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The update is ballooning, but I hope to have it out by tonight. I hope this can tie y'all over.

Appendix A: December 1523, Sarai

Nogai rode across the plains, his own ragged breath barely audible over the thundering of his horse’s hooves and the thunder of cannonade behind him. He glanced over his shoulder, anything other than the blood-red sky and circling carrion birds obscured by the rollicking of his mount. Every fiber of his being was screaming at him to keep riding as far and as fast he could, his sweaty hands clenched around the reigns, but he needed to know what was behind him.

He pulled his reign and tried to turn, but his horse refused to follow, rearing and thrashing as it tried to continue its flight. Nogai clung to its mane like he always did, but the coarse hair slid out of his fingers like water and he fell for the first time since his childhood, the void beneath him seeming to suck him in. He hit the ground like a stone and instinctively rolled, then froze as he caught sight of the city behind him.

Sarai--he had spent enough time in the capital to know it like the back of his hand--was engulfed in flame, great black plumes of smoke from burning homes and funeral pyres rising into the hellish sky. Beside it, the Volga lay choked with bodies, a carpet of floating black that stretched from bank to bank. As he watched, the minarets of the great mosque were hauled down, crashing to the ground with the sound of doom. A swarm of men scurried over the palace and merchants’ quarters, looting and carrying off everything they could. Wagons lay scattered around the edge of the city, piled high with the riches of the khanate and surrounded by chain gangs of women and children, all screaming, crying out for mercy.

Something tightened around his ankle and he glanced over his shoulder to see that his horse had been caught by another rider, no, riders. A half-dozen men galloped towards him, one carrying an orange horsetail banner, with bows held at full taut. At once, they loosed, and the arrows hurtled towards him....


Nogai Ahmed Khan sat bolt upright, chest heaving. His hands raced to his chest and he felt all over his torso, searching for arrow wounds, then to his relief realized it had been a dream. He fell back into bed, panting, thanking God and all the angels that it had just been a dream. His stomach still churned, though, and after trying to ignore it for several agonizing minutes he stood and started to pace.

The tiles of the palace floor were cold, colder than the pit in his stomach even. He had had a similar dream once before, on the night before his victory at Taipaq five years ago. That dream had come true; with the swinging of his left flank around the edge of the Uzbek line he had forced them to yield the field entirely. Could this dream come true? Was it a premonition of the fall of his empire? He shuddered, praying it wasn’t. Still, if it was, it could be a gift. God would not have given him this forewarning if he intended to abandon him. He paused, replaying the dream over in his mind. He recognized the banners of the invaders, they belonged to the personal guard of the Uzbek khan. Surely, that meant that if he did not change his ways, then the Uzbeks would destroy his empire. He ought to shift his men eastward and strike against them as soon as possible, to make sure they could not bring about his ruin.

He shook his head. No, he couldn’t do that. The Russians and the Poles grew stronger every year, and if he turned his full force against the Uzbeks they would strike him in his back and destroy him that way. He sighed, kicking the frame of his bed. That was the root of the problem, after all. The cowardly farmers bred faster than his people did, and they were growing bolder as the disparity between them grew. Eventually, they would overwhelm him or his successors by sheer weight of numbers, it was just a matter of time.

Nogai paused, thinking. Numbers wouldn’t be a problem if he kept them fighting each other. In the time of his forefathers, the Russian and Polish states had been utterly smashed and reduced to squabbling fiefdoms, all paying tribute to him while fighting him again. What if he did so again? Did he even have enough men to do so? It would be much easier if he put fear back into them, sent them running like rats like Subotai had once done, and destroyed them without fighting them….

“Servant!” he shouted.

A Ruthenian servant, his name Vladimir or Dmitri or something, scrambled in through a side door.

“Yes, my master?” he said in an irritated tone.

Nogai frowned, deciding not to waste his time beating him for his insolence. He’d have him sold south to the Ottomans soon enough. “Fetch Tuqtamiş.”

“Yes, my lord.” The Ruthenian scurried out of the room, and he resumed pacing. A few minutes later, Tuqtamiş entered through the main door, surprisingly well-dressed for having been woken in the middle of the night. Nogai said as much.

“I’ve found to always be prepared.” Tuqtamiş said in his typical polished tone.

“Good for you,” Nogai said, knowing that he wasn’t going to get a straight answer. “Tell me, which of our neighbors is the weakest?”

Tuqtamiş paused for a moment, eyes and lips pursed. “The Khanate of Turan or Great Perm, I believe. They’re both quite fragile, more coalitions of tribes than an actual khanate or chiefdom. I imagine we could crush them in a season or less.”

