Muslims from the Mediterranean greeting rustic pagan New Worlders. The interaction is complex, to say the least. The Muslims are somewhat startled by outspoken Norse paganism, and the Norse are puzzled by the Muslims' frequent prayer. But the Norse have ivory and the Andalusians have steel armor and weaponry and (of course) jingling bags of silver, so religious differences do not stand in the way of serious business.

    It takes some time for the Domstolland hunters and traders to assemble all the ivory that the Andalusians are after [FN37], and in the meantime, the Norse get the chance to take a real, real good look at the Andalusians' ships. They are fascinated by the triangular sails. The Grenadans explain - slowly, the language barrier is formidable - that the shape allows for much easier tacking into the wind. Norse ships can tack, but it takes a lot of lowering, turning and raising the sail. The expert ship-builders of Tivrhofn [harbor of the gods] [FN38] on Streymoy stroke their beards and look at those sails with lust in their hearts.

    The first lateen-sailed Norse vessel is under construction by the time the Grenadans depart.

    Empty America: Part 6 - The Dukes of Hazzard (One) [FN39]

    [You will note that I am skipping ahead a bit here, chronologically. The events of intervening years will be recounted in as summary or detailed a fashion as is appropriate.]

    "All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

    (Wales, 1150-72)

    Owain Gwynedd, oftentimes styled the 'King of Wales,' is, in fact, no such thing. True, he holds a great domain in western Wales under his thumb, but not all of it. One thing he definitely is would be a prolific sirer of offspring. Owain's numerous mistresses make an exact count of his offspring difficult, but the lowball figure is that he had seventeen sons. In addition to his incalculable number of mistresses, concubines and so forth, he had two wives. His second wife is also first cousin. This, while forbidden by the Church, is not that uncommon. The great thing about marrying your first cousin in the Middle Ages is that, if things don't quite work out, the marriage is voidable.

    But for some reason, this marriage gets Owain in trouble with the powers that be. Owain, according to certain reports, is excommunicated by none other than Tomas a' Becket. Owain is having too much a good time to care much.

    In addition to his ... less than Christian sexual proclivities, Owain also pursues his political goals with single-minded ruthlessness, and is bloodthirsty even by the standards of the age. Anyone who looks crossways at him gets taken out. In 1150, he had his son Cynan imprisoned. Sometime later, he had his nephew Cannedda castrated and blinded. In a nutshell, he who sniffs too close to Owain's power base - or even looks like he is going to - better watch his back.

    One of the numerous offspring of this ruthless, licentious man is Madoc ab Owain Gwynedd. According to the bards' tales, Owain ordered Madoc to be killed at birth, but the little fellow was smuggled out of Aberffraw Castle (Owain's stronghold) by his mother, Chrisiant. Madoc stays on the run for most of his childhood, but returns to court at age sixteen, disguised as a minstrel, so that he could meet his mother, the woman who saved his life. But his efforts are for naught. She died shortly before his arrival. In his grief, he reveals his true identity to Annesta, one of his mother's handmaidens. As they kneel in the chapel, mourning Chrisiant, they are discovered by Dafydd, Madoc's brother, who attempts to seize them to curry favor with his father, who still wishes Madoc dead. Madoc flees his father's castle with Annesta and, as they are on the verge of escaping, Annesta is struck by an arrow and killed. Madoc makes it to the woods and safety, but he will never forget the woman who, at such great risk to her own life, comforted him in his hour of grief.

    Madoc retreats to Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel, where he feels somewhat secure from his father's wrath. He is a pious, sad-eyed man, who falls in love with the ocean and becomes an extraordinarily skilled seaman. He knows of the New World, of course, from the stories of Irish, Saxon and Scandinavian captains and sailors. He makes several voyages himself, incognito as a common sailor (he still has Owain's death-warrant hanging over him), and he explores Vinland and Niwe Wessex. He is fascinated by the exotic animals - the olifaunts, giant beavers and great cats. On one of his trips to Niwe Wessex, he happens to encounter a Cistercian monk, one of many who have settled in the Christian dominions of the New World. The monk is an Irishman named Brendan. As a good Irishman, Brother Brendan is a talker, especially once he has a few pints in him. He has a theory that Vinland (as many have already started calling the New World) is much, much larger than most people have surmised. The general belief still is that Vinland is a large island or peninsula extending south from the Arctic ice. Brendan thinks differently. He thinks Vinland may be as wide as the distance from Cadiz to Kiev and may extend from the northern ice south, further south than the realms of African Moors, to the bottom of the world, wherever that may be. Quiet, thoughtful Madoc listens carefully to Brendan. Vinland could be, not just a new country, a new land, but a new world.

    It is in the waters off Vinland that Madoc learns to fight and it is there that he learns that he hates it. The Vinland- Greenland-Iceland route is fairly infested with pirates [FN40], and all hands aboard a trading vessel that is attacked must pitch in to repel boarders. Those who join the crews of the Vinlandic knorrs spend their spare hours at sea training for combat.

    Though the battles disgust him, he becomes a brilliant and fearless swordsman, frequently leading the counter-charge onto the pirate vessel to finish off the raiders. But every struggle ends the same for Madoc - he is shaking, blood-soaked, on the deck kneeling on the deck and leaning on his sword, praying to God and the Blessed Virgin for forgiveness. His crewmates, hard-bitten veterans of dozens of such battles, respect his skills and his courage, but consider him strange.

    In 1169, the old reprobate that held western Wales in his iron grip finally shuffles off this mortal coil, and the struggle for succession erupts. Most of Owain's sons are cut from the same cloth as the old man himself - cruel, ruthless opportunists. A bloody fraternal struggle ensues, marked by shifting alliances among the brothers, base betrayal, treachery, and cold-blooded murder. The land is ravaged by war and atrocity as the sons of Owain Gwynedd vie for power.

    Iorwerth, the oldest, is widely deemed unfit. He is maimed about his face and is considered "simple," which is true enough. He also does not have the stomach for the power struggle, so he simply opts out, retreating to his castle. Initially, Howfl manages to seize the throne, but others arise to challenge him. In short order, Dafydd topples Howfl and crowns himself king, in the process murdering his brother Rhodri and butchering his followers to the last man. He also takes Iorwerth captive. Dafydd is unpopular with all but his own people because he is married to Emma Plantagenet, a member of the royal house of the hated English, and he institutes a reign of terror, striving to crush his enemies. The opposition unites against him, but cannot bring Dafydd to decisive battle.

    The war for the Welsh throne thus rages on, seemingly without end.

    It is the murder of Rhodri that convinces Madoc that he must leave Wales behind forever. With his father dead, Madoc feels free to leave exile on Lundy Island and visit the kingdom of his birth. He is, after all, a Prince of the royal house of Gwynedd, and he feels a certain obligation towards those he still considers his people. Though he himself takes no part in the fighting, the horrors of the war of succession shock him deeply. Everywhere, there are monasteries, villages and crops burned. Starving, miserable people stumble along the roads, seeking safety and sustenance. Those who do not make it lie rotting and unburied where they fall. Here and there, the victims of massacre are heaped in the fields, carrion for scavengers. Until Rhodri is killed, Madoc flirts with the idea of returning to Lundy and sitting out the war, but his brother's death at the hands of Dafydd's knights convinces him that so long as he stays in the Isles, he will never be safe and that, unless he wishes to surrender passively to his own death, he will have to take up arms to defend himself.

    Or he will have to leave.

    Sick of the bloodshed, Madoc resolves to flee this charnel house, and take as many of his tormented countrymen with him as he can. But to do that, he will need help.

    [In doing research for this TL, I have come to the conclusion that the proponents of OTL pre-Columbian discoverers of America are some of the great unsung alternate historians of our time. As you might surmise, they tend to be cranks. Boland is a fine example. He has pretty much everyone who can float a ship, boat, or raft trekking across the ocean. Phoenicians, Romans, Irish, whatever. Somehow, they all made it. The real fun of reading his book is the undisguised indignation he displays when 'real' historians refuse to take these theories seriously. Deacon is a bit more serious although, like many of these sorts of works from the 1960s, he cites to the 'Vinland Map,' the authenticity of which is, shall we say, in grave doubt as of 2003]


    Partial Bibliography:


    Boland, Charles "They All Discovered America" (Doubleday 1961).

    Deacon, Richard "Madoc and the Discovery of America" (George Brazilier 1966)

    Fitzhugh (ed), "Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga" (Smithsonian Institution
    Press 2000)

    Barlow, "The Feudal Kingdom of England, 1042-1216" (Longmans, 1961)

    Freeman, "The History of the Norman Conquest of England" (University of
    Chicago Press, 1974).

    [FN29] Although I cannot prove it, I did _not_ bogart the title from Pyotr
    Filipivich's "Nationalist v. New Socialist" posting of 10/12/03.


    [FN30] Including a number of well-off non-nobles who simply promoted
    themselves to Earldom upon arrival in Niwe Wessex.

    [FN31] And I use this term loosely. As Niwe Wessex is short on skilled
    labor, the nobles uniformly live in large wooden houses that range from the
    well-constructed to the very rough-hewn.

    [FN31a] Alwin thinks a comet signals God's blessing upon their efforts and
    says so. Wivar (whose brother-in-law is a priest, knows that they are as
    full of crap as everyone else), thinks his partner is an incredible idiot,
    and says so. A brief scuffle ensues, right in front of the prospective
    King. You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.

    [FN32] A minority of historians subscribe to the view that it was an
    imposter, playing the Earls for chumps.

    [FN33] Niwe Mercia having been absorbed into the larger colony.

    [FN34] Arctodus simus. A big, mean bastard.

    [FN34a] Women were higher status in Icelandic society than elsewhere in
    Europe, so I don't think I am too far out on a limb with this one.

    [FN35] In 'Tolkein's Ring' (Barnes & Noble 1999), David Day states that
    'Theoden' was Norse for 'leader of a nation.' Don't think I wasn't tempted ...

    [FN36] OTL's St. Lawrence.

    [FN36a] OTL's Connecticut River.

    [FN37] There is a flurry of litigation after the Grenadans leave.
    Apparently, many of the overenthusiastic hunters simply killed domesticated
    mastodons for ivory, to get a jump on the others.

    [FN38] OTL's Sag Harbor.

    [FN39] Or Princes, As the Case May Be.

    [FN40] Both flavors of Norse New-Worlders - pagan and Christian - take to
    the seas as brigands.
     
    Crying and Adamant like this.
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    Empty America: Part 7 - The Dukes of Hazzard (Two)


    (Gwynedd / Domstolland, 1172-73)

    And ships. They will definitely need ships. This is a problem, because the 12th Century Welsh are not really a ship-building people. Boats, sure - Welsh coracles bob up and down the coast, fishing and transporting people and goods, but the Welsh to not have experience building the kind of big, sturdy ships that Madoc will need to transport a lot of Welshmen to the New World. So, Madoc decides to go to the source that he knows best - Vinland. Over and above seeking the help of the renowned Vinlandic boat-builders, going to the New World presents other advantages as well. They can scout out possible areas to settle while they are there.

    Traveling Wales incognito, he meets up with his brother Riryd who, like him, has opted out of the power struggle and an expert sailor to boot. Riryd is up for getting the hell out, since he figures that it is just a matter of time before Dafydd comes after him. So it is a plan - they will flee to the New World, taking as many followers as they can with them. Riryd and Madoc then call on Iorwerth, the oldest of the Gwynedd brothers, only to discover that he has been captured. They confer with Iowerth's chief lieutenants who agree - they will go along with the brothers' scheme, and even help finance it, if they agree that when the time comes for them to depart Wales for good, they will take Iowerth and his followers with them.

    So Madoc, Riryd and a small retinue set out, heading north to the Orkneys disguised as common merchants, hoping to catch a Vinland-bound knorr. They have some luck, after a few weeks, they manage to join the crew of a ship en route to Domstolland. This is a mixed blessing. Madoc has never been to Domstolland, but he has heard the tales - stories of brutal border warfare between Domstolland and Niwe Wessex, stories of appalling pagan torture and massacre of evangelizing priests and monks, stories of good Christians crucified and set alight along the shoreline and the banks the great river as a warning to others not to try to settle on Norse lands. Madoc, like most informed Christians, believes the pagan gods to be real enough - manifestations of the Great Deceiver, on Earth to torment the Church and to keep the pagans from accepting baptism. Madoc finds the prospect of going to such an unholy land to be deeply unsettling. On the other hand, Domstolland is, as far as anyone knows, the southernmost of the settlements in the New World, so odds are they will be able to find out if there are any good lands further down the coast. And, throughout the North Atlantic world, the Domstollanders are renowned as excellent shipwrights. Pagan or no, they are just the sort of men that Madoc will need.

    The knorr leaves them off near a small settlement on the eastern coast of Streymoy. It is a strange place, and it looks very new. Most of the wooden houses and other buildings do not appear weathered at all, and they see much new construction going on. The inhabitants look strange as well. Madoc does not recognize their dress as belonging to any people that he has ever seen before and he knows that he has never seen men with close-cropped hair and bushy beards. The Gwynedd brothers and their companions make their way carefully through the village, walking by a small stone building that is clearly a temple - its wooden door bears the carved sigil of a multi-headed idol. Madoc looks away quickly, lest he be bewitched. Fortunately, he has the presence of mind not to cross himself.

    This is all very confusing.

    Madoc approaches one of the crop-haired men and asks him - in perfectly good Old Norse - the name of the town. The man just looks at him quizzically and walks off. Eventually, he finds another man, who looks and dresses like the Vinlanders with whom Madoc has journeyed, with the exception of a small stylized hammer, wrought of gold, hanging on a chain around his neck. Madoc begs the gentleman's pardon, but could he be so kind as to tell him the name of this settlement?

    The man scowls. This town, he says bitterly, was once called Nyr Reykjavik until, he jabs his finger at one of the short-haired men, they got here. Now it is called Arkona. Madoc shakes his head. These newcomers, who are they? Balts, the man says, with visible distaste. Their lands were taken over by the Danish King Valdemar a couple of years ago, so they came here. Built themselves their temple to some god, Svantevit, I think it is called. No good will come of it, I tell you, no good at all. Madoc nods in agreement. These Svantevit-worshippers must be truly odious if even their fellow pagans find them revolting. In response to his questions, the disgruntled Domstollander gives him directions out of town, north to Tivrhofn where, according to Madoc's somewhat sketchy knowledge of Domstolland, he will be able to get ships.

    Madoc and his party make discrete inquiries around Tivrhofn, indicating that they wish to acquire a large number of large vessels, and that they are willing to pay cash. They meet any number of interested takers in the shipwright's guild, a somewhat loose (by contemporary European standards) association of master craftsmen, learning journeymen and semi-skilled laborers who, while normally working separately or in small groups, come together for big jobs. And this is the biggest job they have seen so far - Madoc wants to have twelve large ships built from scratch.

    After much haggling with Madoc and each other about how much will be paid and who will get what share, an agreement is struck. But before work even begins, the inevitable happens. Someone, perhaps someone who got cut out of the deal, reports Madoc's activities to a local headman, and Madoc and his party are seized in the tavern where they were lodging. Under heavy guard, they are taken to the Dohmring, where the headman insists that they renounce the White Christ.

    Some of the others look like they are going to, but Madoc steps to the front of the group and refuses. The Norse headman confronts him. The penalty for refusal, he growls, is death. Then the priest who is the custodian of the Dohmring speaks up. He is in a sour mood, having been woken from a sound sleep by the overenthusiastic headman.

    In his years of service, he has also learned to be somewhat cautious in situations like this - not infrequently, men would be accused of being Christians by business or romantic rivals, dragged to his doorstep, and subjected to the somewhat humiliating ritual of having to aver that they are true followers of the Norse religion. Some of the more cantankerous among the accused have stood on their dignity and refused. The priest then must refer them to the courts for trial. Frequently, such men are able to produce numerous witnesses at trial who swear that the defendant frequently attends services, diligently makes sacrifices, and has the appropriate shrines on his land, which leaves the court with no choice but to acquit them. Such proven abuses of the Dohmring quite are embarrassing to the priest, who takes his duties very seriously.

    That, says the priest, glaring at the headman, is not quite true. If a man settles in Domstolland and is then found to be a proven Christian, he is expelled and his property is forfeit. The penalty for returning is death.

    Out of nowhere, Riryd blurts out that they are Princes of the House of Gwynedd, and as such, they demand to be taken to their lord. There's no lords in Domstolland, the headman snarls, here the people rule [FN40]. Madoc steps up and puts his hand on Riryd's shoulder.

    The priest ignores Riryd and looks intently at Madoc. Are you and your followers Christians?

    Madoc meets his gaze without flinching. Yes, we are. But we have no intention of stay in Domstolland. We are merely here to purchase ships. He explains the difficulties in Gwynedd and their plan to settle in the New World, preferably somewhere to the south.

    The priest strokes his beard and thinks about this. Christian princes, planning to settle nearby. It seems more like a diplomatic than a judicial matter to him. An opportunity to pass this up the line, while still doing his duty, presents itself. This affair is a matter for the Folkhagi and the Logretta, not the keeper of the Dohmring.

    He announces that the Welshmen will be taken into his custody until they can be presented to the proper authorities. He ushers the protesting Tivrhofn headman to the door. The priest will appropriate the services of the headman's guard to secure the prisoners, who will temporarily be kept in cells at the Domhring temple and escorted to the capitol at Jarnborg [Iron Town].

    And so, Madoc, Riryd and the others are placed in a wooden building, guarded by three of the headman's followers until the next day, when they are taken to Jarnborg and the house of the Folkhagi. The official residence of the leader of Domstolland is a comparatively modest affair, more great wooden meeting hall than palace.

    Folkhagi Ottarr Ketilsson sits in his great chair in the audience chamber and considers Madoc and his story carefully. There is no easy answer here. The modest young Welshman, Christian noble or no, has shown Ketilsson the respect his office deserves, rising quickly when the Folkhagi entered the audience chamber, asking him cautiously how he should be addressed [FN41], and answering all his questions straightforwardly and without dissembling.

    Prince Madoc, Ketilsson thinks, is obviously very sincere and very earnest. When he says that he does not intend to settle in Domstolland, Ketilsson cannot help but believe him. Why not sell this man his ships and be done with it? If only it were that simple. He pinches the bridge of his nose. Most of the Logretta are Norse zealots, fierce anti-Christians. The war against the Niwe Wessexmen [FN42] in the Vaettfang River marches has sputtered off and on for years. Vinlanders have repeatedly raided Streymoy and the islands in the lower Thjorsa river, only to be beaten back at some cost. Even now, the good burghers of Jorvik labor to clear away the burned ruins of their stockade and plan to build, at enormous cost, a great stone wall around their town. So even if the Welshmen do not intend to settle in Domstolland, Ketilsson has no reason to favor the establishment of yet another Christian settlement in the New World.

    On the other hand ... the shipwrights' guild of Tivrhofn is rich and powerful, particularly within the moderate faction which secured his election. As their prosperity depends upon trade with the Christian world, they overwhelmingly favor lifting the restrictions on Christian settlement. Every Logretta, their representatives and their bought men are on their feet, demanding more space be set aside for the godowns of European traders, that captured Christian priests and monks be released for ransom, not killed outright, and other concessions be made, expanding Domstolland's connections to the followers of the White Christ. They have a point, in Ketilsson's opinion. Domstolland will not live or die because of these things. If it is fated to fall to the Christians, it will be because their knights march across Domstolland's borders, not because they were allowed to trade freely. Truly, there could be no harm in selling Madoc that which he wishes to buy.

    And Ketilsson already knows how much of Madoc's money will be in his purse if he allows him to buy these ships [FN43].

    So it is decided. The Folkhagi announces that he will permit Madoc to buy ships from the Tivrhofn shipwright's guild. On one condition, he says, looking harshly at the Prince. That you give me your word of honor that you and your kin will not settle within forty-five days' sail of Domstolland [FN44].

    Madoc is conflicted. Swearing an oath to a pagan ... that has got to be ten different kinds of mortal sin. But he needs those ships. To leave innocent people to die at the hands of Dafydd the tyrant, when he could bring them to safety ... With great reluctance, he swears by the Saints and the Virgin that he will settle his people at least as far away from Domstolland as Ketilsson has demanded.

    It is done. With some concluding protocol, both sides wishing each other good health and fair winds, Madoc and his men depart the audience chamber.

    Ketilsson, still sitting in the high seat of the Folkhagi of Domstolland, pinches the bridge of his nose again and thinks about what the godars [chieftain-priests] will have to say about this.

    At the next Logretta, Question Time is going to be sheer hell.

    Empty America: Part 8 - The Dukes of Hazzard (Three)



    (Rhuddan Castle, Gwynned, Wales 1173)

    Unfinished business.

    Madoc and his men slip into Dafydd's stronghold with the timely assistance of a couple of bribed guards. He leaves Riryd and the bulk of his force at the entrance to the great stone tower and takes two companions up to the highest room, where he knows Iorwerth is being held. Quickly and quietly, Madoc's men dispatch the two who are guarding the cell door and, while they are still wiping the blood from their daggers, Madoc is in the cell and joyously reunited with his brother. Iowerth is somewhat confused - Dafydd had been telling him all along that Madoc and Riryd were Dafydd's allies, and now Madoc is here slaying Dafydd's men and liberating him from captivity. Madoc sits on the bed next to Iowerth and explains to him, slowly and carefully, what they are doing. Iowerth claps his hands together with glee. The New World! How exciting! As Madoc and his men lead Iowerth towards the stairs, they hear shouts and clash of arms. Dafydd's men have stumbled across the intruders and now a small but fierce battle rages. Madoc draws his sword and leads the charge, bowling through a troop of guards on the stairs and joining the fray. The gate, he shouts, make for the gate! Madoc leads Iowerth (who is no swordsman) through the fracas.

    But there, barring the door, is Dafydd, swinging is sword casually by his side. The battle swirls around them. He looks at Madoc and shakes his head. It is over, Madoc. You and the dullard here, he languidly gestures to Iowerth with the tip of his blade, are not going anywhere.

    Madoc lowers his sword and raises his open hand. Please, Dafydd. We are leaving Gwynned, we are leaving Wales, Riryd, Iowerth, me ... all of us. We are going to the Vinland. Let us go, and you will never see us again.

    Dafydd laughs. Vinland! Nonsense. He makes little circles in the air with the tip of his sword and walks slowly towards Madoc and Iowerth. You are going to rally Gwynned behind this slow-witted fool and take this kingdom from me. You, Madoc, are going to die. You, Iowerth, are going back to your little room.

    Madoc raises his sword. Please, brother, please step aside and let us go. His answer is a snarl and a sword-thrust at his head, which he parries with ease. He is pleading now. Please, brother, please! Another thrust, parried, and the battle is joined, Dafydd on the attack, Madoc defending himself, his eyes clouded with tears.

    Dafydd grins mirthlessly and advances on him. You see brother, I can smile (slash at Madoc's face, narrowly parried), and murder (thrust at Madoc's chest, barely sidestepped) while I smile. Dafydd feints at Iowerth, and slashes at Madoc as he moves to protect him. The tip of the blade catches Madoc on the side of the head, he can feel the hot blood flowing down his neck.

    The fury explodes within him. The killing, berserker rage that had driven Madoc's foes before him a score of times, battling pirates onboard pitching Vinland knorrs in the stormy Western Ocean. The clash of steel on steel becomes his universe sweeping aside sorrow, fear and all but red-tinged wrath. His sword slashes downward (We!), again (just!) and (wish!) again, and again (to!) driving the startled Dafydd first back on the defensive then, stumbling, to his knees. Leave! He roars the last word and thrusts

    ... and just like that, it is over.

    Dafydd's falls forward and lays in an expanding pool of blood. Madoc whips around and bellows for his men to make for the door. With some difficulty, they disengage themselves from the struggle and head for the gate. Madoc fights a one-man rear-guard action and is the last one out of the castle, leaving four more bodies in his wake.

    Later that night, in the forest miles away from Rhuddan Castle, Madoc's party sits around a fire. He has not said a word since they left the castle and now he sits with his knees up his chest and his head down on his crossed arms. With Madoc slipping into passivity, Riryd has taken the lead. Well, pipes up Iowerth brightly, suddenly remembering that he gets seasick, we don't have to leave Gwynned, do we? Dafydd shakes his head. Dafydd's men will be out for vengeance. They will altogether go over to Norwerth [FN45]. The English may invade, since it is 'Queen' Emma's [FN46] husband who has been slain. We must leave, and we must leave quickly. So they make for Aber-Kerrik-Gwynyon, where the ships are anchored and where, at the princes' instructions, their followers have been gathering.

    Madoc goes immediately to his tent, leaving Riryd to organize the loading of the ships. And he takes to it with gusto. The crews are mostly Welshmen, fleshing out the skeleton crew of Wessexmen who sailed the ships from Domstolland. None of the Norse were particularly interested in signing on, once it became known that they would not be returning and would settle 45 days' sail from Domstolland. There are more families than they had anticipated, so there will have to be sacrifices - no livestock, for one, save a few pigs and horses. The holds are packed with food for the journey (dried cod, the beef jerky of the 12th Century mariner) and seeds and tools for new settlement. Casks of fresh water seem to be everywhere, but Riryd worries it will not be enough.

    For they are not taking the usual Iceland-Greenland-Vinland-Domstolland roundabout. Right before they left Tivrhofn, word had reached him that the hard-line faction within the Domstolland Logretta, enraged by Folkhagi Ketilsson's decision to permit the Welshmen to use Norse ships to establish a settlement in the New World, had made an alliance with one of the pirate bands who stalked northern waters. Madoc and his band were to be ambushed upon the high seas and enslaved in Domstolland. So ... they were to go south. No one is sure how far south or how far east they will have to go before they strike land. They could be sailing into nothing, into the vast expanse of the world-sea. They could be going to their deaths.

    The day for departure arrives. The stores are secured, the water casks are brimming, the decks are crowded with makeshift shelters and nervous refugees. A priest says mass, calling upon St. David and the Blessed Virgin to protect them on their journey.

    Riryd is furious with Madoc's seeming ambivalence. For days, he has skulked about the camp, contributing nothing, stopping occasionally to stare listlessly out to sea. It is having a terrible effect upon morale. Here they are, ready to venture out into the unknown, and their supposed leader is throwing pebbles into the surf. With a good wind blowing and time short, his brothers have to roust him and hustle him bodily onto his flagship, the Gwennan Gorn. Instead of standing on the prow like the bold sea-farer he reputedly is, he leans on the stern rail, looking back at Gwynned. Riryd, aboard the Pedr Sant, watches Madoc in disgust.

    But then, as the coast of Wales slips away, Madoc turns away, looks about the ship and, firmly but quietly, tells one of his sailors to trim up that line, that's a good fellow, look sharp then ... he works his way along the deck, clapping the backs of his followers and telling them a great green and bountiful land awaits them.

    And so they sail south, south until they reach the western coast of Al Andaleus, where they catch a good westward current and steady wind and they are off into the deep blue ...

    And out of our story for the moment, but we will get back to them.

    Empty America: Part 9 - Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch ...


    (Streymoy, Domstolland 1202)

    Hermann Balk, Swordbrother of the Crusading Order of the Knights of Ultima Thule, lies sobbing face down in the mud and tries to pull himself forward with one hand. His other hand clutches at his belly. He has taken a vicious slash to the abdomen and he knows that, if he lets go, his insides will spill out all over. So he pulls himself along the muddy ground, past the bodies of his fallen comrades. The heathen, they came from every direction. Showers of arrows from the woods ...

    Hermann sobs, not with pain, but with fear. He is afraid of his own fear. He knows that, having fallen in battle with the pagans, after having been given an indulgence by the Pope, his soul is bound for heaven. But still, he fears death, and his fear scares him. He takes it as a sign that his faith is lacking and he wonders, terrified, will he still go to heaven if his faith is weak? And he crawls and he sobs in fear. Is it heresy to question the power of an indulgence? Oh God, is there no end to it? In the end, as two pagan soldiers - one with long blonde hair streaming out from beneath his helm and another one who looks like his hair was shaved off around a bowl - seize him and tilt his head back, exposing his throat, Hermann strikes upon a profound theological question: would a just God inspire such fear in His faithful? Especially in those who so diligently served him and lay on the threshold of death? Then, the answer comes: it is the draw of a knife across his jugular and darkness.

    ***

    The Knights of Ultima Thule have their origins in a Papal Bull issued in 1197. One of the bishops of Niwe Wessex made the arduous journey to Rome to receive his symbols of office. Taking the opportunity to present Wessex's problems to the Supreme Pontiff, he unburdens himself. The Wessexmen are besieged by the pagans of Domstolland. Night and day, the Norse ravage the coasts of Niwe Wessex, burning churches and towns, carrying good Christians off to slavery and unspeakable horror. Pope Celestine III furrows his aged brow. He is justifiably concerned about the safety of his flock, and there is the small matter of a pagan state on what is, technically, a papal fief. None of what the archbishop tells him is any great secret. Europeans in the know are well aware of the existence of Domstolland. But your medieval popes had a lot on their plates - fights against pagans in the Baltic, Moslems in the Holy Land and (of course) the struggle for control of Italy. Ultima Thule (as the New World is referred to in official Vatican correspondence)[FN47], is thinly populated and distant by comparison. So, Celestine issues a Bull establishing the Knights of Ultima Thule as a crusading order and declares a Crusade against the pagans of Domstolland:

    "We therefore grant to those who fight with might and courage against the aforesaid pagans one year's remission for the sins they confess and receive penance for, trusting in God's mercy and the merits of the apostles Peter and Paul, just as we usually grant to those who visit the sepulchre of the Lord; and if those who perish in the fight are doing their penance, to them we grant remission of all their sins."

    Those who want to join the Order full time will be subject to rigorous spiritual and physical discipline. These are no worldly monks, sitting at leisure garnering wealth and privilege in monasteries that hold sway over vast estates, these are pious fighting men, bent on expunging paganism from the face of the New World, or dying in the attempt. The first Master of the Order recruits the initial batch of Thulian Knights from the crusaders of Christian Europe's Northeastern Frontier - those battling the Livonians and others along the shores of the Baltic. European lay participation in the Crusade, even with the lure of the indulgence, is minimal. Ultima Thule does not have the exotic draw of the Holy Land and it is not as convenient as the Baltic.

    So, when the first contingent of Thulian knights disembark at Gospatric [FN48] in Niwe Wessex, the first order of business (after the obligatory courtesy call on King Fionnbharr II to be enfeoffed of a sizable hunk of the royal demesne [FN49]) is recruiting. Unlike the knights of Europe, those of Niwe Wessex respond with enthusiasm. Fionnbharr is enthusiastic about the project and lends a hand, dispatching heralds the length and breadth of the kingdom to drum up fighters for the Thulians. In addition to the usual collection of knights looking for adventure, beleaguered inhabitants of southern Niwe Wessex join in, as do a number of Cistercian monks who have grown bored with the contemplative life. All in all, the Thulians march about a thousand fighting men (a sizable force for the period) onto the boats in August of 1202. They storm the beaches of Streymoy Island and, after some skirmishing, seize Arkona.

    It is then that Domstolland shows that it is different from virtually every other medieval state. Once word of the invasion reaches Jarnborg, Folkhagi Bjarnarson calls for a muster of the Herlid, the Great Army of Domstolland. Every adult male in Domstolland is obliged, by law, to keep arms and bear them in service of the State. [FN50] From Lake Heimdall to the tip of Jorvik [FN51] Island, armed men begin assembling at the homes of their commanders (generally local magnates, but some small land owners, too). There is no elite knightly caste, no mass of demoralized peasantry with spears thrust in their hands - this is a nation of small freeholders, fighting for a country that they have a stake in. Every Domstollander is, from childhood, taught the story of the exodus from Vinland. Christians are the enemy. The only dissent is whether Domstolland should have some peaceful contact with the outside world, or none at all. When Christian warriors land under arms on Streymoy, Domstollanders know where their duty lies. They swarm onto Streymoy and, in a series of ragged, uncoordinated attacks, drive the Thulians out of Anskar, then encircle and wipe out the remnant (including Hermann Balk) as it flees toward the shoreline.

    The follow-up assault upon Niwe Wessex is terrible to behold. The Domstollanders roll into the southernmost part of the kingdom, that facing the Streymoy Sound, and devastate it, slaughtering or enslaving the inhabitants who are not lucky enough or quick enough to flee before the fury of the northmen. King Fionnbharr, terrified by what his backing of the Thulians has wrought, begs for a parley. In the fields near Castle Edgitha, the King of Niwe Wessex meets the Folkhagi of Domstolland for the first time. Unable to muster sufficient force to repel the Norse hordes, Fionnbharr cedes all of Northumbriashire to Domstolland to buy the peace [FN52]. High-ranking Wessex hostages accompany the Folkhagi back to Jarnborg to ensure that it is done.

    Empty America: Part 10a - Da Big Picture

    The New World and Environs in the Year of Our Lord 1200



    Kingdom of Vinland

    Rough Location: OTL's Newfoundland, New Brunswick, eastern Quebec, Nova Scotia, northern Maine.

    Population: 700,000 (95% rural, 5% urban)

    Government: Monarchy

    Head of State: Valdemar II (Norway)

    Religion: Roman Catholicism (94%) Norse Paganism (6%)(suppressed)

    Capital: Anskar (local)

    Vinland is thriving in the year 1200, expanding south and west through the Mikill [FN53] River Valley. Population growth is greatest in the more southern coastal regions. The economy is largely the same as it was in 1100 - most Vinlanders are farmers, with a heavy emphasis on animal husbandry, particularly pigs, turkeys, cows and chickens. Increasing numbers are diversifying into grain crops as well - wheat, barley, hops, and so forth. Most Vinlanders are small freeholders, although some are thralls of local magnates. Slavery persists in Vinland, although the Church inveighs against it. Industry remains largely home-based, but the larger towns have weavers turning out wadmal and other trades. Vinland also has a nascent iron and steel industry and, by 1200, is largely independent of Europe for its weapons, armor, plows and tools. Vinlanders also build large numbers of boats, both for their own use in fishing and the carrying trade, but also for use by Baltic and North Sea traders and fishermen.

    Many Vinlanders are either part-time or full-time fishermen, and most of the urban population lives in fishing villages. Other Vinlanders are hunters, stalking Vinland's megafauna (mammoths, mastodons, beavers, wolves, sabretooth and scimitartooth cats) for furs and ivory and furs. Others venture north in search of arctic sea-mammals. Most hunt in bands of 10-15 while others are solitary hunters. As the population grows, Vinland's hunters must range further and further inland in search of prey, and hunting outposts dot the wilderness. Furs and ivory are Vinland's major exports, and its hunters and merchants stay busy meeting the demand of Europe's nobility for luxury goods. The Vinlanders also operate a profitable sideline business in exporting live Thulian animals to Europe. Getting a mating pair of mastodons across the North Atlantic in a Vinlandic knorr is every bit as challenging as it sounds. But many northern European throne rooms now sport one or more sabretooth tigers or dire wolves.

    Vinland's head of state is the king of Norway. Scandanavia in this time period has a population of around 2 million people and Vinland's population far outstrips that of Norway itself at around 300,000. Consistent with Vinland's importance, it is its own kingdom in a personal union with the Norwegian king. When the succession to the Norwegian throne is contested, Vinland's representatives in Norway participate in the selection of the new king. Although it is traditional for the King to travel to the settled parts of his kingdom and receive the fealty of all the local legislatures ("Things"), the hazards of Atlantic travel mean that the king's representatives stand in for him in Vinland. By 1200, this is something of a irritant to prominent Vinlanders - they are the majority of the King's subjects, so why should they accept stand-ins?

    The legislature of Vinland is known as the Logretta, which is elected by universal male suffrage. The electoral process is ad hoc and informal. The Logretta's supremacy in Vinland affairs goes unacknowledged by the Norwegian monarchy. The king's interests are represented in Vinland by the Hird, or King's Council. Traditionally, the King has picked prominent Vinlanders (usually from the Logretta) to serve as his councilors, but increasing numbers of them now dispatched from Norway. Decisions by the council have the force of law and are not subject to repeal by the Logretta, which nonetheless happens on occasion. Sensible kings give way to the Logretta's demands. Those who are less than sensible find their writ unenforced. One major issue where Norwegian practice conflicts with Vinlandic tradition involves land tenure. The King claims all unsettled land to be his, and anyone settling on it must have his permission and agree to be a royal vassal. In practice, Vinland recognizes fee title in anyone who settles on the land, encloses it, improves it and otherwise puts it to use. Periodically, the King's Lensmenn (i.e. assistants to the Hird) set out into the hinterlands and try to collect feudal revenue from Vinland's settlers. Vinlanders tend to simply refuse their exactions. Since the Hird has no independent enforcement arm, and Vinland's courts simply refuse to levy against Vinlanders in favor of the Hird, the King's demands generally go uncollected. It is a matter of principle for the Vinlanders - God gave them this land and they have tamed it. It is theirs, and they hold it from no one [FN55]. This is not a situation that can persist indefinitely. Sooner or later, either the King or the Logretta is going to have its way.

    The King does manage to collect taxes is in Vinland's exports. The Royal government is entitled to a piece of all the ivory, fish and furs that flow out of Vinland. Payment can be in kind, and it most often is. After attempting (and failing at) a more mercantilist strategy (i.e. requiring that exports go only to Norway for re-export), the Norwegians conceded that the Vinlanders can trade with whomever they see fit, so long as the King gets his percentage. And the King needs his percentage because, like most medieval monarchs, Valdemar II's ambitions perennially outstrip his resources.

    The public force in Vinland is firmly in the hands of the Logretta. Every Vinlander is, by law, obliged to bear arms in service of the state. In theory, this means that the King could call out the Vinlanders for war. In practice, this means that the Logretta can deputize anyone to execute its writ. As Vinland's population grows, and part-time officials no longer can suffice, Logretta establishes a number of official positions, for collecting taxes and seeing to it that its commands are otherwise obeyed.

    The Logretta also exercises control over the Vinlandic Church. In particular, the Logretta appoints the bishops of Vinland and levies taxes upon the Church's land and income. This, of course, does not sit well with the Pope. Again, Vinland's distance from Europe facilitates its independence, but this is cannot go on forever. Something has got to give.


    ***

    [FN40] While not a high point in Christian/pagan ecumenicalism, it is a good
    moment for republicanism.

    [FN41] For the record, the Domstolland Folkhagi is addressed as, "Your
    Excellence."

    [FN42] My sources are exhausted. Can anyone tell me what a resident of
    Wessex is called? Wessexians? Westercians? Even the Wessex devolution
    pages don't seem to say ...

    [FN43] He considers it strange that the Welshman has not simply offered him
    a bribe. Perhaps the foreigner fears that it would be taken as an insult.
    It most decidedly would not be. Holding veto power over every commercial
    transaction between Domstollanders and Christians, the office of Folkhagi
    has become increasingly lucrative over the years. The commercial class in
    Domstolland bitches about this to no end, but there is no medieval campaign
    finance reform.

    [FN44] The Norse still think of distance in terms of travel time.

    [FN45] Another brother and ally of Dafydd.

    [FN46] Emma Plantagenet, member of the English royal house and now Wales'
    most sought-after widow.

    [FN47] Someone in the Vatican has read their Seneca:

    "The time will come when the ocean will loosen the chains of nature and we
    shall behold a vast country; a new typhis shall discover new worlds; Thule
    shall no longer be considered the last country of the known world." Should
    I ever get around to putting this up on the web, this quote is going to
    feature prominently on the opening page.

    [FN48] OTL's Boston.

    [FN49] The Thulians get virtually all of Eadgyth [OTL's Nantucket] Island,
    much vexing the local fishermen.

    [FN50] Not an anachronism - this derives from traditional Norse law.

    [FN51] OTL's Manhattan.

    [FN52] Roughly, OTL's Connecticut.

    [FN53] OTL's St. Lawrence.

    [FN54] And not the 50s sci-fi characters, either.

    [FN55] Vinlanders (and the King) refuse to acknowledge the papacy's claim that all of Ultima Thule is a papal fief.
     
    Indiana Beach Crow, Evan and Adamant like this.
  4. Constantinople Trump is Temporary, but hey, Brexit is forever Banned

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    Mar 13, 2005
    Empty America: Part 11 - What a Long Strange Trip It's Been (Part 1)

    (Fjaraland ["Beachland" OTL's St. Augustine, FLA], 1214)

    Sitting cross-legged on the beach Niccolo da Conti [FN*] leaned forward, took one more huge hit off of the bonfire then falls backwards into the sand, flinging his arms out to either side. And giggled.

    Had he not been in such an marvelous good mood (and stoned to the gills), he may have thought that laying in the sand and giggling was not suitably dignified for the co-head of one of Venice's great trading houses, but at the moment he could not bring himself to care.

    He was going to be rich.

    Hugely rich.

    Rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

    And Conti had some pretty expansive dreams.

    Laying there in the sand, grinning like an idiot and stared into the pristine inky blackness of the night sky, he listened to the rhythm of the hide drums and the joyful, exuberant, savage singing that swirled around him. He propped himself up on his elbows and looked around the beach. In the flickering torchlight, dozens of figures danced in the sand. Some were the locals, tall strong men, short-haired and clean-shaven, clad in loose linen shirts and knee-length breeches, and statuesque, women with long, shapely arms and legs in light sleeveless linen tunics and short skirts, with fair hair tumbling down their backs and shoulders.

    Looking at those women, flirting and dancing with his officers and men, he knew he was going to have a rough time getting his crews back onto the ships. The women here were very, VERY interested in the sudden appearance of so many dark-haired, olive-skinned, sinewy sea-farers and, in the two weeks that the Venetians had been here, they had been very curious and very... friendly

    Very friendly.

    Oh, yeah, Conti was going to have trouble getting his men back into the ships. Venetian sailors were a democratically-minded lot, and getting them to do something they really didn't want to do sometimes took some persuasion.

    But he was going to worry about that later.

    Conti gets unsteadily to his feet and weaved his way over to the great iron pot that sat bubbling over a lower (and less smoky) fire. He ladles himself a big wooden bowlful and parks himself back in the sand.

    He takes a long, appreciative whiff and tucks in with his wooden spoon. Conti had supped at the Doge's table, but Jesus, Mary and all the saints, this was the best food he had ever eaten! A mix of white rice, shredded chicken and vegetables, swimming in a red sauce. He had watched the women make the sauce - there was some round, red, watery vegetable that they peeled, chopped up and thoroughly mashed before pouring into the pot to cook over a low fire.

    Oh, and the spices! He had never experienced such tastes. According to the headman, men of the village took to their boats and hunted the islands to the south for the peppers, little oblong red, green and yellow things, which they then either dried and ground into powder or chopped up fresh and added straight into the pot.

    Chewing his food thoughtfully, Conti bites into a chunk of pepper. The heat explodes into his mouth and nostrils, so he slugs back a half-mug of the locals' excellent berry wine. Lord, but these people could do it all ...

    When he first tasted the peppers, Conti had immediately (and liberally) spread his silver and trade-goods around among the locals and he had several casks of the dried item securely on ship. He figured that, back in Venice, they alone would pay for the voyage, if not buy him the ships themselves, if they had been for sale. Then there was the rest of his treasures. Conti packed as much of his two ships with clippings from the local food plants. He also cuttings and seeds from the bushy plant whose leaves they threw on the fire by the handful to create the marvelously intoxicating smoke, as well as bag after bag of the dried leaves. (He figured that a couple of sacks passed around to the crewmen would make the journey back to Venice a singularly pleasant one.)

    And, in his cabin, wrapped carefully in oilskin, was the object that was going to give the Most Serene Republic of Venice dominion over the Mediterranean.

    Amazing what a few handfuls of silver, crates of glassware, boxes of nails, cheap knives and iron axe-heads could buy you in the New World.

    He is grinning like an idiot again as he scrapes his bowl clean. All that can wait. Niccolo da Conti kicks off his sandals and jumps up, his head swimming with smoke, spice and wine.

    Time to rejoin the party.

    ***

    (Republic of Venice, February-April, 1214)

    The Arsenale was not normally a place you wanted to go to in your court clothes, but Niccolo da Conti was in a hurry, so he did not bother to change. So, clad in spotless Byzantine robes and a puffy silver cap, he strides purposefully through the gate of the great complex and past the Lions of St. Mark that guard its entrance, through the stench of melting tar, the noise of intense construction, and the clouds of dirt and dust.

    The Arsenale was an amazing place, like nothing else in the medieval European world. It was a great factory, owned and operated by the government of the Republic of Venice, devoted to the manufacture of ships. Drawing upon stocks interchangeable parts and specialized labor it could turn out a standard galley in about an hour. Conti was not after a standard galley, though, he was after something special.

    Finally, finally the Doge had given the go-ahead for his expedition. For decades, the Venetians have been trading on a small scale with the settlements in the new world, doing a very tidy business in furs, skins and ivory but always they have had to contend with competitors, like the Hansa, who were closer to the source. The northern route to the New World was also infested with pirates as well - pagan Norse, Christian Vinlanders and others, which made trading dicey, especially for interlopers far from home.

    So Venice focused its efforts primarily upon the eastern trade, with India and the spice islands, snapping up luxury goods brought to the Levant and selling them throughout the Mediterranean world and north into Europe.

    And now Venice was at war. At war with the Genoans for control of the eastern spice trade. So far, it has been a very expensive stalemate, and the Doge is looking for a way out. That is where Conti and his precious copy of Madoc's sailing journals comes in. He has an end run - instead of relying upon the overland caravan trades from the East, they should sail west. Then, Venice can make a peace that is favorable to Genoa and replace the lost revenues of the eastern spice trade with the furs and ivory of Ultima Thule. With a secure route to Vinland, Venice can cut out the middlemen and keep all the profits for themselves.

    There are not many lateral thinkers in the Middle Ages, but Niccolo da Conti is definitely one of their number.

    It took some convincing to get the Doge to approve his proposal - the oligarchs who dominate Venetian government are wedded passionately to the spice trade, and are leery of Conti's unprecedented idea. Pulling aside one of the holdout spice lords, he decided to win him over by ... bending the truth a little. More like some strategic omissions. Conti said that he had consulted a number of very esteemed [crackpot] cartographers, who assured him [in their bleary-eyed, wild-haired way] that Ultima Thule was but the largest and westernmost of the islands of Cipango [which, of course, it was not and could not be] and if they sailed around the southern coast, they would assuredly [impossibly] reach Cipango itself [uh-huh, sure]. From there it was but a small [huge] distance to the Spice Islands. So, although Conti is setting out to find a secure route to the furs and ivory of Ultima Thule, he very well might find a passage to India [as it were]. And if so, Conti could no doubt be persuaded to give him a leg up over his competitors. Should, of course, the esteemed merchant see fit to change his opinion on the subject.

    And so it is done. By hook and by crook, by bribery, threats, lies and flattery, Conti gets his ships, his crews his money and his mission.

    Now, standing in the Arsenale, he sees that his twin ships are almost complete. He wanted three, but he got two, and two is enough. They are nothing like Venice has built ever before. They are not galleys - Conti is sure the distance is too great to provision large numbers of oarsmen for the entire passage - but rather great (circa 800 tons) three-masted sailing ships, with a mix of triangular tacking sails and rectangular mainsails. The naval architects of the Arsenale love a challenge, so they took to Conti's order with gusto, and they have come through. He stands, arms crossed, and admires their work.

    With the Doge's writ firmly in hand, Conti proceeds to cherry-pick the best crews from all the available ships. In the process he makes a lot of enemies among rival merchants and mariners, but the men of Venice's navy and merchant marine are, by in large, tired of the seemingly interminable struggle with Genoa and eager for an adventure. There is no shortage of volunteers.

    Finally, the day comes. A fair wind bears the San Marco and the San Ligorius, escorted by a dozen war galleys and cheered on by thousands, out of the Venetian lagoon and into the Adriatic. The new ships are handy and swift for their size and they are on their way. As the days slip by, sailors scamper up and down the lines in the brilliant Mediterranean sunshine. At the Pillars of Hercules, Conti and his chief mariner, Favaloro, stand at the prow of the San Marco sipping wine and watching their galleon escort peel off and head for home. And then it was the wide Western Ocean for Conti and his men. In his hand, Favaloro holds a small wooden box with a glass top. On the inside bottom of the box is painted a colorful rosette with a tiny pivot at its center. Atop the pivot wavers a small sliver of magnetite. It will show them the way.

    (The Western Ocean, Spring, 1214)

    They are, by Mariner Favaloro's reckoning, around four hundred miles southwest of the African coast, riding the great clockwise current of the Western Ocean, when they spy the soaring peaks of an island. Both Favaloro and Conti are curious and from experience they know that passing up the opportunity to stop for fresh water and food is never a good idea, so they take the San Marco and San Ligorious close in for a look. It is actually a cluster of small islands, two of which look habitable.

    The sheer rugged mountains of the largest island rise out of lush vegetation that grows down to the waterline and, as the tack around the southern coastline, they spot what looks to be a small port town. Conti scratches his chin and searches his memory. In all his travels, he does not recall ever hearing of a settlement this far out into the ocean. A sound startles him out of his reverie, a sound that he recalls from many voyages around the Mediterranean, both east and west.

    It is a muezzin calling the faithful in for prayer ...


    Empty America: Part 12 - What a Long Strange Trip It's Been (Part Two)

    (Jazirah al-Sin [OTL's Madeira], Spring 1214)

    After a brief conference in the Mariner's cabin on board the San Marco, it is decided that Conti and Mariner Michiel (of the San Ligorious) will take a small party in one of the ships' boats to investigate. The rest of the officers and crew will remain behind and drill for combat - if the away party has not sent word by noon the next day, the Venetians will storm the island to rescue, or avenge, them. Conti is not particularly worried. He speaks fluent Arabic and has traded in al -Andaleus and other Saracen lands for years, usually without incident.

    Conti and his men splash ashore and make their way into town [Bandar al-Islam, OTL's Funchal]. Conti takes a good look around. Except for being kind of rough-hewn (more wooden buildings than masonry), it looks like any small port town of al-Andaleus. Mosque, shops, houses, market stalls ... With most of the inhabitants at prayer, the streets were mostly quiet. There are a few people here and there. They are most decidedly not Saracens, thinks Conti they look decidedly ... Mediterranean French! Conti stands in the market square bemused when a man in a tattered black robe walks up to him and greets him in a most peculiar fashion. Startled, Conti wonders where he had heard that before. The language is Occitian, striking the ear more like Spanish than the French of Paris and the greeting ...

    Oh, merda.

    The man in the tattered robe is a Cathar Perfect! And he thinks Conti is a credente [FN#].

    Conti can feel the eyes of his companions on him. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place. He has know idea what status the Cathars have on this island, so if he denounces the man as the heretic he most assuredly is, Conti could be in big trouble with the authorities. But if he does not ... Conti has no desire to be hauled back to Venice in chains to meet his end tied to a stake with flames crackling around his feet. In the split second, Conti decides to take his chances with the devil he knows. He licks his dry lips and says, very politely.

    "Pardon me, signor, you must have me mistaken for someone else."

    And walks on, without looking back. Christian heretics living in an Saracen island in the middle of the Western Ocean! What the devil is going on here? da Conti had no particular problem with Cathars, and did business with them on occasion. In fact, wasn't that Basque fellow who sold him the copy of Madoc's logs a Cathar ...

    Oh, merda. That must be it.

    It doesn't take them long to find out what the devil is going on here. The Venetians stand out like sore thumbs and, they quickly find themselves disarmed and in the hands of a squad of soldiers. Sitting on the floor of a dungeon, Conti is beginning to reconsider the wisdom of having come ashore. Then the guards return and haul him and Michiel upstairs and into some sort of audience chamber. Sitting in an ornate chair is a great grizzled bear of a Saracen draped in white robes. He locks eyes Conti.

    "Do you speak Arabic?" Conti nods.

    "Venetians?" Conti nods again.

    "Which one of you is the Merchant?" Conti again.

    Without taking his eyes from Conti, the man gestures to the guards, who are still flanking the two Italians. "Take the other away." They do.

    "And you, leave us." The small crowd of Saracens that had gathered and was gawking at Conti and Michiel sullenly troops out the door. Conti and the man are alone, facing each other.

    "What is your name, farangi?"

    Conti has had enough of this. "I am Niccolo da Conti, a Merchant of the Most Serene Republic of Venice. By order of the Doge, I have come here in command of ..." The man cuts him off.

    "I know what you command, farangi. My men have reported to me about your great ships. If they were not trustworthy soldiers I would not have believed them when they described the vessels to me. Why have you come to Jazirah al-Sin? To trade, or for some other reason? How many men have you, and how many are armed?"

    Conti has really had enough of this. He draws himself up. "First, I must know to whom I am giving answers, and by whose authority he holds me and my officers prisoner and questions me in such a fashion. I will give fair response to a man of authority, but none at all to an impertinent underling who poses in his master's chair."

    The big Saracen looks genuinely taken aback, scowls, then suddenly roars with laughter. "Before God, you are a bold one indeed, farangi, to speak so while in such straits! But you are cautious, also. You would not divulge your purposes to merely anyone. I am Ibrahim ibn-Musa, lord and proprietor of this island, by the grace of Allah and the King of Grenada. No imposter or lesser man sits in this chair. Ever." For emphasis, he slaps the chair arm with his great palm.

    "Now, Venetian Merchant Niccolo da Conti, you will be so kind as to answer my questions. If your honor or loyalty to your Doge demand it, I can return you to my dungeon and have my men coax the answers out of you in a less congenial fashion. But I can tell that you are a man of the world, a gentleman, and an eloquent speaker of the language of the Prophet, so I would prefer not to resort to such unpleasantness. But do believe me that I will."

    Da Conti considers this carefully. It is not as though his mission is any great secret - half of Venice turned out to see them off. Doubtlessly, there were Genoan spies in the crowds, or even at the Arsenale when the ships were being built. What harm could it do to talk? Da Conti is a realist and he knows that everyone breaks under torture. This Saracen will find out, if not from him, then from someone else. So he tells Musa an abbreviated version, leaving out (of course) that, once he has discovered a secure route to Ultima Thule, Venice will end the war by giving Genoa the upper hand in the Levantine spice trade. Now it is Musa's turn to consider carefully. But he is not ready to fold entirely before this heathen. He flatly refuses to tell him how many men crew his ships and how many are armed. To his surprise, Musa offhandedly waves his defiance away.

    "So, you did not seek Jazirah al-Sin?"

    "No, milord." Best to be diplomatic. At the moment, da Conti forgot how to address Saracen nobility, so he decides to play it safe. "When we left Venice, we did not even know your domain existed."

    "So ... you did not come here for conquest?"

    Da Conti shakes his head, "I am a Merchant, milord, not a soldier." He was puzzled. Musa perks up right away, slapping both arms of his chair again. "Shaitan take me! I am as inhospitable as an faran .. as an African, to leave you standing here before me while I question you. I believe you, Merchant da Conti, that you are not here to take my island from me. But I do sense that you have many questions. So we will dine, you, me and your Mariner, who, I am sure, by now fears that the great heathen has rent you limb from limb in his rage. I could see it in his face as my guards led him away. We will dine, signor Mariner. And we will talk."

    ***

    It will not be the last time on this voyage that da Conti sighs with pleasure and belches quietly after a great meal, but it is the first. The food was excellent. Delicately spiced lamb, fish poached to perfection, plump olives, delicious garlic hummus, flaky flatbreads ... he could go on and on. The only thing that was missing was wine, but da Conti had reconciled himself to that. Saracens of Musa's wealth and rank drank sekanjabin, a sickeningly sweet soft drink that made da Conti's teeth hurt.

    So da Conti sat in his chair, half-listening to Musa and Michiel (whose sullen suspicion seemed to evaporate once he saw the spread laid out for them) discuss tides, currents and winds around the islands. Michiel's inelegant Arabic vaguely irritates da Conti, but Musa seems to enjoy good-naturedly correcting the Mariner's grammar and pronunciation. Belching again, da Conti contemplates the history of Jazirah al-Sin, as related to him by Musa.

    It would seem that, about a hundred years ago, the Saracens of al Andaleus sent an expedition of four ships to Ultima Thule to purchase ivory ("By the northern route," Musa smiled, "fear not.") Two ships were wrecked in storms on the way back and one simply disappeared. It was widely thought at the time that the captain and his crew conspired to steal the ship, sail it to Morocco or some such place, and sell the ivory for their own profit. So, the seas and ports were scoured for the presumed thieves, without success. The backers of the expedition gave up and had to satisfy themselves with the proceeds from a single ship, which even considering their losses, were enormous.

    But rumors persisted. The most compelling was that the ship had wrecked on a deserted island off the West coast of Africa and the crew had died of hunger and thirst. Supposedly a fortune in Thulian ivory just sat out there, waiting to be claimed. Musa's brother, a captain who sailed from Malaga, believed fervently in the rumor, possibly because he had mounting debts that he could not hope to repay, and discovering hidden treasure was possibly his only way to avoid prison. After much importuning, Musa, who owned a sugar plantation on the Mediterranean coast in Grenada, loaned his brother the money to hire a crew and buy supplies for an expedition to find the ivory. After much sailing about beyond the pillars of Hercules, the ship was caught up in a storm and blown here and there. It was then that they stumbled upon the islands. ("My brother's fool of a navigator thought they had been blown all the way to al-Sin [China]!" Musa exclaimed in disgust, "Can you imagine one of your famous Italian seamen making such a mistake?") So, after revictuling, Musa's brother and his men eventually made it to the African coast and back to Grenada. Without any ivory.

    On their return, Musa listened attentively as his brother described Jazirah al-Sin to him. Musa was no simple sugar farmer, but an entrepreneur. He obtained a writ from the Almohad emir (in exchange for a hefty payment), ceding the island to him as a fiefdom. and he gathered in partners from his family and neighboring plantations to colonize the island and raise acre upon acre of sugar. Ship after ship sortied from Grenada, and soon the island was a bustling hive of activity. It was an enormous effort and great expense for the Musa and his people. They cleared the land, built a mosque, quays for a dockyard, homes for the proprietors, boiling houses to process the sugar and quarters for the slaves who worked the fields. As he related this portion of the story, it seemed to da Conti that Musa grew muted and distant. It seemed like a good time for da Conti to interject that he was surprised that news of this undertaking never reached Venice. Musa smiled wanly. "Perhaps the last time your 'farangi' Doge broke bread with my 'Saracen' King, they discussed it. You Italians have your trade secrets, and so do we." A good point. Most of the Italian trade with al Andaleus was carried on by the Genoans and Pisans. There is no reason that, if they even knew about the island, they would share that with their arch-rival.

    Da Conti drifts back to the present, where Michiel was excitedly describing for Musa some obscure point about the San Ligorious innovative rigging. Musa was very clearly only feigning polite interest, but Michiel was to involved in his explanation to notice. Musa shoots a very significant look at da Conti, who takes his point. He waits for an opening, then asks Michiel if he would check on the other Venetians (who had been moved from the dungeon to more comfortable quarters, and were dining elsewhere), and see to it that the ships were secure for the night. Michiel, who looks miffed, nonetheless complies, and soon da Conti and Musa are alone.

    Musa sips his sekanjabin, winces ever so slightly, scowls into his glass, and says, "Signor da Conti, I wanted to talk with you alone because you, like me, are a man of the world, and we know the world's ways. Your young Mariner, while charming, is not like you and me. He still has his beliefs, in his Doge, in his Church. I look at you, and I know that you, like me, have seen too much of the world for these things to loom large in our minds."

    Da Conti nods. Christ, the Virgin and the Saints know that he is a good Christian, but like many thinking merchants, he is ill-at-ease with the Church. As the priests would have it, there were only three kinds of men: clergy, nobles and peasants. Trading men did not fit into that order. Oh, the Church in Venice did not play this up, but da Conti, like many others, knew it was there. Occasionally you would see a bishop in fine silks taking a break from raking in his tithes to inveigh against the pursuit of filthy lucre. It was not enough to make a heathen of da Conti, but enough to view the Church with a jaundiced eye. And the Most Serene Republic of Venice? Da Conti had seen and smelled the oligarchy up close. Men on the top determined to stay on the top. Controlling the ships and the crews, making up-and-comers like the da Conti family find their way in the gaps between the great houses. Even on this expedition, his brainchild, da Conti's share of the profits was pitifully small. It was much smaller than the share which was going to men who would sit at home safe in their gilded mansions while da Conti and his men braved wind and waves on the open seas. In his colleganza, the traditional Venetian form of business partnership, the silent partners and the government of Venice was getting far more than the usual two-thirds of the proceeds. Oh, yes, da Conti knew the world and how it worked.

    "I shall be blunt with you, Signor da Conti. This island is failing."

    Da Conti started. He could see the deep sadness in Musa's eyes. "It is, milord? But it seems ..."

    "Yes, on the surface it seems prosperous, but it is failing. The man who keeps my counting house, possibly the only honest man on this island, tells me that every harvest, my own plantations lose more and more money. We cannot compete, you see, with sugar from other places. Even with Crete in the hands of Venice, we simply cannot make a profit selling our sugar in al-Andaleus. For every five ships we send, we lose at least one. And then there are payments on the debts we incurred to build our plantations. Many here have already failed and I, true to my word, have bought them out and sent them home. My debts mount, seemingly without limit. While I ... I have sold all my land in Grenada, land that was in my family for hundreds of years. All I have is here. And soon, they tell me, it will all be gone."

    Da Conti nods. He likes Musa and feels for his losses, but he is not sure what it has to do with him. Musa gets up from the table and begins pacing the room.

    "There is one thing that can save Jazirah al-Sin, signor da Conti. And this is it." With that, he pulls a small brown glass bottle out of the folds of his robe, tugs out the cork and hands it to da Conti. "Try it. I guarantee you have had nothing like it before in your entire life." Da Conti took the bottle and looked at it skeptically. He figured that this would be a rather elaborate way for Musa to go about poisoning him, so he took a swig.

    Whoa! Da Conti sputtered and choked, his throat burning and his eyes watering. If it was poison, it was not very well disguised! But after his vision cleared, a warm feeling seemed to start spreading from his stomach outwards. He glanced at the light brown liquid in the bottle and looked up at Musa.

    "It is potent is it not!? Cane liquor! One of my overseers caught several Slav field workers distilling it in the woods." Musa sat down next to da Conti and looked at him intently. "Sugar is bulky - shipping it to al Andaleus takes many ships and is very expensive. So expensive that we cannot compete with that from Grenada, Palestine, North Africa, and Cyprus. But this," he takes the bottle from da Conti and - to the Venetian's surprise - takes a deep drink, "it takes up nearly so much room in the hold of a ship. My counting-house man tells me that we could make ten times as much from a single shipload of liquor than we could from sugar."

    Da Conti's thinking is beginning to get a little fuzzy. He reaches for the bottle and takes another sip. Mmm, not bad once you get used to it. I bet if you mixed it in with some of that sekanjabin, maybe poured it over some ice during the summer ... and then it hits him. "But wait. I thought Saracens were not permitted to drink alcohol? Is it allowed that you should make it and sell it to Christians?" From his travels, da Conti seemed to recall that it was.

    Musa gets up and starts pacing the floor again. Now he is clearly very angry. "Before God, you would think so, would you not? What difference would it make to Allah if his followers help the farangi get intoxicated? But no. I have inquired with the ulama in al Andaleus, and they say that it is forbidden by the Prophet. Ridiculous! Show me, I say, show me where it is forbidden! I even sent my worthless brother-in-law, an al-faqih [canon lawyer] to argue with them! But all he came back with was a fatwah prohibiting me from making cane liquor, even if I was only to sell it to the farangi. I tell you this, signor merchant, this is no sound fatwah, based upon the teachings of the Prophet. My creditors, they want me to fail! Then they can throw me in prison and take over this island for themselves! Then, then you will see a new fatwah, saying that, so long as the faithful do not consume it, it is permitted to sell liquor to the farangi. Shaitan take the lot of them, they are trying to ruin me!"

    "But, milord, you are far away from al Andaleus ..." Musa shakes his head.

    "The ulamas here, they agree with their brothers, and they have the workers here by the throat. Out of my own pocket, I built them a mosque, a ribat [Moslem monastery], and this is how they repay me! If I were to defy the fatwah, they would raise the island against me."

    "Milord, this is terrible, but I am no Saracen theologian, what can I ..."

    Musa takes the bottle from da Conti and downs another great swig. "I want you and your men to come back with a great fleet, and take this island for the Republic of Venice."

    Empty America: Part 13 - What a Long Strange Trip It's Been (Part Three)

    (The Western Ocean, Spring 1214)

    Niccolo da Conti sits in his cabin and contemplates what he has done. Venetian merchants routinely act as diplomats for the Lion City, and, of course, he was formally empowered to arrange trade relations with anyone in Ultima Thule, but da Conti really thinks he may have exceeded his brief. He has committed Venice to overlordship of a Saracen island far out into the Western Ocean. And, in all likelihood, war with the Almohad Caliphate. Da Conti does not have any doubt that Venice would win such a confrontation. The Almohads are not nearly a match in naval power for Venice, and the Christian monarchs in Spain soundly trounced the Saracens just two years previously at Navas de Tolosa.

    But one look around Jazirah al-Sin, and da Conti knew he had to have it. The land was perfect for sugar cultivation and, roaming the inland, more than one of da Conti's officers noted that the hillsides would be excellent for grapes. Wine and liquor, that would be the livelihood of this Saracen island.

    But Musa has some conditions. "First, you must leave the Faithful to their Faith. They must have their mosques, their imams." Da Conti has no problem with that. He was a merchant, not a bishop. He felt reasonably sure that the oligarchs back in Venice would feel the same way. Then it occurred to him.

    "What about the Cathars?" Musa looks puzzled and da Conti realized that he had said the word in Italian. "The Christian heretics. In Venice, if they are discovered, they are burned."

    Musa frowned. "Ah, the Good Christians." Musa shakes his head. "I will never understand you farangi. These black-robed men and their followers, they work hard, they pay their taxes. Many are excellent weavers and craftsmen. Why should they burn? You hound the Jews, you hound the Faithful, you hound your own heretics, because they will not bow to your Pope."

    Da Conti just shrugs. He did not want to get into a whole comparative-religions thing here.

    "Like the Faithful, the Good Christians must be protected," Musa says firmly, "Though they are farangi, they are my responsibility, and I cannot abandon them. Their piety has made them popular among the followers of the Prophet, though the imams fear they are secretly leading the Faithful away from Allah. If they are persecuted, there will be trouble in the cane fields." Da Conti agrees, but once a bishop showed up, he was not sure that his assurances would be worthwhile.

    Musa pushes on. "Property must be respected. Particularly my property. Before God, I am not betraying my Emir so that I can become a beggar in the street! I will keep my holdings and govern this island for you. The people will not follow a farangi governor, but they will follow me. Once I am gone, my land will go to my sons." That is what da Conti had in mind, so he readily agreed, with some reservations. They haggle a while over how much of the arable land should go to Venetian proprietors, and what percentage of the profits should be kicked back for how long in payment to Musa. After much back and forth, punctuated by Arabic curses and exclamations by both parties that the other was bankrupting him, they manage to come to an agreement.

    Da Conti gets up from his chair. It is time to go. Musa also rises. They clasp hands. Musa says, "When you come back, come with overwhelming power. If there is no hope of resistance, the people will submit. Otherwise, the imams will rouse them from the fields and many will die."

    Da Conti bows and walks toward the door, but then turns. "Signor Ibn-Musa ... you are not doing this for riches, are you?"

    Musa smiles sadly. "Signor Merchant ... I have seen your ships, and I have seen the faces of you and your men. I am not new to this world, and I am not unfamiliar with the Most Serene Republic. You would be back to take this island, no matter what I did or said. By easing the way for you, I and my people get something in exchange." Walking from the audience chamber, Da Conti thought about that for a moment. He was right.

    The passage across the Western Ocean was not easy. Storms whipped up mountainous waves, and tossed the San Marco and San Ligorius to and fro. The navigators struggled to keep track of their speed, bearing and distance. Their compasses and astrolabes are out, and they spend much time consulting Madoc's logs and charts. This was, after all, a pathfinding mission. If other Venetian ships could not follow their route, the effort would be wasted. It was a grueling voyage, and the men were beginning to despair of ever sighting land. Da Conti himself was having doubts. Were they too far south? What if they passed the southern tip of Ultima Thule, what could possibly lie beyond? He did not want to think about it. Da Conti kept a close eye (and posted a close guard) on the fresh water supply and worried. When he was not worrying, he was thinking.

    But then there were birds. Land birds, to be sure. And the color of the water changes. And there it was, another island, verdant green rising from the shoreline. Conti's men are on deck, cheering. Mariner Favaloro is clapping him on the back. A controversy erupts - what to call the island? Popular suggestions among the men are San Pietro (patron saint of shipwrights) and San Erasmus (patron saint of sailors). But da Conti is in a secular mood, so he goes with his own idea: Isola da Gioia (Island of Joy) [Barbados]. Conti's ships spend the next few months cruising the seas, threading in and out of islands, carefully taking soundings and mapping the winds, the tides, the currents. They send parties ashore for food and fresh water. They are living large off of the islands. The game - turtles, birds, small animals - seem to be entirely without fear of man, and they are easily killed. The plants bear a seemingly inexhaustible supply of fruit.

    And on each island, da Conti conducts a small ceremony.

    "I, Merchant Niccolo da Conti, claim this land in the name of the Doge and Most Serene Republic of Venice." One of his men inscribes his words on whatever large stone is handy. On his way across the Western Ocean, tossed and buffeted by the waves, and after seeing the riches that Jazirah al-Sin offered, da Conti has reconsidered his mission. Why settle for merely finding the southern path to Ultima Thule? Sooner or later, any number of the mercantile cities will make their way there. Then what? All this for merely a temporary advantage. But an empire ... an empire is yours so long as you can keep it. And such an empire! Any one of these islands could provide enough sugar to make a hundred, a thousand men rich! And with them, their State. And not just sugar. Da Conti was no farmer, but he figured at least a few of these islands might support grapes for wine, olives for oil ... All of a sudden it hits him.

    Spices.

    Spices grow on islands, right? Tropical islands in Asia. Why not tropical islands in Ultima Thule? Cinnamon, ginger, pepper, basil, nutmeg ... God only knows what else might grow in this rich black soil. They would need seeds or clippings from the Spice Islands on the other side of the world, and getting those would be dangerous, but it could be done. He thought about the immense wealth of a new spice trade - one that could not be stopped at the whim of heathen potentates in the Levant or Genoan cutthroats in the Mediterranean - and all in the hands of the Republic of Venice. Screw the middlemen. Da Conti can barely control his excitement, but he forces himself to think this through. He considers the great trading houses of Venice. He considers the State's ownership and control of all of Venice's shipping. He considers the oligarchs, the cat's-paws of the great trading families. And he considers all the up-and-comers, the mid-level traders who are scrambling about for what scraps are left: the risk-takers, the hustlers, the men who aren't afraid to break the rules if the price is right. And once again, he thinks about how he has risked his life and his reputation on this voyage, for an insultingly low percentage of the profits.

    And he thinks about rebellion.

    And he sets that aside for later.

    Now, he and his men cruise the waters between and around the islands, laying their hands and names upon them. All of the following are not discovered by da Conti's expedition, but are by others:

    Lido [Grenada]

    Torcello [St. Vincent]

    Burano [St. Lucia]

    Rivoalto [Martinique]

    San Marco [Dominica]

    Isola da Fiori [Guadelupe]

    San Pietro [Montserrat] (the sailors finally get their way)

    Isola da Spezie [Antigua]

    Isola da Uccelli Rapace [Puerto Rico]

    Conti [Jamaica] (stroking the Merchant's ego)

    San Erasmus [Cuba] (the shipwrights find some good wood for repairs)

    And they miss spotting the rather largish continent just to the south by just a hair.

    They do encounter something very interesting. Cruising off the shores of the second-largest island they have encountered, they encounter a number of small fishing boats. The fishermen are definitely Occitian, but are suspicious and tight-lipped. Da Conti, not wanting to rekindle whatever suspicion his crews might have about him and the Cathars, sends Favaloro ashore. It takes him a day or so to get anyone to tell him anything significant. Back on ship, he fills in da Conti.

    ***

    The Merchant, of course, knows who and what the Cathars are. But for our purposes some background is in order. Catharism was a dualist Christian heresy. Its origins in what is now the south of France (Languedoc) in the 12th century are a bit obscure, but most authorities link it to Bogomilism, which got its start in the Balkans. The name "Cathar" has its origin in a libel which began in Germany - rumor was that Cathars, um, kissed a cat's ass in some demonic ceremony. Not bloody likely. The Cathars called themselves the "Good Christians." With apologies, we are going to call them Cathars. Cathars believed in two gods - the Good and the Evil. The Good created Heaven and the angels. The Evil (the God of the Old Testament) created the world, and human beings are fallen angels, lured out of Heaven and trapped within human bodies. Christ was not a man, but an angel, so of course he did not die on the Cross, but rather returned to Heaven, having preached the Word of the Good to mankind. Every individual must decide if he or she wants to renounce worldly existence and become a Perfect. To do so means adopting celibacy and becoming an ascetic. Perfects also did not eat meat - since they scorned the things that were products of sex - but did eat fish, which people in the middle ages thought were spontaneously generated by the water itself. Perfects were also pacifists - they would die rather than do harm to another of the suffering souls of this world.

    A Perfect would go to Heaven when he or she dies. A Credente, who was a believer in the Cathar faith, but is not ready to give up the things of this world, would be reincarnated on Earth after death. Nobody went to hell - Earth was punishment enough. Since the Cathars believed that all worldly things were equally evil, they considered behavior (short of becoming a Perfect) irrelevant to salvation. Also, since the world was evil, the pretense to divinely sanctioned authority was inherently a fraud, a hypocrisy. The Cathars also thought marriage was a worldly fabrication, so did not condemn fornication. Similarly, they realized that to make one's way in this evil world, it was necessary to make a living. Money lending and other forms of commerce were not frowned upon. To the extent the non-Perfect had a code of conduct, they should follow the basic precepts of Christ's teachings. The rest was just details.

    The Church ... well, the authorities of the Church were "ravening wolves," preying upon those they have duped into following their false faith. And since all flesh was equally evil, the Cathars did not have the strange Catholic hang-up about women. All souls were equal and could be saved. As you can imagine, this made Catharism very attractive to women, particularly nobles and members of the middle class. Women could become Cathar Perfects, and they did in significant numbers. In 1204, Esclarmonde, the sister of Raymond Roger, the Count of Foix, became a Perfect in a ceremony attended and by the approving Count. (Raymond Roger himself was still a Catholic.)

    The ceremony by which a credente became a Perfect was called the consolamentum. Christ began the chain of consolamentum, which he passed to his Apostles, and which was carried on by the Perfect. If a Perfect lapsed (sex, meat, etc.), all those he "consoled" - i.e. welcomed into the ranks - also lapsed, and had to start over. In effect, the Cathars created an astonishingly effective method of social control for their clergy - peer pressure was very useful in keeping Cathar Perfects on the straight and narrow. By the year 1200, there were one thousand to fifteen hundred Perfect in Languedoc. There is not much in the way of a hierarchy within Catharism. Prominent Perfects are elected bishops of different regions, put their power is primarily hortatory rather than administrative or judicial. Likewise, there are no Cathar churches - meetings and consolamentum ceremonies were typically performed within the home.

    The Perfects conspicuous piety - they were truly impoverished and made their way in the world by way of minor trades, typically weaving - contrasted very favorably with the ignorant and worldly prelates that your average 12th and 13th Century layperson had to deal with. Catharism thus flourished, especially in areas where secular authority was splintered. Languedoc was a perfect example. The area was a snake's nest of conflicting and divided jurisdictions, which made the exercise of oppressive authority difficult. Languedoc developed a strong anti-clerical streak - the laity frequently attached churches and routinely refused to pay their tithes. The area had an easygoing tolerance for heretics and Jews, both of which were protected by urban authorities, and were even allowed into the courts of local nobles. The Count of Languedoc, Raymond VI, made his court a cosmopolitan mix of Catholics, Cathars and Jews.

    This sort of thing, of course, infuriated the Vatican to no end. First, the Church dispatched prelates to Languedoc, in an attempt to get the Cathars to renounce their heresy and to convince the local nobility and burghers to oppress the Jews and start persecuting the heretics. On several notable occasions, Cathar and Catholic clergy (including the eventual St. Dominic) debated theology before packed houses. (Give me a jongleur spouting troubadour poetry, any day. For St. Dominic in person, I might make an exception.) But, the Church was unsuccessful in its endeavor. Innocent III, having tried talking to the heretics, decided upon force. In 1208, he declared a crusade against the Cathars and their Catholic protectors. The King of France was less than enthusiastic about the idea of making war against those who were technically his vassals, but the nobles of Northern France, particularly second sons who were eager to acquire domains of their own, responded with gusto.

    In 1209, the crusaders marched south and besieged the city of Beziers, which was the territory of Raymond Roger Trancavel, Count of Carcassone. (By the time I got done reading on the subject, I was heartily sick of guys named Raymond and Raymond Roger.) The Count was a Catholic, but he had strong Cathar sympathies, and he adamantly refused to hand the heretics over for persecution. The Crusaders managed to penetrate Beziers' defenses, and poured into the city. It was at that point when Arnold Amaury, the spiritual chief of the crusade, told his men to not bother sorting Catholic from Cathar, but rather to "kill them all. God will know his own." The entire population of Beziers, some twenty thousand people, was massacred. Many were attending Mass when they were slain. Some of the murderers, dissatisfied with their share of the loot, then burned the town.

    In August of 1209, the crusaders besieged Carcassone, where forty thousand people had taken refuge from the rampaging invaders. Unable to take the walled city by storm, the crusaders brought up their full arsenal of siege weapons - mangonels (torque powered catapults which launched clouds of pebbles that acted like shrapnel), trebuchets and ballistae. Raymond Roger Trancavel was a vassal of King Pedro of Aragon, who came to the besieged town and urged the Count to take advantage of a safe conduct and flee. Only feudal etiquette kept Raymond Roger from physically throwing Pedro out of his city. The Count of Carcassone would stand with his people. Eventually, the crusaders breached the walls and entered the town. The population, both residents and refugees, fled into the countryside. Raymond Roger was seized by the crusaders and died in captivity. Carcassone was given to Simon de Montfort, a French crusader who had distinguished himself in the siege.

    With the fall of Carcassone, some Cathars, along with their Catholic families, decided it would be best to leave Languedoc entirely. Some decamped for Aragon. King Pedro, though a vigorous crusader against the Saracen powers of Spain, did not see fit to persecute heretics with the same enthusiasm.

    Others, distrusting Pedro (who did not lift a finger to save Carcassone itself) and realizing that they could not rely upon his tolerance forever, decided it would be best to get out of Christendom altogether. Languedoc and its environs were commercial cities and many there made their fortunes on seaborne commerce. It was one of these merchants who managed to get his hands on a copy of the logs from Madoc's journeys to Ultima Thule. The New World did not have a fixed place in Cathar theology. Most thought Ultima Thule, like the rest of the world, was created by the Evil One. Others, especially as the crusade progressed, began to think that maybe, just maybe, the Good had intervened in Creation and prevented the New World from being peopled, so that it might serve as a refuge for the Good Christians. This, of course, was heresy within heresy to orthodox Cathars, but it was the seed for what would follow. Not only did many Cathars wish to place themselves out of harm's way, but many of Languedoc's Catholics thought that everyone might be better off if the Cathars departed. After all, the good merchants and money lenders of Languedoc - while ferociously defending their towns' autonomy against the northern interlopers - had no desire to share the fate of those massacred in Beziers. In fact, the merchants of Languedoc thought they saw a way out: they would help the Cathars and their sympathizers depart. Secrecy was essential - the Catholics had no intention of being burned for helping in the escape of notorious cat-ass-lickers, and the Cathars did not want to be pursued by the agents of the Evil One.

    And so it began.

    The first ship left in the spring of 1210 and fumbled its way to Jazirah al-Sin (which it did not expect to find, but the Saracens were friendly, so the Cathars felt safe), dropped off its refugees, and returned. The second ship missed Jazirah al-Sin entirely and wound up at an island that they christened Ile de Foix [OTL's Santo Domingo. Cheap irony is the lifeblood of althist]. After significant hardship, the second ship made its way back to Languedoc. A small flotilla of three ships, laden with refugees, managed to make it to Ile de Foix. Two were sunk by storms on the return voyage, but by 1211 the exodus was under way. The savage brutality of the crusade lent urgency to their task. On July 22, 1210, the crusaders burned 140 Perfect at minerve. The city of Toulouse teetered rapidly towards civil war between orthodox Catholics and Cathar sympathizers, and many Toulousain credentes fled for the New World and apparent safety. The next year was no better for the Cathars of Languedoc. In January, King Pedro recognizes de Montfort as his vassal, effectively legitimating his takeover of Carcassone. A shudder of betrayal went through the Cathars - their ally was lending legitimacy to their greatest foe. In May, the crusaders stormed Lavaur and hanged eighty knights (again, there's chivalry for you). Aimery de Montreal, a prominent Credente, was murdered. His sister, Geralda, widely considered the most beloved woman in Languedoc for her open-hearted charity towards any in need, was thrown down a well and stoned to death. Four hundred Perfect were burned at the stake. The exodus accelerated. By now the route was charted and the captains and crews knew the waves, the wind, the birds and the color of the water. Armed with astrolabes and early compasses, they made their way across the Western Ocean and deposited their charges in their refuge. In the process, many of the officers and men absorbed the preaching of the Perfect became converts. What was once done for profit was now, for many, a holy mission to save their coreligionists from the hands of their tormentors. It was an underground railroad of sorts, men seeking wealth or serving their faith, secretly shuttling the persecuted and oppressed out of harm's way. And all in secrecy. Credente sailors, of course, had no reason to spill the beans. Catholics likewise did not want it known that they were aiding the heretics. At best, they would lose the Cathars' business. At worst, their fellow Catholics would be stacking kindling around their feet. And so it was kept quiet for the time being.

    Then the damndest thing happened. In 1212, King Pedro, vanquisher of the Saracens at Las Navas de Tolosa, demanded that the Pope suspend the crusade. He has a plan - he will take Toulouse in trust for Raymond's heir, who he will train in the proper methods of a Christian prince. Pedro will cleanse Toulouse of Catharism, then hand it back to its rightful lord. Pedro is not a sovereign that the Vatican can ignore and, in 1213, Innocent declares that the crusade is over. Pedro convenes an assembly of nobles from Languedoc, who swear allegiance to him. Crusader Montfort is not one of them. He continues to squeeze his new domain, abolishing traditional Occitian feudal privileges and imposing the ways of Northern France upon the inhabitants. (One of the most odious of his dictates was that noble Occitian women could only marry Northerners, thereby hoping to strip southern families of their lands.)

    In May of 1213, Innocent, persuaded by southern Catholics that, if he lets up, Catharism will recover, declares that the crusade is back on. Pedro has had enough of this, and he marches into Languedoc with a mixed army of Catalan, Basque, Gascon, Occitian and Aragonese fighting men. At Muret, Montfort defeated Pedro's army in addition to a sizable Toulousaine contingent and Pedro himself was slain. In the aftermath, Raymond VI and his son fled to Aragon.

    The flight to Ile de Foix, suspended like the crusade, resumes in full force. By the time da Conti arrives, there are around fifteen hundred Cathars and Cathar sympathizers in Ile de Foix. And more are on their way. They are still getting settled in their new home, and primarily subsist on game (the non-Perfect), fish and gathered fruits. Since many of them are from the cities of Languedoc, they are having a tough time of it adapting to a radically different environment. They are, however, beginning to clear the land for crop cultivation. As the settlers have primarily been focused upon sheer survival, they have not given a lot of thought to the fact that their land might be ideal for growing spices and sugar. Favaloro, who is even less fond of heretics than he is of Saracens, does not clue them in.

    ***

    Da Conti takes this all in. Right now, in Languedoc, there are thousands - perhaps even tens of thousands - of people who may be eager to come to what is now part of Venice's new empire. (While Favaloro was talking to the Cathars, da Conti took a small boat ashore and claimed Ile de Foix for Venice.) That they are heretics (and sympathizers of heretics) complicates things, to be sure.

    But something could definitely be done with this ...

    When he returned to the San Marco, having claimed San Erasmus for the Lion City, da Conti's captains remind him of the real purpose of their mission - to find a southern route to the furs and ivory of Vinland and Domstolland. His shipwrights pointedly mention the battering the ships have taken, and talking in terms of "if" they make it back to Venice. The San Marco and San Ligorius are essentially prototype Ocean Ships, and are beginning to develop problems typical of a new design that is put through a punishing test run. Da Conti is convinced. He, his captains and the navigators huddle over their own charts and Madoc's logs. It quickly becomes apparent that they likely have gone far enough west to encounter Ultima Thule. What they need to do now is head north, which is what they do.

    A short while later, they encounter what is either a huge island or the Thulian mainland. The southern portion is swampy and uninviting, so da Conti brings his ships northwards along the coast, again making careful notations of speed, direction, wind, the patterns of sea birds, the color and depth of the water, and so on. After some time, they pick a likely spot and da Conti once again takes his boat ashore. He has decided - he is going to claim for Venice whatever parts of Ultima Thule that are not already part of Vinland, Domstolland or Niwe Wessex. It is a momentous occasion - to take a string of islands is one thing, to lay claim to virtually an entire continent is another.

    (Fjaraland [OTL's St. Augustine, FLA, where our account of da Conti's travels began], Summer 1214)

    "In the name of the Doge and Most Serene Republic of Venice ..."

    And then a young voice in perfect Latin. "Venice? I know where that is!"

    Niccolo da Conti is so startled that he almost drops the banner bearing the Lion of San Marco in the sand. But, if he has learned one thing in his travels it is this - poise counts.

    Poise counts.

    In relating this story years later around various dinner tables in Italy, Conti will swear that the small blonde boy with distinctively Nordic features rode up to his landing party astride the oddest looking creature imaginable. According to these accounts, the boy was riding some sort of giant rat, which had a great dome-shaped back covered in overlapping scales and a spiked mace at the end of its tail. The boy controlled the beast by dangling a carrot or some other vegetable in front of the beasts face at the end of a fishing pole. No one will believe Conti, and several of his hosts will tactfully suggest that he lay off the vino. There are giant armadillos in the southern regions of Ultima Thule, including Fjaraland, but they are not as large as the beast Conti described, and they are ornery creatures that only a fool would attempt to ride.

    Perhaps this boy is a fool, but there he is. The question is, what the hell is he doing there?

    Empty America: Part 14 - What a Long Strange Trip It's Been (Part Four)


    (As Touching the Invention of Sangria, the Spliff, the Sandwich, and the Ultimate Weapon)

    (Fjaraland [OTL's St. Augustine, FLA, where our account of da Conti's travels began], Summer 1214)

    The Venetians call the little blonde boy over and he explains that his name is Gunnar and that he is from a village not too far from there. Gunnar admires the Venetians arms and armor, so he offers to take them to his parents if they will let him wear one of their helmets. It is a deal. The boy leads da Conti and his party inland to a village made up of thatched-roof huts. The village is surrounded by a palisade, but its thin poles are set in the ground with about a foot apart and braced with ropes, allowing the ocean breeze to waft over them through the gaps. The villagers, men and women, come out to greet them, smiling and waving. They are blondes, mostly, with a good smattering of brunettes and redheads, clad in loose linen garments. The women wear their hair long and the men have shorter hair and neatly-trimmed beards. Gunnar leads them past a larger building that, da Conti notes, has both a cross and a stylized hammer carved into the lintel, and to his parents' house.

    Gunnar's mother and father, Afi and Gudrun, are a hospital pair, and they insist that the Venetians stay for dinner. That is where da Conti gets his first taste of Fjarland cuisine. The spices, the fish, the chicken, the rice, the ... spices. And all served with this great wine and fruit juice drink, which flowed in great quantities. Over a couple of quarts, da Conti gets the story of yet another settlement on the shores of the Western Ocean:

    It would seem that around a hundred years ago [109 to be precise], the settlers of Vinland were undergoing some strife between the pagans and the Christians. However, it turns out the pagan/Christian split was not as clear-cut as all that. A dozen or so pagan families had been taken under the wing of a Norwegian monk named Stori. Stori apparently was fairly learned for a monk and before he took his vows, he was evidently also very well off: he owned four books. Stori was also a very tolerant monk, who believed in working with and trying to understand the pagans rather than castigating them for their unbelief and haranguing them into conversion. His compassion and charisma earned him a significant following, which held together in the midst of the communal strife. When the one-eyed wanderer made his appearance and it was all coming to a head, Stori and his followers were in a dilemma. The pagans were not having any Christian monks come to Domstolland, and the Vinlanders seemed likely to kill off any pagans who remained behind. There was, of course, a third option, and that's the one that they took. So, about 300 people on about 15 longboats are off, heading south. And south. And south. They stop frequently for food and water, and various sites are urged for a permanent settlement. But Stori has a vision, and so they keep going. Finally, they stumbled along what looked like a welcoming inlet. More importantly, they spotted what appeared to be the wreck of a ship like they had never seen before. It looked like it had been taken apart. Venturing ashore, they spotted a small clutch of very odd looking houses, surrounded by gardens that had gone over to the wild. Beyond the overgrown garden lay a little cemetery, with stones inscribed with what looked sort of like Norse runes, but different. For Stori and the others, this is enough - they will settle here.

    Over the years, their little village grows. The refugees take up the traditional Vinlandic mix of fishing, hunting, whaling, animal husbandry and round it out with agriculture, mostly truck gardening, but some cereals (including the ubiquitous hops and rice for beer). They also raise flax for linen clothing, as traditional Vinland leathers and wools are a trifle warm for Fjarland summers. A lot of the Vinlanders' livestock did not make the trip, but they make up for the loss by domesticating some local fauna, such as the woodland musk ox (symbols cavifrons) both as a beast of burden and for meat and milk. The ox is pretty docile and takes to yoke, pasture and stall without complaint. Venturing inland, they also discover herds of large wild horses (equus scotti), which are a bit more difficult to break. Peccaries and giant capybaras [neochoerus pinckneyi - essentially huge (155 lbs) guinea pigs] take their place beside the porkers on Fjaralander dinner tables.

    The giant armadillos (holmesina septentrionalis), such as the one that da Conti will go to his grave claiming that Gunnar was riding, do have their uses. About the size of an [OTL modern] black bear, their plated hides, properly treated, make for excellent light body armor. It isn't chain mail, but there is not much chain mail to be had, thereabouts. Not that there is much need for any. Contact with the Domstollander and Vinlandic settlements and trading outposts that have started springing up along the eastern seaboard of Ultima Thule is spotty and largely peaceful. Outcasts from the northern countries drift in on occasion, sometimes settling permanently, sometimes just passing through. There are even a few dozen Welshmen who fled the collapse of the colony on Newydd Deheubarth [OTL Bermuda]. At home, Stori's ecumenical tolerance has taken root with the emigrant Vinlanders, and it sticks. Norsemen and Christians live side-by-side with minimal strife. Families even intermarry, with the bride typically converting to the groom's family faith.

    Not all of the fauna of Fjaraland are friendly, which explains the light stockade around the village. One particularly nasty customer is titanis, a 3 meter tall flightless bird that can run 40 mph and has a nasty, slashing razor-sharp beak. The things are crazy aggressive and utterly unafraid of human beings. One more than one horrifying occasion, a titanis has bolted into the village, reached through the window of one of the huts, and snatched an infant right out of its crib [FN+++]. Thus the stockade, which is also handy for keeping out other prowling nasties, like the great predatory cats that roam the countryside.

    Which brings us round to the invention of the Spliff, the sandwich, and the ultimate weapon. They all came from the mind of one of the great empiricists in the history of Ultima Thule:

    (Fjaraland, Summer 1207)

    Like most tinkerers, Rúni Smidrssen is good with his hands, generally. Not only is he a much-sought-after craftsman, he dabbles in some freelance surgery. So, when teenage hell raiser Sveinn Oddmárr gets his arm gashed open from shoulder to elbow by an irritated titanis (which the Norse call a 'blodfugl,' meaning 'blood-bird') he and his panicking friends bind the wound as best they can and go to Rúni's workshop to get him stitched up.

    When the kids burst into his workshop, Rúni has got the beef tallow out and is doing some preventative maintenance on his pride and joy: a treadle-pumped, fly-wheel driven lathe. Turning out wooden plates, bowls and other items for his fellow Fjaralanders is his bread and butter. Sometimes literally, since he works on a barter basis with his neighbors. His father, who was the village tinkerer before Rúni inherited the mantle, built both the lathe and the open, airy, barn like workshop, which is both Rúni's home and place of business. For a while, Rúni got it into his head that he should move his workshop over near one of the spring-fed rivers and set up a water-wheel, but it seemed like a lot of trouble. A lot of things were a lot of trouble, so Rúni tended to relax, work enough to get by and otherwise just futz around with whatever interested him. And it was not just the sun, the surf, and the live-and-let-live philosophy of Fjaraland that had Rúni so mellowed out, but also the fact that he was a serious aficionado of gufa [Norse: "smoke"]. When the Fjaralanders first landed, they found the stuff growing up all over the abandoned village. The first summer, they started tossing bundles of the green leaf on their campfires - the smoke tended to keep the mosquitoes away. Quickly, they learned that it had other, more pleasant side-effects, so they stopped just gathering it from the wild and started planting it in their gardens.

    So, Rúni likes his gufa. In fact, he likes it a lot. What he doesn't like, however, is distractions. See, Rúni usually works just enough to get by, but once he gets the bit in his teeth about something, he becomes basically a monomaniac, working for days without letup. One day, about a year before Sveinn Oddmárr and his bloody arm burst in, Rúni was in his shop, trying to make a new kind of fish hook. The fishermen were always complaining that the old hooks let the fish get away. Well, said Rúni, what do you expect? I make regular hooks to catch regular fish, not the monster spear-nosed fish that thrash the seas around here. Look, the fishermen had said, make us a better fish hook, and keep us supplied, and we will give you one tenth of our catch for a year. Rúni, even when he was not gufad up, was a decent enough businessman, so he managed to finagle the fishermen up to one eighth of the catch, and the fishermen supply the raw iron for the hooks. Deal. So, Rúni got to work. Multiple recurving hooks seemed to be the best idea, but the iron kept breaking while he was working it ... The irritating thing was that he had to keep editing and refilling his pipe as he worked. There had to be a better way. So he thought about it for a while. If he could wrap the gufa up in a leaf or something and light one end ... He tried out a lot of leaves and after one gave him a really nasty rash on his lips, he thought about it some more. And then the book on his shelf caught his eye. It was one of Brother Stori's books that Rúni's father got in trade from one of the Christians. Rúni had traded a full set of wooden bowls, three iron hide-scrapers and a half-dozen harpoon heads to have one of the literate Christians to read it to him. And then he traded another bunch of stuff to another literate Christian to read it to him again. And Rúni thought that was a bad book back full of bad ideas back then and he thought it was a bad book full of bad ideas now, as he sat there wondering what he should wrap that gufa in ... So, Rúni took that book down from the shelf, tore a little square of the first page, twisted up some of the gufa in the parchment, lit up the end and sucked on the other. It took some doing, but it worked.

    Nothing, thought Rúni, smoked better than the Code of Justinian.

    So anyway, Rúni was smoking a nice, fat twist when he gets up from lathe and sits Oddmárr down at his workbench. Rúni fishes out a needle and thread and goes to work on Oddmárr's arm. And he gets the story. It was eggs. Blodfugls laid eggs that were bigger than your head, and they were very tasty. Just about every farmer in Fjaraland would be more than pleased to have a domesticated blodfugl or two out back, laying those eggs. The thing is that blodfugls were fiendishly clever at hiding their eggs in the wild and anyone who strays too close to a nest was likely to wind up like Oddmárr, or worse. And capturing a blodfugl was damn near impossible. They were fast and agile, and should you manage to get a net over one, it would slice its way out and/or carve up anyone within reach. And raising one in from an egg was just as dangerous. As soon as they could walk, they attacked their keepers. The one thing that hadn't been tried yet was finding a full-grown bird, knocking it unconscious, then letting it come to in captivity. Some Fjaralanders thought that, if you did that, and thumped it on the noggin every once in a while to show it whose boss, it would eventually get tame. It was the doing it that was the real problem. Oddmárr and his friends had dispensed with trying to put a net over one and had gone out into the scrub forest and swamps with their slings, hoping to nail one on the head, knock it for a loop, then drag it back to the Oddmárr farm, where they would tie it down and whack it with clubs if it woke up in a feisty mood.

    From such stupid ideas do great inventions come.

    But slings don't cut it. Tough to nail a blodfugl on the melon with one to begin with, and if you miss, the sharp-eyed predators come rushing straight at you, so you had better be a fair piece away. Which, of course, makes it tougher to hit the bird in the first place. And so on.

    So, when he finishes up on Oddmárr's arm, Rúni thinks about this for a while, then spins up his lathe and turns out a nice piece of rounded-tip dowel for the boys, which he then fixes to an arrow-shaft he had laying around (bows and iron arrowheads being among of his numerous sidelines). He tells them to give that a try - if they hit the bird in the head, the round tip of the dowel should knock it out without killing it.

    That afternoon, they are back. They tried a few practice shots with the arrow, which was pretty much useless, looping to the ground or every which way. So, Rúni thought about this some more. What to do, what to do? Frustrated, he grabs his spliff and strolls down to the beach. Sometimes walking along the ocean helps him clear his head. He is lost in thought when suddenly he trips on something and winds up on his face. Wiping the sand out of his face, he sees that it is the block-and-tackle he made for some fishermen, to help them haul their boats up on shore. Damn idiots, leaving it hitched to the post they drove into the sand, don't they know ...

    Then it hits him - if a block and tackle can make men stronger, why not a bow? With a stronger bow, maybe the blunt arrows will fly straighter and farther. Rúni tosses down his spliff and races back to his workshop.

    Over the next few years, Rúni spends virtually all time and energy working on his idea, with time off to do paying jobs. One afternoon, vaguely irritated at having to get up and eat, he walks over to his kitchen, slits a small bread loaf lengthwise, and stuffs it with sliced meat and cheese, then hurries back to his bench.

    After trying out various positions and configurations for the (bone) pulleys, he settles on putting one at each tip of the bow. It seems to work OK, but the problem is that, once you have notched the hickory to insert the wheels, the wood is weakened and tends to split. After futzing with wood for much longer than he probably needed to, he eventually hits on a wood/sinew/baleen composite for the bow. That does the trick. One day, when he is off helping install some woodwork at the local froharg (dedicated to Freya), he leaves a few chores for his nephew Sveinn. When he comes back, he discovers Sveinn snoozing under a nearby tree. Looking around his workshop, he discovers much to his irritation that not only has Sveinn smoked his entire stash, but he has also drilled the holes for his new pair of pulley-wheels dramatically off-center. Ah, crap. He kicks Sveinn in the pants and sends him on his way. Like most good craftsmen, Rúni doesn't believe in waste, so he fixes the cock-eyed pulley wheels onto latest bow, then takes it outside for a test shoot.

    He notices the oddest thing. The force he needs to draw the bow peaks, but then starts to let up the further he draws it. In a flash, he realizes what this means - he could make bows with much greater pull weights than before, since a bowman could hold it at full extension, and aim, without nearly as much strain as with a regular bow. Rúni lets the arrow fly. It misses the target, and the second realization hits Rúni - the arrow's trajectory was flat as a strap. He missed because he was expecting some arc.

    Oh, man. Rúni Smidrssen has hit the jackpot. He demonstrates his new bow for groups of Fjaralander huntsmen, who stand there wide-eyed then fall all over themselves demanding that he make more. So he goes to work, turning out as many as he can. He even hires a couple of assistants to help - not Sveinn, who can gather shellfish for the rest of his life, as far as Rúni is concerned - and he keeps tinkering with the design. The major problem is that the forward bowstring, that loops around the front of the pulleys, keeps stripping off the fletching. So after trying various solutions, Rúni fixes a couple smaller pulleys to the bow, off the center line of the bow, and above and below the grip. That tugs the forward bowstring to one side, saving on fletchings.

    Thus the wheelbow version 1.1 is born. [FN++++]

    Wheelbows soon become prized possessions for anyone in Fjaraland, who refuse to give them up for love or money. Well, not for money, anyway - more than one bride's dowry includes a wheelbow as a major element. Other craftsmen try to knock off Rúni's invention, with mixed success.

    Rúni knows a good thing when he sees it, so when the Venetians show up with their trade goods, he treats the Merchant and the two Mariners to a demonstration. The Mariners, both experienced Naval officers, stand there agape, then huddle quickly with da Conti. Then the haggling begins. When all is said and done, Rúni has two kegs of nails, six new (steel!) blades for his lathe, a set of chisels, three whetstones, an awl, a very nice sledgehammer, and about a half ton of unfinished iron that the San Marco was carrying as part of its ballast.

    And da Conti ... well, he gets Mediterranean naval supremacy for the Most Serene Republic.

    ***

    After the big going away party, da Conti is on deck, watching Fjaraland slip off in the distance, thinking of all this odd little place has given him, while asking for so very little. The native spices, the bhang [as the Venetians, one of whom has been to Calicut, quickly recognize it], the wheelbow, the memories of warm summer nights and friendly faces. He is going to have to come back here some day, maybe when he is older and ready to give it all up. But one thing doesn't sit right. "Fjaraland" rasps on his Mediterranean tongue. This place, it needs a new name. Da Conti, after his good luck with pagans and Saracens, is feeling pretty ecumenical at the moment. What did the Arabs call that island, far to the east, with all the spices and the beautiful women ...

    Ah, it strikes him. As the shoreline vanishes over the horizon, da Conti, smiling, raises his wine glass and drinks a toast to Serendib.

    Empty America: Part 15 - What a Long Strange Trip It's Been (Epilogue)


    (The Western Ocean, the Ursuline Sea [FN15.01], Ultima Thule and the Republic of Venice, Fall, 1214 - Christmas Day, 1241)

    Da Conti has cut the trip short. The year was growing old. He and his Mariners did not relish the thought of a winter trip across the northern reaches of the Western Ocean that a return trip from Vinland would entail. Plus, from the Fjaralanders, he has gotten a good idea of the distances and direction to Vinland. So they strike out east from Fjaraland. Da Conti was not a bit worried that the Doge and others in Venice would be perturbed that he is deliberately not accomplishing the expedition's stated mission. He figures that what he has accomplished dwarfs merely discovering a southern route to Ultima Thule and loses not one moment's sleep worrying that he will have disappointed his sponsors. While officers and men talk excitedly of home, da Conti mostly keeps to his cabin with his charts and his logs of the voyage. And his quills and his parchment. He is making a copy of everything, a copy that he will carefully conceal in his luggage when they arrive in Venice, a copy that the government and the oligarchs of the city will never see, a copy that he will use for his own purposes.

    It is a storm-tossed passage between Fjaraland and the pillars of Hercules, but the seamen of Venice push unflinchingly onward for home. Word of their coming makes it to the Lion City before they do, so when the San Marco and the San Ligorius sail into the lagoon, hulls battered, sails and banners tattered but billowing triumphantly in the breeze, Merchant Da Conti, Mariner Favaloro, Mariner Michiel and their crews are greeted by exultant throngs of Venetians. Priests, merchants, tradesmen, soldiers, sailors ... all turn out to welcome their conquering heroes home. After they make their way through the tumultuous streets, the three men kneel before their Doge in his grand palace. He bids them rise. They have much to discuss.

    After appropriate dining and libations, the sea-farers talk long into the night with Doge Pietro Zani, his consiglietto [inner council] and some of the most eminent merchants of the Republic. Da Conti lays it all out for them. The Admirals-General are excited about the wheelbow and insist upon a torchlight demonstration in a nearby plaza. They are duly impressed. Back inside the palace, da Conti convincingly argues that Venice must defeat or come to terms with the Genoese [FN15.02], then venture into the Western Ocean and take Jazirah al-Sin from the Almohad Caliphate. From there, they can take and settle any number of the islands off the southeast shore of Ultima Thule. Sugar, bhang, spices, ivory, furs ... it is all within their grasp, they need only reach out and take it. It is audacious scheme for a city, no matter how remarkable and ambitious, whose population still only numbers in the tens of thousands. Immediately the objections arise. How could Venice, at the head of the Adriatic, hope to conquer and hold islands beyond the western gate of the Mediterranean? The Western Med is prowled by not only the Genoese, but the Pisans and a number of other naval predators. And besides, Venice has a profitable trading relationship with the Almohad Caliphate. Seizing their territory could cause them to expel Venetian merchants. War is bad for business.

    It is nothing that will be settled in one night, but as da Conti, yawning and stretching, makes his way to his lodgings, he feels pretty optimistic. Eventually, Doge Zani and a majority of the consiglietto come around to the idea of both seizing Jazirah al-Sin and setting out to establish colonies in the Ursuline Sea. The Doge then consults the Pregadi [Senate] which traditionally advised the Doge in matters of foreign affairs, and the debate begins again, and erupts into the public sphere. Finally, the Doge decides that a decision of this magnitude must be submitted to the Venetian people as a whole (more or less), and thousands are assembled in San Marco's Cathedral in a ritual dating from the early days of the Republic, but one that had largely fallen into disuse: an exercise in direct democracy [FN15.03].

    Da Conti and his partisans have taken no chances - for days before the assembly, heralds have been circulating through the city, drumming up enthusiasm for empire. At the Doge's behest, priests in their pulpits have demanded the expansion of Christendom into the "oltremare." Actually, da Conti and the others need not have bothered. The tales from his excursion into the Ursuline Sea have electrified the people of Venice. To the man on the street, the New World is a land of wonders, of riches just waiting to be had. The people of Venice are not only acquisitive of worldly goods, but they are also fiercely proud of their Republic. They want empire not just for wealth, but for the glory of their city. So when the day comes for the great assembly and the Doge, resplendent in his Byzantine finery, calls upon the people of Venice to give their consent to the Lion City acquiring an empire in Ultima Thule, the crowd roars, "Acconsentiamo!"

    And so it begins. The Doge and the Maggior Consiglio impose a series of forced loans to finance both the renewal of the war and the colonial effort. Fortunately, there is still loot from the sack of Constantinople still sloshing around, so money is not too tough to come by. The Venetian Navy rearms itself (although not entirely - it is a new manufacture and productivity is not high) with wheelbows, reenergizes itself with a new sense of mission, and sorties against the Genoese in the Spring of 1215. Through the Spring and Summer, Venetians score a series of victories in the western Mediterranean and, as they are closing in on the Genoese colony at Bonifacio on the southern tip of Corsica, Genoa sues for peace.

    The Venetians then go to work, and da Conti is in the thick of it. He has been handsomely rewarded for his leadership of the "Viaggio Della Decoperta" and granted a bounty for bringing back the wheelbow. To everyone's surprise, he forgoes his share of the cash profits from the spices and bhang brought back on the San Marco and San Ligorius, exchanging it for a sizable land grant on Conti [Jamaica]. At the time, this was a cause for some concern for some elements of the Venetian government. There was some thinking that da Conti might be plotting to establish a personal kingdom on the island that bears his name. Brought before the Quarantia [Council of Forty, kind of a super-judiciary] on charges that he was plotting personal and familial aggrandizement at the expense of the State, da Conti averred before God, the Virgin and St. Mark that he had nothing of the sort in mind. He was promptly acquitted. The prosecution was hugely unpopular in Venice - da Conti was the hero of the Republic, and those who suspected him of monarchical pretensions were seen as jealous little men, trying to bring a great man low. His prosecution, if anything, causes his popularity to soar to even greater heights.

    In the Spring of 1216, he keeps his word to Ibrahim ibn-Musa and leads a fleet of Venetian sailing ships and war galleys to Jazirah al-Sin. In fact, he is the first one ashore from the surf boats and personally leads the soldiers and sailors into Bandar al-Islam, seizing Musa's palace. Conti and Musa greet each other like old friends. As far as the rest of the island goes, as Musa predicted, the inhabitants submit peacefully to a display of overwhelming force. At his ferocious insistence, no Venetian governor is appointed for Jasirah al-Sin. Instead, Musa is left in charge after swearing allegiance to the Republic.

    The diplomatic and military fallout from the seizure of Jasirah al-Sin is remarkably mild. Venetian ambassadors are in the court of the Almohad Emir offering compensation in short order. The Almohads are angry, but also perplexed - they did not assign a lot of value to the island, and are somewhat confused as to why the Venetians would risk war over such an out-of-the-way place. The Emirate revokes some Venetian trading privileges as a display of its displeasure, negotiates a higher indemnity, then pretty much leaves it at that. Venetian occupation of Jasirah al-Sin is not harsh. Most of the Saracen landowners had either sold out to Musa or simply abandoned their lands. Only a few are forcibly dispossessed. There is a steady flow of Venetians and others to take their place. What develops is essentially a system of share-cropping. Slaves [FN15.04] are brought in to work the mills, where a disciplined workforce is essential. The mills themselves are owned by the State, as are the distilleries, which are turning out top-notch rum within a few years. While rum is highly profitable, under new management, Jasirah al-Sin begins to profitably export sugar. Vineyards take a bit longer to get into production, but most sugar farmers have vines growing on the hillsides, and eagerly await the first suitable grape harvest.

    While the State plays a very large role in pushing colonization forward, the major trading families dominate the opening of the islands of the Ursuline Sea. The Querini, Contarini, Morosini, Dandolo clans soon all have major land holdings, or even entire islands. No judicial or legislative powers, though. The Venetians are steeped in Byzantine tradition, not feudalism. Every island has a podesta [governor] appointed by the Maggior Consiglio, who rules in the name of the Republic. The grants come with some major strings attached - the proprietors must develop the land to the satisfaction of the podesta within a reasonable time. Neglect or waste could lead to appropriation by the Republic.

    The colonists are a diverse bunch. Venice itself does not have the population to spare, so proprietors, skilled laborers and sharecroppers are culled in from around the Mediterranean basin. A variety of inducements are employed. Venetian traders throughout Europe are encouraged to spread tales of ordinary men becoming fantastically wealthy overnight. These stories fall on many receptive ears. Also, Venice is a low-tax state by Medieval standards, so many are lured by the prospect - real or fantastical - of both acquiring great wealth and then keeping virtually all of what they earn. And the lures are not all material. The Church actually does something productive. Pope Innocent III, in establishing apostolic sees in the Ursuline Islands, grants the bishops the power to lift the excommunication of various sorts of comparatively minor offenders (arsonists, profaners of sacred persons and sellers of arms to Saracens). For many, it is go to the New World or go to hell. The Church has been concerned for some time that Ultima Thule is becoming the province of pagans and heretics, so the Vatican is eager to populate the Ursulines with Christians. Paradoxically the Vatican exempts Jews who settle in Venetian colonies from the Fourth Laterian Council's dictate that they wear the yellow circle on their clothing and also encourages Saracens to emigrate, thinking that living among Christians in such distant lands might induce conversions by both Jews and Muslims.

    Not only the richest Venetians get in on the game. Any widow, shopkeeper, prelate or working man with a few ducats to spare can get in on a colleganza [business partnership]. Originally begun to finance trading expeditions, it continues to do so, but it is also expanded to finance the development of plantations in the New World. The Venetians are a cohesive polity. Oh sure, they are not without factions and feuds, but especially by comparison to other Italian trading cities, they are a remarkably unified society. This has distinct advantages for business - Venetians, even if they are not family or friends, can partner with each other with a reasonable prospect that their partners share the same ethical norms. Business partnerships among strangers can form quickly and last for extended periods, if needed, without a lot of preliminaries.

    And not only colonization, either. Trade with the existing settlements (Scandinavian, Saxon and Welsh) in Ultima Thule booms. And the Venetians have not forgotten da Conti's idea about planting spices on their new conquests. The Doge has posted huge bounties - no questions asked - for the return of live cuttings or viable seeds for each spice from the mysterious East. Word makes its way around, but it is not going to be quick. Some Venetian traders take up the challenge, not only out of desire for wealth, but also from civic pride and patriotism. Those with a hammer-lock on spice production are not big on sharing, and both the distances involved and the logistical problems, are immense.

    But where there is a will (and big, big sacks of ducats) there is a way ...

    Da Conti, having done right by Musa, is back in Venice, but off the reservation. It is not noticeable right away. He has a small fortune, a famous name, and (in the early years of Venetian expansion), a more intimate knowledge of the Ursulines and southern Ultima Thule than any man in Venice. All of which he parleys into even greater wealth. He turns down repeated offers to work for all of the major trading houses and strikes out on his own. He seeks out the low and mid-level merchants, those willing to hustle and take long risks for large rewards. Conti kicks in his own money for operations, but he also borrows and adapts a business model from the Genoese - the loca. In earlier days, small investors in Genoa could buy a share in a trading expedition by financing the wages and expenses of a single sailor, and the investor's share was called a loca. As time went on, the Genoese started dividing locas into smaller and smaller shares, permitting those with only a pittance to invest to buy 1/8 or 1/16 of a loca. The thing about locas that made them different from other partnership arrangements is that they were negotiable and discountable. Once purchased, they could be sold, traded or pledged as collateral. Capital formation in Venice has a new best friend.

    Da Conti, determined to gather in all the working capital he could, brings the loca to Venice. With hundreds of investors behind him and dozens of traders working for him, Da Conti's trading company makes numerous voyages to Ultima Thule. He goes along only on the first one, where he establishes a close relationship with the Serendibians. They are to gather Ursuline peppers for him and only him, and he will buy all they can get for a fair price (in addition to regular payments to the local headmen). In the years before Thulian pepper plantations are up and running, this gives da Conti a huge advantage in the New World spice trade. Cha-ching. He will also take as much bhang as they can grow and are willing to part with. The first sign that da Conti may not be with the Venetian program is when he starts to partner up with foreigners.

    You see, the Venetians are not the only ones interested in Ultima Thule. The Genoese are no strangers to the high seas. They have been sailing the Cantabric Sea and the Germanic and Brittanic Oceans for years, hauling wool from England and wool cloth from Flanders to markets in the Mediterranean. They even have a technological edge on the Venetians - Genoese Atlantic trade has been carried on by "round" ships, with deeper draft, greater stability and larger cargo capacity, for quite some time. Most of their trade with Ultima Thule has, up to this point, been through Hanseatic and Scandinavian middle-men, but after da Conti's successful voyage, the Genoese get into the direct trade with the New World. Once they have recovered from the drubbing that the Venetians gave them, they are back in the game. While the Genoese are not as big on setting sovereign colonies as the Venetians, they are not willing to be frozen out of the Ursulines. They are in luck. One of their captains discovers the Isole del Benedetto [Isles of the Blessed. OTL's Canaries], which are linked to the Ursulines by the prevailing winds [FN15.05]. The islands' name turns out to be something of a cruel joke because the native inhabitants are decidedly not "blessed." As pagans, they are subject not only to Genoese conquest, but also to enslavement both on sugar plantations in their homeland, but also sale to planters in the Ursulines. By the end of 1241, the indigenous population of the Benedetto has fallen precipitously in the face of Genoese military campaigns (often carried out by brutal, land-hungry freebooters) and slave-raiding. But, with a base in the Benedetto, as well as a major trading presence in Seville and Cadiz, the Genoans are in a prime position to exploit the resources of the New World. In addition to the Benedetto, the Genoese plant their flag on some of the smaller islands of the Ursuline Sea. In particular, the Genoese banner flies above the Perditas [again, named after the Brendan legend, OTL's Turks and Caicos] and the Zaccarias [OTL's Bahamas, named after a prominent Genoese family]. The Pisans are also not ones to be left behind when everyone else is filching sugar islands. They got their hands on Arcipelago da San Ranieri [OTL's Anguilla, St. Martin, St. Maarten, St. Kitts & Nevis] and are bent into turning it into a cash cow.

    Da Conti is more capitalist than patriot, and he is quickly involved with both the Genoese and the Pisans. On a strictly cash basis, of course. However, it is only after he is instrumental in setting up Nova Catalonia [FN15.06], at the behest of King Jaime I of Aragon, does the Venetian government suspect that he is actively working contrary to the interests of the Republic. In March, 1233, da Conti's enemies conspire to have him haled once more before the Quarantia. But it is too late - he is gone. And so is his money, safely squirreled away in a half-dozen Italian cities. From then on, da Conti is moving fast. In absentia, the Quarantia convicts him of treason and sentences him to death. Over the next eight years he is everywhere that is beyond the reach of Venetian law: mainland Italy, Serendib, Aragon, Grenada, the Mahgrib. Piling up more and more money through more and more deals. Finally, in 1241 he simply disappears from the Mediterranean and Ursuline worlds. Rumors about his whereabouts abound, but none can be confirmed ...

    (Torzhok, Dutchy of Novgorod, March, 1238)

    (This is bad.)

    The man in the brown tunic, banded-leather cuirass, grey trousers, and leather helmet poked through the smoldering remains of the town until he found what he was looking for, clutched in the dead hands of a Danish archer. The small Anskar Union garrison had put up heroic resistance, holding out for two weeks against vastly superior numbers. But Torzhok, like all the other towns in the path of Batu's armies, had eventually fallen. Sharp-eyed scouts among the besieging armies had noticed that a small number of the defenders wielded weapons of a sort that Batu had never seen before. He offered a sizable reward to the first man, officer or trooper, to bring him one. Prying the bow out of the dead Dane's hand, the man noticed that the bowstring was broken.

    So he gave one of the wheels at the bowtips a little spin, and walked off to find Batu Khan and claim his reward.

    (December 10-11, 1241, Karakorum, Mongolia)

    (This is extraordinarily bad.)

    Great Khan Ogedei was having a good ol' time, as is his want. Drinking, carousing, and so on. The drinking and raucous merriment had been going on for some time, and the Great Khan was feeling pretty looped, when a serving girl - hands him a goblet. Someone sitting at the other side of the great ornate rug, says "Great Khan, the Frankish traders offer you..."

    The Great Khan does not wait for the end of the sentence, and tosses back the contents of the goblet.

    And boom, the cane liquor hits him like a trebuchet to the head. His eyes bug out, his throat roars like there is a bellows-pumped furnace in his belly.

    The Great Khan, Ruler of all Those Who Dwell in Felt Tents, is no stranger to liquor, but he is mostly a wine and kumiz [fermented mare's milk. disgusting to anyone but Mongols] drinker. The cane liquor is a whole 'nuther order of magnitude.

    And so ... the Great Khan throws up. A lot. All over the place. He throws up cane liquor, he throws up food, he throws up kumiz, and he throws up the poison that a rival family with a claim to the Khanate had spiked his wine with.

    The next day, although he does not remember stumbling back to his sleeping quarters and he feels like pounded yak crap, he wakes up very much alive.

    (The Kingdom of Hungary, Christmas Day, 1241)

    (This is the way the world ends.)

    Pest has fallen.

    Buda lies in shadow.

    The Danube is frozen.

    And the horsemen of Gog and Magog cross silently on the ice.

    (Southern Ultima Thule [OTL's Yucatan Peninsula], Christmas Day, 1241)

    "Seize them!"

    Enrico Pescatore did not understand what was said, but he got the gist of it, especially after a group of armed men in very peculiar armor came crashing out of the jungle and leveled odd-looking spears at them. Pescatore got the gist of it because he had a lot of experience with being seized. In his long commercial career, he had been seized by Swedes in Scotland, Crusaders in Acre, Norwegians in Novgorod and Saracens in Seville. And just about every other place in between. In fact, it had happened so often, that his response was pretty much reflexive. Raise hands, make no sudden moves, and play nice until you can talk to someone in charge. Then, patiently and genially explain, with just enough bewilderment and remorse in your voice to make it convincing, that you are but an ignorant foreigner, unfamiliar with the import/export laws or that you had no idea that she was the Castellan's daughter

    ... and keep a sharp eye out for the nearest exit.

    So, while Carlo and Martino, the two Florentine drapers who got him out in this godforsaken jungle in the first place, tremble and wet their pantaloons at the sight of all those spear- and sword-points, and the rest of their party bolts for the treeline, only to be cut off and herded back into the clearing, Pescatore just stands there, somewhat non-plussed. Being grabbed by armed men who seemingly descended upon them out of nowhere was not exactly perplexing.

    The fact that these particular armed men are obviously Cathayan soldiers, on the other hand, was a bit more curious ...


    Bibliography:

    Hourani, George "Arab Seafaring: Expanded Edition" (Princeton University
    Press 1995).

    Malinnic, Peter "Bittersweet: the Story of Sugar" (Allen & Unwinn 2002)

    O'Shea, Stephen "The Perfect Heresy" (Walker & Company 2000)

    Chambers, James "The Devil's Horsemen: The Mongol Invasion of Europe" (Castle Books 2003)

    Saunders, J.J. "The History of the Mongol Conquests" (U. of Pennsylvania Press 1971)

    Fernanez-Armesto "Before Columbus" (U. of Pennsylvania Press 1987)

    Norwich, "A History of Venice" (1982)

    Mote, F.W. "Imperial China: 900-1800" (Harvard U. Press 1999)

    Abu-Lughod, Janet "Before European Hegemony" (Oxford U Press 1985)

    Levathes, Louise "When China Ruled the Seas" (Oxford U. Press 1994)

    and this last one is just for larfs:

    Menzies, Gavin "1421: the Year China Discovered America" (William Morrow 2003). A fun piece of speculation, posing as history. I have said it before and I will say it again: proponents of pre-Viking, pre-Columbian "discoveries" of America are the great unsung alternate historians of our time. Don't read this one in public unless you want people peering over the top of their copies of 'The Da Vinci Code' and wondering what kind of kook you are.


    Notes:

    [FN*] An *ancestor to OTL's renegade Venetian trader who converted to Islam to facilitate his trade across the Levant to the Spice Islands.

    [FN***] There is no single tyrant aboard a Venetian ship. The Mariner is the rough equivalent of the Captain, but the Merchant who is conducting the trade mission also has a say in what happens. Generally, decisions are made by consensus between the Mariner, the Merchant and the senior officers.

    [FN#] A credente is a Cathar believer who has not attained the status of a Perfect.

    [FN++] The mace-tailed "armadillo" da Conti describes is actually a South American Doedicurus, a glyptodont.

    [FN+++] <Australian accent ON> "Maybe Big Bird ate your baby." <Australian accent OFF>

    [FN++++] Was this idea inspired by the SHWI thread some time ago about the earlier invention of the compound bow? Youbetcha. I did do some rudimentary research on the compound bow. Check out: http://archeryworld.com/bows/news/frankscott.nmpl and http://www.oldbasingarchers.co.uk/compound/tbww.htm

    [FN15.01] OTL's Caribbean. Named after St. Ursula:

    http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=325

    Amorica? Oh Lord, why do you tempt your humble servant so?

    [FN15.02] I know I have been calling them Genoans, but my most recent reading calls them Genoese, so I am going with that. And I am changing the FN format. Truly signs of quality scholarship.

    [FN15.03] With the growth of Venice, such assemblies have become impractical. Before this mass meeting, the most recent one was several years previously, when Doge Enrico Dandolo called upon the people of Venice to give consent to the Republic aiding the Fourth Crusade.

    [FN15.04] Greeks, who a schismatics, are eligible to be enslaved. The Venetians also work a deal with the King of Hungary who keeps them supplied with Cumans - nomads of the Black Sea area.

    [FN15.05] Supposedly discovered by St. Brendan. The major islands are named after those of legend. For example, OTL's Tenerife is ATL's (and Pliny's) Nivaria and Gran Canaria is Pluvialia.

    http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=170

    [FN15.06] Roughly, OTL's Georgia.
     
    Indiana Beach Crow and Adamant like this.
  5. Constantinople Trump is Temporary, but hey, Brexit is forever Banned

    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2005
    Empty America: Part 16 - Ride with the Devil / Blue Cathay (Part 1)

    (Republic of Venice, Easter Sunday, 1242)

    Doge Giacomo Morosini, finished with the customary formalities, sits very still in the ducal throne and watches the emissaries depart. When the great doors to the throne room are closed and he is very sure they are out of ear-shot, he groans, "Jesus' balls, but they stink!" He gestures to a boy. "Go, Carlito, fetch a censer." The Doge hoists his substantial bulk [FN16.01] from the throne and waves his hand in front of his face, scowling. "God in Heaven, Marin, I have met Corsicans who did not smell that bad. Honestly, Corsicans!"

    Marin Tiepolo[FN16.02], senior member of Morosini's Signoria [inner council] chuckles and rises with his Doge. The two men have been friends for decades, and that has earned Tiepolo the right to a certain informality, even with the most powerful elected leader on the planet.

    "The translator, the Copt, he did not smell particularly bad. He told me they don't believe in bathing. Supposedly fouling the water angers their god."

    Morosini snorts derisively, walks over to a side table, picks up a decanter of brandy and pours himself a very large drink. "Those two, they would foul the whole lagoon."

    "Then it is a good thing that no more of their kind will ever be near it."

    Morosini holds his glass up and turns it between his thumb and forefingers. Delicate traceries of gold thread, so delicate and beautiful ... he tosses back his drink. "Marin ... do you think I did the right thing?"

    "You did the only thing, my Doge. The only thing you could have been done."

    "I wish I could be as sure as you, old friend. I have sold Christendom to death and slavery."

    "Respectfully, Doge Morosini, you did no such thing," Tiepolo sounded positively angry. That was new to the Doge. His senior consigliore was famed for his even temper and pious disposition. "Where was France when Hungary fell? Where was the Emperor? Where was Norway? Where was England? My Doge, Duke Frederick even attacked Bela as-"

    Morosini cut him off with a wave of his hand and poured two more drinks, then walks over to Tiepolo and hands him a glass. "Lent is over, so take it. I know these things, Marin. None stirred from their thrones to come to Bela's aid. But neither did anyone ..." The Doge chokes on the words. For the first time since he donned these robes, he felt confused, adrift from his moorings. Hot shame suddenly burns his face and his eyes well with tears. "What have we done? How have we angered God so that He should force us to make such choices?"

    "God's wrath, my Doge, is like God's love. It is a mystery. We should be thankful that He has let this cup pass from us."

    Morosini wipes his eyes and clears his throat. Sipping his drink, he goes to the window, opens it, and looks out upon his city. It is Easter, but the streets, piazzas and canals are silent and nearly vacant. The lagoon sparkles in the brilliant Spring sunlight, but the interdict lays upon the City of San Marco like a shroud. No festivals, no processions, no celebration of the risen Christ. Even the sublime beauty of the Mass is denied the people of Venice.

    And for what? A squabble with the Pope over Tiepolo's absolute refusal to allow the Inquisition into the Ursulines, so it might root out the Cathar heretics. Morosini remembers the memorials from the podestas of Venice's New World empire, avowing that the colonists would be "naked, unshod and in the darkness" if the Doge permitted the Vatican to persecute the Cathar weavers, cobblers and candle-makers. One governor even described the Papal Legate and his entourage as "more useless mouths than this colony can feed." Morosini did not truck with heretics. He had lent the force of the civil authority to the Inquisition within the city itself - and seen Cathars burn in the piazzas because of it - but he would not yield on the Ursulines. He defied a Prince of the Church to ensure that the men and women in his charge would have clothing, shoes and candles, and now all of Venice was paying the price. But did they not love him for his defiance? The ferociously patriotic citizens of Venice would rather see their soaring basilica shuttered and their loved ones die without absolution than see their Republic surrender to Papal blackmail. Now Gregory IX was dead. Roman tyrant Senator Matthew Orisini had held the College of Cardinals prisoner in a ruined palace in Rome, determined to elect a puppet pontiff. The pope who emerged from this travesty, Celestine IV, had died before he could even consider lifting the interdict, and the cardinals had scattered. The Emperor of the Romans holds two cardinals prisoner, but the remainder are unwilling to court martyrdom by placing themselves in his grasp.

    In this hour of most dire peril, God's Church was leaderless, God's Empire was ruled by an infidel who kept a harem, and the Republic of Venice languished in sacramental limbo.

    Doge Morosini looks out over his city and thinks about the tens of thousands of his people who he has just saved from certain death. He tried to take some comfort in that, but he couldn't. Not now.

    But in such circumstances ... if He was Doge of Venice, what would Christ do?

    Or Judas, for that matter?

    Probably exactly what Giacomo Morosini just did.

    (Southern Mu-lan-P'i [FN16.03] [OTL's Southern Mexico], Winter 1241-42)

    If Enrico Pescatore had not already been tired of marching through the wilderness by the time the Cathayan soldiers seized him and his party, he would be now. It just seemed to go on and on and on. None of the Cathayans spoke Arabic, much less French, Latin or Italian, so Pescatore had no idea what they wanted or where they were taking him. All he knew was they kept moving. On and on and on, day after day. Drenched by rain, torn at by branches, bitten by swarming insects, they kept going. Carlo and Martino, the two Florentine drapers, complained nearly incessantly. When they weren't complaining, they were bickering about some woman back in Italy. Pescatore gleaned that she was a prostitute and, to keep himself amused, stoked their quarrel by periodically interjecting on one side or the other. He also passed the hours developing a spot-on impersonation of Carlo, which amused Martino immensely, until Pescatore started working on mimicking him. Normally, in a sticky spot like this, Pescatore would want to present a solid front, ingratiate himself to his fellow prisoners, so he could count on them to cover his back, if necessary. He figured out early on that the two Florentines were useless, so he decided the more distance he put between them and himself, the easier it would be to sell them out to the Cathayans, should he have to. Sitting around the camp fire one night, the Cathayans talking amongst themselves in their incomprehensible language and the Florentines growling at each other, Pescatore thought that, when everything went to hell, he should have just joined a monastery ...

    ***

    (San Vitus, Isola da San Erasmus [OTL's Havana, Cuba], Fall 1241)

    Pescatore cursed and kicked the drunk some more. It didn't do Pescatore any good, but it made him feel a little better, and that was good enough. The drunk babbled incoherently that it wasn't his fault, that someone must have put something in his food, but that just mad Pescatore kick him some more. Finally, he got tired and stalked out of the godown. It was Pescatore's third strike. First, a cargo of ivory goes down in a storm. Then - and he still had trouble believing this one - Domstollander pirates seize a ship carrying his rum. And now this. It was all bad, but this was the worst. He had actually busted his hump for this one. A dozen mid-level merchants in on his colleganza, every one of them fronting him big money, a ship lined up and ready to go ... and all for one footstool-sized keg of ambergris that Pescatore bought (with his partners' money) from a very savvy beach scavenger in Fjaraland. Pescatore knew a man in Dieppe who knew a perfumer who did a lot of work for the French Court. Pescatore figured that he and each of the members of his colleganza stood to make a hundred times their investment when they sold that musty goo.

    Walking through the muddy street, he slammed his fist into his palm and cursed again. It just wasn't fair! He did it right this time, all above-board, no inflating the price then pocketing the difference, no side deals with the seller, no mysterious fire in the godown, just an honest colleganza. He even hired two men to watch the keg every minute until it accompanied Pescatore to France. One of them was the drunk who he just left writhing on the floor of the godown, the other one was gone, and so was Pescatore's keg. Now he had some explaining to do to the men who had entrusted him with their money. If you were trying to become an honest merchant after years of crooked deals, like Pescatore was, this was not the way to start.

    The only good thing about the next few days, from Pescatore's point of view, was that he never had to explain himself to his partners. The drunk took care of that. Kicking him bloody turned out to be a bad idea, because he took it personally. The drunk told Pescatore's partners that a gang of Genoese toughs had broken into the godown and (after a heroic struggle - the drunk had the cuts and bruises to back that part up) stolen the ambergris. And one of them had mentioned Pescatore's name ...

    One of Pescatore's friends tipped him off about it, so he did the only other thing that he was good at. He ran.

    That was how he wound up, a month later, in the tavern next to the Pisan godown on San Ranieri [OTL's St. Martin], nursing a large glass of rum that represented what was left of his operating capital and wondering how long it would be before his ex-partners' hired thugs caught up with him and slipped a dagger between his ribs.

    And that was where he met Carlo and Martino.

    They told him right off that they represented a colleganza of Florentine dyemakers and drapers, and said it with gravity, as if Pescatore was supposed to be impressed. Back in Italy, it was rumored that the wilds of southern Ultima Thule harbored mysterious plants. Pescatore raised his eyebrows at that, but told them to go on. With great earnestness, they told him that reliable men had said that there were plants of colors never before beheld by the human eye. Pescatore suppressed a smirk and nodded gravely. Whomever could gather these plants, the two drapers said confidentially, and turn them to dyestuffs would be fabulously wealthy.

    Pescatore said couldn't see why not. Actually, he could see several reasons why not, but he kept them to himself.

    They just needed resourceful man, they said, a man who could keep confidences, to lead their expedition to the Thulian mainland. He appeared to be such a man.

    Pescatore named an immense price. Silver. Pre-assayed, sealed purses. Up front. They settled on one fifth of that, to be paid when they returned to Florence with the dyestuffs. It seemed that they not only knew him, but knew something of the trouble he was in, which gave them an enviable negotiating position. Pescatore knew there probably were not any such plants in Ultima Thule - he had heard all sorts of wild rumors over the years, and had never been fool enough to stake money on them. But, he figured that, even if they did not find anything, their little walk in the woods would at least get him out of the Ursulines for a few months, and then a free trip back to Italy.

    That is how Pescatore wound up hacking his way through the jungles of southern Mu-lan-P'i, only to be seized by Cathayans, who, for all Pescatore knew, should still be on the other side of the world.

    ***

    They kept going. The Cathayan soldiers and their officers were not exactly polite, but they were not gratuitously harsh, and they kept them moving. Finally, the jungle thinned out and they came upon what looked to Pescatore to be a little military outpost, all freshly-hewn logs and mud. The Cathayan officer who had been overseeing them made a great show of handing them over to someone that Pescatore could only surmise was his superior. After an all-too-brief rest, they were once again on the march. Everyone except the officer, who rode a finely outfitted pony. The Florentines started bitching again and Pescatore thought he was going mad with marching and boredom. He kept tweaking Carlo and Martino until they both went to the Cathayan officer and complained to the bewildered and uncomprehending man, who just shook his head and walked away. Pescatore roared with laughter.

    They spent the next day marching uphill. Pescatore alternated between cursing their captors and snarling at the Florentines. As they crested the hill, Pescatore shut his mouth. Then he opened it again. Then he shut it again. Down there, in the foothills of the mountains, there was a little town in a big harbor. And beyond the big harbor was a big, wide ocean ...

    So the soldiers take them down the slope of the mountain and into the town. Pescatore had never seen a Cathayan town, or a Cathayan man, for that matter. Everything he knew he learned from garrulous Arab traders during his days in the Mediterranean. But everything he had seen so far had fit their descriptions of Cathay. But Ultima Thule wasn't in Cathay ... was it? As they stroll through town, which was a string of wooden buildings, some of them brightly painted, all of them obviously fairly new, strung out along the waterfront. To the Florentines' surprise and considerable indignation, they are unceremoniously dumped into a jail cell in what was obviously a government building. The enforced passivity of the march and now the confinement has been piling up on Pescatore. His sense of self-preservation, finely honed over the years, starts to fail him. So when a Cathayan officer comes to the cell and brings them before a young Cathayan in silk official-looking robes sitting at an ornate desk, he loses it.

    The earnest young man speaks in very halting Arabic. "You. Farangi?"

    Pescatore is the only one in the group who speaks Arabic, so he steps up to the desk and extends his hand. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Akbar, High King of Ireland. My companions are Francois and Giuseppe, two gentlemen late of Stockholm and points north." He looks over at Carlo and Martino and grins broadly. The two Florentines, not understanding a word, but thinking that things were going well, smile back and nodded encouragement.

    He turned back to the Cathayan official, still smiling. "So, if you do not mind, my good man, you will present us to the Burgundian consul, things will go much easier for you."

    The Cathayan looked confused and downright dismayed. Pescatore figured it out. "You" and "Farangi" had exhausted this young official's Arabic. Good. He smiled pleasantly. "And we are all famished from the journey, so we would like something to eat. I eat only wooly olifaunt and my acquaintances are partial to cutlets of giant rat. Although, obviously, not during Lent and never on Fridays."

    Now the Cathayan official just looked more confused. He pushed a small inkpot, a delicate brush and a sheet of paper across his desk to Pescatore and made a writing gesture with his hand. Without hesitating, Pescatore picked up the brush, dipped it in the ink, and in florid handwriting wrote "HRH Akbar the Flatulent, Leister, Giuseppe & Francois, Stockholm, Sweden" on the paper, then slid it back to the official. He took the paper, bowed politely to the Italians, and hurried out of the room. He was gone for about an hour, then he returned and ushered them into an adjoining office.

    Sitting at a writing table, decked out in Cathayan silks similar to those the Cathayan was wearing, was a European man with a big nose, heavy eyebrows and a tall, furrowed forehead. He looked to Pescatore to be about thirty or forty. The man looked at Carlo and Martino, then said reprovingly, "You two are not Swedes." He turned to Pescatore, who was beginning to get used to being astonished twice a day, and you are no more the High King of Ireland than I am, however," the man said wrinkling his nose, "I do think I will stay upwind of you."

    "You are not the High King of Ireland," Pescatore said, still somewhat rattled, "So who are you?"

    "My name," the man said, as if it was supposed to mean something to Pescatore, "is Roger Bacon. I am an Englishman from Somerset, formerly in the service of His Majesty, King Steven the Second. Now, he gestured around the room. I am a scholar-official in the employ of the great Emperor Lizong of the Song Dynasty in the Imperial Commissariat for Control and Organization of Coastal Areas [Yen Hai Chih-Chih Shi-Ssu - the Song Admiralty]."

    Pescatore decided it was time to play it straight, so he introduced himself and the Florentines. Carlo, who looked like he was about to burst, blurted out, "Is this Cathay?!"

    Bacon started, then looked at each of them, lingering on Pescatore. "So, you really don't know ..." Pescatore shook his head. "No, this is not Cathay. You are on the western coast of what Christians call Ultima Thule. You honestly did not expect to find ..."

    "Cathayans?" Pescatore injected. "No. In fact, we did not even know there was a great sea on the other side of the mainland."

    And so Bacon told them the story (although no one really asked him to), as he read it in the Cathayan annals, and as it was told to him.

    "Over a century ago, in 1126 by Christian reckoning, southern Cathay was invaded from the north by the armies of a people called the Jurchens, or the Jin, who already controlled much of the north. They surrounded the imperial capital at Kaifeng and captured the emperor and his brother, but one of the emperor's sons, who was known as Zhao Gou, eventually escaped."

    The Florentines snickered at the names, and Pescatore told them to be silent or he would silence them. Bacon frowned and continued.

    "The son who escaped was deeply sorrowful at his father's capture, but was persuaded to take up the imperial mantle himself, to lead the resistance to the invaders and became Emperor Gaouzong. He wept bitterly at taking the throne, but his obligation to his captive family meant that he had no choice. The Cathayans, you see, strongly believe in family duty.

    So, Emperor Gaozong's generals carried on the fight against the Jin until February of 1129, when the Jin army approached their new capital at Yangzhou. His advisors dithered, not wanting to leave the luxuries of the capital, not wanting to believe that the enemy was upon them. When the Emperor finally did flee, Jin horsemen were close behind and he wound up, without escort, alone amidst the exodus of the common people. This was very upsetting for the Emperor - " Bacon glanced at Pescatore, who was looking very dubious. Bacon smiled wryly. "Cathayan emperors, you see, are not like 'proper' Christian kings, leaping onto horseback at a moment's notice to lop some poor fools' heads off. They spend their lives in seclusion from the outside world. Good emperors devote their time to study and governance of the Empire. Bad ones are consumed by licentiousness." Pescatore nodded. After struggling through the Thulian jungle for weeks with whining, dimwitted Florentine drapers, some time with a palace harem sounded good to him.

    "The Emperor had a very difficult time from then on. His father, the former Emperor, died in Jin captivity. Emperor Gaozong had established himself at Hangzhou -"

    Carlo piped up, "I thought he fled Hangzhou!" Pescatore shot Carlo a scowl, but Bacon was unperturbed, "No, that was Yangzhou. This is Hangzhou. You would do well to listen carefully, sir, if you expect to learn anything." Bacon continued:

    "The war was going so poorly, he was even briefly ousted as Emperor by some of his followers, but restored shortly thereafter. In 1129, the Jin armies burst through the Cathayan defenses, pillaging and burning as they went. Emperor Gaouzong issued an edict blaming himself -"

    At this, the Florentines guffawed and even Pescatore snorted incredulously. Who had ever heard of such a thing! Kings and emperors don't send out the heralds to announce to their vassals that they are at fault!

    "No, upon my oath it is true!" Bacon exclaimed. "I told you that Cathayan emperors are not like Christian or even Saracen kings and emperors. Their government is very sophisticated, and their beliefs are very, very different. Good sirs, are you going to continually interrupt me, or do you want to hear what I have to say?" The Italians beckoned him to continue, so he did.

    "Under Emperor Gaozong served a ... chancellor of sorts, Chief Councilor Qin Gui. He was what the Cathayan histories call an 'All-Powerful Chief Councilor.' The Cathayan historians greatly disapprove of such persons, since they usurp the prerogatives of the emperors and use them to their own ends. In any event, Emperor Gaozong made peace with the Jin in 1141, and was forced to pay them an annual tribute of 300 taels of silver and 300 taels of silk."

    "What's a 'tael?" piped in Carlo.

    "It is a Cathayan unit of value," responded Bacon, somewhat impatiently. "A greater shame than the tribute, however, was the humiliating language of the treaty. The Southern Emperor was forced to call the Jin Emperor his older sibling, meaning that the Southern Emperor was his inferior. Then, in 1242, the great Cathayan general, who had won many victories against the Jin, was arrested on false charges and poisoned in prison. It is said that all these things weighed very heavily on Emperor Gaozong, so heavily that he was, er, unable to perform his imperial duties."

    The Florentines, being of more ribald thinking than Pescatore, got it immediately and guffawed, much to Bacon's annoyance. Pescatore understood and winced. Not that it had ever happened to him, mind you, but that had to be bad.

    "The doctors of the Inner Court could do nothing, nor could the most alluring of the Emperor's concubines. The imperial authorities searched far and wide - discreetly, of course - for anything that could restore the Emperor's potency. Finally, Qin Gui came in contact with an official who had known traders of the race the Cathayans called "Tah-shih" [Arabs]. The official told Qin Gui that the Tah-shih had sailed west beyond their lands and discovered a land the Cathayans came to call Mu-lan-P'i. In this land there were animals with great horns and also giant beavers. The Cathayans associate horns and beavers with medicines that restore virility. Qin Gui, knowing that if he gave the Emperor back his virility, his position at court would be secure against all enemies forever, arranged for an expedition of six great ships to be dispatched. The idea of mysterious lands beyond the seas was not new to the Cathayans, and the Chinese imported many foreign medicines and ingredients for medicines - including horn - from India and Africa. Also, over 900 years ago, the magician Hsu Fu claimed that a plant that could be made into a potion for immortality existed on distant islands to the east. Again and again, he tricked the Emperor into giving him more ships and more people to try to reach the mysterious islands, but each time was prevented by winds, waves, clouds or dragons. Finally, Hsu Fu disappeared, along with several thousand men and women he had taken with him. It was said that he finally reached the islands and, not wanting to share the secret of immortality with the Emperor, refused to return. Even now, he and his followers live immortal lives in great luxury on the islands. Between the time of Hsu Fu and the present day, it is said that others secretly sailed out into the great Eastern and Southern Oceans in search of immortality and none returned [FN16.04]."

    "So on the anointed day, the six great ships of Quin Gui's fleet departed Shanghai, where the Cathayan Navy was based. He did not go along himself, of course, but the fleet was commanded by a prominent eunuch [again with the cheap irony ...]. Oh, the size and appointments of Cathayan ships - even those from hundreds of years ago - would astonish you! Cogs of the Brittanic Sea and even Domstolland ships of the Western Ocean are mere rafts when compared to them! The larger ships can carry a year's provender and, they have special ships just for carrying fresh water. Hundreds of sailors and merchants can travel on each ship - and each merchant can have his own cabin!

    Pescatore who had spent too many nights on too many voyages bunked with too many stinking crewmen, was really beginning to get envious of Cathayan merchants.

    "The ships have up to five masts with magnificent stiffened angular sails that enable them to sail up to sail very close to the wind, and rudders the size of siege-towers that steer the giant ships very handily. Belowdecks, the ships are divided into watertight compartments, so if the hull is holed, the onrushing water can be isolated and the ship kept afloat."

    Now even Pescatore was getting kind of dubious. How could these Cathayans have created such things? The weren't even Christians! But then again, he knew of many clever Saracen devices ... "The ships we saw in the harbor were not so large."

    Bacon waved his hand dismissively. "Those were mere sampans, coastal ships for fishing and carrying small cargos. None of the great ships are in harbor today. But you will see them." That sounded vaguely ominous to Pescatore.

    "So, the fleet of six ships departed. They sailed for thousands of li to the East, through storms and great waves. Eventually, they reached the Western coast of what we call Ultima Thule, and what the Cathayans named Mu-lan-P'i, after Hsu Fu's mysterious land. They found the giant beavers, and the great horned animals [bison latifrons [FN16.05]], and something else, something much more valuable to Cathayans than horns or beavers -"

    "Gold?" asked Carlo excitedly.

    "Silver?" chimed in Martino.

    "Drapes?" squeaked Pescatore, doing his Carlo imitation. Both Florentines looked daggers at him.

    "You," said Bacon, pointing his finger at Pescatore, "should stop playing the fool." Bacon continued:

    "No, they found horses. The gold came later ..."

    Empty America: Part 17 - Ride with the Devil / Blue Cathay (Part 2)


    Meet the Mongols. Come on out and greet the Mongols

    As of 1241, the punching power of the Mongol army is cavalry, divided into tumen (10,000 men), minghans (1,000), jagun (100) and arbans (10). Officers of the arban and jagun are elected. Above that level they are appointed by the Khan and given the rank of noyan. When deployed on campaign, a Mongol army consists, generally, of three or more tumen along with several minghans of artillery (trebuchets and ballistae) and engineers. Every Mongol horseman travels with four to five remounts. Mongols preferred riding mares because when supplies ran short, they could live on the milk.

    Mongol heavy cavalry are armored with an iron helmet and a mail coat which under an oxhide or iron-scaled cuirass. The heavies carry a scimitar, battle axe or mace and a twelve-foot lance.

    Mongol light cavalry are armored with a cuirass of lacquered leather strips and a leather helmet. They carry a small sword and one or two javelins. The ratio of light to heavy cavalry is about two to one.

    Every Mongol light cavalryman carries up to three composite bows (made of layered horn and sinew on a wooden frame and covered with waterproof lacquer), one for long and one for short range, and two quivers with a minimum of sixty arrows. Mongol archers carry a variety of specialized arrows, including 3-foot long armor piercing arrows whose heads were forged then cooled in brine, whistling arrows for signals, incendiary and grenade-tipped arrows. Mongol officers routinely check their soldiers' kit, and those who have not kept them in shape are punished.

    The Mongol composite bow has a pull of 100 to 160 lbs and an effective range of 350 yards [FN17.01]. By way of comparison, a 14th Century English longbow had a pull of 75 pounds and an effective range of about 250 yards, and good luck firing one on horseback. (Of course, that mattered little because mounted archers were virtually unknown in Medieval Europe. Note I said virtually.) A conventional bow of 13th century European vintage had an effective range of about 150 yards [FN17.02]. The Mongols also wore a stone thumb-ring which enabled a more sudden arrow release. A Mongol archer could string his bow on horseback and shoot between the paces of the horse for greater accuracy.

    Mongol scouts and relay-riders are of legendary ability. A Mongol commander could coordinate the movement of his forces even when they were dispersed over a very wide area. Mongol armies could move sixty miles per day, roughly twice that of fast-moving European armies of the same period. In combat, Mongol commanders used a system of signaling flags to control their forces. European foes were somewhat perplexed that the Mongols advanced without battle cries or trumpets. During winters in peacetime, the Mongol army would participate in the Great Hunt, a sort of three-month-long proto-wargame involving precision maneuver.

    The Mongol armies are, essentially, the state of the art fighting force of the Middle Ages. One author compared them, because of their emphasis on organization, intelligence, communications, mobility and firepower, to a modern army being ISOTed (sans weaponry, of course) to medieval times.

    And we all know how painful that can be.


    * * *


    What follows a summary of some Really Bad things that happened OTL on the way to the Really Bad ATL things. In a nutshell, the Mongol armies under the overall command of Batu Khan and the great general Subedei Khan, having subjugated the Russian principalities, turn their attention now to the conquest of Hungary and points west. Why, you ask? The Mongols are convinced that it is the will of Heaven (Tengri) that they should conquer the world. (Plus, before his death Genghis Khan expressed a desire that the Mongol Empire expand westward.)

    The Great Khan is the living representative of the Tengri, and the nations of the Earth must be brought to submission.

    Its just that simple.

    In February, 1241, an army of 60,000 Mongol soldiers departs Russia [FN17.03]. The immediate intention of their operational commander, Subedei Khan, is the conquest of Hungary. However, believing that the rulers of Eastern Europe would present a united front against the Mongol invasion, Subedei and the nominal commander of the entire expedition, Genghis Khan's grandson Batu Khan, decide to divide their forces. The smaller army, consisting of two tumens commanded by Baidar and Kadan head north into Poland in March. Their job is to secure the right flank of the Hungarian invasion by drawing the attention of the kings and princes of northeastern Europe and preventing them from coming to the aid of King Bela II of Hungary. Having accomplished their task, the northern column was to dash south help the southern army finish off the Hungarians. The second and larger army, the one bearing down on Hungary like the wrath of God, was commanded by Batu and Subedei. Subedei, shortly after peeling off the northern army, breaks the southern army into three contingents. Each makes its way through the Carpathians by a different route.

    Although the monarchs of Eastern Europe have hardly joined together hand in hand in defense of Christendom, they are not ignorant of the peril that is roaring out of the East. Count Boleslaw IV (who claimed to be King of a very disunited Poland), has raised an army of Poles, Germans, other foreign knights, and units of the military orders, primarily the Teutonic Knights. Duke Henry of Silesia took a similar path. In 1240, Emperor Frederick II sounds the trumpets for the defense of Europe. However, the clarion call is a mistake on his part - it signals that he is not going to be leading the effort himself. Rumors (begun by a letter circulated by the Bishop of Ferrara) begin to swirl that Imperial messengers have been seen in the company of the Mongol armies and that Frederick has invited the Mongols into Europe to destroy Christianity.

    Poland, as usual, is having a tough time of it. In February, Baidar and Kadan lay waste to Lublin and Zawichost. Moving slowly, they cross the Vistula on the ice Kadan then heads northwest to hit Mazovia, while Baidar heads southwest towards Crackow. Vladimir, the Palatine of Crackow, rides out and attacks the Mongols, who break and run. Vladimir follows [FN17.031].

    Sucker.

    Having successfully lured Vladimir out of the city, on March 18, Baidar ambushes the Poles at Chmielnik, eleven miles away. Vladimir and most of his soldiers perish. On March 24, the Mongols burn Crackow. As the bridges over the Oder have been burned, Baidar must take a little time out to gather up boats and build a pontoon bridge. Baidar and Kadan are to meet in Breslau, but by the time Baidar arrives, he finds the town burned and the people fled into the citadel. So he sets up a siege. But while he is busy with that, he learns that Duke Henry of Silesia is assembling an army at Liegnitz, 40 miles away and that King Wenceslas of Bohemia is marching to join him. Henry has about 40,000 men, many of whom are untrained and ill-equipped (German miners and so forth) Baidar abandons the siege and joins up with Kadan.

    On April 9, Baidar and Kadan wipe out the Poles, Germans, Teutonic Knights, etc at Leignitz, inflicting about 25,000 to 30,000 casualties. The Knights of the Orders fight to the last man. Henry is also killed. Baidar and Kadan send nine sacks of severed ears (one from each enemy corpse) to Batu, attesting to their victory. King Wenceslas, who was marching to join Henry with 50,000 men, hears of the defeat and falls back to collect reinforcements from Thuringia and Saxony. Baidar and Kadan decide that, because of casualties sustained at Leignitz, they are too weak to take on Wenceslas, decide against another major battle [FN17.04]. They make a quick feint to mess with Wenceslas' head, then ride around his army and south into Hungary.

    King Bela of Hungary, unfortunately, was having difficulty convincing his nobles that the threat to their country was real, and that confronting it was more important than continuing the ongoing conflict between the Crown and the Nobility. Papal legates do their bit by trying to recruit Hungarian knights for a crusade, not against the Mongols, but against the Emperor. The recalcitrant Hungarian nobles demand that Bela dismiss his Cuman (another name for Kipchak steppe people) units, believing them to be (a) a Mongol fifth column, and (b) a source of power for their king over which they had no control. From the nobles' point of view, it is difficult to see which is worse.

    Bela is reluctant, since the Cuman leaders have offered to put 40,000 horsemen at his disposal. Unlike the Cumans, Duke Frederick of Austria is being singularly unhelpful. In response to Bela's call for aid, Frederick (Bela's personal foe) arrives in Hungary with a small force, intending to observe and await the opportunity to seize some Hungarian districts west of the Danube, should the opportunity arise. But then, not satisfied to merely wait and see, he meddles in the conflict between Bela and his nobles. As the Mongol invasion progresses, Bela accedes to the nobles' demands and arrests the Cumans' leaders, who are subsequently massacred by Frederick and some Hungarian nobles. The Cuman rank and file, justifiably enraged, ride north to Austria (or off to Bulgaria, depending upon which historian you ask), sacking Hungarian towns as they go. Duke Frederick, presumably satisfied that he had done enough for the defense of Christendom, gathers up his army and departs for Austria himself.

    So much for the unified ranks of Christian nobility that the Mongols were concerned about.

    Batu's main army comes rolling out of the mountains, advancing on Pest at a brisk clip of 40 or 60 miles a day - again, depending upon which historian you ask. Either way, it is not bad, considering they were moving through the snow. In late March the Mongol forces assemble within a short distance of Buda, as was the plan. They then retreat. King Bela, sensing an opportunity, falls for the Mongol tactic like a ton of relics and leads 100,000 men in pursuit. Or was it 80,000. The numbers are slippery. In any event, the Hungarian army is quite good, by European standards, anyway, and the Hungarian cavalry is purportedly the best in Europe. In this context, that is faint praise.

    The Mongols retreat slowly, coaxing them onto a battlefield that Subedei has chosen for them - the heath of Mohi, near the confluence of the Sajo and Tisza Rivers. Bela camps on the plain of Mohi and laagers his wagons. It is on this plain that the Mongols crush the army of Hungary. Batu, with 30,000 men, holds the front against the Hungarians' charge (which inflicts some significant damage to the tightly-packed Mongol formation) and then Subedei hit the Hungarians from the rear. The Hungarians, devastated by Mongol archery and broken by a counter-charge of Siban's heavy cavalry, fall back into their laager, but they are surrounded. The Mongols bring out the catapults and batter the wagon-fortress with burning tar and naphtha. They then open a gap in their lines, tempting the Hungarians to come out and try to escape. The Mongols let a few through, to encourage more, who promptly follow, creating a strung-out column of refugees, throwing down their gear and fleeing from the battle. The Mongols ride along their flanks and shoot them down, or attack them with lance and sabre. Bela's force is effectively annihilated, having sustained as many as 65,000 dead [FN17.05].

    Bela escapes. Unfortunately, he escapes to Austria, where Duke Frederick seizes him and extorts money and the cession of territory before letting him go free. Then Bela flees for real, eventually making it to Croatia

    While the Mongols are destroying Christian armies in Hungary and Poland, the Emperor is taking Faenza in Lombardy, after a prolonged siege. But he has not forgotten about the menace from the east. It is just that he is not inclined to set aside more important things to do anything about himself. He believes that the Mongols are at the end of their tether and too absorbed in their conquest of Hungary to be any further threat. He had previously received a letter from Batu depending that he submit, and joked that perhaps he was qualified to be the Great Khan's falconer. In May, his son, 13 year old King Conrad of Germany, is appointed to lead the Crusade against the Mongols. The Emperor orders that every man with an income of over three marks must take up arms. In July, Duke Frederick, perhaps thinking that he had not done enough on behalf of western civilization, invades unoccupied Hungary. Hungarian Counts Cosmos and Achilles (now there is a portentous name) successfully defend Pressburg against the Austrian onslaught.

    In France, the Count of Lorraine is sounding the alarm. However, King (later Saint) Louis awaits the Mongol onslaught with the resignation of a martyr. He writes a letter to the French Templars (before hearing of the catastrophes at Leignitz and Mohi) saying, "If by God's will they should be defeated, these Tartars will find no one to stand between them as far as your land." Talking about the Tartar menace with his mother, Queen Blanche, Louis says, "We have this consolation from Heaven, Mother. If these people whom we call Tartars come against us, either we shall send them back to Hell where they came from, or they will send us to Heaven, where we shall enjoy the bliss that awaits the chosen."

    In the wake of the Polish and Hungarian defeats, panic sweeps Europe, and wild stories spring up. Ivo of Narbonne say that Mongol princes have the heads of dogs and that their soldiers were cannibals. In Germany, many believe that the Mongols are lost tribes of Israel and that Jewish merchants are smuggling weapons to them. Butchery of Jewish traders ensues.

    In August, while Batu is resting his soldiers and horses east of the Danube, Pope Gregory IX dies and the Emperor is on the outskirts of Rome. The College of Cardinals is assembled to select a successor. The elderly Cardinals are assembled in a ruined Roman palace, where they are held under Imperial guard and suffering in the heat [FN17.06]. Eventually, they wind up electing Celestine IV, who dies a couple of weeks later either before, or shortly after, being formally invested. The Cardinals, who fled to Anagi as soon as they were free to go, refuse to reassemble. The Emperor still holds captive two cardinals that the Genoans captured at sea after the battle of Giglio, but that won't get him a legitimate Pope, which is what he needs. The Emperor promises to return to Germany once a new Pope is elected. He is rapidly squandering the good will he has earned in Germany by his broad concessions to his princes and his magnetic personality. The Emperor is widely perceived as leaving the Empire at the mercy of the invaders.

    While the Emperor schemes to elect a Pope who will do his bidding, the Mongols are systematically depopulating areas of Hungary. They promise the peasantry protection if they bring the harvest in, then reneg and slaughter them once they have the food in hand. By some estimates, half of the population of Hungary dies during the Mongol invasion.

    The summer passes without further Mongol advance, and Europe is lulled into a false sense of security. Papal legates again have their priorities mixed up, and tell would-be crusaders to stay home until they can be called out against the Emperor. Bishops and princes assembled for the crusade against the Mongols disperse, but not before divvying up amongst themselves the money collected to pay the crusading soldiers.

    On Christmas Day, 1241, Batu Khan crosses the Danube and attacks Gran, a cosmopolitan city and seat of the Primate of Hungary. The Mongols storm the outer city and bombard the inner city. They capture prominent citizens and roast them over fires, forcing them to reveal where they have hidden their treasures. The Mongols later lift their siege of Gran and move toward Austria, laying waste to the countryside as far as Weiner Neustadt. Mongol scouts are seen near Klosternuburg on the northern outskirts of Vienna. The Dukes of Austria and Carinthia along with the Patriarch of Aquileia and the Marquis of Baden, engage the Mongol reconnaissance detachment and defeat it.

    Kadan also crossed the Danube, sacked Buda, and advanced toward Gyor. Then took one tumen and headed south towards Zagreb to search for King Bela. Part of Kadan's detachment materializes outside Udine, sixty miles north of Venice.

    It is right around this point that the events of ATL start to take over ...

    (Kuei-Men [OTL Acapulco][17.07], Mu-lan-P'i, Winter 1241-42)

    "Horses?" said Pescatore.

    "Yes, horses." Bacon got up from his writing table and began walking the room. Pescatore thought he was working himself up for something important. "The Cathayans, you see, are very self-sufficient. Cathay is such a huge country, it is like a whole world. The Cathayans need import very little. The do trade with the Hindoos and with Africa -" That startled Pescatore, whose idea of Africa was the Mediterranean coast. It took him a second to realize that Bacon must be talking about a different part of Africa than he was thinking of. He certainly had not seen any of these great Cathayan ships in Tunis or Alexandria. That gave him a thought.

    "Signore Bacon," Pescatore interjected, "If the Cathayans could build these miraculous ships and travel across the sea to Ultima Thule, why do they not come to, say Aragon or England?"

    Bacon stopped his pacing and snorted. "For what? Wine? Wool? They have better wine at home and," he brushed his knuckles on the fine silk lapel of his robe, "they have no need of English wool." That pretty much shut Pescatore up. He knew a thing or two about the Cathayan trade, and, now that he thought about it, he really could not think of any reason for the Cathayans to go to all the trouble to go to Christendom, when Venetians, Genoans, Saracens and everyone else who could manage it were trying like mad to get to Cathay. He politely asked Bacon to continue.

    "The one important thing that the Cathayans have had to import has been horses for their army, which is huge beyond the imaginings of any Christian prince. The great hosts of Xerxes would be dwarfed by the Cathayan army. But, they have had to trade with their nomadic neighbors to get horses, a fact that has always rankled them. They have the goods to trade, but the thought of enriching those on their borders who might someday invade them, is dissatisfying. So, when the young Admiral Shih Cheng-Chih arrived in Mu-lan-P'i and found herds of thousands of suitable horses, easily captured, docile and roaming the countryside, he knew he must bring some of them back with him to show the Emperor."

    "Admiral Cheng-Chih and his men remained in Mu-lan-P'i for an entire year, exploring the coastline and dispatching parties inland. Of course, in addition to the great horned animal to restore the Emperor's potency, they found many other marvelous strange creatures, many of which they captured for the Emperor's menagerie. The return voyage to Cathay was very difficult, and many of their animals died, but Admiral Cheng-Chih had succeeded beyond what was expected of him."

    "In Kaifeng, Emperor Gaozong was very pleased, as was Chief Councilor Qin Gui. The Emperor's potency returned [FN17.08] and Qin Gui's influence soared. After much discussion, it was decided that the Emperor would dispatch a second, larger expedition to bring back as many of the horses as possible, as well as any other valuable or useful things that they found. The Emperor was particularly interested in more exotica for his menagerie. In Chinese mythology, there are animals that are seen as signs of good fortune, and Emperor Gaozong was eager to bring such animals to court. And so, the great shipwrights of the Ch'ihchow shipyards went to work designing special ships, whose sole purpose would be to transport horses and other animals across the great Eastern Ocean. These ships were very deep draft, so they would not roll greatly with the waves, and they had great open spaces - both above and below-decks - for exercising the horses over the long voyage and great holds for fodder and fresh water. They also built even larger ships for carrying goods and men than the junks that brought the first voyage. They also assembled the most eminent geographers and botanists to study Mu-lan-P'i."

    "So, in 1245, Admiral Cheng-Chih departed again, this time with a fleet of ten ships, each one more fit for the voyage than those he sailed on before. They sailed down the coast until they found an excellent deep-water harbor, which they named Jen Men [FN17.09] [OTL's, you guessed it, San Francisco]. They established themselves there, then set out hunting for wild horses. They roamed far and wide in search of wild horses and creatures for the Emperor's menagerie. It was in a small river near Jen Men that a party hunting for giant beavers first discovered the gold. The Cathayans immediately went to work - all those who were not rounding up horses or curiosities - panning for gold. By the time they had gathered all the horses that they could carry back to Cathay, they had also mined quite a bit of gold dust and flake, which they formed into bars in their shipboard forges. Then, Admiral Cheng-Chih made a momentous decision - he would leave one ship and crew behind to continue mining and protect the gold-bearing streams from any interlopers."

    "The journey back to Cathay was a difficult one. More than a few of the horses died of sheer fright at being confined in a ship on the open ocean. But eventually Admiral Cheng-Chih and his officers and men made it back to Shanghai. Then, a great controversy erupted about whether Admiral Cheng-Chih had done the proper thing by mining the gold and leaving a ship behind -"

    Pescatore's incredulity must have shown on his face, because Bacon nodded and said, "I could not believe it myself, when I first read of it. Imagine, a prestigious officer threatened with punishment - even death! - for discovering gold, and seeing to it that no other king or emperor could get his hands on it. But there were many factions in the Emperor's Inner Court, men who were threatened by the power of Qin Gui, men who wished to prevent him from amassing more power. There were also sincere men, officials who followed the principles of the great thinker Confucius. In some interpretations, travel away from Cathay was considered contrary to his teachings because it interfered with a Cathayan's duties to his family and his ancestors."

    Bacon clasped his hands behind his back and paced the floor. "So, many men, some sincere and some opportunists, sought to thwart the establishment of a permanent Cathayan colony in Mu-lan-P'i. But the Emperor was adamant that Cathay could gain from being in the New World. He saw it not only as a way to enrich the State and alleviate the tax burden on the people, but also to thwart the Jin. You see, since the discovery of Mu-lan-P'i came so soon after the Jin imposed their tribute upon Cathay, the Emperor thought it was the will of Heaven that Cathay should be made richer rather than poorer from its defeat."

    "So while the opponents could interfere, they could not prevent it. They enacted many ridiculous strictures, preventing the growing of rice or millet in Mu-lan-P'i, prohibiting the construction of stone or brick buildings, requiring that all governmental offices be in junks in the harbor, banning women from the colony, and requiring that any man who died overseas be brought back to Cathay for burial. They even refused to establish proper civil government in Mu-lan-P'i, leaving the government to the Admiralty. The Emperor, while all-powerful, was not all-knowing, and as long as the gold ships kept arriving, he was satisfied."

    "Despite the restraints, the Cathayans kept coming to Mu-lan-P'i. At first, the Emperor dispatched the Army to mine for gold. Although the Army was huge, there were many men who were not fit to fight, so the Emperor put them to work. Many merchants, craftsmen and settlers followed. The Cathayans also sent many exploration parties inland from the coast to seek out more gold and silver. For centuries, Cathayans have been finding buried gold and silver by carefully examining the plants growing on the surface. Of course, the flora of Mu-lan-P'i was different from that of Cathay, but they brought this principle across the Eastern Ocean with them and used it to find much more gold."

    "Sorcery," said Carlo emphatically. For once, Pescatore was inclined to agree with the Florentine. Who ever heard of such a thing? Bacon shook his head. "No, merely careful observation. Over the years, especially after the fall of Chief Councilor Qin Gui and the restoration of balanced government, all the restraints that were placed on the settlement of Mu-lan-P'i fell away. A new school of Confucian thinkers became ascendant whose thought was called 'gong li,' which put practical matters ahead of other things. Of course, a prospering colony in the New World was very harmonious with this school of thought. They also thought of crushing the Jin and unifying Cathay once more, and the wealth of Mu-lan-P'i served their purposes."

    "Eventually, Emperor established proper government in Mu-lan-P'i, which is now fifteen xian [counties], three zhou [prefectures] making up one lu [circuit]..."

    Pescatore had no idea what that meant and he was never particularly interested in government. He really wished that Bacon would get back to the bit about the gold. That had gotten him thinking about all sorts of things ... wait a second.

    "Um, Signore Bacon, this is all very interesting. But how did you come to be here?"

    Bacon stopped pacing and looked at Pescatore. "That is an entirely different story ..."

    Empty America: Part 18 - Intermission


    (Serindib, Fjaraland League, Summer, 1241)

    In his light cotton tunic and trousers, Niccolo da Conti smiles and leans against the doorway and watches the Cathar Perfect amble down the road to the front gate. It has become sort of a ritual with the two men. Peter Roger, the Perfect, will drop in for a visit and, over lunch and a couple of bottles of wine, he will take a shot at converting da Conti to the Cathar faith. Da Conti, who just last year paid an immense sum to the Vatican to restore himself to the good graces of the Church, will pour the wine, listen attentively, argue genially the comparative merits of Catholicism and Catharism, and in the end, Peter will bless him and be on his way. Da Conti has long suspected that Peter knows it is a fool's errand, but he thinks that it is the quality of both the conversation and da Conti's wine cellar that keeps him coming back. Peter is ascetic enough - da Conti has stopped trying to tempt him with his cook's outstanding herbed chicken - but certainly not above (beneath?) an occasional meal in the opulent villa of a friend.

    He just has the fish.

    Da Conti walks back into his house, his sandals slapping on the tiles and drops into his chair with a little grunt of appreciation that wasn't there a few years ago. It's not the years, it's the mileage, he tells himself. The warm ocean breeze flutters silk curtains as he picks up his wineglass and gives it a little swirl. The wine is another ritual, this one with the son of another good friend. Like clockwork, a new vintage arrives every year, tribute (of a sort) from the best winery on Jasirah al-Sin. He toasts himself for a life's work - both Musa's and his own - well done, then takes a sip and leans back into his chair.

    Ahhh ...

    Then he is awakened by a cacophony of young, raucous voices storming through the house.

    "Nonno! Nonno! He's here! He's back! Come quick! Come see!"

    His grandchildren, three boys and a girl, ages five through nine, come rushing into the room. Da Conti smiles. Another little ritual. He opens. "You little hellions! Why do you wake an old man from his afternoon nap? Have you no respect?!"

    "Nonno! You must come see!"

    "I must do nothing!" Da Conti roars with mock indignation. "You rascals with your fairy stories! Why should I get up from my chair for such nonsense?"

    "No! He's here, Nonno! Come quick and see!" They are gathered around his chair now, a crowd of curly-haired, olive-skinned little demons, jumping, yelling pulling at his hands, trying to hoist him up.

    Da Conti harrumphs. "I'll come, but if you make me get out of my chair for nothing, by the Virgin and all the Saints, I will sell the lot of you to the Saracens!"

    "Every time! Every time, we show you, then you forget!" That's the key of the game - Nonno, the grumpy, addled old man always forgets, and in a few days he will not believe them when they start talking about Gregory. That is their cue to hunt up Gregory, then come rampaging into the house to bring da Conti outside to see him.

    Finally, after a proper amount of pleading and insistent tugging from the assembled multitude, da Conti levers himself out of his seat with a grunt that is mostly - but not entirely, Jesus, but the days he's seen! - for effect, then lets them push-pull him out of the house, past the western gate of the house grounds and down the trail towards the scrub wood. He walks with an exaggerated shuffle, groaning and protesting all the way. His foot-dragging just gets the children more wound up for fear that they will miss Gregory and Nonno will finally make good with his repeated threat to ship them off to Tunis.

    Sometimes, when the game is done, da Conti wonders if in the back of their little minds they don't think he would actually do it. While da Conti certainly has done his best to keep the truth from them, he can never be sure that his sons haven't engaged in a little unguarded conversation within earshot, and the truth has come out.

    Because the truth is, da Conti has gotten a lot of blood on his hands in the last two and a half decades. Building an empire for Venice, well - for himself, really - has not been a pretty task. In quieter moments, sometimes he can still hear the groaning and crying of the Cumans in the holds of the slave ships. The memory invariably sends him reaching for his decanter. Conscience, something he could not afford in his younger days, is his curse of old age.

    But now its done. He's retired, out of the business. Out of all business. He handed his commercial affairs off to his sons, gathered up his silver and slipped quietly away to a secluded part of Fjaraland. Somewhere along the line, while the empire-building was still going strong, he found the time to marry. Lovely girl, from a prominent trading family in Amalfi. Da Conti counts himself very lucky - what began as a business alliance became a love match. Now, years later, that lovely girl is a formidable nonna with streaks of iron-gray in her curly black hair. Had she been at the villa when their grandchildren came storming in like a barbarian horde to fetch their grandfather, none of them would have been sitting down for the rest of the day. But no, she was down in the village, helping the estate's midwife deliver a baby. The signore and signora of Villa da Conti take care of their charges. Free men and women, every last one of them. Conscience again, and the importuning of Peter Roger saw to that.

    Out of business, but not idle. Da Conti is a famous name in Ultima Thule, and the petty potentates of the settlements that started springing up along the eastern seaboard often seek his counsel and his support. The Fjaraland League is his creation, mutual defense against the ravages of the Domstollander corsairs who sweep south from their loghports in search of plunder. The League, a sparsely-inhabited polyglot of miniature republics, kingdoms and dukedoms, now stretches many miles north, and its log-and-earth bastions guard the ports and inlets against the raiders. When defense does not suffice, the militias of the League can take to their boats, sortie forth and exact vengeance. Every year, da Conti notes with some satisfaction, the League grows stronger and the pagan raiders pay a higher and higher price for their ravages.

    Given the lawless nature of Ultima Thule, da Conti has more than once been called upon to arbitrate boundary disputes among the kings, podestas and princes of the League. The adventurers who have carved their domains in the New World quickly recognize him as one of their own, but with sufficient wealth to be immune from subornation and insufficient ambition to play them off of each other. With few exceptions, they defer to his judgments. Da Conti, with an eye on his own mortality, is subtlety but persistently working on a permanent structure for the League as a loose confederation with a bishop or some other luminary as titular head and arbitrator. Another legacy.

    But elder statesman is a mere diversion. Trudging through the scrub and the weeds with his rambunctious grandchildren urging him forward, he is immersed in his real avocation. And, there, in the little clearing in the woods, he beheld Gregory. He was powerful, yet slow-moving and dim-witted, which inspired da Conti, in years past, to name him after the Pope, a sloth the size of an olifaunt levers his head up towards the tree-tops, where he munches contentedly on the palm fronds. Da Conti's grandchildren, leap up and down, cheering with jubilant vindication. Da Conti smiles. Watching one of God's miracles, surrounded by the exultation of four more, the real reason that Peter toils in vain to turn him to the Cathar faith. For all the horror he has seen in his life - some of his own making, to be sure - he cannot bring himself to believe that this world is the work of the Prince of Darkness. He sits his tired bones down in the dirt, gathers the children around him and they watch the giant enjoy his midday meal.

    Let others rake the world for silver and silks, crowns and coronets, for Niccolo da Conti, this is more than enough.

    Empty America: Part 19 - Ride with the Devil/Blue Cathay (Part 3)[FN19.005]

    [singing]

    "As I went down to the river to pray
    Studyin about that good ol' way
    and who shall wear the starry crown?
    Good Lord show me the way!"


    The Tatar ambassador is clearly angry this time, and the Coptic translator conveys it for Doge Giacomo Morosini. "He is hiding on an island, protected by the sea. Your ships control the sea. You shelter him." That is not the way this ... arrangement was supposed to work, thinks the Doge. But there is a Tatar army on the march.

    The Doge licks his dry lips and says, very carefully, "We will do it -"

    His consigliore interjects, "My Doge, no!"

    "Silence. You will have our ... cooperation. On one condition." Morosini picks his words very carefully. "Bela's blood must not be spilled."

    The translator translates. The Tatar ambassador smiles. It is agreed.

    After they depart, Morosini slumps in his throne. Another silent Sunday in the City of San Marco. The people's call for him to defy the interdict has become more insistent of late. Morosini has remained adamant. So long as the church bells remain silent, so long as the sacraments are gone, the Republic is beyond the pale of Christendom. Beyond its laws. Beyond its loyalties.

    When what must be done is finally done, then the bells will peal again.

    Two weeks later, King Bela II of Hungary boards a Venetian galley, expecting to be taken to the Lion City. Instead, he is handed over to Kadan's army on the Croatian coast. Bela is wrapped in a carpet and kicked to death by horses. The Mongols are true to their word. Not a drop of his blood is spilled.

    Among the Venetians' many political innovations, one of the most prominent is "plausible deniability," the Latin term for which I am sure Machiavelli could provide us with.


    "O sisters let's go down
    Lets go down, Come on down
    O sisters lets go down
    Down in the river to pray"

    he main Mongol force under Subedei and Batu is driving on Vienna. The Duke of Austria, along with his allies, the Duke of Carinthia, Patriarch of Aquila and Marquis of Baden, confident in their forces because of their earlier defeat of one of Batu's reconnaissance detachments, keep their armies in the field, rather than retreat behind the walls of Vienna. This is, of course, exactly what the Mongol commander wants. Steppe warriors are more comfortable in open battle than in siege. It is on the Bratislava-Vienna road that Europeans encounter the full strength of the Mongol armies.

    The ensuing battle is almost a textbook example of the superiority of Mongol tactics and discipline. There are few survivors. One of them is the Duke of Austria, who rides hell-for-leather for the "safety" of Vienna. Subedei, once he is done executing the German prisoners, moves forward in pursuit.

    Vienna is besieged. Duke Frederick rises to the occasion and survivors of his army, along with a hastily-raised city militia, conduct a formidable defense. The Mongols quickly set up their siege engines and are soon flinging stones, casks of flaming naphtha and gunpowder bombs into the city. Panic ensues - it is widely believed that the Tatars used some sort of poison gas at Leignitz, and the smoke from the projectiles scatters the defenders. Frederick tamps down the fear by walking unscathed through a stinking cloud of gunpowder smoke. The defenders resume their positions. The Viennese make the Mongol artillerymen pay for the privilege - their wheelbows can actually range the Tatar trebuchets and catapults, so they ruthlessly cut down the crews. Subedei reverts to a classic Mongol tactic and forces enemy captives to replace his men at the siege engines. This gives the Austrians pause, but once the first few stones come hurling over the walls, they begin shooting the enslaved Christians. Until, that is, the Mongols get their heavy wooden shields set up to protect the crews. On more than one occasion, the Austrians sortie from behind the walls, pots of embers and oil in hand, to attack the infernal machines. And each time the Mongols beat them back.

    ***

    As the city wall buckles and falls, Heinrich grips his sword tight and made ready to charge. In front of the breach, the crossbowmen of the Viennese city militia pump a volley into the ranks of the onrushing Mongols, then break and flee. Heinrich's sergent bellows at them for their cowardice, then turns to his men and roars, "Forward! Send those devils back to hell!" With a lusty cheer, Heinrich and his fellows surge at the Mongol storm troops, just in time for two Tatar projectiles to strike the houses behind them and burst, filling the street with choking, sulfurous smoke ...


    "As I went down in the river to pray
    Studyin about that good ol way
    And who shall wear the robe & crown
    Good Lord show me the way"


    Karl, the priest, wanders dazed in the fields outside the city walls. The Mongol invaders had herded the entire populace out of the city and were systematically beheading them. The terrified and screaming Austrians surged two and fro en mass only to be ruthlessly cut down. The Russian clamps his hand on his forearm and pulls him along, stumbling. Karl manages to keep it together until he comes across a Tatar archer who puts an arrow through a young mother and the infant in her arms. As Karl looks on, a Mongol officer seizes the soldier and begins berating him. Karl does not understand a word, but soon the meaning becomes clear: the officer is berating the bowman for wasting an arrow. The priest falls to his hands and knees and vomits into the mud. The Russian hauls him to his feet. "They cant-" Karl gasps, wiping his mouth, "they can't do this."

    The Russian snorts. "They can. They are. Vladimir, Kiev, Krakow, Pest ... what makes you Germans so special that you should be spared?"

    Karl does not say anything, but just let himself be drug along through the great outdoor slaughterhouse. The screams drown out the sickening wet *thunk* sound of thousands of battle-axes biting into the backs of thousands of Austrian necks. He found himself shoved into the tent of Ogedei Khan, with the Russian standing next to him as an interpreter.

    The Tatar speaks and the Russian translates. "You are a priest of the Christian Church?" Karl nods. Ogedei grunts. "You can read and write?" Another nod. "Good. You and others are to take the message forward to the rulers of Germany." He pronounces the word as if for the first time. "Tell them that we will not be stopped, we will not to be stayed. It is the will of Heaven - " The Russian rolls his eyes, barely perceptively and continues to translate without hesitation, "- that the Tatars conquer the Franks. You shall keep your faith, for the Great Khan respects all faiths, and some of your rulers shall continue as vassals of the Great Khan. Holy men -" the Russian gave Karl a significant look, "- shall be exempt from taxes and service. There shall be no Pontiff and no Emperor. These offices are offensive to the Great Khan. He alone rules by the will of Heaven."

    Ogedei pauses and Karl nods again, indicating that he understands. "All those who resist shall be dealt with as are the people of this impudent city and its quarrelsome lord. All those who surrender will be protected. All those who bring fodder for the Great Khan's horses will be accepted as his vassals and will be spared. Once the Franks are brought to submission of Heaven, we shall then together make war against the Saracens of the south." Ogedei looked carefully at Karl, as if expecting this offer to raise some glint of enthusiasm in his eyes. "The holy lands and cities that the Saracens wrongfully took from the Christians [FN19.02] will be set under Frankish lords, who, of course, will be vassals of the Great Khan. All the world will be brought in accord with the will of Heaven. After the land of the homeland of the Franks and the land of the Saracens, the lands of the Cathayans and the Hindoos and the pagans of Ultima Thule will fall. I do not say this to boast -" Karl does not believe that for a moment "-but simply to state that it is such is the will of Heaven."

    Karl nods again, and Ogedei continues. "You will take this message to the lords of Germany. If they resist the will of Heaven, they will be destroyed. If they submit, they and their lands will be spared. Tell them what you have seen here, tell them what I have said, and you will be rewarded." The Tatar hands Karl a golden plaque with some indecipherable writing on it. "This is your passport. Anyone who hinders or harms you will incur the wrath of the Khan[FN19.02]. You and others will be put on the road west. Spread this message."

    And just like that, Karl and about twenty other survivors of the rape of Vienna are walking west. Karl prudentially keeps the golden tablet out of sight. His mind is still whirling. Never in his life had he seen such ruthless, systematic and willful destruction. Oh, he was no convent-raised neophyte in the world, he had seen his fair share of plunder and rapine by the armies of the petty dukes of the Empire. But this ... this was not the riotous pillage of ill-disciplined mercenaries. This was deliberate, calculated terror. This was the cold-blooded annihilation of the population of an entire city. And these Tatars, they say they are from thousands of leagues away. To have traveled from the end of the earth to visit such complete destruction upon a Christian city defended by valiant soldiers ... mere men could not do such things.

    The Tatars had to be something else.

    The golden tablet in his bundle suddenly feels very heavy, indeed.

    Karl separates himself from the rest of the Viennese refugees and one night he finds himself alone. Sitting beside a campfire, deep in the South German woods, he rocks back in forth, sobbing with terror and despair. What is he to do? What can he do? If he does not carry out his mission, the Tatar devils will find him and kill him, but if he does what he was told, he will be damned, damned forever as a servant of Satan. Eventually, he collapses from exhaustion and sleeps fitfully. In the wee hours of the morning, he wakes, shivering in the chill dark around a fire long gone cold.

    That is when he feels the Holy Spirit descend upon him. And from the depths of his memory float the words of Joachim of Fiore. The Second Age of the world is coming to an end. The Third Age, the Age of the Holy Spirit, is now upon them. These Tatars, these agents of the Dark One, have come to sweep away the detritus of the old world and usher in the new. He digs through his bundle and, crossing himself, casts the gold Tatar tablet deep into the forest.

    And then he gets on his feet and starts walking. Oh, he will spread the message, all right, the message that God, not the Tatars, has given him ...

    ***

    Meanwhile, in Germany, fear is turning into panic, panic into hysteria and, here and there, hysteria tips over into madness.

    When it becomes clear that the armies of the German princes are not going to take the field, the peasants swarm into the walled cities. The townspeople, realizing that if it comes to a siege, they won't be able to feed all those mouths, begin barring the gates. Counts, Dukes, Margraves, Burgraves, etc. who take their obligation to protect their vassals fairly seriously (and, of course, realize that dead peasants are a loss on the feudal balance sheet), object, sometimes strenuously. The townsfolk of Nuremburg have long had self-government, but did not control the castle, which dominated the town and was under control of the Zollern Counts. A combination of things leads to conflict between the burghers and the Count - the Count's rural peasants are being allowed to take refuge in the city, and the townsfolk cannot help but notice that the castle is being prepared to withstand a siege with much greater thoroughness than the town itself [FN20.04].