Nogai shook his head. “No, I mean our settled neighbors. Novgorod, Lithuania, Moldova, them and their ilk.”

Tuqtamiş paused again. “You mean settled neighbor? Feudal, or centralized, right?”

Nogai nodded, and his secretary paused once again.

“I believe,” he said, an unusual note of caution in his voice, “That that would be the Kartvelians. They’re a patchwork of lordships and estates, and probably couldn’t muster more than two tumens against us.” he paused again. “They’ve actually been rather aggressive towards us recently, their priests have been spreading their slave’s faith in the tribal territories on our side of the mountain. In fact, they actually spurred the Vainakhs to rebellion a few years ago, and because of them the Avars stopped paying tribute.”

“What?!” Nogai shouted. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me?”

“You didn’t ask, sir.”

Nogai started to shout something, then cut himself off. Tuqtamiş was right. “If something like this happens again, let me know.”

He turned and started pacing again. “We have what, seven tumens to their two? It’s time to put the fear of God back in them. When was the last time we raided them, anyway?”

“Sometime around 1335, I believe. The Dzadhiks* went through around 1395, but they’ve been practically untouched since then.”

“Good, send out the riders. Tell my vassals to gather here by the end of March.” Nogai said. Visions of victorious slaughter and raping-and-pillaging flashed through his mind. After a century and change of peace, Kartvelia would be brimming with loot and slaves. Hell, if it went well enough, he might be able to gather enough men to his banner to reduce the Russias once again and maybe even go after Poland or Hungary. If everything went well, he would go down in legend like Subotai or even Genghis….

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*This is a derogatory name for Temur-e-Lank; the Golden Horde’s khans did not consider him to be a real Mongol such as themselves.
Wonderful appendice !
 
Part L: The Gates of Alexander (1455-1525)

In the middle years of the 15th century, Basileios of Funa and several companions had journeyed into the untamed wilds of the eastern Caucasian Mountains, hoping to spread the good news amongst the even wilder men of the region. The Avars, Vainakhs had the numerous other peoples of the eastern mountains had gained a reputation for martyring missionaries, and so it was to the shock of many that Funa was able to baptize several thousand converts from amongst the heathens, even securing the baptism of an Avar king, Rusalan I. The seed that Funa had planted would sprout like a mustard tree[1], as Rusalan and his successors, painting themselves as the Sword of Christ, unified much of the highlands under Christian rule and won a series of impressive victories against the pagans and the Muslims. This would prompt missionaries would enter the lands of the Muslim Golden Horde, an action which brought the ire of Sarai down upon them and sow the seeds of Saint Zphosas’ War[2], the largest conflict in the region since the War of the Caucasian Gates a quarter-century before.

In the years after Rusalan’s consolidation of the Avar Highlands, the official support of an established state on the northern side of the mountains gave the Orthodox Church a sudden inroad into the tribal region which had so long defied their attempts at proselytization. Traveling through the previously-inaccessible Malla-Kheli pass[3], churchmen from Kartvelia and beyond could go eastwards into the lands of the Kumyks and the Lezgins, or westwards into the lands of the Vainakhs. Efforts at conversion were most successful in the latter two peoples. Despite the Vainakhs’ nominal subservience to the Golden Horde, the Kartvelians were able to keep them in their sphere of influence by projecting power through the Caucasian Gates, which allowed money, embassies and even armies to march north and support factions friendly to Tbilisi in the region. This state of affairs led to the rise of one Ma’aru, a mercenary captain of mixed Avar and Vainakh descent, in the late 1510s. Ma’aru was able to rally the Orthodox Vainakh bands to his banner and, with support from Tbilisi and Kunzakh, crush the pagan and Muslim Vainakhs. At the Battle of the Terka River--hereafter known as the Battle of the Ts’yehn River[4]--in 1519, Ma’aru’s alliance utterly annihilated his enemies, with some 1,500 Vainakhs and several hundred Avar and Kartvelian mercenaries routing 3,000 enemies (a mixture of Vainakhs and Muslim Circassians) and slaying so many that the river ran red with blood, hence the name. With this victory, Orthodox ascendancy in Ciscaucasia was confirmed almost indefinitely. Ma’aru established a capital at Zaur (OTL Vladikavkaz) and set about transforming his alliance into a functioning state.