    Subedei keeps moving. City after city falls to his army - Linz surrenders in terror and is spared destruction, Passau fights and is annihilated. The primary need of a steppe army is fodder, and the German peasantry brings it to them, voluntarily or otherwise. Otto II of Bavaria cannot stand it anymore; he cannot sit by in his castles and let the Tatars scourge his land. He and his army, joined with that of Duke of Swabia march against the Mongols.

    King Wenceslas of Bohemia, King and Emperor Henry Raspe, and Duke Albert II of Saxony have reassembled the massive army that left Duke Henry of Silesia to his fate at Leignitz. They are reinforced by numerous knights of the Orders - the Sword Brothers, the Teutonic Knights. Their Master have made the painful decision to march out of their Prussian and Livonian territories, abandoning them (hopefully temporarily) to a pagan rebellion. Of what use would be conquering more peoples and lands for the Church while a pagan army drives like a lance into the heart of Christendom? The Knights are not numerous, but they are fearless and disciplined. In the weeks that come, they will form the hard nucleus of the Imperial forces.

    In Bohemia, Batu shadow-boxes with Henry's army. They deploy all their old steppe tricks to exaggerate their numbers and by and large it works. Henry, Albert and Wenceslas, with Leignitz fresh in their minds, proceed cautiously. With his scouting forces terrorizing the Bohemian countryside, Batu's main army storms and destroys Pilsen, then disappears into the forest, only to reappear outside Zatec. Henry and his troops, only a small fraction of whom are mounted, troops hither and yon, trying to bring the Mongols to battle. But Batu is getting nervous. His scouts have given him a good idea of the size of Henry's force and he is not at all eager to engage him on the not-quite-steppe like terrain of west-central Bohemia. His first major target was intended to be Prague, but there is no way he is going to risk getting his force caught between Henry and the walled city.



    "O brothers lets go down
    Let's go down, Come on down
    O brothers lets go down
    Down in the river to pray."


    Frederick II, the Emperor of the Romans, reaches into the wicker basket and pulls out a small white mouse by the tail. He then casually flicks it into the cage. The blodfugl snatches it from the air and swallows it a single gulp, then starts battering at the iron bars and squalling. It is a hideous sound and the Emperor's toady, not accustomed to being so close to this particular portion of Frederick's fantastic menagerie, flinches.

    "Fascinating creatures, are they not?" says the Stupor Mundi, reaching into the basket for another mouse.

    Fascinating is not the word the toady would have picked, but one does not keep one's Imperial Toady status by disagreeing with one's patron. "Fascinating, Sire," and, in an outburst of unprecedented personal courage, adds, "but very loud."

    "Yes, they are loud. And very fierce." He tosses the second mouse into the cage without bothering to look at the toady. "If they could be trained to hunt, it would like falconing, except that one could have them take down wolves, wild dogs or foxes. Perhaps," Frederick turns and gets that glint in his eye that makes the toady decidedly uneasy, "even men."

    Time for the good toady to swing into action. He forces a chortle. "Sire is very amusing, of course Your Majesty would not ..." The blodfugl is beating itself furiously against the cage now, drowning out his words. Frederick has lost interest, so he throws the rest of the mice into the cage and turns away while the great bird gobbles them down. He hands the basket to his toady. "Approach the bars and show him the empty basket. He will thrash himself to death unless he knows there are no more mice." That would be just fine with the toady, but he does what he is told and walks trembling to the blodfugl cage."

    Frederick sighs. "What is keeping them? How long does it take to elect a pontiff?"

    The toady dutifully condemns the collection of dilatory old men posing as cardinals. He knows enough not to bring up the fall of Vienna and the surrender of Linz [FN19.03]. The Emperor has made it clear that he has more important things on his mind.

    ***

    A dispatch rider with new orders from Subedei catches up with Kadan in Croatia. He turns his tumen northwest and crosses the Empire's frontier into the March of Carniola, moving swiftly through Aquileia then turns into the March of Verona. The cities of the March, are, by and large, allies or satellites of Venice. Verona, Padua, and Treviso are all governed by Venetian podesta, invited to rule when domestic discord prevented local rulers from taking the reins of power. At the orders of the Venetian Doge, the Mongols' progress is not impeded. Kadan keeps his part of the bargain - pillage and destruction by his troops is minimal. Venetian emissaries fan out over northern Italy and soon are in conference with every city in the Lombard League.

    They now know what Kadan wants, and such is their hatred of Frederick that they are willing to help. In exchange for a seven-year truce with the Mongols, the armies of the Lombard League are on the march. They sense Imperial blood in the water and victory for their cause.

    The destruction of Vienna and the advance of Subedei and Batu have (finally!) lit a fire under Emperor Frederick II, who has moved from his winter quarters in Apulia to the outskirts of Rome in the hopes of forcing a quick papal election. With the Mongols loose in Germany is concerned that, in his absence, the German princes will defect from their fealty to the House of Staufen and oust him as Emperor and his son, Conrad, as King of Germany. So he gathers his faithful Saracen bodyguard and prepares to make a dash for Germany, planning to secure the fidelity of his subjects then return to Italy and his wars against the Lombard League. He is still convinced that the Mongol invasion is but a gigantic raid and that the Mongols do not have the power to conduct a sustained attack against the numerous fortified places of the Empire. His Italian wars, waged primarily with troops from Sicily and Naples, have involved but a little of the military might of Germany, which he confidently believes will be able to crush the Mongols.

    Frederick is not unaware that Kadan has entered Lombardy, and he dispatches messengers to locate the Mongol column. He has an offer to make - if Kadan will turn his might against the Lombard League, all the plunder of those rich cities will be his. Kadan receives the message with amusement. This fantastically arrogant 'Emperor' still thinks he is in a position to bargain and thinks he can grant the Mongols something they cannot just take any time it pleases them. Kadan has the messengers killed. He is moving fast, but Kadan will not risk the emissaries returning and reporting his position to Frederick.

    The man who jested that he could be the Great Khan's falconer is now the hunted prey of one of his junior commanders.

    Frederick is cognizant of the danger, so he moves quickly north through Tuscany and to Pisa. Mongol scouts rake northern Italy for him and the armies of Milan, Genoa, Florence and Parma are on the march. With Milan in the field and general chaos erupting throughout Lombardy, the way to Como and the central passes through the Alps is too dangerous (unless he wants to bring his whole army with him, which he does not), so he swings further west, hoping to make it to the pass of Mont Cenis. No luck - the Mongols have cut him off. Desperate, he turns south again and returns to Pisa, where he decides he will return to the Empire by sea. While the Pisans are readying their fleet, the Genoese advised that Frederick was returning to Pisa and would likely take to the water, sortie theirs.

    The Emperor is right to be concerned about the loyalty of the German princes. Frederick's absence has alienated many of his allies, and the fall of Vienna has galvanized his enemies into action. Albert de Behaim, a papal agent and Archdeacon of Passau, has been making the rounds in the Empire, drumming up opposition. Conrad of Hochstaden, the Archbishop of Cologne, leads the ecclesiastical effort, and is joined by the Archbishop Siegfried of Mayence, the Imperial arch chancellor and Regent. The cities of Bremen, Strasburg and Liege are in. In June, the insurgents meet in Lyons, depose Frederick and his son Conrad, and elect Henry Raspe, Landgrave of Thuringia, as Emperor.

    In Pisa, Frederick learns that not only is Northern Italy alive with Mongol horsemen hunting for him, the Genoans are prowling the seas. He realizes that if either of them gets a hold of him, it's good night Stupor Mundi. When in doubt, head for your stronghold, so Frederick departs Pisa and heads for Sicily. Kadan has picked up his scent, however, and is hot on his heels. Frederick is finally run to ground at Fighine southeast of Pisa. The town is protected by a wall and Fighine Castle is a formidable structure. The walls are manned by Frederick's bodyguard and the mercenary troops of the local potentate [FN20.01]. One look is enough for Kadan. He is traveling light, but he does have a minghan of engineers with him. He invests the town and puts his engineers, and whatever locals he can round up, to work. They mine the walls and storm the resulting breach. The mercenaries attempt to flee through one of the gates, but Kadan's archers slaughter them, and all the townspeople they can get their hands on, mercilessly. Frederick's Saracens, on the other hand, retreat in good order to the castle. It is then that the real work begins.

    Meanwhile, Frederick's lieutenant, Ezzelino da Romano and the bulk of the Imperial army is marching to the rescue of their Emperor. But the Guelphs, knowing that they can seal Frederick's doom if they can just buy Kadan enough time, engage Ezzelino's forces at every turn. The towns around Rome, which flocked to Frederick's standard when he was within a whisker of entering the Eternal City, now defect and join in the attack upon the Imperial forces. Ezzelino's advance turns into a slugging match down the peninsula. The Lombards and their allies cannot stop him, but they succeed in slowing his progress.

    That is enough. Kadan's built-on-the-spot trebuchets are battering the walls of Castle Fighine, and the Mongol sappers, under the cover by the deadly-accurate fire of Kadan's archers, are undermining its foundations. It is only a matter of time, now. With great solemnity, the commanders of Frederick's bodyguard, renew their vows to die in defense if his person. As the hour of reckoning approaches, the Emperor does what he does best - he temporizes. Under a flag of truce, a messenger makes his way to Kadan's tent to parley. Kadan will talk, but, knowing that Ezzelino is still marching, he refuses to cease his assault.

    In the end ...

    Emperor Frederick Hohenstaufen, who once styled himself second only to Christ in authority on Earth, steps into the felt tent of a nomad warrior, careful not to step on the wooden threshold. He approaches the Mongol warrior prince and takes the cup, pledging his loyalty to the Great Khan Ogedei. Lifting the chalice of kumiz to his lips, his eyes look over the rim and lock on Kadan's.

    Frederick the Second is no man's vassal.

    And he is far from finished with this fight [FN19.031].


    "As I went down in the river to pray
    Studyin about that good ol way
    And who shall wear the starry crown?
    Good lord show me the way!"


    "Then give me the Oriflamme, and I will lead France against the heathen!" Robert of Artois rages at his brother in a tone one normally does not take with the King of France. He stomps out of the audience chamber without waiting for a response and catches up with Simon, a knight of his household, as he stalks down the hallway. "God save us from over-pious kings!" [FN19.04]

    Simon snorts sympathetically and Robert continues. "'We must all accept God's judgments.' The Mongols will be on the Rhine soon! Is it God's judgment that we should sit and do nothing while these godless Tatars slaughter uncounted thousands of Christians?!?"

    "We should gather as many nights as we can and go to Germany, anyway!" exclaims Simon. But Robert shakes his head. "No. We are the king's subjects and we must obey. He has forbade any knights from leaving the kingdom."

    It is Simon's turn to shake his head. "The Pope declares a crusade and now the King of France forbids his knights to leave the kingdom."

    Robert has had a few moments to compose himself. The anger has faded somewhat, but he is filled with foreboding. "The King is husbanding his forces for when the Tatars come for France. I fear by then it will be far too late ... Let us go to the chapel and pray that the Germans will defeat the Tatars and that the King is right and I am wrong. That is all we can do."


    "O fathers lets go down
    Let's go down, Come on down
    O fathers lets go down
    Down in the river to pray."


    The Lay Advocate for the Archbishop of Cologne stands with his retinue in the body-strewn streets and watches the great cathedral burn. The devil was at work here, he thinks.

    Close.

    For the last three weeks, Archbishop Conrad, Lord and Shepherd of the good citizens of the city, has been fighting a bitter struggle with his flock. A wild rumor started circulating that the Tatars are actually the descendents of one of the Three Kings who paid tribute to the infant Christ. And, well, German crusaders returning from the Holy Land brought with them some bones purportedly belonging to one of said Kings [FN19.05]. The good people of Cologne had promptly set to building a gold-enameled requilary for the bones in their magnificent cathedral. It becomes widely believed that the Tatars are coming to reclaim the relics of their ancient king [FN19.03]. As Subedei marches further into Germany, a civil war of sorts erupts in Cologne between townspeople who believe they can turn the Tatars back by giving them the relics and the Archbishop's men, who (along with the Archbishop) do not believe the rumors and are bent upon defending the relics at all costs. A skirmish at the cathedral becomes a riot which becomes an insurrection as Staufen loyalists turn the disorders to their own use, trying to oust the Archbishop. Eventually, the burghers prevail through desperation and sheer weight of numbers and the Archbishop flees. No one knows who threw the first firebrand, but as the victors carry the bones out the shattered doors of the great cathedral, flames begin spreading.

    The burghers of Cologne then dispatch an emissary and the relics to Subedei. They do not get the reception that they anticipated. The preservation of body parts is repulsive to Mongols. Subedei throws the ambassadors and their old bones out of his tent and sends them back to their city with an ultimatum - submit or the Mongols will attack Cologne and level the disgusting city.


    "As I went down in the river to pray studying about that good ol way
    And who shall wear the robe and crown
    Good Lord show me the way!"


    With a Mongol army at his back, the former Emperor of the Romans Frederick II, captive or lawful vassal of Batu Khan, depending upon who you ask, stands outside the gates of Nuremberg and demands its surrender. Many Nurembergers are more than willing to comply - to their mind, the Emperor's capitulation offers them an honorable way to avoid annihilation - but the ministeriale who commands the Imperial fortress, and the Zollern Count who controls the castle, have different ideas. So, in the darkness of night, the townspeople assault the troops holding the gates and overwhelm them. Christian murders Christian through the morning hours as the Imperial troops struggle to retake the lynchpin of the city's defense from the citizens as well as numerous mutineers from their own ranks who have gone over out of fear of the Mongols or loyalty to Frederick. In the early morning light, the Mongols - who were not alerted to the burghers' plans so were somewhat taken off guard - manage to make it into the city through the contested gates and join the general melee. The Imperials disengage themselves and retreat in fairly good order to their fortress, while the townspeople surrender their city to their Emperor. Nuremberg is spared destruction, but when the fortress is taken, the entire garrison and everyone who has taken refuge inside are executed as rebels against their lawful lords, Frederick of Hohenstaufen and Batu Khan.


    "O mothers lets go down
    Come on down, don't you wanna go down?
    O Mothers lets go down
    Down in the river to pray."


    Through the fields and forests of Normandy, the one-eyed man is walking, sword in hand. The mask of a bandit conceals the lower half of his face. To anyone who asks, he will pull off his mask and show his ruined face, then roar with rasping, bone-chilling laughter at their horrified reaction. Over thirty years ago, he was a Occitian soldier defending the town of Bram in Languedoc against the knights of the crusade. When the town fell, he and his fellows were captured. The crusaders cut off their noses and upper lips, leaving them with horrifying immutable grins. The others were blinded, but he was left with one eye, to lead the others. For days they marched, a walking spectacle of terrible, calculated mutilation, through the grim countryside, each of them with one hand on the shoulder of the man in front of them, until they reached Cabaret and safety. At the head of the column, the one-eyed man walked and calculated his revenge.

    For the last thirty years, the one-eyed man has been walking through northern France on a mission. Every family he finds who sent a man on crusade will lose their first born son to his blade. He has become a nameless terror in this unholy land, striking swiftly and in the shadows. Never leaving any witnesses. Never leaving any survivors.

    The one-eyed man has heard of the Tatars, and so he is walking east to greet them. You see, he knows the paths and passages of northern France like he knows every scar on his destroyed face. And he walks east with word of a rich land, boated with the looted treasure of murdered Languedoc, and word of a paralyzed king, and a country riven with fear.

    And so he walks east, with this knowledge to put at his Lord Batu's service. He has been waiting for this day, when he will bring his revenge down like a sweeping scythe upon the greatest kingdom in Christendom.


    "As I went down in the river to pray
    Studyin about that good ol' way
    And who shall wear the starry crown?
    Good Lord show me the way!"


    Subedei Khan, standing on a hilltop before a scene of incredible carnage, is so furious that he can barely speak. He shifts his great bulk on his long-suffering horse. Subedei has actually gotten nearly too fat and gouty to ride, but the glimmering, ruthless genius in his eyes is undimmed. He leans forward to survey the surging mass of Burgundian, Swabian and Bavarian knights and men-at-arms as it dissolves in a panic beneath a remorseless rain of Mongol arrows.

    Enough. He turns to Batu, the object of his fury, who stands downcast at his side, "Signal your tumen and order the standard sweep. You can manage that, can you not?" Batu bites back a sharp reply. Though he is the titular commander of the invasion, he is dependant upon the old man's skills to win him his khanate. "Yes, I will order it done." Normally, Batu would be with his tumen and give the order in person, but his failure has caused Subedei to keep him close at hand.

    Batu and his command were tasked to keep the forces of the northern German powers and the Teutonic nights at bay while Subedei and the main force cut their way through the south. Instead, he has drawn the Saxons, Thuringians, Bohemians and Teutonic Knights south and west. Subedei's scouts place them three days' march to the north, near Wurtzburg. Three days. That means that Subedei is going to have to fight two battles in three days, and fight the second one with tired horses, and exhausted men with depleted quivers. Batu is confident that he can win both battles. He is in the process of crushing the Otto and his allies but he is dissatisfied at the prospect of the losses from a second battle. Heaven knows what mopping up the Mongols may have to do once the military power - such as it is - of these Franks is broken. And Heaven only knows if the supposedly-great King of France will enter the fray once the struggle reaches his borders. Subedei knows a thing or two about Mongol dynastic politics as well. He is fully aware that he cannot count on any more troops from Mongolia to help him establish a Khanate for the scion of one of the rival branches of the Golden Family at Karakorum. So Subedei has to make the most of what he has on hand, and Batu's disinclination to engage the enemy on his own is not making that any easier. And that makes him angry.

    So angry that he turns away and does not even watch as Kuyuk and Siban rout the Germans from the field and wipe them out as they flee. He is still angry three days later when he does the same to Albert II, Duke of Saxony, and his allies.


    "O sinners lets go down
    Lets go down, come on down
    O sinners lets go down
    Down in the river to pray."


    "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall be consoled!" Karl the priest seems to know more of the teachings of Joachim of Fiore than of the beatitudes, but he can belt it out to the back row (as it were) and that is what is important on a street corner in panic-stricken Erfurt. "Brothers in Christ! God has called the Tatars, the servants of Satan, down upon us to scourge the wicked, to destroy the haughty, to wipe Christendom clean of the worldly Church!" The crowds of refugees swirl around him, but many stop and listen. "Do not sacrifice yourselves trying to thwart the will of God, for His judgments are swift and sure and cannot be gain-sayed! The Age of the Holy Spirit is upon the world of men! When the corrupt Church is destroyed, a saintly Pope will emerge and a Church of the Holy Orders will arise!"

    Many of the listeners hurry on their way, but others stay and hear and believe. And the Word continues to spread.


    "As I went down in the river to pray
    Studyin about that good ol way
    And who shall wear the Robe and crown?
    Good Lord show me the way ..." [FN19.06]


    Aachen does not welcome the conqueror, but neither does it resist. The Coronation City, the city of Charlemagne, does have the good grace to bow before the Khan of the Franks, as he will soon come to be called, as Batu rides through its streets, surrounded by his long-suffering but victorious troops. The crowds look on in fearful silence as a Mongol from the steppe surveys what, against all reason and against all probability, he has taken for his own.

    But it is not over yet. A one-eyed man rides in his retinue, conspicuous in his Western dress among Tatar horsemen, and knowing that his time is about to come.



    Empty America: Part 20 - So, If You've a Date In Constantinople (One) ...



    (Kuei-Men [OTL Acapulco], Mu-lan-P'i, Winter-Spring 1242)

    "Moops!"

    "Moors!"

    "But it says Moops!"

    "I'm telling you, there's no Moops!"

    Idiots, thought Enrico Pescatore as he, Carlo and Martino walked the muddy streets of Kuei-Men, decked out in silks like proper Cathayan gentlemen, courtesy of Roger Bacon. Pescatore did not know what the two Florentines were arguing about, and he could not possibly care less. Pescatore was still trying to digest all that Bacon had told him, so he wrung (almost literally) some money out of Carlo, then ditched them. The two augustales jingle his purse. And he knows just how he was going to spend them.

    In the waterfront tavern, Pescatore joins the raucous crowd of drunken Cathayan sailors, gives the man he assumes is the inn keep - who seems somewhat startled to see a European in his bar - the universal, "I'll have what they're having" sign, then settles into a corner with his drink. It was kind of odd - even though Bacon told him that the Cathayans don't coin their gold, the inn keep did not so much as blink when Pescatore presents him with one of Carlo's augustales

    He bounces the coin in his hand, bites it surreptitiously, then quickly pockets it and counts out a stack of crumpled paper from a pocket in his robe. The inn keep looks at Pescatore, almost as though he was expecting the Italian to challenge him on the amount. Pescatore just shrugs, pockets the paper and turns to his drink, which was some sort of rice beer that tasted damn good to him.

    And so he thinks. According to Bacon, the Cathayan miners who find the gold trade it all in for this paper and it was strictly prohibited for them to coin it or otherwise spend the gold dust or flake in Mu-lan-P'i. It still baffles Pescatore that men would trade gold for paper, no matter how elaborately decorated it was by the Cathayans' ingenious machines. But from the inn keep's reaction to the augustale, Pescatore concludes that there must be a lot of the stuff in circulation, notwithstanding the Cathayans' crazy laws.

    Hmmm ... that gives him a thought.

    Pescatore had no reason to doubt what Bacon was telling him about the Cathayans. In fact, it initially startled him that Bacon told the Italians so much. Pescatore assumed that if anyone did strike gold or silver in Ultima Thule, they would want to keep it covered up. But the Englishman had been very forthright from the beginning about everything that the Cathayans had found. He was still kind of perplexed, though, about why Bacon had specifically recounted that a young official named Zhu Xi had died when his ship sank en route to Mu-lan-P'i in 1151. Bacon himself seemed a bit confused as to why he had mentioned it, but he just shook his head and continued with his story [FN20.001].

    But Bacon's own story seemed improbable. This priest from England (of all places!) studies all he can get his hands on about Ultima Thule and has someone draw a map based upon what he learns. Some Thulian Welshman turns up in the court of the English King with a bolt of, what did they call it? Some blend of Cathayan silk and camel hair [FN20.01]. So this English King (did the English even have their own king anymore? Pescatore is a Mediterranean, he can't be expected to stay current on the affairs of England, Iceland or other obscure places) orders Bacon, one of his captains and a band of mercenaries off to Ultima Thule to find out its origin, about which the Welshman is canny. Bacon winds up shipwrecked on the mainland of southern Ultima Thule, southwest of the Ursulines, when a Cathayan mining party stumbles across him and the other survivors. The others rotted in Cathayan prisons until they died from disease or overwork, but a Cathayan official saw promise in Bacon and put him to work in his office.

    Pescatore sips his beer and thinks about this. And now, the Cathayans want to put him to work, too. From what Bacon said, the governor of Mu-lan-P'i wants to start trading with the European colonies in Ultima Thule, and is going to build an emporium on an isthmus far to the south, where the mainland dividing the Urseline Sea and what the Chinese called the Eastern Ocean narrows to only a few miles. And they want Pescatore and the Florentines to convey their offer to the Europeans. Of course they accept, and are given run of Kuei-Men in the meantime.

    He sits and drinks and thinks. All that gold, just being traded in for paper ...

    As if out of nowhere, an old Cathayan woman appears in front of him. She is carrying a pot of water with two handles. She puts the bowl down on the table, looks at Pescatore and smiles. He smiles back, somewhat bewildered. Am I supposed to wash my hands, he thinks, vaguely hoping he had not offended the old woman somehow, as he was really enjoying his beer and was not looking to get thrown out. The woman crouches over the bowl and starts rubbing the handles vigorously and the bowl starts making this strange humming sound. OK, now Pescatore is simply flummoxed. What the devil is going on?

    And then he sees it.

    They start small, little water spouts forming in the bowl, and then they start to rise. He sits there gaping as one of the spouts rises a full foot above the rim of the bowl.

    Pescatore is terrified. Sorcery! He jumps up, overturning the table, bowl and all, and lunges out the door of the tavern and running full tilt down the street. He starts looking back as he runs. Were they following me? Oh, Jesus, Mary and St. Barbara all those people - they were clapping and cheering! What kind of people were they [FN20.03]?!? What kind of place was this?!? What in God's name was he doing here?!?

    And then *smack* Pescatore slams forehead first into a large bolt of silk two men were carrying across the street. Down he goes, flat on his ass in the mud. As the workmen curse and shout at him, he sits there panting, shaking his head and trying to gather his wits.

    Wait a minute.

    Bacon is a priest. If these people were all sorcerers, he would have said something, wouldn't he? Maybe, maybe it was just those people, maybe the rest of the Cathayans are just garden-variety pagans, like the Saracens.

    Pescatore sits there in the mud. And he looks around. Men carrying bolts of silk. Bolts of it. Just ... carrying it around. Men trading sacks of gold dust for pieces of paper and men carrying bolts of silk around in the streets. Sorcerers or not, there is more money to be made in this place than Pescatore could have imagined.

    And so, having regained his composure, he hoists himself up out of the mud, puts his Cathayan hat back on his head, and goes strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre, contemplating a crime.

    ***

    Roger Bacon sits at his desk and sighs. He is glad that is over with. Of all his duties so far, feeling out Pescatore and the Florentines has been not been the most pleasant. But, even in their ignorance, they acted suitably respectful of the Song accomplishment in Mu-lan-P'i, so they passed. The administration did not want some parochial louts to be the ones to take the word to the Franks in the Ursulines that they were ready to trade. The minister was confident, but cautious.

    So now Bacon can get back to his first love. He leans over the Cathayan text and runs his fingers down the page. Even after all these years, reading the language is still somewhat taxing, and he speaks the words out loud as he reads them.

    "The cessation of motion is due to the opposing force ... If there is no opposing force ... the motion will never stop. This is as true as that an ox is not a horse" [FN20.31].

    Bacon sits back and considers that for a moment.

    Huh. Yes, that rings true.

    So he inks his pen (the Song use brushes, but Bacon has acquired a steady supply of good quills) writes that down, in Latin. He thinks about it for a while. The Cathayans are not only not Christian, but do not seem to have a concept of God that Bacon recognizes as being even remotely close to his own. Yet they discovered all these things, sometimes thousands of years ago. It could not be revealed truth. In his mind, Bacon gropes towards something. The physical world is out there, and men - Christians, Cathayans, whoever - can apply their reason to it, and make discoveries of the very fundamentals of Creation.

    He is going to think on that for a while.

    (Europe, 1242-49)

    Mopping up. With the destruction of the military power of the Empire's greatest princes, Batu and Subedei rest their troops on the North German plain and resume operations in the Spring of 1243. With no armies in the field to challenge them, the Mongols can proceed cautiously and crush the remaining resistance at their leisure. Of the cities that resist, Prague is the most difficult to subdue. Having been bypassed by Batu early on, the burghers of Prague have had the chance to prepare for a siege. They also have some hope that, if they tie down enough of the Mongol army, the Empire could rise up behind them. No dice. After the city falls, Prague is destroyed and its population annihilated. "Pour encourager les autres" [FN20.04]. By the end of 1244, the entire empire north of Italy and west of France is in Mongol hands. Subedei wants to go after Burgundy, but Batu calls it quits for now. It appears to him that doing so would inevitably bring France into the field, and Batu wants to consolidate his gains before tackling the most formidable monarchy in Europe.

    Frederick tags along as the Mongols mop up, more or less a prisoner of his new overlords, waiting for his chance, which does not come quickly. Meanwhile, the social and religious structure of the Empire is rapidly unraveling. The Spiritine heresy (as the Karline theology eventually comes to be known) sweeps Germany like wildfire. Everywhere, people come to believe that the Age of the Holy Spirit is upon them and look to a purified Church for salvation. The rank-and-file turn away from the lay clergy and the more worldly orders in droves. The Franciscans are somewhat bewildered - Christians are flocking to them, drawn by their apostolic poverty, but their sudden popularity is from avowedly heretical reasons. The Franciscans, who basically are teetering on the edge of heresy themselves, by and large embrace their new, enlarged following. For the most part, however, the Franciscans stay on the straight-and-narrow and avoid an open breach with the church. Lay preachers, however, feel no such compunctions. They proclaim that the era of the worldly Church has ended, and the faithful must turn away from its remnants and await the coming of a saintly Pope (probably a Franciscan). Stirred by their message, the Germans seize control of their churches and eject the lay clergy. In places where the clergy were particularly unpopular, or where the authorities can muster enough loyal troops, violence ensues. The Bishoprics and Archbishoprics are particular targets, as they symbolize everything that the Spiritines hate. Church lands are seized and bishops are set on the road or even killed by outraged mobs.

    The Mongols, once they have completed routing what is left of the Imperial resistance, look upon the chaos with dismay. Batu knows that social upheaval is very bad for state revenues. On the other hand, Mongols traditionally do not tax the clergy, and Batu was rather appalled to discover the extent of Church holdings in Germany. In short, he went to great lengths to conquer an empire, much of which he now realizes that he cannot tax. So, he lends some benevolent indifference to the Spiritine cause, especially where they are redistributing Church lands to the laity and establishing secular rule over cities such as Cologne. Rule by local lay elites means more taxpayers.

    Once the Mongol campaign against the last holdouts ends, the Spiritine Church eagerly girds itself for persecution. A major part of their theology is that Christianity is returning to its status as a proscribed faith, as in the era of early Church Fathers under the Roman Empire, during which it will be purged of the worldliness it acquired since Constantine. They are somewhat vexed when the persecution does not come. As is customary within the Mongol domains, Batu decrees liberty of religious conscience. Batu deals with the sectarian upheaval within the empire by requiring all German nobles who wish to retain their positions to take an oath not to kill, banish or otherwise penalize their subjects over matters of religion. Ironically enough, far from being persecuted by the Mongols, Spiritine worshipers frequently have to appeal to their pagan overlords for protection from their Catholic neighbors and nobility.

    The Venetians get the first part of their payoff - commercial supremacy within the Empire. There are, of course, not enough Venetians to manage such an enterprise on their own, what with their commitments in Ultima Thule and elsewhere, so the Republic sets up a rather sophisticated licensing scheme. It is noteworthy (but not particularly surprising) that Venice's major trading rivals (Genoa, Pisa, et al) are excluded entirely from trading with the Empire. And the Hansa are now working on Venetian sufferance. Once the wars are over and the dust has settled, trade begins to resume. The conquerors make some improvements, actually. The Mongols sweep aside all internal trade barriers, including the nearly innumerable tariff posts along the Rhine. The peoples of Germany, Poland and Hungary are now part of the largest free-trade zone in world history, stretching from China to the border of France. For the time being, Pax Mongolica settles over the Empire, which slowly begins to regain its internal strength.

    The fall of the Empire, purportedly a divinely ordained institution, to a pagan horde, sends a spiritual shockwave throughout Europe. The mood, already teetering on the brink of hysteria, turns positively apocalyptic. The absence of a Pope does not help, either. Once the College of Cardinals scattered from Rome in the wake of the Tatar incursion into Italy, they refuse to reassemble. Mongol ambassadors, who are received in most of the courts of Europe, spread the word - any country that hosts the College and elects a Pope will face immediate invasion. The Mongols will not abide such pretension.

    The Christian kings of Europe sort of shift their weight and stare at their shoes. King Louis of France, devout as he is, is no more inclined to provoke a Tatar invasion of his kingdom than he was to come to the aid of the Empire in its hour of peril. In 1245, Louis cautiously backs away from his prelates' momentous proposal to elect their own Pope, and appoints a Gallican Council to run the affairs of the French Church, a development which everyone is assured will be temporary. The College and the whole papacy are a hot potato at the moment. Even the English are not real keen on the prospect of having a Pope in residence [FN20.05]. The Papal territories, including Rome, are in the hands of Steven, the Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria. Steven does not press for the return of the Cardinals to Rome, even if they were willing to come, because he winces at the prospect of Frederick leading a Tatar army down the peninsula.

    The Spiritine heresy starts spreading beyond the boundaries of the Empire. Convincing the laymen that the Mongols are the scourge of God, sent to punish a wicked and worldly Christendom is a no-brainer. Initially, the Spiritines stay, roughly, within the broad parameters of Catholic Christianity. There are some variations - Spiritines take communion in both forms and do so at every Mass, in contrast to lay Catholics of the time who are discouraged from frequent communion and have no access to the chalice. Also, there are a great number of women lay preachers among the Spiritines, as it absorbs and transforms the Beguine movement of women who, while not taking formal vows to any Order, live together communally in prayer and chastity. The great upsurge in millenarianist belief seizes many of the Beguines and sends them out in the community to preach the Spiritine message.

    Of course, even while sticking within generally orthodox Christian belief (compared to, say, the Cathars), the Spiritine do not recognize the current hierarchy and eagerly await the coming of the saintly pope. But as time goes on, the Donatist heresy starts creeping in - if the Church is corrupt and sinful, aren't the sacraments administered by such a body invalid? And if the Church has been corrupt and sinful since the age of Constantine, and administering invalid sacraments for hundreds of years, aren't almost all the Christians who were ever born burning in Hell? What kind of Savior would allow such a thing? If salvation does not lie in the sacraments - and almost never has - what then?

    With only a leaderless Church to back them up, the rulers of Europe grapple as best they can with the Spiritine movement. It isn't easy. Outside the areas under their direct control, the power of the monarchs is limited by local particularism. Many nobles are either crypto-Spiritines themselves, sympathizers, or simply object to the monarchy meddling in their affairs. Soon, every country in Europe has a thriving Spiritine community. The notable exception is England, which erects a cordon sanitaire and rigorously questions everyone who enters the realm. They go so far as to detain several Franciscan friars in Dover Castle until their credentials can be verified [FN20.06].

    Finally, in the Spring of 1248, Hugh IV, Duke of Burgundy, decides that he has had enough. Other than the Imperial territories in Italy, Burgundy is the only major part of the Empire not conquered by the Mongols, and Batu has already sent him an embassy demanding his submission [FN20.07]. Hugh knows that it is only a matter of time before the Tatars come for him, and he figures if the Pope is there, the prospect of the Holy Father being captured or killed by pagan savages will induce Louis and the Iberians to stand at his side. And he genuinely fears for the future of the Church if a new Pope is elected soon. So, he invites the College of Cardinals to Nice where, he promises, they will be protected. Hugh has acquired a good reputation with the high clergy since the fall of the Empire, relentlessly persecuting the Spiritines and offering refuge from those fleeing captive Imperial territory. In September, the Cardinals reluctantly assemble in Nice. An air of extreme gravity settles over the assembly. Sometimes, even broken institutions can rise to the occasion. The Cardinals elect Ottone de Castro Rodolfi da Chateroux, who takes the name Gregory X. It is a brilliant choice. Ottone is a French Cistercian abbot, a fact which is calculated to appeal to both Louis IX and the Spiritines [FN20.08]. Personally, he is an energetic and intelligent cleric, qualities that will be needed if he is to save the Church from the twin perils of the Tatars and the Spiritines. His opening salvo bodes well - a Bull calling all Christendom to repentance for the failings of the past years and declaring that anyone fallen into heresy will be welcomed back into the fold after suitable penance. Gregory also has his legates beating the bushes in every Christian country, trying to drum up enthusiasm for a crusade against the Tatars.

    Batu has noticed the election of a new Supreme Pontiff. The formalities must be observed before action is taken. A Tatar ambassador arrives in Nice, bearing a message - submit to the Great Khan or be destroyed. Gregory responds with a plea to Batu to accept baptism, as is his responsibility as the ruler of a Christian people. Batu does not deign to respond, and he immediately begins formulating his strategy to break the remaining Christian powers.


    Empty America: Part 21 - So, If You've a Date In Constantinople (Two) ...

    (Autumn, 1249, outside Aachen, Khanate of the Franks)

    Batu Khan is much more vexed than a man whose forces had been reinforced by eight thousand elite troops really should be. He stomps through his golden tent raging. That bitch Torgene! If it isn't one thing, it's another! If Ogedei was still alive, he would not be playing these damn games with him, he would just leave him out here at the edge of the empire to do what he would. But no, the Regent of the Mongol Empire cannot leave him be.

    Word of Batu's impending campaign had reached Karakorum and wound its way into the convoluted politics of Mongol succession. Torgene, as Regent, was pushing her son, Kuyuk to become the next Great Khan. Batu does not like Kuyuk. Most people don't, but Batu has his own reasons - Kuyuk headed back to Karakorum before the heavy lifting of the European campaign got going, and Batu doesn't care for shirkers.

    But now he's back, and he brought a tumen of the Kashik - the Imperial Guard - with him. As soon as they, in all their splendor, came jingling up, Batu realized what was happening. Torgene, once she learned of the campaign against the surviving Frankish princes, had sent Kuyuk along with some elite troops to earn a little battlefield glory on the cheap.

    On the cheap. Batu knew that the Karakorum crowd had been deprecating the conquest of the Franks ever since he rode triumphantly into Aachen. It is true that the newest Mongol domain is something of a disappointment. Sure, a lot of peasants who are (now) docile enough, their strange religious disputes notwithstanding, and some nice silver mines in Bohemia [FN21.01]. But it is small kumiz compared to, say, the Jin in northern China.

    But Batu is still Khan here, and he has a job for Kuyuk. Let him laurels the hard way.

    (South of Ghent, Flanders, Candlemas Day, 1250)

    There are days that truly do try men's souls. Days in which the petty squabbling of factions, the clash of monstrous egos, and the hidebound indifference of parochial men all combine to one end: disaster. There were too many of these days in Europe in the thirteenth century, and the period provides bitter despair for the optimist and sweet vindication for the cynic.

    But today is not such a day.

    Under a cold, clear February sky, today the Captains of the West have assembled in Flanders fields to meet this, the ultimate threat to the survival of independent Christendom. It is a rainbow forest of tents, banners and pennants as far as the eye can see. Over here, looking very grim amongst his familiars is Thomas of Savoy, Count of Flanders, no doubt contemplating the devastation that swept his land. Over there, the English under the command Simon de Montfort and Richard of Cornwall. Talking earnestly with them are the grey-bearded Enguerrand III de Coucy [FN21.02], young Charles of Anjou and Robert of Artois. Robert is in overall command of the Crusader forces, a fact that does not sit well with Charles who, although merely 22 years old himself, has doubts about Robert's judgment. Coucy has no doubts, himself, he would swear by the Mass that Robert is not fit to command so important an enterprise, and is not succeeding in trying to hide his feelings.

    That's politics for you - Robert is the brother of King Louis IX, so he gets command. This great army, assembled at the urging of Pope Gregory X, is by far one of the largest forces in the history of Western Christendom. No one has counted, but chroniclers will claim that seventy-five thousand men were encamped in the fields. Not only Englishmen and Frenchmen, but soldiers from all over Europe have gathered to fight under the Sign of the Cross. Castilians here, Aragonese there and, camped a wary distance away from the tens of thousands of men with crosses on their shoulders, are the most unlikely "crusaders" of all, with a pomegranate banner fluttering in the chill Flanders breeze.


    The intervening years since Venice seized Jasirah al-Sin have been very good for what is now, in 1250, the Emirate of Grenada. The Venetians, well aware of their disadvantageous geographic position for exploiting the Ursulines, have cast about the western Mediterranean looking for allies. The Genoese - who are more comfortable working within other states, not being sticklers about their trading posts being in their own sovereign territory - have a leg up with the Christian Iberian states such as Aragon, Castile and Portugal. In a nutshell - the Genoese are more interested in exploiting the produce of the oltremare than actually acquiring colonies there - the , so they do not see the Iberians as competitors. The Venetians do. So, what Venice really needs is a ... pliable and conveniently-situated ally to help them people their Ursuline colonies and secure the sea route to and fro.

    And there is Grenada, just sitting there, hemmed in by rapacious Christian states, neglected by its titular overlords in North Africa, and most importantly, adjacent to the Pillars of Hercules. Within a few years of the taking of Jasirah al-Sin, the Venetians and the Grenadans are operating hand-in-glove in the Ursulines. The Venetians show some flexibility - not many of the Muslim refugees from the reconquesta are willing to brave the stormy Atlantic to live as mudejars under Christian rulers. In addition to the Venetians' own colonies, plantation colonies, under Grenadan sovereignty but Venetian commercial control, are springing up here and there, particularly on San Erasmus [Cuba]. Venetian shipping have a monopoly in Cadiz, which they transform into their westernmost European base of operations, and the Lion City's war galleons pay routine calls to Gibraltar.

    It is convivencia writ large.

    Under Venetian influence, Grenada separates itself from the Berbers and establishes itself as a Caliphate in its own right under Muhammad I. The Venetians and their Andalusian allies are fortunate in that the Muwahhid Emirate was ruled by the feckless Yusif II from 1213 to 1224 and then by a succession of incompetents. Essentially, before Marrakech knows what is happening, it is done. The Venetians have little use for a chaotic ally which switches policy with every turn of the wheel, so Venetian diplomats work hard to secure the power of the Caliph against lesser rivals for power, steering their business towards him and his favorites and providing the Caliph with the intelligence for which they are renowned. And so, slowly, the Emirate of Grenada stabilizes itself, consolidates its hold over what remains of al-Andaleus, pulls in wealth from the Ursulines and secures its borders against the Christian aggressors on its northern marches. From Cordova and Seville in the north to Cadiz in the west and Malaga and Almeria in the south, the power of Islam in Iberia is resurgent. Not satisfied to be merely supplying Venetian-controlled colonies with labor, Caliph Muhammad I establishes a small settler colony called Tarshish [OTL's Cumana, Columbia] on the northern coast of Whitsunland [South America]. The colony struggles for some time, but discovers an unexpected source of wealth, just offshore - pearls.

    Recognizing that the Mongols threaten not only Christendom but also dar al Islam, and at the behest of his Venetian 'friends' - who are playing a very deep game under a new Doge - Muhammad has dispatched 800 horsemen across the length of Iberia and France to fight the Mongols. Like everyone else, they are expecting to liberate the Empire from Mongol domination and are somewhat surprised when Batu beats them to the punch by invading Flanders. So now they are, milling uneasily at the edge of the Crusader encampment. Roger does not want them there, and neither do most of the other Christian commanders, but they dare not turn them away. They need every fighting man they can get their hands on.

    Robert of Artois, unlike many (perhaps even most) medieval European commanders, has a plan of battle. He is a headstrong soldier, but the gravity of the situation has reined in his aggressive instincts. His army, well, is pretty much all there is. If it falls, there is essentially no organized force of any size to resist the Tatars' onslaught into the heart of France. He had hoped that the great Flanders industrial towns would resist fiercely enough to at least take some of the shine off of the Tatar forces, but no such luck. The hysteria that preceded Batu's advance had seen to that. The city militia of Bruges had largely fled, and the remnant had not been strong enough to hold the city walls against the determined Tatar onslaught. And Ghent? Jesus God ... he could only shake his head and glare over at Thomas. Ghent had simply imploded. The textile workers [FN21.03], whose squalid settlements lay outside the city walls, feared that the hated burghers were going to lock the gates on them, and they panicked and went on a rampage. Thus, the people of Ghent were fighting a full-scale civil war when the Tatars arrived. Batu's forces stormed the city and massacred both burgher and weaver indiscriminately, then fired the wreckage of the town and rode on.

    And now, Robert's scouts have skirmished with the Tatar vanguard, so he knows Batu's army is out there, moving south from the smoldering ruins of Ghent, riding right at him.

    Invading Flanders had not been part of Batu's original plan for dealing with the presumptuous new Pontiff and the Crusaders he had rallied to his cause. His instincts told him to simply mass his army and ride into Burgundy, where he would either kill Gregory or force him to flee. It was the one-eyed man who convinced him otherwise. Since he arrived in Batu's camp during the conquest of the Empire, the man had gained a great deal of influence at Batu's court. The sort of mutilation he had suffered was an anathema to the Mongols, and his ruined face instilled a sort of horrified fascination amongst them. And his life-long quest for revenge was something the Mongols could understand. So, he enjoyed almost unmatched access to the highest echelons of the Khanate of the Franks.

    Sitting before him in the Khan's golden tent outside Aachen, the one-eyed man said that if Batu simply invaded Burgundy, Gregory would either court martyrdom by staying in Nice or he would escape. Either way, the will of the Khan would be thwarted. Once the Mongols had shown themselves to not be invincible, the Christian princes' fear would vanish and they would band together against Batu. And then, even if Batu conquered the rest of Europe, there were islands offshore where either Gregory or a new pope could take refuge, harrying him and raising rebellion forever. There is only one answer - the Pope must submit to Batu Khan.

    Batu snorts. I thought Gregory would prefer death to submission. No, said the one-eyed man, given a clear choice between submission and martyrdom, he would choose death. Do not give him that choice. Destroy the greatest kingdoms of Christendom, and you will destroy his hope. Then he will submit.

    Batu thinks about that. He sees some holes in the idea. And the islands to the west of the Khanate, or in the sea to the south, do not trouble him unduly. The Hansa have ships, as does his Venetian ally. And the previous winter he took the measure of the northern princes at Novgorod - a little field exercise to keep his troops sharp and to tidy up his northeastern frontier - and found them wanting.

    Sensing his reluctance, the one-eyed man begins describing the wealth of the lands, and the richest cities of the Franks. Now that got him interested. He has no interest in leaving a down-on-its-heels Khanate to his successors, and adding these wealthy lands to his Ulus [FN21.04]. So, he pulled in his tumen, which, for lack of foraging among the Franks, he had scattered in the Crimea, Hungary, Poland and Sarai and massed them for war. Two wars, actually. He personally would lead the sweep through Flanders and into France. He delegated the assault upon Lombardy and the rest of the peninsula to Kuyuk. From what the one-eyed man told him, decades of war had left Italy one of the most fortified places on earth. The rich families in the cities even had great stone towers inside the city walls from which to fight each other! Let Kuyuk crack his teeth on that for a while. The way Batu figures it, he will sweep his way through Flanders and France, consolidate his gains, then ride into Burgundy and down to Lombardy to rescue the stalled Kuyuk. Batu thinks that, once the great kingdom of France has fallen and the Lombard cities are under siege, the Pope will see the wisdom of prostrating himself before the Khan.

    So, Batu masses the cream of his tumen on the border with Flanders and leaves Kuyuk to fend for himself with his Kashik, a spare tumen and as many Germans as he can round up. The Spiritines respond with some enthusiasm, once they learn that Rome is on the target list. It is commonly believed that, once the Scourge of God has taken Rome, the Saintly Pope will reveal himself. The Reformed Spiritines, who have turned original sin and the Donatist Heresy into a rejection of the sacraments and a belief in justification by faith, are much less enthusiastic. They have severed all connections with the Church and its structures, so Rome is just another city in the hands of the servants of the Antichrist [FN21.05]. But soon Kuyuk has assembled a formidable force of about twenty thousand including the Stupor Mundi. If there is an invasion of Lombardy afoot, Frederick II wants in, even if he is only in command of the German infantry. There has to be an opportunity for ... well, something, if only to bolt and head for Sicily.

    But we will get to that later.

    (The Sainte-Chapelle [FN21.06], Paris, Candlemass Day, 1250)

    In the hair shirt and tattered trousers of the penitent, King Louis IX kneels amidst the stained-glass splendor of the royal chapel and prays, the sacred words of the paternoster rolling off his tongue again and again. The fall of the Empire to the Tatars and the recent loss of Jerusalem to the Mongols has had a strange effect upon Louis. He has come to view it as an indictment of his personal piety. After all, he is the greatest king of Christendom, after Frederick the apostate, and such a disaster cannot but be seen as God's wrath falling upon him. Or so it would seem. Thus, when Gregory summoned all to Crusade, he gave the Oriflamme to Robert and retreated alone into the Royal Chapel. He will redeem himself, but not on the battlefield. He prays now, as he has been for the last several days, that the Scourge of God should pass his kingdom by.

    Louis' rigorous fasting has taken its toll on him, and he leans the rail in front of him to keep from swaying, but his voice, while gravelly, is still strong, "Pater noster, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum. Adveniat regnum tuum. Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra. Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie, et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. Et ne nos inducas in tentationem, sed libera nos a malo."

    (South of Ghent)

    Robert of Artois is conferring with his commanders and putting the finishing touches on his battle plan when Prince Kafli, heir to the throne of Norway, among other things, rides hallooing into the Crusader camp at the head of a thousand horsemen.

    Robert's nerves are on edge - his scouts have sighted Batu's army bearing down on him, and he needs to shake his men into formation. While Robert would not turn away a thousand lances at this point, he wishes he could. You see, he has met Kalfi before. One of Robert's familiars told him that 'Kalfi' is Norse for 'thick piece of wood,' and Robert wondered at the time how the newborn prince's parents could possibly have been so prophetic. Robert had received word that King Valdemar III Haakonson was joining the Crusade - the Scandinavians had their heads handed to them at Novgorod and had to be itching for some payback. When they had not arrived, Robert wrote them off.

    But, here and now, Kalfi bounces down off of his horse, no mean feat in full plate, and greets Robert and the other knights exuberantly. A big, strapping redhead, he nearly flattens Coucy with a hearty slap on the old man's back. When he gets to Robert, he grins broadly and turns to a grey-bearded old soldier who was holding the reins of his horse. "Look, Sútari! The brother of the King of France is here!"

    Sútari balefully looks Robert up and down, then turns to Kalfi, "Keep a hand on your purse, sire." The assembled commanders exclaim in outrage, but Kalfi just laughs and clouts Sútari good-naturedly on the side of the head, "Impudence! Go check on your men, and I will call you when I need you. Your pardon, milord. He is a Vinlander, and they are to a man insolent rogues with no respect for their betters, but I would not campaign without them."

    Kalfi suddenly drops to one knee, "On bended knee, milord, I and my men beg the honor of the first charge." Sútari, who was hanging around trading dirty looks with the English and French nobility, rolls his eyes and mutters, "Lord, not us again ..." Kalfi ignores him. Roberts considers this for a moment. It would fit in with his battle plan. He places his mailed hand on Kalfi's should. "Of course. I would not have it any other way."

    A single haggard knight rides up. One of Robert's scouts. They skirmished with the Tatar vanguard and were all but wiped out. Batu's force is hot on their heels. Robert barks out the orders to form up and sends a messenger to summon the Saracen commander.


    While Robert's advance guard skirmishes with the onrushing Mongols, he shakes his army into battle formation. It is an innovation of his own, as far as he knows - ranks of infantry protecting lines of bowmen. Behind them is massed his armored horsemen, poised for the final killing blow. And he is not falling for any of that Tatar phony-retreat-then-turn-and-flank-them crap, either. Robert has given this a lot of thought [FN20.08] and has studied all there is to know about the battles against the Tatars and so he has formed his reserves into a rear guard. In command of the rear guard, and very unhappy about it, is his younger brother Charles of Anjou. As it turns out, Robert has the same doubts about Charles that Charles has about him, so he has kept him out of the main battle line.

    And so the two armies square off in Flanders fields. In the center of the Crusader line, Robert assembles Kalfi's Vinlandic horsemen and the mixed Grenadan force - about half mounted bowmen and half lancers - commanded by Yusuf al-Ahmar, heir to the throne of Grenada. This is the plan, the whole army - infantry, archers and cavalry - will move forward, but the Vinlanders and Saracens will charge directly at the center of the Tatar line. Robert has concluded that the Tatars will be unable to resist the bait and sweep in to bag the charging horsemen. He will then fall upon their flanks and crush them.

    Yusuf and Kalfi look at each other. Yusuf is profoundly dubious of the plan - it seems like suicide to him. And why would the Tatar commander expose his flanks to smash a small column, with the great mass of the Crusader army right there? But he has his orders from his father - cooperate with the farangi. Kalfi, on the other hand, bubbles with enthusiasm. A chance to strike directly at the heart of the Tatar army! Perhaps he will even engage Batu himself! Both Yusuf and Sútari groan.

    And so they form up with the two commanders in the lead. Again, that strikes Yusuf as idiotic - if they both fall, who will take control of the attack? One of Kalfi's soldiers can speak Latin, as can one of Yusuf's troopers, so they will ride with the two commanders and translate. The Saracens and the Vinlanders sort of mill about, looking warily at each other. Suddenly, the Vinlanders start banging their lances and shields together in an incredible din. Kalfi trots out at the head of the mass of horsemen and draws himself up in his saddle.

    "Soldiers of the Cross!" The Saracens, including Yusuf scowl upon hearing the translation. Kalfi, while not the brightest light in the candelabra, is a leader of men, so he starts again. "Soldiers of ... the West!"

    And there, out of the mouth of the most unlikely man, a new concept is born.

    "There may come a day when the strength of the West will fail, when the pagan tide will roll across this land, sweeping all before it. But that day is not today! Deus vult!"

    Yusuf leads the Saracens in taking up the cheer, "Allah akbar!" Once the translator explains to Kalfi, he joins in, "Yes, God is great! Allah akbar!" The Europeans in the Crusader lines are more than a little shocked that a man with the cross on his shoulder would be shouting Saracen battle-cries, but Kalfi does not care - he is carried away in the moment.

    "Forward, Christian and Saracen! Forward for Christ and Allah!"

    And so, they are off, thundering across the turf, charging headlong toward the Tatar lines.

    (The Sainte-Chapelle)

    Louis' head swims and his throat is raw with prayer. "Pater noster, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum, Adveniat regnum tuum ..." his body is wracked by a sudden spasm, and he reaches for a rag to wipe his brow. It comes back sodden with blood. His eyes fall on the golden requilary.

    This crown of thorns.

    He casts his eyes downward and a trickle of blood runs down his face [FN21.07].

    "... fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra ..."

    (South of Ghent)

    As Kalfi and Yusuf and their horsemen race towards Batu's army, the Crusader line heaves itself ponderously into motion. No one in Europe since time out of mind has commanded such a vast and diverse host and getting them all moving in the same direction takes some doing. But they do get going.

    Batu watches the Vinlanders and Saracens charge and shakes his head. What kind of fool do they think he is? He orders the appropriate signals.

    The first barrage of Tatar arrows slices through the charging horsemen, sending Vinlanders and Saracens tumbling to the ground. But Yusuf has a surprise for them. At his signal, the Grenadan wheelbowmen loose a volley of their own arcing over the heads of their Vinlandic allies and thumping into the Mongol line. As Mongol archers fall from their horses, the Vinlanders roar with approval and spur their mounts through the rain of enemy projectiles.

    In the Middle Ages, mounted warriors facing an enemy charge can do two things - counter-charge or retreat. They can't just stand there and receive the charge. So, as Kalfi's men close in upon the center of the Mongol battle-line, the Tatar horsemen turn tail and fall back. But only those in the center - the remainder of the Mongol line is engaged in a furious exchange of volleys with Robert's advancing Crusader ranks.

    As the surviving Vinlanders and Saracens burst through the Mongol line, Batu's rear guard immediately falls upon them and they are encircled. The battle quickly degenerates into chaos. Yusuf had a horse shot from under him as they charged, so while he hunted for another he lost track of Kalfi. As he rides amidst his surrounded troops, he desperately hunts for the Vinlandic commander. They need to form up and get out of here. If they can cut their way out, they can fall on the main Tatar force from the rear. Suddenly, Kalfi rides up. His lance and helmet are gone and he is splattered with blood, but he is grinning broadly.

    "Aha! There you are, my Saracen friend! And where have you been? Buggering little boys amidst the baggage, no doubt! I have six Tatars to my name, and I think one of them was a noble!" Yusuf just gapes at him uncomprehending. Where the hell are the translators? Kalfi sees him looking around, "Dead, poor sods! Shot out of the saddle one-two just like that by a European, of all things, who is riding with the Tatars, ugly one-eyed bugger with a mask ..."

    Yusuf cuts him off, "You great Farangi fool! We need to bring some order to this mob and break out -" But the damn blonde Nasrani idiot just sits there grinning and shaking his head. Then, suddenly, he points to a group of about a dozen Tatar heavies that are forming up to charge right at them and waves his sword. "Come, my heathen comrade! We can take them! You and I!"

    Yusuf gets the gist of it. "No, you fool! We must -" And then he looks around. Their force is collapsing all around them. There can be no order brought to this battle. And he looks up at the cold, clear winter sky. To Shaitan with it, it is as good a day as any ...

    He smiles and extends his hand to the grinning Vinlander. "I do not mind dying at your side, you Nasrani idiot, because I know that Allah, in his mercy, will wash me clean of your infernal stench when I get to Paradise." Kalfi just huzzahs and shakes his hand lustily.

    "And so to it! Deus vult! Allah akbar! No ransom!"

    And they charge. Nimble Arabian spur-to-spur with lumbering percheron, sword and scimitar, Nasrani and Saracen, against the enemies of the West ...

    (The Sainte-Chapelle)

    "Pater noster, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum ..." King Louis IX is reeling now, his shirt soaked with blood. As he looks down at his bare arms and hands he sees crimson pin-pricks starting to form. He wipes the blood from his eyes and leans heavily on the rail, sparing a glance at the crucifix.

    "... fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra ..."

    Thy.

    Will.

    Be.

    Done.

    (South of Ghent)

    Robert of Artois is having a tough time of it. Batu's failure to expose his flanks has thrown his battle plan into a cocked helmet. And the Tatar just seemed to ... swallow up the Vinlanders' charge. Essentially, he is now out of ideas, so he will just keep moving forward. The burden of commanding the sole army between the Tatars and Paris is beginning to wear on him, and he grows increasingly anxious.

    But the Crusaders keep marching. They advance in formation, behind a rolling barrage of arrows from French and English bowmen. The English, who have honed their skills in the incessant Scottish Wars against the Swedes, pump out an incredible twelve arrows a minute as they advance. The front ranks take a terrible beating from Mongol archery, but they keep pushing onward. The Mongols throw everything they have at the Crusaders, but they keep coming. Gunpowder bombs from Mongol trebuchets burst, with more sound than fury, amidst the European ranks, but the Crusader commanders stem the panic. Parisian crossbowmen cut ruthlessly cut down the trebuchet crews. Boniface of Savoy, the Archbishop of Canterbury, rides about the battlefield in full armor with his mace held high, exhorting the English troops forward while arrows whistle all around him. Finally, he falls from his horse, a Mongol arrow through his throat.

    The butchery goes on, and the Crusader forces begin to fray. There is only so much mere men, even men on fire with Christian zeal, can take.

    Batu Khan, who smiled with grim satisfaction as his men annihilated the charging Vinlanders and Saracens, is starting to become concerned. Too many of his men have been cut down by the rain of European arrows and he is all-too-aware that he has no hope for reinforcement. His archers are littering the battlefield with Crusader corpses, but their ranks refuse to break and they hold their armored horsemen in check behind the stolid rows of infantrymen. He had counted on the charge of the knights, which he could then sweep from the field before they could come to grips with his forces, but it just won't come. His forces cannot take much of this. So he orders the signal.

    Robert is starting to panic. It is all going wrong. The Crusaders front line is beginning to crumble under the remorseless battering of Tatar arrows. His bowmen's quivers are running dry. His knights are roaring with impatience, demanding to be loosed against the forces of the enemy. But he knows that if he gives the order to charge, the Tatars will slaughter them before they can close. He is wracked with indecision. God! he prays, Oh, Lord of Hosts, please help me! What should I do?!?

    (The Sainte-Chapelle)

    It is finally too much for him. Louis IX, King of France, delirious with hunger, thirst and loss of blood, sways on his knees, then tumbles sideways onto the floor of the chapel.

    He knows that the Lord demands sacrifice, and he embraces it with his final breath "... fiat voluntas tua ..."

    (South of Ghent)

    It blows through Robert's mind like a cool, calming breeze. Right! the Tatars are going to go right! He shouts to his messenger to have Charles and the rear guard charge around the left flank. Charles, nearly mad with frustration of being consigned to the rear of the greatest battle in history, gives a triumphant yell, the trumpets sound, and they are off.

    Charles' horsemen slam headlong into the onrushing Mongol heavy, who were very reasonably expecting to cut their way into the Crusader rear echelon nearly unopposed. The furious Crusaders smash the startled Tatar horsemen, driving them back in disorder. Charles dies in the initial collision, but his knights take off in pursuit.

    Batu is stunned. While not the most sanguine commander, he has been raised to lead great armies in battle, and his experience in the West has taught him that, when the Christians give battle in the field, they can be beaten rather handily. Their leaders are an undisciplined rabble, vainglorious and foolish. As he watches the remnant of his heavy cavalry in full retreat, he simply refuses to believe his eyes. This cannot be happening. He grits his teeth and orders another signal. He will turn this minor Crusader success against them.

    They cannot now resist a charge.

    Robert is exultant. He sees the main Tatar line begin to turn tail. Now. Now all he has to do is hold his ranks, and keep advancing. His infantry and archers will give their lives protect his horsemen until they can close the gap and drive the Tatar bowmen from the field.

    His exultation is short-lived. Robert's knights, witnessing the Tatar heavies being beaten back by Charles' troops, will wait no more. They start forcing their way through the mass of foot-soldiers.

    And then they charge, their horses hooves tearing up the blood-soaked ground. They race, lances down, full-tilt straight at the Mongol horsemen. Robert is beside himself as he feels control of his army slip through his fingers. No, no, you fools! We had them!

    Now it is Batu's turn to exult. Signal the standard sweep, he roars! He almost - but not quite - pities the Crusader commander. For all that, this battle will end the way the way the others have.

    Not quite.

    Batu has made a very serious mistake. As his lights sweep around to encircle the charging knights, the Mongol heavies, who would be tasked to drive off the surviving infantry, are either dead or still engaged in furious combat with the remnant of Charles' horsemen. So as the Mongol light cavalry closes the ring around the knights and pour arrows into them from all directions, the Crusader infantry falls upon them from behind, hacking at them and their horses with swords and axes. The Crusaders are enraged at the thought of the knights stealing their victory and they attack without let-up.

    So, by the time the heavy cavalry can extricate itself and attack the Crusader infantry, the damage is done. While thousands upon thousands of Crusader knights lay dead upon the field, thousands of Mongol horsemen lay beside them.

    Now Batu really cannot believe his eyes. His army is breaking to pieces right in front of him. Despairing, he signals for the retreat. Torgene is going to have a field day with this ...

    (Brenner Pass, Candlemass Day, 1250)

    Kuyuk smiles confidently as he leads the Kashik, the Mongol Imperial Guard, through the snows of the Alps. He has broken his force up into detachments, each of which is snaking its way through the mountains by a different path. He looks behind him and takes in the Kashik, resplendent in their black enameled armor and red facings. And behind them, lumbering along slowly but steadily, are six massive olifaunts, decked out for war.

    When he descends upon the great plain on the other side of these mountains, he thinks, he will have a surprise for the Franks who sit seemingly-secure behind their walls of their great rich cities ...


    Empty America: Part 22 - So, If You've a Date In Constantinople (Three) ...


    (Northern Europe, February-March, 1250)

    Sútari, the old Vinlandic campaigner, had been riding for what seems like forever when he pushes his way through the door of the little inn and sinks gratefully at the rough wooden table. He is alone in the place, except for the proprietor, who eyes him uneasily. As well he might, because Sútari is a sight to behold, even in an age not known for personal hygiene. His hair and beard are matted with blood and dirt and his clothes are tattered and filthy. About the only thing presentable on his person is his helmet and chain mail. The broad-bladed, short-handled battleaxe (Sútari's) and the goat-leg crossbow [FN22.01] (picked up on the battlefield) are none too reassuring, either. He hoists a sizable purse and *thunks* it heavily onto the table. Another souvenir from the battlefield. Took it off the corpse of some duke or lord or knight or something. Frankly, Sútari had just about enough of the whole lot of them. He supposed, as the only Vinlandic survivor, he should have seen Prince Kalfi's body back to Norway, but the hell with him. The hell with all of them. He misses the Commonwealth. He calls the proprietor over, taps the purse and says, in passable French, "Wine. The best you got, as much as you got." The innkeeper looks at him, looks at Sútari's weaponry, looks at the purse, then strolls off without a word. Bloody Frenchmen, thinks Sútari.

    He leans back in his chair, tilts his head back, and closes his eyes. Dead. They were all dead. Saracens and Vinlanders, the whole column. And a lot of others besides. Most of the "men of name" died with the rest in the general melee that followed the Crusader charge, so Sútari took some comfort in that. He saw old Coucy fall with his own eyes, and Richard of Cornwall's familiars were carrying him off as Sútari departed. Robert of Artois survived - Sútari saw him wandering the battlefield as if in a daze. It figures. A commander who loses two-thirds of his men survives. At least the King's other brother, Charles, had the decency to die with the rear guard.

    The proprietor returns with a cup of wine. Sútari takes a swig, looks at the cup, looks at the proprietor, then very deliberately empties the cup onto the dirt floor. He looks at the innkeeper again. "That's not your best. That's not even close." The innkeeper looks at Sútari, looks at the battle axe and the crossbow, then snatches up the cup and stalks off. He is back in a moment with another cup. Sútari takes an experimental sip. He nods to the proprietor, who walks away, again without a word. Bloody Frenchmen, thinks Sútari, who settles into his wine. He is going to get purposefully, deliberately drunk, and then he is going to be on his way.

    ***

    The Mongols are sore losers. Batu, who is returning to his Khanate with a little over half of the men he set out with, has decided that he does not have enough troops to hold Flanders, so he decides to destroy it. Those cities that surrendered during the invasion are leveled and as many of their inhabitants that can be rounded up (or as many as the Mongols find to be worthwhile captives) are herded back to Batu's empire. Ghent, Bruges and any number of smaller towns burn, and the roads are choked with Flemish prisoners marching east. The wealthy are roasted over fires until they reveal where they have hidden their treasures. (The patriarch of the wealthy Vander Beurse family of Bruges earns eternal fame in his country by going tight-lipped to the flames.) The Mongols kill everyone else. The industrial and financial heartland of northern Europe is in ruins.

    And, much to Batu's annoyance, the one eyed man who counseled him to this disaster has disappeared.

    The Mongols do not have to worry about the Crusaders interfering with their depredations. Having been through the greatest battle of the age, many suddenly discover that their quarantine is up - they have earned their indulgence - so they make their way home. Robert is inclined to pursue Batu, but he simply cannot do so with the forces he has remaining. And then the news of King Louis' death reaches him, plunging him into despair. The king's son is only a boy, so there will be a prolonged regency. He, the fallen king's brother and the new king's uncle, has dynastic matters to attend to. And so the Crusaders withdraw and disperse. Robert is disappointed that he cannot march on the Empire and liberate it from its heathen overlords, but he has saved the West from the power of the enemy, and that is enough for now.

    ***

    Trudging along in the late-winter snow with his family and a great horde of others that the Tatars have rounded up near Liege is a ten-year-old boy. Little Siger is not crying, like so many of the other little boys, but he is pestering his parents with numerous questions about who those strange men on the horses were, where they got their colorful clothing, why they looked different than them, and where they were all going. His mother just looks around worriedly, fearing that the boy will attract attention, and tugs him along. He is Siger de Brabant and we will return to him later.

    ***

    Sútari is good and drunk when he puts his helmet unsteadily back on his head, gathers up his crossbow and his axe and weaves his way to door. His purse is substantially lighter, but he doesn't care, although he vaguely wonders if the proprietor did give him better wine than at first. It's not like he has a palate for the stuff. But anyway, it's not his money. As he reaches the door, he turns and says to the innkeeper, "Next time you think about cheating a soldier, make sure he's not a Vinlander, because if it wasn't for us, you all would be learning to speak Tatar right about now."

    The innkeeper just looks at Sútari, and pushes up his sleeve. His forearm is criss-crossed with deep scars. "These I got in Flanders fighting Christiaan the Cursed in my younger days. Victory belongs to God, not man, and the true soldier does not boast of it."

    Sútari stops and looks at the innkeeper for a long moment. Then he grunts, nods and makes his way unsteadily out the door.

    (Italy, 1250-53)

    Since time immemorial, man has asked himself one question - what would the effect of a thirteenth-century counterweight trebuchet flinging a burning barrel of tar onto the back of a Mongol mastodon of war? The Hungarian soldiers in the siege tower that the mastodon was pushing towards the walls of Milan find out the hard way. Said mastodon panics, rears and lunges, trying desperately to break out of his harness. In the process, he topples the siege tower, then bursts his bonds and flees the battlefield, trampling the soldiers who try to stop him.

    Well, thinks Kuyuk, it was worth a try, anyway. Plenty more Hungarians where those came from. Notwithstanding that minor setback, the siege of Milan is going well. The Germans, to Kuyuk's surprise, are redoubtable soldiers, even under the command of steppe nomad. And the Hungarians are not too bad, either. Kuyuk's engineers have built him hundreds of trebuchets with which to batter Milan, and so he does. And before spring comes, Kuyuk thinks, we shall see how the 'olifaunts' do with a battering ram.

    Inside the city walls, Capitano del Popolo Fillippo della Torre coolly considers the odds of his great city surviving the Mongol siege. It does not look good. He has thirty thousand men at his command - every able-bodied man that he has been able to get his hand on now has his hands on a sword, a spear or an crossbow. And, anticipating the Tatar onslaught, he has well-provisioned the city for a siege. At least he does not have to worry about subversion from within. The contentious factions inside the city have set aside their differences and rallied to il Capitano's standard. But in his heart of hearts, della Torre fears it will not be enough. These Tatars are like no foe he has ever faced. From what he can see, they have enslaved nearly all of Lombardy and marched their captives up to the walls of Milan. They work them tirelessly, building towers and siege engines. Milanese archers and trebuchet crews butcher them without mercy, when they come within range. The Archbishop has assured them that it is no sin, since they - even unwillingly - serve the Antichrist. And even now, he receives reports from runners that throughout the land, enemy cavalrymen are wringing food and fodder from terrified peasants, then massacring them to save themselves the trouble of driving back to their homes. A city can, oftentimes, ride out a siege, hoping that disease and want of provisions will vanquish the besiegers, but not this time. The Tatars can and will do whatever it takes to win.

    They will destroy Lombardy in order to conquer it.

    Della Torre has confidence in his men. He knows that they can make the taking of Milan frightfully expensive for the Tatars, but the breach will come, and the city will fall. Their only hope is for relief. And their only hope for relief lies in the hands of Milan's greatest enemy.

    ***

    At the head of an army of fifty thousand men, assembled from all over the peninsula, Ezzelino da Romano marches to the relief of Milan. It is a great polyglot force, unthinkable in days past. Papal troops and soldiers from virtually all the Guelph cities march along side Saracens from Naples and Staufen loyalists from Sicily. Nothing like it has ever been fielded in the innumerable wars that have wracked Italy, but this vast host is on the move north, following the valley of the Po, under the one man who can save Lombardy from Tatar conquest.

    Ezzelino had hoped it would not come to this, but nothing else has worked. He has dispatched smaller armies all around Lombardy, burning anything that could be of use to the Tatars and, where they could, ambushing enemy foraging parties. And they gave the Tatars some bloody noses, at not insignificant cost to themselves. But it is just too much to cope with. The Tatars are too ruthless, too efficient. Romano's scorched-earth tactics cannot break them, not in time to save Milan.

    In his belly, Ezzelino knows he should not do this. He should hunker down, break his army up and garrison a half-dozen walled cities, and let the Tatars bleed themselves white trying to take them all. Eventually, they will have to turn back. But, in the back of his mind, there is a niggling doubt. If the Tatars can force the Alpine passes and mount this attack upon Milan in February, what will they be capable of come Spring? And there is one more thing - what if della Torre, facing defeat and destruction, cuts a deal with Kuyuk? After all, it happened all over Germany, and the Milanese were among those who stood aside - helped, even! - when the Tatars came for Frederick. If della Torre trades cooperation with the Tatars for some measure of independence, there would be no stopping them. And so, against his better instincts, he marches.

    ***

    Outside the walls of Milan, Frederick of Hohenstaufen paces his tent like a caged tiger. This could be his moment. He has been playing the role of loyal stooge to the Tatar conquerors for the better part of a decade, assiduously learning all there was to know about the Tatar armies and quietly renewing the loyalty of the German nobility. And now, he is on his own ground, as commander of the German infantry besieging Milan. He has canvassed his officers, and they are with him. All he needs is the right moment ...

    Kuyuk, informed by the phenomenally-effective Mongol scouts of Ezzelino's advance, exults. Most commanders in his situation - potentially caught between the hammer of the Crusader forces and the anvil of Milan - would not be particularly pleased. But Kuyuk was. As interested as he was in as playing with the mastodons, a siege does not really get his blood pumping like an open battle. Within moments he has a plan and within hours, the Mongol cavalry has disengaged from its positions around Milan and is riding southeast towards Lodi. He leaves the siege in the hands of Frederick, his trusted subordinate. Well, almost trusted. He leaves a jagun of Mongol heavies (about 100) to keep an eye on him.

    As soon as Kuyuk is out of sight, Frederick jumps. On his signal, his familiars murder his Tatar keepers. The rest of the jagun is taken care of by German knights. Immediately, fighting breaks out between the Germans and the Hungarians, who intend to remain true to their salt. Della Torre and the Milanese, watch all of this from the city walls with fascination. And finally, when the Hungarians are subdued, Frederick orders all of his men to start sewing cloth patches to their shoulders. Frederick the Crusader is back in business. When it is all done, he mounts a white stallion and trots in front of the city walls, well within bowshot of the defenders. "Men of free Milan!" he roars, "The Tatar horde that has beset you has been overthrown!" There is much commotion from within the city walls. "Join us! Join us in God's Crusade against the heathen!" Much more commotion on the city walls. Della Torre is a believer, but some of his underlings are not. This could be an elaborate ruse to get them to open the gates.

    Frederick turns to an aide. "They need convincing. Convince them." Thump-thump go the trebuchets. Clunk-clunk go a dozen or so severed Tatar heads as they land on the streets of Milan. That makes della Torre a believer. He knows enough about the Tatars to know that they would not suffer the mutilation of their dead, even if it would buy them access to Milan. The gates are flung open and in march the Germans, to general jubilation. Ancient enemies embrace.

    But soon, at least at the highest levels, the joy gives way to acrimony about what to do next. Frederick is keen to march against Kuyuk and sandwich the Tatars between themselves and Ezzelino. Della Torre is less enthusiastic. He figures that Ezzelino can either beat or weaken the Tatars, and Milan - strengthened by Frederick's troops and supplies - can withstand the siege if Kuyuk returns. The debate goes on for some time, when suddenly an exhausted messenger arrives. King Louis of France has given his life to defeat the Tatars! The invaders have suddenly lost their aura of invincibility.

    Frederick is stunned and deeply saddened. Louis, for all his extroverted piety, was always cordial to Europe's most prominent apostate. Even after his capture by the Tatars, Louis would write Frederick anguished letters about the torment he must be going through, forced to serve a heathen master. Frederick noted that Louis' letters began to get increasingly divorced from reality.

    Here and now, through his sorrow, he senses opportunity. With Louis dead, Frederick was now Christendom's most prominent monarch - if a bit down on his heels at the moment. If he and Ezzelino could crush Kuyuk, he would be in a position to take over the Christian resistance to the Tatars, effectively sidelining the Pope.

    Della Torre is still not buying it. He questioned the messenger at length and learned that the Crusader army had been all but destroyed in Flanders by a smaller Tatar force. But the others are all for it, Milanese and Germans. Della Torre senses that, if he continues to resist, his command will slip from his hands. With a sigh, he finally agrees. They will march.

    ***

    When Kuyuk gets the news of Frederick's betrayal and the advance of the German and Milanese forces, he nearly whoops with joy. Not many commanders with a powerful armies before and behind them would be particularly pleased, but Kuyuk is coasting along on the adrenaline rush. Now, all the cards are out on the rug, and that's the way he likes it. So he gets to it, kicking in that phenomenal Mongol speed and peeling off a minghan of engineers as he goes, to take care of some things in the rear.

    Kuyuk makes it look easy, but in thirteenth century Europe, only a Mongol commander at the head of Mongol troops could have done it.

    First, he hits da Romano at a gallop, his lights pouring aimed arrows into the Crusader ranks and the Kashik riding clear around them to torch their logistic train and sow chaos in their rear. With the light cavalry savaging their front ranks and the Kashik rampaging behind them, da Romano's polyglot force disintegrates, men running and riding every which way. Kuyuk just grins wildly and strokes his chin-whiskers until one of his scouts rides up with the news that he has been waiting for. Then he starts laughing. He has a prisoner - a priest that they captured on their ride but hadn't gotten around to killing yet - hauled in front of him and, from horseback, gives him a message for Kuyuk's opponent, "Inform Signor Ezzelino da Romano that I, regretfully, must depart for a more pressing engagement elsewhere. He should not fear, however, for once I have concluded my business with the master, I will return to renew my acquaintance with the servant."

    It is a taunt and a challenge. Kuyuk has not been in Europe long, but he is learning how to play their noble caste. Kuyuk does not want da Romano retreating into some fortress. He wishes he could stay and finish them, but he knows some damn fool would make a heroic last stand and hold him up. For this opportunity, he is willing to take his chances.

    ***

    Frederick of Hohenzollern could roar with frustration at how long the river crossing is taking. Instead, he lends a hand, so when Kuyuk smashes his bridgehead, he is at the oars of one of the boats rowing himself and a crew of awe-struck soldiers across the Po. Trying to sandwich Kuyuk between his army and Ezzelino's seemed like a good idea at the time, until he found himself on the wrong side of the Po. And Kuyuk's engineers had done a very thorough job in destroying just about all the ways he and his army could get across. In fact, if he had not found this large clutch of boats - which Frederick assumed Kuyuk himself had used to cross the river - he figured he would still be stuck on the other side. If it occurred to Frederick that Kuyuk had very purposefully left all those boats in that spot with the intent that Frederick find them and use them, he doesn't show it.

    The fact that, if Kuyuk had used them himself, the boats would have been on the other side of the Po, should have been a dead giveaway.

    So, when Kuyuk hits the Crusaders at the river, in exactly the spot and at exactly the time he had planned, only about half of Frederick's force has crossed. The rest was either on the water or on the opposite bank, just as Kuyuk had planned. The result is slaughter on the riverbank and in the river. The advance guard is taken by surprise and overwhelmed. Disorder reigns as little groups of soldiers either stand and fight or flee back to the water. Della Torre, who was in command of the first troops to cross [FN22.02], tries desperately to assemble some sort of cohesive formation. He tries and he fails and his failure kills him.

    On the river, with Tatar arrows flashing around him, Frederick must make a decision. He can either rush his forces forward and try to hold the crossing, or he can fall back to the opposite bank. It is a bitter pill to swallow, but he sounds the retreat. Or at least he tries to, since his buglers and such are in a different boat that he cannot locate at the moment.

    And so it just falls apart. Some of the soldiers in the boats take matters into their own hands and row frantically downriver. Others, not waiting for orders, do an about face and head back to the water line. A few, determined to assist their fellows on the far bank, press on and perish in a shower of Tatar arrows. Frederick and the others in his boat make it back to rejoin the rear guard. He quickly surveys the troops he has on hand and curses floridly. No way he can stay in the field. He must retreat to Milan.

    The Tatars have other ideas. As Frederick falls back from the river, the Mongols, who have seized many of the boats intact, quickly set about building a pontoon bridge. Frederick, who is burdened with a great deal of infantry, is moving slowly and it is not long before his trailing elements are overtaken by the Kashik. The Crusaders' retreat turns into a rout. Frederick leads his knights into the rear. If he can just hold them off, maybe he can get the rest of his force inside Milan, and he can figure out what to do next from there. But he does not know the Kashik. They are the elite of the elite. Every man is a bahadur, a knight in his own right, rigorously trained, extensively experienced, splendidly equipped and risen to his exalted position by skill in combat. They slaughter the German and Milanese cavalry and send the survivors - including Frederick - reeling back towards the main mass of the Crusader army. And then Kuyuk and the main Tatar force arrives.

    Its happened before, it happens again, and when it is done, Frederick and as many survivors as he can gather are riding southwest towards Pavia. He knows the Tatars are going to return to Milan, and he has no intention of being there when they do.

    (Europe 1250-1255)

    There is a certain inevitability to at least some of what follows. Kuyuk, having smashed Frederick's army, swings around and pays a return visit to Ezzelino's forces, who - notwithstanding Kuyuk's taunt to their commander - are struggling southwards, making for Piacenza and some sheltering walls. They don't make it. Well, about a fourth of them do, but not their commander, who fell in the field. Milan, largely denuded of troops, is then taken by treachery. Kuyuk has some of his surviving European prisoners dress in Milanese colors, and the gates are opened for them after the announce the defeat of the Tatar. The Mongols slaughter everyone in the city, notwithstanding Batu's orders that Kuyuk abstain from such wholesale massacre.

    But Kuyuk is riding high. He has fought four battles in the field, played rope-a-dope with two armies larger than his own, and beaten them both handily. And then, as an encore, he took the greatest city in Lombardy without suffering significant casualties. That's enough for him - his reputation is made and Batu's defeat merely makes his own accomplishments all the more glorious. He is not going to stick around and slug his way down what is probably the most fortified peninsula in the world. At Kuyuk's request, Torgene calls him back to Karakorum, and so he is gone, and he takes the Kashik with him.

    Batu is furious. Not only does he have to spend most of 1250 and 1251 putting down the brushfire rebellions - sparked by his defeat in Flanders - that have broken out in his Khanate. And not only does Kuyuk's dazzling victories in Lombardy make his ... temporary check in Flanders all the more galling, but Kuyuk has departed - again! - when the going got tough and taken the best troops with him. And after he wiped the biggest city of Lombardy off the face of the earth, too. Batu, like most Mongol rulers has an eye for trade and annihilated cities are bad for business. So, Batu has to take over the Italian campaign himself. During the winter of 1252, he takes the surrender of Alessandria, crosses the Ligurian Alps and lays siege to Genoa. Oh, he would love to keep Genoa! Not only is the greatest of the mercantile cities, but it would also be his gateway into Ultima Thule, the Ursulines and Terranova. There was a time when Batu thought his ambition could be satisfied with his dominion over the Franks. But now, he has had a taste of power, he wants more. In his darker moments, he fears that another Khan, of some other branch of the Golden Family, will submit the peoples of the New World - and, um, all that gold he has been hearing about - to the will of the Tengri, but right now, he has tasks at home to attend to.

    As much as he would like to have Genoa and the Genoese at his disposal, he has a treaty with the Venetians. Genoa must be destroyed. This was the one non-negotiable part of the agreement with Doge Morosini. That Batu did not know how valuable Genoa could be is of no consequence. He is a Khan of the steppe, and he will not go back on his word.

    And so, as he settles in for a siege around Genoa, he rebuffs the Republic's repeated offers - usually accompanied by the promise of an immense bribe - of conditional surrender: formal capitulation in exchange for self-rule. They will surrender unconditionally, take an oath of allegiance to the Khan and accept a Venetian podesta, just like the other Lombard cities that the Tatars have taken. The Genoese will take their chances with the siege. It isn't exactly an air-tight siege, since Genoa is a port and the Mongols have no navy. Which is puzzling, since Batu has been expecting the arrival of a blockading Venetian fleet. The Khan has sent repeated emissaries to the Lion City, inquiring as to why the Venetians had not joined them in the destruction of their most hated foe, but so far all he has gotten is excuses about the winds and the weather. It is vexing, but under the terms of the treaty, technically Venice was not required to help the Mongols destroy Genoa. But Batu figured they would want to.

    So, after a couple of months, Batu figures that a siege is not going to work, and Genoa would have to be taken by storm. He hates that - it is too costly in the lives of his troops. After due deliberation, he decides to send in the Hungarians. He has lots of Hungarians, and they are not given to suddenly changing sides like the Germans. There are two days of ferocious fighting at the breach, but the people of Genoa know that the end is near, and they also know too well what happened in Milan. The harbor is clogged with sturdy "round" ships that can sail the Western Ocean or the Germanic and Brittanic Seas. By the third day of fighting at the breach, the Genoese Diaspora has been well under way for some time. Most go someplace handy, like Sicily, or someplace where Genoa has a major trading presence, like Sardinia or Portugal. Others, more keen on putting distance between themselves and the Tatars, or more determined to stay on Genoese soil, make for the Ursulines or the Fortunate Isles. The Genoese ships themselves only make the trip to the nearest safe port, then return for more. When the end comes, thousands of Genoese soldiers and civilians give their lives so that the remaining refugees can escape. No one greets the Venetian podesta when he arrives to claim the ruined city.

    Batu is uninterested in all these things. To the march is he addressed. And what a march it is. Over the course of the next two years, he either takes the surrender or crushes the major cities of northern Italy. Bologna surrenders. Florence, defying its reputation that it would rather pay others to do its fighting, dies rather than submit. Siena capitulates after a two-month-long bombardment by hundreds of Tater trebuchets and is spared.

    It takes some doing, but by 1255, Batu Khan finds himself sitting on his horse on Monte Malo, looking down upon Rome, which is laid out like a map before him -the Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Apulian castles, the Porta Collina, the Via Triumphalis ...


    (Venice, 1255)

    Doge Pietro Ziani looks at the chess board and thinks carefully. He has been playing a game by courier with the Regent of France for the last year or so, and he thinks he may finally have him. A messenger scurries in and whispers something in his ear. Ziani looks up from the chess board. "Tell them what we have already told them. And tell the Mongol ambassador he is not to come to this chamber with threats in his mouth, unless he is prepared to carry them out. And inform the members of the Council that the Tatar ambassador has conveyed his message to me, and inform them of my response." He smiles to himself and returns to examining the board. Ziani did not agree with his predecessor's policy of collaborating with the Tatars. He is, however, absolutely adamant about wringing every advantage from the agreement that Doge Morosini extracted from the heathen horsemen. Ziani held the Tatars to their promise to destroy Genoa, and was extraordinarily pleased when Pisa also fell. But he has not cooperated. Like the rest of Italy, he was horrified by the annihilation of the people of Milan, and he would not help the Tatars extirpate Genoa in a similar fashion. It does not trouble him. Without their home city, the Genoese are no threat. And with both Genoa and Pisa under Venetian podesta, the Lion City's domination is now complete. So its Doge can indulge his conscience.

    Much of Venice felt like he does. When he swore his promissione [coronation oath], he vowed not only to inform the Council of any contact he had with a foreign emissary, but he also promised to "redeem the Republic as a part of Christendom." Suitably vague, but impressively portentous, and everyone knew what it meant. Venice had been walking with the heathen too long. There is but one act of communal expiation left to perform. Ziani taps his finger on a piece of parchment that he just now received from King Baldwin II. Beneath it is another sheet bearing the seal of Pope Gregory X.

    Neither men are enthusiasts. Gregory sees no alternative. Burgundy, like the rest of the Empire, will fall. And soon, now that the Tatars have finished their conquest of Italy. The Tatars will hunt the Holy Father down like a dog, unless he either submits or is brought to some safe place. He will not submit. And Baldwin, well, he was adamantly opposed at first, but Ziani ... made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

    (Latin Kingdom of Constantinople, 1255)

    The ship bearing the Supreme Pontiff pulled into Constantinople with a slow dignity. The banner of Amalfi fluttered from its mast, beneath the papal insignia, but if one looked closely, it became clear that its captain and crew were Venetians to a man. The Latin colonists of the city welcomed their Pope exuberantly, but their king was substantially less enthused, although decorum kept him from being as openly sullen as the Orthodox masses who still made the majority of this city. They simply stood scowling and watched as one of the great enemies of their rite disembarked and took up residence in their magnificent metropolis. Pope Gregory X, who will one day (rightfully) usurp the title of one of his predecessors and be known as "Gregory the Great," has arrived in the greatest capital of free Christendom, fully realizing that he has a lot of work to do.


    NOTES:

    [FN16.01] I am picturing Paul Sorvino in Byzantine finery.

    [FN16.02] Abe Vigoda in 'The Godfather.' Also robed.

    [FN16.03] Mu-lan-p'i is the Chinese word for Ultima Thule. Literally, it means "land reached by great ships" or "land of mystery." Or something like that. No "Fusang." Doing a little cliché avoidance. Disclaimer: except for names I lift from elsewhere, such as this one, I am doing all translations through a daisy-chain of English -> Chinese character -> Pinyin web translators. So if you know Chinese, and I make some particularly egregious gaffes, please let me know without an undue amount of ridicule. Anyone know of a web site that translates English straight to Pinyin?

    [FN16.04] And you were wondering where the strange shipwreck, pseudo-runestones and Bhang of Fjaraland came from ...

    [FN16.05] I am cheating a bit here. Bison latifrons is thought to have died out, or disappeared through breeding with other species around 21,000 years ago, well before our "no prehistoric immigration to the Americas" POD. That being said, the giant bison is a hell of a beastie (and we don't really know everything about N. American megafauna, anyway), so I could not help but include it. Fossils contain horn cores spanning seven feet. That (presumably) would put the lead in the pencil of even the most careworn Song emperor. Also, please note, I have no idea about whether Emperor Gaozong had trouble in the bedroom or not. I do know that he had no surviving heir, OTL, and I believe that the Southern Song throne passed to an adopted son who became Emperor Xiaozong. In any event, ATL chroniclers do not know if this was the actual rationale for the voyage of discovery, or if Qin Gui was merely looking for an alternate source of revenue to pay off the Jin so he could lighten taxes and/or spend more on the army. Emperor Gaozong, OTL, purportedly said in 1145, "The profits from maritime commerce are very great. If properly managed, they can amount to millions of taels. Is this not better than taxing the people?" Noble sentiments, indeed. So, it could be that the bit about the impotence was the product of malicious eunuch servants from the Inner Court who were suffering from, er, envy. ATL historians debate endlessly on the subject.

    [FN17.01] Keen (below) disputes these figures, which I took (along with many of the events) from Chambers, 'The Devil's Horsemen.' Keen says that was probably more like 60-70 lbs. Suanders, in "History of the Mongol Conquests" agrees with Chambers, and states that the Mongol bow has a pull of 160 pounds and an effective range of 200-300 yards. Of course, ATL they are going to be switching over to compound bows ASAP. Enslaved Chinese and Kwarzemian craftsmen are essentially toiling 'round the clock - any composite bow is a lot of work, composite bows with wheels, all the more so. The imperial tumens that Batu has with him get wheelbows first, the rest follow as they become available.

    [FN17.02] Keen, Maurice "Medieval Warfare" (Oxford U. Press 1999).

    [FN17.03] Unlike European nobles, Mongol commanders preferred winter campaigns. Being sons of the steppe, the cold and snows of winter did not faze them or their horses, and being able to cross frozen rivers added to their already phenomenal mobility.

    [FN17.031] My sources are sort of conflicted about who is actually in command of Crackow's defenses, Vladimir or Boleslav and Russian Prince Mstislave of Galicia.

    [FN17.04] Of the many myths that sprung up about the Mongol invasion, one of the more prominent is that Leignitz was a pyrrhic victory for Henry's forces, that by inflicting sufficient casualties to halt the Mongol advance, Henry saved Europe from invasion. Of course, since Baidar and Kadan were merely keeping the Poles, et al, occupied while Bela crushed Hungary, this is not quite the case.

    [FN17.05] Although Leignitz gets more press, Mohi is probably the more impressive military accomplishment, since the Hungarian army was a more capable foe.

    [FN17.06] One of the more charming details of this farce is that the soldiers use the partially crumbled roof of the palace as a urinal. An English cardinal is said to have died of the heat and fumes.

    [FN17.07] "Gate of Spirits." Yeah, they could have named it "South Eastern Port City" or something.

    [FN17.08] Whether it was due to the buffalo horn or the fact that something had gone right and lessened his emotional burden is a matter of speculation.

    [FN17.09] "Gate of Men."

    [FN19.005] Well, this was to be a trifle more elaborate than it turned out to be.

    [FN19.01] Historians will cite to this sentence as evidence that Ogedei was not entirely hip to the status of Jerusalem at the time.

    [FN19.02] Admit it, you were waiting for that.

    [FN19.03] Both of which Frederick knows about. While he had a lot of faults, he generally kept his ear to the ground.