For the next few years, the Orthodox Vainakhs got along happily. The khan was distracted in the east, beating back invasions by the expansionist Uzbek Khanate, and as far as Sarai was concerned Ciscaucasia might have been on the moon. This happy state of affairs would end abruptly with the ascension of Nogai Ahmed to the khanate in 1521. Nogai Ahmed had been the victor against the Uzbeks at the great Battle of the Ural River in 1520, and had used this as a foothold to overthrow and murder his brother, the reigning khan Selim Ahmed[5]. Nogai Ahmed Khan was in a bad position from the outset. While he had succeeded in repulsing the Uzbeks from the western side of the Ural River, he had been unable to recover the vast swathes of the east which they still controlled. The Golden Horde controlled only the territories of the former Blue Horde; in effect, it had lost much of its eastern heartland, and as such would be greatly weakened as far as steppe empires went. The Russians were on the verge of reunification under the militarist Volga Novgorod, and they would soon pose a grave threat to the Khanate; the Polish-Lithuanians were growing in strength and were starting to push back against his realm’s western edge, and the Uzbeks would soon be able to push against his eastern frontier once again. If his state was going to survive the coming crisis, he needed to act swiftly and crush the upstart breakaways who were nibbling away at his borders to put the fear of God back into his tributaries. Only then, by presenting a united front to his many enemies, would he be able to keep his state alive and face down the many threats that were gathering against him from all directions. In the spring of 1524, he mustered six tumens--120,000 men--more than three-quarters of the men available to him, and marched southwards.

Word of the approaching Mongol horde spread swiftly, and within a few weeks Ma’aru was able to scramble together some 6,000 men, an impressive number for the region but a woefully small force to take on the great khan. He sent out a call for aid to his coreligionists, which by now included the Circassians, the Kartvelians, the Trapezuntines, the Avars and the Lezgins. The latter two quietly ignored his pleas for help, as they themselves could easily become targets of the horde’s fury and so decided to sit this one out. The Circassians did the same, and the aftokrator David apologized for being unable to help but stated that he was busy with other matters, like not losing Perateia to a deluge of horsemen. This left Kartvelia to tentatively answer the call, with Vakhtang dispatching a few thousand mercenaries and volunteers to help Ma’aru in his war against the infidels. Most importantly, he allowed a small number of Vainakhs who had settled in the Pankisi Gorge in the preceding years to cross back over the mountains and aid their fellows in the coming struggle. At the time, Vakhtang considered this to be allowing his rebellion-prone subjects to go off and get themselves killed, essentially creating a self-resolving problem..

Nogai Ahmed arrived in Ciscaucasia in June 1523. He made a circuit of the northern side of the mountains, reminding the Circassian vassals of their duties to supply him with gold and slaves and exacting the tribute that many of them had ‘misplaced’. He then sent embassies eastward to the Kumyks, who were under lose Horde control, threatening to quote ‘fall upon you like a bolt from on high, slaughter your men like pigs, rape and slaughter your women and sell your children in slavery in the distant lands of the Arabs, then grind your bones and scatter your dust across the breadth of the Caspian Sea’ if they did not submit to paying tribute. The Kumyks wisely did so, as did the Avars when confronted with a similar missive. With his flanks secured, the khan then plunged into Vainakhia(?) proper with a crossing of the Terek River in August.

The resulting campaign was a literal and metaphorical massacre. Nogai Ahmed was a cagey ruler, and before he had embarked on his mission of vengeance he had made sure to study the Vainakhs and every element of his society. Upon concluding that the Vainakhs were some of the most clannish people on the planet, he quickly devised his master plan. After crossing the frontier, he raced for the heart of Vainakh territory, shrugging off enemy bands from all directions as they tried to assail the far superior Mongol force from all directions. His target was Nasare, the second largest settlement of Ma’aru’s state and home to one of the five bishoprics north of the mountains. He arrived at Nasare on 16 August, finding that many of the local Vainakhs and their allies had holed up there to protect those who were unable to accompany Ma’aru in his retreat up into the mountains. While Nasare was an impressive fortress by the standards of Ciscaucasia, it was woefully pathetic compared the Lithuanian and Russian fortresses that Nogai Ahmed was used to battering down. As such, a bombardment of only two days served to level the entire eastern half of the city, and the irregular foot soldiers that rushed through the ruins en masse were able to quickly reduce the rest of the city. He but the Nasareans to the sword, believing that they had forfeited any right they had to ‘life’ or ‘surrender’ in rebelling against him.

Moreover, this calculated massacre had the exact effects that Nogai Ahmed hoped it would. Previously, Ma’aru had been able to convince many of the tribal leaders to accompany him on his planned retreat into the mountains, where he (rightfully) believed his chances would much better, as the Mongols weren’t exactly famed mountaineers. Now, however, with many of their clan members butchered by the invaders, many of the elders and war-chiefs felt that they were honor-bound to fight the Mongols on the field of battle. Ma’aru desperately tried to convince them of the foolishness of this, but many of them were determined and sure that God would secure them victory. The resulting Battle of Zaur--actually fought a few miles north of the capital--was about as one-sided as you’d expect, the khan’s men riding down the poorly-armed Vainakhs en masse and losing only a handful of men to their brave but suicidal charges. At the end of the day, 3,000 Vainakhs and 200 Mongols were dead, and the war making ability of the Vainakhs had been irrevocably crippled. The small force that still remained loyal to Ma’aru shattered, as many clans chose to gather up all of their surviving members and flee to Circassia or Avaria rather than try and continue what would surely be a suicidal war. With no other option available to him, Ma’aru fled up into the high mountains with his small band, establishing a new capital settlement in one of the most isolated valleys of Ciscaucasia, known as Bashtorostan (OTL Nizhnyaya Unal). While he refused to surrender to his hated enemy, Ma’aru was effectively knocked out of the war, unable to project power beyond the four valleys closest to Bashtorostan.

With the first target of his wrath all but eliminated, Nogai Ahmed then looked southwards. The Vainakhs were the most direct affront to his control of the region, but they were only as insolent as they had been because of the promise of foreign support. Circassia and Avaria had both been returned to the fold, but as soon as there was no massive army threatening to make it as if they had never, ever lived they would almost certainly resort to their old ways. In order to secure his hold on the region of Ciscaucasia, he needed to reduce what was, in his mind anyway, a state sponsor of rebels: Kartvelia. Not only was this region rich and mostly untouched by Mongol armies[6], in ravaging the region and utterly annihilating the Kartvelians and their state he would prove himself equal to, if not better than, Ahmed Sultan, who had failed to fight through the Caucasian Gates nearly thirty years previous. Indeed, Nogai Ahmed thought, if he could break through then all of Transcaucasia would be his, cementing him as one of the greatest khans to have ever lived, allowing him to take tens of thousands of slaves and levy thousands more pounds of gold and other valuables from the new territories. As he retired to winter camp that year--he wasn’t stupid, trying to force a crossing that late in the year would be suicide--visions of plunder and murder danced in the great khan’s head. In allowing the Pankisi Vainakhs to join their fellows, the Kartvelian king had unknowingly sown the seeds for his own destruction in giving the Horde the pretext it needed to invade.

Meanwhile, on the southern side of the mountains, Vakhtang was blissfully unaware of the Sword of Damocles that hovered above him. The Horde had made frequent raids against the states of Ciscaucasia, so this was nothing new. Supposedly, he was more concerned with the ascension of David to the Trapezuntine throne and the diplomatic and economic ramifications of this than he was of the massive Mongol horde that was massing on his northern border. As such, the provincial dukes remained in their territories that winter and spring, rather than being marshalled for war. Aleks’andretsikhe and the other six fortresses of the Caucasian Gates were reinforced, sure, but Vakhtang was woefully overconfident in their capabilities. He believed that the Mongols, a steppe horde as they were, would be behind the times in terms of siege technology and so would be unable to break through the aging fortresses, many of which had been built more than a quarter of a century before and had not been built-up or expanded since. Nogai Ahmed was in fact an experienced siege commander with a personal love for the development and usage of cannons, which would have been a warning sign if Vakhtang hadn’t been dying of syphilis.

That spring, April of 1525, the khan sent 20,000 men into Circassia to threaten the Circassian Gates as well as remind the Circassian tribes of their subservience to him once again. This force, reinforced with several hundred Circassian mercenaries, bore down on the Duchy of Abkhazia, the westernmost territory of Kartvelia. Had they managed to break through, they would have been able to utterly ravage the Kartvelian heartland in advance of the main invasion force. The Kingdom of Saint George was only spared this destruction because Mamia Dadiani, the march-ward of the Abkhazes and Duke of Tsukhumi, happened to be the only competent feudal ruler in Kartvelia and had taken the arrival of Nogai Ahmed the year before as a sign to start mobilizing. He had some 4,000 men ready and waiting in addition to several thousand more militiamen ready to be called up at a moment’s notice, and so was able to quickly scramble together nearly 11,000 Kartvelians and Abkhazians and several hundred Circassian and Vainakh exiles to meet the invasion force at the fords of the Myzmta near Anakopion (OTL Adler) along the coastal plain. While the Mongols outnumbered Dadiani by more than two-to-one, they were unwilling to risk a forced crossing of the river against a force of heavy infantry that were helped by defensive works, and so elected to withdraw back to Circassia to await reinforcements.