    [FN19.031] Accepting Frederick's surrender was a command decision on Kadan's part. Batu and Subedei want the Emperor, who refused submission in the past, dead. Traditionally, there is no second chance to surrender. However Kadan is more concerned with the survival of his command. He has come to respect the skill and discipline of Frederick's bodyguard, and Kadan knows that they would die to a man, and would taken many of the Mongols with them. Mongols are averse to the sort of close-quarters fighting that would be involved in taking the Fighine Castle. He would then have to turn his battered command north and fight Ezzelino, possibly without any assistance, as his Italian allies might turn on him once Frederick is dead. The prospect of having to fight his way back up Italy to reach Subedei is a daunting one, so when Frederick offers to submit, Kadan accepts.

    [FN19.04] Without a hint of irony, which (ATL) will be invented by Dante in 14th Century.

    [FN19.05] Torn straight from OTL. I am coming to the conclusion that Medieval Man was so different from you and I that he may as well have been from another planet.

    [FN19.06] Pardon the anachronism. While I was writing this, I was listening to Alison Krauss' "Down To The River To Pray" from the "O Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack. Hell of a song, but it ain't mine. All rights reserved by the folks who own it. And props to James Nicoll for beating me to the punch on the "soundtrack" idea.

    [FN20.001] Some OTL historians describe Zhu Xi (1130-OTL 1200) as being the most influential figure in Chinese intellectual history, other than Confucius. He was something of a prodigy, passing the jinshi exams at age 18 and accepting a minor position in a county government, where he refused proffered promotions for quiet some time. In a nutshell, his editions of the classic works of Chinese thought became the basis of Chinese education, and he is blamed by some for stifling Chinese intellectual growth and making Chinese family life excessively ritualistic. OTL his father opposed the peace treaty with the Jin and was punished for it. ATL, Zhu Xi unwisely accepts a posting in Mu-lan-P'i - not considered a plum, but the best thing available to him because of his father's difficulties - and winds up beneath the waves.

    [FN20.01] An actual medieval product, although I lost the cite, darn it.

    [FN20.03] Just a precision-casted pot, an exact amount of water and an old lady who knows how to create a standing wave and water spout using the right vibration frequency. Chinese have been doing it since 5th Century BC. Experts could create water spouts up to three feet high.

    [FN20.31] The 'Mo Ching' Fourth Century B.C. Bacon has apparently stumbled upon some Mohist texts that Western scholars did not, OTL, have ready access to.

    [FN20.04] Thanx to R. Rostrom.

    [FN20.05] No kidding. During one of the bouts of Staufen v. Papacy, hardly anybody wanted to have the fugitive Pope Innocent IV on their hands, not even Louis IX, so Innocent eventually wound up in Lyons, in Burgundy.

    [FN20.06] Again, torn straight from OTL. One of the reasons that OTL's England was, for the most part, free of the heretical movements that shifted around Europe in the 13th and 14th centuries. Then the Lollards sprung up from England's own soil.

    [FN20.07] Hugh treats the ambassadors to a chapter from the Dick Cheney's Diplomatic Phrasebook, then sends them packing. He knows better than to have them killed.

    [FN20.08] The choice has more appeal to Louis than to the Spiritines, who view the Cistercian Order, not without justification, as being quite worldly.


    [FN21.01] The Mongols, not being miners themselves, are somewhat fascinated by the idea of pulling treasure straight out of the ground.

    [FN21.02] His accidental death a few years before, OTL, is easily enough butterflied away.

    [FN21.03] The textile workers of Flanders duked it out with villeins for the bottom rung of the Medieval social ladder. Appalling social conditions, even by the standards of the day, IMHO.

    [FN21.04] Mongol political patrimony, i.e. those areas fully integrated into the Empire. By way of example, OTL Batu's Ulus included Sarai, Crimea, Kwarzim, and Deshi-I-Kipchak. The Rus were not included - they were ruled indirectly through local leaders. Halperin, in 'Russia and the Golden Horde,' theorizes that the lands of the Rus just weren't worth the trouble of ruling directly, but rather could be squeezed for money and conscripts from the Golden Horde's capital at Sarai. For a while, the Mongol method was this: install tax-collectors and conscript agents in the Rus principalities, and if the locals gave them any trouble, they could call in punitive expeditions from the steppe. I am positing that Central Europe being, AFAIK, more densely populated than the lands of the Rus at this time, would merit Mongol direct rule and be part of Batu's Ulus. To that end, Batu has replaced some of the German princes - those who resisted the invasion, largely - with Mongol bahadur (nobles). Those Christian princes who remain in place are overseen by Mongol Baskaki, officials who supervise conscription and tax collection. With regards to the former, the Empire is divided into tumen - units of ten thousand households, each of which have a responsibility to furnish a number of troops. Results vary.

    [FN21.05] A breakdown of Christian religious alignment in the Empire as of 1250 would go something like this: Catholic 70%, Spiritine 20%, Reformed Spiritine 10%.

    [FN21.06] http://www.discoverparis.net/newsletter.html?insight=3162987658722731

    [FN21.07] http://www.4reference.net/encyclopedias/wikipedia/Hematidrosis.html

    [FN21.08] Another first. OTL, Robert got his fool ass killed in 1250 pulling some stupid stunt in Mansourah, Egypt.

    [FN22.01] Developed earlier than OTL. The wheelbow, in addition to spurring the earlier development of plate armor (which is just now becoming common), tweaked interest in projectile weapons.

    [FN22.02] Legend has it that Frederick did not trust della Torre, so he wanted him out front, where he could keep an eye on him. The consequences are disastrous.
     
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  6. Constantinople Trump is Temporary, but hey, Brexit is forever Banned

    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2005
    Empty America: Part 23 - Houses of the Holy



    The next few parts are going to be a quick rundown of Ultima Thule [North America], the Ursulines [the Caribbean] and Terranova (or Whitsunland) [South America] circa 1260-80, in no particular order. All OTL geographic correlations are approximate. Nope, I still don't have a map ready.

    Domstolland [New York State, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut]

    Ooof, thought Folkhagi Sebbi Aðalbertson as something gurgled alarmingly in his gut, I should not have eaten all those lampreys. Damn foreign food ... Guðrún is going to hear about this when he gets home. Always trying to get him to eat new things, no matter what it does to his insides. He blinks a couple of times and shakes his head. The supplicant's Rodd [FN23.01] was still speaking, but Aðalbertson had lost the thread of the plea, so he interrupts.

    "So, these 'Jews,' they worship the same god as the Christians, but they are not Christians?" He did not bother to keep the skepticism out of his voice. He glanced out into the great hall of the Logretta. It was a large timber feasting hall, with long tables and benches beneath the great roof. It was very deliberately designed to evoke the Norsemen's vision of Valaskjalf, Odin's hall in Valhalla. The Folkhagi sat at a small dais at one end. If the Logretta was in session, the hall would be booming with the querulous - and generally drunken - voices of Domstolland's legislature. The Logretta were not sticklers for parliamentary procedure, and tended to drink, eat, and generally carouse while conducting the business of state. But this evening it was empty, except for the petitioner, his Rodd, and those contesting the petition, as is their right under the Jonsbok [FN23.02].

    "The father-God of the White Christ," said Abraham Abulafia [FN23.011], Aðalbertson noted he was careful to use the Norse term, "is the Jews only God. The Christians have grafted two additional incarnations onto this God ..."

    Aðalbertson interrupts again. He knows some of the rudiments of Christianity, but not many of the details. And those lampreys are really, really, not sitting well, so he would just as soon get this over with. "So, that is why the Christians hate the Jews, because they do not believe in the White Christ and the other one, the Spirit?"

    "Partially, Your Excellency, that is the reason," Abulafia looked back at his client. To Aðalbertson, Abulafia seemed very cool and collected, but the English Jew looked very uncomfortable, as though he was fit to burst. In fact, he looked like Aðalbertson himself felt. Perhaps he had some lampreys as well. Aðalbertson's gut spasmed again, more sharply this time, as Abulafia continued to explain, "The Christians also blame the Jews for killing the White Christ ..."

    Aðalbertson cut him off again and turned, somewhat reluctantly, to Lífsteinn Önglison, Coifi [high priest] of the Temple of Thor, and asked him if this was indeed true. Aðalbertson vaguely wished Freyr or Freyja's priests could be here instead. They were much more reasonable. Önglison seemed to be against anything that did not mean more money or power for the priesthood, and every non-Norse settler in Domstolland is one more person who will not be contributing to the upkeep of the Temples and the priests. But he was a fundamentally honest man, so he scowled and said, "According to the Christian sagas, the Jews encouraged the Romans to kill the White Christ. That is why the Christians hate the Jews, even though the White Christ himself was a Jew."

    Aðalbertson gave that one some thought. The whole thing seemed kind of suspicious. Perhaps it was an excuse to be rid of these Jews, rather than a reason. So he asked.

    "Master Rodd, are these Jews burdensome to the King of England, that he would expel them. Do they drain the royal fisc, subsisting on charity?"

    "No, Your Excellency. Since they are prohibited from many other pursuits, they are gainfully employed in the crafts, in money-lending and in trade. Many have done well in their vocations and become quite wealthy. And although it is the King's seal on the order of expulsion, he is powerless. The real authority in England is a group of barons, led by Simon de Montfort, who despises Jews."

    Aha, thinks Aðalbertson, money-lenders! This Montfort scoundrel has become indebted and seeks to expel his creditors! Shameless! Debts are rigorously enforced in Domstolland as part of the overall favorable attitude towards trade, and money-lending bore no stigma. But at least more comprehensible than this tale of Christians hating Jews because of something that happened 1200 years ago. After all, if what Önglison said was true, and the Coifi has studied the Christian faith [FN23.021], if the White Christ was not killed, the Christians would never have atoned for their offenses. Why would a king, or even a not-king like this Montfort, drive well-off subjects from his lands, for something that had to happen anyway? Then something else hits him. It is an article of Domstolland's republican faith that Christians are not capable of governing themselves, which is why they need kings. If the English King has ceded power to his earls, it is no wonder they are pursuing such foolish policies.

    On the other hand, blood-feuds were something Aðalbertson could understand. A big part of any Folkhagi's job was keeping the peace by mediating between quarreling families. But the White Christ was a Jew! Aðalbertson's curiosity was at war with his desire to excuse himself and eliminate the source of his present discomfort. But the Jonsbok was adamant, once a petition is presented, it must be decided before the Folkhagi can depart the throne. As far as Aðalbertson could discern, the rule was proof against long-winded argument. And speaking of wind, his guts twisted again and he bit back a groan. If he did not get this done with soon, something very embarrassing was going to happen.

    "Is it not possible that this Montfort merely seeks to evade his debts and the Jews of England could simply go elsewhere?"

    "Your Excellency, there is no place safe for Jews in Christendom. The peasants hate them and believe that they brought the Tatars down upon them to destroy their Church. Even in the Tatar-ruled lands, where Jews are guaranteed protection by law, mobs murder them in the streets of the cities and burn them to death in their homes. They could flee to the Saracen lands, but many fear that they will be next to fall. The realm of the Norse is the only safe place."

    Aðalbertson shook his head. These Christians must seek trouble, to invent such absurd tales. It was the Venetians who helped the Tatars ravage Christendom. Everyone knows that. He genuinely admired the Tatars. Gods, what he could do with such an army! He would blot the cursed Vinlanders and the contemptible Wessexmen off of the face Ultima Thule, to begin with, then march against the Cathayans in the West and seize their great stores of treasure. Another spasm in his abdomen brings him back to the here and now. He makes a silent vow to eat nothing but pork, apples and bread from here on out. The tale that Abulafia tells for his supplicant, who bore the strange name of "Cok" [FN23.03], makes on sense. But so much of what the Christians do makes no sense. After all, did they not drive the Domstollanders themselves from Vinland. "I have decided that since that the Christians, without a strong king to keep them from doing absurd things, would truly drive away valuable subjects of their kingdom, for supposedly doing something that had to be done for the Christian sagas to even exist. The fact that it is so utterly foolish merely makes it more believable. Fools do as fools are."

    He looked over at Abulafia, who was smiling mildly.

    "I would not debate Your Excellency's logic."

    "That is wise."

    All right, now that it was resolved, he really needed to excuse himself. "It is the decree of the Folkhagi that the petition is granted. Persons of the Jewish religion will be permitted to settle in the Commonwealth of Domstolland forthwith, provided that they designate representatives to guarantee their good behavior, renounce the White Christ thirteen times at the Dohmring, as is provided for in the Jonsbok, and submit a tithe of their personal wealth to the Commonwealth upon their arrival." He starts to rise, and Abulafia starts to bow, when suddenly the Englishman, Cok, speaks to his Rodd. Abulafia turns to Aðalbertson.

    "Your Excellency, he wishes to know if his people will be required to settle in any particular portion of the Commonwealth."

    Aðalbertson gave that a thought for a moment. He had a brother who owned some land near the mouth of the river. No, it was his wife who recommended the lampreys to Guðrún. He is not doing his brother any favors.

    "No, they can live wherever they wish to purchase land." He is still trying to extricate himself when Cok speaks to Abulafia again.

    "Pardon, Your Excellency, but he wishes to know if they will be required to wear any kind of marking or badge on their clothing."

    What kind of nonsense is this, thinks Aðalbertson, his roiling insides telling him that he really, really needs to be elsewhere. "No, no," he says in a somewhat strained voice, "They can dress as they see fit. Now I must ..."

    Once again, Cok, who looks like he is about to start crying with excitement, speaks to Abulafia, who appears somewhat embarrassed. "Your Excellency, he wishes to know if they will be required to cut their hair or their beards in any particular fashion."

    Aðalbertson struggles to control both his temper and his tract. Cut their beards? Ridiculous! Is this Englishman vexing him deliberately? Aðalbertson has enough trouble with the Balts and their cursed hair cuts. "No! Do not be absurd. How could I order them to cut their beards or not cut their beards? Now be gone before I change my mind!" And with that, somewhat doubled over, one hand across his belly, the other one waiving off the thanks that follow him, he stomps out of the great hall.

    ***

    One brief, well somewhat prolonged, trip to the necessary, and one equally-prolonged row with his wife Guðrún, Folkhagi Aðalbertson, much relieved, does the only thing that a civilized Norse would do, if he had a day like his. He takes a steam.

    The public steam-baths of Jarnborg are immense, a warren of long-house sized rooms made from unfinished logs. The tenders of the baths keep fires blazing all through the winter, heating the rocks for the steam. In the baths, Aðalbertson is just another Domstollander, but tradition has it that the Folkhagi goes through some glad-handing when he enters, but he is then left to his thoughts unless he summons someone to speak with. The Norse realize that the leader of a nation cannot be on all the time, and needs rest from the affairs that beset him throughout the day.

    So he does a bit of convivial flesh-pressing as he strips out of his clothes in the changing-room and makes his way through the clouds of steam and the crowd of ruddy, heavy-bearded Domstollanders relaxing on the benches closest to the entrance. Towards the back of one of the steam-rooms, he sees Abulafia, sitting apart from the Norsemen. Aðalbertson parks himself on the bench opposite, leans back, and sighs.

    Aðalbertson opens his eyes, and starts to rise, "Your Excellency, pardon me, I did not know -" Aðalbertson waves at him to sit down.

    "In here, Abulafia, there is no 'Your Excellency.' Just Aðalbertson, a farmer from up-river."

    Abulafia considers that for a moment. "That is very sound, to be able to walk among your people as one of them."

    Aðalbertson laughs. "They are not my people, Abulafia, they are their own. That is the difference. No King of Christendom could wander into a sauna and talk idly with his subjects of the going price of sows or barley, but I can because I am just as they are."

    "What about the Vinlanders?"

    Aðalbertson snorts derisively. "The Vinlanders? They have no Folkhagi, just a collection of godars, petty men with a few more furrows than the rest, who lord themselves over the common folk like they were Earls in France." He leans forward, "It is the priests, you see, who tell the people that their God has ordered things this way, that they should toil and their betters should recline. No God made Sebbi Aðalbertson the Folkhagi! Only the people of Domstolland, who have sworn loyalty to me, and I to them."

    "And the slaves ..." Abulafia says, somewhat hesitantly.

    "Captives, taken in war. They are nothing, as they always have been and always will be."

    Aðalbertson decides to change the subject. "Your friend, Cok, appeared unwell. Is he better, now that he is out of the presence of the fearsome overlord of the Northmen?"

    Abulafia smiles, "He is not my friend. I happened to be in Domstolland because my ship stopped here to pick up cargo on its way back to Grenada. I wanted to return directly, but the captain swore by Allah that it would be the only way he could make a profit from the voyage. I encountered Cok and his party, and they implored me to champion them, since their only Norse-speaker died on the voyage from England. But he is better. The sea makes him suffer."

    Aðalbertson doesn't comment on that last bit. Sea-sickness is viewed with disdain among the Norse. But Abulafia seems to read it in his face.

    "He is a brave man, Cok. Travel on a ship makes him gravely ill, but his party told me that he did not hesitate to volunteer to come to Jarnborg from England to petition you. He will himself return to London with the news, no matter how sick it makes him, since he is going to sell all his possessions to pay for as many of his fellows to come here as he can. Many other merchants and prominent men are doing the same, with no or scant hope of repayment. After you granted his petition, he told me that he would rather be a penniless beggar in the streets than see one of his people deprived of the chance to breathe the free air of the Commonwealth."

    Aðalbertson is impressed. The Norse have a strong sense of mutual-aid, and the epics of the flight from Vinland are familiar to every Domstollander, but he has never heard the like. "Are you going to remain, as well? Cok and his people will need your assistance. The priests will view them with suspicion and seek to turn the people against them."

    "I am no Englishman," Abulafia says emphatically. Aðalbertson figured as much. He did not look like any Englishman he had ever seen. "It was only fortune that caused me to be in Domstolland when Cok and his people arrived. I must return to al-Andalus to continue my work."

    "Coifi Önglison tells me that you are a scholar of the Jewish sagas."

    Abulafia hesitates, "Yes, I study the kabbalah."

    "The kabbalah," Aðalbertson carefully repeated the unfamiliar word. He liked learned men and was very proud of the fact that he could read and write, and that his grandfather had been taught by the great Snorri Sturluson himself, who had spread the written word among the Domstollanders. "And that brought you to Ultima Thule?"

    "I needed to discuss some matters of common interest with the Pure Ones [Cathars] in Isle de Foix, but unfortunately they were not interested, so I boarded the first ship back to al-Andaleus and wound up here," He leaned back and made a contented-sounding sigh. "Much to my great satisfaction."

    "You should stay in Jarnborg," Aðalbertson said, suddenly very earnest, "and continue your studies here. There are not many men of learning in Domstolland, you could begin a library or university ..." But Abulafia was already shaking his head.

    "There are great things happening in the world, and I must be a part of them. Unfortunately, I cannot do that from here."

    Aðalbertson could see that. Domstolland was isolated - thankfully, in his mind - from what was going on across the seas. He smiles, "You must, of course, do what you think is best. For my part, I must attend to my duties ..." He glances significantly down the steam-room at the crowd of impatient-looking Norse who had gathered, clearly eager to get a word in with their Folkhagi, but constrained by tradition from approaching him until beckoned.

    Abulafia gets his meaning. Time to get going. He stands up and extends his hand. "It has been a pleasure, Your Excellency. You have my gratitude for allowing the Jews of England to settle here."

    Aðalbertson shakes his hand and says, dismissively, "It is nothing. I have no doubt that they will prosper as good citizens."

    As Abulafia turns to leave, something catches Aðalbertson's eye and he starts. Then he remembers what Önglison had said about the Jews' covenant with their God.

    And they were worried that he would make them trim their beards.

    ***

    By the mid- to late thirteenth century, Domstolland in on the trailing edge of a great transition. The pagan Norse religion, the reason for the Commonwealth's existence in the first place, has moved from essentially a private cult, sponsored by magnates in their private frohargs, to a public religion sponsored by the state. The change was perhaps inevitable, since one of the primary functions of the Domstolland government it to preclude the encroachment by Christians. Also of critical importance was the arrival of Snorri Sturluson in the 1220s. Sturluson, a Christian convert to paganism, writes down and organizes the stories of the Norse gods, thus laying the groundwork for the development of a formal, literate priesthood, sponsored by the state. The movement towards an official religion is largely supported by the smaller farmers and townspeople of Domstolland. With the development of a strong central government, the grip of the magnates' authority had been further weakened, as they were no longer permitted their own courts and armed bands (in competition with the elected local courts and organized militia) to enforce their will. One of their few remaining avenues of control was through their construction and monopolization of the frohargs. In the late 1240s, the Logretta, which is dominated by smallholders and their allies, moves decisively to abolish private control over religion and establish state sponsorship.

    The change is not without its bumps, some of which changes the political map of Ultima Thule. In 1255, shortly after its completion, civic strife erupts in and around the temple of Freyr, the God of Plenty, in Tivrhofn. Skári Valdisson, a magnate of some substance, was outlawed by the Logretta in a move of very questionable legality, since the legislature was stripped of much of its judicial authority when it was founded. While the controversy surrounding his conviction continued, but before his sentence was executed, Valdisson showed a ceremony at the Freyr temple, accompanied by an armed escort. A recipe for trouble - since both outlaws and weapons are prohibited in the temple. The hrafnsmal, wolf-coated temple guards, attempted to remove Valdisson peacefully, but a brawl ensued that spreads into the street. Both sides summon reinforcements, and Domstolland teeters on the brink of civil war between the magnates, who are using the incident as a pretext to reassert their power, and the supporters of the government. Now there is no question but that Valdisson must go - the Logretta outlaws not only him (again) but all of his followers and allies. As the fighting continues, the governmental forces gain the upper hand. Valdisson calls for a truce. It is agreed - he will be given safe conduct, and he and his people will depart.

    And so they do. This time it is by land - most of them have flocks and herds, so they are trooping west, beyond the boundaries of Domstolland [FN23.04]. The wild is, of course, not devoid of human settlement. Others who have been exiled over the years - Christian and pagan - are there, but Valdisson shows up with the biggest and most organized group, so by a small amount of force, a large amount of negotiation, and a few strategic marriages, he winds up in charge of the area now known as the Hrafenmark [Old Norse "ravenwood," roughly speaking, Ohio]. The setup is basically Icelandic a small number of powerful families holding the basic allegiances of the settlers, but with a religious mix that generally defines the political rivalries between clans. They do the usual thing - farm, hunt, fish (on Lake Mardolc [Lake Erie]). They do a fair business in ivory and furs - not as good as they would have done in earlier years. It is good news for the husbandrymen and bad news for the hunters that decades of hunting have cleared out a lot of the megafauna (great cats, dire wolves, mammoths and mastodons) from the area. What they find, they export up the Mikill River [St. Lawrence] that divides Domstolland from Vinland, and some of which they export down the Thiazis [Ohio] and Afon Ganol [Mississippi] rivers, to trade fairs in the Welsh settlements on the southern coast.

    Through the thirteenth century, official Domstolland proper maintains a somewhat indifferent attitude to the goings-on in Hrafenmark, although Domstollander hunting parties, which double as war-bands once they are beyond the borders of the Commonwealth, conduct frequent forays into their new neighbor's territory, resulting in the usual Medieval day-to-day, pillaging and murdering. As a result, those villages in Hrafenmark on the eastern region and near the coast of Lake Mardolc, are stockaded. The center of gravity of Hrafenmark's agricultural population shifts westward, settling in and around some decent-sized patches of prairie, where they prosper farming the excellent soils [FN24.05].

    Domstolland's real fight is with its Christian neighbors, primarily Vinland. It is a strange relationship. Domstolland and Vinland fight nearly annual battles on Lake Heimdall and the Miskill River. And the great cod fisheries off the northeast coasts are ofttimes the scene of bloody confrontations between the rival states. But neither country has sufficient power to crush the other, and the Domstollanders soon refer to these fights as the Holmgaga, a form of ritual duel. Vinland has a greater population and overall wealth, but its ability to project force is hampered by its decentralized political structure. Individual godars can join or abstain from the fray as they see fit. Niwe Wessex has done some growing up since the bad ol' days, when it was a bone to be chewed by Domstollandic raiders, and is no pushover anymore. The young, the ambitious and the ruthless of Domstolland set their sights on farther horizons.

    Back home, in Jorvik and Jarnborg and Tivrhofn, the English Jews settle in - some come directly from England, others from France after it issues its own expulsion decree, directed solely at the English Jews. At first, they are viewed with some suspicion, especially by the Norse priesthood. However, when it becomes clear that they are not crypto-Christians and they display no interest whatsoever in making converts, everyone relaxes a bit.

    They bring a much-needed skill set with them. The Commonwealth fisc is, and always has been, a great mess, largely because the Norse have never ran a centralized state of this sort. Aðalbertson is determined to set things to rights, and the English exiles do yeoman service putting the Commonwealth on a sound financial footing. They are then publicly feted before a very grateful Logretta. England's loss is Domstolland's gain. And they could use it at the moment.

    Right after Abulafia departs Jarnborg, a Mongol embassy arrives from Aachen, to demand submission of the Folkhagi. At first perplexed, then enraged by the temerity of the il-Khan to demand surrender from the other side of the Great Ocean, Aðalbertson tears up the written message before the Logretta, to general raucous acclaim, then he orders that two of the three ambassadors be sacrificed at the Temple of Odin. Whether he is fully aware of the consequences of murdering Mongol messengers is open to debate. He has the third publicly scourged in the center of Jarnborg and sent back to Aachen with his answer, which would be "no." He and the Logretta then move. The Venetian traders, widely seen as a fifth column for the Khan, are immediately expelled. Mobs storm the Hansa trading colonies - they are, after all, vassals of the Khan - and slaughter everyone they find.

    So, commercially, Domstolland is kind of cut off. Their first stroke of luck is the arrival of the English Jews. Their second is the appearance of a significant number of expatriate Genoese. These two new communities essentially take over where the Hansa and the Venetians left off. The Jewish refugees have a major advantage - they do not suffer the same restrictions as their Christian Genoese counterparts and are fully welcomed into the Domstolland community. The word starts to spread - there is a place where Jews are not made to wear badges, not subjected to extortion, discriminatory taxation and periodic massacre. The Jewish population of Domstolland begins to grow, swollen with refugees who can scarce believe their good fortune.

    Even Jehovah undergoes a bit of rehabilitation. At the ground-breaking for a new synagogue in Jarnborg, Aðalbertson gives a long speech hailing the new arrivals, and calls upon "the God of the Jews whose name is so mighty it would slay anyone who spoke it" to grant good fortune to the site, which just happens to be down the street from the temple of Freyja.

    It is a match made in heaven ... Valhalla ... whatever. But it works.

    Empty America: Part 24 - Houses of the Holy




    Vinland/Markland, etc.

    Some people, thought Fálki Sandarrson, as his longship shot down the Mikill [St. Lawrence] River with three Domstollander ships in hot pursuit, have no sense of humor. Oh, sure - he and his men ambushed the Domstollanders' camp while they were off in the woods hunting, killed the sentries, snagged their furs, ivory and one of their ships (which was much nicer than Fálki's own) - then high-tailed it down the river, but that is just the way the game was played. No need to get all in a huff about it. But they were, and now Fálki and his men were doing their best to stay out of bow-shot of their pursuers.

    It is not easy, what with being loaded down with all that swag, and even with a favorable wind filling their mainsail and all his oarsmen rowing like mad, the Domstollanders are slowly gaining on them. This is a fact that Halli, Sandarrson's steersman and second-in-command, points out with great urgency, shouting from his position aft to Sandarsson, who is standing at the prow. Like any good leader, sensitive to the feelings of his subordinates, responds in an appropriate fashion:

    "No, you damned idiot! We are NOT going to toss the furs overboard! What's wrong, did you leave your balls in Anskar?!?"

    Halli responds with a string of words even less appropriate for a family timeline such as this one, culminating with "- you are going to get us all killed!"

    Sandarrson grins. "Not today! Row, you dogs! Your old ammas [grandmothers] could get us down this river faster!" They in a wide part of the river now [OTL's Lake St. Francois], and ... oh, Jesus ...

    They are running straight into a war. Up ahead, he can see troops swarming on either bank, and in the gathering dusk he can see the lofting firefly swarm of fire-arrows flying out from his right. He knows what is going on - it is the Summer Solstice, so the Domstollanders are taking their annual grab at the fortress of Flotbjarg [Montreal].

    So he barks to Halli to point them through a little narrows and into wider water.

    "We need to beach!" shouts Halli, "Head for shore on the north bank -"

    Sandarsson cuts him off, yelling, "How many Vinland death-marks do you have on you, Halli?"

    It takes him a moment. "Six!"

    "I've got eight! What are the odds of nobody in camp recognizing us?"

    Halli cursed. "Well, what do we do, then?"

    Sandarsson has an idea. "Swing southwest of the island!"

    "No, you're not serious! We're too heavy, we will bust up -"

    "Not if you do your damn job and keep us off the rocks for once!"

    And so they race onwards, every minute bringing the Domstollanders on their tail closer and closer. As they cut through the wider water and hurtle towards the narrows south of the island fortress, the vengeful pagans seem to start having second thoughts and curve away towards the south bank.

    It is right about then that Sandarsson and his crew hit the rapids, taking a gut-dropping plunge through the roaring, foaming water. Fire-arrows whisk over their heads, and a burning barrel of naphtha explodes against a semi-submerged rock to their left. Sandarsson, who is standing, one hand firmly grasping an upright line, is jolted off his feet as his ship slams against something.

    Oh, crap.

    Now they are taking water. Sandarsson roars encouragement to the rowers, who put their backs into it as water comes sluicing in through a crack in the hull.

    He shouts to Halli, "I thought I told you not to run into the rocks!" He grins madly at Halli's profane reply. Sandarsson stops grinning as they whip around the bend in the river -

    Oh, crap.

    - and straight into the Domstollander river assault.

    The water is swarming with boats loaded with armed, chain-mail-clad men, and the air is alive with flying arrows, whistling in from every direction.

    "Now what?!" Halli sounds even more frantic.

    "I'll think of something!"

    And just then he spots a particularly large Domstollander long-boat, with a great banner fluttering above it. Even in the dim light, Sandarsson makes out a torn-up piece of parchment pinned to the flag. No doubt some treaty...

    And so he does think of something. "Steer toward that ship!"

    "What?! We're taking on water, and you -"

    "Just do it!"

    They are slowing now, as the water continues to pour in. Sandarsson's men heave mightily at the oars as Halli points them directly at the ship with the great banner. It occurred to Sandarsson that they are in a stolen Domstollander craft, with the crossed red-and-black hammer of Thor and green sickle of Freyr emblazoned broadly on their main-sail. Which, of course is why none of the pagans are shooting directly at them. For all they know, Sandarsson's boat bears messengers for their commander...

    .. whose boat Sandarsson's prow just slammed into broadside.

    "Swords, swords! Board, board!" Sandarsson shouts, leaping onto the Domstolland command ship. His crews drop their oars and grab their swords, and follow him over the dragon-prow of their boat. The startled Domstollanders don't stand a chance. With a mighty two-handed swipe of his axe, Sandarsson takes the head clean off the most gaudily-dressed pagan as his men wipe out the berserker bodyguard who sell their lives dearly.

    With that, Sandarsson's men seize the oars of the command ship and row like mad for the opposite shore, veering away from the rest of the flotilla and making for the woods. Sandarsson climbs the mast and tears down the banner. Nonetheless, they are showered with Vinlander arrows, but fortunately everyone makes it to dry land, where they are immediately surrounded. Sandarsson holds up the Domstollander chief's head in one hand and thrusts his axe high in the other, roaring in triumph.

    It takes a few minutes for everything to get sorted out, but when it is, the Vinlandic soldiers are clapping them on the backs and cheering, as they march off to the chief godar's bivouac. It seems, you see, that the man who Sandarsson separated from his head was none other than the Domstollander Folkhagi. (Not Aðalbertson, mind you, but his predecessor. A much less congenial fellow.) And the pagans, once word that their leader has fallen, are demoralized and break off the attack on Flotbjarg, retreating to their side of the river.

    They were in the wrong place at the wrong time, so naturally they became heroes. Sandarsson, Halli and their crew are lauded and celebrated from one end of Vinland to the other. The Vinland Logretta, in special session, not only pardons them completely, wiping them clean of all their deathmarks, but showers them with treasure and titles.

    Standing at the altar rail in Anskar Cathedral before a great roaring throng of their countrymen, newly-minted Ridder [Old Norse - knight] Fálki Sandarsson leans over to Halli and says, very quietly,

    "See, I told you I would think of something."

    ***

    Since we last visited Vinland, the first permanent European settlement in Ultima Thule has been through a lot. Explosive population growth [FN24.011], fueled by a favorable disease environment and abundant foodstuffs, has driven settlers further west along the banks of the Mikill River valley and into the Lake Heimdall region. Vinlandic hunters roam far and wide in search of furs and ivory. But the densest population remains in the eastern areas, where numerous fishing villages prosper catching cod and exporting torsk [said fish, dried and salted] to the ravenous cities of Europe. The Vinlanders set up what could fairly be called military colonies in the area that comes to be known as the land of the sunset - Solbjorgland [FN24.01]. Solbjorgland [OTL's lower peninsula of Michigan] is a prize for one reason - salt. Lots of it, generally in the form of brine springs. Salt is essential for Vinland's torsk exports and has one more significant side benefit - many olifaunts migrate into the area, using it effectively as a giant salt-lick [FN24.02]. It is a bonanza for the settlers - instead of having to go out and hunt the olifaunts, the great beasts come to them.

    By the late 12th Century, Vinland had transformed itself from a Commonwealth into a part of the Kingdom of Norway. During the First Commonwealth Period (1000-1172), all of Vinland was divided into Herad [districts], each of which has its own Thing, combining both the judicial and legislative powers. Local headmen, godari [lords of men] and rikki [territorial lords], dominated the local Things, effectively becoming powers in and of themselves. The Althing fell into disuse as it became impractical for even a significant percentage of prominent Vinlanders to assemble. All this bred problems. Local magnates felt no qualms about waging private wars against each other in the west, and in the east, the owners of the fishing fleets battle each other, as well as the Wessexmen and Domstollanders, for control of the great fisheries. The fractiousness and violence endemic to Vinlandic public affairs finally became too much for the Church, particularly since the men waging these wars routinely loot local churches. After the plundering of the Anskar Cathedral of all its plate and vestments in 1163, the Archbishop of Vinland takes matters into his own hands. Bans and excommunications fly against all those who molest the Church. This, however, merely intensifies the chaos as the subordinates of the excommunicates, finding themselves released from their oaths of loyalty, vie for power. Eventually, a (sparsely attended, but valid) Althing is called, which places Vinland under the authority of the Norwegian throne. The decision is widely accepted, since it appears to give the advantage to no particular magnate or group of magnates.

    The power that Vinland adds to the Norwegian crown makes it the 800 pound gorilla of northern Europe. And the Norwegian kings use that power the way all kings of the period did - they waged war against their neighbors. Eventually, Norway's power enabled it to forge, by way of some strategic marriages, the Anskar Union of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Vinland (promoted to a kingdom within the Union from a mere vassal of Norway). The Union remained stable for a long time, and fought wars against Scotland, England, the Hansa cities and the Rus of Novgorod [FN24.03]. The Vinlanders grow restive, however. As their population and wealth grows throughout the late 12th and early 13th Centuries, they outstrip the Scandinavians who are their nominal overlords. Yet they are beset by Norwegian officialdom. The Scandinavian kings are free and easy in appointing lendrmenn and rikshovitsmenn to represent the monarchy in Vinland, who not only get substantial grants of land, but also tend to ride roughshod over the traditional power and liberties of the local Things. While inland districts are compelled to provide men for the kings' wars, coastal towns are subject to the skeppslag and required to provide warships and crews.

    By the mid-13th Century, the Vinlanders, by and large, have had enough. King Valdemar III Haakonson dies in 1252 and the representatives of the regent governing in the name of his successor, the boy Christiaan V) arrive in Anskar to be accepted by the Logretta (which has taken over the duty from the Althing). Instead of the enthusiastic acceptance of the new monarch that they had come to expect, the emissaries are greeted with a barrage of angry questions, "Where is the King?!? Where is the Regent?!?" Pressed by a hostile crowd, the king's men flee the chamber, and the Logretta votes by a wide margin to refuse to accept Christiaan as King of Vinland and resume the Commonwealth. But no one is enthusiastic to return to the bad old days, so the Logretta sets out to remake the government of Vinland. The Logretta creates a new post, the Armadir [steward] as leader of Vinland, chief magistrate and commander of its armies, chosen for life by the Logretta. The Logretta also reins in the powers of the local Things, holding that all persons outlawed or otherwise punished by the Thing of any Herad may appeal to Anskar - to the Logretta if it is in session or to the Armadir if it is not. Private warfare is also abolished, and anyone waging a campaign against his neighbor shall be outlawed, and the Armadir may call upon the forces of any godari or rikki to enforce the sentence. All Vinlanders must also take an oath to obey the Logretta and the Armadir. The banner of the Commonwealth of Vinland - a field of green with twin rampant sabertooth tigers to either side of a pair of crossed spears - is raised above the Logretta House.

    Not everyone is happy with the outcome, however. The high clergy are pretty dissatisfied, particularly since the Logretta has not exempted them from the universal oath and placed them directly under the jurisdiction to the Armadir. Bad enough when that sort of thing is done by a proper king, but this is simply intolerable. Not only are the lay clergy aggrieved, the orders are not happy, either. Over the years, the Cistercians and others had received sizable land grants from the monarchy, and put a lot of effort into improving them. The irate landowners in the Logretta, convinced that the orders got more than their fair share of the best land, vote to appropriate large parts of it and dole them out amongst themselves or put it up for sale so that the revenue could benefit the Commonwealth.

    The Archbishop of Anskar swings into action, excommunicating all those in the Logretta who voted for the offending measures, and placing all of Vinland under interdict until they are repealed. The reaction is not what he expected. This is no kingdom, dependant for its policy upon the whims of a monarch, but a popular government. And the populace of Vinland, like people throughout Christendom, is not in a particularly deferential mood vis-a-vis the Church. In the New World, as in the Old, the Tatar invasions are seen as God's punishment of a sinful and worldly Church. The Vinlanders are outraged. They have been good Catholics, sending many across the seas to Crusade against the Baltic pagans, and fighting under the banner of the Church against the brutal heathen of Domstolland. They have stomped out heresies wherever they surfaced in their land, burning Cathars and Spiritines alike whenever they are discovered. And this is how they are repaid for their loyalty.

    Thus, what began as more or less a legislative rebellion - technically legal, since under ancient Scandinavian traditions, the monarch had to visit the local legislatures to obtain their fealty, and neither the new King nor his Regent did so - begins to take on a more revolutionary hue. The Archbishop's actions are also widely seen as what they are - a challenge to the legitimacy of the Commonwealth. The Logretta reconvenes and, at the request of newly-elected Armadir Jóngeirr Líkbjörn, summarily outlaws the Archbishop and any Bishops or priests who will not take the oath to obey the government. The Armadir leads Vinlandic fighting men in securing the Anskar Cathedral, while all over Vinland monasteries and churches are taken over or burned by local militias. Local priests are compelled to perform the sacraments. Some priests do not require compulsion - Vinland is home to a significant number of Franciscans, whose conspicuous poverty has made them extraordinarily popular and whose allegiance to the Church is very iffy at this point. Many Vinlandic Franciscans openly defy the interdict, and one gives Holy Communion to the entire Logretta and the Armadir in Anskar Cathedral. The Archbishop flees to Niwe Wessex and the Bishops refuse to elect a new one.

    In the Logretta, a momentous question is put to the assembly - should Vinland break with the Catholic Church and establish a national Church, fully under the control of the Logretta and the Armadir? Will the Commonwealth ever be safe if the Church refuses to recognize its supremacy? Moderates among the revolutionaries note that they have yet to receive a response from the Pope, to whom they have sent an embassy with their grievances against the Archbishop. Should not they wait until they hear back from the Holy Father?

    For his part, Pope Gregory X is simply appalled at the goings-on in Vinland. The Empire is overrun by the armies of Gog and Magog, under the dominion of a pagan overlord and rife with Spiritine heresy, the French are fairly giddy with the experience of running their own ecclesiastical affairs during the interregnum and their loyalty to the Papacy is paper-thin, Venice has betrayed Christendom, and Jerusalem has fallen to the Saracens. Exiled from his See, he is - basically single-handedly - trying to save the Church from ultimate destruction, and one of his Archbishops is going out of his way to alienate one of the few realms which is both safe from Tatar invasion and solidly loyal to the Church. Without dilly-dallying, he informs the Vinlanders that he will replace the Archbishop and lift the interdict if the Vinlanders will add a caveat to their oath so that the Bishops may acknowledge the primacy of the law of the Church. He also offers pardon for all crimes against the Church, and appeals to their sense of justice to offer the orders fair compensation for seized lands. By the time the Pope's message reaches the Logretta, cooler heads have gained sway, and the compromise is accepted, although not without a lot of grumbling. Vinland has gained its footing in the world and will remain loyal to the Church. For now. But the idea of a Vinlandic Church, once raised, will not go away anytime soon.

    The other group of people who are aggrieved by the resumption of the Commonwealth are the godars and rikki of Solbjorgland. The majority of them are lendrmenn, who hold their lands and peoples directly from the monarchy, so they feel little loyalty to the Logretta and a lot to the new King. Worse, the Logretta, under heavy pressure from the fishermen and merchants of the eastern seaboard, lifts the royal monopoly on salt production and opens the rich Solbjorgland hunting grounds, effectively dissolving the source of the lendrmenns' great wealth. So, when the Logretta votes to resume the Commonwealth, they walk out and convene their own Althing at Hvideborg [OTL's Port Huron, ATL named after a prominent settler family]. The Hvideborg Althing does not vote to accept Christiaan as their king, but does vote to retain the monarchy and a personal union with the Norwegian crown. The fractious nobles are not inclined to give the crown to one of their own, but they dispatch an embassy - which slips through the Vinlandic blockade of their land - to retrieve an appropriate noble from Norway. With suitable encouragement, the Solbjorglandic embassy manages to bring back one that they crown King Magnus I Lagabøte ["law-mender"].

    The Vinlanders are not taking any of this sitting down, of course, and the Armadir summons the forces of the Commonwealth to crush the uprising. However, there is one small matter - King Magnus has allied his throne (for a sizable price paid) with the Domstollanders. The pagan Domstollanders don't care for Christian Solbjorgland any more than they care for Vinland, but the Folkhagi is eater to see the Christian powers at each others throats, and the money is good, so he jumps in. Domstollandic ships and soldiers lend a hand in the fighting, and the Vinlanders are beaten back. In the end, as part of the ransom for some prominent Vinlandic captives, the Logretta is compelled to recognize the independence of the Kingdom of Solbjorgland. But the peace is just a beginning and not an end.

    Empty America: Part 25 - The Song Remains the Same



    These few parts are going to be a quick rundown of Ultima Thule [North America], the Ursulines [the Caribbean] and Terranova (or Whitsunland) [South America] circa 1260-80, in no particular order. All OTL geographic correlations are approximate.

    (Jen Men, Mu-lan-P'i [San Francisco])

    "I miss Hangzhow, Chang Shih-chieh," says P'u Shou-keng. Chang rolls his eyes. Everyone who spent more than a minute with P'u Shou-keng knew all too well that he missed Hangzhow. Chang believes that being away from the capital for so many years had unhinged the Transport Commissioner's mind. He has become very eccentric of late, which explains why P'u had summoned Chang to his quarters at the crack of dawn, apparently to watch him bathe. Or why P'u had not yet bothered to even look at him before launching into his standard discourse.

    Stereotypically, there are two kinds of Chinese. Northerners, whose lands were overrun by the Jurchen, are taller, sturdier and prefer the saddle to the sedan chair and polo to parlor games. They are conservative, looking inward to Asia, from whence all the threats to their lands have come. Chang Shih-chieh is one such Northerner. P'u Shou-keng is ... the other kind. From the South, luxuriant, sophisticated, looking outward towards the seas.

    P'u Shou-keng, the Transport Commissioner for the Northern Circuit of Mu-lan-P'i, shifting his considerable bulk in the ornate iron bathtub to expose his side to the serving girl who was sponging him off, continued his lament:

    "Everything is so *dirty* here. So vulgar, so rude, so crass." He snatches his cup from yet another serving girl, who was standing beside the tub with a tray, takes a swig, and winces. "Even the wine is vile." You of all people should know that, thinks Chang, you drink enough of it. "The women are ugly and clumsy." Chang looks at the serving girls, the most elegant, delicate-featured women he had ever seen, who continue about their duties, taking no notice. "And the poetry, ugh, it is just execrable."

    Chang does not say anything, so P'u clears his throat. "As you know by now, word has arrived that the Emperor is dead."

    "I have heard the rumors," Chang says curtly.

    "They are not rumors. I have confirmation that his ship was trying to break the blockade of Yai-shan and Lu Hsi-fu jumped overboard with the young Emperor in his arms. Neither of their bodies have been found."

    "They could have survived, or there could be another member of the imperial family-"

    "No. No other has been enthroned. The Mandate has passed to the invader."

    Chang crosses his arms. "So you have decided?"

    P'u is still not looking at him. "Yes. I have drafted a memorial offering the new Emperor my loyalty, and that of Mu-lan-P'i." He sighs, "Think of it! I will be rewarded, Chang. The Emperor will recall me to China, and I will finally be gone from this place." He levers himself out of the tub and accepts the towel offered by the serving-girl. As he dries himself, Chang nods to his aide, who has been standing discretely in the doorway and who now slips away.

    "If that is your decision ..."

    "It is! As the highest-ranking official in the Northern Circuit, I have the obligation to-" He stops, startled, and finally looking at Cheng. "Chang Shih-chieh, why are you armored?"

    With two strides, Cheng is upon him, punching him square in the face with a mailed fist and knocking him back into the tub. Cheng clamps his hands around his neck and squeezes, forcing P'u Shou-keng's head under the water. One of the serving girls leaps upon Cheng's back and begins pummeling him around the head and shoulders. But Cheng is focused and remorseless, throttling P'u in the bathtub until he stops struggling. Suddenly, a squad of crossbowmen bursts in, led by Cheng's aide. One of them seizes the serving girl roughly and pulls her off Cheng. The General lets go of P'u, then picks up the dropped towel and dries off his armor. He turns to his soldiers, one of whom is holding his dagger to the serving girl's throat, looking at him with a raised eyebrow.

    "Turn her loose. She is the closest thing to a man in this place. Ladies, let this be a civics lesson for you." He pats the end of one of the crossbows [FN25.01], "the Mandate of Heaven grows from the barrel of one of these." He turns to his soldiers and points to P'u Shou-keng's body, "You, clean up this offal." And with that, he strides out of the room, with his aide in tow.

    "Cheng Shih-chieh, what do we do now?"

    Cheng Shih-chieh has, up to now, been keeping his own counsel from his underlings, counting on their loyalty to act without explanation. But now does not hesitate. "We make Mu-lan-P'i as self-sufficient as we can. And then we wait."

    "Wait for what?"

    "The arrival of the Son of Heaven."

    ***

    Mu-lan-P'i! Unquestionably the largest and most populous state in the New World. In Ultima Thule, Chinese control extends roughly from Dayu [Vancouver] Island, west through the Pai Hu [Columbia] River area and down the coast to Jen Men. As of 1280, this stretch is the most populously settled region. The Song government finally and completely reconciled itself to the fact that it was going to have a permanent (and wealthy) overseas colony. The Song is, at the time, generally concerned about the well-being of its smallholders (the "bu yi"), and looking for a way to give them larger farms, without the more politically-difficult about breaking up the land-holdings of the wealthy. So, it begins settling them in the regions north of Jen Men, where they can clear land and build farms. Most farm millet or barley, but, once the government in Hangzhow lifts its restrictions, wet rice agriculture [25.011] and bamboo cultivation spring up throughout the region. As incentives, the Chinese government promises not only larger landholdings than the settlers could expect in China, but also preferential treatment (i.e. easier access to "protection") for those from Mu-Lan-P'i who are able to take the exams to join the scholar-bureaucrat class. Thus, they salve their Confucian consciences - the settlers will not be able to honor their ancestors' graves back in China, but they can more readily advance themselves and their families. There is even a test site in Jen Men for the overseas Chinese, so they do not have to incur the great costs of traveling back to China to take the exams.

    One of those immigrants is a truly remarkable young woman named Huang Daopo. We will get back to her later.

    The area north of Jen Men is also soon also alive with fishermen, and fur hunters and trappers. Small-scale iron and coal mining also becomes established in the area, to supply the settlers with farming tools and other metal goods. And the settlement of the region is not only a government operation. Various Buddhist monasteries take it upon themselves to set up shop in Mu-lan-P'i, with significant numbers of monks settling in the mountains.

    Moving South from Jen Men, Chinese settlements tend to be all about silver mining. Major strikes were made in the 1190s, leading to the founding of Xin Chengshi [Guanajuato, Mexico] and Jinshu Shih [Taxco, Mexico]. The Chinese soldiers, no strangers to road-building, are put to work liking the cities of the interior with Kuei-Men [Acapulco] on the coast and its link to China.

    South of Kuei-Men are the trading emporia in Zhongmeizhou [Panama], established shortly after Enrico Pescatore and his companions arrived in Kuei-Men. [FN25.02]. The emporia are the most cosmopolitan areas of Mu-lan-P'i. A good number of the Turk, Arab and other traders who had taken up residence in Song China's coastal cities have moved their operations to Zhongmeizhou for easier access (via the Ursulines) to Western goods and gold. The emporia bustle with commercial activity, and the exchange is prodigious.

    South of Zhongmeizhou, all those decades of aggressive prospecting by Chinese geologists pays off, big time. They hit the mother load, and soon a massive mining operation has sprung up in the high in the rarified atmosphere of Yinshang [OTL's Potosi, Bolivia]. Hordes of miners pour in, and silver comes pouring out of Yinshang in truly epic quantities - we are talking *tons* here. It seems that the only limit is manpower availability. But the Song know you gotta spend money to make money, and massive junks are soon transporting thousands of miners and others to the Yinshang region.

    However, as the Mongol invasion of Song China progresses, the regime just has other things on its mind besides colonization. The manpower crisis in Yinshang, Chengshi, Jinshu Shih, Jen Men, and elsewhere continues unabated. Under pressure from Hangzhow to increase output to support the war effort, but not provided with the additional men to do it, officials in Mu-lan-P'i take matters into their own hands. A military expedition is organized to Suxiang [OTL's Easter] Island by the government of the Southern Circuit in Yinshang. After some initial skirmishes with the locals, well and truly settled by Chinese weaponry, the invaders clamp a corvee down on the indigenous populace, who are hauled off to Yinshang to work in the mines and fields. The success of this program, and the fact that the officials in Yinshang are not slapped down by Hangzhow inspires a similar effort by the government of the Northern Circuit in Jen Men. For some time, the Chinese have had a naval supply and repair station at Richu [OTL's Pearl] Harbor in the Pheng-lai [Hawaiian] Islands. However, until the late thirteenth century, the Chinese have, for the most part, not troubled the inhabitants of the islands. But now, in need of laborers, the government in Jen Men dispatches a garrison to Richu to round up workers. As in Suxiang, this is done not without some resistance by the Polynesian inhabitants of the Pheng-lai Islands, but the Chinese get the labor they need [FN25.03].

    After the fall of the Song government in China, Chang Shih-chieh's counterpart in the Southern Circuit in Yinshang follows Chang's lead and seizes power to await the arrival of a Song heir. Chang is as good as his word - he sets about to make Mu-lan-P'i as self-sufficient as possible, to prepare it as a base from which the Song heir could gather his strength to liberate China from the Mongol invader. He orders all the xian [county] and zhou [prefecture] governments to survey the resources at hand, so that he could see what needed to make Mu-lan-P'i economically independent of China. The results are promising. Mu-lan-P'i is already self-sufficient in foodstuffs, and the iron and coal deposits in the northern regions are big enough to be worth exploiting. Plus, of course, the secure warehouses in both the Northern and Southern Circuits bulge with precious metals, once waiting to be shipped to Hangzhow, but now available for other purposes. Whatever they do not have, they can buy from the Westerners in the Ursulines. After the opening of Mu-lan-P'i to trade with the West and before the fall of the Song, there were a number of proposals to build a road west and establish a trading settlement at Ti-chu Shih [OTL's Veracruz]. These proposals were rejected out of fear that the government's control over the port, so far from the administrative centers, would be weak, and silver from the interior would be smuggled out of Mu-lan-P'i. After the fall of the Song, and after Cheng Shih-chieh legalizes the export of silver, construction begins on a road to Ti-chu Shih using the Army and corvee workers from the interior. Manpower is scarce and it is slow going, but it is going to be done.

    When Cheng takes stock of what he has in Mu-lan-P'i, he realizes that there are several critical shortages that need to be addressed locally - cloth manufacture, ship-building and armaments. With regards to cloth, the Song stricture against silk manufacture in Mu-lan-P'i - enacted at the behest of mainland Chinese producers - falls away very quickly. The silkworms and mulberry leaves that were once black-market items come out of hiding. The real problem is that in Mu-lan-P'i, Chinese women, the traditional spinners, are not quite as interested in the work as they were back in China. Essentially, the home-spinning that Chinese women did to supplement the family income is not as important to the household economy in Mu-lan-P'i as it was in China because the farmers have larger plots and are doing much better than they were in China. While spinning and weaving are still done as domestic manufactures, the output does not leave the home in the quantities that Mu-lan-P'i needs. This is where Huang Daopo comes in. Long interested in improving cloth manufacture, she manages to get a proposal through that the government should set up cloth factories in and around Jen Men, employing as spinners and weavers the wives and daughters of the newly-arrived refugees from the mainland. Chang is intrigued - he had not really looked beyond the traditional methods - so he pushes Huang's proposal. Mu-lan-P'i is fortunate in that many craftsmen, ironworkers and other artisans had fled the Mongol invasion, doubtlessly motivated by the Mongols' known tendency for enslaving skilled workers and hauling them off to Karakorum [FN25.04]. Thus, Cheng's government had a wealth of manufacturing talent to draw upon. So, the craftsmen were settled in Jen Men and the towns of the Yinshang area and their womenfolk were employed in newly-built cloth factories. To those who object, citing traditional Chinese disinclination to women working outside the home, Huang and Cheng cite to 'gong li,' the pragmatism that led to the establishment of Mu-lan-P'i in the first place. Huang does not rest on her laurels, she tirelessly pushes the most technically advanced machinery: treadle-pumped spinning wheels for silk and water-driven spinning wheels (for hemp, cotton and ramie). It takes some doing, but the government of Mu-lan-P'i are determined to keep its people clothed using their own efforts. They are not motivated solely by practical considerations - independence from silk imports from Khubilai Khan's China is of great symbolic importance as well as it signifying Mu-lan-P'i standing on its own two feet.

    Arming Mu-lan-P'i is of even greater importance. Cheng looks out over the western horizon, hoping that he will see a ship bearing the heir to the Song dynasty. But he is constantly haunted by the thought that he will instead one day see a great armada of 400-foot junks bearing thousands of Mongol warriors onto the shores of Mu-lan-P'i. His real nightmare is invasion from both East and West - the Yuan attacking from across the great ocean and the Khan of the Franks using his Venetian allies to get a military foothold on the Eastern shore. So Mu-lan-P'i needs weapons, and ships to bear those weapons. One of his first orders of business is to establish a Weapons Bureau and a Gunpowder Bureau. Both attract many craftsmen. Chang rides them hard, constantly demanding progress and updates on that progress. Cheng diverts workers from precious metals production and sets them to mining the known coal and iron deposits in northern Mu-lan-P'i. The Weapons Bureau responds quickly, establishing forges and turning out armor, spears and swords.

    The Gunpowder Bureau, which has set up shop on the outskirts of Jen Men in a workshop that, because of its sulphrous emanations, is soon known to locals as the Chouyo Cheijian [skunk works], is slower to report developments. Its memorials to the government are vague, sometimes even evasive. Finally Cheng grows frustrated and decides to go down to the Chouyo Cheijian himself and see what the holdup is.

    ***

    Lu You and Yang Su are at it again, bickering so loudly that all the workers at the Chouyo Cheijian stop what they are doing and watch. Lu is the Chief Engineer of the workshop and Yang Su is his assistant, but at the moment he is decidedly not acting like a subordinate, waving his finger under Lu's nose.

    "You are an idiot! How do you expect me to get any work done with you diverting my workers, my supplies -"

    Lu is not giving an inch. "Silence, you! I am in charge of this workshop and I decide what should be worked on first!"

    "You mean your toy?1? You will be lucky if it does not blow your arms off!"

    "Fool! You and your hidebound ways have no place in this workshop, if I did not need every craftsman I would -" Lu looks around. All the other workers have turned towards the door of the shop and are bowing deeply. All the blood in his face drains away when he sees that Cheng Shih-chieh and his staff striding towards him. It takes Yang Su a moment to notice.

    "Do not ignore me, old man! I should - Oh ..." The combatants step back and bow to the most powerful man in Ultima Thule, who is plainly not happy.

    "What is going on here?" Chang Shih-chieh strides forward to confront Lu and Yang, "I have sent you numerous orders Master Lu, and all I receive in return are excuses and evasions! I can see now why there is no progress, with the two of you quarreling at the top of your lungs in the middle of the workshop floor. Is this how you do your duty to the State?"

    Lu bows again. "I most deeply apologize for this display, sir. And I know that Yang Su apologizes as well." He gives Yang a surreptitious kick in the side of the leg. Yang hangs his head and mumbles an apology.

    "I do not wish apologies, I want results! Why were you two arguing in front of the workers?"

    Yang Su interjects, cutting off his supervisor. "It is him, my Lord, with his ridiculous project, taking metal and huo yao [gunpowder] that I need -" Cheng holds up his hand, silencing him.

    "Master Lu, what are you working on at the moment, that your subordinate should be so agitated?"

    Lu visibly puffs up with pride. "It is this, my Lord." He slaps his hand down on a large iron cylinder, about the size of a water barrel, with a single small hole in one rounded end and two iron loops on the top. "This is the all-conquering thunder-bomb."

    Cheng, who is not one to stand on ceremony when weapons are discussed, squats down to have a closer look. "What does it do?"

    Lu looks pleased enough to burst. "It is filled with huo yao, my Lord -"

    Cheng interjects. "You have enough powder for your work?"

    "Yes, my Lord, although we are running low at the moment. I have dispatched another ship with a mining crew to Chang Kung Tao [OTL's Baja California] [FN25.05] for more xiao [saltpeter]. So we should be fully supplied soon."

    "Good."

    "But the all-conquering thunder-bomb is a weapon to destroy ships. It is mounted on a long bamboo pole beneath the water line at the prow of a flying-tiger ship [FN25.06]. The flying-tiger ship, rams the all-conquering thunder-bomb against the hull of an enemy ship and the bomb then detonates, blasting a great hole in the side and causing it to sink."

    Cheng looks skeptical. He is no technician, but he knows a thing or two about huo yao. "How is it detonated?"

    "A probing question, my Lord. There will be a flint-and-steel sparker device inside the bomb. A mechanism -" Lu glances smugly over at Yang, who scowls, "- of my own design. It is sealed in behind a wax plug. To detonate the device, a gunnery officer on the ship pulls on a cord, which triggers the mechanism, which in turn ignites the huo yao."

    Cheng is impressed. "Ingenious. And this could sink a zhu li jian [battleship]?"

    Yang snorts. "No, it will not!"

    Cheng looks at him. "You do not care for this device?"

    Now it is Lu's turn to scowl, but Yang presses onward. "No. My Lord, I was in the navy before I came to Jen Men there are numerous problems with this weapon. First, the firing mechanism is fragile and will likely malfunction. Then where will the sailors be? And the bomb itself and the pole needed to support it at the prow are both heavy. To keep from unbalancing the ship, more weight will be needed to be added aft. It will make the ship slow and unwieldy. Enemies could easily smash such a ship before it ever gets close enough to detonate the bomb. My Lord, our ships have always fought at a distance. To bring a flying tiger ship so close to a large enemy vessel would be the height of foolishness!"

    Cheng gives this some thought. His fears about a Mongol attack have been very acute of late. After sitting on the fence for years, Li T'an has finally declared for Khubilai Khan. Li T'an, formerly the Richu harbormaster under the Song, Li' has been running the Pheng-lai Islands like a personal fiefdom - using ship crews who fled from the Chinese mainland as muscle - since the dynasty fell. But now, he has openly announced his allegiance to the Khan, no doubt in exchange for assurances that Li will be left to his own devices.

    And now the Khan has a potential base far out in the Eastern Ocean [FN25.07], from which he could assault the shores of Mu-lan-P'i. He thinks again about the massive army that the Khan could assemble and he thinks about the great length of coastline where they could land and he thinks about the meager forces he has at his command, scattered hither and yon all over Mu-lan-P'i. If he is going to save the Song New World for the Emperor, he will have to defeat the Mongols far out at sea. And while flying-tiger ships are essential for any fighting in Jen Men bay or Kui-Men harbor, they are useless out at sea. But he cannot shake his fascination for the all-conquering thunder-bomb. And the harbors would need defending ...

    "And Yang Su, what are you working on?"

    "An improvement to the fire-lance, my Lord. By casting a heavier tube from iron and increasing the power of the huo yao -" Cheng, who is still contemplating the bomb and barely listening, holds up his hand, and Yang stops.

    "Can you do both - the bomb and the fire-lance?

    No matter what century you are in, no matter what continent you are on, no matter what culture you come from, if you ask government scientists this question, you will get the same answer:

    "Yes," says Lu, "but -"

    "We will need more materials," says Yang.

    "And more men," says Lu.

    "And more money!" they both say in unison.

    "Then you shall have it. I will issue the orders today. And the Weapons Bureau will be instructed that your projects are to have precedence for men and materials. If it comes to the point when we need swords and crossbows ..." Cheng trails off. Yeang and Lu look at him expectantly.

    "Then it will be too late." And just like that, he turns and walks out of the Chouyo Cheijian.

    ***

    "He's pissed on the powder bags again!" Lu You exclaims in disgust.

    "Who?" says Yang Su.

    "The Emperor!" Lu snaps irritably, "who do you think?"

    The Emperor was an old drunk who steadfastly maintains that he is the heir to the Song Dynasty. From what Yang could glean, he was actually a skilled ironworker once, who, driven to despair by some unmentionable tragedy back in China, had taken to drink and delusion. Yang took pity on the old drunk, and let him hang around the Chouyo Cheijian. There was hardly a person in Jen Men who had not suffered great misfortune from the Mongol invasion, so Yang thought it was incumbent upon them to look after each other and show sympathy. He made an exception for Lu.

    "So dry it out! It is not as if we can spare it - the shipment of xiao is late again."

    Lu was indignant. "You dry it out, Yang! I am director of this facility. I do not dry out urine-soaked huo yao bags."

    As Yang started to protest, Lu cut him off, suddenly smiling. "Besides, don't you need it for the test-firing of your da pao tomorrow?"

    Yang cursed. Lu was right. Cheng Shih-chieh had set a strict timetable for the development and testing of their weapons. If they wanted more time, they had to go ask Chang, personally. Yang did it once, and he did not care to try it again. Cheng was not a patient man. So he sets to drying out the powder. Ugh, he thinks. That old drunk had a truly heroic bladder capacity and the bags were soaked through. When the powder dries, it was all caked. So he crumbles it up as best he could.

    And the next morning, on the Chouyo Cheijian's proving ground, Yang test-fires his huo yao [cannon]. The barrel bursts, killing Yang and his assistants in a blast of cast iron splinters. Lu and his men rush out onto the field to lend aid, but there are no survivors. The entire Chouyo Cheijian goes into mourning for their fallen co-workers. Lu calls a halt to it, lecturing the workers on their duty to Mu-lan-P'i and how Yang would not wanted them to neglect their work. "When the bandits and their Khan arrive, it will only be our weapons that can stop them."

    He then goes to Yang's desk and looks through his notes. The gun was properly cast, with no obviously flaws mentioned. The projectile was of standard size. The optimal formula for the powder was followed [FN25.08]. It had to be the Emperor's piss that blew up the gun.

    So Lu gets the Emperor some more wine.

    For his fallen subordinate and rival, Lu sets aside his bomb for the time being, and goes to work on Yang's huo yao, strengthening the barrel, adjusting the powder amounts. He is short on iron, and he figures he can save on metal by casting the barrel in a single piece and boring out the barrel. It takes a few tries to get it right, but if there is one thing the Chinese know (and there are, in fact, many) it is cast iron.

    By the next "clear and bright," when all of Mu-lan-P'i are paying respects to their ancestors, Lu You, his men, and a harnessed pair of ill-behaved giant sloths [megalonyx jefffersoni, about the size of an ox] are honoring Yang Su by wheeling a powerful cast-iron cannon out to the edge of the Eastern Ocean. The gun is loaded, and at Lu's command, a mighty blast roars out over the sea, followed moments later by a sizable column of water erupting where the iron shot splashes into the ocean.

    Lu passes around the cups and the wine and he, his men, and Emperor (who is truly awe-struck with what his piss has wrought) toast the memory of Yang Su, and death to the Mongols.

    Empty America: Part 26 - Jolly Mon



    Alessandria Province, San Erasmus [Santiago, Cuba]

    Chao Yen-Wei was barely in the door of the great plantation villa when he was accosted by some long-haired blonde lout in a leather jerkin and bedecked with gold chains and arm-bands, who waved a cup in his face and exhorted him to "have a beer, it don't cost nothin!" Chao managed to extricate himself from the man and resume his search for the proprietor. It wasn't easy - there was some sort of huge party going on and the house was teeming with people, all of whom seemed to be various stages of intoxication. In the courtyard at the center of the villa, some sort of play was being performed. The music grates on Chao's ears [FN26.01], and Chao thinks the lyrics ("Springtime for Batu"?!?) were in very questionable taste. But still he presses on. Chao is not the only Chinese there, a fact that he finds both reassuring in this strange place full of strange people, and alarming, for he has business to do with the proprietor, and his masters in the great Kuan commercial family will not be happy if someone else has beaten him to it.

    He peeks his head into another room, where a bald monk in orange robes sits cross-legged before a great crowd of men of the sort who accosted Chao in the doorway. A collection of long-haired blondes and red-heads with metal caps and leather jerkins. The monk is holding forth:

    "Say something once, why say it again?" His barbarian audience nods vigorously and shouts out agreement, waving axes and short swords enthusiastically. "When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed ..."

    Ah, thinks Chao disdainfully. A Taoist. As a rather stern Confucian, he looks upon the Taoists as a collection of useless navel-gazers whose egalitarianism and tendency towards withdrawing themselves from the world pose a threat to a correct social order. Like many others, he is somewhat alarmed that they have moved to Mu-Lan-P'i in such great numbers and vaguely wished that the Regent would follow the example of the emperors of old and secularize the Taoist monasteries en masse.

    He keeps going. It seems like all the rooms in the villa a filled with revelers and the air is positively thick with bhang smoke. Coughing, he stops and looks at a mosaic, evidently a portrait of the the proprietor, that adorns the wall. Primitive, he thinks, but not without a certain appeal. Chao has been told that the settlers in these islands from Yidali [Italy] revere and mimic (in styles, anyway, if not in virtue, from what Chao has seen of the party so far), certain revered ancestors of over a thousand years past, and this sort of mosaic is in that ancient tradition [FN26.011]. Reverence of the ancients is something Chao can understand, and he latches onto it to convince himself that at least something about these barbarians is not totally unfamiliar. Again, he wonders why Master Kuan had not selected someone with more experience in dealing with these people for this mission. Chao himself has had only limited dealings with the barbarians, since his duties have mostly involved business arrangements within Mu-Lan-P'i, but Master Kuan's assistants have briefed him thoroughly on what to expect. He still wishes that someone else was doing it.

    But his is not to question why, his is to push his way through the drunken masses and do his best to find the master of the house and surrounding lands. He wandered into another great room where a band was serenading a large crowd of exuberant dancers [FN26.02]. Chao clamps his hands over his ears and flees. He doesn't know what 'Jungle Love' is, and he doesn't want to find out.

    But eventually he finds the proprietor, who is, oddly enough, standing alone out on a patio, decked out in his distinctive Venetian robes and hat, perfectly fitting the description that Chao had been given. As Chao approaches, he notices that he is holding a very large glass and swaying rhythmically to the music coming from the tall windows. Chao bows, and introduces himself in Arabic, the lingua franca of the trade between Mu-lan-P'i and the Ursulines. All of a sudden, the man punches his fist in the in the air and sings out, "If you're hungry, take a bite of me!"

    "What?!" Chao says, very alarmed.

    "Sorry." Chao can see that the man is very drunk. "Maffeo Polo." Chao, remembering that this is how the barbarians greet each other, takes it.

    Polo sweeps his arm around unsteadily, "this is my place."

    "Yes, I see. It is very impressive. Is this gathering for an occasion ..."

    Polo grinned broadly and weaved a little bit. "My sister, she's taking her vows ... or whatever ... as a Cathar perfect."

    Chao searched his memory. The barbarian cults were all so similar, it was difficult to keep track. Then he remembered, and said, as a burst of music and laughter rolled out the window. "The Cathars, are they not an ... ascetic sect?"

    "That's why I didn't invite her."

    "Oh."

    Polo just looked at him and continued to sway unsteadily to the music.

    "And you are not a Cathar adherent, but you celebrate her achievement?"

    Polo squints and leans forward, swaying a bit, to gaze at Chao intently. "You're not with the Inquisition, are you?"

    Chao, who had no idea what that meant, says, "Ah, no. I represent the Kuan Family and am here with a -"

    Polo cuts him off. "Good. The Podesta ran those bastards off the island not more than two years ago. Didn't think they'd be back so soon and -" he looks Chao up and down, "-so cleverly disguised."

    Chao sighs to himself and wonders what barbarians are like to do business with when they are sober. But it does not seem like he is going to find out anytime soon. "Signor Polo, I have come bearing a business proposition from my masters in the Kuan family. If I could take you away from the revelry for the moment, I believe you would find it most interesting."

    Polo raises his eyebrows. "Business proposition?"

    "Yes. I understand that you are the largest cultivator of sugar cane on this island."

    Polo grins. To Chao, he already appears less drunk. Perhaps the word "business" has that affect on these barbarians. "That's right. From here to the horizon, it's all mine. Bought out the rest of the colleganza a few years ago, and some of the neighboring plantations suddenly suffered ..." he looked at Chao very significantly, "financial difficulties, so I bought them, too."

    Chao wondered what "difficulties" Polo's neighbors suffered and whether those difficulties involved the axe-swinging hooligans he saw inside the villa. But he decides it was better not to ask. "Excellent. Signor Polo, have you ever considered growing cotton on part of your holdings?"

    Polo shakes his head vigorously, then puts his hands on his cheeks to steady it. "The big money's in sugar, not cotton, especially since the government let up on distilling liquor in the islands. Better return, and you don't have to worry about the ships bursting at the seams in the middle of the ocean" [FN26.03].

    Chao says, "I believe the difficulties in shipping can be dealt with correctly."

    Polo still looks skeptical. He shakes his head again. "It takes too much labor to get the seeds out of the fiber. Do you know how expensive slaves are, what with the State sitting on -"

    "That difficulty, too, has been dealt with in Mu-Lan-P'i" [FN26.04].

    Polo scratches his chin. "Still, I don't see how it could profit me to turn land from sugar to cotton."

    "I believe I can show you how it could be done."

    "Gold?" Polo says hopefully.

    "Silver." Chao says firmly.

    And so they haggle about price and quantity and delivery. But eventually, after a lot of back and forth, an agreement is reached. Speed in negotiation and precision in terms is not aided, Chao thinks, by the quantity of liquor that Polo has consumed, but he is a sharp enough operator, even in his cups. Polo will grow cotton for the Kuan family textile enterprise. And he will do quite well by himself for the effort.

    "This," says Polo, "calls for a celebration." Chao does not know how Polo could remain on his feet if things got any more celebratory. Polo pulls a nice fat spliff out from underneath his cloak, slides it appreciatively below his nose, then lights it with a candle and takes a deep drag. He holds it out to Chao and, without exhaling and in a strained voice, says, "Here, goof on this."

    "Pardon?" Chao is suspicious. He knows about bhang, but he's never tried it.

    Polo exhales a great cloud of smoke and grins widely. "Gufa. Norse word for smoke."

    "Those fair-haired men in leather shirts?"

    Polo takes another hit and nods. "Business associates. And they brought the beer." He extends the spliff to Chao again and looks at him expectantly. Chao considers this for a minute. It would be very rude to refuse the hospitality of a new business partner of Master Kuan.

    So he takes the spliff and puts it to his lips.


    [tempus fugit]


    The next morning, Chao wakes up in the fountain in the villa's plaza, his head splitting. His first thought as he shakes his head and groans, is the girl, the olive-skinned one with the long, dark hair. The one who seemed so very friendly and so curious about "the men and women of Cathay and how they ..."

    Oh, my.

    But she is no where in sight. So Chao wipes his soaking wet hair back from his face and hoists himself out of the fountain. Maybe he should not apprise Master Kuan of how enthusiastically he availed himself of Polo's hospitality. For the first time, his office does not seem so much like a burden, and notwithstanding the pounding between his ears he smiles, thinking of the drinking, the dancing, the singing, the laughing with the great crowds of other guests, and he remembers the olive-skinned girl with the long, dark hair. But, Chao is eager to get back to Jen Men and tell his superiors of the deal he has struck and he will be his way.

    Just as soon as he can find his clothes.

    ***

    In the late 13th Century, the three central facts of European colonization in the Ursulines are sugar, trade with Mu-Lan-P'i, and gold. But first, some politics. And that means the Lion City. With the destruction of Genoa and the fall of Pisa, Venice now enjoys maritime supremacy in the Ursuline Sea. Shortly after the fall of Genoa, a Venetian expeditionary force commanded by the dashing Admiral Lorenzo Tiepolo seizes the Isole del Benedetto [Isles of the Blessed. OTL's Canaries], overwhelming fierce resistance led by notable Genoese Admiral Ugo Venta, who retreats to Lisbon. We will hear more from both Venta and the Portuguese later. But now, Venice controls an important stepping-stone from the Mediterranean to the Ursulines. In the Ursulines proper, Venice and its ally, the Emirate of Grenada, have sovereignty over a majority of the inhabited islands, with the notable exceptions of the Ile de Foix [Santo Domingo], which is held by the independent Kingdom of Foix, and Antilla, which is held as a fiefdom of the Kingdom of Aragon. But the Venetians have snapped up the the Perditas [OTL's Turks and Caicos] from their Genoese owners and forced Pisa to hand over the Zaccarias [OTL's Bahamas] and the Arcipelago da San Ranieri [OTL's Anguilla, St. Martin, St. Maarten, St. Kitts & Nevis].

    Now, the sugar. Plantation agriculture is what brought the Europeans to the Ursulines in the first place, and it expands at a very steady clip. The largest of the sugar islands is, of course, San Erasmus [Cuba]. While the island is ruled by Venice (divided into six provinces, one for each of the Venetian sestieri - neighborhoods), the population is a polyglot. The plantation elite on most of the island - who either operate the plantations for their own benefit or in partnership with Venetian colleganzas - tend to be Venetians, but with a lot of Italians from the Terra Firma mixed in as well.

    By law, all the Venetian proprietors of holdings over a certain size are cittadini, a cut above the rabble in the street. This a requirement that grates with some of the low-born settlers, especially up and coming men, the "gente nuova" who see their chances for advancement curtailed. This is exactly why the Senate enacted the measure in the first place. The oligarchs of Venice are haunted by the fear that their overseas colonies might become outposts of government by the "populo," especially after some rioting by mobs in Italian cities governed by Venetian podestas. The wealthiest trading families - Visconti, Querini, Contarini, Morosini, Dandolo - all have major holdings in the Ursulines. From their sedimen donicale [main estates] in the countryside, they dominate the courts and the assemblies and the podestas of the islands tend to be drawn from their ranks.

    In the fields, the sharecroppers and the slaves - the economy is definitely mixed and free - are also a mixture. There are a significant number of Italian peasants, imported to share-crop, and a larger number of slaves, primarily Central Asian pagans [Cumans] and Greeks [FN26.05]. Other portions of the island are technically under the rule of Grenada, farmed by Muslim proprietors and governed by the Emir's agents. All the cultivators on San Erasmus clamber for the Lion City to permit the import of African slaves, since Venetian and Genoese mariners have made contact with the powers on the western coast of Africa, who seem ready to sell. The Venetians, however, have a mercantilist approach to their colonies, and insist upon the metropolis maintaining a monopoly on the slave traffic, which will continue to flow through Venice.

    The other major sugar island is Jasirah al-Zanata [Jamaica], which is governed in toto by the Emirate of Grenada, but its trade is monopolized by Venice. Its population tends to be more homogenous - virtually entirely Muslims from the Grenadan metropolis, but with some North Africans mixed in. Under the rule of the Emirate, things are a bit more strictly in line with Islamic practice. The sugar grown on al Zanata is not distilled into liquor on the island, for example, but processed and exported as-is. With the improvements in shipping in the thirteenth century making oceanic transport of bulk commodities more economical, this is not a big economic hindrance, but it does point Muslim entrepreneurs in other directions. And that means spices and citrus. The oranges and lemons are for local consumption, but the spices are the cash cow. Da Conti's project to bring East Indian spices to the Ursulines has been a bust. Imperfect information about exactly where the spices are grown is the real problem. Those in East Indian spice trade are not exactly forthcoming. But, native plants in the Ursulines fill the gap. Mace is a big one, being grown on nearly all the Ursuline Islands and exported in bulk, it is almost too successful. It certainly has a satisfying flavor - being hotter than a Malabar pepper - but it becomes fairly common (as spices go) and loses a lot of its cachet for the houte monde back in the Old World. In other words, it is the rarity and expense of spices that are a big part of their appeal with the European elites, and the availability and comparative cheapness of mace is essentially curbs its desirability for the elites. But Ursuline peppers do find their way in the cuisines of the non-nobles, who benefit from the jolt of flavor.

    Allspice from Jasirah al-Zanata, on the other hand, is a big hit with the elites whose agents browse the European and Muslim spice markets. Not only for its taste, which is very satisfying to the European palate, but the fact that it comes from a Muslim outpost acquires a bit of that old Spice Road exoticism. The Grenadan authorities strictly regulate quantities grown and exported to keep the prices up so it keeps from suffering the decline in prestige that mace suffers. The other success is ginger. Ginger root transports very easily, and Chinese sailors have been growing it in boxes on the decks of their junks for a long time to ward off scurvy. Planters in the Ursulines get a hold of some live ginger root shortly after contact with Mu-lan-P'i, and soon it is growing all over the islands.

    And then there is the gold. Word that the Chinese have discovered gold in Mu-Lan-P'i triggers the New World's first European gold rush. By the late 13th Century, the Occitians have made significant strikes in the ramshackle and thinly-settled Kingdom of Foix, which then suffers an influx of outsiders. Most of them originate in France, Iberia, Lombardy and Sicily, and many do not share the live-and-let live attitude that the Cathars and their fellow travelers brought with them from Languedoc. The immigrants are compelled to take an oath of allegiance to the Foix monarchy, however, and the difficulties are minimal, as of yet. The gold rush also brings a burst of prosperity to Foix that it really needed - it was suffering from the discriminatory (a nice term for extortionate) Venetian shipping practices. Plus the fact that many of the most influential people in the kingdom - the Cathar Perfect - are militantly ascetic can put a damper on the luxury trade that is a major wealth generator elsewhere. But prosper Foix does. The still somewhat rough-hewn Royal government establishes a mint, and the Treasury takes a cut of all the gold pulled from the ground. The discovery of gold is the impetus the Foix monarchy needed to consolidate its power - it is only by the exercise of strong central authority that the Occitians can keep from being overwhelmed by the immigrants and get their share of the treasure. Eventually even the Perfect get into the act. They have a weakness for books, particularly Aristotle, other 'natural philosophers,' and Bacon's translations of Chinese works. The Perfect and their credente followers are directing some of Foix's wealth towards the acquisition of significant Royal and private libraries.

    And then again there is trade with Mu-lan-P'i. The Ursulines are the conduit through which Cathayan goods - silk and porcelains primarily, plus spices reexported from the Spice Islands - flow through to Europe. Into Mu-lan-P'i flow European and Ursuline goods. The Chinese take an interest in Venetian glass, not for the quality as much as for the novelty value of it. But mostly what they want is raw materials - sugar and cotton. Plus mercury. The miners of Mu-lan-P'i have discovered that they need large quantities of mercury to fully exploit the silver deposits. The Iberian powers fortuitously have sizable deposits of mercury. So, quicksilver flows into Mu-Lan-P'i and silver flows out. But it is not only goods that are exchanged - ideas and technology make their way into the hands of the European traders who do extensive business with the overseas Chinese and through them, back to Europe. But, closer to home, many Ursuline planters, like Polo, switch at least some of their acreage over to cotton to sell to the Cathayans, who pay them very well for it.

    Venice, by virtue of having the most potent naval force in the Ursuline Sea - not large, but very capable - controls western access the Mu-lan-P'i trade emporia in Zhongmeizhou [FN26.06]. Anyone who wants to trade with the Cathayans has gotta pay the Lion City its due, something that triggers a lot of resentment, especially among the exiled Genoese, who, operating from Portugual and Foix, still seethe with hatred towards the Venetians for the destruction of their home city. It is this hatred, and the desire to break the Venetian monopoly, that drives the Vivaldi brothers to take unprecedented risks for fame, fortune and vengeance. But we will get to that later.



    Notes:



    [FN23.01] Old Norse "voice." In this case, the representative of the person bringing a plea before the Folkhagi.

    [FN23.011] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=699&letter=A

    [FN23.02] The fundamental law of Domstolland, akin to a constitution.

    [FN23.021] To the extent anyone could, given the fact that Christian priests are flatly prohibited from Domstolland and the Christian traders are expelled if they discuss their beliefs openly.

    [FN23.03] Cok, son of Abraham. OTL, John Fitz John killed him with his bare hands in 1264 during the Baronial troubles. By decree of the author, in ATL John dies a horrible death on the battlefield in Flanders. Perhaps a horse steps on him.

    [FN23.04] To the extent there can be said to be western boundaries of any of the states of Ultima Thule. It tends to be defined as the furthest-most area in which the authorities (such as they are) bother to try to exclude others or exert control over settlers.

    [FN23.05] The Norse, coming originally from Iceland, don't have the whole 'if trees don't grow there, my crops won't grow there' thing that OTL settlers tended to have. Plus, they like not having to cut down and remove a lot of trees.

    [FN24.01] Since it is the furthest west. I am thinking this might be my last "-land" named Norse territory.

    [FN24.011] Not the 5% annual growth, but still pretty solid.

    [FN24.02] OTL, lots of mammoth and mastodon skeletons have been found in the area. The current theory is that they suffered from a sodium deficiency similar to elephants, and mammoths and mastodons migrated into the area, stocked up, then migrated back to their usual feeding grounds.

    [FN24.03] As a result, the Hebrides and the Isle of Man are firmly in Scandinavian hands through the 13th Century, as is Novgorod.

    [FN25.01] The really cool repeating ones. http://www.atarn.org/chinese/rept_xbow.htm.

    [FN25.011] OK, I have googled this a couple times, and I have not come up with any definitive answers about whether the rice that the Chinese were growing in the 13th Century - a quick-growing rice imported from Champha (in Vietnam), which could yield two crops per year in Southern China - could be raised in OTL's Northern California, Oregon and Washington. However, in OTL the area grows a _lot_ of rice, what appears to be domesticated North American wild rice:

    http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/proceedings1993/v2-235.html
    http://www.encyclopedia.com/html/section/rice_CultivationandHarvesting.asp

    So, for now, we will go with the Chinese settlers in Mu-lan-P'i domesticating and raising the wild variety. Given Chinese horticultural prowess, I doubt that it would be difficult, and I imagine settlers from South China would prefer it to the northern diet of millet and such.

    [FN25.02] Trade between the West and Mu-lan-P'i will be discussed in the section about the Ursulines and Everyplace Else.

    [FN25.03] Apropos of the recent 'Chinese using black slaves' thread on SHWI, that did in fact happen, but perhaps only on a comparatively small scale. Quoting Levathes, Louise, "When China Ruled the Seas" (Oxford U. Press 1994) at 38: "The extent of the China slave trade is difficult to determine. Enslavement had been a form of punishment since Han times, so there was no shortage of men and women in bondage in China. Nevertheless, it was said, "most of the wealthy people" in guangzhou "kept devil slaves" as gatekeepers. African slaves were treated little better than beasts of burden. They were made to lift heavy weights and, because the Chinese believe they swam 'without blinking their eyes,' were employed to repair leaking boats."

    [FN25.04] Actually, Khubilai Khan encouraged the craft industries in China and, unlike after the fall of Jin China, Song Chinese craftsmen were not marched to Mongolia in great numbers. But a reputation is a tough thing to shake.

    [FN25.05] Home of some of the largest saltpeter deposits in the Western Hemisphere.

    [FN25.06] The *really* cool man-powered paddlewheel warships that the Chinese invented. Thanks to, er, toilitpaper for pointing me to 'Fighting ships of the Far East' from Osprey.

    [FN25.07] Linguistic inertia - the Chinese in Mu-lan-P'i are still referring to the Pacific as the Eastern Ocean.

    [FN25.08] The readily-available saltpeter has caused the Chouyo Cheijian's chemists to hit on the 75% saltpeter - 15% charcoal - 10% sulphur formula that they need for powerful gunpowder.


    [FN26.01] The Chinese invented timbre in musical instruments a long time ago. As of the 13th Century, the Europeans are still working on it.

    [FN26.011] The wealthier Venetians in the Ursulines have built themselves Roman-style villas. This is a good example: http://www.villa-rustica.de/tour/indexe.html This is another good one: http://www.canterburytrust.co.uk/schools/gallery/gall09i.htm. As San Erasmus is still a comparatively newly-settled territory, I figure most of the villas are more modest, but still very nice.

    [FN26.02] A medieval circle dance turns into a conga line soooo easily.

    [FN26.03] During this time frame, Europeans are still using screw jacks to sqeeze sacks of cotton into the holds of their ships. If your ship does not quite have the hull integrity it should, the results can be kind of embarrassing for all involved.

    [FN26.04] It is a simple enough device, really. Huang Daopo, the 13th Century advocate of advanced weaving methods (who, ATL, resides in Mu-Lan-P'i), is said to have urged the use of a machine much like a primative cotton gin.

    [FN26.05] Greeks, as schismatics, were eligible to be enslaved, a situation which will not endure indefinitely.

    [FN26.06] Think the Portuguese in OTL's Indian Ocean during the 16thC, but more effective.
     
    Rostov likes this.
  7. Constantinople Trump is Temporary, but hey, Brexit is forever Banned

    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2005
    Empty America: Part 27 - Take Off (to the Great White North)
    These few parts are going to be a quick rundown of Ultima Thule [North
    America], the Ursulines [the Caribbean] and Terranova (or Whitsunland)
    [South America] circa 1260-80, in no particular order. All OTL geographic
    correlations are approximate. Actually, they are very approximate. The
    precise boundaries of the various possessions and states of Ultima Thule and
    Terranova are to be determined at some indefinite point in the future.


    Gospatric [OTL's Boston], Niwe Wessex [roughly speaking, New England
    extending northwest to the St. Lawrence River and west to the Connecticut
    River: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and those
    parts of Connecticut not facing Long Island]

    Bishop Brihtwine takes a step back and admires his work. Now that, he
    thinks, is a map. And there it is, a great piece of parchment, spread out
    on the table in his study, is all of Ultima Thule, all known states and
    principalities. And the bays and inlets and rivers and the lakes and the
    mountains and the valleys. He is particularly proud of the physical
    features. A Cathayan innovation, like so many other things, in actually
    depicting the shapes and contours of the land [FN27.01]. Well, to the best
    of his ability, anyway. As far as Brihtwine can tell, the interior of
    Ultima Thule is vast, trackless and unexplored. And even the inhabited
    parts have been imperfectly surveyed.

    But Brihtwine has done the best he could, culling in all the information
    about Ultima Thule that he could get his hands on. Traveler's accounts, of
    course, figure in prominently. Gospatric is a busy port, and ships from as
    far away as the Ursulines stop in regularly. And there are the hunters,
    roaming deeper and deeper inland in search of ivory and furs, then bringing
    their wares to Niwe Wessex to trade. And Bishop Brihtwine could not forget
    all the help he got from the pilgrims. Gospatric Cathedral holds the famous
    relics of the early Christian martyrs, Petrus and Marcellinus, smuggled out
    of the Empire in the aftermath of the Tatar invasion, and the observant
    flock to behold them and pray in their presence. The Bishop's study is
    cluttered with his notes and with the other sources - sailors' charts, other
    less-complete maps and, of course, his prized possession - a copy of Roger
    Bacon's famous account of his travels and compilation of Cathayan knowledge
    about the New World.

    Looking at the map, Brihtwine is very pleased with an innovation of his own.
    The map is accompanied by a great book. Brihtwine compiled too much
    information in his researches to fit in the standard map legends. So he
    referenced the map to passages in the Ultima Thule Chronicle.' It is a
    set - a book to read and a map to give the reader a sense of place.
    Brihtwine is enormously proud of his accomplishment, and pride is his
    lead-off sin when he kneels before his confessor. In the back of his mind,
    he thinks God will understand that Brihtwine is justifiably pleased at
    revealing the shape of so much of His Creation.

    But he does believe that God will forgive him his pride in the map and the
    Chronicle. And he cannot wait until can present it to King Ricard. But
    then, a monk burst into his room, excited and breathless.

    "Bishop! Bishop! There's a ship in the harbor!"

    Brihtwine sighs. Did he really have the reputation for dashing out to meet
    any ship that pulled in? "Yes, Osgod, that is fine, but -"

    "Bishop, it is from Cathay!"

    Brihtwine gets out of his chair.

    ***

    It is some days before Brihtwine returns to his study and tries to digest
    all that he has learned. Osgod was a bit confused. The ships - there were
    three of them - were not from Cathay, but from Mu-lan-P'i. Strange ships
    with upswept prows and peculiar, canted sails. The largest of the three
    ships had nine masts and utterly dwarfed all the carracks in the harbor. In
    fact, it was so huge that it could not even pull up to any of the quays, and
    instead was anchored in the harbor. Brihtwine just stands at the waterfront
    and gapes. He has heard that the Cathayan ships were huge, but hearing
    about it and actually seeing it are two different things. It strikes him
    suddenly that a ship that immense probably carries personages of some
    importance, so he bolts off to the Archbishop's residence, where he extracts
    what information he can from the Archbishop's staff. It seems that the
    ruler of Mu-lan-P'i, formerly a servant of the now deposed Song Emperor of
    Cathay, has himself now been proclaimed Emperor of Mu-lan-P'i. According to
    what the Admiral told King Ricard in the presence of the Archbishop who told
    his clerk who tells Brihtwine, the new Emperor was very reluctant to take
    the throne, as he had for some years been holding out hope that an heir to
    the former dynasty would be found. As time wore on and it became
    increasingly obvious that no heir would be found, this state of affairs
    began to distress many of the officials in Mu-lan-P'i. So one day, a group
    of army officers bodily seized their commander and demanded that he take the
    throne. He refused, insisting that a legitimate heir could still be alive.
    The officers grew angry and told him that the need for legitimate government
    was so pressing that, if he did not assume the purple (as it were), they
    would overthrow him and declare for the Tatar Emperor in Cathay. He wept
    and tore at his hair and clothing, damning his subordinates for their
    treachery to the throne. But finally, when he saw that they were in deadly
    earnest, he sorrowfully agreed to become Emperor and found a new dynasty.

    So the new Emperor dispatched a small fleet of ships to announce his reign,
    proclaim his disinterested benevolence and desire to live in peace with all
    peoples, and collect such tribute as may be appropriate, etc. Brihtwine was
    about to burst - how did they get from Jen Men [San Francisco] to Gospatric?
    They sailed, the clerk says, north and east, through great passages in the
    ice at the top of the world, then south to Vinland and then to Niwe Wessex.
    Evidently the feat itself was calculated to impress the other nations of
    Ultima Thule.