This probing action had its desired effects, in spite of its tactical defeat. Vakhtang was finally roused from his idle and mustered out all the men and lords of Kartvelia, mustering a host of some 30,000 and marching with all speed towards the Circassian Gates. He feared that the Mongols would attempt to push through the western crossings, which were, logistically speaking, far less daunting than the Caucasian Gates. As such, he knew he needed to act swiftly to cut off any potential attack from that region, which together with the impressive fortifications of the Gates would allow him to hold off Mongol attacks until he was able to negotiate a peace. Vakhtang and his army advanced to the Myzmta by the end of June, and so brought a combined host of 40,000 against the Mongols.

Nogai Ahmed then set the next stage of his plan in motion, sending two tumens (40,000 men) and the Circassian vassals to attack the king in the west, with orders to pin them down while taking as few casualties as possible. The fighting along this front began as soon as mid-July, as the Horde and their allies launched probing attacks all along the frontier, fighting a half-dozen small actions before falling back to the west, gradually wearing down the defenders’ numbers and morale. However, this was not the chief area of the war. With Vakhtang pinned down and the Kartvelians thoroughly distracted, Nogai Ahmed was free to move against his true target: the Caucasian Gates.

The Alans, who inhabited the region around the pass, had had the fear of God put into them with the utter crushing of the Vainakhs and so were willing to, if not join the Horde’s forces then at the very least not fight against them. Because of this, the pickets that were supposed to inform the defenders of Baltatsike, the northernmost fortress, of any approaching host abandon their positions and allow the outer bulwark to be taken by surprise. Nogai Ahmed has light cannons sent ahead of the main force with the scouts and hauled up the side of the valley under the cover of night. Once the attack begins, the Circassian and other vassal troops that are being used as human shields surge forward to assail the fortress, whose defenders are caught completely off-guard. Shot rains down from both the pass to the north of them and from the heights to their east, and the defenders soon rout and flee down the valley, leaving the ruins of the fortress to the Horde. Similar tactics are employed at Larshtsike and Daritsike, the next two fortresses, to much success. Then Nogai Ahmed and his army reached Aleks’andretsikhe, the greatest fortress of all the Caucasus. Alek’sandre II had chosen the location of his citadel well, and it was nearly unassailable. It sat on a sheer-faced plateau jutting out into the center of the pass, surrounded by a bend of the Terek that made direct assault almost impossible. The only heights around the city that could be used for bombardment were also fortified, essentially making it impregnable. For a week the Mongols laid siege to the fortress, pounding away with cannons that could barely be elevated enough to even hit the cliffs below the walls and making suicidal assaults across the river and the cliff face. Nogai Ahmed was forced to admit that his whole plan might be foiled by Alexander’s Bastion, and had begun mulling over a strategic withdrawal before the solution appeared to him. An Alan shepherd had been captured by a foraging party, and in exchange for the safety of his family he would tell them of a secret pass around the fatal gorge. Nogai Ahmed was intrigued, and allowed the man to give his peace. It took sixteen days of trekking through the wildest parts of the mountains, at elevations where snow clung to the ground even in summer and where horses would regularly asphyxiate simply from walking, but at long last the advance force descended into the valley of the Jutistskali River. Over the following weeks, thousands of men would make the arduous journey across the Juta Pass, but eventually a full tumen would camp in the valley. In late August, they sallied out into the Terek Valley proper.
Aleks’andretsikhe’s south-facing defenses were still quite impressive, but were much easier to bombard. After several days of round-the-clock bombardment, the guns of the great fortress finally fell silent.

Deciding not to look a gift horse in the mouth, the khan and his army slipped around the fortress and continued down the pass. Gudauritsikhe, the next fortress, had been abandoned by the time they reached it, its garrison retreating down the valley to the more defensible Zakatsikhe, which like the great fortress sat atop a plateau overlooking the entirety of the valley. Here, the Mongols were also forced to lay siege to the fortress, whose guns were able to rain hell down upon them from a great distance. After a few days of non-stop attack, the khan devised a plan. He had ranks of captured prisoners shackled together and marched back and forth along the valley for several days in the row. At such distance, the defenders were unable to discern their countrymen from enemy soldiers and so opened fire, burning through much of their powder reserves as they did so. On the fourth day of this, Nogai Ahmed ordered an assault on the western face of the castle, which was the least steep and thus least defensible. The third wave made it over the walls, and the fortress was taken with much bloodshed on both sides. Nonetheless, with Zakatsikhe taken, there was only one fortress left between the khan and the lowlands: Ananuri, a decrepit castle built during the reign of Tamar, and which would surely be no match for the full weight of the Horde’s army.