    It has the desired effect - Brihtwine is flabbergasted. North of
    Hyperborea! [FN27.02]. There is a way! He had thought that there must have
    been a route through the vast expanse ice that surrounds the giant magnetic
    mountain at the top of the world. Excited to talk to these sailors who must
    have seen many unknown lands, he wangles himself an invitation to the feast
    King Ricard was having for Admiral. He excitedly [FN27.03] quizzes the
    Admiral Chao Yen-Wei and his subordinates at length, asking them to describe
    the islands, currents and ice-floes he and his men encountered on the way
    through the frigid waters. The Archbishop and the King repeatedly try to
    change the subject, but Brihtwine is dogged in his curiosity.

    King Ricard II, a good-natured fellow who has been patronizing Brihtwine's
    studies, but who is eager to talk trade and other matters with the Admiral,
    finally laughs and says, "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?"
    A couple of his knights start to get up from the table, but the King rolls
    his eyes and bids them to sit.

    Embarrassed, but not knowing what to do, Bishop Brihtwine suddenly turns to
    Admiral Yen-Wei and implores him to accept baptism and the love of Christ.
    The Admiral smiles benevolently and asks Brihtwine if he would have him
    worship the Christ whose pope is in the land of the Franks, Luoma [Rome] or
    Xila [Greece, i.e. Constantinople]?"

    "There is but one Lord Jesus Christ!" the anguished Bishop exclaims,
    surprised that a Cathayan would know so much about the affairs of the
    Church.

    "Then why," Admiral Yen-Wei asks placidly, "do your peoples quarrel so?"

    Abashed for all of Christendom, Brihtwine slumps in his chair. The Admiral
    laughs kindly, saying that it was an unfair question, since it is the same
    world over. The Buddhists in his homeland, he says, are forever arguing
    amongst themselves, as were the Taoist and Confucian luminaries. No doubt
    no more than two Qing Zhen [Muslim] or Yěn Dů Jiŕo [Hindu] clerics could be
    found to agree with one another. To make it up to Brihtwine, Admiral
    Yen-wei invites him to visit his flagship the next day. Brihtwine beams.

    And the next day, the Bishop is ferried in a lighter out to the great
    Cathayan ship and he spends hours poking through it, marveling at the
    individual cabins for the merchants, the ingenious water-tight compartments
    for the cargo and the general bustle of activity. Admiral Yen-Wei tells him
    that the ship can carry a year's supply or rice for the crew and they can
    set out barrels to catch rainwater on lengthy voyages. Amazing! thinks
    Brihtwine. These men could sail around the world without ever touching
    land. They can grow food plants and raise animals on deck and live better
    than most men on shore. God, how he envied them and their travels! The
    high point of the visit was a stop in the Captain's cabin, where he spent an
    hour intently studying the ship's charts and maps, committing as much as he
    could to memory, and when his tour is over, it is with great reluctance that
    he makes his way back to dry land.


    ***

    Back in his study, Bishop Brihtwine looks at his map and sighs. It is not
    all wrong, but from the Cathayan maps he can see that his representation of
    the West Coast of Ultima Thule is way off and his depiction of Hyperborea is
    just fanciful. He flips the big sheet of paper over and decides to begin
    all over again. And he will need to add much to 'The Ultima Thule
    Chronicle,' as well.

    The years of studying Ultima Thule have dangled some troubling conclusions
    before the Bishop's eyes. What a wondrous strange place, teeming with
    creatures never before seen by man - olifaunts, giant beavers, enormous
    bears, sloths, tigers and wolves, long, sleek cats that can outrun the
    swiftest horses, and flocks of birds so numerous they darken the
    sun[FN27.031]. It is an article of faith within the Church that this land,
    with all its riches, was set aside and left unpopulated by God for the
    benefit of Christendom. After the Flood, the world was divided among the
    sons of Noah: Shem, Japeth and Ham. Each received their share of the
    thousand peoples and the lands and nations. But none received Ultima Thule
    and Terranova, which were held back for a thousand years after the birth of
    Christ, so that His People could settle there.

    That, of course, has been shaken with the realization that the pagans of
    Cathay actually hold more of Ultima Thule and _much_ more of Terranova than
    do Christian powers. This continent of riches, untouched by the hand of man
    for thousands of years after Creation, was just sitting there, waiting to be
    taken by whoever - Christian or pagan - came across it first. This is
    particularly troubling to Brihtwine because, through his studies, he
    realizes that the Cathayans not only do not believe in the God of the Bible,
    they evidently believe in nothing even remotely resembling the God of the
    Jews, Christians and Saracens.

    But he thinks he understands it now. The New World is was set aside by God
    for the peoples of the world to meet, and learn to live in harmony. The
    Cathayans from the East have brought their wondrous knowledge of nature and
    the artes machinae, and the Christians of the West have brought the Word of
    God.

    They could build something here, something new... Brihtwine sighs again, and
    gets back to work on his map.

    *****

    Ultima Thule, circa 1280 [FN27.04]


    Niwe Wessex

    The fourth most populous state in Ultima Thule is the Saxon Kingdom of Niwe
    Wessex. Niwe Wessex is, in Brihtwine's words (calculated to please his
    king) a "happy and pious Christian realm of dutiful peasants, learned
    clergy, loyal nobles and a wise monarch." The people are an eclectic mix -
    Englishmen from the original post-Conquest settlement, Scottish adventurers
    and Irish peasants. The last is a mixture of free peasants and unfree serfs
    and slaves. The unfree are predominantly Irish, exported from the great
    Norse slave-port of Dublin, until its capture by a Norman and Irish siege in
    1249. Agricultural patterns follow that of Saxon England - villages
    surrounded by strips of land plowed and sowed in furlongs by the individual
    peasant families. Scattered among the fields of wheat and barley are
    pastures for grazing cows and sheep. The sheep, imported from Iceland via
    Vinland, are raised for both food and fiber. Nearly every peasant woman in
    Niwe Wessex spins, and every town of size has a weaver or two. Pigs are
    common, rooting around in the forests which the monarchs have (wisely) left
    open, charging fees only for hunting and the removal of timber. The average
    peasant is fairly prosperous, by contemporary European standards, and his
    diet contains much more meat and fish than his English cousin's. Sod huts
    have largely been replaced by wooden houses - with abundant timber in the
    forests and water-power for saw-mills, lumber is comparatively cheap. The
    nobility live primarily in fieldstone and timber manor houses. As the
    monarchy accrued power, the Kings of Niwe Wessex forbade private
    castle-building. All fortifications are the King's and are under the
    control of his castellans, although many of the Earls are obliged to
    garrison the royal castles.

    Of all the sovereignties in Ultima Thule, its government most resembles a
    powerful European monarchy. Which, of course means that its government has
    not exactly followed a straight line from its founding by Magnus in the
    early twelfth century. As will inevitably happen, there were minor heirs
    and contested heirs and regencies and jockeying for power amongst the
    prominent Earls. Broadly speaking, the descendants of the Saxon Earls who
    founded Niwe Wessex constitute one faction, while the Irish and Scottish
    adventurers who emigrated afterwards form another, and they are engaged in a
    constant struggle for dominance. The throne is the ultimate prize, since
    the King is far less beholden to his Earls than he would be in a more
    conventional feudal state - his subjects owe direct allegiance to him, and
    notwithstanding any noble resistance or reluctance, he can call upon them
    for military service in the fyrd [army]. Further, signeurial justice is
    virtually non-existent, save where it has been granted to a few of the Earls
    in exchange for an extraordinary payment or service to the King. The judges
    of the various local courts are appointed directly by the Throne - which
    also collects the fines, a lucrative racket - and the enforcement of the
    Royal will is carried out by numerous sheriffs, who are also wholly beholden
    to the King. The King also has secured the power of approving the
    nomination of all the bishops and archbishops in Niwe Wessex, and the lay
    courts have personal jurisdiction over the lay clergy who are also subject
    to Royal taxation.

    In a nutshell, with the courts, the Church and the fyrd under its command,
    the monarchy of Niwe Wessex is one of the most powerful in Western
    Christendom and in his dealings with his nobles and the lay clergy, the King
    is in the catbird's seat.

    However, one of the other things that differentiates Niwe Wessex from most
    European states is the disproportionate influence wielded by the religious
    orders. The Cistercians, the wilderness trail-blazers of the High Middle
    Ages, have a major presence in Niwe Wessex. Through dint of hard work and
    superior organization - and some very helpful exemptions from taxes and
    feudal service - the Order has emerged as the largest single landowner,
    after the Monarchy. By the latter part of the thirteenth century, this
    situation does not please the civil government of Niwe Wessex at all. The
    lands and villages which should be the sinews of Royal power instead are
    beyond its reach because of concessions granted at the founding of the
    kingdom. And not only is the monarchy unhappy with the Cistercians' power
    and influence - the lay clergy are not pleased either. When they came to
    Ultima Thule, the Saxons brought a decidedly un-reformed Church with them.
    In form (continuation of non-standard liturgies) and in substance (the
    persistence of married priests), the church in Niwe Wessex rejected the
    Gregorian reforms for decades after they were enacted in Europe. It was the
    Cistercians who carried reform into Niwe Wessex, and the Order eventually
    secured Royal acquiescence to bringing the Niwe Wessex Church in line with
    Catholic practice. As Brihtwine acerbically notes, "it was not the piety of
    the priests of the Order which secured the King's consent, but rather their
    wealth."

    The other major Orders that are big factors in Niwe Wessex are the Knights
    of Ultima Thule and the Sword Brothers. While the Sword Brothers are
    headquartered in Europe, the Knights of Ultima Thule are entirely based in
    Niwe Wessex and the Master of their order resides in Gospatric. Not only
    are the military orders major landowners, they have diversified into other
    things like using their European connection to trade manufactured goods with
    fur and ivory hunters who straggle into the Kingdom. The Orders,
    battle-hardened and deadly earnest after the massacre on Streymoy in 1202,
    have fought a savage on-again-off-again seesawing struggle against the pagan
    Domstollanders in Northumbriashire [roughly speaking, OTL's Connecticut].
    Like the Cistercians, the military Orders are largely beyond the control of
    the monarchy, which is again very unsatisfactory to the civil authorities.
    The Sword-Brothers have largely abstained from interfering in Wessexian
    politics, but the Masters of the Thulian Knights have, on occasion, taken it
    upon themselves to play king-maker. While always appreciated by the
    beneficiaries of their assistance, the power that the Knights' wealth and
    discipline gives them has made the Order a resented presence in Niwe Wessex.
    No King can sit comfortably on the throne knowing that he is beholden to
    such a power.

    Finally, in 1234, the Knights back Egric, the brother of King Ceolwulf I, in
    his bid for the throne. Ceolwulf prevails and, once securely ensconced in
    power, proceeds to break the Knights. He brings charges of sodomy, simony,
    usury [FN27.05], sorcery and heresy against the Order. Knights are arrested
    and compelled to confess under torture. Although at their trials many
    repudiate their confessions, they go to the flames nonetheless. Pope
    Gregory IX, outraged by the near-destruction of one of his Crusading Orders,
    excommunicates Ceolwulf and places Niwe Wessex under the Ban until such time
    as the King releases the remaining Knights and does suitable penance for his
    misconduct. King Ceolwulf strikes back, enlisting the most eminent
    theologians in Niwe Wessex to formulate his case that the civil power was
    supreme over the Church, that he had the right to punish clergy for
    violations of ecclesiastical law [FN27.06], and that the papacy lacked the
    power to excommunicate him for the exercise of his legitimate powers.
    Manifestos and proclamations flew back and forth between Rome and Gospatric
    until Ceolwulf hits upon an ingenious stratagem to enlist the Knights
    themselves in his cause. It is simple - he offers the imprisoned Knights
    pardon and banishment. If they accept it as worded, they will be
    acknowledging his right to try and imprison them. Most of the Knights,
    suffering under intolerable conditions in the King's dungeons, accept the
    pardons and flee the kingdom with as many of their possessions and as much
    of their wealth as they can salvage. The Master of the Order, when brought
    before the King and directed to seek pardon, spits in Ceolwulf's face and
    states flatly that he will beg of nothing from a notorious excommunicate.
    The Master is burned with his head held high.

    The knights who accepted pardon are deeply shamed by their Master's bravery
    in the face of death, and vow to continue their fight against the pagan
    Domstollanders (and the apostate King of Niwe Wessex) from elsewhere.
    Reduced in number, but fired with great zeal, they accept a Papal land-grant
    [FN27.07] to the south, in an area of great bays, rivers and islands [OTL's
    Chesapeake region]. They smash the scattered Norse settlements in the area,
    as well as three loghports whose depredations have stifled any Christian
    presence, and set to building their signature motte-and-bailey castles for
    the holding of newly-conquered territories.

    They soon have some company, because King Ceolwulf has turned on the
    Cistercians, demanding that they surrender many of the privileges granted to
    them in the distant past. Having witnessed what happened to the Thulian
    knights, the Cistercians decide that they'd rather switch than fight. But
    they are not without bargaining chips, and manage to emerge with a pretty
    good position, in exchange for using their influence to try to reconcile
    Ceolwulf with the Pope. But, they have a great deal of sympathy for the
    exiled Thulians and undertake to assist them in settling their new realm,
    the County of Drengeard [Old English: "warrior country"]. Soon, a number of
    monks and their vassals have arrived and are earnestly clearing land for
    farming. As word of "the richeness of the lande and great bounty of the
    waters" [Brihtwine's words], others begin immigrating of their own accord.
    Determined to avoid the kind of problems that a powerful monarchy, the
    government of Drengeard is of more conventional medieval character - local
    lords [including the Cistercian Abbots] have greater authority over their
    lands and peoples, while owing defined service or payments to the Master of
    the Knights, who holds the County directly from the Papacy. Also, the
    Papacy retains the authority to appoint Bishops, and new tax levies must be
    approved by a Hird [assembly] of the County's nobles. This decentralized
    government and (comparatively) light feudal duties are great attractions for
    the Earls of Niwe Wessex. Looking, as always, to expand their holdings, the
    Earls turn to Drengeard instead of, or in addition to, acquiring more land
    in Niwe Wessex. Of course, King Ceolwulf is not happy about his Earls
    acquiring land in the realm of his enemies, but even a powerful medieval
    monarch cannot prevent it.

    The Christian settlers of Drengeard have some hair-raising encounters with
    Norse raiders returning to retake their lands, but the formidable discipline
    and fighting skills of the Knights of Ultima Thule enable them to prevail
    and drive off the invaders. The Knights also are the ones who finally
    figure out how to use mastodons and mammoths in war. A charging Oliphant
    with wooden stakes tied to its tusks can work wonders against massed
    infantry. A light ballistae and a few heavy crossbows on top make a fine
    addition as well.

    The Knights are not satisfied with merely playing defense - contributions
    from the faithful all over Christendom have enabled them to acquire a number
    of ships. The knights take to the seas, attacking Norse loghports wherever
    they find them in the coastal waters of the eastern seaboard, sometimes
    catching the Norse corsairs in port and burning their ships, even on
    Streymoy itself. By 1280, Drengeard is a thriving fishing and farming
    community, firmly loyal to its Papal Lord, and devoutly orthodox in its
    Christianity. Of all the states in Ultima Thule and the Ursulines, only the
    County of Drengeard sees no outbreaks of heresy. The Cistercians and
    Thulian Knights see to that. But as Christendom's spiritual loyalties
    splinter, the turmoil that racks the outside world must inevitably reach
    this most pious of communities.


    The Fjaraland League

    The Fjaraland League is not a state, but an alliance of statelets, bound
    together for mutual defense against others and for the arbitration of
    disputes among themselves. Two things brought the League into being - the
    attacks of Norse raiders upon coastal settlements and the wasteful conflicts
    among the petty princes and potentates who rule the Counties, Earldoms,
    Commonwealths, Duchies, Republics and Kingdoms running from Cocagne in the
    north to Serendib in the south. The head of the Fjaraland League - the
    Chief Justicar - has exactly two duties. First, he is to arbitrate disputes
    among members of the League and, to that end, he swears "to do wise and
    impartial justice to all those who come before him," as Brihtwine notes.
    His second duty is to call out the League members' armed forces in case of
    attack or to execute his judgments against a recalcitrant League member. He
    is not the commander of the armed forces, but only his summons carries the
    force of law. The Chief Justicar has no castle, no seat of power, but
    rather he rides circuit through every League member. The states of the
    league are bound to provide him with shelter and provisions suitable to a
    person of his rank and duties.

    After the death of the first Chief Justicar, Niccolo da Conti, it takes some
    time for the Heads of State of the League members to agree on a new one,
    eventually they choose new Bishop of Cocagne to fill the post, which he does
    with some distinction. He establishes a precedent for the Bishops of the
    major sees in the League to be appointed Chief Justicar. There are four
    major states in the League, and scattered among them are a number of minor
    ones. We will cover the minor ones as they fit into the story -
    particularly the small states founded by Irish adventurers Tadhg O'Brien and
    Felim O'Connor at mid-century - but turning to the major States of the
    League:

    - Duchy of Cocagne [roughly between OTL's James River and Pamlico Sound].

    Legend has it that the original Duke of Cocagne acquired his title, and
    right to rule territory in the name of the King of France, from King Philip
    II Augustus to retire some gambling debts. But, regardless of how acquired,
    the Dukedom, by 1280, is a thriving colony of large landowners presiding
    over a growing population of villeins, generally free peasants lured to
    Ultima Thule with the promise of more land to farm and lesser feudal
    obligations.

    The settlement of the Saxons in Drengeard and the subsequent routing of the
    Norse loghports is decidedly good news for Cocagne, which has suffered from
    the lack of a good and secure port. With the Knights of Ultima Thule in the
    neighborhood, Duke Eduard II de Cocagne feels secure enough to move the
    administrative seat of his Duchy to Neufchateau [OTL's Norfolk] at the
    northernmost tip of his territory. From the earliest times, the Dukes have
    dreamed of making their Duchy the wealthiest in the League and have worked
    steadily towards that end. As of 1280, the Duke is thinking of making the
    Fleuve Doux [Roanoke River] navigable, to make it easier for inland
    plantation owners to export their wares.

    Trade, you see, has become everything. With the growth of the sugar
    industry in the Ursulines, it has become highly profitable for League states
    to export foodstuffs to the island plantations which can pay in Cathayan
    silver they get from Mu-lan-P'i. Not only food, either. The large and
    small landowners of Cocagne are heavily invested in growing bhang for export
    to Europe, the Ursulines, and North Africa. And this seems like as good a
    place as any to mention tubbaq. Wild tubbaq grows all over the southeast of
    Ultima Thule. The plants are taller than a man and the leaves are sticky
    with powerful concentrations of nicotine that raise welts on exposed skin.
    Primed by earlier discoveries in the Ursulines, Cocagnois farmers keep an
    eye out for profitable flora and fauna. They start planting tubbaq in and
    among their bhang and other crops on the theory that the potent leaves will
    keep the insects away. Inevitably, they start fiddling with it and discover
    that it has a number of medical (treating skin and respiratory diseases) and
    recreational (snuff and smoke) uses. Since they already sell bang to
    Christian and Andalusiyyun middlemen who feed the Islamic desire for
    non-forbidden intoxicants, they begin exporting tubbaq in significant
    quantities.

    Religion in Cocagne is preeminently orthodox Catholicism, heavily influenced
    by French conciliarism. Of the major heresies that stalk Europe in the
    mid-to-late Thirteenth Century, the Reformed Spiritine Church has the
    largest presence, since the French Kings have seen Cocagne as a convenient
    dumping ground for heretics that they do not see fit to burn. Although they
    are spared the stake, the Reformed are not permitted to practice openly, so
    their services primarily take place in private homes. The Dukes of Cocagne
    have pretty much taken a "don't ask, don't tell" approach to heresy - so
    long as the Reformed do not flaunt it, he will not seek it out. The Cathars
    have almost no presence in Cocagne, since even now they prefer to steer
    clear of the domains of the King of France. All the major orders have
    received land grants in Cocagne and go diligently about improving the land
    and, as usual, stir resentment and envy on the part of the lay clergy.

    Like all the states of Ultima Thule, Cocagne gets a quick infusion of
    fortune-hunters when word gets around that the Cathayans have discovered
    vast amounts of gold and silver in Mu-lan-P'i. And, much to the surprise of
    everyone but the diggers themselves, they do stumble across significant gold
    deposits [FN27.08]. Nothing like the big strikes the Cathayans have made,
    but enough that the Duke of Cocagne can make a tidy profit taxing the
    diggers and panners and selling mining rights to enthusiastic immigrants.
    The fortune hunters will prove to be a disruptive element in time, but for
    now, the Duke of Cocagne has, for the first time in the history of Ultima
    Thule struck the first ever gold coin bearing the likeness of a Monarch of
    Europe, Phillip the Bold. The King receives a small chest of the coins in
    honor of the occasion.

    For all the good as it will do him ...

    - County of Avalon [roughly OTL's South Carolina][FN27.09]

    The founders of the County of Avalon clearly took a page from the early
    Norse land-naming scheme. Give a howling wilderness an intriguing name
    (Green-land, Vin-land), and the settlers will come. A traveler visiting
    Avalon will not, unfortunately, encounter the Once and Future King, but will
    see a State that is on its way to becoming the wealthiest in the League. In
    1280, Avalon, a feudal dependency of the King of England, is on the verge of
    a great expansion. Up until now, Avalon has prospered, in its small way,
    starting with subsistence agriculture, then moving towards an export driven
    economy. Like Cocagne, once it has managed to meet its own food needs, it
    exports. But the big export for Avalon is rice. The coastal wetlands of
    Avalon are primo rice country and the Count of Avalon, by way of his close
    relationship with the King of England, has very good contacts with the Hansa
    cities of the Holy Roman Empire. And that means slaves. Baltic pagans and
    Russian schismatics can both be enslaved by good Catholic Christians. And
    they are. They are seized in raids, marched to the ports of the Mongol
    dominion, crammed into the great ships of the Hansa, freely exported (after
    the fall of the Anskar Union) out into the Germanic Sea and across the
    Western Ocean to toil in Avalon's rice paddies. Avalon's biggest port,
    Newcastle [Charleston] is choked with shipping, delivering rice to the
    Ursulines and to Mu-lan-P'i's new settlement at Ti-chu Shih [OTL's
    Veracruz]. Rice flows out, silver flows in. But that is only the
    beginning. Circa the late 1270s, the Indian method for indigo dying arrives
    in Europe [FN27.10] and indigo cultivation arrives in Avalon. It fits
    perfectly into the crop rotation with rice. Indigo flows out, primarily to
    Europe, where it is sucked up by the booming textile industry.

    Just as the Count of Avalon is a feudal subject of the King of England, the
    great plantation owners of Avalon are feudal subjects of the Count.
    Fortunately for Avalon, they are generally too busy making money to fight
    amongst themselves in any serious fashion. That and the Count has by far
    the largest armed retinue and he is very interested in keeping the peace.
    To compensate for the lack of combat, it is always pretty much always
    tournament time in Newcastle, and many of the nobles do their quarantine
    with the Knights of Ultima Thule. Tournaments earn the condemnation of the
    clergy, including Brihtwine who characterizes the "Normans" of Avalon as the
    "most extravagant and bellicose of any race in Christendom."

    Among the free inhabitants of Avalon, religion is orthodox Latin
    Christianity, with no noticeable outbursts of Cathar or Spiritine heresy.
    The Counts take the conventional thirteenth-century English line that heresy
    is something for Continentals. As of 1280, Avalon has a Cathedral Chapter,
    but no cathedral, and its clergy elect its own bishops. Among the slaves, a
    minority cling to their traditional faiths in the face of forcible baptism
    and aggressive evangelization, but they have neither ordained priests nor
    churches of their own and with each generation born in Avalon, the former
    religions of the enslaved begin to fade into memory.

    - Kingdom of Nova Catalonia [approximately OTL's Georgia]

    Unlike the other major members of the Fjaraland League, Nova Catalonia is
    not a feudatory ruled by a hereditary Duke or Count, it is a Kingdom of the
    Crown of Aragon (for most of this period, occupied by Jaime I of the House
    of Barcelona). Pursuant to its Cartae Populantionis [charter of
    settlement], Nova Catalonia is jointly ruled by a representative of the
    Crown called a Batle and a territorial legislature called the Consell.
    Candidates for the Consell are nominated by a combination of a lottery and
    nominations by the Jurats (the judiciary, such as it is - a handful of
    circuit judges) and are then elected by a reasonably inclusive electorate
    [free inhabitants can meet the property qualification without great
    difficulty] in a popular vote [FN27.11].

    From its beginnings around San Braulio [OTL's Savannah], Nova Catalonia
    struggles at first, and gets a leg-up from the Papacy in the same vein that
    helped settle the Ursulines. Particular types of sinners (arsonists, those
    who sold weapons to the Saracens or assaulted priests, etc) can expiate
    their sins by moving to the new colony. On top of the land grants just
    about all colonial rulers offer in the New World, Jaime also grants settlers
    a sliding scale of fiscal and legal incentives In addition to peasants,
    Jaime gives tax exemptions (usually for a fixed period or a generation or
    two) to blacksmiths, masons, carpenters and others who move to the new
    colony. And these incentives, as well as the land grants, increase with
    family size. The free inhabitants of Nova Catalonia are predominantly
    Tributarii - peasants who owed tribute to the King, rather than serfs who
    are bound to the land.

    Nova Catalonia, like Avalon, has the rice export business as the backbone of
    its trading economy, with the paddies being owned by magnates whose holdings
    range greatly in size. The rice-lands are worked primarily by Greek and
    Sardinian slaves. The latter, who are seen as wild and tribal, are rounded
    up in great numbers by Aragonese slave-raiders. The slave population also
    contains many Muslim captives of the frequent skirmishing between Aragon and
    neighboring Grenada. Slaves in Nova Catalonia, while legally non-persons,
    can, with the consent of their masters, contract a valid marriage and own
    personal property. Following the lead of the Italian planters on San
    Erasmus [Cuba], the Catalonians are shifting some of their land to cotton
    cultivation for both domestic manufacture and export to Europe, dar al Islam
    and Mu-lan-P'i.

    - Commonwealth of Serendib [roughly, OTL's Northeast Florida, centered on
    St. Augustine][FN27.12]

    Bishop Brihtwine has nothing good to say about the people of Serendib,
    primarily because the Serendibian Christians, while professing loyalty to
    the Church, are perfectly content to live among Norse pagans and even
    intermarry with them, while seemingly doing nothing at all to try to convert
    them to Christianity. Even the bishops of Fjaraland, who as heirs of the
    Apostles should be diligently evangelizing the pagans, pretty much leave the
    Norse to their frohargs and attend to their Christian charges. By the middle
    of the thirteenth century, however,the population of Serendib is trending
    Christian. There has been not-insignificant immigration from Germany, of
    all places. Merchants of the Hansa cities, eager to access the goods of
    Mu-lan-P'i and the Ursulines, but much less eager to work within the
    restrictions imposed by the Khan's Venetian agents, decide that they need an
    outpost of their own in Ultima Thule, outside the Venetian-dominated
    Ursuline Sea. So, in the 1250s, agents from Luebeck make a deal with
    Serendib to allow the Germans of the Hansa cities to settle and trade freely
    from Serendib and shortly thereafter groups of German families found a
    settlement they name (rather unimaginatively) Neustadt.

    The government of Serendib could fairly be called retrograde Nordic. They
    have an Althing, which meets periodically in Hop, the largest town and de
    facto capital [FN27.13], and a Logsogumadur ("law speaker") who serves as a
    prime minister of sorts, presiding over the Althing and conducting relations
    with Serendib's neighbors. Juries are summoned as needed with prominent
    locals serving as judges. The Althing has delegated revenue collection
    (such as it is) to tax-farmers, and local communities elect constables to
    keep the peace and summon posses to aid in law enforcement.

    Unlike the other Fjaraland League states, Serendib does not adopt plantation
    agriculture. It pretty much continues as is had before da Conti arrived,
    focusing on fishing, farming and animal husbandry. The Serendibians
    continue working their vegetable gardens and their hops, barley and flax.
    The Serendibian preference for linen cloth (and their post-wheelbow
    enthusiasm for tinkering) leads to the invention of the 'flax-breaker' by a
    mechanically-minded weaver who also happens to be a Cathar Perfect. Along
    with the spinning wheel[FN27.131], the flax-breaker simplifies linen
    manufacture greatly.

    In addition to the traditional Serendib livestock, such as the woodland musk
    ox (symbols cavifrons), Thulian horses (equus scotti), peccaries and giant
    capybaras (neochoerus pinckneyi), European horses and cattle have arrived in
    Serendib. And not all livestock raising is strictly for meat and milk.
    Serendibians capture, domesticate and export more than a few giant horses
    (equus giganteus). Weighing in at 1,150 pounds, those that survive the
    Atlantic crossing and their progeny make quite an impression on the
    battlefields of Europe.

    Serendib develops a legendary reputation for the quality of its small-scale
    craftsmanship and exports leather products throughout Ultima Thule and the
    Ursulines. Serendibian saddles, which incorporate the bone-plate leather of
    Serendibian glyptodont, become expensive and prestigious luxury items for
    noblemen in Europe and Ultima Thule. Serendib's other major export, which
    also has an outstanding reputation, is bhang. Serendibian bhang is
    universally praised for both its power and flavor, and it is fantastically
    popular in dar al Islam. Andalusiyyun, Ifriqiyan, and Moroccan ships make
    regular Atlantic runs, trading African gold and Iberian steel weapons and
    armor for cask after cask of bhang. Through the bhang trade, the
    Commonwealth develops very cordial relations with the Andalusiyyun and the
    North African Sultanates, a fact which greatly displeases the Church.

    This papal displeasure eventually requires the Serendibians put the weapons
    and armor to good use. As will happen in Ultima Thule, prosperity attracts
    predators. The depredations of Norse corsairs are largely halted by the
    Knights of Ultima Thule, but their are others.


    Non-League States and Colonies

    - Republic of Annwyfn [approximately OTL's Alabama and Mississippi]

    To call Annwyfn a 'republic' is to lay quite a bit of gilt on the lily. It
    is a republic in the sense that it has no monarch. Or any government at
    all, for that matter. Shortly after the arrival of the last flotilla from
    Gwynedd in 1175, Madoc had one of his trademark mood swings, triggered by
    some persistent squabbling among the leading families. And, abandoning his
    charges, off he went, deep into the wilderness, eventually settling high in
    the mountains at Dywydd Briga ["Weather Top" OTL's Lookout Mountain] with
    about a dozen or so dedicated followers. Among those he left behind,
    disorder ensues, as does a series of [in]felicitous accidents, homicides and
    what-not, the Welsh settlers find themselves almost entirely without a noble
    class. The peasantry, by now quite discontent and disillusioned with the
    people who led them across the Mor Werydh ["western seas"] only to desert
    them, turn on the few surviving nobles. When all is said and done, they are
    left on their own to clear the land and make a life for themselves. As
    Brihtwine puts it, "the Welsh of Annwyfn will suffer no governance and do
    not hesitate to raise their hands against any man who attempts to issue
    commands or take on lordly airs." In other words, they have a state with no
    government above the village level - no king, no Thing, no aristocracy, no
    logretta, no folkhagi, no doge, no armadir, no podesta, no khan, no sultan.
    There are no feudal obligations or regular taxation. Every man is obliged
    to keep arms and join in the militia when it is summoned by the village
    governments, all of whom have pledged mutual aid in case of attack.

    But there is law. Judges, juries are and sheriffs chosen on an as-needed
    basis and the few literate men, the vast majority of whom are priests, are
    charged with recording the Common Law of Annwyfn. And speaking of the
    Church, the Popes do not forget about the Christians who have departed for
    the end of the world. The Church appoints Bishops for Annwyfn, although its
    exact location is not exactly well-known, even in Wales. This is a
    ready-made situation for absentee Bishops well until the early thirteenth
    century. And so Christianity suffers among the Welsh of Annwyfn. Their
    priests are decidedly uncelibate and the priesthood becomes predominantly,
    but not exclusively, hereditary. The liturgy is rather peculiar by European
    standards. Latin has largely vanished and Mass is conducted in the
    vernacular, with the entire congregation receiving communion in both types.
    Once more sustained contact with Europe is established after da Conti's
    expedition, Rome dispatches a resident bishop and priests in an attempt to
    get the Annwyfnians back on the doctrinal reservation. But they meet with
    great resistance - the Annwyfnians have been having things their way for two
    generations and they wind up simply ignoring the newcomers, and the Bishops
    tend to stay in Tremadoc [Mobile], where the fishermen and others, who have
    more sustained contact with the outside world, are a bit more receptive.

    Annwyfn, like the other European settlements, starts with subsistence
    agriculture, with land-use patters similar to those in Niwe Wessex -
    villages surrounded by fields that are plowed in furlongs, with each
    household owning strips. Like the early Serendibians, the settlers of
    Annwyfn brought little livestock with them, so they adapt their animal
    husbandry to the local fauna. And a musk-ox, once broken, does make a good
    plow animal. By 1280, the Annwyfnians, like the Cocgainois, are also
    growing tubbaq for export. The Annwyfnians also trade with their neighbors
    and buy salt, torsk [salted fish], wadmal [cloth], raw iron and other goods
    that make their way down the Afon Ganol [Mississippi] River from Hrafenmark,
    Vinland and Solbjorgland.

    There are those who would prefer to conquer a settled land than go through
    the laborious process of creating their own, and towards the late thirteenth
    century, they cast their covetous eyes upon Annwyfn as well as Serendib.


    - County of Hy-Brasil [roughly, OTL's southern Louisiana]

    The County of Hy-Brasil (quickly truncated to Brasil in common usage), like
    Nova Catalonia, is a possession of the Crown of Aragon. However, because of
    its origin, it is a County confederated with those of Catalonia. The King
    of Aragon is merely the Count of Hy-Brasil. Unlike Nova Catalonia,
    Hy-Brasil is divvied up among magnates (Seniores or Accaides) holding large
    areas of land and enjoying a great deal of autonomy - almost all have
    received certain Immunities from the Count, mostly from feudal duties or
    payment in lieu of those duties. Almost all the Accaides hold judicial
    powers within their lands, and the most powerful ones can render judgments
    that are not appealable to the Count. The Count himself is represented by
    his Vicari, who routinely consults with the nobles of Hy-Brasil and ensures
    that the Count's writ, when applicable, is obeyed.

    Generally speaking, anything that can be said about the plantation colonies
    in the Ursulines and Ultima Thule can be said about Hy-Brasil - sugar, rice,
    slaves, etc. But there is one thing that makes Hy-Brasil exceptional. It
    sits at the mouth of the Afon Ganol River, and thus has easy access to the
    exports from the Norse colonies. The usual products make their way
    down-river either in one-shot flatboats that are subsequently dismantled and
    sold for the timber, or in more conventional Norse longships. The
    interaction between the Nordic boatmen and their Iberian trading partners is
    a bit uneasy. It is a profitable business and everyone wants it to
    continue, but the more pious Christians are uncomfortable being routinely
    visited by pagans, especially considering their reputation. The King, who
    has a significant number of Saracen subjects, is more sanguine. He grants
    the pagans the right to transit and sojourn in Brasil and even gives them
    leave to build a froharg, at which they can give thanks to their gods for a
    safe journey through the wilderness.

    Also, the Vicari of Hy-Brasil has sent expeditions up the valleys of the
    Afon Ganol and its tributaries, scouting deep into the interior of Ultima
    Thule. These expeditions have brought back reports of just incredible flora
    and fauna, of vast mountain ranges and blazing deserts. But still they keep
    pushing north and west. The goal, you see, is Jen Men. The Aragonese are
    unhappy with the Venetian hammer-lock on the seaborne trade with Mu-lan-P'i.
    So they are thinking overland. There are some obstacles, of course,
    deserts, mountains - the Riphean Mountains, which Brihtwine firmly believes
    encircle the world - and ferocious beasts.

    But the doughty Aragonese explorers keep going, certain that they can make
    it all the way to the ocean.


    Terranova

    There are a number of small plantation and other colonies in Terranova
    (Whitsunland), but we will not be discussing them all at this point. By way
    of example, in the 1270s, Genoese explorers, searching for gold in Miniera
    Di Oro [OTL's Guyana] stumble upon significant deposits of alum, which is
    valuable as a dye fixative for cloth. Benedetto Zaccaria, the Genoese
    merchant/admiral/buccaneer/mercenary and capo [FN27.132] of the family
    company that bears his name, organizes a massive (for the time) enterprise
    to exploit the deposits. Bulk-carrying ships were constructed, settlers
    were recruited and textile firms in Lombardy, Aragon and England were
    committed to buying the output of the mines. Zaccaria's endeavor is
    noteworthy for the fact that it was the first settlement endeavor to import
    slaves directly from West Africa. Other Africans had been imported as
    slaves to the Ursulines and Nova Catalonia, but they were first routed along
    the old caravan routes through the Sahara to Ifriqiha and Tlemcen on the
    Mediterranean, then shipped overseas from there. Zaccaria, in need of
    slaves to work the mines and ready (like all Genoese traders) to stick it to
    Venice by defying their attempted monopoly on the slave trade, goes straight
    to the source. He takes his round ships down the coast of Africa, to the
    far side of the mouth of the Senegal, where - as his Moroccan informants led
    him to believe - he encounters the Wolof people. The Wolof, a tributary
    people of the Empire of Mali, have a large equestrian class well-versed in
    the practice of slave-raiding and slave-trading. A deal is quickly made for
    a significant quantity of slaves, who are duly rounded up and herded into
    Zaccarias' ships, then off to Miniera Di Oro. This process is repeated
    several times, consuming what remains of the working capital of the Zaccaria
    enterprise, and much besides. But soon the alum mines are up and running.
    Settlers work the fields to feed the miners and the miners load the great
    ships with precious alum. It all goes swimmingly for a while - of course,
    from the perspective of the Zaccaria investors and not the slaves toiling in
    the mines - but then the bottom falls out. Great new deposits of alum are
    found north of Rome, which causes the market price to drop just enough to
    put Zaccaria out of business. So the enterprise collapses. Some of the
    settlers - and all of the miners - wish to return home, but the ships and
    their crews have hi-tailed it to Dieppe, where they will be safe from
    attachment by Zaccaria's creditors. So the miners and the settlers are left
    to make what they can of this fiasco. And they do. But we will get back to
    them later. Right now, we are going to discuss:


    - Tarshish [OTL's Cumana, Columbia and environs]

    Tarshish, a possession of the Emir of al-Andalus [FN27.14], is the only
    Muslim colony in Terranova, and the largest European colony on Terranova.
    And it is truly a colony - its government is wholly appointed by the Emir.
    The Emir's power is primarily wielded by the Hajib [governor], who is
    responsible for the defense and domestic peace of the colony. Beneath him,
    the Sahib al-Shurta is in charge of the police, and the Sahib al-Suq
    supervises the markets, guarding against fraud, theft and other practices
    contrary to Islamic law. There are a number of Mosques in Tarshish, and in
    a corner of each sits a Qadi, an Islamic jurist who dispenses justice in
    civil cases between Muslims.

    Since Tarshish is on the mainland, it is exempt from Venetian economic
    control pursuant to the agreement between al-Andalus and the Republic. The
    inhabitants of Tarshish are, therefore, free to trade with whomever they
    want. Given its location, it is perhaps inevitable that Tarshish develops a
    very prolific trade with the Cathayan merchants at Zhongmeizhou [Panama].
    The Andalusiyyun of Tarshish grow not only foodstuffs for themselves and to
    trade to the merchant ships on their way back to Europe from Zhongmeizhou,
    but also bhang and tubbaq to trade directly with the Cathayans. Many of the
    farmers in Tarshish are munasifim [sharecroppers] who work the mustakhuas,
    the private estates of the Emir

    And then there are the pearls. The pearl fisheries of Tarshish were the
    original source of its wealth and what brought a number of Andalusiyyun to
    the territory. They are a hot item in Europe and dar al-Islam and the trade
    has enriched the Emir - who is entitled to a significant percentage of the
    profits - greatly. The vigilant Emirs, routinely appoint sahib al-Mazalim,
    civil officials whose duty is to ferret out abuses of power and corruption,
    to keep an eye on the pearl trade.

    The Muslims of Tarshish are very cognizant of the fact that they are in a
    singularly vulnerable position. As a Saracen territory, they are - to
    borrow a phrase - a 'low-hanging fruit' greatly at risk of attack by the
    Christians of the Ursulines. Therefore, they have taken precautions. A
    small garrison of Berber mercenaries guards the territory, from a scattering
    of log and earth fortifications. However, given the history of North
    Africans in al-Andalus, they are seen by the Andalusiyyun officials as more
    of a costly internal threat than as protection, and the Sahib al-Shurta's
    officers keep a close eye on them. The Hajib of Tarshish lives a life of
    anxiety, waiting for a fleet of sailing ships bearing the banner of the
    Cross to appear on the horizon, bearing crusaders bent on conquest and
    plunder.

    Therefore, when a troop of muddy frontiersmen appear at the Khitzanat al-Mal
    [treasury] with big bags of gold dust, intent on paying the Emir his share
    and changing the rest to dinars, the realization that Tarshish has gold
    deposits worthy of its namesake causes a frission of both excitement and
    fear through the Hajib. Excitement at the new-found riches, and fear that
    it will bring on the long-anticipated Christian attack. But the Hajib has a
    plan.

    [FN27.01] Relief maps, invented by the Chinese, circa 3rdC B.C. Gospatric's
    skill in depicting the contours of the earth is about the same as his (and
    other medieval mapmakers') skill in accurately depicting coastlines. In
    other words, it varies wildly depending upon the quality of information they
    have to work with.

    [FN27.02] Roughly speaking, through the Canadian Arctic and, although not
    much is known about it at the time, around Alaska. There is a good deal of
    speculation that during the Medieval Warm Period there could have been a
    Northwest Passage linking Atlantic and Pacific that was navigable during the
    late summer months. I have not seen anything definitive either way. Some
    of the propeller-hat types even assert that the Vikings could have made it
    to the Pacific. It's a beauty way to go.

    [FN27.03] Through a Latin and Chinese-speaking Florentine merchant who
    accompanied the Admiral from Jen Men.

    [FN27.031] Passenger pigeon, still alive and well, for the time being.

    [FN27.04] Excepting those portions covered by previous parts.

    [FN27.05] This allegation is technically true. The Knights have been
    operating numerous pawn shops throughout Niwe Wessex. Their effective
    interest rates are much lower than other money-lenders, so they are actually
    providing a valuable public service, providing credit to those who otherwise
    could not afford it. Makes no nevermind - its still usury.

    [FN27.06] The arguments of Ceolwulf's hired guns would later serve as the
    foundation stones for some scholarship that will have a much greater impact
    in Western Christendom.

    [FN27.07] Recall that the Papacy maintained that it held fee over all of
    Ultima Thule and could grant fiefs to whatever it wanted.

    [FN27.08] http://www.goldmaps.com/east/north_carolina_gold.htm

    [FN27.09] Props to Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker books for Camelot [aka
    Charleston].

    [FN27.10] The Indians devised a method for making the dye insoluble. OTL,
    Marco Polo purportedly brought the technique back from India.

    [FN27.11] The details of the government and colonization of Nova Catalonia
    are lifted directly from OTL's Aragonese colonization of Majorca.

    [FN27.12] The original Fjaralanders eventually gave up and accepted the
    name da Conti and the Venetian traders gave their land, but were gratified
    when the League took their original name.

    [FN27.13] The original name of Anskar, the current capital of Vinland.

    [FN27.131] Not invented in Fjaraland, but it made it there via Mu-lan-P'i
    and the Ursulines.

    [FN27.132] "chairman" No kidding.

    [FN27.14] Based upon some recent reading, I am, er, revising somewhat the
    progress of al-Andalus. Since the liberation of Islamic Spain from
    domination by the North African Almoravids, as of 1280 the Emir of
    al-Andalus has yet to proclaim himself Caliph. The names are going to be
    changing somewhat, also. Since the Emir's territory encompasses more than
    Grenada, I am going with al-Andalus. Poking through the web site and
    changing terminology is on the to-do list.

    Empty America: Part 28 - I Don't Know Where I'm A-Gonna Go ...
    [Another Little Intermission - for the next few parts, the chunks are going
    to be a bit more bite sized]

    (Jen Men, Mu-lan-P'i [San Francisco] January, 1258)

    *plink*

    Ordinarily, little noises do not distract Roger Bacon from his studies, but
    he has tuned his ears to be alert for this one. He gets up from his writing
    table and, slippers whisking on the tile floor, he hurries across his study
    to the bronze vase adorned with downward-facing, open-mouthed dragon-heads
    each of which was directly above a hollow bronze frog which sat back on its
    haunches, mouth gaping. Bacon finds the little iron ball inside one of the
    frogs' mouths. It had fallen out of the mouth of the dragon on the
    south-facing side of the vase. That means that the temblor must have come
    from the south [FN28.01]. Bacon did not feel anything, but his experience
    has told him that the vase, whose internal mechanism still fascinates him,
    is singularly accurate at detecting earthquakes. No doubt the Ministry will
    be getting a report from a local official somewhere to the south, that a
    minor earthquake took place in his jurisdiction. The Cathayans pay
    particular attention to earthquakes, since they see them as harbingers of
    social disorder, and their records reveal numerous tremors in Jen Men since
    its founding.

    Bacon sits down and goes back to his work. And what work! In the years
    that he has spent studying Cathayan learning, he has come to some startling
    conclusions. While the Cathayans have made some astounding discoveries,
    Bacon believes that some of the foundations of their learning were
    fundamentally wrong. He just cannot wrap his Western mind around the whole
    yin-yang dualism. So, he has taken upon an enormous task - he will verify
    as much of the Cathayan learning as he can using his own methods. And he
    will write it all down. He figures he must start somewhere, so he picks
    medicine. And Galen goes out the window, humors and all. So far, he has
    been able to confirm the Cathayan discovery of the circulation of the blood
    [second century B.C.], deficiency diseases [third century A.D.],
    endocrinology [second century B.C.], and diabetes [seventh century A.D.]. He
    is still working on what it all means, but he knows that he is going to turn
    Western "medicine" on its head.

    Given the difficulty in getting his work back to Europe, Bacon has mostly
    been writing for himself, at least until he can make his way back to
    England. Considering the task he has set out to accomplish, that could be
    never. Occasionally he fears that all his work will die with him on the far
    side of a mysterious continent, halfway around the world from home. But he
    is one of the few Catholic clerics in Jen Men, and as such he has a
    near-monopoly on administering the sacraments. More than one penitent
    merchant has discovered that, for his sins to be remitted, he must convey
    some of Bacon's letters back to London, Venice, Cambridge, Paris or
    Constantinople. Thus, thought Bacon, is religion made to serve the ends of
    Natural Philosophy. And he is sending to Europe not only the Cathayan
    scientific discoveries that he himself has verified, but a general
    exposition of oriental learning. An avid astrologer, he eagerly passes along
    Cathayan theories about sunspots [fourth century B.C.], fully aware of the
    implications for the idea that heavenly bodies are perfect.

    Bacon also has an actual job to do. He is a secretary with the Bureau of
    Merchant Shipping, helping to regulate the trade in and out of Jen Men. He
    finds it a pleasant change from his previous job in Kuei-Men [Acapulco].
    Since it is an older settlement, Jen Men is a bit more comfortable for a
    civilized man like Bacon. The bustling streets, winding their way up and
    down the steep hillsides, the lavish houses of the wealthy merchants, the
    beautiful temples and government pavilions ... Bacon sighs just thinking
    about it. If he wasn't set on bringing all of Cathayan knowledge to the
    people of Christendom, he could easily see living out his anointed span in
    Jen Men. And if he got homesick, there was a not-insignificant community of
    Europeans to keep him company. An eclectic mix, these men in exile,
    self-imposed or otherwise. A few Englishmen, like Bacon, but many more
    Venetians, Genoese, Aragonese and Catalans. Even a few Byzantine Greeks,
    who very conspicuously snubbed Bacon.

    Bacon smiles. It has been years since he has seen his old friend Enrico
    Pescatore. Fascinating and lively fellow, for all his wickedness. Or maybe
    because of his wickedness. For years, Pescatore flitted around Mu-lan-P'i,
    suddenly appearing at Bacon's home or office to borrow money or just to stay
    out of sight for a while. Always on the move, always on the make, always a
    hair's-breadth away from his fortune. And then, a few years ago, in what
    Bacon took to be a personal vindication for Pescatore, he parleyed a large
    jar of Fjaraland ambergris into a sizable sum of paper cash. The Cathayans
    were mad for ambergris, which they called it 'dragon's spittle' and made
    into quite exquisite perfumes. After the deal, he showed up at Bacon's
    doorstep with a cask of Italian wine that probably cost him twenty times as
    much as it would have in Milan. But they had to celebrate, Pescatore
    insisted. And so they did, well into the night. Whenever the priest asked
    him what they were celebrating, the grinning Genoese just hoisted is cup and
    toasted fickle fortune once again.

    The next day, Bacon awoke with a splitting hangover to find Pescatore gone.
    Out again, moving fast. The paper he got for the ambergris, Pescatore
    changed - quite illegally and at a vicious discount - into silver, which he
    used to purchase from a Pisan merchant several straw-stuffed crates of
    Syrian glassware. The glassware he sold to a corrupt Cathayan official at
    the Bureau of Mines - who had a passion for Western exotica which he
    financed by a well-concealed skim of everything that passed through his
    office - for gold. A small sea-chest of the stuff, dust and flake
    glittering in the lamp-light of Bacon's study as the two men gazed at it.
    Pescatore snapped closed the lid, and with a grunt, hoisted the chest to his
    shoulder. With his other hand, he dropped a heavy purse on Bacon's desk.

    "For your church." Bacon had been granted permission to build a small
    church in Jen Men, and had been diligently seeking sponsorship from the
    European merchant community in Jen Men, with only modest success, so far.
    He looked at Pescatore, who had up until now, been openly indifferent to the
    project, to Bacon's irritation. But looking at Pescatore with that chest of
    gold hefted on his shoulder, Bacon felt suddenly fearful for him. The
    Genoese was in over his head. Discovery of that chest in his hands meant
    death by torture.

    "You cannot buy your way to absolution, Enrico. You must confess, repent
    and perform your penance."

    Pescatore put his free hand on Bacon's shoulder. "No time, friar. This
    one, it is very close."

    Bacon got it. "You cheated the Bureau man."

    "Men are only cheated when they realize it. Until then, they are quite
    happy. My guess is that he will be happy for the next day or two, until the
    Venetian glass dealer arrives from Zhongmezhou and tells him what the pieces
    are actually worth."

    "Then you must run."

    Pescatore nodded. He patted the lid of the chest. "I have got what I came
    here for, and it is time to go."

    Bacon laid his hand on Pescatore's head, murmured the words of absolution.
    He figured that cheating a corrupt man - who wasn't even a Christian, after
    all - was sort of a way of setting things right and that setting things
    right earned Pescatore God's forgiveness. Decades in the land of the
    Cathayans has made his theology a big unorthodox. "Go my friend, and
    wherever the winds carry you, may God be with you."

    And with that, Pescatore was gone. Bacon never saw him again. He hoped
    Pescatore made it [FN28.02].

    ***

    It was not a minor quake that Bacon's seismograph detected in January 1258,
    but the most violent volcanic explosion of the last two thousand years
    [FN28.03] at OTL's El Chichon, Mexico. In the Ursulines and Ultima Thule,
    the climactic effects are ugly - a string of crop failures leading to the
    bankruptcy of some of the more marginal sugar and plantations in the
    Ursulines, and tight food supplies pretty much everywhere in the New World.
    Fortunately for the Ursuline sugar growers, however, the Persian sugar crop
    also fails, jacking up prices for sugar in the Islamic world, which enabled
    most Ursuline planters to survive, even with reduced production.

    In Europe, the eruption causes a persistently cloudy appearance to the sky
    and a particularly rainy and chilly winter in France, western Germany and
    northern Italy. England has a brief, hot summer, but then suffers from
    heavy rains beginning in August, ruining crops and triggering famine.
    Thousands of villagers flee into London. Many of them perish from hunger,
    but others sell themselves into servitude for a trip to Avalon. As the
    price of food rises, grain shipments from Vinland and Niwe Wessex - who are
    not hit as hard - begin to arrive, and much of the cod catch from the
    Markland fisheries winds up making its way to England. Even the pagan Norse
    from Domstolland get into the act, selling their surplus wheat and barley
    across the Western Ocean - through Venetian intermediaries, of course. One
    country's crisis is another's opportunity.

    And on May 18, 1258, Europe witnesses a total lunar eclipse, darker than any
    other in memory, and lacking the blood-red quality of the usual lunar
    eclipse. Although usually "the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of
    princes," the utter blackening of the moon signals the death of Batu Khan,
    the conqueror of the Empire of the Romans and much else besides. And it
    also signals the advent of his successor, Sartak Khan [FN28.04].

    The interesting thing about Sartak is that he is a Christian.


    [FN28.01] Chinese proto-seismograph, second century B.C. A nice
    reconstruction of this is at
    http://www.iris.washington.edu/about/ENO/iows/1_2002a.htm

    [FN28.02] He does. Pescatore and his gold become very prominent in the
    Genoese diaspora with whom he had been associating since his original
    troubles with his Venetian colleganza, and he eventually settles, very
    comfortably, in Lisbon. There he marries and founds a family company that
    prospers greatly in the Ursulines trade. Pescatore's companions in his
    first trip to Mu-lan-P'i, Carlo and Martino, make their fortune as well and
    die defending their beloved Florence against the forces of Batu Khan.

    [FN28.03] http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/docs/2000/2000_Stothers1.pdf Although
    it is unclear where exactly it occurred, I have arbitrarily placed it at El
    Chichón, in Mexico, because it seems like the evidence points in that
    direction.

    [FN28.04] OTL, both Batu died in 1255 and Sartak in 1256. ATL, Batu gets
    an extra three years and Sartak gets a real shot at being Khan.

    Empty America: Part 29 - One Thing Leads to Another (Part One)
    In Which At Least Two Important Things Happen

    The most important thing first:

    (Braunschweig, Saxony [FN29.01], Khanate of the Franks, Winter, 1256)

    "Well, what is it?"

    The Artisan looks at his partner (the Blacksmith), then looks at the
    Darugha, (His Lord's Official), then looks at then back at his Lord (the
    Mongol), then deadpans, "It is a plow, great Bahadur."

    Bahadur Tokokan of the Golden Family, great-grandson of Genghis Khan,
    regards the man coldly. He wonders if the man knows how close he is to
    death. Probably not. These Deutsche are just thick. Obedient, if you
    beat them hard enough, but thick. Not for the first time does Tokokan curse
    that his ulus [patrimony] should be in the lands of the Deutsche. Maybe if
    he was better at family politics, he could have gotten something nicer like,
    say, the lands of the Bolar [Great Bulgaria on the Volga]. Tokokan would
    have liked that, something nice on the steppe, where the horizon stretched
    out in front of you. That is where a Bahadur of the Golden Family should
    rule.

    But no.

    It was his bad luck that he got "Sakkony," dark and full of trees and
    sullen, stupid and querulous Erkut [Christians]. Oh, how he is mightily sick
    of the Erkut! Always arguing and fighting amongst themselves over
    trivialities. Tokokan is a shamanist himself, and he doesn't have anything
    against Christians, per se. "Many fingers, one hand" and all that. Many of
    the Uighurs who came with Batu's armies were Christians and Tokokan thinks
    the world of their priests - fun fellows, always up for getting drunk and
    having a good time, groping the serving wenches and so forth. But the
    priests of the Deutsche just tasked him! Every week the stern, humorless,
    square-headed complainants came trooping into his audience chamber - black
    robes, brown robes, white robes, no robes! [FN29.01] Bishop Heinrich
    Sausage-scarfer took over our church! Abbot Johann Beer-swiller is
    encroaching on our lands! Deacon Freidrich Cabbage-muncher is leading our
    followers into heresy! That time, Tokokan made a classic Mongol mistake, he
    asked the red-faced priest, "What if the Deacon is right and _you_ are the
    heretic?" Oh, didn't _that_ get him a lecture on some bizarre bits of
    doctrine about the nature of Erkut's strange man-god who, for reasons that
    Tokokan has never bothered to look into, got himself strung up like a common
    thief.

    But with the exasperated wisdom of an irritable Solomon, Tokokan dispenses
    justice to the people of his ulus. He wishes they would just pay their
    taxes and shut up about their god. Or gods. Sometimes there's three,
    sometimes there's one. It is tough to keep track. The whole thing makes
    Tokokan appreciate the simple grandeur of the Tengri all the more.

    Oh, and the taxes! Tokokan was appalled to discover that huge swaths of the
    best lands of Sakkony belong to the priests! Great houses of priests, with
    swarms of peasants tilling their fields! And under the Yasa, the priests
    are exempt from taxes. Once the Deutsche figured out that clergy did not
    pay taxes, innumerable sects sprang up, all claiming their privileges. He
    has complained to Batu about this on more than one occasion and all he has
    gotten is promises that something will be done to sort the whole thing out.
    But as it is, tax revenues have been disappointing.

    All of it has been making him one vexed Bahadur of Saxony. To top it all
    off, like many nomads who come to rule sedentary societies, he has this
    niggling feeling in the back of his head that the "civilized" people are
    always trying to put one over on him. As a result, he is reluctant to
    delegate. So, here he is, in the torch-lit audience-chamber of Castle
    Dankwerderode listening to the Artisan and the Blacksmith talk about plows.

    Tokokan glares at the Darugha then looks very coldly at the Artisan. "I
    know it is a plow. I have killed many men who walked behind plows. You
    will tell now me why I should give you" he pointed at the Artisan "and you"
    he pointed at the Blacksmith "a great deal of my money to make many of these
    plows for me. My peasants already have plows."

    The Artisan does not look like he knows the penalty for condescending to a
    Bahadur of the Khanate of the Franks. The Blacksmith, a bit more savvy, is
    shooting him desperate looks, but he ignores them. "They do not have these
    plows, great Bahadur. These plows," he says, as if expecting Tokokan to be
    impressed, "are from Cathay."

    Tokokan is utterly unimpressed. The Chinese are but another bump in the
    road to Mongol world domination. A damned persistent bump, but still just a
    bump. He doesn't say anything.

    The Artisan, looking visibly vexed, starts to say something, but the
    Blacksmith cuts him off. "Oh, Great Bahadur! If your peasants had these
    implements, they could each plow their fields using only one draft animal,
    instead of two or four" [FN29.03].

    Tokokan is no farmer. He thinks about that for a second. Fewer draft
    animals means less pasturage, less hay, more cropland ... more money. Maybe
    a LOT more money.

    So he grunts once and has the Artisan and Blacksmith thrown out of his
    chamber. He is not giving these rascals the satisfaction of showing any
    interest. Then he huddles with his Darugha. "Have them build one or two of
    these plows. See if they work. If they work, build them a workshop, hire
    them workers and see to it that every village in Sakkony has these plows."

    Tokokan scratches the scars cut into his face. Like many Mongol warriors,
    he scored his cheeks to retard his beard. He thinks about the money. And
    he thinks of the many short, sturdy steppe ponies that he could graze on the
    lands he may no longer need to plant.

    ***

    Things are moving now, and quickly.

    Sustained contact with the Chinese of Mu-lan-P'i rebounds to the great
    benefit of European agriculture and manufacture. Just as Europeans were
    primed to discover money-making resources in Ultima Thule (gold, silver,
    dyestuffs, spices), they were also very prepared to discover and exploit
    Cathayan technology from Mu-lan-P'i. The iron curved-moldboard plow is the
    most important element of influx of Cathayan agricultural technology into
    thirteenth century Europe. Other biggies are the rotary winnowing fan
    [FN29.04] and the multitube seed-drill [FN29.05]. All of these things are
    adapted and tinkered with to suit European farming. The Chinese plow design
    is a huge improvement over the preexisting moldboard plow - it slices
    through the soil with much greater ease, knocking aside the dirt clods. Its
    smooth curve keeps the dirt from getting jammed up in the frame, which means
    friction is greatly reduced and also that the plowman does not need to stop
    every few yards and knock it loose. Less friction and more efficient
    plowing means far fewer draft animals and less pasturage and fodder set
    aside for them.

    The winnowing fan is a vastly more efficient way to separate the grain from
    the chaff. A winnowing basket could yield 45 kilos of winnowed grain per
    day, but a fan could crank out 17 barrels in the same time. The seed drill
    is another amazing advance. Until it was adopted [patented in Venice in the
    16thC, OTL, but did not become widespread until the 19thC], European farmers
    cast their seed by hand, an appallingly wasteful practice. Using a seed
    drill was between 10 and 30 times as efficient in harvest yield. In a
    nutshell - farmers who adopted the seed drill had to hold back much less
    grain for the next year's planting. Great improvements in food supply
    result.

    And as the improved farming technology make their way through Christendom,
    they ramp up the efficiency of agriculture all over the continent. More is
    being done with fewer animals, less land and fewer people. Agriculture is,
    of course, the base of the pyramid - as it expands in efficiency, the wealth
    it produces lifts all boats.

    But all of these things - the plows especially - take iron and iron-workers,
    and the manufacturing and mining sectors expand to meet the market.

    Which brings us to the state of Medieval European industry in the late
    Thirteenth Century. The Mongol invasion, first of the Holy Roman Empire and
    then of Flanders and Lombardy, wrecked quite a bit of the European
    industrial and financial base. Flanders, for example, was the leading maker
    of woolen cloth, and its products dominated the European market. But there
    is an up-side. By wrecking the old, just as Europe was on the verge of a
    major commercial expansion, the Mongols sweep away much of the existing
    industrial establishment, giving new centers the chance to grow,
    particularly in areas of France, Iberia and England which are all untouched
    by the invasion. England takes off first. England had been exporting wool
    to Flanders in great quantities and when Mongols devastate the great textile
    towns, the bottom falls out of the English export business, with some
    interesting political side-effects. But it turns out to be a blessing in
    disguise for the English, who start to weave their own cloth. They have the
    infrastructure for it, not only the sheep but also an abundant supply of
    Fuller's earth, an important cleaning agent for the fiber. They also get a
    big influx of Flemish refugee weavers, who bring their expertise with them.

    Iberian cloth manufacture does well also. The merino sheep arrives,
    bringing its very high-quality fiber with it. And Chinese textile
    technology jump-starts the cloth industry in both the Christian and Islamic
    states of Spain. Tirat [textile factories] spring up in and around many of
    the cities of al-Andalus. The Andalusians are early adopters of water-power
    to textile manufacture, and water-driven throwing machines [for twisting the
    long fibers] and looms make an early appearance in the Muslim tirat. The
    spinning wheel also shows up in a big way, bypassing the manual version and
    skipping straight to the pedal-powered variant, which produces a
    higher-quality, more even thread. And the Spanish factories are not only
    making wool cloth. Cotton manufacture booms in Iberia and Lombardy
    (Piacenza, Pavia and Cremona) as cotton doublets become popular and
    Europeans discover the joy of wearing underpants. The spinning wheel is a
    big hit in the cotton cloth industry, since even the manual one does not
    impact the quality of the thread, as it did with wool fiber. The flax
    breaker makes its way across the ocean from Fjaraland and, in combination
    with the spinning wheel, revolutionizes linen manufacture.

    But lets get back to metals. From Mu-lan-P'i, Europe receives the
    water-powered blast furnace for the manufacture of cast iron[FN29.06] -
    which greatly expands the output of iron foundries wherever fast-running
    streams can be found. The iron industries of Styria, Leige, the Rhineland
    and elsewhere all benefit greatly from the adaption of water-power to iron
    manufacture, about 70 years ahead of schedule. Not only the double-acting
    bellows for a sustained blast, but also for the trip-hammers. The Europeans
    also learn how to make steel from cast iron by removing much of the carbon
    [FN29.07] and by melting wrought (zero carbon) and cast iron (some carbon)
    together [FN29.08].

    All of this, of course, tends to overtax charcoal-production, so the
    Europeans learn to use coal. "sea coal" was not uncommon in Europe at the
    time, but it was widely believed to give off poisonous fumes when burned -
    and it did in fact smoke like the dickens - so it was not widely employed to
    heat homes. When Europeans learn that the Cathayans were burning coal and
    living to tell about it (generally, you know how it is with ironworks), coal
    becomes an, er, hot commodity for the use in metal fabrication. This, of
    course, does a world of good for Europe's forests, reducing the relative
    rate at which they are being chopped down for charcoal [FN29.09]. In other
    words, more iron is being manufactured, but the increase in deforestation is
    not as great as it would have been had coal not been introduced. The
    British are in a good way to benefit from the new metals-producing
    technologies. They have iron ore, which they have been mining for
    centuries, and more importantly they have lots of coal that is just
    painfully easy to get to. There is just a lovely exposed coal seam along
    the (navigable) River Tyne, running twenty miles inland from the North Sea.
    The coalfields around Newcastle had been mined for some time. The seams
    were nice and thick and above the waterline, so the mines would stay dry.
    Interestingly enough, a lot of the most valuable coal mines are in the hands
    of the clergy, who start pulling in some big money once production picks up.


    ***

    And the Second Most Important Thing:

    (Tunis, Sultanate of Ifriqiya, Spring, 660 A.H. [1262 A.D.])

    "Ahh! Be careful, you great lout!" Sadiq al-Maqqari jumps back, just
    barely dodging the splash of molten metal. His first thought was to cuff
    Safwan, the junior smithy, on the head for almost burning him, but Safwan is
    still holding the iron cup in the tongs. Instead, he quickly inspects his
    robes for any burn-holes, then ducks out of the workshop. Outside, he
    exhales loudly, walks across the tile courtyard, and leans against the wall
    of the palace compound. He takes out his bhang pouch and papers and begins
    to roll himself a spliff. His hands are shaking and it was tough going, but
    he really needs to settle his nerves. By the beard of the Prophet, he does
    not know how he had gotten himself into this mess!

    No, that's not true. Sadiq knows exactly how he had gotten himself into
    this mess. Traveler's tales. But his traveling days are over, for the time
    being at least, and if they ever resumed he would never tell another.

    **

    It all started about two years ago. He was back in Tunis after a very
    successful, but very prolonged, trading mission in the Ursulines. His
    family had made their fortune in the trans-Sahara caravan trade and they
    were now branching out. Sadiq, the youngest son, had been dispatched to
    conduct some business and recruit additional Maqqari factors in Foix [Santo
    Domingo]. A slight young man of 22, Sadiq was not an enthusiastic business
    traveler. More than anything else, he would rather loll about the Maqqari
    family palace, smoke bhang, chase girls and generally enjoy the luxuriant
    idleness that he felt was owed to the heir of a highly-successful business
    enterprise. But, unfortunately for Sadiq, his father had not seen it that
    way and one day confronted him in his chambers after angrily shooing away
    the four scantily clad (but respectfully veiled) "dancers" who had been
    entertaining him. Sadiq's father had presented him with a rather stark
    choice - he was either to work for the family business or he was going to do
    something else worthwhile with his life, but he was NOT going to live a life
    of indolence. Sadiq figured that "something else worthwhile" probably means
    a life of tedium as a functionary in the government of the Sultanate or a
    life of prayer and study as either an imam or in a ribat [monastery]. So
    Sadiq chose to go into the family business, where at least he could keep an
    eye on things and try to make sure none of his younger brothers tried to
    sleaze it out from under him. So he wound up on a ship to Foix, with very
    strict and very detailed instructions on how to arrange for shipments of
    Ursuline bhang, sugar and spices, and with a family lawyer to keep tabs on
    him.

    Once in Foix, however, Sadiq had managed to give the lawyer the slip and
    avail himself of the enthusiastic hospitality of Foix plantation society.
    He was an exotic to the Occitians, and true to their Languedoc traditions,
    they had no particular problem with his religion - once they got used to him
    politely declining wine and rum but enthusiastically accepting bhang. Over
    many a raucous banquet, they subjected him to much good-natured ribbing
    about 'Saracens' barraged him with many a question about Ifriqiya. But,
    the family lawyer eventually caught up with him and steered his attention
    back to business. As it turned out, Sadiq had a flair for wheeling and
    dealing, and his reputation as convivial company stood him in good stead in
    his negotiations with the Occitian planters and middlemen. Hoping to make
    his father proud, he drove many a hard bargain, but did it with a smile and
    a self-deprecating joke about being new to the business and not wanting to
    be hustled by the sharpies. It all seemed to be going so well that Sadiq
    thought he might actually learn to _like_ being a trader.

    It was on his way back that it all started to go wrong. He was just sort of
    kicking around on the deck of the ship, doing his best to avoid doing any of
    the actual work, while still taking care to stay out of the sailors' way
    while they were loading up the cargo. And then a small skiff came bumping
    up against the side of the ship. The man piloting the skiff - who was, in
    fact, the only one on the boat, period - shouted for a line, so Sadiq, not
    really thinking about it, tossed one down to him. It was only as the man
    was climbing the line that Sadiq realized that the man had called out to him
    in Arabic.

    The next Arabic voice Sadiq heard was that of the Rashid, the first mate,
    berating him for letting strangers on the boat. He could be a pirate!
    Sadiq asked Rashid if his crew were a bunch of women, that one man could
    take his ship from him. Rashid stomped off, exclaiming furiously about the
    spoiled children of rich merchants. Sadiq, grinning with his new-found
    confidence as a player in international trade, turns to the man from the
    skiff, who is climbing onto the deck and straightening his robes. Sadiq is
    puzzled by his appearance. He is short and wiry and he has the
    weather-beaten face of an old man, but he exudes youth somehow, as if he has
    a energy and ease to his demeanor that is in no way connected to his age.

    He hurried over to Sadiq and bowed deeply, smiling introducing himself as
    Ya'qub. Sadiq returns the courtesy, introducing himself, the captain and
    the still-scowling first mate. And then Ya'qub asks Sadiq if the ship has
    any lead they can spare.

    "Lead?" asked Sadiq.

    "Yes," said Ya'qub. He understands that some ships carried lead ballast.
    He would take whatever they could spare and he is willing to pay handsomely
    for it. The captain is ready to jump - they have ballast to spare and could
    always use cash. But Sadiq is curious. What does he want the lead for?

    Ya'qub beams, as if he was waiting for someone to ask, and pulls out a roll
    of parchment. If they could go inside, maybe have refreshment, he would
    explain all.

    In the captain's cabin, Ya'qub unrolls the parchment on the table. Sadiq
    leans in and looks closely at it. It is a sketch of some kind of machine.
    Sadiq looked over at Ya'qub, who was leaning over his shoulder, gazing
    rapturously at the parchment. It is strange. He reminded Sadiq of the
    fanatics, the ones called by Allah to jihad and who could think of nothing
    else. The man had the same otherworldly glow to him, something burning
    behind his eyes. Madness, perhaps. Or genius. It was disconcerting, so
    Sadiq cleared his throat and asked what the diagram was.

    Ya'qub explained, smiling broadly, his eyes still fixed intently upon the
    parchment. It is based upon a Nasrani wine press and a Cathayan way of
    reproducing texts. Ya'qub's contribution is the type - individual metal
    pieces for each letter, that can be lined up to make words. He is going to
    make the letter pieces out of lead, and he needs a lot of them, because he
    is going to print the Koran. And, of course, some of his own commentary to
    go with it. And make hundreds of copies, thousands, even, and spread the
    word of the Prophet throughout the whole world.

    And the word of Ya'qub along with it, Sadiq thought to himself. Using a
    machine to write copies of the Koran, adding commentary? Who is this man?
    So Sadiq asked him.

    "Ah," said Ya'qub,"I am the court philosopher to King Raymond Roger of Foix
    and -" he paused, "a member of Ikhwan-al-Safa [FN29.10]."

    The Brotherhood of Sincerity? thought Sadiq. That did not mean anything to
    him. And from the blank looks on the faces of the Captain and the first
    mate, it meant nothing to them, either. He assumed perhaps it was a
    religious order. He thought perhaps they are monks dedicated to the
    propagation of the Faith. Certainly strange to find a Muslim monk in the
    service of a ferangi King, but he was learning that one encounters all sorts
    of things in the Ursulines. Ya'qub fixed his gaze on Sadiq, who was now
    beginning to feel decidedly uncomfortable.

    In the end, Sadiq was very happy when the deal was done and Ya'qub and the
    lead (a fair sized pile of it) were gone. The Captain and first mate split
    the silver and could replace the ballast for a fraction of of the price once
    they were back in Halq al-Wadi, Tunis' harbor town. And Sadiq, well he gets
    a hero's welcome from his family. His father positively beams over the
    success of the trip. Finally, after years of loafing, his son has made
    good. Sadiq's father, always keen to stay on the sunny side of the
    government, dispatches Sadiq off to the palace. The sultan is ravenous for
    tales of far-off-lands and even an uneventful sugar run to Isle da Foix
    would fascinate him, if told well.

    And so Sadiq finds himself in the ornate throne room of Shaykh Abu
    al-Mustansir, telling the tale of his adventures in Foix to the Shaykh and
    his Wazir. The Shaykh is the portrait of a fat, jovial Arab sultan, who
    could not be more of a contrast with his dour, tall, thin-faced Wazir. Both
    men, however, seemed to be visibly enjoying his (judiciously edited) tales
    of the revels on Foix. The Shaykh was full of questions. How big were the
    Farangis' land-holdings on the island? How densely did they plant their
    crops? How well-appointed were their villas and castles? Did he encounter
    any Cathayans? Sadiq answered all the questions as well he could, being
    careful not to embellish anything. The Shaykh was a sharp one - he had
    raised his eyebrows a couple of times during the portions of the tale when
    Sadiq had proclaimed that he had merely stood by while the Farangis danced,
    drank and smoked bhang - and Sadiq knew that he would detect any deceit.

    Everything was going just fine, until he got to the part about Ya'qub asking
    for lead so that he could build a machine to print the Koran.

    "Shocking impiety!" exclaimed the Wazir. The Shaykh nodded. "This is true.
    To copy the Koran is a holy act. Consigning it to a machine ..." He
    sounded like he was not exactly sure why it was wrong, but he definitely
    disapproved.

    Oh, man, thought Sadiq, now I have stepped in it. "But, great Shaykh, he
    told us that he was a member of a holy order, the Ikhwan-al-Safa, and -"

    Now both the Wazir really erupted. "A heretic! A heretic of the worst
    kind! And in the Islands, beyond the reach of the Law of the Faithful!"

    The Shaykh nods again and he looks pointedly at Sadiq. "A most unlikely
    heretic as well. The Brotherhood were exterminated hundreds of years ago.
    So long ago, that our young friend here had never heard of them. You gave
    him the lead he requested?"

    Sadiq cast his eyes towards the floor. How did he get himself into such
    straits? Why did he ever leave Tunis? But maybe he could get out of this
    yet. "The Captain sold it to him."

    The Wazir was stomping back and forth, vowing the most dire punishments for
    the Captain "and all others who abetted this heretic!" He scowled menacingly
    at Sadiq. Sadiq felt all the blood drain from his face. He really hoped he
    did not faint.

    The Shaykh held up his hand, silencing the Wazir. He looked at Sadiq.
    There was pity in his eyes. And he asked quietly, "Did this man say why he
    wanted so many copies of the Koran or what he planned to do with them?"

    Sadiq cleared his throat, and tried his best to suppress the quaver in his
    voice. "Ya'qub said -" He halted. "The heretic said that he wanted to make
    many copies of the Koran and take them to the Land of the Blacks, where the
    word of the Prophet is only scantly known. He also wanted to add his own
    commentary -" That brought another torrent of invective from the Wazir, but
    the Shaykh beckoned Sadiq to continue. "He knew the Land of the Blacks,
    having gone their on a Ferangi ship, and he knew there were few copies of
    the Koran there."

    And they talked some more. About how lightly the Faith laid lightly in the
    lands of the Blacks and how a man with many books and knowledgeable in the
    language of the Prophet could spread his own 'commentary' far and wide.
    Both the Wazir and the Shaykh were sure that anything that a member of
    Ikhwan-al-Safa could add to the Koran would be blasphemous in the extreme.
    But what to do?

    The Shaykh looked at Sadiq. "You have seen the heretic's drawing of this
    machine?" Sadiq nodded. "You could reproduce it?" Sadiq said he thought
    he could. He left out that he was fascinated by the device and had
    scrutinized the diagram closely.

    The Wazir exclaimed, full of Malekite orthodoxy, "Great Shaykh, you are not
    thinking of -"

    "I am." the Shaykh said firmly. "This heretic means to poison the Faith
    among the Blacks. We cannot stop him, but we can counter him."

    "The Imams will -"

    "Yes, they will fulminate against it. But we will get a ruling, from
    properly pious Qadi [Islamic judge], that it is lawful to reproduce the
    Koran in this way. And I will tell them that I can send ten Imams and a
    thousand Korans or I can send fifty Imams and fifty copies of the Koran.
    Let them decide if they would yield or if they prefer to risk the caravan
    trails through the great desert."

    The Wazir chortled malevolently - he did not get where he was by gain-saying
    the Shaykh. "The Imams are soft and would not make it to the first oasis.
    I know what they will choose."

    The Wazir and the Shaykh talked some more. Things that were over Sadiq's
    head. They talked about the Emir of al-Andalus and the Caliph, and how a
    great mission to al-Sudan would enhance the prestige of Ifriqiya and its
    Shaykh. They also talked about how having many machines in Tunis would help
    them counter Sufism, which is still rife among the country people, who could
    be led towards orthodoxy. The Shaykh talked about redoubling their efforts
    to teach written Arabic at the mosques [FN29.11] and of sending every
    newly-literate man home with a Koran for his household. The contest, the
    great duel between al-Andalus and Ifriqiya to become the new heart of dar
    al-Islam, could be won.

    "Then it is settled. We will build this machine. And you, Sadiq, who has
    seen the drawing of it, will build it for me."

    Sadiq had been vaguely comforted by all the talk about high policy, which
    surely did not have anything to with him. But he started and protested that
    he was no artisan. The Shaykh rejoined that he would be merely supervising
    the construction and he could hire the necessary men. Sadiq made a few more
    increasingly-feeble objections, then fell silent. Later, he tried his best
    to prevail upon his father to get him out of this, but the old man was
    positively beaming at the prospect of his son undertaking an important
    project for the Shaykh.

    And so Sadiq went to work, doing the best he could to reconstruct the
    diagram of Ya'qub's machine, but it takes some doing. The Shaykh has set
    aside an out-building in the palace complex as a workshop and given him
    apartments of his own. Normally, Sadiq would be pleased as punch to live
    amongst the delights of the Shaykh's palace, but evidently Sadiq's father
    has clued the Shaykh in on how to keep him at his appointed task. There are
    no delights for Sadiq, who lives out his days under the scrutiny of the
    Wazir's men.

    **

    And so, two years later, Sadiq finds himself outside, leaning against the
    wall of his workshop, rolling a spliff with shaking hands. It has been
    pretty much one disaster after another. The olive-oil press has proven
    itself resistant to adapting for their purposes, and it turns out to be a
    real bitch to cast the Arabic alphabet in lead. About a year previously, he
    had what seemed to be a good idea - scrounge up an alchemist to make them an
    ink that won't run all over the page. But, as tends to be the case, the
    alchemist turned out to be somewhat erratic, who was more interested in
    swiping their lead for his own projects than in cooking up some decent ink.
    Eventually, he had to call in the Wazir's agents to lean on the alchemist
    and get some actual work out of him. With a dagger to his throat, he
    produced a workable mix of lampblack, turpentine, linseed and walnut oil,
    which managed to adhere to the paper without blurring. But the Wazir keeps
    leaning on Sadiq himself, stopping in frequently to check on progress and
    reiterate that the fate of Islam in the Land of the Blacks depended upon his
    success. Sadiq's father - mindful that his family's reputation was staked
    on the enterprise - also stopped in frequently to remind Sadiq of that fact
    as well. And then there were the Imams. Most had fallen in line with the
    Shaykh, but there were some firebrands that didn't, and some of them had
    fled to Morocco, where a Qadi had issued a rather hair-raising fatwah
    against everyone involved. Sadiq, now thoroughly panicked, stopped leaving
    the palace grounds. To say the least, all the strain has been taking its
    toll on his nerves.

    He really wishes he could get that spliff rolled.

    But in the end, it all works out. The carpenters get the olive oil press
    adapted and the metal-workers get the lead cast into Arabic letters. And
    Sadiq manages to procure a very large quantity of good paper from Jativa.
    And then he sits down, a handwritten copy of the Koran on a stand at his
    elbow, and he begins to set the type.

    It takes a while. At the end of most days, Sadiq collapses into his bed,
    his vision blurred and his head pounding. His fear of failure, of letting
    down his father and his faith and of having to give up to another what he
    has worked on so hard for so long, drives him onward.

    But when it is done, and the pages are cut and bound, he tucks the volume
    under his arm and starts to leave, nearly starting a riot in the workshop.
    The travails of the last two years have hardened him, and as he holds his
    workmen at sword-point, he explains to them in a determined but shaky voice
    that the first printed Koran in history is not going to the Shaykh, the
    Wazir or any Imam, Sultan, Emir or Caliph. He is taking it to his father's
    sick bed, where he will read to the dying old man the words of the Prophet,
    the words that he, Sadiq, has put down on paper with a machine of lead and
    wood and iron.

    And that is exactly what happens. And the old man, fading now, is proud of
    his son. And says so in a quiet voice, filled with admiration.

    And that is enough.

    ***

    The printing press spreads from Tunis. First through the Mediterranean
    world and then beyond. Of course, there is the small matter of paper, but
    more cloth means more rags and more rags means more paper. And more paper
    and more printing means more books and more ideas moving more quickly around
    more of Europe. We will come back to this later.


    [FN29.01] Roughly. The Khanate shuffles territories among Mongol nobles as
    it sees fit, especially in the wake of the German rebellions that followed
    Batu's defeat in Flanders. The Saxony at
    http://www.euratlas.com/big/big1200.htm# here is close to what I am
    thinking of.

    [FN29.02] The no robes are the Beguine lay preachers.

    [FN29.03] Chinese curved moldboard plow. OTL brought to Europe by Dutch
    sailors in the 17thC. A dramatic improvement over the European plow
    technology of the Middle Ages.

    [FN29.04] Imported to Europe early eighteenth century, OTL.
    http://station7.kgw.tu-berlin.de/english/abstracts/Vogel.html.

    [FN29.05] Invented in OTL Europe circa mid-sixteenth century.

    [FN29.06] The blast furnace made some appearance in the OTL 13thC, but the
    water-powered one did not show until circa 1350.

    [FN29.07] Invented by the Chinese circa 2nd century B.C., a sort of
    proto-Bessemer Process.

    [FN29.08] Invented by the Chinese circa 5th century B.C., a sort of
    proto-Siemens Process.

    [FN29.09] Coal as an eco-friendly product. Whooda thunkit. And it is a
    bit flip to say that Europeans were not burning coal because they were
    afraid of the fumes, the English burned it for heat and complained
    incessantly about the smoke and stink.

    [FN29.10] The Brotherhood of Sincerity, a radical rationalist Islamic sect
    with remarkably tolerant views of other religions, originated in the 10th
    Century. It spread throughout dar al-Islam, from al-Andalus to Central
    Asia.

    [FN29.11] As in OTL, Shaykh Abu al-Mustansir is himself a cultivated and
    learned ruler, as well as a noted bibliophile. Under his rule, the
    government of Ifriqiya took great pains to promote Arabic literacy,
    establishing schools in every large mosque and maintaining three university
    mosques. It is the center of the Malekite school of Sunni Islam.
     
  8. Constantinople Trump is Temporary, but hey, Brexit is forever Banned

    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2005
    Empty America: Part 30 - One Thing Leads to Another (Part Two)
    [Roha, Ethiopia [FN30.01],Summer, 1267]

    Friar Ramon Lull sat cross-legged in the grassy slopes of the mountainside
    and listens to the sounds of the Liturgy echoing out from the great
    underground church complex of Lalibela. It certainly was not the Christian
    Liturgy that Lull was familiar with - there was not much drumming and an
    entirely different-sounding chanting back on Majorca. But the liturgy of
    the Ethiopes held Lull spellbound, even as he wiped the sweat from his eyes
    and his rough woolen clerical garb clung uncomfortably to him. Yes, the
    liturgy was beautiful, but strange. And, well, that is part of why Lull is
    there. Pope Gregory X has dispatched him on a mission to try to convince
    the Ethiopes to abandon monophysitism and come to orthodoxy. Convince - not
    order, not command, not cajole. His Holiness was very clear on that score.

    Lull remembers the last time he saw the Pope. It was in Constantinople and
    His Holiness, the Vicar of Christ on Earth, was at a leper hospital, washing
    the feet of the inmates on Holy Thursday. Gregory was getting to his feet
    and drying his hands, which he then laid on the wretched soul in blessing.
    Simple holiness simply radiated from the man, standing there, in a simple
    white robe, smiling, giving Lull his mission. Lull had just come to the
    Church, after having intense visions of Christ crucified [FN30.02]. He had
    fled a life of luxury at court in Majorca and come to Constantinople,
    throwing himself at the feet of his Pontiff, whose reputation for intense
    piety and apostolic poverty had spread to every corner of Christendom.
    Gregory had told Lull to wait, to pray and to wait, for soon he would have a
    special task for him. And then and there, in the leper hospital, surrounded
    by the suffering multitude, Gregory had given Lull his charge - go to the
    Ethiopes and bring them to the Church. Lull had argued with the Holy
    Father. Surely there is someone better qualified for this task, some
    scholar or great evangelist. No, Gregory had said, gently but firmly, it
    must be you. You are on fire with the Holy Spirit, you must go to them,
    lead them from error by the power of your faith. Look around you, he said,
    if the Greeks can be won, the Ethiopes can be, too. It was Gregory who
    brought the Greeks back to the Church, and Lull wept that the Pope would
    compare himself to him. Gregory put his hand under Lull's chin and raised
    his head, then looked him in the eye. Go, Gregory said, I will pray for
    your safety and your success.

    And so Lull went. It was not an easy journey, through Sinai to the Red Sea,
    then by ship to Aydhab. The Saracens still held the coast further south, so
    he had to make the hazardous trip overland. But his faith in God and
    Gregory's faith in Lull kept him moving. He brought Papal greetings to the
    enthusiastic Christian peoples of Maqurra and Alwa, and, always careful to
    ask permission of the local clergy first, baptized many.

    Eventually, he finds himself on the hillside, lost in the alien beauty of
    the Ethiopian Mass. Oh, he could be inside the subterranean cathedral, but
    he has taken his cue from Gregory, and he walks humbly with his God, so he
    sits among the other pilgrims, a respectful distance from the caves. But
    tomorrow, he has a meeting with the Abuna [Bishop]. Lull will talk and he
    will listen and he will gently, humbly, patiently, try to win the Ethiopes
    over to the True Faith.

    In time, we will return to revisit Friar Ramon Lull and his works - just as
    we will check back in with the evangelization efforts of Ya'qub and the
    Ifriqiyan Sultan - but now we must examine the world that the Mongols have
    made.

    ***

    Since 1248, when he was elected pontiff, Pope Gregory X has been busy. He
    spent the first seven years of his papacy in Lyon, desperately combating the
    heresies that have sprung up like weeds all over Europe. It has been rough
    going. Within the lands of the Khanate, Batu has denied him any authority,
    refusing to allow his pastoral letters to be read at mass and forbidding
    congregations to pray for him [FN30.03]. Candidates for higher Church
    office are approved by the Khan - especially where the bishop or archbishop
    is a substantial landholder - and not a pfennig flows from the churches of
    the Khanate to the papal coffers. And with the power of the Church and the
    Papacy diminished under the Yasa dictat of religious freedom, a thousand
    heresies have sprung up. With an enthusiastic endorsement of apostolic
    poverty (see below), has managed to coax the Franciscans back on the
    reservation, along with many of the Beguines - whose informal "orders" he
    explicitly authorizes and endorses, so long as their beliefs are orthodox.
    Many of the original Spiritine heretics are also returned to the fold by the
    vision of the reformed papacy. The Reformed Spiritines are another matter
    altogether. Not only have they rejected the authority of the Pope, they
    have renounced great swaths of Catholic doctrine. There is no theological
    unity among the various Reformed Spiritine denominations within the Khanate,
    but many of them have repudiated purgatory, the veneration of saints and
    relics, the cult of Mary, transubstantiation, and/or some or all of the
    sacraments. To reach out to the Reformed Spiritines, Gregory relies upon
    the Dogs of the Lord, the Dominicans. Dominican canons - generally Germans
    or Italians who are already on site, since any clerics he dispatched himself
    with a papal warrant would have to operate in secret - range throughout what
    was once the Empire, debating Reformed Spiritine clergy on doctrinal issues.
    Outside the Empire, primarily in France, Waldensianism and Catharism have
    sputtered to life again. Fortunately, Gregory has the assistance of the
    French authorities in suppressing those two heresies, although the Regent
    gratuitously insults him by taking the Inquisition away from the Dominicans
    and turning it over to the orthodox, but still more independent-minded,
    Franciscans.

    Trying desperately to reunite Western Christendom consumes most of Gregory's
    time while he is in Lyon. And then he has to flee to Constantinople, which
    brings with it a whole new set of both problems and opportunities. He is
    the Bishop of Rome, but Rome is now beyond his reach. And now he is settled
    in the New Rome, in a city whose people stalwartly and angrily reject his
    authority. The Latins have not behaved themselves in Constantinople since
    its taking by the forces of the Fourth Crusade. The Byzantines would not
    welcome Latin overlordship in any event, and the brutal sack of the
    Constantinople by the forces of the Fourth Crusade is still fresh in their
    minds. But the arrogance of the westerners is truly unbearable to the
    Byzantines, and it helps keep the old wounds open.

    But for Gregory, Constantinople is a respite, a chance to breathe deep and
    look at the big picture. Unlike many in his curia, he has a decidedly mixed
    view of the papacy's exile from Rome. He is a Frenchman, so he does not
    have the emotional attachment to Italy that many others do. While he would
    never voluntarily renounce the Patrimony of Peter, he comes to see his
    absence from Italy as a liberation of sorts. Previous popes, as rulers of
    the Papal territories, had to immerse themselves in Italian affairs and
    behave as any other Medieval ruler. Gregory, on the other hand, was freed
    from those concerns and could focus on the Church Universalis. And so he
    did.

    Having lived through the most traumatic event in the history of Christianity
    since the fall of the Roman Empire, he realizes that something has brought
    the wrath of God down upon His people and His Church. The more facile
    thinkers in his entourage are keen to blame the whole catastrophe upon the
    wickedness of Emperor Frederick II, but Gregory is not buying it. It is
    simply too big to be the result of one sinful ruler, even one as
    outrageously vile as Frederick. Something caused an angry god to loose the
    hosts of Gog and Magog upon Christendom, and Gregory knows what it was.

    The Church.

    What could be more enraging to a just God than His Church falling away from
    the true path and those who were charged with the salvation of all mankind
    gone to corruption? That is what brought these calamities, it must be. So,
    Gregory is going to set things right. Not only will he repair fractured
    Catholicism in the West, he will reach out to the world.

    He starts at home. Once in Constantinople, Gregory forgoes the papal
    regalia, adopting the simple white robe from his Cistercian days. He also
    imposes simplicity of habit upon his curia, who are predominantly Roman
    exiles and who like it not one bit. Notwithstanding outward appearances,
    Gregory is flush - a papacy in crisis and on the run is a lot more popular
    than one that is sitting pretty in Rome - and donations are pouring in from
    all over Europe.

    Gregory sets out to win over the Greeks. He sets aside sizable sums for
    relief of the poor of Constantinople and takes a personal hand in
    distributing it. Gregory's piety, charity and simplicity impresses many,
    and he keeps it up. He cajoles and bribes the hapless King Baldwin II, who
    is always strapped for cash, into ceding him authority over many of the
    churches of Constantinople. And once that is done, he expels the Latin
    congregation from St. Sophia and takes as the main Papal chapel the
    less-grandiose - but still magnificent - Church of SS Sergius and Bacchus.
    And he wades into theological and liturgical controversy. During (Catholic)
    Advent of 1256, he asks the Orthodox authorities if he can conduct a mass in
    St. Sophia. The Greek clerics, still somewhat puzzled, grant permission and
    thousands of Byzantines attend out of sheer curiosity. They are treated to
    the spectacle of a Roman Pontiff conducting the Catholic rite in Greek and
    conspicuously omitting the "filioque." The Latins in the congregation - the
    priests, anyway, who note the omission with alarm - stir themselves angrily
    and the Greeks are simply stunned.

    Of the doctrinal disputes between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox
    faiths - the Greeks did not require clerical celibacy (except for monks and
    bishops, who were drawn from the monastics), did not believe in purgatory
    and disapproved of the use of unleavened bread in the Sacrament - the
    filioque is perhaps the most intractable. In a nutshell, the Latins believe
    that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son. The Greeks
    believed that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father through the
    son[FN30.04]. In his homily, Gregory announces that the filioque and other
    disputes between the two churches should be discussed and resolved at a
    great Council, at which both Latin and Greek rites should be represented as
    equals. He dispatches friars to the Greek Patriarchs - Nicea (where the
    patriarch of Constantinople is currently residing), Jerusalem, Alexandria,
    and Antioch - proposing a great Council of Constantinople.

    Of course, he also circulates the idea among the high prelates of the
    Catholic Church in Europe and Ultima Thule. He knows he could just summon a
    Council, but right there, right now, he does not feel secure enough to do
    so. What if they refused? What then? The unity of God's Church teeters on
    a knife's edge. He knows this. Somehow, he must unify the Christian
    churches without pulling the house down around him. so instead of
    commanding, he asks.

    The reaction he gets is ... mixed. The Gallican Council meets and condemns
    the idea out of hand. As usual, the French are certain that they are
    special and are bitter that everyone else doesn't seem to acknowledge it.
    The higher ranks of the French clergy are adamant that the Pope should have
    come to France - whose King gave his life for the miracle that saved the
    West from Tatar domination - rather than flee to Baldwin's ramshackle
    dominion the edge of the Christian world. It was a snub, a deliberate snub.
    And, on top of that, Gregory has insisted that the late Louis IX go through
    the standard canonization process, rather than be bumped to sainthood
    post-haste. It is not one of his more politic moves, but he genuinely fears
    that the French intend to elevate Louis to a status above the other saints
    and tack him onto the Trinity along with the Blessed Virgin. He also fears
    that, since these Tatar rulers seem so touchy, canonizing the man who
    brought about Batu's defeat in Flanders, will provoke the Khan to crush the
    Catholic Church within the Khanate. But the French prelates do not seem to
    be worried about the fate of the Church within the Khan's dominions - the
    Primate of France, the Archbishop of Lyon, endorses a public inquiry into
    Louis IX's life and the miracles which have been reported at his tomb.

    Gregory is right to be worried about the effect that the adulation of Louis
    IX will have within French Catholicism. The Cult of Sacred Kingship is in
    full bloom in France. The guardians young Louis X [FN30.05] have been
    exploiting his father's miraculous sacrifice to the hilt. Regencies are
    dangerous times for dynasties, and the Capetians need to utilize the
    prestige to stymie any magnates who might think of exploiting the King's
    minority to reclaim some of the power that has accreted to the Throne in the
    last hundred years. Gregory receives rather alarming reports that, in
    processionals, the King of France is being shaded by a canopy almost
    identical to the one held over the Host. And there is much discussion in
    France about the descent of the French Throne from that of Charlemagne and
    how perhaps the Monarch of Francia should take the title of Emperor was
    well. Jean de Joinville, one of Louis IX's intimates, leads the propaganda
    charge on both the canonization and Imperial fronts. His 'The Recovery of
    Rome, the Empire and the Holy Land' proposes that the King of France be
    given the now vacant title of Roman Emperor, that all Christian Princes
    submit to his authority and that the Pope relocate to Paris. Free
    Christendom would then liberate Europe from the Tatars and the Holy Land
    from the Saracens [FN30.06]. The Throne has not endorsed Joinville's
    thesis, but it has not disavowed it, either.

    And all of this is going ahead without the sanction of the Papacy. In
    essence, with the domestic prestige of the French Monarchy at an all-time
    high, it appears genuinely possible that the King could supplant the Pope as
    the supreme spiritual authority of the Church in France.

    Gregory faces the exact opposite problem in England. There, the various
    Welsh and Scottish misadventures of King Henry III - combined with the
    economic hardship caused by the collapse of the Flanders textile industry,
    to which England exported the overwhelming majority of its wool - provoked a
    baronial revolt which ended with the King essentially a prisoner of his
    magnates, led by Simon de Montfort. The English King now reigns but does
    not rule. The government is in the hands of Montfort and his Council of
    Nine. Although many of the Barons are infected with the (in Gregory's
    opinion) subversive spirit of Norse Republicanism, there is no consensus for
    abolishing the monarchy itself [FN30.07]. Instead, the nobles have imposed
    the Provisions of Oxford on the king, creating a limited, constitutional
    monarchy. This is intolerable to Edward and Gregory does not like it one
    bit, either. Kings are the protectors of the Church, and to have one held
    prisoner by his own vassals is simply atrocious. Gregory has to walk a fine
    line, however. Montfort, although exceedingly pious and orthodox, is not
    deferential to the Papacy in secular matters. The Archbishop of Canterbury,
    speaking for England's prelates, does not agree that a Council is a good
    idea. Why should the Latin Church let itself be led into error by the
    degenerate Greeks?

    Gregory's call for a council gets a better reception in Iberia, where the
    Christian powers are vying for Papal favor. Except in the Crown of Aragon,
    where Jaime I obdurately refuses to crack down on the Cathars, the various
    heresies that stalk Europe gain little traction, so that is one thing
    Gregory does not have to worry about. In Castile, Alfonso X ("the Wise")
    influences his bishops to accept the invitation and formulate justifications
    of central Catholic doctrines in anticipation of attack by the Greeks.
    Alfonso is looking for Gregory's support in his struggles with Aragon for
    control of Navarre. As the reconquesta stalls (see below), both Alfonso X
    and his counterpart in Aragon, Jaime I, begin casting their eyes elsewhere
    for advantages. Castile's only outlet to the sea is in the north, in Leon
    and the coast of Cantabric Sea, and the Castillans are beginning to think
    that expansion in Ultima Thule is going to pass them by unless they act to
    get out onto the seas.

    Gregory does right by Jaime I, King of Aragon and Count of Catalonia. And
    that's because Jaime is useful. In addition to his struggle with the
    al-Andalus, Jaime is engaged in an epic fight for maritime supremacy in the
    western Mediterranean with the Republic of Venice. While Venice has its
    ports and concessions in al-Andalus, in Gibraltar and Almeria, as well as in
    Cueta, Morocco, the Crown of Aragon holds the Balearics and possesses a
    not-insignificant fleet. And Gregory knows that, if the Tatars are to be
    stopped, the power of Venice must be broken. But its more than that - the
    Lion City must be punished for its betrayal of Christendom. To that end,
    the Pope needs the Crown of Aragon. So he offers Jaime I the crown of
    Sicily.

    The Emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen escaped Mongol captivity and made it
    to Sicily. There he reigned, in scheming exile, until 1255, living long
    enough to see Rome fall to the Tatars. None of Frederick's plans, which
    generally involved him invading Naples in conjunction with a general
    uprising in Lombardy and Germany, come to fruition. Frustrated by his
    enforced idleness, Frederick passes his days immersed in studying the flora
    and fauna of Ultima Thule. He acquires a second blodfugl to make a mating
    pair. Never teaches them to hunt men, though. His other prized possession
    is a pair of white gyrfalcons from Hyperborea [OTL's Canadian Arctic].
    Perhaps he sees something in them, exotic birds of prey, now caged.

    With Frederick's passing, his son Manfred takes power in Sicily and
    immediately becomes a target. Even though Pope Gregory X is a saintly man,
    he is still a Pope, and as a Pope he knows that the Staufen, "that race of
    vipers," must be exterminated. Christendom will be liberated and made whole
    again, and there will no place in it for them. Plus, if Jaime takes Sicily
    from Manfred, it will give Aragon a paramount position in the west-central
    Mediterranean. And it can provide a secure rallying point for the exiled
    Genoese, who have been remorseless in their efforts to avenge themselves
    upon the Venetians for the destruction of their city. The Pope has a chance
    to strike at two of his enemies at once, and he takes it.

    And it works. Manfred is killed battling the Aragonese invasion and
    Conradin, the last of the Staufen, flees to Naples, where he is seized by
    the Khan's forces and imprisoned. With papal blessing, Jaime is crowned as
    King of Sicily, which is added to the Crown of Aragon. The Venetians are
    caught flat-footed and are apoplectic - they thought once they had Gregory
    in Constantinople, a city that they dominate, he would be in their pocket.
    Au contraire.

    Skipping back to Iberia for a moment - it vexes Gregory to no end that the
    reconquesta has stalled, and he positively makes a nuisance of himself
    pestering the Castillans and the Aragonese to renew their efforts. Nasrid
    dynasty founder Emir Ibn al-Ahmar (r. 1232-73) of al-Andalus is flush with
    cash from his dealings with the Venetians and is making reasonable profit
    from his colony in Tarshish, even before word of the gold strike reaches
    al-Andalus. As of the middle of the thirteenth century, the Emir is also
    making huge sums in selling mercury from the mines around Almaden to the
    Cathayans in Mu-lan-P'i, who need it to mine their silver. Of course, the
    Emir knows full well that he could be making even _huger_ sums without the
    cut taken by the Venetian middlemen who actually ship the stuff, and the
    knowledge rankles him. But the Emir is patient, and he will gather his
    strength before moving.

    As has been said, money is the ultimate contraband because it commands all
    others, and in al-Andalus, much of the money from the Ursulines and
    Terranova goes into the military. Arms, North African mercenaries, and
    fortifications all cost, and they are paid for our of the Emir's treasury.
    The Emir's sinews of war, thus refreshed, deal bloody defeats against the
    Christian armies, and even roll back some of the advances that the
    Castillans made after Las Navas de Tolosa. The boundaries of al-Andalus are
    now largely defined by rivers: the Muslims have managed to halt the
    Aragonese advance at the Jucar River, south of Valencia. The Castillans
    have been pushed back north of the Guadiana, north of Alarcos. The
    Portuguese are more troublesome - they have advanced to Alcacer do Sol,
    southeast of Lisbon, but are held there. Some semblance of stability takes
    hold of al-Andalus' borders. Along with the Emir's own troops and the
    foreign mercenaries, he relies heavily upon Islamic military orders -
    fighting holy men who make up reliable garrisons for the frontiers and are
    more than willing to die in defense of the Faith.

    Money and stability are welcome in al-Andalus. Although the official
    Malekite theology is not exactly liberal, things start to soften a bit. Oh,
    nothing like the degeneracy of the Taifa period, when Muslim nobles drank
    wine and indulged in other impious behavior, but the rulers of al-Andalus
    look back fondly to the period of Andalusian cultural and intellectual
    flowering and wonder if they can recreate it without the affronts to Islam.
    Because of their business dealings, the Muslims of al-Andalus are
    extensively exposed to Cathayan technological and scientific thinking - in
    fact, the first Chinese to come to Western Europe since the days of the
    Roman Empire are a trio of mining engineers who arrive in Almaden to survey
    the operation and suggest how to improve output - and Cathayan ideas are
    translated and absorbed by al-Andalus' mutakallimum [Koranic natural
    philosophers, for lack of a better term]. As with Christian Aristotelians,
    the mutakallimum scratch their heads and stroke their beards and try to
    reconcile what they are learning with what they have learned.

    While Pope Gregory X is unhappy and irritated that the Saracens seem to be
    thwarting his Crusaders in Spain, he does have two more bits of power
    politics to play. As with many earth-shaking undertakings, they are equal
    parts nobility and treachery, lofty ideals and base betrayal. Both involve
    the dispatching of emissaries.

    The first emissary is from Sartak, Khan of the Franks, to the Pope, in 1258.
    In Gregory's audience chamber, the Nestorian Priest announces that Sartak, a
    Nestorian Christian, wants to go on Crusade, and requests the Holy Father's
    blessing. Gregory's jaw drops open, a decidedly unPapal expression for
    Christ's Vicar on Earth. And then the Pope smiles.

    The second emissary is the Pope's, sent to Nicea in 1259 to meet with the
    Byzantine co-Emperors, John IV Laskares and Michael VIII Palaeologos. This
    messenger carries an astounding proposition - the Byzantines can have
    Constantinople back if they will unite the Orthodox Church with Latin
    Christendom. The terms of the union of the two churches are, from the
    Byzantine point of view, attractive ...


    [FN30.01] For clarity's sake, I am going to be referring to the Christian
    region south of Egypt and west of the Red Sea as "Ethiopia." The political
    history of the area and its various provinces and dynasties are a bit beyond
    the narrative at this point. But it will be revisited at a later time.

    [FN30.02] A big EA shout-out to Mike Ralls for pointing me to Ramon Lull:
    http://www-mat.upc.es/grup_de_grafs/logo/llull_bio.htm

    [FN30.03] A deviation from the Yasa seen as prompted by the arrogance of a
    Pontiff claiming divinely-ordained power.

    [FN30.04] As the basis for the damaging division of the Christian Church,
    the dispute over the filioque sounds ridiculous to secular types such as
    myself, but it does go to the very nature of the Trinity.

    [FN30.05] OTL 1244-1260, dying ten years before his father and never
    assuming the throne.

    [FN30.06] An early variation of Peter Dubois' OTL 14thC arguments.

    [FN30.07] OTL, the belief in Kingship was, outside of Northern Italy, as
    ubiquitous as belief in 'democracy' is today, if not more. The adherence to
    the monarchical form of government was bolstered by the fact that the most
    high-profile Republics - those in Lombardy - were perceived as unstable and
    constantly at war with each other. ATL, Northern Europe has the example of
    the prosperous Commonwealth of Vinland, which is somewhat prestigious as
    being on the front lines of the struggle against the pagans of Domstolland.
    The idea of a State without a King is not as alien as it is in OTL 13thC,
    but I think it is still a bit soon for republicanism to emerge as a viable
    alternative outside Northern Italy and Scandinavia.

    Empty America: Part 31 - Fox on the Run (Part I) [FN31.01]
    [Ciutat Bandadas [FN31.01.1], Kingdom of Foix, Spring, 1292]

    The swinging doors of La Ocell Fort [The Violent Bird] swing open with a
    bang. "Hail fellows and well met!" cries the flamboyantly-dressed man who
    bursts into the tavern, a dozen others trooping in behind him, cheering. He
    sweeps back his cloak, and raises gloved hands and billowing sleeves over
    his head with a flourish, "And rejoice, for Reynart the Fox is in the
    House!"

    The bartender, a young Pisan named Antonio, greets Reynart with a cheer of
    his own and cries out, "What's the word?!"

    Reynart, a long-time patron of La Ocell, knows the drill and cries out with
    a laugh, "Thunderbird!"

    "And what's the price?!"

    "A copper twice!" And Reynart slaps down two coins [FN31.02] on the bar as
    Antonio slides a cup of La Ocell's famous fortified [with cane liquor] wine
    down the bar to him. Capping the ritual, Reynart slaps the bar with his
    free hand while downing the cup. Even in a port town famous for the
    quantity and quality of its drinking establishments, La Ocell, with its
    pouncing blodfugl [titanis] sign hanging out over the muddy street in front
    of the tavern, stands out above the crowd. Ciutat Bandadas is a typical
    Ursulines boomtown, more prosperous than most. Like most such towns, its
    bread and butter is sugar and rum exports and European imports. But
    Bandadas has some additional advantages - nearby salt-panning area and easy
    access to exotic hardwoods in the interior.

    Antonio pours more drinks for Reynart and his men. For his part, Reynart
    takes a close look around. The bar is packed with soldiers. Not the usual
    Ursuline rabble either - these men are uniformly dressed, equipped and
    armed. Armed to the teeth, too. They have a killing air about them. They
    all had looked to the door when he entered and announced himself. And now
    they were talking amongst themselves, occasionally glancing over at him and
    his crew, who were clustered at the bar, drinking with feeling.

    Leaning back against the bar with his cup in hand, he says out of the corner
    of his mouth, "Antonio, who are these formidable-looking gentlemen?"

    Antonio keeps wiping down the bar and does not look up. "Grand Catalan
    Company."

    Reynart raises his eyebrows. "Mercenaries? I must say, Antonio, the
    clientele has gone downhill since my last visit."

    Antonio still doesn't look up. "Tell me about it. They don't tip worth a
    damn, either. And all the sailors got scared and left."

    "What in the name of Saint Aproninan are Catalan soldiers-of-fortune doing
    in Foix, Antonio? Are they in the King's service?"

    "Don't know. They are more closed-mouthed than any soldiers I've ever seen.
    But they seem a bit pricey for old Raymond Roger."

    Reynart nods towards the far corner of the tavern. "And who is yon
    Cathayan, sitting in the corner?"

    Antonio shrugs, busying himself wringing out his bar-towel. "That one, he
    hasn't said a word. Just points to the wine cask and drops money on the
    bar. Reynart, those Catalans are sure looking at you closely ... do you
    have a Venetian price on your head?"

    "Antonio, your question wrongs me! What kind of pirate would I be if I
    didn't?"

    "Then perhaps you should not trumpet your name so."

    "If I wanted to be anonymous, Antonio, I would have stayed a priest!"

    "No worry about anonymity, dress like you do."

    Reynart has not taken his eyes off the Catalans who are very conspicuously
    not looking at Reynart and, ever so subtly, edging their way clear of their
    tables and making their weapons handy. He leans over to his first mate, who
    is standing next to him at the bar, drinking with abandon and laughing with
    others of Reynart's crew.

    "Isengrin, hold yourself and the men at readiness." Reynart nods towards
    the Catalans, who are pushing back their chairs beginning to move towards
    them.

    "Jesus' balls, Reynart!" Isengrin complains, "We haven't finished our first
    round yet!" Tall and powerfully built, with a heavy gray beard and long
    hair to match, Isengrin the Wolf is every inch his name. He towers over the
    shorter, more slightly built Reynart and is a bit more conventionally
    dressed, with thick leather armor over his tunic, and rough brown trousers
    tucked into calf-high boots. He passes the word down the bar to the other
    men, triggering much grumbling in a similar vein, but also much fingering of
    swords and axes.

    Antonio tugs at Reynart's sleeve. "Reynart, don't bust up the place too
    much, the boss just bought new furniture."

    "They're between us and the door, good Antonio, so I can make no promises."

    The barman just sighs and glances around for a place to hide.

    And then, when the Catalans shove aside their tables and spring to their
    feet, Reynart steps forward, sweeps back his cloak (again) and draws his
    sword. His voice booms through the tavern. "So, it is the Lion City's
    silver ducats you desire! Foul blood-money! Well, gentlemen, achieve me
    and sell my bones!"[FN31.02.01]

    They give it a damn good try, about thirty of them, surging forward en
    masse, blades drawn. But Isengrin is ready for them, he flings a bar-stool,
    one-handed, into the crowd, Then he and his fellows have their weapons out
    and leap to the defense of their Captain. A general melee ensues.

    La Ocell is bigger than most taverns, but even so, forty-odd men engaged in
    furious combat need a lot of room. So it is mostly close-in, artless
    hacking. With two exceptions. Reynart himself is fending off, in fine
    duello style, three Catalans, who lunge and fall back, virtually in unison.
    And Chantecler "the Rooster," vaults up and strides along the top of the
    bar, bold as brass, shooting bolt after bolt from his lever-action Cathayan
    repeating crossbow that is his pride and joy [FN31.03]. In rapid
    succession, he puts three bolts into the backs of the swordsmen who had
    managed to pin Reynart against the wall. The Fox gives Chantecler a quick
    salute with his blade, then hurls himself back into the fray.

    Out of the corner of his eye Reynart sees the Cathayan man in the corner
    sitting there with desperate combat see-sawing back in forth right in front
    of him, calmly finishing his drink. Then stands up and leaps into the
    battle, hands, feet and a wooden staff flashing, sending Catalans flying
    left and right. Reynart's attention is suddenly riveted by an axe swinging
    toward his head, which he deftly sidesteps.

    After much thrust and parry, Reynart finds himself in the middle of the
    melee, back to back with Isengrin. "What ho, valiant Wolf! We are getting
    the best of them!"

    "Not for long Reynart, I saw one of them run off. Bet he is getting
    reinforcements."

    "Aha! But we have reinforcements of our own! That Cathayan is worth any
    ten of the mercenaries!"

    "As am I, and Chantecler is worth twenty, but do you know how many men are
    in the Grand Catalan Company? Couple thousand."

    "So what you're saying is -"

    "We need to get the hell out of here!"

    "So be it. The dinner entertainment here is beneath contempt. Sound the
    charge."

    Isengrin roars over the din. "Men of Maupertuis! We are leaving!"

    And with that, the pirates fight their way out the door of La Ocell, with
    Chantecler as rear guard dissuading pursuit with a barrage of crossbow
    bolts. Reynart, running at top speed, takes an impromptu head-count, then
    grins. Although everyone is looking worse for wear, he didn't lose a man.
    As they sprint down the street toward the dockyard, the Cathayan falls in
    beside Reynart. He is not even breathing heavily and his Arabic is perfect.
    "Capitan Reynart, I am Lu Yau, Deputy Prefect of Police, Ti-chu Shih
    Province [Veracruz]. I was wondering if I could impose upon you for a
    moment of your time."

    "A moment, most formidable Deputy Prefect. wolf, what of the pursuit?"

    Isengrin is huffing and puffing, but keeping up. "Gone. Can we stop now?"
    And with that, the whole troop ducks around the side of a godown and stands
    there, trying to catch their breath. Between gasps, Isengrin manages to get
    out, "Signor Yau, where did you learn to fight like that?"

    Lu Yau smiles mildly. He is the only one not winded. "Shaolin temple.
    There are a number in Mu-lan-P'i." He looks Isengrin up and down. "I saw
    you inside the tavern as well. You are skilled and powerful, but your
    technique lacks refinement."

    Isengrin opens his mouth in retort, but Reynart interjects. "Brave
    warriors! We have, each of us, dealt deadly blows to our foemen and slipped
    the grasp of superior numbers! Now is the time we should hie ourselves to
    our ship. And I do believe that you wanted to discuss something with me,
    Deputy Prefect Yau? We shall discourse like civilized men, once we are
    safely on board La Tiberon."

    La Tiberon [Spanish: "Shark"] is a handy little, three-masted 200 ton
    caravel-type. Not much cargo room for profitable smuggling of bulk
    commodities and not enough crew (twenty) for major high-seas piracy - not in
    the days when to seize a ship meant battling its crew hand-to-hand.
    Venetian ships, being state-owned and hauling the most valuable cargoes,
    travel in well-protected convoys. Ships bound for North Africa or Southern
    Europe are escorted by armed sailing ships from the Ursulines to Gibraltar
    or Cueta, then galleys through the Mediterranean. Similar galley convoys
    protect the ships bound for England, France and the Baltic. It is a
    high-overhead setup, since the whole thing takes a lot of highly-paid
    Venetian oarsmen, but goods from the Ursulines and Mu-lan-P'i have a high
    markup. That and the Venetians benefit through their exclusive status
    within the Khanate which cuts down the costs and jacks up the profits of
    trading with much of the Continent. In a nutshell, even if you can float a
    large ship with many crewmen, all that will avail even the most daring
    high-seas pirate is the occasional non-Venetian ship that strays out on its
    own.

    La Tiberon does have a little equalizer - besides its crew's formidable
    combat skills - that helps it fight above its weight-class and take the
    occasional target of opportunity: two miniature ballistae, capable of
    hurling iron bolts or other projectiles a fair distance. With mountings
    fore, aft, port and starboard, they can be hustled into place wherever the
    action is.

    But even the ballistae are not enough to convince a large merchantman to
    heave-to, so, truth be told, most of Reynart's "piracy" involves quayside
    thievery. Flying a variety of false flags and with a fairly commonplace
    silhouette, La Tiberon slips in and out of every port in the Ursulines and
    beyond, with very little notice. And at thievery, the crew of La Tiberon
    excel. Kegs of Ursuline rum bhang or spices, bales of Thulian furs and
    feathers, cages of exotic birds (particularly gyrfalcons from Hyborea) or
    other animals, all find their way off the docks and out of the warehouses
    and into the hold of La Tiberon. And they all wind up for sale in the
    markets of Foix, Annwyfn and Fjaraland, or anywhere else that the Lion
    City's writ does not run or where Venetian supervision is lax or corrupted.
    Reynart and his crew won't make themselves rich, but they turn a tidy profit
    and they are living as they want to live.

    On board his ship, the good Captain makes proper introductions. "Good sir
    Deputy Prefect, this is Isengrin the Wolf." Isengrin, still a bit chapped
    about Lu Yau's comment on his battle technique, nonetheless nods politely.
    Reynart gestures to a hulking redhead. "Bruin the Bear." Bruin looks up
    from wiping the blood from his axe and smiles wanly. "Tiecelen the Raven."
    The lanky man, clean-shaven but with long dark hair and dressed all in black
    bows deeply, clearly familiar with Cathayan greeting. And our bantam
    Chantecler the Cock!" Chantecler cheerily greets Yau. "Chantecler is a
    Jew! Yes, I have a Jew on my ship! The most formidable Jew since the
    Maccabees, to be sure." Chantecler just rolls his eyes, making it clear
    that he has heard this schpiel before, but Reynart plows on, "This is a New
    World, Lu Yau! We must discard old hatreds, and forge new ones -"

    Isengrin clears his throat, so Reynart continues with the introductions.
    "This jovial fellow is Bernart the Donkey." Bernart, a long-faced fellow
    with a broad grin, claps Lu on the back. Reynart rattles off more of his
    animal-named crewmen, including a dire wolf (Primaut) and a couple of
    sabre-tooth tigers, scattered giant sloths and a smattering of olifaunts.
    Finally, Reynart works his way to the back of the crowd. "And this, this is
    Hermeline the She-Fox." She had not been in La Ocell and Yau had not
    noticed her when he came on board. With her short hair and mannish
    clothing, from a distance Hermeline could easily be mistaken for a male
    sailor. Yau raises his eyebrows. Cathayan women, even in Mu-Lan-P'i, did
    not sail around the seas with a group of men. Unless they were there for
    one purpose. As if he was reading Yau's mind, Reynart announces that
    Hermeline was the ship's carpenter, and skilled at her trade beyond any man
    he had ever encountered. Yau looks skeptical. Hermeline just nods and goes
    back to tinkering with one of the ballistae.

    Reynart was on the verge of launching into a tirade about sex roles when Yau
    cuts him off. "Captain Reynart, I have a request for you, in the name of
    the Emperor of Mu-lan-P'i. I am in need of your assistance in a very
    serious matter."

    Reynart, for once, just nods and bids him to continue.

    "I was dispatched to Foix because the government of Mu-lan-P'i is greatly
    concerned about the arrival of a trained force of thousands of mercenary
    soldiers in Foix. The Emperor, of course, is greatly interested in the
    welfare and happiness of the neighboring states, and it would appear that
    such a force that we encountered here could only have been dispatched for a
    war of conquest. The Emperor has charged me with discovering why they are
    in the Ursulines and where they intend to go."

    Suddenly, Bruin the Bear exclaims, "The soldiers had crosses on their
    shoulders!"

    "Crusaders," says Chantecler, with visible distaste.

    "In Foix, with all the Cathars about?" Isengrin looks puzzled. "It seems
    unlikely."

    "I have discovered," Lu Yau interjects, "that the officers of the Grand
    Catalan Company posted a significant peace bond with the harbormaster, at
    the King's insistence. This bond was only valid for seven days. But it
    would appear that they were not on this island to stay."

    "But where, where would they be going?" Reynart asks rhetorically, pacing
    back and forth. "They would be fools to attack the Saracen lands. Jasirah
    al-Zanata [Jamaica] is allied with Venice and Tarshish [Columbia] is under
    the protection of your Emperor, Lu Yau. But Tarshish is bulging with gold,
    and mercenaries fight for gold ..."

    "That is the most immediate concern of the Emperor's government," Lu Yau
    interjects. "That these bandits, never having pitted themselves against the
    Emperor's soldiers, may be tempted to believe that they can seize a land
    whose ruler has been extended the protection of the Son of Heaven. That
    would present complications that His Majesty would prefer to avoid."

    "Then," announces Reynart, "we are at your service, and the service of your
    esteemed Emperor! In the name of peace for all the New World!"

    Suddenly Isengrin cuts in curtly, "How much?"

    "Excuse me?" says Lu Yau.

    "How much is it worth to your Emperor that we assist you?"

    The Deputy Prefect fishes around inside his robes and presents a small
    silver ingot. It is oddly-shaped, like it was pinched in the middle.
    "This. And many more, if we are successful in our task."

    "How many more?" Isengrin insists, although he cannot seem to take his eyes
    off of it.

    "You and your men shall be rewarded as fits an Emperor's remembrance."

    "How much remembrance?"

    "Isengrin!" Reynart similarly cannot take his eyes from the silver ingot.
    "Dear Wolf, one does not haggle with the Son of Heaven! We shall assist the
    good Deputy Prefect and the Emperor will no doubt be suitably ... retentive
    [FN31.03]. But Lu Yau, if you are going to sail with Reynart the Fox, you
    are going to need a name."

    "A name?" says Lu Yau.

    "Yes, a name!" Reynart looks carefully at him, as if sizing him up.

    "He's quick," says Bruin. "I saw that in La Ocell."

    "And agile," suggests Chantecler, "that's for sure."

    "He can balance on a dagger's point," says Bernart, "I saw him teetering on
    a chair-back, lashing at the Catalans with his staff!"

    "Then it is settled!" exclaims Reynart with great fanfare. "You are
    fortunate Lu Yau, for I have been saving this one. Henceforth, you shall be
    known as Tibert the Cat!

    There is much cheering all around, and Bernart the Donkey claps Lu Yau on
    the back. "From now on, when people see you doing your Shaolin fighting,
    they will exclaim 'That Cat's as fast as lightning!""

    Lu Yau just groans.

    TO BE CONTINUED.

    (Khanate of the Franks, 1242-1260)

    As of 1260, the most powerful state in existence is the Mongol World Empire.
    And its largest and most powerful component of that Empire is the Khanate of
    the Franks, also known as the Khanate of the Golden Ordu [FN31.04]. It is
    the ulus of the Jochid line of the Golden Family - the descendants of
    Genghis Khan through his eldest son Jochi. And they are doing very well by
    themselves.

    During his sixteen year reign, Batu Khan, very literally changed the face of
    Central and Eastern Europe. The old borders have all broken down and what
    were formerly many lands are now all essentially one. This is, of course,
    not to say that there is one uniform government from the eastern borders of
    Capetan France deep into Central Asia. The lands of Russia are the Khan's
    satellites, for example, and are not directly ruled by the Khan. They have
    been subject to Mongol survey and census, and their rulers are overseen by
    Mongol darughachi [officials], who see to it that the Russians pay their
    tribute (largely in furs) and that a suitable supply of laborers and
    soldiers are provided to the Khan's armies.

    In contrast to the indirect rule of the Russian lands, from Poland and
    Hungary to the French border, Europe is largely ruled directly by the Khan
    and his nobles. It was not always that way. For the first few years after
    the initial conquest, Batu attempted a Rus-style of indirect rule in much of
    Europe, with those princes who submitted being left in place as puppet
    rulers. However, after the rebellions of 1251-52, Batu swept aside the
    major European nobles who had offered him submission and clamped down hard
    upon his Khanate. Tammachi (garrison troops) are stationed in and about the
    major cities. They arrive with their families and know full well that they
    will never see the steppe again - these are settler-soldiers and are
    expected to raise the next generation of Mongol occupation forces. Mongol
    tammachi troops, who receive no pay from the Khanate other than loot from
    the occasional new conquest, set themselves up as minor lords within the
    Khanate, commanding the services of local peasants, many of whom are reduced
    to slavery or serfdom.

    Tammachi troops tend not to intermarry with the locals. The primary reason
    is the Mongol attitude towards Christianity. While a number of Mongols were
    Nestorian Christians before Batu's forces arrived in the West, very few
    Mongol men will accept baptism. It would seem that, in the thirteenth
    century at least, the Mongol rank-and-file tend to view Christians as a
    separate race, rather than merely a religion, and that being baptized means
    giving up something of their Mongol-ness. So, Mongol men tend to marry
    Mongol women, either from Mongolia or from other parts of the Khanate.
    Mongol women, on the other hand, tend to convert to Christianity -
    especially Catholic and Reformed Spiritine denominations - in more
    significant numbers. The urge for religious reform infected Christian
    Mongol women, a number of Mongol women in Germany have taken vows as
    Beguines, not sequestering themselves entirely away from the outside world,
    but living a Godly existence.

    Male Christian Mongols are much less inclined to convert to European forms
    of Christianity and, by in large, stick with the Nestorian faith of their
    fathers. It helps that, unlike European Christian priests of any
    denomination, have vigorously assimilated themselves into the Mongol
    shamanist milieu. The Nestorian priests (mostly Uighurs) will frequently
    co-officiate with shamans (bo'e) at sacrifices to the Tengri and indulge in
    scapulimancy, a form of divination involving the burning of animal bones.
    Mongol shamans, when seeking guidance from the Tengri, will scorch the
    shoulder bones of sheep and read the cracks. Europeans, who initially were
    relieved beyond words that the feared Tatars actually had Christians in
    their ranks, are appalled by the Nestorians' participation in such pagan
    rituals and flatly refuse to cooperate.

    And even in Christendom riven by fundamental doctrinal differences, European
    Christians are shocked by how heterodox the Nestorians are. First of all,
    Nestorian priests dressed like Buddhist divines when they were in Mongolia,
    and continue to do so to distinguish themselves from Western Christians.
    Many also deny that God became Man and downplay the death of Christ.
    Nestorian Mongol darughachi frequently appropriate Catholic or Spiritine
    churches for Nestorian use, and the Nestorian priests fill them with felt
    images of the dead. Nestorian priests also put even unreformed Catholic
    clergy to shame with their drunken degeneracy, continuing the Mongol party
    animal tradition. In a nutshell, for the first decade and a half of Mongol
    occupation of Europe, the Asian and European branches of Christianity are
    rubbing up against each other and not getting along at all.

    This is fine with Batu. Like many of the traditionalist Mongols who will
    follow Kubilai Khan into China, he is keen to maintain a separate Mongol
    ruling caste over his more numerous indigenous subjects. And he is taking
    no chances in losing his Khanate to rebels. Batu took savage reprisals
    against the rebels of the early 1250s, and he follows up by systematically
    demolishing the castles and city walls of the interior of his realm. He
    does not fear invasion from the outside, and he wants to deprive any
    potential rebels any citadels. So, every summer the corvee is mobilized and
    more and more walls and castles are pulled down. The resulting rubble
    contributes to the second part of Batu's plan for keeping a tight grip: road
    and bridge construction. The Mongol army of occupation will be able to move
    around the Khanate at will, delivering swift repression to any areas that
    rise up against their overlords. Without walled cities [FN31.05] and with
    the remaining fortifications in the hands of tammachi troops, the Europeans
    will be helpless to resist.

    Batu himself does not pick a capital city. He spent a great deal of time in
    Aachen after the conquest, but only because he had been told that,
    symbolically, its fall would convince his European subjects that the Empire
    of the Romans was no more. But he is not posing as a new Charlemagne - he
    holds his Khanate as a scion of the Golden Family (the descendants of
    Genghis Khan, known as "Uruks," i.e. "seed"), through right of conquest and
    by the will of the Tengri. But, the accommodations in Aachen are nice and
    the hot springs help with his gout. But he is soon on the move. Mainz,
    Rome, Prague, Sarai. While he still conducts important ceremonies in his
    golden Ordu, he discovers that he likes living and doing business indoors,
    as does much of his peripatetic court. So where Batu goes, rehabilitation
    and new construction follow.

    Occupied Europe does not have a uniform set of overlords, despite Batu's
    efforts at centralization. One of the central features of the Mongol Empire
    is the "appenage" system. Members of the Golden Family are entitled to
    portions of all Mongol conquests. This means that an Uruk could be entitled
    to the revenues of a district in China, a province in Persia and a clutch of
    towns in Bohemia or the Tyrol [FN31.06]. Batu wises up quickly and realizes
    that to allow the appenage holders in his Khanate to actually govern their
    territories would be a recipe for disastrous division of his Khanate. So,
    while the distant Mongol nobles get their payout, Batu's government appoints
    all the local officials in the appenages [FN31.07].

    Like Khubilai Khan in China, Batu prefers to appoint outsiders as
    administrators of his Khanate. From his appenages in China, he brings
    Confucian officials to serve his government and Buddhist and Taoist
    luminaries to his court. (He considers most Western Christian priests to be
    excessively austere and dreary, and he never really appreciated being called
    the Antichrist.) He also manages to bring in a sizable number of Persian
    officials who, for obscure reasons, primarily serve as tax farmers in
    Naples. The entire situation brings about some odd cross-cultural
    encounters.

    Anti-Semitic writers repeatedly accuse Jews of serving the Khan in great
    numbers, but as usual the screeds do not reflect reality. Batu does lift
    the oppressive strictures imposed by the Fourth Lateran Council. And, after
    due examination by Mongol officials, Judaism does acquire "erkeun" status
    equal to Islam, Christianity, Taoism and Buddhism. In other words, so long
    as the divines pray to Heaven (or Jehovah or Allah) for the health of the
    Khan, they are tax-exempt, are not subject to military service or the
    corvee. And, in due course, all the major religious sects in Europe - with
    the exception of some particularly fundamentalist Spiritines - do come
    around to saying prayers for the Khan. As has been noted before,
    Christianity within the Western realms of the Khanate has fragmented and
    sects have proliferated, costing the Khan men and money. Even though it is
    hitting revenues hard, Batu is sticking with the Yasa and not sorting the
    wheat from the chaff - so long as a sect is not a transparent fraud and
    follows the broad outlines of Christianity, it qualifies as an officially
    tolerated religion. But we should not feel too bad for the state of Batu's
    treasury - the money comes flowing in. In addition to the usual exactions
    from the peasantry and the income from the Ortok merchants, the Khan is
    raking in the bling from the silver mines of Freiberg in Saxony, Friesach in
    Austria, Monteri in Tuscany, Iglau in Bohemia, and Kutna Hora in Bohemia.
    The miners, who were once privileged workers paid in ore, are reduced to
    little more than slaves, who will work or die. Improved mining technology,
    such as horse-drawn pumps for draining deep shafts and the silver
    liquidation process, keeps the mines producing full-tilt.

    Of course, being Khan is not all fiscal and religious policy. There are
    still the fun parts - the conquest and subjugation of neighboring states.
    Before getting his fingers singed going after Flanders and France, Batu
    warmed up his armies teaching Novgorod that a little independence is a
    dangerous thing and making the pagan Prussians, Livonians and Lithuanians
    yearn for the good old days of the Northern Crusades. Mindaugas I, the
    first and only king of Lithuania, goes down swinging and gives the Mongols
    and their German and Polish troops a few bloody noses in the process.

    The historical stereotype of the Khanate's armies - limitless gray ranks of
    German infantry following in the wake of nimble Tatar cavalry and ingenious
    Chinese siege engineers - is not entirely accurate. Thousands of Polish,
    German, Hungarian, and Italian mounted fighting men have joined the Khan's
    forces on their campaigns, essentially because they have nothing else to do.
    There are indeed great masses of infantry - Europe, like the other lands of
    the Mongol Empire, has been subject to a census and organized around the
    tumen system. On paper, every tumen (ten thousand households) is expected
    to support a thousand soldiers. In reality, it varies.

    For the first time in the Mongol conquests in Europe, there is a little
    amphibious action. The Danes, emboldened by the French pyrrhic victory in
    Flanders, unwisely declare war on the Khanate for seizing Reval. Batu's
    forces blitz into Denmark, supported by the ships of the Hansa cities. The
    Anskar Union, in the midst of a sudden dynastic crisis, holds itself
    together long enough to buy a reprieve - with a sizable annual tribute to
    the Khanate - for Norway and Sweden (including Finland), then promptly
    collapses into its component parts. Denmark is attached to the Khanate, and
    the passage from the Baltic to the Germanic Sea is secure from Scandinavian
    pirates. In southeastern Europe, Hungary (including Bosnia, but minus
    Dalmatia, which is firmly in the hands of Venice) belongs to the Khan in fee
    simple. Bulgaria decides it is better to pay than to burn, and voluntarily
    becomes a Mongol satellite. Serbia, which holds much of the Balkans down to
    the borders of Byzantium, refuses to submit. Its monarch, Stefan Urosh I,
    has decided that the Mongols have too much else on their plate at the
    moment, and he refuses demands of surrender and tribute. Wisely, however,
    he permits Batu's emissaries to return unmolested. Serbia looks to be a
    tough nut to crack, and Batu dies before he can take a whack at a major
    campaign in the region.

    With regards to France, after being repulsed in Flanders in 1250, Batu
    confines himself to raiding across the increasingly-fortified French border.
    The worst comes in 1256, when Mongol forces drive all the way to Troyes in
    Champagne, ravage the suburbs of the city, capture thousands of slaves, then
    race back across the border before the French can muster a sizable enough
    force to stop them. For Batu, hitting France is more about repairing his
    damaged prestige, and showing the French Monarch who is boss on this
    continent, than actual conquest.

    And then there is Italy. The major cities of Lombardy are, as per agreement
    with the Lion City, placed under Venetian podestas. Those that retain the
    form of local rule have Venetian "rectors," who are the power behind local
    rulers, who are subject to the Khanate. The podestas and rectors have one
    paramount duty - to exploit their territories for the benefit of the
    Republic of Venice. They have, at their disposal, the Venetian Secret
    Police, the fearsome "Signori di Notti" for ferreting out and quashing
    dissent. Venetian merchants have sectors of every city exclusively for
    their own use. They are subject to Venetian, rather than local, law and
    Venetian, not local, judges decide the cases. Interestingly enough, many of
    the podestas are very popular with those they govern. Many quickly
    establish a reputation for even-handed administration, rising above the
    factionalism that had rent municipal life for decades. And many, once in
    place, do not kow-tow to the Venetian government, becoming known as fearless
    advocates for their cities, standing between the people and the Mongols.

    Things begin to shift after Batu's death in 1258. When word makes it around
    that Sartak, the new Khan, is a Christian, celebrations break out all over
    occupied Europe. Processionals fill the streets, with the faithful of every
    Christian rite offering thanks to God for their deliverance from pagan rule.
    Since this is the Middle Ages, things can't go too well for too long, and
    many of the celebrations turn into pogroms against the Jews or
    inter-denominational riots among Christians. All disturbances are
    ruthlessly suppressed by Mongol or local troops.

    As a Christian, even as a highly unorthodox one, Sartak has more of an
    interest in acting as a "normal" European monarch. He greets emissaries
    from France, come to congratulate him on his accession, not with traditional
    Mongol demand that their King surrender or be conquered, but politely and
    with an inquiry as to his "younger brother Louis'" health. Sartak also
    unilaterally declares a truce with France for seven years.
    And he floors a Leonese delegation by expressing a wish to make a pilgrimage
    to the great shrine of Santiago de Compostela. They are both flattered by
    the attention and horrified at the prospect of a Mongol Khan and his
    entourage making its way through Iberia.

    Much of the pagan ritual surrounding the Khan is done away with, also.
    Visitors do not have to walk between fires before coming into his presence,
    for example and do not have to drink kumis as a sign of submission. Sartak
    keeps to his tent much as Batu did, since he is walking a fine line between
    Europeanness and Mongolness, but he increasingly holds court in whatever
    palace or castle he happens to be visiting.

    And then there's Pope Gregory X. Gregory has reacted with caution to the
    enthronement of a Christian Mongol Khan, a development which he believes
    could be very dangerous to the reunification of Christendom. Under Batu,
    all Christianity was equally outside the inner reaches of power. But now,
    with a Nestorian Khan, European Christians could be led further astray. So
    when Sartak's request that the Pope authorize a Crusade arrives in 1258,
    Gregory works feverishly on turning it to his advantage.

    [FN31.01] I still have some details to hash out on the state of Old World
    affairs, so the narrative portion of this month's Part is going to concern
    itself with a little fracas in Ultima Thule.

    [FN31.01.1] Occitan: "City of Drunks" OTL's Santa Cruz de Barahona,
    Dominican Republic. ATL, it has an official & less evocative name, but
    nobody uses it.

    [FN31.02] Chinese ones with little holes through the middle for string.
    Many are in circulation throughout the Ursulines.

    [FN31.02.01] Henry V, Act IV, Scene III.

    [FN31.03] Again, these things are so cool.
    http://www.atarn.org/chinese/rept_xbow.htm

    [FN31.03] Hamlet, Act II, Scene II, with a bit of 'Rosencrantz and
    Guildenstern are Dead'

    [FN31.04] The ordu is the tent of the Khan. Bastardized in the OTL west to
    'Horde.'

    [FN31.05] I have read that the Yuan followed a similar tack in China, once
    they took over the Song. Tore down some walls, made some people move inward
    from remote, mountainous regions, etc. Some European cities are allowed to
    keep customs walls, but not proper fortifications.

    [FN31.06] The Jochid branch of the Golden Family, for its part, has
    appenages in Pingyang, Zhending, Jingzhou, all in northern China.

    [FN31.07] Again, the Yuan did the same thing - Chinese Confucians convinced
    them that to allow the appenage holders to govern their lands would fragment
    China, so Khubilai Khan let them have the revenue, but his government
    appointed local officials.
    Empty America: Part 32 - Fox on the Run (Part II)

    [Kingdom of Foix, Spring, 1292]

    "I'm going to kill him," Chantecler groaned, stomping along the dirt road on the outskirts of Cuidat Bandadas, his head splitting and squinting painfully into the bright sunlight.

    "If you are going to do it dressed like that," Hermeline laughed, a quiet little laugh, "be sure to let me know, because I want to watch."

    Lu Yau, leading the way, chortles from underneath a long fake beard and big floppy hat and looks back.

    It would be something to see, because Chantecler was wearing a wig, gaudy jewelry, heavy makeup and long dress, and looks every inch the high-priced prostitute. In fact, he looks like a somewhat slighter version of Hermeline, who is similarly made up, but who is shorter and of sturdier build, with more convincing curves.

    It is a simple plan, really. Well, at least it started out that way ...

    ***

    This is not what Chantecler signed up for. He figured that being a pirate would be a laugh, you know. Beat the hell out of clerking for the government of Domstolland, which was the life his father had laid out for him. The Norse always needed more literate men to do their records, but Chantecler had no intention of spending his life chained to a desk. So, in the middle of one of his father's interminable lectures about how the Folkhagi needed them, and what a great debt the Jews owed to Domstolland, and how a fifteen-year-old boy did not know how hard it was out in the world, Chantecler just stuffed his things into a bag and stormed on out. Then, to his great surprise, as he stomped his way down the street, cursing, his father chased him down and, weeping, hugged him fiercely and gave him his blessing. His son was off to stick it to the Christians, he should be angry?

    There were always a few corsair ships in Tivrhofn, and before he knew it, Chantecler was a bona-fide pirate. He earned his spurs the hard way - in the long-running and extremely dangerous skirmishing over the cod fisheries off Markland [Newfoundland]. He wasn't a big lad, but he was quick and focused. He soon discovered that he was handy with a wheelbow and he practiced non-stop until he was hot, really hot. Fast and accurate and nervy, dropping enemy archers one-two-three while arrows whistled around him and ice-cold salt-spray soaked him to the bone. But he didn't become a pirate to risk his neck over cargoes of torsk [salted fish], and so he found his way south. Domstollander pirates did not venture into the Ursulines in any numbers, but they did work the coastlines and inlets of the Fjaraland League states, although League ships and fortifications could make it pretty hairy, and the Sail Brothers, as the seagoing contingents of the Knights of Ultima Thule are informally known, are merciless in hunting them down. Chantecler, who had been at sea for five years, was at loose ends at the time, met Reynart in Fjaraland. The two hit it off immediately. Reynart was Chantecler's idea of a pirate - flamboyant and daring, with an eye for the best of everything. Reynart had an eye for talent, and the deal was done. It was also in Fjaraland that Chantecler picked up his repeating crossbow - a Norse craftsman had gotten his hands on one of the Cathayan models and was turning out knock-offs. Chantecler felt lust in his heart when he saw it - now there was a pirate's weapon! He saw himself leaping onto the deck of an Italian merchantman, spraying bolts left and right. It cost a fortune, but Chantecler could swing it.

    But it only took him a few months of filching merchandise from waterfront warehouses with Reynart and his men to figure out that the Fox's extravagent demeanor was really just a cover. He was a common thief playing at dashing corsair. But Chantecler did not care - he was having great fun and living high, whether in and out of every port in the Ursulines or laying low, relaxing in Maupertuis.

    ***

    Tramping along a dusty road, dressed up as a prostitute, with a Cathayan policeman laughing at him was not what he would call the high point of his career. It really did start off as a simple enough plan. Reynart, Isengrin and Lu Yau huddled, and Chantecler hung around, half listening, half fooling around with the other crewmen.

    They needed to get into the Catalan's camp and find out what their next move was, where they were going. But how? Reynart suggested that they should send a couple of men in, offering to sign up with the Company.

    "No," said Lu Yau, "they will recognize your men from the tavern."

    "And they would not want to take such formidable fighters into their service?" Reynart smiled.

    Isengrin shook his head. "That fracas probably cost the Company the peace bond they posted with the King. Although I imagine that Raymond Roger let 'em go double or nothing. Even if they don't care that we carved up a bunch of their men, they wouldn't be happy to see us."

    "We would have to proceed in disguise." said Lu. "But disguised as what?"

    It was Isengrin who thought of it. "A whoremonger and his whores. No way they will get turned back."

    Lu raised his eyebrows, and Isengrin explained. "The Cathars. They preach among the whores in the waterfront, bring them in, make nuns out of them [FN32.01]. Next thing you know, they are spinning and weaving and praising God. It is actually tough to find a whore in Ciudat Bandadas." He snorted. "Probably why the sailors drink so much. No way the Catalans would send a couple of prostitutes away."

    The Cathayan policeman nodded. "I can pose as the prostitutes' master, and -"

    Reynart interjected. "But they will certainly recognize you from the tavern!"

    "I am adept at disguise and will not seem the least bit familiar. There are any number of men of Mu-lan-P'i in the islands and," he broke into a slight smile as he fished a long-stemmed clay pipe, leather pouch and little red lacquer cylinder out of his robes, "it has been my experience that we all look alike to you."

    The cylinder caught Chantecler's eye - he had a thing for Cathayan crafts and lacquer goods fascinated him. He watched Lu yau carefully as the policeman filled his pipe.

    "Hermeline will pretend to be one of the prostitutes," Reynart said.

    Isengrin looked startled. "She will? Even after -"

    "Truth she will, Wolf! She has been ship-board too long and craves action! But we will need a second. A whoremonger with just one girl will look suspicious."

    Lu tucked the pouch back into his robe, popped the cap off of the little red cylinder, pulled out what looked to Chantecler like a small stick, which he then struck against a rough iron ring that encircled the mainmast. Chantecler felt his jaw drop as the end of the little stick burst into flame, which the Cathayan promptly used to light his pipe. Everyone on the La Tiberon stood frozen, looking at Lu Yau.

    The Cathayan looked up from his pipe. To Chantecler, he seemed genuinely puzzled by his new comrades' reaction. "Fire inch-sticks. Fifty for a copper in Ti-chu Shih" [FN32.02]. And then, just like that, they all applauded, Chantecler included.

    Reynart, who wiped the astonishment off his face quicker than the others, clapped Lu on the back. "A doughty fighter and a conjurer, too! Save some tricks for later in the show, Tibert, lest you lose your audience!"

    For everyone else, the novelty of Lu's fire stick seemed to wear off quickly, and they went back to discussing the plan. But Chantecler was still fascinated by the trick. How do the Cathayans do all these things? It seems like every time he encountered one of them, they have some amazing new device. He was lost in thought and when he looked up, he saw that Lu, Reynart and Isengrin were all looking right at him.

    Reynart smiles. "Cantecler, how would you like to do some thing very heroic?"

    Oh, no.

    Oh, yes.

    ***

    Making his way down the dirt road, Chantecler says, "I don't know why they didn't pick the Raven. He looks more like a woman than I do."

    "They didn't pick Tiecelen because he gave Reynart that look," Hermeline snorts.

    Chantecler knows that look, that "I know what you are thinking about doing, and I will kill you if you do it" look. Chantecler thought the Raven, despite his lean build and clean-shaven, vaguely feminine features, was one scary dude. Couple years back, he just showed up, out of nowhere, and attached himself to Reynart's crew. As far as Chantecler knew, he did not even ask to join, he just did it. He even gave himself his nom du corsair. Nobody knew where came from or what he was doing before he boarded La Tiberon, but he was good: crafty, quiet and utterly ruthless. The Raven wasn't someone Chantecler would chose to drink with - in fact he did not know if Tiecelen drank or not - but he never minded having him at his back in a fracas.

    "Damn," says Chantecler. "I wish I could give people that look."

    Hermeline shoots him a smile. "I'm glad you can't. One Raven in this crew is more than enough."

    Chantecler remembers why everyone likes Hermeline.

    ***

    Back on La Tiberon, Chantecler protested. "Dress up like a woman, like a whore?"

    Reynart nodded. "Tibert will bring you and Hermeline into the Cathayan camp." He laughed. "A 'special surprise' just for the Captain of the Company, courtesy of some local merchants. Once you are inside, you can find out where the Company is going."

    Chantecler shook his head. "What if, you know, before we make it to where the Captain is, some of the soldiers, you know, want to ..."

    "You are special, Chantecler, a special treat for the Captain," Reynart said. "They won't touch you, or Hermeline."

    Chantecler was skeptical. "You don't know much about soldiers, do you Reynart?"

    Reynart laughed. "I know more than you ever will, young Rooster! When I fought in France alongside the Templars, during the great Battles of the Frontiers, I learned a thing or two about soldiering. And ..."

    A dagger whipped by Reynart's ear, whirring end over end and - Chantecler saw it, but did not believe it - made a curving arc in mid-air to thunk into the side of the aft mast, where it stuck, visibly vibrating. Lu Yau walked casually past Reynart, whose eyes were bulging, and retrieved the dagger. Chantecler caught a glimpse of the weapon - it was a simple thing, no hilt, a blade with a cleaver-point, twice as long as its handle, which was just a round bit of wood wrapped in what looked like twine.

    "Chantecler," said Lu Yau, "I will not allow anything untoward or dishonorable befall you or Hermeline while you are in my charge."

    Chantecler believed him.

    For his part, Reynart was a firm believer in not doing anything you had decided sober until you have discussed it drunk - a practice that Chantecler heartily agreed with - so Hermeline and two other crewmembers who hadn't been in on the brawl slipped back to La Ocell and shagged a couple kegs of Thunderbird. Hermeline reported that Antonio the bartender was none the worse for wear (and still cleaning up the damage) and there were a lot of Company soldiers lurking about town.

    So they tapped the first keg and set to it. Before the evening was out, Chantecler was enthusiastically modeling various outfits for his undercover mission, to the hoots and cat-calls of his fellows. Bernart the Donkey brayed with piercing laughther and proclaimed that if there is anything more funny than an Englishman in a dress, he hadn't seen it. Reynart repeated toasts to "the freedom of the New World!" with anyone who will join in. By the time the doughty crew of La Tiberon was halfway through the second keg, Isengrin and Lu Yauhad were engaged in a mock (although it was a close thing as far as Chantecler was concerned) duel, the Cathayan with his staff and Isengrin with his sheathed sword. Chantecler couldn't tell who got the better of whom, because during the middle of the struggle, he had sat down heavily on the deck, still clad in his hooker togs. He let himself fall backwards and stared up at the sky, watching the stars spin in their courses ...

    and awoke the next day with his piercing headache and wondering blearily why the hell he had agreed to this lunatic scheme.

    ***

    The Catalans were encamped at the plantation of a local magnate, and it was close to dusk Lu Yau, Hermeline and Chantecler encountered Company pickets stationed on the road. That struck Chantecler as odd. He did not have a lot of experience with soldiers in his travels, but what he did know was that when they weren't actually fighting someone, they tended to be either slouching about camp or out carousing. But here these two were standing guard, and were fairly smart about it, even though they were hardly in enemy territory. Lu Yau presents the guards with the carefully-forged letter from the Cuidat Bandadas Salt-Panners Guild, offering the Grand Marshal of the Company these two "comely and skilled wenches" as a gesture of friendship and in consideration of future business. The Cathayan had not said what they would do if the guards decided to escort them straight to the Marshall - who could just want to get straight to business, as it were - instead of just letting them pass and make their own way through.

    "What, whores for the Marshall?" the bigger one snorted. "I dunno what 'the Friar' is gonna think of that. Not the kind of swordplay he's interested in, from what I've heard." Both of the guards roared with laughter.

    The smaller one leered at Chantecler, "She's a pretty one, isn't she? Be a shame if she went to waste up at the big house. How much for a taste?"

    Oh, merde.

    Lu bowed deeply. Chantecler noticed that one of his hands had, ever so inconspicuously, disappeared inside his robes. He remembered the daggers and tensed, ready to hit the dirt. He glaced over at Hermeline. One of her hands was behind her back.

    Oh, merde, this was going to be over before it even started.

    "Many pardons, esteemed sir. But my directions were very specific - bring them to the Grand Marshal untouched. Perhaps if he is disinclined to partake, as you suggest, he will reward your diligent service appropriately."

    The guards laughed again. "Nay, most like he will hand them over to the quality at the big house! A little gratuity for the Count's hospitality. But still, on your way back, be sure to remember the fellows who pointed you the way."

    "Most assuredly." Chantecler glares at Lu, who winks.

    And then they were on their way. There were any number of tents pitched in the parkland surrounding the Count's villa. Reynart had detailed Hermeline to get an idea of the Company's troop strength, so Chantecler lets her do the counting. The thing that startles Chantecler was that not only were there soldiers milling about outside the tents in the warm evening breeze, but there are also women taking laundry off the lines and children scrambling about underfoot. Not at all what he expected from a troop of hard-bitten professional soldiers halfway around the world from home, on their way to some desperate enterprise that he could only guess at.

    I mean, he had heard about camp followers, but this looks like an entire community on the march. What the hell was going on here?

    TO BE CONTINUTED

    [FN32.01] Not exactly nuns, but credentes - lay adherants.

    [FN3202] Based upon an Chinese invention circa 6th Century B.C. The original fire inch-sticks merely had to be lit via flame. The friction match is a fortuitous offshoot of the aggressive experimentation with gunpowder in Jen Men. The Chinese had been working with iron phosphate to lower melting temperatures in the making of cast iron for some time, so it does not seem implausible that they could stumble across phosphorous for matches.

    Part 33:

    Empty America: Part 33 - Desolation Angels (Part I)

    [I am going to be getting back to Fox on the Run later this month. For the moment, it is time to advance the Mongol portion of the timeline a bit.]

    (Europe, SouthWest Asia and North Africa, 1256-1263)

    Allright Cairo, put your hands together and make some noise for your hometown Eeeeeegyptian Mamluuuuuuuks!

    [cue stadium crowd cheering]

    The Egyptian Mamluks! The slave soldier elite of Dar al-Islam in the thirteenth century. Cuman boys, sold into slavery in Kaffa on the Black Sea, brought to Cairo to be converted to Islam and rigorously trained in the arts of war. And I mean _rigorously_ trained - all day, every day. The surviving drill manuals emphasize swordsmanship, use of the lance and archery. In their off hours, they get to train some more - polo and a great hunt similar to that practiced by the Mongols, in essence a massive war game.
    The Mamluks are formidable bowmen - a Mamluk warrior was expected to hit a 95 centimeter target from 75 yards, and get three arrows into the air in 1.5 seconds. In ATL, they are, of course, equipped with wheelbows, the design of which they have obtained from the Byzantines.

    The Mamluks' weaponry and armor tends to be similar that of the European knight - helmet, chainmail coat and double-edged, straight-bladed sword. Their kit and tactics are not designed for the head-on collision in the Western style, but rather more fluid warfare. (Depending upon who you ask, they could are could not withstand a charge of Western knights.)

    The Mamluks are tough, highly-skilled and disciplined, and are also fanatical defenders of the Faith, although they are not particularly austere, a fact which occasionally scandalizes more conventional Muslims.

    But, when it is all said and done, you have some seriously badass horse-soldiers. If anyone can halt the Mongol march to world conquest, it is the Mamluks.

    Which was exactly what Hulegu was concerned about. In 1250, the Mamluks overthrew the newly-elevated Sultan Turanshah and seized power for themselves [FN33.00], establishing a significant military power within striking distance of Syria [which, for our purposes, will include OTL's Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan]. Mamluk Sultan Sayf al-Din Qutiz can be expected to contest the Mongol advance. Strictly on the numbers, Hulegu does not have much to worry about. He has retired to Azerbaijan to refit and reorganize, and he has assembled a huge force - pushing 400,000, including allied troops. But his scouts have told him that Syria is not exactly ideal territory for a host of steppe cavalry - no adequate grasslands and the ground is so rocky and hard that the ponies' (unshod) hooves break. The shortage of grazing is particularly troubling - that means he will have to haul his supplies with him. But there is no way he can conjur up a camel-train big enough to supply his entire force. And before Hulegu can even come to grips with the Mamluks, he will have to go through the forces of the Ayyubid prince al-Nasir Yusif, of the House of Saladin, who rules much of Syria from Aleppo, who can reputedly field an army of 150,000 men.

    Hulegu, because of logistic constraints, is going to have to move light and fast against al-Nasir, and that tilts the odds to something more like even. And, like any good commander, Hulegu doesn't like that at all.

    So he decided that he would get some long-overdue assistance from his kinsman Sartak, Khan of the Franks. In the late 1250s, the Mongol World Empire has not yet fallen to fighting amongst its component pieces, which means that the holders of each major ulus within the Empire was still expected to carry out policy dictated from Karakorum and assist each other in doing so.

    In ATL, Sartak, rather than OTL's Berke, is on the throne of the Jochid ulus. This produces a rather profound difference in Jochid policy in the late 1250s and early 1260s. A number of factors work into the different relationship between Sartak's Khanate of the Franks and the il-Khanate (proclaimed by Hulegu in Baghdad) than existed between the il-Khanate and the Golden Horde under Berke. Berke is a Moslem [FN33.01], and is quite put out by Hulegu's sack of Baghdad and murder of the Caliph. Sartak, a Christian, is fairly pleased with developments in Irak. He is particularly happy with the steps Hulegu takes to spare the Christian population of Baghdad, as well as their liberation under the Yasa from Moslem oppression.

    Sartak is also (for the lack of a better word) rather Euro-centric, much moreso than a Khan who rules the Golden Horde from Sarai or New Sarai on the lower Volga. In OTL, the core of the dispute between the Golden Horde and the il-Khanate probably stemmed Hulegu's misappropriation of some territory in northern Persia that should have gone to Berke as his appanage. Sartak is simply less concerned about it than Berke was. He is not a Muslim and not angling to keep Muslims out of the hands of the pagan Hulegu, and the disputed territory is on the periphery of his ulus [FN33.02].

    So Sartak is ready to deal.

    In OTL 1259, the Great Khan Mongke dies of fever (or in combat, depending who you ask) outside the walls of Chongqing in 1259. This leads to a disputed succession between his sons Arik Boke and Khubilai. In OTL, this dispute had the Golden Horde and the il-Khanate on opposite sides. In ATL, Mongke's death is butterflied down the road a bit, so he is still alive and kicking in 1259 [FN33.02.01].

    So, in ATL 1259, the Khanate of the Franks and the il-Khanate are deeply engaged in discussions for joint operations against the Mamluks and the subsequent disposition of the spoils.

    That is where Sartak's request that Pope Gregory X authorize the preaching of a crusade comes in. Sartak, as absolute ruler of Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Italy, as well as overlord of the Rus' and the Lithuanians and many in Asia besides, could simply requisition all the troops he needed (and then some) for an offensive against the Mamluks. But the center of gravity in his Khanate is Europe, and Sartak is trying to work within that milleu. He not only wants to be a Khan, but a Christian Prince as well. He is walking that balance-beam between his Mongol heritage and his Christian dominion. His course is roughly parallell to what Khubilai will do in China, where he will be part nomad conqueror, part Confucian Emperor. Both Sartak and Khubilai are both steppe Khans and sedentary dynasts, and each of them is working to adapt.

    Sartak knows that Christendom is in the throes of a popular religious upheaval with a strong millenarian current. Joachim of Fiore has predicted the end of Islam and pegged 1260 for the end of the 'Reign of the Son,' and commencement of the 'Reign of the Holy Spirit.' So, it seems like a good time for some fairly earth-shaking things to be happening. In Europe, the conquest of Baghdad - the greatest city in Dar al Islam - is greeted with jubilation. The sparing of the Christian population is widely known, as is the installation of the Christian patriarch in one of the Caliph's palaces. It is also fairly common knowledge that Hulegu's chief wife, Dokuz Khatun, is a Christian, as is Ked-Buka, one of Hulegu's top commanders. Rumors abound that Hulegu, if he has not already been secretly baptised, will accept Christianity in Jerusalem. The mood in Europe is electric - the fog of despair generated by the destructive Mongol conquest, the exile of the Pope from Rome, and the splintering of Christianity has been blown away by a new sense of possibility - this could be the final triumph of Christianity over Islam.

    And the Christians of Europe want in, like they haven't wanted in 200 years.

    In short, if Sartak had not requested the preaching of a Crusade to liberate the Holy Land from the Saracens, his Christian subjects would have simply demanded it.

    Which puts him in a good negotiating position with Gregory. The Pope has a whole laundry-list of things he would like from Sartak (baptism as a Catholic, acknowledgement of Papal supremacy, restoration of confiscated Church property, return to Mongolia and so on), but he is smart enough not to push it too far in his discussions with Sartak's emissary.

    Gregory would like the Kindom of Jerusalem to remain under a Christian sovereign.

    Done.

    He would like Batu's ban on mention of the Pope during Mass lifted.

    Done.

    He would like Papal control over ecclesiastical appointments returned.

    Done.

    He would like the restoration of Papal Church revenues, which had been withheld since the conquest [FN33.03].

    Done.

    This is the big one. Gregory would like Sartak to permit a Great Council of the Church, inside the Khanate. Representatives of all the denominations - Catholics and Reformed, Orthodox and Nestorian - will be required to attend. The Council is Gregory's big throw of the dice for reuniting Christendom. In the wake of a great triumph over Islam, brought abount under the banner of the Cross, maybe he can show the Reformed and Spiritines the error of their ways. He can prove to them that the Church has changed, that the Pope is now interested only in the spiritual salvation of all mankind. And he can guide the French, who are teetering on the brink of schism, back into the fold. The great conciliarists cannot resist a Great Council, now can they?

    And Gregory can make his great announcement. In his chamber, he has a piece of paper, renouncing all claims to the Patrimony of Peter. It awaits only his seal. Gregory has been thinking and praying intently over this, and he feels the presence of Francis of Assissi at his shoulder. It is the Republic of St. Peter that brought Christendom low, the quest for temporal power that put the Papacy at odds with so many princes, kings and emperors. It is the mortal sin within Christendom that opened the door to the Tatars and caused the destruction of the unity of the Latin Church. With the Church reunited, he will renounce the temporal power of the papacy.

    The heirs of Peter the fisherman will once again walk humbly before God and Man, and shall be exalted for it.

    The Tatar emissary nods. Done.

    *****

    (Republic of Venice, February, 1259)

    Doge Ranier Zeno has lived one hell of a life. He had been in the middle of whatever the Lion City had been up to for the better part of 20 years until his elevation to the ducal throne in 1253. He knows the sudden, lurching tilt of a galley deck as it was grappled and boarded. He knows what it was to have his life depending upon the strength and speed of his sword-arm.

    And he can honestly say that he has never been genuinely, hair-on-the-back-of-his-neck-rising frightened until the Tatar emissary, looks at him, ever so cooly, and says,

    "And then Heaven knows what will happen."

    Zeno's mouth goes dry. Controlling his motions carefully so as not to betray any signs of fear, he reaches carefully for the cup of wine on the table next to his throne in the audience chamber. As he drinks, he tries to calm himself down through sure force of will.

    This is wrong, this is all so very wrong.

    ***

    First of all, there shouldn't even be a Mongol general standing in his audience chamber. For seventeen years, the Khan had been sending a variety of emissaries, all carefully inoffensive. Nestorian prelates, mostly. But now, out of nowhere, this stinking pagan bahadur in his brocade robe, leather armor, fur hat and felt boots shows up with a golden tablet from Sartak and a curt demand for an audience. Zeno, who was expecting the visit, but was stunned by the visitor, knew this was bad. So he had first played for time. The Doge convened an emergency session of the the Pregadi [Senate], who were the final authority in foreign affairs, and reswore his oath to report faithfully upon all that transpired between him and the Tatar, and to make no agreement binding the City of St. Mark unless the Pregadi approved. And then he had met with the Mongol.

    Second of all, the Tatars were Venice's _allies_. They should not be dealing with him this way. This Boroldai can't just walk in here and start telling him what to do. But that is what he did. Without anything in the way of the customary pleasantries, the Tatar general had informed him that Sartak was assembling a great army.

    Zeno knew that. Every Venetian ortok in Europe doubled as an intelligence agent for the Republic.

    Boroldai then told him that this army would be embarking for the Land of Sham.

    Well, duh, thought Zeno. The Pope has proclaimed a _Crusade_.

    Venice, said Boroldai, will transport the Khan's soldiers to the Land of Sham.

    This, Zeno took from the general's tone, and the words chosen by his interpreter, was not a request. But he decides that he will play it off - he knew that Sartak would be asking for Venetian help.

    Of course, said Zeno briskly, the Republic is willing to aid the Khan. There will, of course, be compensation. One-fourth of every town, exclusive status as ortoks within Hulegu's lands. This is the arrangement that the Pregadi approved. It is, in essence, a variation of the standing deal Venice had with Batu.

    Boroldai shook his head. No.

    Zeno almost lept from his throne and rounded on the man. No?!? What do you mean no?!? But he kept his cool. Surely, he said, the Khan does not expect Venice to offer its services without just compensation?

    The Tatar blew up. compensation?!? You dare speak to me of compensation?!? Your wretched city has been growing fat from the Khan for years! It is not he who should be paying you, it is you who must do service for him!

    Zeno was unfazed by display, but still bewildered that the Khan would turn on the City of St. Mark like this. But he was a Venetian, not unused to hard bargaining, and reassured himself that Sartak was merely attempting to get a good deal. He smiled. And if we decline?

    Boroldai smiled back. Then the Khan will consider you to be a declared rebel, and meet out just punishment for rebels. You have no soldiers. Who will lift a finger to help you?

    Zeno considered that for a moment. This Boroldai is a sharp one.

    The Tatar must know.

    Several weeks ago, Zeno got a response from King Alfonso X of Castille. Zeno had requested an alliance against Jaime I of Aragon, and thought that Alfonso might be willing to join Venice in a war against its primary Christian rival in Iberia. Alfonso's reply was blistering denounciation of Venetian collaboration with the Tatars and condemnation of "the insatiable rapacity of the Venetians and their thirst for power." It was not a diplomatic note - it was a manifesto calling for the destruction of Venice's maritime domination of the Mediterranean and its commercial supremacy in Europe. Just yesterday, Zeno learned that the newly-crowned King of France [Louis X just turned 16 and assumed the throne] had ordered it published throughout his realm.

    Venice stood alone.

    But Zeno had just smiled again at the Tatar commander. We are, as you no doubt noticed, in a lagoon, with miles of water between us an the shoreline -

    Boroldai cut him off. The Khan has ships. He can bring them into your lagoon ...

    And that's when the Tatar general said the words that made the hair on the back of Zeno's neck stand up.

    This was no hardball negotiation.

    This was cooperate or die.

    ***

    Zeno takes Boroldai's ultimatim back to the Pregadi, which promptly erupts in anger and bewilderment. The Senators can't understand. Decades of friendship, now suddenly threats?

    But there was one greybeard who stands to speak. "The Tatars, Christian or heathen, have no friends. They have enemies and slaves, that is all."

    And everyone is silent.

    They all know that Sartak would not have to invade to wreak great havok upon Venice. Simply revoking the Ortok franchise would cause significant hardship, and the Khan could rather easily divest Venetian podestas from the towns of Lombardy. And the Venetian terra firma, although not extensive, was highly vulnerable. By binding themselves to the Tatars, the men of the Pregadi now fully realize, they have made themselves dependant.

    And this is not a particularly good time for the Republic to face mortal crisis. For years, wealth has poured into the Lion City from every quarter. Venice's trade with the East thrives within Pax Mongolica and its exclusive ortok status to the Khan is a huge cash cow. The Republic's colonies in the Ursulines are paying off handsomely - sugar, bhang and spices. Of the latter, we are still talking ginger [FN33.03.01], native peppers and allspice. Much to the frustration of everyone concerned, the effort to transplant spices from Malabar and the Spice Islands of the Indies have failed miserably. Anyone who heads out doesn't make it back, but the successful transplantation of ginger in the Ursulines has given new imeptus to the effort.

    Virtually everyone in Venice is making money - lots of money. The loca system spearheads a great democratization of wealth, spreading money throughout the City - it seems like even the most humble Venetians have shares the innumerable business ventures. The shares are negotiable - out by the Pietra del Bando, a pilar near the basilica - a great open-air market in shares is set up, where they are bought, sold, bartered, traded discounted and pledged for security. Many of the shares are in one-off enterprises, trading expeditions of the usual sort. Others are more long term ventures - sugar plantations in the Ursulines are the most common. Initial outlays are big, but eventually the returns are bigger.

    One would think that the spread of wealth throughout the population of the Lion City would be cause for celebration, but not everyone is happy. The older families, the "case vecchie," who are used to having a lock on power and prestige are profoundly threatened by the rise of the newly rich. In 1259, the old guard strikes, amending the fundamental law of the Republic to limit who can serve on the Maggior Consiglio ("Great Council"), which holds the reigns of power in Venice. It is the "serrata del Maggior Consiglio," the closing of the Great Council. Through a complex set of criteria [FN33.04], the Venetian aristocracy turns what was technically a democratic republic dependant upon the will of the people into an outright oligarchy.

    This back-room maneuver goes down not at all well with the general populous. While most Venetians consider public service to be a distraction from making big ducats (something that dampens the outrage), there is a very sour mood in the city among those who suddenly find themselves demoted to second-class citizenship.

    In other words, not the best time for everyone to find out that the government of Venice has a Tatar knife to its throat. So, the Senate decides they will recommend to the Maggior Consiglio that Venice "voluntarily" join the Crusade - something that will prove to be popular, and keep secret the exact circumstances of that particular decision.

    The question is then put to the Maggior Consiglio. Cynical observers note that in the new, closed Venetian government, there is no consideration given to submitting the issue to the Arengo, the great gathering of the Venetian people, as was done with the Fourth Crusade. Venetians are typically reluctant crusaders. They are generally too hard-headed to be swept along by popular religious enthusiasms. But this is different - the fever that convulses Europe has even swept into the Lion City.

    Venice is in.

    The world's greatest land power - the Mongol Empire - is now formally allied with the West's greatest sea power - Venice - in a death struggle against Dar al-Islam. If there ever is to be a Clash of Civilizations, this is going to be it.

    Of course, even a faithful and diligent slave can expect, if not compensation, then perhaps a reward ...

    TO BE CONTINUED

    [FN33.00] OTL, Louis IX's 1249-1250 crusade against Egypt figured into the Mamluks taking over Egypt. Of course, in ATL there was no such crusade and no Frankish defeat at . But by my thinking, having Baybars around Egypt was kind of like having Napoleon around France - he was going to take a stab at power no matter what happened.

    [FN33.01] A fact that does not make him popular within his appanage in Poland in ATL.

    [FN33.02] Some sources claim that the Jochid line actually had a claim to _all_ of what became the il-Khanate by grant of Genghis Khan, who granted Jochi the territory 'as far west as Mongol horses had trodden.' According to this thinking, much of Persia was actually Batu's by right before Hulegu showed up. Hulegu then 'rebelled' against Batu in setting up the il-Khanate. This will resurface later, but for now the claim is dormant.

    [FN33.02.01] I know this is the fourth major Mongol figure whose death I have delayed - Ogedei, Batu, Sartak and now Mongke. I don't consider this putting the thumb on the scales too much, since most of them died from easily-avoidable causes, which could have been delayed a bit.

    [FN33.03] The money that would have ordinarily gone to the Pope (Peter's Pence, etc) has been collected throughout Batu's reign, but it has been kept by local prelates. Some Mongol appenage holders have not been particularly Yasa-compliant and have confiscated the funds.

    [FN33.03.01] The Europeans in the Ursulines have obtained live ginger from the Chinese in Mu-lan-P'i, who grew it in box-gardens on their ships to ward off scurvy, a practice the Europeans adopt, once ginger becomes common enough.

    [FN33.04] Everything about the Venetian electoral system is torturously complex. Baffle your way to tyranny. We could do the 50kb explanation about how the Doge was elected, but that's a bit OT here. Imagine if the U.S. Electoral College elected other electors, who then put the names of the candidates into a hat, which was picked through by chimps, who then had to pray for two days. Those they selected had to play "spin the bottle" ... You get the idea.

    Empty America: Part 34 - Fox on the Run (Part III)
    [Kingdom of Foix, Spring, 1292]

    Getting into the manor house, Chantecler thought, was really much too easy.
    If he was a rich gentile planter with an army of mercenaries camped out on
    his lawn, he would probably keep the place buttoned up a bit tighter. But
    it is dusk, and it looks to Chantecler like there is a big party going on.

    A really big party. Like there was somebody important there.

    It is a big party indeed, with all the trimmings. So Chantecler, Lu Yau and
    Hermeline manage to make their way into the house around without attracting
    much notice. They skulk around, mingling with the help, filching a little
    food here and there (they are all starved, not having brought anything with
    them) and trying to get the lay of the land. It is a grand house, an
    expansive, one-story, wood and plaster version of what Chantecler assumes
    must be the Languedoc style of manor. To judge by the fixtures, the rugs
    and the flagstone floor, the master of the house must be doing very well by
    himself. The quality folk are gathered in the great room, feasting at a
    great table and listening to the expatriate troubadours of Languedoc sing
    songs of love and loss:

    "Stars shining bright above you
    Night breezes seem to whisper 'I love you'
    Birds singin' in the sycamore tree
    Dream a little dream of me ..."

    While he munches on a drumstick and whistles along with the music,
    Chantecler strokes his wig and starts feeling vaguely irritated that none of
    the men at the party had so much as given him a second look. Was it the
    shoes, the dress? I mean, its not like he got to pick out his own wardrobe,
    not to mention the fact that he didn't know there was going to be a party
    and he can't help it if he spent the whole day in the hot sun tramping up a
    dusty road, with no chance to tidy up before ...

    Chantecler blinks twice. Hard. Oh, that's just _wrong_.

    Feeling kind of like he needed to ground himself a little bit in the here
    and now, he takes a closer look around The guy at the head of the table,
    who everyone is fawning over, is wearing a ... crown. He had been so
    focused on trying to stay incognito that he had not noticed it before.

    Its the king. They are crashing a party for the King of Foix.

    "Say nighty-night and kiss me
    Just hold me tight and tell me you'll miss me
    While I'm alone and blue as can be
    Dream a little dream of me ..."

    Now this, _this_ could be trouble. Oh, Chantecler was not particularly
    worried about the King himself. Raymond Roger was famously easy-going. In
    fact, unless you were a stubborn cleric trying to publish a bull of
    excommunication, it was highly unlikely that the King of Foix would ever so
    much as raise his voice to a dinner guest, even one who had shown up
    uninvited. But still, hosts could be kind of irritable about this sort of
    thing with important company in attendance. Odds are, if they were
    discovered, they would likely be quietly taken care of in a very unpleasant
    fashion.

    "Stars fading but I linger on dear
    Still craving your kiss
    I'm longing to linger till dawn dear
    Just saying this ..."

    This rather disconcerting realization sets him to thinking. What the hell
    were they doing here? I mean, they really don't have any idea exactly _how_
    they are going to find out where the Grand Catalan company are headed. The
    planning really just got as far as dressing them as whores and then, well,
    the thunderbird arrived and things got kind of vague from there. For
    obvious reasons, Chantecler was not real keen on getting, y'know, cozy with
    any of the guests who were feasting in the Great Hall. Not only was this a
    dumb idea, it wasn't even a _whole_ dumb idea. Well, if he is going to risk
    his neck here, they need an actual plan.

    "Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you
    Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you
    But in your dreams whatever they be
    Dream a little dream of me ..."

    So he gestures to Hermeline, and Lu Yau, and they duck through the kitchen
    into the buttery, where they talk it out. It takes Hermeline to point out
    the obvious - if they _posed_ as servants, they could circulate among the
    guests and maybe overhear something. when a small man burst in upon them.
    So they needed some trays or something to carry around.

    "Aha! They told me there were strangers in the kitchen. Explain
    yourselves." He says, rather imperiously, crossing his arms.

    Lu Yau raised is eyebrows. "And who is it who is asking after strangers in
    the kitchen?"

    "I am Jaume, Master of the Revels! And you are ..."

    Chantecler rolls his eyes as Lu launches into the whole pimp-and-prostitutes
    cover story.

    The little Master of the Revels harrumphs, and looks at Chantecler and
    Hermeline rather distastefully. "Well, I am sure that the Captain of the
    Company would appreciate the gesture, but not the ... ladies. And I am
    certainly not going to allow them to mingle with the company in the great
    hall." Jaume smiles, as if he just thought of something. "You are no doubt
    unfamiliar with Bishop Bernard, but I have no doubt that he will welcome the
    amusement after his long sea voyage." Jaume smirks wickedly at Lu.
    "Although after the amount of wine he has imbibed, I doubt if he will be
    able to take full advantage of the opportunity. I will have a servant take
    your two girls to his room, and send the Bishop up after."

    It suddenly occurs to Chantecler that if they actually took him to the
    Bishop, what then? I mean, it is not like he can pass for a woman with
    these clothes off. He has a vision of an enraged prelate summoning the
    guards. So he does the only thing that occurs to him - he punches little
    Jaume hard in the solar plexus. Lu Yau jumps in, doing something to the
    side of Jaume's neck and he collapses. Then they both stuff Jaume into an
    empty barrel and plop the lid on top.

    "What was that about?" exclaims Hermeline.

    "I'm not doing this anymore," says Chantecler, tearing off the wig. "If he
    got us up to the Bishop's room, what then?"

    Hermeline exclaims, "Didn't you hear him? The Bishop is here, with the
    Company, after a long sea voyage. He must be the Pope's legate for the
    crusade! If we could have gotten into his room, we could have - Oh, no."

    Chantecler turns around to see what startled Hermeline. There is a serving
    wench in the doorway to the buttery, her mouth agape. No doubt she just saw
    them cold-cock the Master of the Revels and jam him into a barrel. His eyes
    flash to Lu, whose hand had just slipped into his robe. The daggers!
    Without thinking, Chantecler whips out his hand and clamps it on Lu's arm.
    "No! You can't -"

    And then the serving girl starts screaming.

    ***

    Fortunately, the buttery has its own door to the outside, so Lu Yau,
    Chantecler and Hermeline bolt for it and go sprinting around the back of the
    manor house into the deepening dusk.

    Chantecler, who has jammed the wig back on his head for the lack of anything
    else to do with it, is furious. "You just can't go around killing serving
    wenches, Lu Yau!"

    "I have my mission for the Emperor, and you have jeopardized it with your
    interference!" Lu shoots back. "Now the whole house is alert and after us!"

    "Alert" was overstating things a bit, from what Chantecler had seen in the
    great hall. All the guests had been reveling with great enthusiasm, and
    when the alarm sounds there is a lot of stumbling about and crashing of
    metal on metal as the host's men and the King's familiars scramble to strap
    on their swords and join the chase.

    But they definitely were after them. Chantecler could hear the shouts and
    the thud of footsteps as they charged about the house and grounds searching
    for Jaume's assailants.

    "Chantecler, do you know who it was you punched?" Hermeline asks, as they
    run along, hugging the wall and hoping to stay out of sight.

    "Sure, the Master of the Revels. The guy this Earl pays to run his parties.
    So what?"

    Hermeline laughs. "You've never been to court, have you? That was the
    _King's_ Master of the Revels. He must have been on loan."

    Chantecler really did not need to hear that. Good-humored fellow or not, no
    King lets commoners go around slugging his familiars. And from what
    Chantecler knows about good-time Raymond Roger, he probably favors his
    Master of the Revels above all others.

    "Up, through the window!" Lu Yau commands. And before Chantecler can say
    that the smart thing to do would be to make for the stables and fast horses
    and get the hell out of here, the Cathayan is boosting Hermeline up and,
    after she pushes aside the light shutters, through a window in the side of
    the manor house. He gestures to Chantecler, who shakes his head ruefully
    but steps into Yau's laced fingers and lets him shove him up and inside.

    It is a bedroom. A pretty nice one, too, from what Chantecler can see in
    the flickering lamp-light, with rugs, a writing desk and stool, a good sized
    bed and a very large wardrobe. The master of the house must be keen on
    treating his guests right.

    More out of force of habit than anything else, Chantecler starts to toss the
    room. Nothing under the bed, and something is holding the doors of the
    wardrobe shut, so he pokes around at the writing desk. There are a lot of
    official-looking parchments there.

    "Can either of you two read?"

    "No," says Hermeline. "Not something they taught the girls in my last job."

    "I can be of no help, unless it is Pai-Hua [Chinese]," says Lu Yau, "I never
    learned to read the languages of the Fu-Lang [Franks]."

    Chantecler peers closely at the papers. "And it's not Hebrew, French
    [FN34.01] or Norse, so I am no good. It looks like Latin. Who is
    'Berenguer de Rocafort' and what is a 'passagium particulare?' They are all
    over this thing."

    Hermeline is looking over his shoulder. "Look at that seal! This has to be
    important, a warrant or something."

    "And 'Curia Romana' ..." Chantecler frowns. "That has to be Rome! This is
    from the Pope in Rome! Instructions for the crusade, I imagine."

    Suddenly, there is a fumbling rattle at the door. Chantecler stuffs the
    parchment inside his dress, then looks around wildly for someplace to hide.
    Lu Yau is gone! What the devil?! He grabs Hermeline's hand and pulls her
    over to the wardrobe, and yanks with all his might on the doors, which fly
    open. Chantecler pushes Hermeline in and pulls the doors closed behind him.

    "Hermeline," he whispers to the body pressed close to him. This could get
    embarrassing - Chantecler had been without a woman for some time and, well
    he always thought she was pretty, so, um ...

    "I think he's talking to you, senyoreta," the body whispers back a decidedly
    male, decidedly un-Cathayan voice.

    There was someone else in the wardrobe with them.

    "What are you doing in here?" Chantecler hisses.

    "I could ask you the same thing, could I not, senyor? Do you feel that?"

    Chantecler does.

    "Do not make any sudden moves or cry out. That is the tip of my dagger."

    Chantecler sounds as glum as he is, "And here I thought you were just glad
    to see me."

    TO BE CONTINUED

    [FN34.01] The pre-Expulsion Jews of England came over from Normandy with
    Willie the Bastard. For a long time after that, the literate ones among
    them continued to speak and write French fluently.

    Empty America: Part 35 - Desolation Angels (Part II)
    [County of Tripoli, February, 1260]

    Treniota stands in front of his tent flap and sighs deeply. He looks up at
    the lintel, supported by posts on either side. It is two carved wooden
    horses, rampant, forming the archway. They were to keep evil spirits away.
    Treniota signed again. He supposes they worked. There were no evil spirits
    _inside_ the ducal tent, after all. Glumly, he goes in.

    Eufemia was there, sitting upright on a stool, her long, black hair being
    attended to by two of her slaves. She turns and sees the expression on
    Treniota's face, then quickly orders the girls out of the tent. He
    collapses onto an oversized cushion - there are some comforts in this
    nightmare place, at least for princes - and she comes up behind him, kneels
    down, and starts rubbing his shoulders through his cloak and tunic.

    "Was it bad?"

    Treniota nods and groans appreciatively as she kneads the knotted muscles.
    "He did it again."

    Eufemia makes a small noise of revulsion, and says quietly, "Disgusting
    creatures."

    She would get no argument from them, although he did reflexively glance
    around to make sure the were not overheard. They _were_ disgusting.
    Treniota knew the Mongols were savage, murderous warriors, putting to the
    sword their enemies without regard for age or sex. He was a soldier
    himself. He could understand that - it was a hard world, full of hard
    deeds. But it is just so unnerving, and did not become any less so every
    time it happened. He had been standing there, listening to Baydar lecture
    him on how Treniota and his men need to get along with the Christians, when
    suddenly the Mongol just pulled down his trousers and, without so much as a
    pause in the conversation, just shit on the ground. [FN35.01]

    At the time, Treniota had kept his face impassive. He had been through this
    before. But these blunt reminders that the Tatars were so damn alien
    occasionally really shook him. Treniota had listened, nodded, and "Yes,
    bahadur"-ed and "No, bahadur"-ed, and "Of course, bahadur"-ed his way out of
    there as quickly as he decently could. Even with a Mongol general who shat
    in the dirt in mid-conversation, there was protocol to keep.

    In his tent, Eufemia wraps her arms around his chest and hugs him, resting
    her chin on his shoulder. "Remember why we are here, husband."

    Treniota sighed again. The deal. When the Mongols came to the eastern
    shores of the Baltic Sea, they had extirpated the last remnants of the
    Teutonic Knights and then crushed the army of his uncle, King Mindaugus.
    Treniota, through some adroit maneuvering, had managed to convince Batu to
    anoint him Grand Duke, and had vowed to be an obedient vassal of the Khan of
    the Franks. Through his efforts - obsequious submission and the sending of
    high-ranking hostages - the Tatar Yoke lay comparatively lightly on
    Lithuania. There was no Tatar darugha overseeing him, no tammachi soldiers
    occupying his lands. While Treniota consolidated his hold on his new realm,
    he assiduously paid his tribute and provided his troops to the Khan.

    But he really did expect to be left out of the Crusade. I mean - Lithuania
    was a pagan state, after all, and Perkunas was not commanding them to save
    some holy groves. And the Mongols - even Christian ones like Sartak -
    tended to acknowledge to the status of non-Christians within the Khanate.
    There won't be any Jews conscripted for the Crusade, for example. But, much
    to Treniota's surprise, an ilghi [envoy] from Sartak showed up with a demand
    that he muster two thousand horse for the Christian Holy Land. More than a
    little put out - and very puzzled - Treniota dispatched agents to Rome,
    where Sartak was camped at the moment, to register a protest and find out
    what was going on.

    Treniota's agents did not initially manage to meet with Sartak himself, but
    they do confer with some of his high officials. The Lithuanians, led by
    Daumantas of Nalisia, Treniota's chief deputy, related how offensive
    Sartak's demand is. The Lithuanians are very tolerant of the Christians in
    their midst - Treniota even has several Catholic priests working in his
    court - but the Lithuanians refuse be treated as if they are Christians
    themselves. The Tatars took Treniota's concerns to Sartak, who immediately
    brought Daumantas and the others to his tent, where he gave them the scoop
    with startling bluntness: some of the more traditionalist Mongols were up in
    arms about Sartak seeking papal blessing for a crusade. Sartak feared that,
    while he is in the Holy Land, they might try some move against him. With
    the great enthusiasm for the Crusade amongst his Christian subjects, Sartak
    was not concerned about any potential rebels getting support from them, but
    the pagans of Lithuania ... that's a different story. So he wanted to have
    Treniota close at hand. But if it was going to be a problem, maybe Sartak
    could sweeten the deal a bit.