On 12 September, Nogai Ahmed and his army arrived at Ananuri and laid siege to it, pummeling the cliffside hardpoint with dozens of cannons of all sizes. The defenders stood strong under the withering fire, but as the second day dawned they appeared to be on the verge of collapse. The towers of the fortress had been reduced to rubble, and the walls sported many gaps; only the unexpectedly fast current of the Arkala River prevented the Mongols from simply swarming it. They had the numbers, after all, some three tumens of 60,000 men were still in the host. Nogai Ahmed was on the verge of ordering the final assault when word reached him from his pickets down the valley:

An army flying the Five-Cross Flag approached from the south-east, numbering nearly as many as the Mongols themselves. The battle to decide the fate of all the Caucasus was to be fought at Ananuri, on the morrow….

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[1] This is a reference to Matthew 17:20
[2] Zphosas was the Avar missionary who had converted many of the Vainakhs and Ma’aru himself, and so was considered to be responsible for the rebellion in Ciscaucasia by the Horde
[3] This is a minor pass across the Eastern Caucasus that is too high and too narrow to be used by an army, but is still large enough for particularly daring merchants to travail. It had previously been unusable because of the many feuding tribes of the area, but with Rusalan’s unification of the region it was now open to trade, which further bound Avaria into the Kartvelian sphere.
[4] Literally translates as “Battle of the river which was red”, more precisely “Battle of the Bloody River”
[5] After Ahmed Sultan’s many victories, ‘Ahmed’ had been adopted as a common regnal suffix for the khans of the Golden Horde. It translates as ‘Most praiseworthy’, and so it was added directly into the ruler’s title as well.
[6] Kartvelia had been devastated by the armies of Temur-e-Lank, but many of the Mongols of the steppe did not consider him to be one of them, instead regarding him as a Tajik or Persian.
Quite a battle is coming !
 
Part LI: Union (Valley of Ananuri) (1525)

The Trapezuntine Empire and the Kingdom of Georgia had been joined at the hip since birth, driven together by the common threat of the seas of hostile infidels that surrounded them on all sides. The Kartvelians had given aid and succor to the Trapezuntines on many occasions, and the Trapezuntines had done their best to repay these in the name of solidarity against the dreadful hordes that bounded them and bound them. Now, with the enemy closer than ever and the gravest threat since the age of Temur-e-Lank on the horizon, the Trapezuntines would take up arms to help their sister state. As on the fields of Saint Eugenios before, so on the slopes of Ananuri now…

David had been watching the events unfolding in Ciscaucasia throughout 1524 and into 1525 with mild interest. Given his religious disposition, he was most displeased to see so many martyrs and apostates made out of the good people of the northern mountains, but no so displeased to do anything other than politely register a request with Sarai that they tone down the persecutions, a request which was, of course, denied. The interests of the Trapezuntine state lay in the consolidation of the Black Sea as a mare nostrum, something that would be impossible without a willingness to coexist on the half of the ruler of the Pontic Steppe; he would not throw away the long-term diplomatic goals of practically every Trapezuntine ruler for the sake of some distant coreligionists, no matter how severe their plight. As such, David was content to watch the ongoing crackdown with distaste, but not actually intervene to prevent it. His focus lay southwards, where he was hoping to gin up a rebellion within Neo-Rûmite territory that could act as an inroad for him into the region.

This torpor was broken when word of the Mongol advance towards Kartvelia reached him in the summer of 1525. As far as he was concerned, Nogai Ahmed could do whatever the hell he wanted on the northern side of the mountains--it was his territory after all--but any attack on the southern side of the mountains was an indirect threat to him and Trapezous at large. After all, once the Mongols had established themselves in Transcaucasia--devastating one of Trapezous’ greatest strategic allies in doing so, which would be enough of a provocation in an of itself--what would stop them from just steamrolling westwards into Pontos itself. There was, of course, the long-standing alliance between Trapezous and Tbilisi which had buoyed both of their states throughout its existence and allowed the isolated Orthodox states to cooperate for mutual defense. As David would later summarise in the first book of his Davidine Wars: “Trapezous and Kartvelia were interdependent; the loss of the latter state would mean the death of the former. Ahmed forced my hand, I had to fight.”

The bandons had already been martialing for war in the months leading up to the Mongol invasion, and so David was rather easily able to rouse them to arms, albeit against the heathen invaders from the north rather than the south. The armies of Trapezous had not seen decisive combat--well, apart from some of the western bandons which had been mustered out to aid the Nikaians in their revolt--in several years, but David hoped that the constant training and drilling would make up for the institutional attrition accrued during that period. While the threat posed by the Golden Horde was immense, some might even say existential, the aftokrator and his megas domestikos (at this time a provincial general named Alexios Kaballarios who had been promoted to reduce the power the Ratetoi and their allies held in the government) still had to pay mind to the threats posed by the Neo-Rumites and Ottomans in the west, as well as the financial burdens of large-scale mobilization. The total population of the Trapezuntine and Nikaian Empires was slightly above 600,000[1], and because of the efficiency of the bandon system in training and mobilizing men, in times of deep crisis a hypothetical 105,000 men could be put in the field. Attempting to do this for anything other than an apocalyptic invasion would be ludicrous, of course, so David ‘only’ called up 25,000 men, leaving the rest to be called out if things spiralled out even further.

Taking advantage of the coastal nature of his realm, David raised bandons across the eastern rim of the Black Sea and shuttled them along the coast to Vatoume, which had been designated since the reign of Alexandros II as the chief staging point for military actions in Kartvelia. The ships had assembled there by 6 August, aided by calm seas and strong eastward winds across the Basin, and the aftokrator and his host were ready to march out of the city and across the frontier on 11 August. They were marching for Ananuri from the start, as the rushed and hectic messengers that Vakhtang sent to the Pontic host asked that he advance there and set up camp to await the arrival of the main Kartvelian army. Neither of the rulers thought that the fall of Aleks’andretsikhe was even a possibility, and so they both concluded that Ananuri would serve as a good staging point for a defensive action in the Gates. Vakhtang and the bulk of his host had remained in the west along the frontier throughout the campaign season, as he had expected that the brunt of the offensive would come from that direction. This was a fairly grounded fear, but many later chroniclers would use it as an example of the king’s worsening mental state due to his disease. It was only with the arrival of news of the invasion of the Horde through the Caucasian Gates and the fall of the first two fortresses that he was persuaded to abandon this position and ask David for help, and because of this his force was quite tardy in repositioning. His host, now numbering some 30,000 after leaving behind a sizable force under Dadiani to hold the western defenses and keep the Mongols from getting any ideas, linked up with the Trapezuntine army on the march across the lowlands in late August.

The combined host--some 50,000 soldiers strong at this point--arrived at Ananuri on 13 September. For several weeks as they marched on, Vakhtang and David had begun receiving reports from their scouts and outriders that Mongol cavalry had been spotted in the lower pass, but they had dismissed this as anxious scouts and inexperienced men mistaking Alan auxiliaries for the Mongol army, respectively. It was only on 8 September that a desperate courier from the garrison at Zakatsikhe, warning of their imminent collapse and begging for help, reached the army, and it was this that finally spurred the two rulers to take these reports seriously. The allies dramatically picked up the pace, knowing that the results of the Mongols reaching the open plains would be utterly catastrophic. They arrived on 13 September at the valley beneath the fortress, having been harassed for several days by Mongol pickets and outriders, to find that they had arrived in the nick of time. Nogai Ahmed would have to fight his way past them if he wanted to get into the lowlands, and they would not yield easily.

That night, they set up a joint camp on the southern side of the fortress, almost directly opposite the Mongol position on the northern side of the embattled castle. Both sides knew that battle would be joined on the morrow, and the usual simmering air of anxiety that fills most camps on the night before combat was multiplied by the sheer scale of the looming action. A battle of this scale had not been fought since the apocalyptic Battle of Didgori in 1121, which had seen nearly 300,000 men take the field. While the total number of men assembled at present was much smaller, the sentiment--that Kartvelia was facing down utter ruin--remained the same. Indeed, Vakhtang even made what he hoped would be a rousing speech on the matter and likening their current situation to Didgori, but this only hurt morale as his disease-addled mind lost cohesion halfway through and he began rambling about architectural advancements under Davit IV. In the Mongol camp, Nogai Ahmed promised immense wealth--specifically, ten pounds of gold and a dozen slaves--to each one of his soldiers if they carried the day, and the usual seventy-two virgins in paradise if they were slain. The only speech in the Pontic camp was a solemn rendition of a copy of Nogai Ahmed’s letter to the Avars with the sole comment of “If.” at the end. Both allied armies as well as could be expected that night, although the Mongol supply situation was contracted by their long lines and the lack of pillage in the surrounding country. The khan made a great show of doling out the last of the food, warning his men that they would face starvation if driven back but could feast to their heart’s content on the soon-to-be collected harvest of Kartvelia if they broke through. Sermons by ulema and priests were concluded at midnight, at which point both camps fell into an uneasy silence.