    And sweeten it he did. Sartak told Daumantas Treniota bites the bullet (so
    to speak) and accompanies Sartak on crusade, he will give him the Teutonic
    Knights' lands at the eastern end of the Baltic. Livonia, including Riga,
    in fee simple absolute - subject, of course, to Mongol taxation. Daumantas
    is stunned - or at least he tells Treniota. Livonia! For merely two
    thousand mounted troops for the Crusade, a drop in the bucket of this mighty
    host! Sartak, Treniota figured, must be _very_ concerned about a challenge
    from the conservative Mongols and is buying the willing loyalty a Lithuanian
    ally at a very high price.

    But he must go on crusade. His initial misgivings were dispelled by his
    wife, who insisted that me must go through with it. Eufemia is a Vetula
    [priestess] of the cult of Dimstapatis, but she is all for him going on
    crusade. Think of the empire he will be able to leave to their sons!
    [FN35.03] And so he went, with his wife and two thousand Lithuanian pagan
    horsemen. Daumantas stayed behind as Regent, to keep a lid on the grumbling
    Lithuanian bajoras [nobles], who, like Sartak's traditionalists, are very
    discontented at the thought of their prince heading off on what is, after
    all, a Christian endeavor. It was a journey rife with hardships, across the
    breadth of the lands of the Rus, but Sartak's writ eased his passage by
    commanding all he encountered to provide him with sustenance. And then to a
    Venetian ship at Caffa for the trip to the Christians' Holy Land.

    And here he was, in this hot, dry, brown place, a continent away from the
    cool green of his homeland. It has been a trial. Their billet outside of
    the port of Tripoli is awful, a collection of run-down Arab houses for them,
    and wretched grazing for their horses. Officially, it is because the
    Lithuanians were among the last to arrive, but Treniota suspects
    discrimination. Relations with the Christians verge on open warfare. That
    is what caused Baydar to summon Treniota for a dressing-down. One of
    Treniota's comrades had died of fever and a troop of Italian Crusaders had
    stumbled across them in the middle of a traditional Lithuanian funeral -
    they had stacked the kindling to burn the deceased and his horse. The
    Italian commander had objected strenuously to the waste of good horseflesh,
    but Treniota believed that they simply objected to the pagan rite in the
    middle of a Crusade. Words were exchanged - and the fact that they had to
    go through two translators did not assist in understanding or cool the
    passions - and the men on both sides had been ready to draw swords when
    intercession on the pagans' behalf came from a very unlikely source. A
    German knight arrived before the first blow was struck and took the Italian
    commander aside. Treniota did not hear what was said, but he distinctly
    thought that the German was telling the Italian knight to take it easy with
    "our" Lithuanians [FN35.04]. The Italians rode off in a huff, and the
    Lithuanians committed their comrade and his horse to the afterlife.

    And Treniota found himself taken to watch his commander take a dump on the
    ground.

    Sitting now, in his tent, he sighs again, and Eufemia hugs him harder and
    strokes his hair. He would remember all of this, the humiliations large and
    small, and pass it on to his son, who could pass it on to his son, and down
    through the ages. And someday, when the time is right, they would turn the
    tables on these people, and Lithuania would be free, and greater than ever.

    ***

    [Egypt and Syria, 1260-63]

    As usual, the Mongols have picked their target well - at least their initial
    target. Syria is ripe for the taking. Syria, like China, like Europe, is
    divided. Since the fall of the sultan in Cairo, Ayyubid princelings have
    the various provinces of Syria as their personal domains. The most
    powerful, al-Nasir Yusuf bin al-Aziz rules Aleppo and Damascus. His
    subordinate, al-Mansur Muhammad bin al-Muzaffar Mahmud rules in Hama, and
    the odd amir out - al-Mughith Umar bin al-Adil bu Bakr bin al-Kamil Muhammad
    reigns in Karak, entirely independent of Damascus and Cairo. And roaming
    all about, owing only technical allegiance to anyone, are the Bedouin.

    And, unfortunately, the only one of them who could have rallied Syria to
    resist the Mongol onslaught, al-Nasir in Damascus, is a weak and indecisive
    ruler. Technically, he submitted to the Mongols years before, having sent a
    delegation to Karakorum, but he later changes his mind and refuses Hulegu's
    call for troops for the assault on Baghdad. But after the fall of the
    Caliph, al-Nasir changes his mind again and offers an equivocal declaration
    of homage, dispatching his young son and a pro-Mongol advisor, al-Zayn
    al-Hafizi to Hulegu's court. This does not placate Hulegu one bit, who
    continues to demand that al-Nasir submit in person. Al-Nasir, while a
    weakling, is not foolish enough to offer himself up as a carpet-burrito to
    be kicked to death by Hulegu's horses. Al-Zayn, his supposed advisor, has
    decided he needs a new career path and urges Hulegu to invade the lands of
    his former master.

    Hulegu hardly needs encouragement. He has had enough of al-Nasir's
    prevarication and is ready to move. He has three sizable armies at his
    disposal. For logistical reasons, Hulegu intends only to move about twenty
    thousand of his own troops into Syria from the north, but his cousin Sartak
    has done him a good turn. There are fifteen thousand Crusaders encamped in
    and around Tripoli, and another twelve thousand at Acre.

    The Khan and the Doge have worked a miracle, hundreds of galleys [FN35.05]
    transporting thousands of troops across the Mediterranean with unprecedented
    speed and efficiency. They not only transport the men, but they also keep
    them supplied with food, fodder and weaponry. In all the West, only the
    Mongols and the Venetians could have managed it.

    In March of 1260, Hulegu moves south, towards Damascus, and on his signal,
    the Crusader armies move with him. The army at Tripoli, under the command of
    Hulegu's general Berke [FN35.06]. Serving under Berke is Prince Bohemund VI
    of Antioch, who also has sovereignty over Tripoli and has wangled command of
    the Frankish Crusader forces. It is a bit of domestic strategy on Sartak's.
    He has eliminated or stripped feudal authority from the Empire's governing
    nobles, and he has no intention whatsoever of elevating the status of any of
    them by appointing a German or Italian to command the Frankish Crusaders.
    But he does need one - friction between Mongol officers and Christian
    soldiers has risen to dangerous levels, and there simply must be a buffer.
    The Mongols are insufferably arrogant, as soldiers on a divine mission to
    work their will on the world will tend to be. The Franks who have served
    with Sartak's forces before are used to it, but there are many who have not,
    and the risk of confrontation is escalating.

    Bohemund is a good pick - he is pro-Mongol and has been for some time, but
    his status as ruler of one of the Latin outposts in the Levant gives him
    prestige among the Crusaders. And he knows the lay of the ground and the
    opponent they will be facing. It is a fairly good deal for him, too - not
    only is he elevated to a major command, but he also now has the chops to
    overrule the sizable opposition to his rule among his own people. Also,
    Sartak and Hulegu guarantee the independence of both the County of Tripoli
    and the Principality of Antioch, with some territorial additions, requiring
    him to only make technical obiescence to Hulegu. Bohemund's decision is
    heavily influenced by his father-in-law, King Het'um of Lesser Armenia, who
    is already a Mongol vassal and major contributor to Hulegu's attacks on dar
    al-Islam.

    So when the balloon goes up, Hulegu moves west, crossing the Euphrates at
    al-Raqqa and pushing towards the Ayyubid fortress of Qal'at Ja'bar. Berke
    and Bohemund, four hundred miles away, strike southeastward towards Baalbek,
    to take up blocking position between Damascus and Hulegu's army. The second
    Frankish crusader army, massed at Acre, also moves.

    Acre is an odd duck among the Crusader states. While technically part of
    the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Acre is ruled by a fractious coalition of Frankish
    Barons, the military orders and Venetian merchant princes [FN35.061].
    Bohemund's sister, Queen Plaisance of Cyprus, is Regent for her son Hugh II
    of Cyprus [FN35.07]. The arrival of Hugh and Plaisance in Acre doesn't help
    things much, as the men on the spot are not keen on being pushed aside by a
    young boy and his mother who have been living it up elsewhere while they
    have been fighting for the Kingdom.

    So, it has had a tough time formulating a coherent policy vis-a-vis the
    Crusade. The few Genoese in Acre are, of course, very leery of the Mongols
    and the Venetians. The barons fear both the Mongols and the Mamluks. The
    Military Orders are keen to preserve their independence, but also eager to
    play a major role in the Crusade. Out of this muddle comes a wary agreement
    to host a Latin crusading army, so long as suitable guarantees are given
    that they will not lose status in the new regime. It is the Master of the
    Teutonic Knights, Anno von Sangerhausen, who finally persuades the others
    that they are obliged to fully participate in the Crusade. From the
    experience in Europe, the Master knows what the Mongols do to those who try
    to stop them.

    And so, the Crusaders strike south out Acre, marching on Nablus with all
    speed. They are tasked with seizing the city and also reinforcing Jaffa,
    establishing themselves as the first line of defense should the Mamluks move
    north through the Holy land. When Hulegu and Berke have defeated al-Nasir
    in Syria, they will join the southernmost army for the march on Jerusalem.
    Ulaghchi, Sartak's young son and also a Nestorian Christian, is titular
    commander of Crusader forces at Acre, but he leans heavily on his Mongol
    subordinates, but he forms a fast friendship with Master von Sangerhausen.

    Jerusalem! For Franks, this is what it is all about. Sartak and Hulegu
    have promised to reestablish the Kingdom of Jerusalem _in_ Jerusalem. It's
    status is to be a bit complex. Hulegu is firm in his assertion that he has
    a writ from Great Khan Mongke to rule up to the borders of Egypt, but to
    obtain Sartak's cooperation, he is willing to hand over Jerusalem and
    Bethlehem as Sartak's appenage. While Hulegu has some Christian sympathies
    and his wife is a Nestorian Christian, the il-Khan is a Mongol conqueror
    first. Sartak, for his part, is keen to set himself as Protector of the
    Holy Sepulchre and plays things fast and loose with Queen Plaisance and Hugh
    about what exactly it is they are to rule in the Holy Land, and under what
    conditions.

    As Hulegu's and Sartak's elaborate plan for crushing the Ayyubids in Syria
    while preventing Mamluk intervention rolls on, it slowly dawns upon both of
    them that they really needn't have gone to so much trouble. City after
    city, castle after castle, Syria falls virtually without a fight. Aleppo
    fights Hulegu's troops, resists for a month, and is destroyed. Bohemund and
    Berke take Baalbek, north of Damascus. Because they have orders not to take
    on al-Nasir's forces alone, they turn north and follow the Orentes river to
    Hama, which surrenders without a fight. In Hama, they link up with Hulegu's
    forces, fresh from the sack of Aleppo. Together, they turn south, and ride
    like hell for Damascus.

    Further south, the Crusaders of Acre, Ulaghchi and the others, have
    accomplished their mission and taken Nablus. There are no Mamluk forces
    rushing up from Gaza to block, however. Crusader patrols do get in some
    fairly sharp fights with groups of Ayyubid deserters fleeing the fighting in
    northern Syria and trying to make their way to Egypt.

    With little else to do, people start getting strange ideas. In what is a
    very serious breach of Mongol march discipline, but standard operating
    procedure for Crusaders, Von Sangerhausen has Ulaghchi convinced that,
    instead of holding their positions, they should strike south to Jerusalem on
    their own. So, while Hulegu is laying into Aleppo, Ulaghchi, full of
    youthful enthusiasm for his first major campaign, goes for it, decamping
    from Nablus with about eight thousand men, a mixture of horse foot, and is
    on the Holy City. Unfortunately, their attempt to seize the city by coup
    fails at the y are bloodily repulsed by the Ayyubid garrison at the Mount
    Zion and Tanner's Gates.

    Word of Ulaghchi's setback is carried swiftly to Cairo by Mamluk
    relay-riders, where it reaches the ears of Sultan Sayf al-Din Qutiz and his
    second-in-command Baybars al-Bunduqdari. The relationship between Qutiz and
    Baybars is a bit strained. Before the Mongol attack on Syria, Baybars and
    his elite regiment angrily left Cairo because of Qutiz's involvement in the
    murder of one of Baybars' comrades. He had grown disgusted with Al-Nasir's
    inability to make a decision, so Baybars and his troops returned to Egypt
    and reconciled (so it would seem) with Qutiz. But now Baybars, learning of
    the failed Mongol attack on Jerusalem, wants to assemble his troops and
    smash the Frankish vanguard before the walls of the Holy City. Qutiz is
    less than keen about letting his best troops depart Egypt at this particular
    moment.

    Because Sartak himself, at the head of a force of twenty-five thousand
    Crusaders and Mongols, has landed on the coast of Egypt, seized Damietta and
    Fariskoor, and is marching on Cairo with all speed. The sultan has
    commanded every available man to converge on El Mansura and prepare for the
    counterattack.

    [I know I was talking about getting all of this done in one part, but now it
    is looking like two or so]

    TO BE CONTINUED

    [FN35.01] A rather startling Mongol habit that Western visitors (William of
    Rubruck in particular) observed with some dismay. LBJ was positively
    genteel by comparison - at least he closed the stall door.

    [FN35.03] At this point, Lithuania is almost completely cut off from the
    Baltic by the Order lands to the north and south. Think of a irregular
    teardrop shape, tilted southeast, with its tip just northeast of Memel.
    Adding Livonia to the Duchy will not only greatly expand its access to the
    sea, but it will also increase its overall size by about 40% or so.

    [FN35.04] There was some interesting occasional camaraderie between the
    Christians and the pagan Lithuanians. One Rus writer stated that, as pagans
    went, the Mongols were much worse than "our" Lithuanians.

    [FN35.05] And it is not just Venetian galleys, either - even before the
    plan for the Crusade arose, Sartak had been building Amalfi into a major
    port from which he can project his power into the Mediterranean.

    [FN35.06] Berke is not happy about having to attack his co-religionists at
    the head of a command made up largely of Christian crusaders. However,
    Hulegu has sweetened the deal for him, too, as we shall see.

    [FN35.061] ATL, there is no 1257 War of Saint-Sabas between the Venetians
    and Genoese in Acre. The Genoese presence is much more low-profile.

    [FN35.07] Will the fall of the Staufen and seizure of the Kingdom of Sicily
    by the Crown of Aragon and the death of Conradin, the Hohenstaufen claimant
    to the throne of Jerusalem, the question of who is entitled to be King of
    Jerusalem has become a bit muddled. Bohemund, with Sartak's support, sees
    to it that it goes to Hugh.

    Empty America: Part 36 - Desolation Angels (Part III)
    (Principality of Antioch, 1261)

    Jacopo Contarini moves with quick purposeful steps through the teeming,
    dusty streets of Port Saint-Simon. This is going to be tricky, he thinks,
    glancing around. There are soldiers everywhere, patrolling the streets,
    browsing the stalls in the market, or simply lounging about, harassing the
    Arabs. On the up side, there do not appear to be any Mongols about. So
    that means the plan is still on.

    Although he wears the distinctive hat and robes of a Venetian merchant,
    Contarini attracts scant attention from the crowd or the soldiers - there
    are many Venetians in Port Saint-Simon, Antioch's outlet to the
    Mediterranean. Hundreds tagged along with the Crusade, eager to snap up
    whatever wartime bargains that were to be had on Eastern goods (i.e. loot)
    and take advantage of cheap cargo space upon the troop transports that,
    having disgorged Crusaders in Syria, were heading back to Italy.

    But, as far as Contarini knew, there weren't any other Venetian merchants
    here on a special mission for the Emir of Grenada.

    ***

    (Emirate of Grenada, 1260)

    It started some time ago, when word of Sartak's crusade - and the critical
    role that Venice would play in it - was first sweeping through Europe.
    Contarini was in Almeria, a mid-level factor for the great House of Cornaro
    sugar concern, doing his usual business. Import, export, make sure the
    clerks kept honest figures and did not dip their fingers into the till.
    Nothing unusual or unduly challenging for a young Venetian. He was doing
    well, but he was bored. So he spent much of his free time exploring the
    city and becoming acquainted with several prominent Muslim families. He
    diligently studied Arabic until he was fluent, and he even read the Koran.
    But he was still restless - he wanted to get out into the world - the
    Ursulines, Ultima Thule, Hindustan, Terranova, Cathay. Al-Andalus had lost
    its exotic appeal, and sitting at a writing desk drafting memorials to his
    superiors and poking through godowns tallying inventory was starting to
    drive him to distraction. He was really thinking about just chucking it
    all - resigning his post and hopping the next ship to San Erasmus [Cuba].

    But it was then that he had been summoned to Cordoba into the presence of
    the Emir's Katib [chancellor]. Without any formalities, except for a curt
    grunt when Contarini entered, the Katib had risen from his chair and started
    nervously pacing the audience chamber. Contarini, who had been consumed by
    curiosity since he received the cryptic summons, couldn't take it any more.

    "Sahib appears to be agitated ..."

    The Katib looked at him sharply. "Yes, I am agitated! Of course I am
    agitated! Word has reached the Emir that the Doge of Venice will aid those
    sons of Shaitan, those murderers of the Caliph, the beloved of Allah, in
    attacking dar al-Islam!"

    Uh-oh, thought Contarini. He had suspected it would be something like this.
    Since news of the impending crusade had reached al-Andalus, relations
    between the Venetian merchants and their Muslim hosts had become very tense.
    In Seville, a Venetian godown had been burned and the local authorities -
    very contrary to their usual practice - had been most dilatory in
    investigating. In Cadiz, a merchant of the house of Gradenigo and his
    bodyguards had been jumped in broad daylight by a band of armed locals and
    murdered, and again, the civic guard had displayed some indifference to
    capturing the suspects. The attack had happened on a busy street, but no
    witnesses came forward.

    "Sahib, I do not what to say, except that I am no diplomat, no
    representative of the Doge. I cannot ..."

    The Katib cut him off again. "I have not called you here for what you can
    say, rather for what you can do in service of the Emir."

    The last time Contarini checked, he was a servant the House of Cornaro, not
    the Emir of Grenada, but he figured in times like these, courting good
    relations with the Emir could turn out to be very important for his
    employer. "If I can do any service for the Emir, consistent with my duties
    to my employer and my loyalty to the Republic, I am most willing to do so."

    The Katib grunted. "You are intelligent. You know something about the ways
    of the Faithful. You speak the language of the Prophet most fluently. And
    you have access to ships under contract with your employer? You can take
    order on voyages?"

    "I can make such arrangements, but I first must consult with my superiors
    before I ..."

    "There will be no need for that, I assure you."

    That made Contarini's eyebrows go up. Now how, exactly, did the Katib know
    that? And if he had talked to Contarini's employer, why was he talking to a
    mid-level agent?

    It was if the Katib had read his mind. "A shipping concern connected to
    your employer has, several days ago, received a contract - at very favorable
    terms - for transporting mercury to the Cathayans of Mu-lan-P'i. The Emir
    requires some brief use of one of those ships before he can fulfill his
    terms of the contract. No consequences will befall you for acting without
    express authorization."

    Now Contarini gets it. Quid pro quo. No explicit agreement with the House
    of Cornaro for the use of the ships. Make the arrangement with Contarini,
    not anyone of rank who could be ruined by some sort of shady deal with the
    Saracens.

    Just a mid-level fall-guy.

    For years, there have been on-again, off-again papal bans against dealing
    with the infidels, and the Cornaro have been buying indulgences from the
    bans for just as long. So this must be different. Weapons, Contarini
    thinks. It must be weapons - no indulgence lets you run wheelbows to the
    Saracens.

    It wasn't weapons.

    "Look at this," the Katib commanded, as he unfolded a green banner on the
    table. It was covered with beautifully embroidered Arabic text. It
    denounced the Emir in the harshest terms, accusing him of betraying Islam
    and "covering himself with the filth of the infidels." Strong stuff, and
    kind of alarming for an 'infidel' in al-Andalus like Contarini, who suddenly
    found himself remembering the Gradenigo merchant in Cadiz, murdered in broad
    daylight, by Saracen assailants.

    Contarini looked at the Katib.

    The Katib started pacing again. "Many banners like this have been appearing
    all over al-Andalus since the announcement of the newest Christian
    'crusade.' The people know that it is your Doge who will carry the armies
    of the farangi into the heart of dar al-Islam. And the people know that the
    Emir has made many arrangements with your Doge. Even though these
    arrangements have made the land rich - rich enough to defeat the infidels
    who would steal it from the Faithful - the people's anger over these
    dealings is rising."

    Contarini did not like this at all. Burned godowns, murdered merchants in
    the streets ... that was just the beginning.

    "The Emir needs something to enhance his stature at this critical time, to
    convince the people that he is still a commander of the Faithful."

    Contarini could not take it anymore. "But what does that have to do with
    me?"

    "The Emir needs the Caliph. Here. You are to get him."

    "But the Caliph is dead!"

    "He has an heir. You are to find him."

    ***

    (Syria, 1260-61)

    It takes some doing, but the Katib has promised him a reward "as befits an
    Emir's remembrance," so he perseveres. The Grenadans have a lot of ships,
    but the Emir knows that none flying the green banner of the Prophet will be
    welcome in Syrian waters during the crusade. He needs a Venetian ship with
    a Venetian crew. Contarini is not traveling alone - he has a team of eight
    Circassian mamluks [note the lower-case m], who can easily pass as
    Crusaders, once properly attired. The leader, Ali, specializes in covering
    Contarini's back as they make their way through the chaos of war-ravaged
    Syria looking for the heir to the Caliphal throne.

    So, when Bedouin storm out of the darkness and into their camp near Homs, it
    is Ali who shoves him face down into the sand as a scimitar whips over his
    head. Later, when a party of renegade Serbian mercenaries (who are in the
    midst of trying to seize the Crac des Chevaliers by stealth) attempt to hold
    them for ransom, it is Ali who slips away and - pretending to be an
    Armenian - summons the Templars for help. And after a brutal fight with
    Turkmen Ayyubid deserters near Banyas, it is Ali who digs a crossbow bolt
    out of Contarini's leg.

    Between battles, Contarini, Ali and their men keep picking up their quarry's
    trail and losing it again. The roads are swarming with Syrians fleeing the
    onrushing Mongols and Crusaders, and Contarini and his men gather as much
    information as they can. Most of the refugees are making for Gaza and
    (perceived) safety in Egypt, trying to evade the Mongol Karaghul [patrols].
    After months in-country, they at least know who they are looking for: Ahmad
    bin al-Imam al-Zahir. Al-Zahir had been a captive of the previous Caliph,
    and had (ironically enough) been set free after the fall of Baghdad to
    Hulegu's forces.

    Finally, they catch up with Al-Zahir outside Hebron, south of Jerusalem. He
    had been traveling incognito with a party of Bedouin. There is a tense
    standoff while the Crusader-clad Andalusians try to convince Al-Zahir that
    they are friends. Even after they manage to prove their bona fides, they
    are rather startled to discover that Al-Zahir did not _want_ to go to
    Grenada. He had some damn-fool idea about Cairo and leading the resistance
    from there. They argue all through the evening. Ali, frustrated beyond
    endurance, gets in a screaming match with Al-Zahir over his duty to Islam.
    Through the night, while everyone else is asleep while Ali and Contarini sit
    at the campfire and contemplate killing Al-Zahir's bodyguard and simply
    kidnapping him. Then, at daybreak, a Mongol patrol stumbles upon them and a
    desperate fracas breaks out between the Mongols and Al-Zahir's Bedouins.
    Contarini sees his opportunity, and shouts to Ali to grab Al-Zahir. While
    other mamluks fight both the Mongols and the Bedouin, Ali and Contarini
    struggle with the would-be Caliph. Contarini is grappling blindly with
    Al-Zahir in the middle of the battle, when the Arab abruptly goes limp.
    Contarini lets him collapse to the ground and in the flickering fire-light
    he sees the Mongol arrow protruding from his back.

    Contarini kicks the corpse savagely. The hell with _this_. Months without
    end roaming through the desert, sleeping in the dirt with the snakes and the
    insects, blundering into fights with Saracens, Crusaders, Mongols, all for
    _nothing_. He hurls himself furiously into the fright, taking his anger out
    on the attacking Mongols, who are quickly driven off. The Bedouin scattered
    once they saw that their charge had fallen.

    When the dust settles, Contarini sits down heavily in the dirt and runs his
    hands through his hair. Nothing to do now but head home. And by home he
    means Venice. He will send Ali and the mamluks on to Grenada, but he is
    going home. He is going to go home, and he is going to eat some good food
    and sleep in a soft bed with a beautiful woman and father a horde of
    children, and he is never, ever going to leave the Lion City again.

    Contarini tells the mamluks to throw off their Crusader gear and wind their
    turbans. They are going to Beirut, and if anyone asks any questions, he
    will tell them that they are Ayyubid defectors come to enlist with Hulegu.
    With a great whoop of joy, the mamluks tear off their (now tattered)
    Christian insignia. But Ali is more subdued. He takes Contarini aside.
    What about the Emir? What about the Caliph? Suppose their is another heir
    out there someplace? Contarini shakes his head. He is going back to
    Venice, and he doesn't give a damn about any of that.

    It is a quiet, dusty ride to Beirut. But once there, Contarini visibly
    cheers. He throws the Cornaro name around, and winds up with a place to
    stay in a Venetian godown. He strips off helmet and armor and wipes himself
    down very thoroughly, scrubbing away the blood and road dirt, and soon he is
    feeling more like himself. None the worse for wear, except for a scar and a
    limp from that Turkish crossbow bolt. A couple days of good food and good
    drink and pleasant Christian company, and he is downright chipper.
    Contarini is in the middle of negotiating passage up the coast to Antioch,
    where he can hop the Cornaro ship he appropriated and head back to Venice,
    when Ali comes hurrying up and pulls him aside.

    Ali whispers that he has been going about the city, trying to get an inkling
    if there is another heir to the Caliph, somewhere out there. Contarini is
    annoyed. He is done with that. Ali shakes his head. A man, an agent of
    the Syrian freebooter Aqqush al-Barli, had found Ali and said that there was
    indeed another heir. He was al-Hakim Ahmad bin al-Hasan, who riding with
    al-Barli and his six hundred Turkmen and trying to make his way to Cairo.
    Ali told the man that if al-Hasan was interested in going to Grenada instead
    and taking up the Caliphal throne there, he should meet them in the desert
    north of the fortress of Harim, outside Antioch.

    Contarini thinks about that. He has to go to Antioch anyway, to catch his
    ship home. He thinks about a reward as befitting an Emir's remembrance.
    And he could still go home, but in rather better style than he had imagined
    ...

    ***

    There aren't six hundred Turkmen riding with al-Barli by the time Contarini,
    Ali and the mamluks catch up with them. More like two hundred. There have
    been a lot of desertions, and the remaining men - including al-Hakim, the
    man who would be Caliph - are looking pretty road-worn and bedraggled.
    Sitting around the campfire, Contarini lays out the Emir's offer. Al-Hakim,
    somewhat to Contarini's surprise, accepts immediately. Evidently, he is
    very eager to get out of Syria before the Mongols find him. But they need a
    plan. Al-Hakim will not leave his bodyguard behind and, taking one look at
    al-Barli, Contarini knows why. The man has the wily, ruthless air of a
    first-class desert cutthroat about him. If Contarini was going to take up a
    throne in a strange land, he would want someone like al-Barli at his side,
    too. But how do they get two hundred Turkmen raiders through the streets of
    Antioch, down to Port Saint-Simon and on board a ship? It is not like a
    sizable Saracen force would be welcome in Bohemund's city at the moment.
    And the Ayyubid deserter ruse won't work again. During his time in the
    city, he heard that, after some of them turned coat after pretending to
    defect, the King was seizing all Saracen troops who tried to surrender and
    locking them up.

    It is Ali who finally comes up with the idea. It is so crazy, it just might
    work.

    ***

    "Make way!" cries Contarini, riding at the head of the procession, as they
    approach the gate of Antioch. "Make way for the great Khubilai, Khan of all
    Asia!"

    Behind him, dressed in as much Mongol attire as they could steal in Antioch
    over the course of the previous week, are two hundred mounted Turkmen
    warriors, six Circassian Mamluks and, in the finest of the clothing and on
    the best of the horses, al-Hakim Ahmad bin al-Hasan, the heir to the Caliph
    of Baghdad. He looks every inch a Mongol Khan, well, except for the fact
    that he is an Arab.

    The guards at the gate are not ones to let a couple hundred men inter
    Antioch unchallenged. "Ho! Halt! who are you and what business do you
    have, that you come to these gates so armed?" says one holding up his hand
    to stop Contarini.

    Showtime, thinks Contarini, his guts dissolving. "This!" he cries, in the
    exact same tone he was using to announce their passage, "Is the Great
    Khubilai, Khan of all Asia, and his entourage! We have ridden thousands of
    leagues from Cathay, and now demand entrance to this city!"

    The guard looked dubious. And Contarini noticed uneasily that more soldiers
    are trotting up, forming quite a crowd of armed men. And Contarini himself
    was quite a bit out ahead of al-Hakim, Ali and the others. If trouble
    started, he would be dead before he could reach his sword.

    "I'll have your name, sir, for you are no Tatar."

    Oh, crap, thinks Contarini. He was so busy working out the other details of
    the plan that he forgot to think of an alias for himself.

    "I am ... Marco, uh ... Polo." Ah, crap. The two -lo's made it sound so
    fake. "Of Venice, now a servant of the Khan."

    "A servant?"

    Well, Contarini, if you are going to lie, might as well lie big. "Yes, I
    was the governor of a great province with power over millions and millions
    of souls, and ..." He happened to glance over at al-Hakim, who was glaring
    at him impatiently. Better cut this short. No time for any men with one
    giant foot or faces in their chests.

    "But now the Khan is now here, and he demands obedience from his servant
    Hulegu's vassal, Bohemund! You have my name, good sir, so I would have
    yours?"

    "I am Roger, Captain of the Guard. And why does this so-called Khan look
    nothing like a Tatar? His eyes are as round as mine!"

    This Contarini is ready for. He bounds off his horse, grabs the Captain of
    the Guard by the tunic-front and pulls him close. Contarini flinches as the
    other guards lower their pikes and rushed forward at him, but he keeps
    going. "Fool!" Contarini hisses, "The Khan's mother was an Afghan, and he
    doesn't like being told that he doesn't look like a Tatar."

    Roger looks at al-Hakim, who is glowering with menace, and the Syrians, who
    are unlimbering their weapons. Contarini is just at a loss as to what to do
    next. He still has a big card to play, but he doesn't want to play it two
    soon.

    Fortuitously, at that moment a man rides up an loudly demands to know what's
    going on. So, for lack of any better ideas, he decides to change the
    subject.

    "Who is it who makes such commands?"

    "I am Roger ..."

    Oh shit, Contarini thinks, another one.

    "Bailiff of Antioch."

    Contarini is actually relieved. Almost time to play the trump card.

    First, he bows and introduces himself. "Oh, noble Bailiff, I bring tidings
    of great joy! The Khan Khubilai, of the Golden Family, demands admission to
    the city of Bohemund, obedient vassal of Hulegu." Unfortunately, Ali picks
    that moment to ride up. He and the other mamluks had unwrapped their
    turbans and wound them around the lower half of their faces. Between the
    felt Mongol hats pulled down low on their heads and the "dust masks," around
    their mouths, they were not recognizable as non-Tatars. At least from a
    distance.

    But Ali's dusk mask slips down as he approaches.

    "Aha!" cries Roger. The first one. The Captain of the Guard. "Now this
    one, he is definitely not a Tatar!"

    Roger. The second one, the Bailiff, looks at Ali significantly. "This ..."
    says Contarini, thinking furiously, "is ... Ibn, uh, Battuta,"

    Ugh, he thinks, that sounds even more fake than Marco Polo [FN36.001].

    "...another servant of the Khan Khubilai, who, like Hulegu, employs men of
    all faiths in his service." It is a bit late when Contarini realizes that
    he probably just made up a Christian name for the Circassian. But whatever.

    "Great Khubilai comes to your city, noble Bailiff, to take ship for
    Constantinople!"

    Roger the Bailiff's eyebrows shot up. "Constantinople?"

    "Yes!" cries Contarini, "Constantinople! He goes to be baptized by the Holy
    Father!"

    The Bailiff covers his mouth in astonishment.

    "- and he will then return to Cathay with a hundred learned priests and
    convert all of Asia!"

    Much to Contarini's surprise, the Bailiff suddenly drops to his knees and
    raises his arms to the heavens in thanksgiving. "Oh precious blood! Praise
    St. Thomas! All of Asia, brought to Christ! Thanks be that we shall see
    such days!" He starts weeping.

    The man was in the grips of religious ecstasy. There was a lot of this sort
    of thing going around, Contarini had found, what with Christian armies on
    the march in the Holy Land and apocalyptic prophets stalking the land,
    predicting conversion of the whole world to Christianity before the Trump
    and the Shout. Hard-headed Venetians tend to be immune, but Contarini still
    felt a bit bad for deceiving the Bailiff. So, he decides to cut it short.
    "We must be away, sire, the wind is fair and the Holy Father awaits."

    The Bailiff stands up quickly. "No! You must wait for Prince Bohemund's
    return, and we must have a great Mass of thanksgiving!"

    Contarini, anticipating this, shakes his head. He leans in close and says
    confidentially, "No sire, we must hasten. Many of the Golden Family are
    opposed to Khubilai's baptism and are keen to prevent it. Some of them are
    in Syria with Hulegu's armies, and if the find him here, I fear the
    consequences."

    The Bailiff goes pale, like someone who might be standing in the way of the
    Second Coming might go pale. "Oh, yes, yes, you must be off." He gets up
    on his horse and beckons them through the gates. "Make way!" He cries,
    exactly like Contarini, "Make way for the great Khan Khubilai!"

    The crowds in the streets part as Roger the Bailiff leads the procession
    through Antioch and into Port Saint-Simon. Al-Hakim, still playing the
    Khan, tosses coins to the people -t he last of the money that the Katib gave
    him for operating expenses. He hoped that the people of Antioch did not
    wonder why Khubilai Khan would be throwing them Grenadan dinari.

    But eventually, they are quayside. As he and his men dismount, al-Hakim
    hands the reins of his horse to Roger the Bailiff. In sonorous tones (with
    Contarini translating from 'Tatar'), he tells the bailiff that they should
    take the horses and sell them for the benefit of a local monastery. Roger
    almost starts weeping again at the gesture.

    And then they board the Cornaro ship that brought them to Antioch, all those
    months ago. When Contarini had slipped into town earlier, to steal
    disguises for the mamluks, he had been pleasantly surprised to find that
    most of the crew was still with the ship. They should be - he had promised
    them a sizable bonus for the journey back - but sailors were an
    unpredictable lot. The lines were cast off and the anchor weighed, and the
    broad, blue Mediterranean lay before them.

    ***

    It was a long, hard voyage. Since the ship was not meant to carry so many
    passengers, they were packed in cheek-to-jowl and had to make a number of
    stops on the North African coast for provisions. But finally they are
    there - not Grenada, but the Venetian zone in Cueta, across the Straight
    from al-Andalus. From there, Contarini sent word to the Katib - the heir to
    the Caliph was at hand. Since it would not do for a Venetian ship to bear
    him to Grenada, Contarini handed al-Hakim over to the Emir's men and sent
    him on his way. Al-Barli, the Syrian renegade, and his Turkmen went with
    al-Hakim, finely decked out as befitted the bodyguard of a new Caliph.

    As for Ali and the Circassians, Contarini managed to convince them to stay
    with him. The bulging purses of Andalusian silver - Contarini's reward for
    services most effectively performed - helped persuade them. There were
    opportunities in the East, Contarini knew, for a man who knew how to handle
    himself, who had money to spend and hardy companions at his side. He was
    not quite ready to go home yet.

    When the renewed Caliphate is proclaimed in Cordoba (with the Emir elevated
    to Sultan and proclaimed 'Commander of the Faithful') [FN36.002] and a new
    era of western Islam is beginning, Contarini and his Saracen comrades are at
    sea in a ship of their own, with another fortune to make.

    ***

    (Egypt and Syria, 1260-65)

    Sartak, you see, wants it all. He wants the prestige of "liberating"
    Jerusalem from the Saracens, he wants to be known as the Guardian of the
    Holy Sepulchre, and he wants a fat, rich new province for his Khanate.
    Attacking the Saracens in Syria takes care of the first two things, but the
    third ... Well, Syria is nice enough. World crossroads of trade and all
    that - although a lot of the overland trade to the East has been going to
    the Black Sea under the Pax Mongolica - but Egypt is the plum. With teeming
    cities and rich agricultural land, Egypt is a domain to have. And then
    there is the matter of demarcation. Syria is all tangled up in the
    (currently idle) controversy about whether Hulegu really has the right to
    his own domain or whether he should be subordinate to the Jochid branch of
    the Golden Family. Egypt does not figure into that [FN36.01], since
    Hulegu's mandate only extend to its borders. Egypt is, therefore, perfect
    for Sartak.

    So, in March of 1260, while his son is marching through the Holy Land and
    his kinsman is bringing Syria to its knees, Sartak invades Egypt , with
    twenty five thousand men. It is a daunting task coming on top of the
    attacks in Syria, but Sartak wrings Italy dry of oarsmen, sailors,
    craftsmen, and boat-building materials to pull it off. He essentially
    wrecks the manufacturing and trading economy of the whole peninsula to
    support the multi-pronged assault on dar al-Islam, but Khans tend to be
    ruthless that way [FN36.02].

    Sartak's army is less diverse than those which attack Syria. A screen of
    Mongol cavalry (about four thousand), some European cavalry (about six
    thousand) and a great mass of German and Italian infantry and archers.
    While his fleet was getting ready, Sartak had took the time to whip them
    into shape, doing his best to install something resembling Mongol discipline
    in the ranks. Even after nearly 20 years of Mongol occupation, it was not
    easy.

    But they pull it off in fine style, at least the first part - descending
    upon the Egyptian coast [FN36.03], pushing up the lower Nile and seizing the
    heavily-fortified city of Damietta with thunderclap surprise. Thing is,
    Damietta sucks, at least for Europeans. Not only does it abut the Nile, it
    is also surrounded by swamps and is about the last place you want to have
    twenty-five thousand soldiers confined in close quarters. Illness starts
    sweeping through Sartak's army. So he keeps moving, and lunges south to
    seize Fariskoor.

    Sartak is pleased but puzzled - he achieved strategic surprise with his
    attack into the Nile delta, but time passes and towns are seized, and he
    still has not encountered the main Mamluk force. Egyptian horsemen harry
    his movements, but there is no sign of Baybars or Sultan Qutiz.

    The Mamluks have not taken to the field because dissention wracks the upper
    echelons of the Egyptian command. Baybars - had been keen on fighting the
    Mongols at the Euphrates crossing and was disgusted at the fecklessness of
    the Ayyubids in Syria - is now in Egypt and burning to rout the Crusaders.
    He wants to stand on the defensive at Mansura, tying down Sartak's army,
    while striking across Gaza against Ulaghchi's understrength force outside
    Jerusalem. Qutiz's plans are equally audacious, but focus a bit closer to
    home. Sartak's force is stronger than anything Qutiz can hope to field.
    The Sultan's ranks are kind of thin [FN36.04]. On top of fortress troops of
    questionable value in the open, he has a field force of about 22,000, a
    mixed bag of high-quality Mamluk troops and less-reliable Syrian refugee
    forces who managed to slip across Gaza while Ulaghchi is attacking Jerusalem
    instead of blocking their escape. He can meet Sartak in the field on nearly
    equal terms, but he lacks the numbers to force him out of any fortified
    positions such as Damietta.

    Qutiz, being sultan, eventually overrules Baybars' demand that they march
    into Palestine and Baybars (eventually, grudgingly) accepts. With all the
    preparation done and his ducks in a row among the upper echelons in Cairo,
    Qutiz strikes. He knows that he does not have to crush the invaders in open
    battle, he just has to trap them and let disease do its work for a while. If
    he can bottle up Sartak into the summer, the Nile floods will render the
    delta unfit territory for battle, preventing any relief.

    So that's what he does.

    There are a few commanders in history who are bold enough, or crazy enough,
    to divide their forces in the face of superior numbers, and Qutiz is one of
    them. As the Crusaders march southwest through the Damietta branch of the
    Nile towards Mansura, Qutiz sends Baybars, in command of galleys loaded with
    ten thousand men, floating down the Rosetta branch and the various canals of
    the Bahr Shirbin to fall upon Damietta by surprise. The Crusader garrison
    in Damietta, like the Mamluks before them, were not expecting such a stroke
    and the city is again taken by coup de main, and the Mamluks simultaneously
    smash Sartak's supply galleys, which had been forming up south of the city
    for a run up-river.

    Sartak now finds himself with a sizable enemy force sitting fairly
    comfortably on his supply line, with another force hunkered down behind the
    walls of Mansura directly before him. He does not panic ... exactly, but he
    is stymied about what to do next. Some of his commanders advocate giving up
    on the march to Cairo altogether, and instead dashing east to Salihiya and
    taking the quick exit through Gaza to Palestine. Others advocate turning
    back and attempting to take Damietta back from the Mamluks - they do have
    the siege machinery that they were planning on using against Cairo. Others
    merely note that the supply situation is bad and getting worse and that
    disease is growing in their ranks, so whatever they do, they must do it
    quick.

    It is at that moment, when everything looks bleakest, that fortune smiles on
    Sartak. Admiral Marco Basegio [FN36.05], the Venetian commander of a
    resupply fleet out of Cyprus has arrived in the Nile delta, evaluated the
    situation, and decided to force his way through the Mamluk blockade at
    Damietta and relieve Sartak. Historians reflect upon this moment as being
    decisive in the history of the Mongol domination of Central and Eastern
    Europe. If the Venetians had turned back and left Sartak to his doom, it is
    argued, the Europeans could have risen up and thrown off the Tatar Yoke.
    Some consider Basegio's decision to display the depths of Venetian perfidy
    towards Latin Christendom, while others believe that it shows that the
    Venetians were men of their word - having made a commitment (even under
    duress) to help Sartak, they were sticking by it.

    The Venetians, masters of galley warfare, smash their way through the Mamluk
    fleet, weather a storm of arrows and other projectiles fired at them from
    the fortress of Damietta, and run like hell up the Nile towards Sartak. The
    Khan greets them joyously. He had lost faith in his naval forces when they
    were wiped out by the Mamluks, and the daring-do of the Venetians compares
    very favorably to the incompetence of his first supply fleet, which was
    mostly made up of ships and crews from Amalfi. Now his army is both
    resupplied and has transportation. And now he has options.

    The option that is looking the best to him, with his much-reduced army, is
    an, *ahem* "retrograde movement." So, he burns as much of his equipment and
    abandons as many of his horses as he needs to, loads up his men onto
    Basegio's galleys, then runs like hell down the Nile to the Mediterranean.
    Qutiz, smelling blood, takes off in pursuit, hoping to pin him against
    Baybars forces at Damietta.

    But desperation lends speed to the Crusader retreat and they outstrip Qutiz
    and blast their way through Baybars' blockade at Damietta, taking terrible
    casualties in the process. Soon they are in open water, making their way to
    Cyprus to rest and regroup.

    Baybars and Qutiz are now freed to deal with the invasion of Palestine - and
    as quickly as they can assemble their forces, the Mamluk commanders are on
    the march. The Ayyubid garrison of Jerusalem, which has been heroically
    resisting assault of Ulaghchi's forces, is on its last legs. The attackers
    are reinforced by both Hulegu's troops and those under the command of Berke
    and Bohemund VI of Antioch. Without relief, it is merely a matter of time
    before the Holy City falls to the invaders.

    Hulegu, alerted to the Mamluk offensive out of Egypt, takes decisive
    measures to counter it. He strips as many mobile forces away from the siege
    of Jerusalem and marches into Gaza. There, at al-Arish, he meets Baybars
    and Qutiz in open battle - Mongol light cavalry and Frankish heavy against a
    mixed Mamluk mounted force. The battle see-saws back and forth through the
    desert. Sultan Qutiz is constantly in the thick of the fight, crying
    "Wa-Islamah! [On Islam!] Ya Allah, help you servant Qutiz against the
    Mongols!" to bolster morale. When the day is done, it is the Frankish
    heavies who break the Mamluk line. Charging forward behind Bohemund's
    banner, they crash against the Egyptian left, whose quivers were empty.
    This begins the disintegration of the Egyptian force. Qutiz is killed at
    the head of his troops, but Baybars manages to escape with the remnants of
    his army.

    Without hope of relief, the Jerusalem garrison surrenders. Quite contrary
    to Hulegu's promise of lenient treatment, the Crusaders massacre the
    disarmed Saracens. It is a bad sign of things to come. As the Frankish
    crusaders get out of control and proceed to sack the city, Hulegu orders his
    Mongol units to stop them. The result looks very much like a civil war
    among the victors. Eventually, the Frankish troops are brought to heel, and
    the Holy Sepulchre witnesses an unseemly confrontation between Hulegu's
    Christian subordinates Kitbuka and Bohemund, with the Mongol berating the
    Prince for letting his soldiers run riot.

    It is a wretched ending to the Final Crusade.

    The victors then divide the spoils - the Principality of Antioch is
    enlarged, as is the County of Tripoli and Lesser Armenia, all of which
    continue as vassal states of the il-Khanate. The Kingdom of Jerusalem, now
    ruled by Queen Plaisance of Cyprus as Regent for her son Hugh II, is
    reestablished as a vassal of the il-Khanate, with both Jerusalem and
    Bethlehem under Sartak's control. It is an awkward situation, which does
    not bode well for the future.

    The Moslem Mongol commander Berke gets his payout as well - Hulegu grants
    him the Hijaz, including the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, as his
    appenage within the il-Khanate. Not only is this a massive boost for Berke
    as a Moslem, but pilgrims bring income. Berke promptly takes a contingent
    of exclusively Moslem Mongol troops and subdues the turbulent Bedouin of his
    new territory. For the first time in a while, the pilgrim roads to the
    holiest sites in Islam are safe for travelers.

    Sartak does not forget about Egypt. The Jochid branch of the Golden Family
    has suffered another embarrassing defeat, after Batu's rebuff in Flanders,
    and Sartak's prestige and that of his family demands that it be avenged. In
    early 1262, he returns to the delta of the Nile with an even larger and
    better-prepared force. In the wake of his rescue by Admiral Basegio, a
    somewhat chastened Sartak makes a new arrangement with the Venetians,
    guaranteeing that their usual trade and territorial concessions will be
    honored within Egypt. So Venice takes to the task with a will, arming and
    equipping whole new fleets of galleys. Forsaking the pesthole of Damietta,
    Sartak descends upon the Egyptian coast and clamps a siege upon Alexandria.
    The Venetians, for their part, launch spoiling raids up the Nile, disrupting
    Mamluk efforts to lift the siege. Alexandria holds out for over a year, and
    then Sartak has an excellent port at his disposal for further conquest. The
    drive on Cairo is slow, between the floods every summer and Baybars'
    stubborn resistance. Most of his mamluks are dead, and he has no way of
    acquiring any more, so he relies upon native Egyptian levies, many of whom
    he trains along mamluk lines.

    The results are less than Baybars desires. One by one, the fortresses and
    walled cities along the Nile fall to Sartak's careful, inexorable advance.
    By the Spring of 1265, he is at the gates of the great city of Cairo.
    Baybars is determined to defend the city to the last, but the other Mamluk
    commanders have secretly been in contact with Sartak. As they meet to plan
    how to counter Sartak's impending envelopment of the City, several Mamluk
    officers fall upon Baybars with their daggers. Baybars fights, but he is
    outnumbered and his bodyguards are slain with him.

    The next day, the assassins, who have exacted promises of positions for
    themselves and freedom under the yasa for Islam, surrender Cairo - the
    greatest city in the Mediterranean world [FN36.06] - to Sartak, Khan of the
    Franks. the Venetians, who have stood by their Mongol "partner" through
    thick and thin, are exultant. They now control one of the great crossroads
    of world commerce. But they have one more request to make of Sartak who,
    sitting in the great Citadel, was feeling both magnanimous and ambitious in
    the wake of his grand new conquest.

    The Doge's request is explained and then granted. None present realize it
    will set in motion great and terrible events that will rock Christendom to
    its very foundations.

    [FN36.001] And yes, the real Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta are going to be
    making guest appearances in EA.

    [FN36.002] The setup in the renewed Caliphate of Cordoba is going to be
    similar to that in Mamluk Egypt - the Caliph is more or less a figurehead,
    with the Sultan holding the real power.

    [FN36.01] OTL, Khulbilai will empower Hulegu to conquer and rule Egypt in
    1263.

    [FN36.02] The exactions Khubilai squeezed out of Korea for the OTL
    invasions of Japan did not help _that_ peninsula much, either.

    [FN36.03] For amphibious assaults, you could do worse than a Mediterranean
    galley.

    [FN36.04] There was some discussion in connection with Part 35 about the
    size of the forces that Qutiz and Baybars would be able to field in this
    scenario. I get my numbers from Amitai-Preiss 'Mongols and Mamluks'
    (Cambridge U. Press 1995), an informative, if very dry, account of the
    60-year struggle between the il-Khanate and Mamluk Egypt, which discusses
    what the Mamluks would have had available on the eve of the battle of Ayn
    Jalut: "We have figures of 10,000 and 12,000 horsemen for the Egyptian army
    under the last Ayyubids. these numbers must be used with care, especially
    since the Mamluk army in Egypt surely underwent many changes in the first
    years of its existence, but they proved at least some idea of the size of
    this army. It is difficult to give even a rough estimation of the size of
    the total army under Qutiz's command, since there are no figures for the
    Syrian and auxiliary forces. On the other hand, some writers assert in a
    different context that at Ayn Jalut the Muslim army was larger than that of
    their Mongol adversaries. This claim makes sense if we accept the figure of
    10-12,000 for the Mongols ... while the Mamluks may well have had a hard
    core of about 10,000 Egyptian troops, plus the additional forces mentioned
    above." I am assuming that Amitai-Preiss is strictly talking in terms of
    the mobile force that the Mamluks could field in Palestine at the time, not
    any garrison troops that would have to remain behind in Egypt. Without
    better numbers, I am arbitrarily deciding that the Mamluks had sufficient
    infantry to force Sartak to besiege Egyptian cities, absent extraordinary
    circumstances like the initial strategic surprise which enabled him to take
    Damietta and Fariskoor.

    [FN36.05] There is an OTL Venetian Admiral by the same name, circa 1290s.
    No relation.

    [FN36.06] A Frenchman visiting Cairo in OTL 1322 noted that it was four
    times the size of Paris.
     
  9. Constantinople Trump is Temporary, but hey, Brexit is forever Banned

    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2005
    Empty America - Part 37

    Spring, 1405

    [Jarnborg, Domstolland]

    "Silence!" the Chief Dómari [judge] roars, "Silence, I say! Let the witness
    speak!" For the moment, the uproar fades.

    The Great Hirðskáli [court hall] of the Hár Siðr [High Church] is, like most
    public buildings in Domstolland, laid out to accommodate public spectacle.
    The Norse are a democratically-minded lot and insist upon being present
    for - and injecting themselves noisily into - even the most solemn of
    official proceedings, religious and secular. So ecclesiastical court
    business in Domstolland is conducted in the well of the cavernous court
    hall, surrounded by tiers of bleachers, occupied by hundreds of sometimes
    jeering, sometimes cheering, but generally boisterous spectators.

    The Chief Dómari, a burly, weather-beaten man with a great white beard,
    resplendent in the red ermine and tall conical fur hat of a high priest in
    the Cult of Thor, sits in an exquisitely carved high-backed throne. On the
    raised platform, he is flanked on either side by his counterparts, in
    similar, if smaller thrones. To his right, of the Cult of Odin, a smaller
    man in a pitch black woolen cloak, his face lost in the deep shadows of a
    peaked hood. To his left,a priest of the Cult of Frey and Freyr, a cheerful
    looking youth of eighteen in a leaf green silk robe, with a coronet of
    freshly-cut twigs entwined in his brilliant red hair. Three judges are a
    quorum, and the Cult of Heimdall has, as usual, conspicuously absented
    itself from the proceedings.

    The Chief judge glares fiercely at the briefly chastened crowd, then returns
    his attention to the witness, a squinting, wretched-looking boy with an
    overbite and a receding chin. "Now, you were saying. On your most recent
    voyage as cabin boy on board the "Fráliga," you yourself witnessed Captain
    Róðmarr perform the Saracen rite of kneeling and bowing in the direction of
    ..." The judge frowns, trying to remember the foreign name.

    He turns to Mishael, the secretary for the Chief Rabbi of Jarnborg, who sits
    to the left of the judges' bench. By concordat, the Rabbi is entitled to
    have a Vitni [witness] at the proceedings, to ensure that no born Jew is
    accused of being an apostate Norse. It is an unpleasant duty - these trials
    generally have ugly endings - and the young men of Rabbi's staff take turns.
    The Balts and the Lithuanians have the same right, but are less diligent
    about exercising it. Their chairs are empty. That is fine with Mishael.
    The Balt vitni, with his filthy gray woolen tunic and closely-cropped hair,
    always reeked of bhang and had a wild expression that frightened Mishael.
    The Lithuanian was an oily old man with a graying widow's peak and the
    almond-shaped eyes of a Tatar.

    Looking at him always reminded Mishael that the destroyer of all things lay
    just across the sea, waiting and plotting against them.

    The Chief Dómari addresses Mishael. "What is this place called, that the
    Saracens pray towards?"

    Mishael briefly wonders why a pagan high priest would think that a Jewish
    rabbinical student would know the particulars of Saracen religious practice.
    But he does. "Mecca, Minnlauss [milord]. The Saracens' holy city, where
    they keep the kaabah, a relic -". The judge waives him silent and turns
    back to the cabin boy, who is staring intently at his dirty shoes.

    Shoes, thinks Mishael. How did such a wretch wind up with a pair of shoes?
    Most Domstollanders in his low station would be lucky to have a pair of
    wooden clogs. In Domstolland, there are not many in such straits -
    especially compared to the European countries - but there are always some of
    the lowest of the low. Those who can barely eke by on the charity of
    others.

    But they don't have shoes, even in Domstolland.

    "You saw Captain Róðmarr join some his Saracen sailors in facing - which way
    was it? Look at me, boy, when I question you."

    The lad dragged his eyes from the floor. Mishael saw that he was holding
    his fists clenched by his sides, as if to keep his hands from shaking.
    "N-north, northwest, Minnlauss. We were off the coast of Thuvaraiyam Pathi
    [OTL's New Zealand]. The Captain, and the Saracen navigator and one of the
    deckhands, they unrolled these rugs and -"

    As before, pandemonium erupts from the galleries. The spectators roar with
    outrage that a famous Norse corsair would be accused of bending his knee to
    a false god. Mishael turns his head away and smiles wryly. From past
    experience, he knows that many of these men are paid partisans of the good
    captain. It is a common practice - streetcorner idlers, shiftless
    apprentices and unemployed dockworkers given a few coins apiece to pack the
    galleries and shout down the prosecuting witnesses. Any accused who could
    afford it had his family bring a friendly mob to intervene on his behalf.

    This time, the Chief Dómari does not just roar for silence. He signals to
    the Bryti [bailiff], who dashes outside, returning moments later with two
    dozen of the Hrafnvarð [raven guard]. They have always fascinated Mishael,
    and before the trial he had noticed a group of them stationed outside the
    courthouse in case of trouble. Mishael thought there was something, well,
    Roman about them, with their ebon plate armor, crimson-lined black capes and
    helmets with a arching crest of great dark plumes, with stylized wings
    embossed on the cheek guards. This group was armed with swords and spears.
    The Dómari was old fashioned and allowed no moschetto [muskets] in his
    courtroom.

    And within these four walls, the will of the judges is both absolute and
    strictly limited. No churchman, nor anyone acting on the orders of a
    churchman, may lay hands upon a free citizen of the Commonwealth. Both the
    Bryti and the Hrafnvarð are under the authority of the civil governor of
    Jarnborg. If the Bryti or the Stallari [Marshall] of the Hrafnvarð refused
    the judge's directions to subdue the crowd, the Dómari would simply have to
    take it up with the governor. After nearly three centuries of conflict and
    controversy it has been established - in Domstolland, the State, not the
    Church, is supreme.

    This time, however, the Church and the State work hand in glove - working at
    the Bryti's direction, the Hrafnvarð seize the ringleaders of the mob and
    roughly haul them out of the grandstands, man-handling them towards the
    door. Their fellows howl objections, but are shoved back into their seats.
    The gleaming armor, ready weaponry and stony-faced efficiency of the
    Hrafnvarð deters the spectators from anything but verbal protests.

    Mishael is stunned to see that one of the men being hustled towards the exit
    is wearing the scholar's robes of his rabbinical school! He looks closer.
    It is Yosi, a friend of his. Yosi catches his eye and winks broadly at
    Mishael before being shoved out the front door by an impatient Hrafnvarð.
    What it god's name is Yosi doing rabble-rousing for a Norse apostate?

    Their leaders gone, and facing the determined ranks of the Hrafnvarð, now
    deployed around the well of the courtroom, the crowd settles down.

    Captain Róðmarr's ráð [counsel] denounces the intrusion of the Hrafnvarð as
    a violation of his client's right to a public trial, but the Chief Dómari
    rules his objections out of order. Mishael looks at the accused, the
    Captain, shackled, draped in chains, bolted to the floor there in the center
    of the courtroom. He is, Mishael thinks, arrogant in his demeanor for a man
    facing death. That is the only penalty for a convicted Norse apostate .

    Then it hits him.

    The Captain is not facing death. No he is not, not really, and he knows it.
    Just as sure Mishael he knows that someone bought the mob in the stands,
    Mishael knows that someone bought that cabin boy a pair of shoes and
    someone - not the same someone, but someone else - has ensured that the good
    Captain will not face death. This trial is not a search for the truth, it
    is a duel between the unnamed someones with their heavy purses, for some
    stakes that Mishael does not comprehend. Mishael the Jew, the rabbinical
    student, slumps in his chair and thinks that he should leave. He is not one
    of these people. He has no stake in this fight.

    But he stays. He wants to see how it will end.

    At the urging of the Chief Dómari, the boy continues his testimony. The
    three men, two Saracens and Captain Róðmarr unrolled rugs, then knelt on
    them, bowing in prayer. The chants, according to the cabin boy, were in the
    Saracen tongue, and he could not recount the words. He goes on to describe
    in detail the patterns on the rugs and the number of times each man bowed,
    his forehead striking the deck. He tells the story with such conviction
    that, when he is done, Mishael is a believer. He cannot see how the Captain
    is going to escape conviction and execution.

    But then the High Priest of the Cult of Odin, who had sat silent and
    motionless throughout the testimony and the eruptions from the galleries,
    suddenly speaks. His voice is low and dry, an ancient rattle from within
    the darkness of his hood.

    "You, boy."

    The cabin boy starts. He stares at the Priest, then looks away. "Y-yes?"

    "You said you were with the Captain in the hours before this Saracen
    ceremony." Mishael remembered that Captain Róðmarr had been an adherent of
    the Odin Cult. If anyone was to ensure his punishment for apostasy, it
    would be the black-hooded prelate.

    "For how long were you at his side?"

    "T-two, maybe three hours."

    "You never left him?"

    "No."

    The Priest leaned forward, resting his elbows on the arms of his throne and
    tenting his bony pale fingers in front of the emptiness of the hood. "And
    what was he doing, in the hours before this prayer ritual?"

    The boy went on to describe, in minute detail, nautical things that Mishael
    knew nothing about. Checking rigging, observing the height of the sun,
    measuring the height of the fresh water in the barrels, inspecting the seals
    on the rum kegs, and so forth. The dutiful boy was always at his side. The
    boy's memory must be prodigious, Mishael thought. But then he reconsidered.
    Maybe not. Maybe these are things that Captains always do on board ships,
    and maybe he "remembers" the Captain doing them that particular day only
    because the Captain always did them. But the exhaustive recitation seemed
    to be convincing the crowd, partisan though they may be, and they started
    muttering approving sounds as the cabin boy spoke.

    For the first time during the proceedings, Mishael thought, the Captain
    looked nervous.

    "And that is all?"

    "Yes sir."

    The Priest leaned closer, his raspy voice urgent. "He took a ladleful from
    the lypting [poop deck] sweet water barrel and tasted it, then placed the
    ladle back on its hook, then joined the Saracens at prayer? Nothing else?
    Even a small thing? Enlighten us, boy."

    The boy's gaze was fixed on the Captain, who was looking downright alarmed.
    The Chief Priest of his cult was urging the prosecution witness to show off
    his detailed recollection of the events that would send him to the gallows.

    "No, Minnlauss, there was nothing else." There was a gloating confidence in
    his voice.

    The Priest leaned back in his chair. Mishael could hear him inhale and
    exhale heavily. Then the low rumble of his voice.

    "The boy lies."

    Mishael flinches, expecting the crowd to erupt again. But an eerie silence
    has fallen over the courtroom. The Freyr Priest looks stunned, and Mishael
    sees two men moving urgently towards him from the side of the courtroom.
    Mishael had not noticed them before. The two men, who had been sitting in
    chairs in front of the gallery, wore the garb of court clerks.

    The Chief Judge swallows and licks his lips, when he speaks, it seems to
    Mishael that he seems is picking his words very carefully.

    "Would the judge share with the rest of the court his reasoning in this
    matter?"

    "It is simple," says the Odin Priest. "The Saracens always bathe before
    prayer. It is part of the ritual. The accused did not bathe, or even wash
    his hands. He is no Saracen."

    "Perhaps," the Chief Dómari suggests, "the Captain is as poor a Saracen as
    he is a member of the Faithful ..." Some in the crowd chortle nervously.

    "No," says the Odin Priest decisively, "In my travels, before I took my
    vows, I met the white Saracens of al-Andalus, the black Saracens of Africa,
    the Tatar Saracens of the great Samarqand, and the Nangiyan Saracens of
    Khanbaq. All cleansed themselves before prayer, and none would pray with a
    man who had not, for fear of being contaminated by his impurity. The boy
    lies."

    "But-" the Chief Dómari protests, suddenly agitated, "what motive does the
    boy have for perjuring himself against his own captain?"

    The Freyr priest speaks for the first time. "It was well-known that Captain
    Róðmarr was betrothed, and was to be wed upon his return to Jorvik
    [Manhattan], was it not?"

    "Yes," says the Chief Judge. "What of it?"

    "Seamen are notorious for using cabin boys as women. Sometimes the cabin
    boys become ... womanish, jealous and vindictive when spurned. The boy may
    have turned against Captain Róðmarr because-"

    This time the courtroom explodes. Captain Róðmarr strains at his bonds and
    roars, "Illmæli! [slander] Illmæli!" The cabin boy falls to his knees, his
    face buried in his hands, sobbing. The Chief Dómari orders the Hrafnvarð
    into the crowd, and the guards start clubbing left and right with their
    spear hafts and the flats of their swords and forcing the spectators out the
    front doors.

    Mishael has seen enough. He jumps out of his chair and bolts for the door
    behind the judges' thrones, through chambers and out into the cold night
    air. He is running so fast that he does not even notice the three Catholic
    priests and one bishop - even though they are all very clearly Africans -
    sitting in chambers, patiently waiting their turn to be heard.

    TO BE CONTINUED

    Empty America - Part 38
    Spring, 1405

    [Jarnborg, Domstolland]

    "Bishop Dabir, I am frightened."

    This confession did not surprise the Bishop. The three young priests who had
    accompanied him to this strange, cold, and evil land on the other side of
    the Earth were all young men, given up to the Church as mere boys, raised in
    the comforting embrace of Mother Church. Enveloped in the warmth of
    clerical robes, wreathed in the sweetness of incense, bathed in African
    sunlight filtering through stained glass, the dangers and hardships of the
    world had passed them by.

    They are soft.

    Bishop Dabir is not.

    Nor is he young. He looks down at his hands, gnarled with decades of hard
    labor toiling in the vineyards of the Lord. Bishop Dabir's voice was deep
    and reassuring.

    "Fear is nothing to be ashamed of, Brother Amare. Christ was fearful in
    Gethsemane, and he perspired blood in his fear. The measure of a man, and a
    Christian, is not whether he is fearful, but whether he trusts in God and,
    knowing that Christ and the Virgin are with him, masters his fear." That was
    not strictly canonical, and Bishop Dabir knew it. But he was a good
    shepherd for his flock.

    Bishop Dabir is not afraid.

    But he is growing more and more impatient. Abuna Marqos [chief bishop of
    Ethiopia] had brought him the appointment almost a year ago.

    Bishop Dabir had not jumped at the chance.

    After spending most of his life in Vijayanagara, preaching God's message to
    the pagans and trying to keep the diverse Christian communities of southern
    Hindoostan from straying too far from Greek Catholic doctrine, he had hoped
    for some quiet years closer to home, minding a see and tending to the
    Faithful.

    But that is not what the Lord had in mind for Bishop Dabir, and so he and
    his young charges had spent the last year on the move. Standing in the
    judge's chambers of a pagan courtroom, it made him tired just to think of
    what it had taken to get him here. Coaster from Massawa to the northern
    reaches of the Red Sea, then canal boat to the Nile and Cairo, downriver to
    Alexandria.

    Alexandria! The Holy Land had been so close he could feel it calling to
    him. Oh, to walk the ground that Christ walked, to stand atop the hills
    where he gave his sermons, to see the empty tomb ... And to be greeted for
    what he was- a prince in exile returning home to the land his ancestor, the
    great King Solomon.

    But no. Dabir had to content himself with a meeting with the very gracious
    Patriarch of Alexandria, and a few precious days in the Khan's Great
    Library, built to dwarf the one of legend. As much as he would have liked
    to peruse the ancient texts, he spent most of his time reading what was
    known about his destination. There was a manuscript at the library,
    apparently written by a Templar knight who had sojourned from Jerusalem to
    the County of Drengeard [Chesapeake region] and reported back to his Order
    what he found. The librarians could not tell Dabir how the papers came to be
    in the Library of Alexandria.

    Dabir read the manuscript, loose papers bound together loosely with a red
    ribbon, and he was truly appalled.

    Pagans.

    Dabir knew Pagans, and there were no pagans stranger than the Hindoos of
    Vijayanagara. Or so he thought.

    But these Domstolland pagans. Human sacrifice!

    Dabir was appalled to read that they once had been Christians in Iceland,
    then lapsed into paganism when they crossed the sea to Ultima Thule. After
    that, they had been at war with their Christian neighbors in Vinland for
    centuries. Fifteen years ago, the Domstollanders marched their armies deep
    into the wilderness and conquered the lands of Christians who had migrated
    from Vinland to settle south of the vast inland seas of Ultima Thule. Some
    of these Christians were so peaceful that they lived alongside pagans,
    without conflict. But the Domstolland armies attacked them all, and Vinland
    marched to their rescue.

    For seven years, the Vinlanders battled the pagan hordes - on land, on the
    lakes and on the oceans as two powerful nations fought to the death with
    qiang [cannon] and moschetto [musket]. The war spread to the frozen north
    of Europe as Lithuania (which Dabir gleaned is also pagan) and Sweden (which
    has some animus or ambition that the sources do not divulge) attacked Norway
    and Denmark. (According to some of the rather tedious exposition in the
    manuscript, Norway was part of Vinland Empire and Denmark was Vinland's
    ally. My god, thinks Dabir as he read, who could follow these bewildering
    dynastic genealogies!)

    In Ultima Thule, hundreds of thousands died from battle and famine and
    plague and great swaths of both nations were laid desolate. And then,
    exhausted and drained of blood and treasure, the Vinlanders and
    Domstollanders made peace. This time, unlike so many times before, it would
    not be a mere truce between wars. Thousands gathered together in one of
    their great assemblies - an Allthing - at a place called Fossborg [Niagra].
    Every man there swore on his honor that he and those of his hearth and clan
    would keep the peace.

    And so there was peace.

    The Domstollanders kept what they had taken, nearly everything south of the
    lakes. The Vinlanders kept Solbjorgland [most of OTL Lower Peninsula of
    Michigan], but they abandoned the Christian settlements in the
    Riddermark[OTL's roughly Indiana and Illinois] and the Hrafenmark [OTL's
    Ohio]. But the Vinlanders were granted everything else. Everything west of
    the Afon Ganol [Mississippi] was theirs.

    The particulars of the territorial settlement in the new world did not
    interest Dabir. Nor did he care what islands in northern Europe changed
    hands amongst the Lithuanians, the Dutch and the Norwegians. Faeroes,
    Orkneys, Shetland ... the foreign names swam before his eyes. Nor did he
    care that, when Emperor Erik I signed the peace treaty at Fossborg, his aunt
    the Empress Dowager Margaret had to steady his hand.

    (A fact that this Templar considered remarkable and that the Vinlanders who
    witnessed it found so contemptible that a riot nearly erupted at the signing
    ceremony. The Domstollanders, for their part, jeered gleefully, and their
    Folkhagi - some sort of king who wasn't a king, Dabir gleaned - held his
    hand high to show that it did not tremble).

    The fact that thousands upon thousands of Christians were left under the
    rule of ruthless pagan overlords, deep in the interior of Ultima Thule, did
    interest Bishop Dabir, for they were his new charges. Under the Great
    Peace, the Christians of the Riddermark and of Hrafenmark were granted
    religious freedom, but their connection with the Mother Church was severely
    restricted.

    This Dabir knew from the commission he received from Abuna Marqos. Every
    year, the Christian subjects of Domstolland were to be allowed a single
    forty-day visit by a single bishop from the outside world, accompanied by no
    more than three priests. And the Domstolland government was granted the
    right to dictate the time in which they were to visit.

    Every year, the pagan government of Domstolland insisted that the visit take
    place during Lent, having gotten it into their heads that they could thereby
    prevent the Bishop from performing marriages or baptisms. And every year
    since the Great Peace, a different bishop arrived in Jarnborg with a
    dispensation from the Pope, granting him the power to conduct every
    sacrament during Lent.

    Every year, the visiting bishop would conduct an Easter Mass to thousands,
    exulting in Christ's triumph over the forces of death and darkness. And the
    Faithful would return to their villages and farms knowing that the world
    communion had not forgotten them.

    The increasingly-frustrated pagans also had the power to choose the country
    of origin the visiting prelates and tried to make it as expensive and
    inconvenient for the Church as possible. But the Greek Catholic Popes of
    Constantinople were defiant - they would do whatever it took. No pagan
    not-king would crush the spirits of the Christians of Domstolland.

    This year, pursuant to treaty, the Domstollanders had demanded an 'Ethiope.'
    And so Dabir and his young clerical companions were put on the road to the
    new world.

    From Alexandria, a Venetian galley swept them west, to the Lion City's
    enclave in Ceuta, where they eventually boarded the first ship bound for
    Ultima Thule.
    It was a slaver. The young priests were shocked, but Bishop Dabir was
    adamant.

    Once they are at sea, Bishop Dabir marched from their small cabin to the
    hold, where he found a slave who could translate from Arabic (which Dabir
    knew well - all educated men on the fringes of the Red Sea did) to the
    language of his fellow slaves, and Dabir preached the Good Word to God's
    suffering children as they lay crammed together on the wooden shelves.

    He had his vial of holy water with him, and he baptized a dozen before the
    captain and the cargo master confronted him and insisted that he stop. It
    seemed that some Christian slave-owners - including some of the Captain's
    potential customers - had qualms about "owning" a co-religionist. (Probably
    because a hundred years ago, the Pope had pronounced it an "abomination"
    that a Christian would treat one of his fellows as a beast of burden, and
    excommunicated all who did.)

    The bishop's voice thundered above the roaring of the slaves and the
    clanking of their shackles as he threatened eternal damnation any so-called
    Christian who tried to stop his holy work, and if any infidel tried the
    same, he said, as he looked menacingly at the turban-clad cargo master and
    gripped his heavy wooden crosier, he would "deal with him otherwise."

    The captain and the cargo master beat a hasty retreat, and Bishop Dabir
    kneeled on the deck of the slave hold, which was already soaked with vomit,
    urine, and liquid feces, and began the Beatitudes in a steady, strong voice.
    "Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the
    weeping, for they shall be comforted ..."

    By the end of the voyage, he had made Christians of the entire "cargo."

    Once they had reached Newcastle, the capital of the Kingdom of Avalon
    [Charleston, roughly OTL's South Carolina] took three weeks for Bishop Dabir
    and his companions to find a ship going north to Domstolland. That was
    three weeks too long for Bishop Dabir. Every white man there looked at the
    four Africans greedily, it seemed to Dabir, like they were shackling them
    with their eyes.

    And now they had to wait, first for weeks milling about under close guard in
    Jarnborg, and now in this antechamber, to get permission to visit Bishop
    Dabir's latest flock.

    Suddenly, the door to the courtroom burst open, and an oddly-dressed young
    man came careening through, running for exit. Dabir watched him flee. His
    brow furrowed, in puzzlement. A vague recollection from the polyglot
    religious community in Vijayanagara...

    "I think that was a Jew."

    Brother Amare sounded skeptical. "He looked like a white man to me,"

    ***

    Mishael nearly collided with his friend and fellow rabbinical student Yosi,
    who was lurking just outside the exit of the judges' chambers. Yosi gripped
    him by the shoulders and calmed him down. Yosi was obviously in a very
    cheery mood.

    "What in the world," gasps Mishael, still winded from all the excitement,
    "were you doing in the courtroom?"

    "Earning my keep," says Yosi grinning broadly and tossing a bulging purse up
    and down in his palm. "Let's have a drink. I'm buying."

    They made their way to a nearby drinking house. Mishael noted that it had
    half a Star of David carved on the doorpost. Left half, that meant that the
    drink was fit for Jews, but not the food. Too bad, Mishael thought, he had
    not eaten all day and could use a bite. Yosi pushed his way through the
    press of customers - primarily Norse but a few Jews - and got himself a big
    mug of mead and Mishael a generous glass red wine. The two students found a
    quiet table in the back, and Yosi started grilling him about what happened
    in the courtroom. So Mishel filled him in about the Odin priest pronouncing
    the cabin boy a liar and the Freyr priest speculating that the Captain had
    been using the boy as a woman, which gave the boy reason to want revenge for
    the Captain's betrothal, then the riot and the Hrafnvarð clearing the
    courtroom.

    Yosi listened intently, injecting questions here and there to clarify
    various points and bringing out details. When Mishael finished, Yosi leaned
    back in his chair and drummed his fingers on the table, seemingly lost in
    thought. After a few minutes silence, Mishael couldn't take it any more.

    "What? What are you thinking?"

    Yosi smiled grimly. "The Folkhagi is dying. Did you know that?"

    Mishael was irritated. Since they had known each other, Yosi made it clear
    that he thought Mishael was hopelessly academic and out of touch with the
    real world. "Of course I know that the Folkhagi is dying. Everyone knows
    the Folkhagi is dying. The Logretta [parliament] is assembled. The
    Logosgumðar [literally "law speaker," chief justice] is expected any day to
    announce a date for the Allthing."

    What Mishael did not say was that his father, who was a high-ranking member
    of Jarnborg's municipal council, had already been chosen to be the leader of
    the delegation that would represent Jarnborg's Jewish community at the
    Allthing. Yosi's family was not well off - Mishael knew that he was a
    charity student at the rabbinical college - and Mishael did not want to rub
    his nose in his own family's prominence.

    "What does the Folkhagi dying have to do with what just happened in the
    courtroom?"

    Yosi smiled a knowing smile. "The Captain was an Aðalbertson, which
    means -"

    "Yes," Mishael interrupted before Yosi could tell him something else he
    already knew, "a very renowned, very rich, very old family."

    "Exactly. He was betrothed to a daughter of the Bjarni clan."

    "Another ancient family."

    "Yes. The marriage was to be part of an alliance between the Bjarnis and
    the Aðalbertsons. They were going to combine their influence to elect a
    candidate for Folkhagi."

    "An arranged marriage?" Mishael was skeptical. Such things were unheard of
    among the Domstolland Norse.

    "No, it was a love match. It brought the two families together after years
    of bitter rivalry. Some rival family bribed that cabin boy to bring apostasy
    charges against the Captain to end the betrothal and with it the alliance."

    That made sense, thinks Mishael. "That boy. He was wearing shoes. I
    thought it was strange for someone in his station."

    Yosi nods. "A new pair of shoes. That's the price of a man's life and
    reputation."

    "But the charges fell apart when the Odin priest exposed his perjury."

    "Yes. Those two men you saw who were dressed as clerks, they were no doubt
    agents working for whoever bribed the cabin boy. When they saw that the
    apostasy charge was failing, they made up something new and whispered it to
    the Freyr priest."

    "He was corrupt!"

    "Yes," said Yosi, somewhat condescendingly, making it clear that he thought
    Mishael was terribly naive. "The Freyr cult is forever living beyond its
    means, so they take money from wherever they can get it. And now the
    Captain's engagement is over."

    "But won't people know the insinuation was false?" It seems so unfair to
    Mishael.

    "Most people will. But with prominent families like the Bjarnis, rumor of
    that sort is enough. They will not risk their honor that way."

    "What about the cabin boy? He was caught in perjury."

    "He will be punished, and good thing, too, for trying to blacken the name of
    one of his betters. Had the Captain been convicted, the sentence would have
    been death."

    Mishael thought it was odd that Yosi, who rarely had two coppers to his
    name, would be so dismissive of the temptation a new pair of shoes must have
    presented to the cabin boy. He was about to protest when the background din
    in the drinking house abruptly faded. In the silence, two of the Hrafnvarð
    that Mishael had seen in the courtroom pushed their way through the crowd
    and stood at Mishael and Yosi's table.

    "Herra Vitni, if I might interrupt? I am afraid it is urgent." The
    Captain's demeanor is respectful. After the dismissive way Yosi talked to
    him, Mishael is glad he is here to see the elite of the Norse being so
    deferential.

    "Please, Captain. What is it?"

    "The Chief Dómari sent me. Do you speak the language of the Greeks?"

    "Yes." Mishael was startled by the question and the answer escaped him
    before he could even think. Yosi's grandfather was a young man in Rome
    before the Fall. Part of the brilliant collection of scholars who took the
    works of the ancient Greeks, translated them into the vernacular, and fed
    them into the printing presses so that they might enlighten all of Europe.
    He was a leading light of the Renacita [rebirth] in the Roman Republic,
    which was to be stamped out so brutally by Timur's all-conquering armies.
    Mishael's grandfather managed to escape and, like so many Jews, made his way
    to Domstolland, where he began a new life. But he never forgot his great
    task, and in his old age he pressed the classics onto Mishael, hoping that
    he would take up the task in the New World. The old man did his best to
    conceal his disappointment when Mishael decided to become a Rabbi instead of
    a secular scholar, but Mishael knew.

    "Then please, Herra Vitni. The Chief Dómari requests your attendance.
    There is a Christian Priest of the Ethiopes present in court for the Vitja
    [visitation], and he appears to only speak Greek. The court needs a
    translator to interrogate him."

    TO BE CONTINUED

    Empty America - Part 39

    All the stories have been told
    Of kings and days of old,
    But there's no England now.

    There's no England now.

    All the wars that were won and lost
    Somehow don't seem to matter very much anymore.

    There's no England now.

    All the lies we were told,
    All the lies of the people running round,
    They're castles have burned.

    There's no England now ...

    Geoffrey Chaucer, "Lament" (1404)[FN39.01]


    Summer, 1404

    [Outside Salisbury, England]

    "Harry!" Sir John yells, galloping up on his horse. As has often happened
    during the campaign, both Sir Henry Percy and Sir Henry of Monmouth turn in
    their saddles. When Percy sees that it is Sir John, he scowls and trots off
    to join his lancers, who are idly chatting and smoking with the studied
    nonchalance of men ardently pretending they didn't know world was not about
    to end.

    Their dented and discolored breastplates, battered uniforms and
    mud-splattered horses told a different story. They have been skirmishing
    for days. Short, sharp and bloody encounters with enemy light horse as it
    feels its way around the countryside, probing ahead of the main force,
    looking for an army to destroy.

    Across the green fields of England, beneath the cloud of dust on the eastern
    horizon, Harry of Monmouth knew, the breaker of nations and the death of all
    things, was coming for them. In its weak it leaves endless desolation of
    burned villages and fields, so it seems to Harry that a faint haze lies over
    the whole land.

    Smoke from England's funeral pyre.

    "Harry! The Lord High Chancellor has arrived, and he wants to see you!"
    Sir John reigns in his horse and mops his face and brow. Harry of Monmouth
    is once again reminded how prematurely aged his friend is - Sir John, though
    not yet in his thirties, is fat and gouty, and could easily pass for a man
    twenty years older.

    But it won't matter for long. Harry knows this for a grim certainty.
    Although he was only 18, he knew that none of them will live to grow much
    older. All that mattered now is what each of them did before their end. He
    watched the seemingly endless stream of miserable refugees flow by.
    Grim-faced old men, red-eyed women and sobbing children, making their way
    west, west to Plymouth and the sea.

    "The Lord Chancellor?" Harry is puzzled. Why in god's name would the third
    highest-ranking official in the Commonwealth of England want to see him?
    And what was he doing here? The last Harry had heard, after the rout at St.
    Albans, the death of the Lord High Constable and the collapse of the Eastern
    Army, the remnants of the government had fled north, to Lincoln. Timur's
    horsemen are rumored to be hard behind them, and they are anticipated to
    flee again further north, trying as they went to rouse resistance to the
    invaders.

    But it was all ending, Harry knew, looking again over the refugees.

    He and his Welsh Volunteer Dragoons, like Hotspur's lancers, ride with the
    Western Army, screening it from the enemy. The English are forty thousand
    strong, half the size of the Eastern Army, and Harry has no illusions that
    could halt Timur's advance, much less hurl him back across the Channel.
    There are not enough men, not enough guns, not enough horses, not enough of
    anything. Their slim hopes of victory had perished with the Lord Constable
    and the Eastern Army. And things kept getting worse - a second landing,
    this time near Southampton, has captured the port by coup de main and
    another Erkutan [FN39.02] force is assembling by the banks of the River
    Test, and soon it will be ready to drive north.

    "Yes, Harry." Sir John was breathing heavily. "And he has the Earl Marshal
    with him."

    Now Harry is angry as well as puzzled - two of the Great Officers of the
    Commonwealth are scampering around southwest England when the government is
    supposedly assembling far to the north? Yes, he knows that there is no
    stopping Timur, but ... surely they have better things to do. Surely he
    thinks, something can be done, should be done.

    It is at that moment that Harry realizes that he has not lost all hope for
    England.

    "But why me, John? Certainly they would confer with Hawkwood." Sir John
    Hawkwood, son of the legend of the same name, commanded the Western Army.
    The elder Hawkwood dazzled the world by fighting Timur to a standstill as a
    commander of the Romans, until the Erkut crushed the Legions through sheer
    weight of numbers. The younger is not doing as well, and the Western Army
    has been retreating since its creation.

    "Enough questions, Sir Harry, if you please." There was no sign of the
    merry Sir John of Harry's younger days. The tragedy of these days bore down
    upon him. Harry could see that. "Come, we must ride out to meet them. The
    Lord Chancellor was most insistent upon privacy."

    And so they did, riding out of camp and staying off the main road, still
    choked with refugees, until they came across a wagon train surrounded by a
    heavily armed mounted escort. Harry recognized the dark brown tunics,
    fingerless leather gloves and deep green cloaks of the Sherwood Foresters.

    Two men rode out towards them, long rifles slung across their backs.

    "Ho, Loxley!" shouts Harry, suddenly brightening at the sight of a friend of
    a dozen years. All could not be lost if Robin of Loxley, saucy and
    irreverent, was still in the field. "Surprised to find you so far away from
    the fighting. Losing your stomach for it, married man?"

    The other man laughs and the two clasp hands. "If Mary had her way, I
    would! You know she presented me with a third this spring? A boy, bigod!
    Finally an ally in a house overrun by women. But where are my manners?" He
    nods to the man next to him. "William, this is Sir Henry of Monmouth and
    the hearty fellow with him is the corruptor of our innocent youth in days
    past, Sir John Oldcastle. Sir Henry, Sir John, my second in command,
    Captain Will Scarlock."
    Hands are shaken all around.

    "You are of interest to high and mighty men these days, Harry," says Loxley,
    raising his eyebrows, "Standing orders are to escort you, with utmost
    dispatch, into the honorable presence of the remains of the Government of
    the Commonwealth."

    Harry was shocked. "What of Parliament? What of the Lord High Admiral and
    the fleet? Is this," he gestures to the wagon train, still creeping along
    amid the hordes of the dispossessed, "truly all that survives?"

    Loxley runs his hand through his dark hair, greasy and stringy with weeks of
    road dirt. His voice is tired, but his tone is matter-of-fact. "Harry, the
    remnants of the Fleet gather off Plymouth to protect the flight of England's
    native sons. Parliament has scattered to the winds, although a rump gathers
    in Yorkshire, to what end none can say."

    Harry nods and the group fall silent. He mutely allows Loxley to lead him
    to the end of the wagon train, where he introduces him to the Lord
    Chancellor and Earl Marshall of England, both of whom, along with their
    retinues, are on horseback and looking exhausted and roadworn. The
    Chancellor, a tall, grave looking man with a short gray beard, leads the
    group away from the crowded trail into a nearby field.

    Without hesitation, the Chancellor turns to Harry, "Sir Henry, England is
    dying. Dying under the boot and the hoof of the invader." When Harry does
    not respond, he continues. "Timur means to enslave that portion of these
    isles that suits him, and exterminate the rest. And we do not have the
    means to stop him."

    "We have seen it, Harry." The Earl Marshal, an older, heavier man
    interjects. He wears an expression of immense sadness and despair. "Great
    files of men, women and children, roped together, being marched towards the
    Channel ports, bound for God only knows where. All who stumble or fall,
    from hunger or thirst or exhaustion, are instantly beheaded. In London,
    upon the rubble of the Tower, Timur is building a pyramid -" He stops,
    unable to continue.

    "The Western Army will turn and fight, milords," Harry feels the need to
    rouse their spirits. Dear God, if they give in, then all really is lost.
    "They will not march onward unopposed. Forty thousand sturdy English and
    Welsh yeomen will see to that."

    The Earl Marshall claps him on the shoulder. "Yes, the Western Army will
    fight, Harry. Sir John Hawkwood is a brave commander, and he will strike at
    a fitting time. But you will not be with him. We have another task set for
    you."

    "Harry," says the Chancellor, "the Commonwealth has fallen. The Tatars will
    occupy England and Wales and Scotland. They will then cross the sea and
    seize Ireland. Even now, the Scots prepare redoubts in their highland
    fastness and await the last harvest to fill their granaries. The Taoiseach
    has called every able-bodied man to the colors and empties his treasury on
    weapons and powder. The Irish race will meet the invader at the shoreline."

    "Will they come to our aid?" Harry cries, "Together, we may yet prevail!"

    "A noble sentiment," says the Earl Marshal, "expressed nobly. But no, they
    will not stand with us. The centuries of strife in these isles have sown
    such discord and distrust that its free peoples will be destroyed piecemeal.
    The present turns to ashes, and we must look to the future."

    "What future could there be," says Harry, "but slavery and death?"

    The Chancellor looks at the Earl Marshal. "For all the might it has thrown
    against these isles, Harry, the Khanate of the Erkut is a most tottering
    state. Timur has shored it up with the blood and bones of millions, but he
    is aged, and has but few years remaining before his appointment in Hades.
    The Khan, whom he purports to serve, is but a boy. We have friends in
    France who favor us with sound intelligence. The great Tatar families are
    at odds, no kuriltai has been held for generations. When Timur passes, it
    is only a matter of time before a struggle for power ensues."

    Harry starts to say something, but The Chancellor holds up his hand. "And
    when that struggle is well and truly on, and the Tatar is fully engaged in
    spilling fraternal blood, this England may yet rise again. When that time
    comes, England will need an undoubted leader, Harry."

    The Chancellor hesitates. "England will need a king, Harry. England will
    need you to be king."

    Harry is stunned. The republican credo, "England has no king for England
    needs no king" sticks in his throat.

    The Earl Marshal interjects. "Harry, it is true. You are the lineal
    descendant of Henry the Third, who was overthrown by the Commonwealth and
    who did die in exile. If there is to be one, you are, by the laws of nature
    and nations, the rightful King of England."

    Harry knew of his illustrious ancestor, of course. But his family has been,
    for some generations, loyal republicans and supporters of the Commonwealth.
    Oh, there were exceptions - Edward Longshanks conspired incessantly against
    Parliament and went to the gallows for it. But since then, the heirs of the
    deposed King had contented themselves - for the most part - with the usual
    intriguing that every Earl in the Commonwealth had done to enhance his
    standing and that of his house.

    "But what of the Earls and the Parliament," Harry protests, "certainly, they
    could go into exile and return on the fortunate day?"

    The Earl Marshal shakes his head. "Most of the Earls have fled, Harry, and
    many of those that remain behind are ... engaged in arrangements to secure
    the safety of their persons and households.

    Harry feels the blood rush to his face. Treason.

    "The Commonwealth has fallen and dishonor surrounds its fall," says the
    Chancellor grimly, "None that remember it will wish for its return. But, if
    you take up the crown and scepter, and proclaim yourself sovereign, all who
    survive this most terrible of times will look for salvation to the return of
    the King."

    An immense weight settles upon Harry and he bows his head. Oh, God of
    battles, how has it come to this? Then he looks up and into the eyes of the
    Chancellor of England.

    "What must I do?"

    Spring, 1405

    [Jarnborg, Domstolland]

    Bishop Dabir and his three clerical charges stand in the well of the Great
    Hirðskáli while a slave wipes up the blood. The Bryti had grinned
    malevolently at Dabi and his nervous companions and, as he led them into the
    hall, gestured to the red smear on the floor.

    Dabir had stood his ground and stared impassively at the Bryti for a full
    minute, until the Norse became unnerved and retreated to his post near the
    judges' thrones. Dabir had that effect on people, when he wanted to.

    Though I walk through the valley of the shadow, I shall fear no evil. Those
    were not just words to Bishop Dabir.

    Now, the young man who had run through the chambers where Bishop Dabir had
    been waiting walks up to him, escorted by an armored guard.

    "You speak Greek?" Dabir thinks the man's accent was atrocious.

    "Yes." He looks the man up and down. "Unless I am mistaken, you are a
    Jew."

    The young man starts. "Yes, this is true."

    "And yet you speak Greek?"

    The young man frowned. "Obviously so." He made a show of examining Dabir
    closely. "You are an African, unless I am mistaken?"

    Dabir would not let this stripling get a rise out of him. "This is true.
    And yet I speak Greek, for it is one of the tongues of my Church."

    "Just so."

    "Yes, just so."

    Someone opens the front doors, and a boisterous crowd pours in, filling the
    stands. Dabir sees many of them point at him and cry out angrily. He does
    not know their words, but it is plain that the pagans of Domstolland
    recognize him for what he is, are not pleased by his presence.

    Good.

    The jeering subsides as the three judges enter the courtroom and ascend to
    their thrones. Dabir notices one of the chairs is empty. He turns to the
    Jew, who is keeping a wary eye on the restive crowd. "Is one of the judges
    not present?"

    The Jew looks at Dabir flatly. "That chair is reserved for a high priest of
    the Cult of Heimdall, should there ever be one again. It is the written
    into the fundamental law of the Commonwealth."

    "That cult has no leader?" Dabir had never heard of a religion - even a
    pagan one - with no authority.

    "Over a hundred years ago, the priests of Heimdall were overthrown by a
    radical movement within their religion. Those who follow the White God now
    accept no authority over their worship. Every man is a priest of his own
    house. Although some have gained many adherents, none pretend to mastery.
    And they do not accept the authority of this court. To them, every man is
    the master of his own conscience."

    Dabir is appalled. "Madness."

    "Indeed."

    * * *

    Even if they can agree that every flock needs a shepherd, Mishael still
    finds this African priest insufferably arrogant, but he is determined to do
    his duty as translator. Father would want it that way. But like every Jew
    of Domstolland, he knows Christians, either from family lore or for personal
    experience, and he does not relish a Christian presence in the Commonwealth,
    their refuge.

    The Chief Dómari calls the court to order, glaring balefully over the crowd,
    then turns and addresses Mishael. "The Bryti will swear the translator."

    The Bryti walks up to Mishael. "State the name of your sect."

    "I am a Jew."

    The Byrti opens a codex and turns to the appropriate page. "Do you swear,
    in the name of the Great God of the Jews, Yahweh -"

    Mishael can't help it. He flinches. A pagan speaking the Ineffable Name.
    It is appalling, but it is one of the compromises that had to be made.

    "- who did drown the charioteers of Egypt land by the thousands, and did
    slay the Canaanites, Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the
    Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, by the tens of thousands -"

    To the Norse, Mishael knows, the bloody exploits of one's god are important.
    With his god, it can be a long recitation, but the Byrti cuts it short.

    "- to translate faithfully the words spoken in this courtroom?"

    "I do."

    The Chief Dómari, who clearly is not relishing this duty, turns to Bishop
    Dabir and his companions. "The útlendr [foreigner] will identify himself
    for the court." He does not ask the Christian priest to swear. Under Norse
    law, Dabir is an andskoti [enemy], and is incapable of uttering any oath in
    a court of Domstolland.

    Mishael translates for Bishop Dabir. "The judge orders you to state your
    name. According to the custom of the Norse, you should state your father's
    name and that of any illustrious ancestors you may possess."

    The African steps forward, onto the spot still tacky with the blood of the
    cabin boy. Mishael knows that, in the court of the Hár Siðr, punishments
    for perjury and contempt are carried out ... summarily. It makes him queasy
    to think about it.

    "I am Bishop Dabir of Amhara, son of Dawit, he the Emperor of Ethiopia and
    possessor of a relic of the True Cross of Christ. I am a prince of the
    royal house of Ethiopia, descended from the great King Solomon of Israel,
    and Nigista Sab'a, known to the world as Makeda, the Queen of Saba, who did
    bear Solomon a son, Melenik, the first Emperor of Ethiopia, and progenitor
    of my house."

    The courtroom is silent, waiting for Mishael's translation. Mishael just
    looks at this African Bishop who has just said with great solemnity that he
    is descended from the greatest king of the Jews. He boils over and shouts
    at Dabir in Greek, "That is an outlandish fabrication! How dare you
    claim -"

    Dabir interjects calmly. "It is simply the truth. And as I understand it,
    it is your task to translate, not debate, what I say. So translate
    faithfully, Jew."

    Mishael bites back his protests. This African is right. He has sworn an
    oath and an oath, even to a pagan court, must be kept. He cannot embarrass
    his father by making a scene. Instead of continuing to denounce this
    scoundrel, he simply turns to him and says, "Stop calling me 'Jew.' I do
    have a name." He winces inside. He sounds peevish and small.

    "If you had told it to me, I would have used it."

    "My name is Mishael, son of Yosef."

    "Greetings Mishael, son of Yosef. Now, would you please convey my
    introduction to the Court? I wish this heathenish ceremony to be over with
    as soon as possible, so that I might begin my duties."

    So Mishael, without betraying his fury and disbelief, told the impatient
    court that this black African claimed to be a royal prince descended from
    the author of the Psalms. The Chief Dómari and the other judges appeared
    nonplussed by this claim, although a clerk scurries forward to the throne
    with a sheaf of papers. The judges lean forward and begin to confer.

    "What is happening now?"

    Mishael listens closely. He nods in satisfaction. "Your outrageous lies
    may have doomed your visit. The Great Peace stipulates that the visiting
    cleric may have no civil function. You claim to be a prince, so you may be
    disqualified."

    To Mishael's satisfaction, the bishop's calm cracks. "That's impossible! I
    renounced my succession when I took my vows!"

    Mishael shrugs and the bishop turns on him. "You are not one of them. How
    can you believe in the God of the Jews and yet serve these pagans?"

    His anger flares. "I do not 'serve' the Norse. My father is a high official
    in the Jarnborg government, and I am here to represent my people."

    "But still -"

    "But nothing! If you are here for the Christian 'Good Friday,' look around.
    You will see Jews walking the streets, you will see the windows of Jewish
    houses open, and the doors unbarred. And Jews can gather freely in their
    synagogues without fear that some mob will burn it down around them.
    Nowhere in Christendom can this be said. Even in the Khanate where the law
    protects the Jews, all must live in fear. Here, we live as equals."

    The Bishop furrows his brow. He is visibly calmer. "In my country, to
    accost a Jew, it would be best to have an army to do it."

    "What?"

    "Yes. The Jews of Ethiopia are mighty tribes. My ancestor, Amda Seyon,
    battled them in the Northwest provinces of our land. No mere mob would
    challenge them."

    Mishael is about to respond when the Chief Dómari calls the court back to
    order.

    * * *

    Bishop Dabir is stunned. It never occurred to him that after all his
    travels, the Domstollanders would simply not allow him to attend his flock.
    He supposes that, in extremis, he could elevate one of the young priests to
    bishop and send him on instead. But the thought of coming all this way,
    only to be stranded in a pagan city, crushes Dabir.

    The Chief Dómari speaks, and Mishael translates. Dabir has nothing against
    the Jews - he had sent missionaries to the Tigrinya Kayla, preaching the
    truth of God's salvation - but met with no success. It did not anger him,
    but rather caused him to redouble his efforts.

    He wonders if what Mishael says is true, about the Christians of the Khanate
    persecuting Jews. It sorrows him to think of all those souls lost to Christ
    at the hands of Christians. Such misfortune - to be deprived of the chance
    of saving those whose ancestors turned their backs upon the new covenant!

    "Bishop," says Dabir, "The Chief Dómari wishes to know: what duties your
    sire, the Emperor of Ethiopia, has given you to further the glory and
    interests of his house?"

    "None. I entered the seminary as a boy. Though by birth I am a Prince, I
    am a man of the Church, to which I have devoted my entire life. When my
    father's time comes, the throne will pass to my older brother, and from him
    to his son."

    The answer, translated, seems to please the Chief Dómari, who nods. The
    young priest, the one in green scowls, and the oldest one cackles from deep
    inside the shadows of his black hooded robe.

    The young priest leans forward and speaks sharply. Mishael quickly
    translates. "You have commanded no warriors in battle?"

    "No."

    "You have never conveyed your father's words abroad, to foreign sovereigns?"

    "No."

    "You have sat on no tribunals, to dispense justice, under the laws and
    traditions of your people?"

    "No."

    "You have never sat in council with him and his ministers?"

    "No. All I have ever done, and all I ever will do, is bring the truth of my
    Lord Jesus Christ to the unbelievers and dispense his sacraments and solace
    to the faithful."

    The cackling again, from the recesses of the black hood. An ancient,
    rasping voice emerges, and a pale arm extends from its sleeve, pointing a
    bony finger at Dabir.

    "You walk abroad, spreading the false faith of slaves and corpses." Mishael
    seems to lose much color as he translates. "Even now, your great cathedrals
    burn and the ancient Tatar beats the Christian realms to dust." At this,
    some desultory cheering comes from the crowd, but it is muted. The triumphs
    of the Tatars, of which Dabir heard much when he was in Newcastle, do not
    hearten many of the Norse.

    "Better for you, African, if you had stayed at home and plotted treachery to
    gain the throne, as is the fashion of royal houses. Then at least you could
    meet your doom as a man, on your feet at the head of your armies, when the
    Tatar comes for you."

    Dabir turns to the translator. "Speak my words exactly, young Mishael."
    Mishael nods. It would seem that he, too, was disturbed by the Odin
    priest's glee at the Tatar advance. Bishop Dabir takes a step forward and,
    as he speaks, his voice resounds throughout the hall.

    "No Tatar, ancient or youthful, can beat Christ's kingdom to dust, for it is
    not of this world, and the mansions of his kingdom await all faithful
    departed. And those that beleiveth in Him and bear the Tatar yoke or the
    yoke of this wicked heathen State, are consoled for they know that their
    suffering in His Name gains them His love and, through Him, life
    everlasting."

    The translation starts a great uproar in the hall. Bishop Dabir cannot
    understand a word, but he knows threats and epithets when they are hurled at
    him. He looks back and his three priests, whom he had almost forgotten,
    stand proud and with no trace of fear. They do not comprehend his speech,
    but are inspired by his defiant tone.

    The Chief Domari calls for quiet, and when the crowd settles down, he
    speaks. "You grossly overstep your bounds, útlendr, and you have forfeited
    your right to address this court other than to answer those questions
    required by the Treaty of the Great Peace."

    Bishop Dabir turns and says to his companions, in Ge'ez, "The wicked man
    cannot contend with the truth, and thus seeks silence." The priests smile
    broadly and make the sign of the cross. That sets the crowd roaring,
    red-faced.

    "Enough! Enough!" The Chief Dómari yet again demands order. He looks
    intensely fatigued to Bishop Dabir. "As you do not now hold, nor have you
    ever held, any office of civil trust, you are not disqualified under the
    plain reading of the terms of the Great Peace." The Freyr priest looks
    sullen. Mishael sounds pleased as he translates, and this surprises Bishop
    Dabir.

    "You are happy?" he asks.

    "Yes, I am." Mishael replies. "It was the Freyr priest who demanded that
    your princely state required your exclusion, and the other two judges forced
    him to agree that, if you had actually never held a civil post for your
    sovereign father, you could not be barred. No doubt he believed that the son
    of a monarch simply must have wielded some power on his father's behalf, and
    considered the agreement a victory. But then you spoke firmly, so that the
    other two priests believed you, and he lost. The Freyr priest is corrupt,
    and he cost a young boy his life, exactly where you stand. Now he is
    thwarted and humiliated. It is a small justice, but it is something."

    The Chief Dómari speaks again. "Present your credentials, útlendr, and hear
    the conditions of your sojourn here." Bishop Dabir takes the Papal scroll
    from inside his robes and hands it to the Byrti, who breaks the seal and
    reads the Bishop's commission aloud to the assembled Norse, who listen in
    seething silence.

    When it is done, and the judges have all examined it and proclaimed it in
    order to verify its authenticity.

    "Now hear this, priest. By law, are allowed into this Commonwealth, but you
    are not welcome. While you are here, you are an andskoti within. You can
    make no oaths, hold no post and receive no remuneration. You are a
    stranger, and will remain as such. You and yours must wear these symbols -"
    They Byrti hands each of the priests a cloth patch with a yellow cross dyed
    into it. "- sewn on your outer garments at all time, so that all might know
    you."

    A sadness seems to sink into Mishael's voice as he translates the Chief
    Dómari's pronouncement.

    "Further, since Christians are known to be poisoners and spreaders of the
    plague, you are to go no where near the public wells. And, since Christian
    priests are known to ..." Mishael's translation falters, and he does not
    Bishop Dabir's eye, but he takes a breath and continues, "... to use the
    blood of innocents in the preparation of their sacred bread, you are to go
    nowhere near any Norse children."

    Bishop Dabir is aghast at these libels, and at the thought that the Cross
    would worn as a badge of shame, but he keeps his face blank. In the end it
    is done. The Commonwealth of Domstolland has granted Bishop Dabir of Amhara
    forty days' Vitja in the provinces of he Riddermark and the Hrafenmark,
    where he can perform the usual and customary rites of his faith.

    After the court has adjourned and Bishop Dabir and his companions are
    released, they remain in the well of the courtroom with Mishael. None of
    them are inclined to join the sullen and tense crowd as it files out.

    When they are gone, Bishop Dabir turns to Mishael and says, "Mishael, son of
    Yosef, you do your office fairly. And for your pains, I thank you." Dabir
    takes a small ornate box from one of his companion priests' packs and hands
    it to Mishael.

    "What is it?"

    "It is a tabot, a replica of the Ark of the Covenant. It has not yet been
    blessed, so it need not be hidden from view. One is given to each Church in
    Ethiopia and is held sacred. I am bringing one to each church I visit in
    Domstolland, so that when I depart, they will remember that a Bishop of the
    Ethiopian church was once here."

    Mishael bows his head. "Thank you. It will have an honored place in our
    home." He pauses. "If I may say so, Bishop, I think today you may have
    learned something about Jews you did not know before."

    Bishop Dabir purses his lips and looks at his companion priests, sitting in
    the front row of benches, diligently sewing the yellow crosses to their
    robes. "This is true. And if I may say so, Mishael, son of Yosef, that you
    have learned something about some Christians that you might not have known
    before."

    "Also true."

    Bishop Dabir says, "Come brothers. We have precious little time as it is.
    We must make our way upriver, and then to the canal." He hoists his own bag
    to his shoulder."

    "Tell me Bishop, one last thing. Do you really believe you are descended
    from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba?"

    "Yes I do, Mishael. And do you really know that I am not?"

    Mishael was quiet for a moment. "No, no I do not."

    Dabir smiles. "And here we are. Oh, and if you ever wish to stand beneath
    the same roof as the original -" he points to the tabot in Mishael's hands
    "- you should convert and come to Axum. The True Ark rests in the Church of
    Our Lady Mary of Zion."

    Mishael shakes his head in evident wonder. "Bishop Dabir, you have my
    oath - should I ever become a Christian, it will be my first pilgrimage."

    "Just so. God be with you Mishael, son of Yosef."

    "And God be with you, Bishop Dabir of the House of Solomon and Sheba."


    [FN39.01] For the complete text, see tinyurl.com/6hwbgf

    [FN39.02] From Khanate of the Erkut, the official name of the European
    Khanate. pronounced "airkooTAN."

    Empty America - Part 40
    Summer, 1404

    [On the road to Plymouth, England]

    Sir John Oldcastle sags in his saddle, exhausted. They have been fighting
    for weeks, fighting and moving, but always falling back. God, what he
    wouldn't give to be with Harry right now! He had tried, but the yet
    uncrowned king had exiled him from his sight, consigning him to fight with
    Hawkwood's Western Army while the rest of the Welsh Volunteer Dragoons
    escorted him, the Earl Marshal and the Lord Chancellor and their
    Commonwealth caravan north to Yorkshire.

    He had begged to come along. "Banish Pistol, banish Bardolph, banish Nym.
    But banish plump Jack, and banish all the world!"

    Harry had put his hand on Jack's shoulder and smiled sadly. "I do. I
    must."

    "But we have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Harry! Oh, the days we
    have seen!"

    But Harry was adamant - as King, he would need eyes and ears in the Western
    Army and he dare not entrust the task to anyone else. "The Commonwealth now
    ends," Harry had said, "and once I am crowned, I must not stay. But I will
    not slip out of England as a burglar creeping from shadow to shadow. I must
    make myself known."

    And so Jack found himself, as he had so many times before, thrust quite
    unwillingly in the thick of the battle.

    For his commander, Sir John Hawkwood had, quite suddenly, recovered his will
    to fight. The Western Army had turned around and inflicted a series of
    sharp, stunning defeats upon Timur's forces, then pivoted and routed the
    Erkutan army advancing from Southampton, all while being vastly outnumbered
    by the invaders.

    But the effort has bled the English white and exhausted their supplies. Now
    they are falling back again, retreating westward, trying to buy time to
    regroup. The Erkut have turned loose their horsemen, who harry the English,
    punching through their cavalry screens and pillaging their supply trains.
    It is only the stubborn muschetta-work [musketry] of the English rear guard
    that keeps the Erkut from turning the English retreat into a rout.

    And there was Jack astride his horse, riding alongside an olifaunt
    [mastodon] [FN40.001] dragging a heavy gun down a dirt road from Exeter to
    Plymouth.

    Plymouth. Tens of thousands of people from all over southern England had
    fled to the great port city ahead of the advancing Erkutan armies, hoping to
    escape by sea, and that is where the last army of the English Commonwealth
    would make its stand.

    Harry, thinks Jack. Oh, Harry, where are you? Since they had parted, all
    sorts of rumors had reached the Western Army - Erkut cavalry had attacked
    Yorkminster during the coronation, Harry had raised the Scots against the
    invaders and was marching south with an army of thirty thousand, Harry and
    old Owain Glyndwr [FN40.01] had famously reconciled in the Welsh Marches and
    were riding west at the head of eight thousand cavalry. There was a germ of
    truth in the last - Jack had seen a seal on a proclamation from Glyndwr,
    styling himself 'Prince of Wales,' calling upon every Welshman to resist the
    Erkut. The first seal on the proclamation had been Harry's. Or, rather,
    that of Henry V, King of England and Lord of Ireland [FN40.02].

    Harry was alive, and he was crowning Princes.

    But, in the blood-soaked chaos that was southern England, that's all anyone
    in the Western Army knew, including Sir John Oldcastle.

    The olifaunt bellowed, and Jack called himself back to the present. Hotspur
    and what was left of his lancers galloped past on the side of the road.
    They had been badly mauled by some Polish Hussars, and their commander had
    his arm in a sling and a bloody bandage around his forehead. His face was
    wan. John took some satisfaction from that. The haughty knight had always
    looked down his nose at John, treating him the sneering contempt he heaped
    on all those he deemed social inferiors, which included just about everyone
    who could not serve the ambitions of Henry 'Hotspur' Percy.

    The days drag on. Dry, dusty days in the saddle. He spends the daylight
    hours on the move and the evening rounding up forage for his artillery
    olifaunts and horses. There is not much to be found, and the trumpeting of
    hungry olifaunts is apt to deafen him.

    Frequently, Jack hears the distant rumble of muschetta fire to the east, the
    Erkut pressing yet again at the rear guard. He feels no urge to rush to the
    sound of guns, since he fully intends to make it to Plymouth alive. If
    Harry is going to flee England, so is Sir John Oldcastle, with or without
    him. It is a deflating thought, but he forces himself to consider the
    future. As he has a hundred times on the great retreat, Jack wonders where
    he should go. He has means, he thinks, subconsciously touching the money
    belt tucked under his shirt. But where to go?

    The new world beckons. It is the only place out of reach of the Tatars, and
    Jack knows they have a superstitious dread of allowing a defeated enemy
    monarch to escape alive. Jack does not know if they feel that way about
    close friends of defeated monarchs, but he firmly believes that putting an
    ocean between him and them is a good policy just in case.

    But where to go?

    Jack is a reluctant soldier, and his spreading girth testifies to love of
    the good life, so he cannot imagine himself out on the frontier of Ultima
    Thule, enduring a pioneer's hardships. But there is lots of Christian
    civilization across the ocean. There's Niwe Wessex, where at least they
    speak English ... or something like it. But they have a reputation as a
    dull lot, and are known to still bear a grudge against real Englishmen.
    Churlish Saxons, never forgive and never forget, do they?

    Then there's Avalon, where they speak something closer to proper English and
    (from what Jack has heard from sailors and other low sorts in London's bawdy
    houses and taverns) the king and peers are all fabulously rich from their
    great estates. Cotton and rice and indigo and tubbaq flow out and the
    riches of the world flow in. That could be just the place for an
    experienced hanger-on like Jack, full of songs, wild tales and bawdy jokes.
    Even after all this ... and losing Harry ... he could still be jovial, he
    thinks. In due time, mayhap ...

    The Duchy of Cocagne seems attractive. Like most English peers, Jack speaks
    fluent French and the court life in Neufchateu is rumored to be both
    colorful and lively. The French Dauphin is there, Jack knows, living on the
    borrowed glories of his long-dead ancestors, afraid to assume the crown for
    fear of offending his over-mighty "subject."

    Ah, to stride into the great castle of the Duc D'Cocagne as boon companion
    of the King of England! He sighs, then takes a long pull at his wineskin.
    More likely he will arrive alone, or with Bardolf the fool, since Pistol and
    Nym have made it clear that once the Western Army makes it to Plymouth, they
    plan to steal back to London and retrieve Nell Quickly, if she yet lives.

    Bereft of friends and family, Jack will be alone, save one fool.

    Oh, Hal, where are you?

    He looks around. He does not have to make his travel plans now, but he will
    soon. As Jack and his troops move further West, towards Plymouth, the
    crowds of trudging refugees grow thicker, impeding the army. Over the din,
    John hears shouting. That voice, that officious, pettifogging Welsh voice.

    "Make way! Make way! Curse you, clear the road, you wretches!"

    Fluellen. As much as Captain Sir John Oldcastle was a reluctant soldier,
    Captain Dafydd Fluellen was an enthusiast. And as Hawkwood had placed him
    in command of this column, he was Jack's superior officer. "Tis ill done,"
    he barks, riding up to Jack. "The troops and guns stranded, the roads
    choked with these vagabonds! The foe will be upon us in a flash, and us in
    no shape to fight, all entangled this way. 'Tis most against the
    disciplines of war! What do you have to say for yourself, Captain Sir
    John?"

    Jack has had enough. Cast adrift by Harry, sneered at by Hotspur, and now
    lectured by this officious Welshman. His normally light and jovial
    countenance shatters. "Then hang the disciplines of war! If we drive these
    so-called wretches into the fields, the Erkut will have them as brick and
    mortar for a pyramid!"

    Fluellen reddens. "And if we stay mired here, the Erkut will have us all,
    Sir John! A greater pyramid, with captive banners fluttering above it! And
    none who can bear arms between Timur and the great port. Now order your men
    to push their way through!"

    Jack set his teeth. "The rear guard will hold, and we can all make it
    safely to Plymouth. What purpose this -" he gestured around at the tattered
    soldiers and lumbering guns, "- if we are to just leave the women and
    children to the mercies of the Erkut?"

    "And what purpose any of this, Sir John," snaps Fluellen, "if we are all -
    woman, child, soldier, knight - to die on this forsaken English road?"

    They glare at each other for a long moment. Jack is the king's man, and he
    knows that Fluellen will not strip him of command or arrest him for
    disobedience, not without warrant. Finally, the Welshman breaks the
    silence. "Fine then. Dress up your lines, your men straggle about the
    countryside like wayward sheep. But move, and keep moving."

    Jack turns about and does as he is told, rounding up the outliers and
    bringing them back into formation on the road. By nightfall, he is sagging
    in his saddle as they approach line of trenches, forts and earthworks the
    English have thrown in a great arc around Plymouth. The laborers are
    toiling by torchlight in the gathering darkness. Jack is no siege-master
    and has no idea where the guns he is escorting should go, so he hands them
    over to the first likely-looking officer he encounters and rides into
    Plymouth town.

    Where he is greeted by a scene straight out of hell.

    Desperate crowds choke the muddy streets, which run with raw sewage.
    Drunken soldiers stagger out of ale houses and brothels and vomit. The sick
    are everywhere, dying where they fall, and the city reeks of rotting
    corpses. My god, thinks Jack, if it is this bad before the siege even
    begins, once the city is cut off by the Erkutan ... suddenly, he feels a
    powerful need for a drink, so he elbows his way into a pub. He finds a
    corner to sit in and wraps his hands around a very large brandy.

    He has it half drained and is feeling the warm numbness dull the ache of the
    past weeks when a sturdy, gray-bearded man in scholars robes pushes his way
    through the crowd and accosts him.

    "Good sir knight, I crave an audience, for I need your help." He has a
    French accent that immediately rubs Jack the wrong way.

    Jack looks at him warily. "How did you know I am a knight?"

    "Why your noble bearing! Your stately carriage! 'Tis as plain as the
    summer sun!"

    Jack takes a long drink and doesn't say anything.

    "But my manners! Good sir knight, I am Nicolas Flamel and, in my folly, I
    have doomed the entire world!"


    [FN40.001] Now, in EA, officially disambiguated from Mûmak, the North
    American Woolly Mammoth.

    [FN40.01] Thanks to Lyn David Thomas for the germ of the idea.

    [FN40.02] The number will prove to be a bit controversial, since it
    supposes that Henry IV was a legitimate king during the Commonwealth period,
    which in turn suggests that the Commonwealth was illegitimate. The Irish
    Commonwealth and its Taoiseach would also contest that whole 'Lord of
    Ireland' thing, too.

    Empty America - Part 41
    Summer, 1404

    [Kastaliborg, Kingdom of Man, Vinland Empire] [OTLs Castletown, Isle of Man]

    The sheet lightning flashes, and the harbor suddenly flickers bright as day,
    washing out the light from the pole lanterns the two seamen hold over the
    cargo crates. Then it is dark again, and Zhu Lun barks for more lanterns.
    Crewmen scamper down into the junk's hold for more oil, more lamps. Zhu
    looks across the crates at Lin Rui, who is still scowling, a crumpled
    manifest clutched in his hand.

    "I don't like this," says Lin, as Zhu catches his eye. "All this lightning
    and no wind, no rain, it is unnatural."

    It is eerily still, Zhu thinks. But that is not what has Lin angry.

    "Lin, I did not tell you because -"

    Lin rounds on him. "You did not tell me because you did not trust me! And
    with good reason. If I had known for one instant what you were taking from
    the Wu-pei Ssu [FN41.01], I would have turned you over to the Yu-shih t'ai
    [secret police]. You impose upon our cooperation, Zhu! These were never to
    be allowed into the hands of barbarians! If you knew the harm they could
    do -"

    Now it is Zhu's turn to cut Lin off. "I know exactly the harm they could
    do," he says coldly. "That is why I had to put them into the hands of those
    who would use them, not leave them to rust away in a fog-bound harbor
    armory."

    "That is unfair, Zhu Lun! No one has done more against the Meng-ku
    [Mongols] than the Haiyang Emperor, and you know it."

    Zhu fishes a xiangyan [cigarillo] out of his quilted jacket and lights it on
    one of the lamps. "No one? As we speak, the Yingguó [English] are dying by
    the thousands, and taking thousands of the Meng-ku to the grave with them.
    They do not crouch in a far corner of the world and let others do their
    fighting for them."

    "We do our own fighting, Zhu. I was with Nangiyan hái dào [privateers] when
    they fired Demak and when they plundered the Yuan reinforcement fleet in the
    Nán Hai [South China Sea]."

    Zhu shakes his head, this is pointless. He walks over to the railing and
    looks out over the water for a long moment. "It is said that he is not
    here."

    "What?" Lin looks startled by the sudden change of subject.

    "Timur. It is said that an imposter rides in his litter, and that he is
    elsewhere."

    Zhu recognized the look of fear on Lin's face at the mention of Timur and
    felt a flush of anger. Too many in the Pai-lien Chiao [White Lotus Society]
    have a superstitious dread of Timur, talking about him as if he were the
    specter of death itself. It has been hampering their fight against the
    Meng-ku and Zhu, a hard-headed Confucian, has little time for such nonsense.
    To Zhu, Timur is one more in a long line of steppe horsemen, soaked in the
    blood of those who tilled the soil.

    No more and no less. And certainly not the "Scourge of God," as the Ji du
    tú [Christians] have taken to calling him.

    But Zhu is no dolt, and even he concedes that Timur has shaken the world.
    As the power behind the throne of the Chaghatay Khanate, he conquered the
    fragmented remains of the il-Khanate from Kandahar to the borders of the
    Crusader States, then turned east to hammer the Sultans of Delhi to Meng-ku
    vassalage. Zhu had seen with his own eyes, just a few years past, the
    dispatch from the Erkut Khan inviting Timur west, promising that, if he
    would defeat the enemies of the Erkut, he would call a kurlitai and elevate
    him to Great Khan. And he had walked the blasted, corpse-strewn streets of
    Luó ma [Rome] after the sack.

    "But, if Timur is not in the islands, where would he be?"

    "East of the Oxus, with an army of two hundred thousand Qing zhen [Muslims],
    marching to attack Zhong xià [China]."

    Lin's jaw drops. "Timur attacks the Yuan, but that is fantastic! It the
    Khan's army is drawn to the frontiers, the Hóngjin Qiyì [Red Turbans] will
    arise!"

    "Perhaps. And perhaps once Timur scatters the armies of the Yuan, he will
    then crush the Hóngjin Qiyì."

    Lin is quiet for a moment. "Is this the doing of the Pai-lien Chiao?"

    "It seems likely. There are those who could have manipulated events to lead
    Timur into collision with the Yuan. But I am at least three circles from
    the center, so I do not know. And if I did know, I could not tell you."

    Lin is quiet again. "So, Timur begins a second war before he finishes the
    first? That seems foolish."

    "It is hubris. The old man believes he is destined to fulfill the mission
    of Temüchin, and extend Meng-ku rule over the whole world."

    "He is old, isn't he. Timur."

    "Very old."

    "There are rumors ..." Lin trails off. "Rumors that Timur was dying, and
    that he came west not to become Great Khan, but because the Ji du tú had
    discovered the secret of immortality."

    Zhu snorts. "Immortality! As if the Ji du tú could conjure such a thing.
    They would be fighting the Meng-ku with pointed sticks were it not for what
    they learned from us."

    "No! It is said that great yao chüeh [alchemist] created a mófa-shí [magic
    stone] which can produce an elixir of immortality. The yao chüeh was
    captured by the Meng-ku, and he gave up the mófa-shí to save his own life."

    Zhu has heard enough of this nonsense. The Nangiyan spread rumors like
    nervous old women. The crewmen have returned with the pole lamps, but are
    standing a respectful distance away. Zhu pitches his xiangyan over the
    side, watches it arc into the darkness, then walks back over to the crates
    with Lin trailing along behind him.

    The crewmen hold the lanterns over the top crate as Zhu cracks the four wax
    seals, embossed with the insignia of the Wu-pei Ssu, and pries open the lid.
    He lifts a bù qiang [rifle] and wipes off the packing grease with a cloth.
    He rotates the trigger-guard, lowering the breech plug [FN41.02], then snaps
    it back closed.

    "Beautiful."

    Lin scowls. "Yes. And the yí [barbarians] will wreck the mechanism with
    their meaty, clumsy hands, and foul the screw with their dirt."

    Zhu smiles, and claps Lin on the shoulder. "Smile, Lin Rui! Before they
    are ruined, every one will send ten Meng-ku into the afterlife."

    Lin is still unhappy, but he seems resigned. "There is certainly nothing
    about it I can do now. But I warn you Zhu, do not deceive me again! If the
    Pai-lien Chiao wants any more weapons from the Wu-pei Ssu, I will see them
    with my own eyes before they 'disappear' from the inventory."

    "Agreed." Zhu did not have the heart to tell him that agents of the
    Pai-lien Chiao had already stolen the molds for a new type of zi dàn
    [bullet], a conical ball with a little cup at its base that expands after
    firing, gripping the rifling and giving the ball the same stabilizing spin
    that these breech-loaders could produce. Within a few short years, every
    soldier fighting the Meng-ku will be wielding a muzzle-loading bù qiang, and
    will be able to kill at a distance.

    The crewmen are shouting, and Zhu sees a pair of skiffs moving across the
    dark water. "The emissaries from the Taoiseach are coming. Presumably they
    have the arranged price with them."

    Lin snorts. "One tenth of what they are worth."

    Zhu smiles. "When you are selling stolen merchandise, it is all profit.
    The Pai-lien Chiao did not get rich sewing prayer flags! Come, Lin, I
    understand these barbarians like to drink. I will fetch a bottle, and
    before they return to ài er lán [Ireland] we can celebrate death to the
    Meng-ku. No magic stone can save them from a well-crafted, well-aimed
    Nangiyan zi dàn!"

    "Joke all you want, Zhu. But if Timur has mastered immortality, then the
    world is his, and everything in it."

    ***

    [Plymouth, England]

    "So you doomed the world, 'ave you? And 'ow did you manage that, then?"
    Sir John Oldcastle is on his third drink, and his diction is slipping.
    After Nicolas Flamel first approached him with his startling pronouncement,
    Jack turned back to his cup and studiously ignored him for the duration of
    three large brandies, but the little old man just stood there, gazing
    adoringly at him. It was only when Jack could not take it anymore did he
    break the silence.

    "Yes, sir knight. And only you can help me save it."

    Jack squints at him. "French, aren't you?"

    The man brightens. "Most observant, Sir Knight! I was born Paris during
    the reign of the late King -"

    Jack cuts him off. "Always figured it would be a Frenchman who doomed the
    world. Didn't know how I knew, but I knew. Ask Bardolf. 'Leave it to the
    bloody Frogs to doom the world. A trump, a shout, a handful of snails and a
    bit of smelly cheese, and its all over with.' I told 'im, I did."

    The Frenchman laughs. "Very droll! You must be the liveliest among your
    noble circle! Setting the table aroar, no doubt, between retellings of your
    heroic deeds."

    Jack squints at him. "Are you simple?"

    "What?"

    "Are you -" Jack belches, "simple?"

    "No! Sir knight, I am an alchemist and a man of some learning. Sadly, that
    was my downfall, and mayhap the downfall of -"

    "Yes, the entire world. I heard that part." Jack drains his cup and waves
    for another. He looks around the ale house, packed with soldiers and others
    of less than savory sort. Normally, this would be Jack's kind of crowd, but
    not tonight. He is not in the mood for boisterous low company, but he
    doesn't want to be alone. He misses Harry and all the familiar faces, and
    self-pity settles on him with the fog of drink. He sighs and looks
    unsteadily at his guest, still standing beside his table.

    "So tell me ... what did you say your name was again, Frenchman?"

    "Nicolas Flamel."

    "So tell me, Nicolas Flamel, alchemist of Paris, 'ow it was you came to doom
    the world. And for Christ's sake sit down and have a drink! If the world
    is going to end, I would not face it sober, and I need company." Again,
    Jack waves unsteadily for the innkeep, holding up two fingers.

    Flamel claps his hands, beams at Jack and pulls up a stool. "I crave your
    patience, good sir knight, as well as your aid, because my tale is most
    astonishing! It would tax the credulity of any listener, but upon my word,
    every word is true."

    The drinks arrive, and Flamel tells his story:

    He was, as he tried to say earlier, born in Paris in Year of Our Lord 1229,
    during the reign of the Most Holy King Louis IX.

    At that, Jack raises his eyebrows. "And that makes you -" Working on his
    fourth large brandy, he can't seem to do the math.

    "One hundred and seventy-five years old." Flamel smiles.

    "I see." Jack gestures expansively with his cup. "Pray, proceed."

    And so Flamel continued:

    Flamel was born to parents of modest means. His father was an apothecary,
    tooth-puller, bone-setter, and barber of some repute and his mother a
    part-time midwife. To support their family, the couple kept lodgers at
    their small home in Paris. Young Nicolas was fascinated by the travelers,
    who regaled him with stories of far-off (to Nicolas) lands and exotic
    (again, to Nicolas) adventures. But, Nicolas had to defray his dreams of
    travel and adventure, for when he came of age, he was put to work in his
    father's shop.

    One day when Flamel was fifteen, a mysterious stranger came to their house,
    laden with a heavy travel bag. The man, who was swarthy like a Saracen, was
    quiet and absented himself from meals. He fascinated young Nicolas, who was
    used to the boarders being drunk and boisterous. When he wasn't busy at his
    father's shop, Nicolas kept a discreet watch over him as he made his way
    around Paris. Every day, the man would emerge from the sleeping quarters
    and depart the boarding house. Nicolas tried to follow him through the
    twisting streets, but invariably the man would vanish in the crowds. And
    then in the evening, he would reappear like magic with strange parcels and
    disappear upstairs yet again.

    The man had been at the Flamel house for two weeks when a plague visited
    Paris. Nicolas' father worked furiously at his shop, crafting herbal
    remedies and dispensing them to the terrified families of the stricken. He
    would return home long after dark, sullen and exhausted, and collapse into
    bed.

    One morning, he did not get up, for he had come down with the plague.
    Nicolas took his place in the apothecary shop, pawing through heaps of
    parchment for the formulas, laboring at the mortar and pestle grinding herbs
    and powders, and dispensing it all to the desperate throngs who crowded the
    shop demanding aid. Like his father before him, he staggered home in the
    evening and collapsed onto his pallet, but unlike his father, the plague did
    not claim him.

    When the elder Flamel sickened, the boarders fled, all but one, the quiet
    man with the satchel.

    As the plague raged, he wordlessly helped Nicolas carry his father's corpse
    and place it on the cart that carried away the dead. Nicolas' mother, her
    heart broken with the death of her husband and hysterical at the thought
    that she, too, would succumb, fled Paris for the home of relatives in the
    countryside, promising vaguely to send for Nicolas in due time.

    The next day, the swarthy man went with Nicolas to the apothecary shop and
    helped him mix and grind the medicines. Nicolas still did not know his
    name, but he seemed to have prodigious knowledge of the apothecary trade,
    and every morning he would come to the shop with bunches of herbs to restock
    their supplies. The boy and the man managed to keep the shop going through
    the great sickness, but only just.

    And then the swarthy man fell ill with the plague.

    He lay atop his blankets, burning with fever and babbling out formulas that
    Nicolas scribbled down, then dashed to the shop to craft. Again and again,
    Nicolas would return home with the medicinal powders and potions, but none
    of them worked. The man grew weaker and one night, as Nicolas was
    spoon-feeding him his porridge, he bolted upright on his pallet, sending
    bowl and spoon flying. He grasped Nicolas by his shirtfront and hissed.
    "The books! The scrolls ... don't let all my labors be in vain ..."

    With that, he collapsed into silence, and then death.

    Nicolas closed the apothecary shop. He laid in a supplies of food and fresh
    water, then barred the door of his family home and waited out the plague.
    Day and night, he poured over the books he found in the Saracen's travel
    bag. They are books of alchemy, although at first he does not know the
    meaning of word, Transmuting lead into gold. Strange words - nigredo,
    albedo, rubedo. Sanctum Moleculae, Sacrum Particulae.

    Lapis Philosophorum. Aqua vitae.

    The elixir of immortality.

    The plague faded, Nicolas reopened his father's shop, spending every
    available hour toiling at his alchemy. He became fixated on the quest for
    the philosopher's stone. If he could discover it, he could bring eternal
    life. He worked for years, learning Greek and Latin and Arabic, probing
    every secret in the ancient texts from the Saracen's traveling bag. Trying
    every formula, every method. Infinite combinations of exotic substances.
    Heating, cooling, burning, freezing. It consumed him, this war against
    death.

    But then, a real war came knocking at France's door. While Nicolas has been
    deep in study, the Tatars have overrun much of Christendom. It is
    Candlemass Day, in Year of Our Lord 1250, Nicolas tells Jack, when he is
    deep into his final effort to discover the philosopher's stone. In the
    north, Robert of Artois' crusader army is, against all odds, routing the
    overwhelming forces of Batu Khan from the field near Ghent. In the
    Sainte-Chapelle, not far from where Nicolas toils, King Louis IX gazes upon
    Christ's crown of thorns and sweats blood, praying for the salvation of the
    West.

    Nicolas scoops a foul-smelling paste he had created (Jack noticed that
    Nicolas grew very vague whenever he talked about the particulars of his
    alchemy) into an iron vessel and heats it very carefully, condensing the
    vapors until they formed a white, waxy paste ... and at the very moment (he
    learned later) that King Louis' life left his body, the paste began to glow
    in the darkness!

    It was then he knew, Nicolas states flatly, that he had created the
    philosopher's stone, and immortality was within his grasp!

    Jack leans back in his chair and took another drink. He was swaying
    slightly, but he was not so drunk that he actually believed this claptrap.
    It was a good story, though. Jack figured the Frenchman was either mad, or
    was a big enough rogue to lie the hide off Lucifer...

    TO BE CONTINUED

    cheers,

    Doug

    [FN41.01] Then Haiyang Dynasty's "Armaments Court" essentially, their
    Bureau of Ordinance in Jen Men [OTL's San Francisco].

    [FN41.02] The Ferguson Rifle, like the airship, really has to show up in
    every AH.

    Empty America - Part 42
    Summer, 1404

    [Plymouth, England]

    "- I thought my secret was safe, but I was betrayed! Sir Jack, are you
    ...?"

    Jack blinks hard a couple of times. God bless, what do they put in this
    brandy? Another second, and he would have been face down on the table. If
    he was going to keep this up, he had better get some food. He shouts for
    more brandy, and some stew and black bread for two, and his drinking
    companion brightens at the mention of food.

    "My apologies, Monsieur Flamel, please continue. You were saying that you
    had created a - what did you call it? - to dispense the aqua vitae in small
    quantities."

    "A 'dropper,' Sir Jack, a tapered glass tube with a rubber bulb on one end.
    But I mentioned that some time ago -"

    "Um, yes. So continue from when you were seized by the Tatars after the
    fall of Paris."

    "Well, that was in 1292, Sir Jack. I took my vial of aqua vitae and fled
    Paris ahead of the Tatars. When the sack was over and order restored, I
    returned and rebuilt my apothecary shop. For over a hundred years, as I
    said -" for the first time, he seemed to Jack, momentarily vexed with his
    wavering attention, "- I stayed there, allowing my self to age very, very
    slowly, to not arouse alarm. The young man I was became, in the course of a
    century, the elderly sage you see before you."

    "Still a vigorous silver-beard, though!" The food arrived - two bowls of
    stew, a loaf of bread and a lump of butter, and two more brandies, and Jack
    and Nicolas set to it. The Frenchman digs in with vigor, as if, it occurs
    Jack, he has not eaten in some days.

    "You are too kind, good sir knight." Nicolas says around mouthfuls of bread
    and stew, "I must have, in a moment of carelessness ... confided my secret
    to someone who spoke out of turn. A man in my situation, living without
    seeming end, could not take a bride and so I, on occasion took company of
    ..." to Jack's astonishment, the alchemist was actually blushing, "... merry
    ladies."

    Whores. Jack almost laughs. This little Frenchman told the secret of
    eternal life to whores.

    Nicolas clears his throat and continues his story. Erkutan troops rousted
    him from his bed late at night and hauled him to the Khan's peripatetic
    court, then summering at Aachen, where he was commanded, upon pain of death,
    to create aqua vitae for the Khan. On the road, Nicolas discerned the
    reason for his arrest and had made a plan. He told the Khan that he could
    create no more, that the philosopher's stone had been consumed in the
    creation of the small dram of elixir, which Nicolas dramatically produced
    form inside his robes. Each drop, he told the Khan, meant decades of life.
    The Khan took the phial and gazed at it.

    Nicolas could sense his conundrum. He knew it himself, all too well. Was
    it poison? He could have a taster try it, but there were so few drops,
    could he spare even one? Desire and fear war in the Khan's heart.

    Still staring at the vial, the Khan sent him out of his presence and had him
    locked in a tower. The next day, court officials sent back to Paris for all
    of his books, vessels and tools. He would make more, the Khan commanded,
    more philosopher's stone and more aqua vitae. He would have all the
    resources of the Khanate at his disposal, but he would make more. Nicolas
    stalled. A Frenchman who once breathed free air before the coming of the
    Tatars, he could not imagine anything more horrifying than to grant
    immortality to the Khan of the Erkut. So he stalled. He spent the Khan's
    money freely, making many "false starts" that filled the tower with foul
    smoke and shook it with the occasional explosion. Periodically, he was
    summoned to the Khan's presence and the supreme ruler of Europe would stare
    mesmerized at the vial and demand progress. Nicolas would shrug, insist he
    needed more mercury, brimstone, gold flake, the urine of Saracen virgins,
    bái jin [platinum], and a laundry-list of other exotic elements, only to be
    sent impatiently back to his tower with promises that he would have all the
    materials he needed.

    But then the Khan summoned Timur, and promised him immortality if he would
    crush the enemies of the Erkut. Nicolas, who through charm and wit by now
    had many allies at court, was able to deduce the method to the Khan's
    madness. He would not take the draught himself, but he would use it to
    accomplish his ends. If, once that was done, the aqua vitae killed Timur,
    the task would be done. If it did not, by then Nicolas would have produced
    more. And if not? He may be mortal, but he would die ruling so much more
    of Europe.

    After Timur came to court, Nicolas was contacted by agents of the Prieuré de
    Sion, a French secret society dedicated to the downfall of the Khanate and
    the liberation of the West. Nicolas believed, although he did not know,
    that they were an arm of the White Lotus Society.

    "The what?" asks Jack, looking up from his stew. He is still having trouble
    following the story.

    "A Nangiyan organization that strikes the Tatars at every turn."

    "Good on 'em."

    "Yes." Nicolas smiles. "Good men, all."

    The agents of the Prieuré arranged to aid Nicolas' escape, which he
    accomplished by mixing some ingredients that created a billowing, noxious
    cloud that spread through the tower and fleeing, a wet rag over his mouth,
    in the ensuing chaos. His new allies whisked him to the Channel coast and
    departed, just as mysteriously as they had contacted them.

    "-and from there I made my way to London. Little did I conceive that, six
    months later, a Tatar army would follow me hither."

    Jack blinks heavily. Twice. "So, the Tatars amassed tens of thousands of
    troops -"

    Nicolas is nodding sadly.

    "- and hundreds of ships -"

    More nodding.

    "-and invaded England just to capture you?"

    "Yes," The Frenchman looks like he is about to burst into tears. He cries
    out, "I am afraid I and my terrible knowledge have brought utter devastation
    to your green and pleasant land!"

    Jack leans back in his chair. He looks around the ale house. The raucous
    din has settled into a sullen murmuring quiet. Dozens of men. Bearded and
    weather-beaten soldiers, hunched over their drinks. This, thinks Jack, must
    be just one of a few score of ale houses, bawdy houses and inns in Plymouth
    where grim-faced men struggle to numb their fear and their sorrow, knowing
    that outside, beyond the trenches and fortifications, the Death of All
    Things is closing the ring, sealing off their escape, digging in gun
    emplacements and massing great hordes of troops.

    All to cut them down in the morrow.

    Or the next day.

    Or the day after that. But their days are numbered. There will be no ship
    out of England for these men, but they will buy time for others with their
    lives.

    And this little Frenchman across the table says it is all because of him.
    Of course it is nonsense, but Jack feels anger surge through him
    nonetheless. His country and thousands of his countrymen have fallen, and
    thousands more stand ready to give their all to save what remains, and this
    ridiculous Frenchman makes it part of his fairy stories! As mad as he was
    at Flamel, he felt disgusted with himself.

    He pushes his chair back and leans unsteadily forward over the table, his
    face inches from Nicholas, who looks utterly stunned. "Whether you are a
    liar or a madman makes me no difference. You trifle with things you ought
    not. None in England who knew the reason would complain fit for me to put a
    sharp end to your raving, but I would not soil my blade with your blood."

    Jack turns to walk away, and then, remembering that he has not paid, ruins
    the dramatic effect of his departure by fishing clumsily in his money belt
    for some coppers for the innkeep.

    Nicolas is on his feet, protesting. "But sir knight, you must believe me!
    Our quest, our quest!"

    Jack whips back around. "Do not try me with more of your nonsense,
    Frenchman!"

    "But Sir John! We have to go to Ultima Thule and recover the Holy Spear!
    Timur has drunk the whole draught of immortality, and now only an edge that
    has tasted the blood of Christ can slay him!"

    "Enough!" Fury verging on hysteria tinges Jack's voice, and he swings a
    clenched fist at the little man, misses and tumbles sprawling to the dirt
    floor.

    "Yes, good knight." Flamel looks down at him with pleading in his eyes. "I
    need you for a noble quest. We must depart this place on the outgoing tide
    and journey to Ultima Thule. There we will find the Holy Spear that did
    pierce the side of Christ as he hung on the Cross. Only a weapon that has
    slain an immortal can end Timur's reign of hell on Earth. Only the Holy
    Spear can kill him now. It is in the relic of the palace-cathedral of
    Catayo, in the realm of the Presbyter Kings, known as Tàipíng Tian Guó, the
    Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace!"

    Jack swats Nicolas' extended hand away, levers himself slowly to his feet
    and looks around. The bar is silent and every soldier in the place is
    looking at him. He starts dusting himself off. "The devil with you and
    your quest, little Frenchman. I am going to find myself a plump English
    wench and a soft English bed, and come sunrise, I am going to make my way to
    a trench hacked in the good English dirt. God willing, there I will have
    the honor of standing and fighting there, shoulder to shoulder with brave
    English soldiers. You? You can go to Ultima Thule or hell for all the
    matter it is to me."

    The soldiers in the bar cheer Jack as he stumbles his way out of the ale
    house, and into the night.

    TO BE CONTINUED
     
  10. Constantinople Trump is Temporary, but hey, Brexit is forever Banned

    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2005
    Empty America - Part 43
    Summer, 1404

    [Plymouth, England]

    As it turned out, Sir Jack Oldcastle did not sleep in a comfortable English
    bed with a plump English wench that night, but rather, after wandering drunk
    and aimless around Plymouth for a better part of the night, simply passed
    out in an alleyway. He woke shortly after dawn, slumped against a wall, his
    head splitting.

    He hears the sound of soldiers tramping down the street.

    Lord God, he thinks, rubbing the back of his head as if he could scrub the
    pounding headache away. Forgive me for wasting my time giving audience to
    foreign scoundrels when I could have had the company of my fellows. One
    hundred and seventy-five years old! Nonsense. The Old Testament patriarchs
    lived that long and longer, but God was with them. Flamel was just a French
    charlatan.

    He levers himself to his feet and makes his way unsteadily out into the
    street. His head hurts, his back hurts, his stomach hurts, his soul hurts,
    but he knows his duty, so he heads out of town, to the house of an
    expropriated merchant where Sir John Hawkwood has made his headquarters.

    He needs to report for duty. For some years, Jack has tried his best to
    find plausible excuses not to report for duty in various wars against the
    Scots or the Irish or the Danes, but if he was to be Harry's companion, it
    was his lot to be in the thick of the fight. This was not for Harry, but
    this time it was for England.

    At the front door, Jack has to muscle his way through the crowds of soldiers
    coming and going, then goes hunting for Hawkwood. He spots him in the great
    room, where Jack waves away a servant's offer of steaming cup of the black
    Saracen brew that always turns his stomach, but gratefully accepts a tankard
    of weak beer for a bit of the hair of the dog.

    Sir John Hawkwood, tall, rail-thin and beardless, is the spitting image of
    his illustrious father. He is deep in discussion with his commanders, and
    leans over a diagram of the fortifications shielding Plymouth. Jack gives
    it a look, and his heart sinks.

    It is a great zig-zagging arc, bristling with redoubts, ribault [organ gun]
    enfilades and culverin [cannon] and bombard [mortar] positions [FN43.01],
    with the sea at both ends. But the east side of the harbor is completely
    exposed. A few strategically placed Erkut batteries could seal off any hope
    of escape.

    For the English Western Army, Plymouth is a trap. "Jesus wept," Jack
    mutters.

    Hawkwood turns and looks sharply at him.

    "Oldcastle." Hawkwood is as curt as ever. "Where in God's name have you
    been?"

    Jack takes a long pull at his beer. "Drunk."

    Hawkwood grunts. "Hotspur's lancers are yours."

    Jack is dismayed. Lancers? "Why? Where's the devil is Percy?"

    "Dead. Brawling. Get the lancers together and get them ready. You are to
    sortie shortly after dusk. There are three hundred cavalry in the woods to
    the northeast. You are to bring them in."

    "Three hundred!" Jack protests. "Why can't they loose their horses and
    filter in by ones and twos?" The Tatars have not closed the ring around
    Plymouth just yet, and stragglers have been making their way to English
    lines for weeks. Three hundred horsemen coming out of the forest were bound
    to attract attention, even at night.

    "Because, Sir John," Hawkwood looks balefully at him, "your orders are to
    bring them in en masse, on horseback."

    Jack knows there is no arguing with Hawkwood, so he just nods, then turns on
    his heel and gets to work.

    Lancers. Jack is no lancer. He can handle one, to be sure, but not
    gracefully, and he would not be mocked by Hotspur's elite troopers. And he
    would just as soon not get within lance-length of the Tatars, either. So,
    while his second is rounding up his horsemen, who are scattered all over
    town indulging themselves, Jack kits himself out with some alternative
    weaponry. A falconet [carbine] in a saddle holster, two double-barrel
    dragons [heavy pistols] across his chest, and two single-shot light
    serpentines on his hips [FN43.01].

    Seven shots before he has to draw his saber. Seven shots, and he plans to
    use them all if it comes to that.

    * * *

    Shortly after dusk, Jack is leading his troops carefully through the maze of
    trenches and earthworks and the thicket of chevaux de frise. Sappers follow
    on behind, laden with fascines, axes and unlit torches. They will stay in
    the lines, and clear a path when they hear the lancers come galloping back,
    single file. Their guide, a local, leads them across the clearings that
    have been cut to give the guns in the trenches a clear field of fire and
    towards the treeline hundreds of yards away. The Erkut are out there,
    somewhere, bringing up the tens of thousands of soldiers that they will
    throw against the English of Plymouth. Jack thinks again of the map in
    Hawkwood's headquarters. There is no way out of Plymouth. Jack himself had
    steeled himself to standing or falling with the Western Army, but the whole
    idea of no one being able to get out, even if they wanted to has left him
    shaken. He feels like the dark is closing in around him.

    He summons his thoughts back to the task at hand. So far so good. No
    lights, no signs of Erkut patrols. It is a clear night with a full moon,
    but maybe they will get lucky ... somewhere out in the darkness ahead he
    hears a whistle, no doubt intended to sound like the bird call that was the
    prearranged signal, but failing miserably. Some of the lancers snigger, and
    Jack hisses at them to be quiet. The troopers obey as he draws his saber
    rides out ahead. If it is a trap, gunshots would just bring enemy
    reinforcements. He returns the signal, whistling as best as he can.

    Jack can just barely see a mounted figure silhouetted against the trees. He
    is caped and hooded, with a long faucon [rifle] across his back. He holds
    up a hand. "Halt, in the name of the King. Your name and command, sir."

    Jack was vexed. Being outside the lines with thousands of enemy cavalry
    roaming about has left his nerves jangling. Now he is being questioned like
    he was a suspicious stranger on the road to a market town. "I am Sir John
    Oldcastle of the English Western Army. And who are you to challenge me in
    the King's name?"

    "Why the King's boon companion, of course!" Robert of Loxley flings back
    his hood, his mischievous grin visible even in the dark. "Halloo, Jack!"

    "Robin! Bigod, you are a sight!" Jack was elated. "Finally bestirred
    yourself to rejoin the war, have you?"

    Robin laughs at the standing joke. "Of course not! We have come to take
    the sea air for our health! Good for the humours, they say."

    "Ah, then I am to see you and yours to your villa. It is just to the other
    side of those spikes and trenches. An excellent view. Fit for a king!"

    "It had best be, Jack. For I have brought one along for the occasion."

    For a moment Jack could not speak. "Harry is with you!"

    "The very same. We are a mixed lot - Sherwood Foresters, Welsh Volunteer
    Dragoons, some stray bits from here and there. A suitable escort for a
    monarch. And it has not been naught but ceremony. We have been sacking
    Erkut supply columns, with His Majesty leading the charge. But enough
    badinage, let us accomplish the night's tasks."

    It is a joyous reunion for Harry and Jack, whose bitterness at being left
    behind slips away without a trace. To Jack, Harry looks every inch the
    monarch of a besieged realm - careworn and grave in countenance, with a new
    beard, but also with a broad smile and back-clap for an old companion. His
    retinue, except for Loxley, looks on disapprovingly. Jack trades glares
    with the Earl of Cambridge, Lord Scrope, and Sir Thomas Grey. He will keep
    an eye on that lot, whenever he can spare it.

    As they ride back towards the English lines, the rear guard is shouting and
    pointing. Shapes moving off in the darkness.

    "Erkut heavies ..." says Loxley. Jack can hear expectation in his voice.

    Harry shakes his head and says, firmly, "Let us be about it quickly, we have
    business with the commander."

    "Would Sire have it known amongst his soldiers that he was chased within his
    lines without firing a shot?" Jack can tell from the way Loxley said "sire"
    that he was not entirely convinced that England was no longer a
    Commonwealth.

    Harry looks at him sharply, then off into the moonlit gloom. They can hear
    the shouts of the enemy horsemen now, as well as a futile shot or two from
    the distance.

    "Form up. Lancers at the head to break up their formation, dragoons behind,
    Foresters in the rear." The King says the last with a tinge of venom.
    "Faucons shouldered, sabers and dragons out." Loxley scowls, but goes about
    his duty.

    Harry joins Jack at the head of his lancers, now massed and circling a trot
    to face the enemy. He grunts with satisfaction when Jack tells him that
    Hotspur is dead. The Erkut are closing now. "Who are they?" Jack shouts
    over the thunder of hooves.

    "From the outline and the voices, I hazard they are Rus'. We have fought
    their like on the road. It is ominous, for it means that the Golden Horde,
    to whom they are vassals, has rejoined the Erkut and fight alongside Timur."

    They are closer, closer, closer in the dim light. The English horsemen spur
    their steeds to a full gallop.

    "Lances!" Harry shouts to his horsemen. "Jack, where is your lance?"

    "Right here, my liege!" Jack whips his falconet out of the saddle-holster,
    aims and fires at the onrushing enemy, and one tumbles from his saddle. The
    King of England lets loose a war-whoop and brandishes his saber. Jack slams
    his falconet back into the holster, and draws both dragons. Seconds from
    the collision he lets fly with two shots.

    And then, with the crash of hundreds of men and horses, all is chaos.

    Jack does his best to stick close to Harry, but they quickly become
    separated in the wild melee in the moonlight. Whoever the Rus' are - Jack's
    sense of geopolitics is somewhat limited - they are ferocious horsemen.
    English lances ram home and splinter, and heavy, broad sabers swing left and
    right as Jack cuts loose with his remaining shots and then draws his own
    sword. Harry is in the thick of it, saber flashing, shouting encouragement
    to his soldiers. The world vanishes into an enveloping maelstrom of
    clashing steel, blazing guns and shouting men. Jack does his part, laying
    about left and right with his saber. The air is full of blood and gunsmoke
    as Jack thrusts and hacks his way through the mob, back to Harry's side.
    The King's retainers are there, all furiously battling the Rus' cavalry.
    Loxley, Jack could see, had pushed himself to the front of the action, and
    was smoking with conspicuous nonchalance as he parried the blows of, who, by
    his markings, was clearly a Rus' officer.

    And just like that, it is over. The Rus', who were outnumbered to begin
    with, sound the retreat and fall back. Loxley, splattered with enemy gore,
    but still smoking, is keen to chase them, but Harry insists that the false
    retreat is an old Tatar trick, and the enemy could be leading them back to
    an ambush. The bloody ground is littered with bodies, and the night air
    sounds with the groans and shrieks of wounded men and horses. The English
    gather up all those who can travel and file through the gap in the lines the
    sappers carved for them.

    Jack leads the King and his retinue to army headquarters. Cambridge, Scrope
    and Grey ride ahead, shouting, "Make way for the King!" even when there is
    no one actually in the way. Their shouts rouse the soldiers and officers
    from their billets, and there is a large crowd gathered in front of
    Hawkwood's headquarters. As Harry dismounts, some of the men bow, and
    others have to be prodded by their officers. Others stand straight, looking
    defiant as the King passes.

    It has been a long time since England has had a king. Some men have never
    known how to behave in the presence of royalty and others, thinks Jack,
    would have no royalty at all.

    Hawkwood himself knows the etiquette and bows deeply until Harry bids him
    rise and they go inside.

    * * *

    The Erkut close in around Plymouth, and the steady trickle of refugees comes
    to an abrupt halt. Thousands of English are rounded up in the countryside
    and put to work building gun emplacements and trench-works. They toil all
    day in the August sun, and the bodies of those who fall are tossed into mass
    graves, well within the sight of the besieged Western Army. Jack sees Harry
    only sporadically over the following weeks, although he does benefit from a
    royal favor - the Lancers are reassigned to a different officer and Jack
    gets a company of fauconiers, crack sharp-shooters armed with the latest
    Nangiyan weaponry. Jack spends most of his time drilling his men and
    training them (once he, himself has been trained) in the care and use of
    these faucons' delicate-seeming breech-loading mechanism.

    The odd-looking ship which brought the faucons to Plymouth Harbor, hoists
    its strange canted sails and departs with the first favorable wind. But the
    harbor remains choked with ships from all over the Atlantic world. For
    ready cash - or the willingness to sign an indenture in Niwe Wessex, Avalon
    or elsewhere - anyone who wanted to escape still could. Jack pats his
    money-belt, but gives it no more than a fleeting thought. English warships
    of the newly-renamed Royal Navy also pass in and out of the harbor. Out
    beyond the horizon, Jack is told, they skirmish with the escorts guarding
    the armada of Erkut transports, which every day bring more guns, more
    horses, more powder across the Channel.

    Jack digs his men in well on their sector of the front. Every man has
    adequate cover. The Nangiyan faucons cannot hold bayonets, so Jack sets his
    men to work with hatchets and mallets, thickening the chevaux de frise in
    front of their entrenchments. The enemy will close only at his peril. That
    was Hawkwood's strategy, as Jack learns from his occasional talks with
    Harry - let the Erkut batter themselves senseless against the English lines,
    then when they are sufficiently weakened, the English will emerge from their
    entrenchments and drive them from the battlefield.

    That was the plan, and Jack dared to hope that it might yet work.

    But then, that night in mid-September, the Erkut let the English know what
    they think of Hawkwood's plans. With a earth-shaking roar, all the guns of
    captive Europa open fire upon the little English Army, which stands with its
    back to the sea.

    cheers,

    Doug

    [FN43.01] Firearm nomenclature in ATL overlaps OTL's, but in a strange way
    and, uh, in terms of the timeline, is an "evolving" area. Blame Neal
    Stephenson and 'Anathem' for any sudden uptic in ATL terminology.

    Empty America - Part 44
    Autumn, 1404

    [North Atlantic]

    The deafening roar of the Erkut bombards and culverins was still in his ears
    when Jack awoke with a start, swinging in his hammock on board the
    "Vindhlér." Two weeks at sea and the dreams still will not go away. Jack
    rubs his eyes with the heels of his hands and swings his feet to the deck.
    He groans, pulls on his boots, wraps himself in his cloak, and makes his way
    topside, into the starlit night.

    It is dark on the main deck. The "Vindhlér's" night watch was on duty, but
    they - like all the crew - knew the ship so intimately that they could feel
    their way around in the dark. There is only a lamp or two here and there, a
    gesture to the passengers who, like Jack, had urgent business. Jack lights
    the stump of his cigar off one of the lamps and makes his way aft, over to
    the spot in the railing with the little sliding door, which he slides aside.

    He then takes a long, thoughtful piss off the side of the ship. He thinks
    about the little sliding door and its function and considers it odd. But
    then, so much about these people and their little ship is odd. The people
    are pagans, for one thing, worshippers of the god 'Heimdall.' Apparently
    (and Jack did not delve) this is a Norse god of the sort worshipped by the
    bloodthirsty pagans of Domstolland, but different. They called themselves
    the 'Spákona' [Sighted]. because their god was gifted with amazing vision
    and can see to the end of the world.

    Heathen rubbish.

    Jack will give them this, though - they are ridiculously clean. Every time
    Jack turns around, it seems, there are sailors bathing (sailors - bathing!),
    or heating water to bathe, or scraping their teeth with little sticks (he
    would swear that he saw one of them using a little bit of silk thread in
    between his teeth), or washing their clothes, or drying their clothes. The
    Spákona even smelled clean.

    And when they were not cleaning themselves, they were cleaning the ship!
    Brooms and holystones seemed to be flying constantly, and there was nary an
    inch of the ship that had not been swept and scoured.

    It all seemed a bit much to Jack. It all gets dirty again, after all.

    But that was the reason for the door - the crew of the Vindhlér did not care
    to have piss-pots sloshing around on their nice, clean ship. So Jack
    finished up, then reached down for the bucket next to the little hatchway,
    and poured the water down the side of the ship, just in case he had gotten
    some piss on the hull. They were very particular about that. When he was
    first shown the little door, and told what it was for, Jack was tempted to
    tell the crewman that fish pissed in the sea, and their boat sailed in the
    sea, and the water in the bucket came from the sea, so there was no point in
    washing man piss off with fish piss, but then he thought better of it. No
    point in provoking them, really.

    At the time, Jack had mentioned the whole thing to Robin, who just laughed
    and said that they were lucky that the pagans made concessions for chamber
    pots and did not make them hang their hind-quarters out over the side.
    Flamel opined with great seriousness that weekly bathing of the entire body
    with sponges which the Spákona indulged in, weakened the natural defenses
    against disease.

    Flamel.

    Now there was a pot full of shit Jack would like to throw over the side. It
    vexes him still that, while Jack and the other good Englishmen were hunkered
    down under the earth-shaking bombardment of the lines around Plymouth, and
    desperately fighting off wave after massive wave of Erkut storming parties,
    this little French charlatan was worming his way into the King's confidence,
    filling his ears with the Holy Spear nonsense.

    Around the King, Jack kept his opinion of the little Frenchman to himself.
    Jack was a Reformed Spiritine, and as such rejected the very idea of holy
    relics. His lay pastor once told Jack that there were enough pieces of the
    'true cross' to build a Hampshire hay-barn, and Jack was sure that this
    spear was a similar fraud. But the Spiritine faith was proscribed in
    England, and Jack has never revealed his beliefs to Harry, because he knew
    that, at a minimum, he would be banished from Harry's company. Even now, on
    a pagan pirate-ship fleeing from the destruction of England, Jack keeps his
    faith to himself, so he finds it safe to play along. If he denounces
    Flamel, he might be called upon to explain why he does not believe in the
    Holy Spear, and that was not a door he wishes to open.

    what Jack finds truly appalling is that Harry truly and enthusiastically
    believes Flamel's story! He listens with rapt attention whenever Flamel
    recounts some detail about the Philosopher's Stone and the Holy Spear. Jack
    keeps his mouth clamped shut, and Flamel does not push him about the
    circumstances of their last parting, but the whole idea that the exiled King
    of England should waste his days hunting for a mythological artifact struck
    him as a scandal.

    ***

    Shortly after they were at sea, Jack carefully broached the subject with
    Robin, who, as usual, showed little restraint.

    Robin snorted. "Flamel is a lunatic. And this 'quest' is a fool's errand."

    Despite his own opinion, Jack was aghast to hear it put so bluntly. "Why
    haven't you told the king as much?"

    Robin shook his head. "Would he listen? He knows that, as loyal as I am, I
    am no monarchist. He will not take my counsel." Jack started to protest,
    but Robin cut him off. "And consider, Jack - he is a young man with his
    whole life ahead of him. A King without a country, he must do something.
    Without some task for himself, he could fall back into dissolution."

    "But what of England -"

    "And what of England?" Robin's voice was tinged with anguish. Jack had
    never seen him like that. The indefatigable Robin of Loxley, laughing in
    the face of death, now on the verge of despair. This was the same Robin of
    Loxley who, on horseback with bullets whipping all around him in the final
    desperate street fight in Plymouth, had casually lit the fuse of a petard
    from the end of his cigar and shouted, "Here's a farewell kiss, you dogs!"
    and tossed it at a mass of onrushing Tatar cavalry.

    But now, his voice was choked. "What can I tell him we can do for England?
    That Timur has never given up an inch of ground he has taken? You were in
    Plymouth, Jack, you saw what the Erkut could do! In the face of that, what
    can we do for England? Let him quest for the Spear! What else, what else
    is there?"

    Jack did not know what to say.

    ***

    Standing alone, smoking his cigar in the darkness Jack though about that.
    What would he tell Jack to do?

    He had seen the power the Erkut wielded. After that first bombardment, the
    Tatars had sent their troops against the English lines in waves. The
    Western Army cut them down ruthlessly. Jack's men, with their
    breech-loading faucons, had left the field in front of the littered with
    hundreds of enemy corpses. English culverins spewed great blasts of grape
    shot, carving huge gaps in the Erkut lines. Robin's sharp shooters had
    picked off dozens of officers, causing the attack to collapse into chaos,
    and few even made it to bristling belts of obstacles protecting the English
    trenchworks.

    The second bombardment, a week later, was different.

    This time, it was just the bombards, lobbing great spherical shells that
    struck the ground and burst into great blossoms of liquid flame. One struck
    a dugout near Jack, and his men rushed to pour water on the fire, but the
    water did not put it out - it just spread. The English had to hurl
    spadefulls of earth on top of the flames, smothering them.

    "Greek fire," one of Jack's men said. Jack gaped at him in disbelief.
    Greek fire? The Tatars could summon the stuff of ancient legend to do their
    bidding! What would be next, a minotaur? A cyclops?

    Eventually, the Erkut gunners found their range, and the shells started
    landing methodically upon the layers of valli [wooden spikes] and chevaux de
    frise, setting it ablaze from one end of the works to the other. Ghastly
    smoke and heat drove the English back from their lines. when the fire
    burned itself out, the Western Army resumed its positions, much shaken. The
    defenses that they had so laboriously built had been destroyed.

    The third bombardment was worse. English troops cowered in their trenches
    as a rain of iron and stone and exploding fire crashed down upon them.
    Moments after the last culverin and bombards shots were heard, the Erkut
    attacked again. Thousands upon thousands of infantry hurled themselves
    against the Western Army, which blazed away at them at before. But this
    time the fire was uneven as the rattled English struggled to hold the line.
    Jack roared encouragement to his men: "You are the best shots in England and
    you let those heathen know it!" Hawkwood and the King rode along the lines
    urging on the men, Hawkwood with his gruff and sometimes profane shouts,
    Harry with his eloquent invocations of King and Country.

    Here and there the Erkut stormed the trenchworks and had to be beaten back
    with bayonets and faucon butts. Few were captured alive. One group of
    Polish soldiers who were knocked flat when an English powder magazine
    exploded begged to be brought before the King. Once in Hal's presence, they
    groveled and beseeched him to kill them and put their heads on gibbets. If
    the Timur learned that they had been taken alive, their native village would
    be destroyed and their families slaughtered. Fluellen raged about the Law
    of Arms, and Harry adamantly refused to murder the men, despite the
    suggestions of the courtiers Cambridge, Scrope and Grey. Instead, he agreed
    to let them 'escape,' and personally coached them on a story to tell, making
    them repeat it to him (through a translator) over and over so they would all
    be consistent.

    Word of the incident spread throughout the English lines. A saintly King,
    Harry the Merciful, was born. The English lines stiffened, and the siege
    went on. But each time the Erkut attacked, they came closer to a
    breakthrough. Hawkwood discretely stationed batteries of organ guns in the
    rear of the lines and manned them with invalids, old men and young boys.
    Any Tatars who made it through the trenchworks would face rippling volleys
    of fire, hopefully buying the English time to regroup.

    During the six weeks the Western Army held, the evacuation of England went
    on. The thousands of refugees who had crowded into Plymouth were escaping
    to safety. Many to Ireland, others to Ultima Thule and beyond. Those who
    could not pay signed lengthy indentures for their passage, but it was a
    buyer's market and the poorest and the least desirable are stranded.

    It was a dawn on October 25 when the final Erkut assault came. There was no
    opening bombardment. Jack was inspecting his troops in their trenches when
    he heard the deep roll of kettle drums and shouts in foreign tongues, then
    ... women's voices, children's voices ... crying, sobbing, wailing.

    In English.

    Jack looked out into mist. There were shapes moving, thousands of them,
    coming closer, becoming more distinct. Women and children. And behind,
    Erkut troops, driving them forward towards the English lines. Jack ordered
    the bugler to sound the stand to, then galloped off to find Harry.

    The King was in a state, raging at the Tatars. Cambridge, Scrope and Grey
    were aping their monarch, damning the Erkut for their barbarism.

    "We cannot fire upon them," Harry said.

    "But Sire, we must!" protested Scrope. "The Erkut will be upon us if we
    hold our fire." Cambridge and Gray agreed.

    Harry shook his head and mounted his horse. "We will not fire on them.
    Signal fix bayonets and on my order -"

    The rest is a blur to Jack. He remembers riding back to his troops, whose
    breech-loading faucons could not carry bayonets, and ordering them to load,
    while he himself loaded his falconet and dragons and Hal rode up and down
    the lines, exhorting his men:

    " - that outlives this day, and comes safe home, Will stand a-tiptoe when
    the day is named, and rouse him at the name of Crispian - "

    The powder horn was shaking in Jack's hand as he loaded his faucon. The
    cries of the women and children driven on by the Erkut grew louder. He
    could hear the crack of the whips. It was the end, it must be the end.
    They would climb out of these trenches, a great disordered mob charging
    forward into the massed guns of the Erkut. They will die. They will die by
    the thousands.

    "- then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars, and say 'These wounds I
    had on Crispin's day.' Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot - "

    Jack shouted orders to his men. "Forward together at a trot, on my word
    form up and the first rank's volley over their heads -"

    " - And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by, from this day to the ending of
    the world, but we in it shall be remembered; we few, we happy few, we band
    of brothers - "

    Jack cursed. He wished that Hal would just shut the hell up. Jack scowls
    at his men with what he hoped was his most formidable expression. "And I
    will blow daylight through the first of you who breaks and runs!" He could
    hear the screams of the women and the children growing yet closer.

    " - and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us -"

    A great cheer erupted along the English lines, from all the soldiers except
    Jack's command, who stood stock still, mutely clutching their faucons. The
    terror and horror seized Jack and vomit rose in his throat. He choked,
    screwed up what was left of his courage, and shouted, in a strangled voice,
    "Come on you dumb apes, do you want to live forever?!?"

    " - upon Saint Crispin's day!"

    And the trumpet sounded.

    * * *

    On the deck of the "Vindhlér," Jack pulled his cloak close against the
    night's chill. In the dim light, he could see a figure emerge from the main
    hatch with a pail and a ladle, and go to each of the crewmen, offering a
    drink. God, thinks Jack, these people were strange. The figure approached
    Jack out of the darkness. It was a woman, although in tunic and trousers
    she looked very mannish to Jack. But that was not the strange part.

    The strange part is that she was the captain.

    Captain Ástríð offered him a ladleful. She was a "Warm mead for a cold
    night, Félagi [comrade] Jack?"

    Jack gratefully accepted the drink. It was a chilly night, and he had left
    his brandy flask below. About a week into the voyage it stopped grating on
    him that none of the Sighted called him "Sir John." Sure, he stood on his
    title in England - he had to - but the Spákona recognized no nobility.
    "Félagi" was their honorific for all non-Sighted, among themselves they were
    "Bróðir" [brother] and "Systir" [sister]. Jack looked at the Captain. Tall
    and lithe with her red hair pulled back into a long braid that reached down
    her back. Jack would have considered her stunning but for the tattoos.
    Like all the Sighted, Captain Ástríð had clutches of little multicolored
    circles and dots beneath each eye. Jack found it very off-putting. No
    matter, really, since it was well-known on the "Vindhlér" that the captain
    preferred the company of woman.

    Damn, but heathen were strange.

    "No sleep again for you, Félagi Jack?"

    Jack nods and helps himself to another ladle of mead.

    "England weighs upon your mind. It does for all of us. Another people
    slips beneath the Tatar yoke, and now nothing stands between the Erkut and
    the new world. The northern reaches of the Britannic [Atlantic] will be
    dangerous for all free people for years to come."

    Jack considers this. The few surviving English ships had fled to Ireland
    and Man with the fall of Plymouth. He himself had been present when the
    King gave them their commissions to raid Erkut shipping as privateers, and
    had seen the dispatch of requests to the Emperor of Vinland and King of Niwe
    Wessex to grant the ships safe harbor. "Do you think the war will spread to
    Ultima Thule?"

    Captain Ástríð purses her lips. Jack would have found the expression quite
    fetching but, again, for the tattoos. "It would seem likely. Timur will
    not stop with England. Scotland and Ireland are next, and he cannot allow
    the Kingdom of Man to become a center for resistance. If he attacks Man, as
    he must, the Vinlanders will respond. And King Eadwulf is no fool - he must
    know that if Vinland and the Khanate go to war, Niwe Wessex [roughly, New
    England] cannot hope to avoid peril, and he will declare for Vinland."

    "What of your people," Jack asks, working his memory to remember the name of
    the great pagan empire of Ultima Thule, "The Damn-, the Doomst-"

    The Captain smiles. "Domstolland. But they are not 'my people,' Félagi
    Jack. I am a Fjaralander, which lies far to the south of Domstolland. You
    would do well not to confuse us with them, as it would cause grave offense
    to some."

    Jack groans to himself. It appears that he did not know anything about
    Ultima Thule. No way to learn but to ask. "How is that?"

    So she told him: Fjaraland was settled hundreds of years ago by those
    fleeing the battle between Norse and Christian in Vinland. They travelled
    almost the entire length of the coast of Ultima Thule before reaching a
    place of safety [FN44.01]. They founded a state (although Jack could hardly
    call it that) without an established church and barely any government beyond
    a Hilmir [chief] they elected every year and a Stjórna [ruling council] that
    sounds to Jack like it is made up of anyone who wanders in during a meeting.
    Over the centuries, thousands of others flock to Fjaraland - escaped slaves
    from the plantation realms along the seaboard, Muslim serfs from the
    Ursulines [Caribbean] and downtrodden Welsh peasants from Annwyfn [Alabama].
    This motley agglomeration of peoples develops an egalitarian ideology that
    reminds Jack of the "Lollards," a radical Spiritine sect that was violently
    suppressed in England when Jack was a child.

    This, of course (and rightfully, in Jack's considered opinion) brought
    Fjaraland into conflict with its neighbors, with whom the Fjaralanders had
    previously lived in peace. Indeed, the Captain recounted, with some
    distaste, Fjaraland was once a founding member of a League dedicated to
    common defense.

    But no more. Fjaraland's hostility to slavery and monarchy soon led to open
    warfare. Initially, the Fjaraland Herlið [militia] barely fended off the
    attackers, but as the Commonwealth grew stronger, it went on the attack.
    The Herlið overran and devastated Annwyfn, massacred the ruling Grand
    Company to the last man, and marched home. After a brutal struggle - which
    Captain Ástríð described with what Jack considered indecent glee - the
    Fjaralanders seized all of Nueva Cataluña [Georgia, roughly] south of the
    Reial [Altamaha] River, and forced King Esteve to sue for peace.

    At some point during all these appalling (to Jack) events, the Spákona
    arrived from Domstolland. Evidently, one Faðir [Father] Lýðbjörn, a
    charismatic preacher in the Cult of Heimdall had gotten it into his head
    (the Captain maintained that the god Heimdall himself communicated this to
    Lýðbjörn) that the established Cults and state-supported priesthood in
    Domstolland was a great corruption of the traditional Norse religion. He
    demanded that the great temples be shuttered, the priests taken off the
    Commonwealth payroll, and the people return to the "Forn Siðr" [old
    religion]. This entailed worship in household shrines and woodland
    clearings and so forth, all of which had been banned. Also, the Spákona
    demanded that the prohibition on printed copies of the Eddas (some pagan
    Bible, Jack assumed) be lifted, so that every household could have its own,
    and they be allowed to supplant of the illuminated manuscripts available
    only to the wealthy. Faðir Lýðbjörn also demanded an end to slavery, the
    abolition of human sacrifice, and the declaration of universal freedom of
    conscience, including the legalization of Christianity. Despite himself,
    Jack felt some sympathy for the Spákona, since their fight against the
    established Norse cults seemed to mirror the Spiritine attack on the Roman
    Church, and this Faðir Lýðbjörn sounds like a pagan version of John Wycliff,
    a great Spiritine evangelical, who was himself martyred by the Bishops in
    Westminster.

    He supposed that there were pagans and then there were pagans.

    And what happened next to the Spákona seemed familiar to Jack as well -
    Faðir Lýðbjörn was arrested, since advocating freedom for Christians was
    treason in Domstolland, and "martyred" at the Temple of Thor by a mob that
    broke him out of jail. For days, the cities of Domstolland teetered on the
    brink of civil strife, until the Folkhagi summoned an Althing to broker a
    settlement. When all was said and done, the Spákona would be allowed to
    remain in Domstolland and worship freely (which included printing their own
    copies of the Eddas), with the proviso that they cease agitating for
    tolerance of Christianity and the abolition of slavery. The Spákona, for
    their part, withdrew the Cult of Heimdall from participation in official
    religious functions in Domstolland, and retreated to their sacred groves.
    Despite the compromise, the climate in Domstolland remained hostile to the
    Spákona. Official religion was at the core of the Domstolland state, said
    the Captain, and Norse who refused to participate were seen as foreigners in
    their own land. A hard core of dissident Spákona grew increasingly unhappy
    with the situation in Domstolland and migrated, with their families, to a
    land where they could worship without restriction - Fjaraland. There, the
    ranks of the Spákona grew, since their Lollard-like belief that all men were
    equal and their militant embrace of religious freedom proved very popular in
    a state at war with its aristocratic and slave-state neighbors.

    True to the Norse seafaring tradition. the Spákona used Fjaraland as a base
    for attacking the Britannic slave-trade and for simple piracy against the
    ships of hostile nations, which, as far as Jack can tell, is everyone. But
    they save a special venom for their former co-religionists in Domstolland
    and what Captain Ástríð called the "enemy of the world" - the Khanate.
    Indeed, once word of the invasion of England reached Fjaraland, its Althing
    convened and declared "perpetual war," against all the Tatar Khanates.
    "They would enslave every man, every woman and every child everywhere," said
    Captain Ástríð, "and we will not rest until they are defeated." This is
    what brought the "Vindhlér" to Plymouth - she was raiding the Erkut supply
    ships until Captain Ástríð decided to join in the evacuation.

    Jack is a practical man. As heartening as the idea of this little state
    declaring war upon most of the world, and as much as he appreciated being
    whisked out of Plymouth - along with Harry, Robin, Will Scarlock, and yes,
    even Flamel, damn him - the whole thing struck him as ridiculous.

    He had seen what the Erkut Khanate did to England. He had been there for
    the destruction of the Western Army.

    TO BE CONTINUED


    [FN44.01] Originally the St. Augustine region, but expanded through
    northern Florida.

    Empty America - Part 45
    [sorry for the delay, it has been a long semester. and then there's this
    thing called Facebook ...]

    Autumn, 1404

    [North Atlantic]

    Zhu Lun and Lin Rui have been trying to keep a low profile on board the
    "Vindhlér." This is not easy, given the size of the ship and the fact that
    they are the only two Chinese on board. But after a few weeks of taking
    their meals apart from the others and feigning ignorance of both English and
    Norse, the crew and the English passengers just give up and ignore them.

    It vexes Zhu immensely that one of the passengers, Nicolas Flamel, very
    conspicuously ignores them, failing to meet their eyes or turning on his
    heel and walking briskly away whenever they are on deck.

    Lin shares his frustration. "I hate working with dabblers. His melodrama
    is going to raise suspicions."

    Zhu agrees. "The Prieuré de Sion are not known to employ dabblers or
    incompetents, but I begin to question their judgment if this Flamel is their
    idea of an appropriate agent."

    "And this madcap plan - this is how they are to keep the King of England out
    of harm's way? By sending him on some laughable errand deep into the
    interior of Ultima Thule?" Lin shakes his head.

    Zhu has his doubts about the plan, too, but he knows from experience that if
    he agrees, Lin could begin undermining the scheme and casting about for an
    alternative. And Zhu is exhausted.

    He has spent months working furiously against the Erkut offensive against
    the island realms. He is not in the mood to improvise some new design.
    "The plan is sound. You are less familiar with the tales of Óuzhóu
    [Europe], Lin. The noble quest pervades their literature. The King of
    England must be employed until the time comes to liberate his people, and
    this will be deemed appropriate."

    "But a magic spear-head? It is superstitious nonsense!"

    Zhu (the Confucian) finds it hypocritical that Lin (the Buddhist) would be
    criticizing others as superstitious, but he leaves that alone. "These
    relics are widely credited in Óuzhóu. Searching for one will be deemed a
    suitable task for a King in exile. And it is known that this young King is
    prone dissipation if left to his own."

    "Then let us find something productive for him to do! Perhaps these relics
    are worshipped by the credulous. But all over Óuzhóu, even within the
    Khanate, the learned have for decades embraced the kèxué [science] they have
    learned from us. This King will appear a fool!"

    Zhu almost laughs. "The learned? You were in the besieged English city,
    Lin Rui. How many scholars' robes did you seen in the entrenchments? You
    cannot make a revolution with 'the learned.' Men of action - and those who
    follow them - believe what they will, and it is they who will overthrow the
    Khans when the time is right."

    "How strange to hear derision towards jiàoshóu [scholars] coming from you,
    Zhu."

    Zhu knows Lin is needling him good-naturedly. It is his way of
    acknowledging defeat. Zhu smiles. "Of course every righteous leader must
    have proper guidance by the jiàoshóu, Lin. And no doubt when victory has
    been won and peace has come, they will bombard him with lengthy memorials
    exhorting him to set aside his superstitious beliefs for the good of the
    renmin [people], but in the meantime, we must make do with what we have."

    "But really, Zhu - the Tian zhu jiao! [FN45.01] They are deranged, from
    their so-called King to the last man!"

    "They will not harm him. He is royalty and a co-religionist ... of a sort."

    "If he tries to steal their sacred spear, they will kill him!"

    "Flamel will see to it that he never comes close."

    ***

    Jack doesn't smell the smell or see the sharks, but the Spákona do, and the
    mood on deck changes immediately. Sailors who spent their off-watch moments
    drinking, smoking bhang and dicing (as sailors all do), could now be found
    stropping their dirks or inspecting and cleaning their firearms. Jack takes
    a professional interest in that, to keep himself busy. He noticed a fair
    number of falconets, serpentines and dragons, but the weapon of choice
    seemed to be a stubby-looking double-barreled escopeta [shotgun]. Jack was
    no fool - there was close-in work coming.

    Harry the King was keeping himself busy, too, fencing with Loxley on the
    main deck. Heavy cutlasses from the ships armory. Jack groans when he sees
    them, and pulls Harry aside. "Sire, you aren't really thinking of -"

    Harry smiles. "It's a slave ship, Jack! And we are going to take it."

    "But sire, to risk your royal person for a ship full of heathen blackamoors,
    its just -"

    The smile vanishes. "My 'royal person' is mine own, Sir John. And I will
    risk it as I will."

    "But sire -"

    "Enough, Sir John! There are dozens of souls in chains on board that ship.
    Men and women born free by God's grace and stripped of that freedom by
    wicked men. And we are going to cut their chains." The smile returns.
    "Think of it, Jack, 'King Henry the Liberator!' What a tale to tell when we
    get back to England."

    Loxley, Jack thinks bitterly. Loxley has had Hal's ear for days, filling
    him full of this radical nonsense. Oh, Jack has no fondness for slavery, to
    the extent he's thought about it. Wycliffe demanded that slave-owners in
    Ultima Thule and the Ursulines baptize their slaves, and blasted those who
    "condemned their charges to hell on earth and hell thereafter." There were
    no slaves in England of course ... Jack's heart sank.

    Until the Tatars came.

    He looked at Hal and shakes his head. "We have to get back to England,
    Sire, alive. We have to bring you back alive. You are all of England's
    hopes."

    "Sir Jack -" Harry barks, then his expression softens. "Jack. Do you know
    how many fallen kings have fled to Ultima Thule?"

    Jack shakes his head.

    "Too many to reckon. French, Swedish, English, even, in the Conqueror's
    time. It may be years before we can return to England. Decades, mayhap. I
    have to ..." He sighs. Suddenly he looks very old to Jack. "I have to
    accomplish some great thing. Or mine will be just another name on the list
    of those indolent exiles.

    It is Jack's turn to sigh. He can't believe he is actually saying this,
    but - "Sire, what of the Holy Spear? A quest for a sacred relic, to return
    it to Christendom, is that not a fit task for a king in exile?"

    Jack thinks he sees a wry smile flicker across the King's face. "Even the
    best-laid plans of kings do go awry, on occasion, Jack."

    Suddenly, Jack feels a lot better.

    ***

    The "Vindhlér" chases the slave ship for some days. The sleek little
    corsair spreads what seems to Jack to be an amazing amount of sail, and he
    cannot understand how they have not caught some waddling slaver. With each
    passing hour it seems that Captain Ástríð and her first mate Karl grow more
    worried, although they do their best not to show it. Finally, curiosity
    gets the better of Jack, and he corners Karl in the hold as he is checking
    the ship's stores. The mate, who is normally very garrulous, is initially
    reluctant to talk, but then he can't hold it any more.

    "We detected the ship days ago and we have not sighted it yet. That means
    that it is big, very big."

    "How big?"

    Karl winces. "Very big. A very big slave ship is going to be very well
    guarded. And the large Nangiyan slavers are government craft. The guards
    will be Imperial Marines, not the rag-bag hired faucons that crew other
    ships."

    Jack nods. The crew of the "Vindhlér" are hard, capable men. Jack knows
    the look. But there are not many of them.

    "And if we come upon this very big slave ship, what then?"

    Karl looks grim. "I have never seen the Captain pass by a slaver. If we
    come upon this great ship, then there will be a battle."

    ***

    There seemed to be no doubt about that. Jack found Loxley on deck, two
    long-barreled faucons propped up next to him. Loxley was stringing his old
    wheelbow. The sight makes Jack laugh, despite himself.

    "Robin, what the devil are you doing?"

    Loxley looks up. "Captain Astrid has stationed me in the crow's nest, when
    he heave to the slaver." It strikes Jack as odd that Robin doesn't seem to
    have a problem taking orders from a woman. Well, he always was a radical.
    "Those -" Loxley points to the faucons, "are two shots. There'll be no
    loaders." Loxley tucks at the bowstring, now taut, and pats the quiver.
    "This is a dozen more."

    Loxley smiles.

    "Karl tells me that if we each take fourteen, that may suffice."

    Loxley nods. "Worse odds than Plymouth, if you can imagine."

    Jack can imagine.

    ***

    [Outside Plymouth, Summer 1404]

    The English line surges forward on either side of Jack's company. Everyone
    is screaming at the Tatars' human shields to make way and give them a clear
    shot at the Erkut. The women, caught between two clashing armies, either
    seize their children and dash madly towards the English line, or fling
    themselves to the ground as the Western Army raises its faucons. Jack,
    whose men are still in formation and are double-timing it forward, sees the
    front Erkut ranks plunging their bayonets into the women and children
    huddled on the ground.

    That is when the English Western Army loses its grip. The ranks to the
    right and left of Jack's formation roar furiously and dash ahead to come to
    grips with the enemy, while Jack screams at his men to stay in ranks and
    keep trotting forward together. Without thinking twice about it, he draws
    one of his dragons [heavy pistols] from his saddle holster and shoots down a
    man who had broken ranks and was running off.

    The Erkut start volleying into the ranks of the civilians and through them
    at the charging English soldiers, who wave their faucons and shout
    frantically for the few standing women and children to go to ground. then
    charge furiously through the faucon-smoke, bayonets flashing.

    It is chaos. Amid the maelstrom, Jack Oldcastle pivots his ranks right and
    left, pouring fire into knots of Erkut troops whenever they can get a clear
    shot. Their rifled, breech-loading faucons easily range the Erkut
    smooth-bores. This catches the enemy by surprise, and Jack's men scythe
    them down while they are still forming up.

    But Jack and his men quickly fall behind the battle - the infuriated English
    troops have laid into the Erkut ranks and driven them back.

    But only so far. Jack can scarcely credit what happens next. Dozens of
    Tatar culverin erupt at once, blasting grapeshot into the tangled ranks of
    Erkut and English troops. They are massacring their own men to destroy the
    English.

    It is a trap.

    But then the Erkut infantry - fired on from both the front and rear - panic
    and break. The English are hard on their heels, overrunning the culverins
    and slaughtering the crews. They plunge heedlessly forward. Jack has got a
    bad feeling about this, but he orders his men to stay in formation, and
    double-time in pursuit. But then he orders a halt - the English forces are
    racing towards the Erkut camp, in a clearing beyond the tree line. Jack
    cranes his neck. Where are the Tatar horsemen?

    He looks at that tree line again.

    It is a trap.

    His men start rumbling. They are good soldiers, and want to be in for the
    kill. Jack barks for silence. "We are holding here!"

    Jack's second in command trots up and leans in close. He hisses angrily.
    "Holding for what, sir?"

    Jack's heart sinks as he says it. "We are holding to cover the King's
    retreat."


    ***

    The slave ship, when they finally spot it, is not just big - it is huge. Of
    course, even Jack knows that it must be Nangiyan. No other people are so