Before dawn the next morning, the Kartvelian army rose and took the field in as close to complete silence as was feasible. The valley was at its widest barely a kilometer across, and so Vakhtang was sure that he could plug any attempt at eastward breakout by moving the bulk of his force thence. 15,000 of the Kartvelian soldiers, mostly heavy footmen and dismounted knights, followed the king out into the lowlands and took up positions there, facing down the Mongol camp in the faint pre-dawn glow. Another 10,000 took up position on the ridges to the north and south of the valley, forcing any attackers to funnel themselves into a kill zone before even making contact with the main force. 5,000 Kartvelians and 5,000 Trapezuntines remained behind to guard the camp, while the other 15,000 Ponts guarded the Arkala and its passage into the valley itself. If everything went according to plan, David’s dawn push up the hill of Ananuri would rescue the besieged defenders and push on to hit the Mongols in their flank, splitting their force and driving half of them into the Kartvelian lines and sending the rest running up the valley

Ahmed Nogai, meanwhile, was far more cagey about his plans. He was deeply concerned about his convoluted stratagem being leaked and so told only the highest-ranking of his generals and officers until it was too late for any defector to sneak away. He spent the pre-dawn hours of 14 September as busy as the allies, but did a far better job of concealing it than they did. The positions of the allied forces were as clear as day by the sheer noise that they made, in comparison to the steppe riders, who were well-versed in moving silently, out of self-preservation if nothing else. By the time dawn came, as many things were in place as was possible to guarantee, and he was ready to join battle.

At dawn, the battle opened up with the barking serenade of cannonfire. The Kartvelian guns along the Samlyn (Southern) ridge roared to life first, firing at the reported position of the Mongol camp in hopes of fooling them into believing the main attack would come there, as opposed to at its true target, something which was shortly followed by the guns on the north ridge. The final battery to open up were the Trapezuntine cannons themselves, attempting to fire over the walls of Ananuri and strike the besieging camp, or at least give the signal for the defenders to rejoin their attacks. With cannonade raining overhead, David began the attack, leading twenty of the best bandons under his personal command up the ridge. As he had hoped, they were able to reach the fortress with minimal casualties, mostly due to friendly fire, and push on around the castle. The lightly-armored cavalry and dismounted horsemen did as had been hoped and crumbled, fleeing away to the north. It was here that things started to go horribly wrong.

Rather than withdrawing his heavy siege guns, Nogai Ahmed had instead ordered them loaded with grapeshot, correctly guessing that the Trapezuntines would attack from the same direction as the fortress. As soon as their fellows were out of the way (for the most part, anyway) the Mongols opened fire at near point-blank range, blowing the front bandons to hell and turning the ranks behind them into swiss cheese. The Trapezuntines, as expected, almost immediately routed after seeing the men in front of them turned into mincemeat, and despite David’s desperate exhortations to rush forward and seize the guns, only a few bandons followed him forward. The artillerymen hadn’t been expecting any of their attackers to press on, and so David was able to take and spike several of the guns before being forced to pull back in the face of enemy reinforcements. As he retreated, many of the Kartvelian gunners on Samlyn Ridge mistook them for advancing Mongols and opened fire on their allies, thankfully to little effect. Once those guns were silenced, David was able to hold at Ananuri Castle proper and fight off several attempts to drive him off.

While the Trapezuntine failed to push on into the Mongol flank as planned, Vakhtang was not informed of this, instead believing that David and his men had punched across the valley and were currently massacring the poorly-armed and worse-armored enemy horsemen. As such, when he observed several hundred horsemen thundering down the valley in loose formation, he assumed that these were panicked Mongols running for their lives. He ordered both batteries to turn their guns on this formation, and ordered his men into close ranks to repel any charges, unlikely though they may be. The cannons roared to life once again, their handlers struggling to turn their big guns to keep pace with the quick riders. As tends to happen in these scenarios, several of the cannoneers severely misjudged their headings in the early morning gloom and wound up firing upon their own men, carving broad gouges into their tight ranks. Then, as quickly as they had come, the Mongols fired a valley and withdrew back up the valley, out of gun range. The horsemen repeated this tactic twice, both times drawing heavy cannonfire but inflicting little damage on the formations of infantry. Vakhtang most likely concluded that this was a desperate attempt to draw his men forward, and so ordered them to remain in position come hell or high water. This would be a fatal mistake.

After the third volley, the powder supplies of both batteries were running low. Resupply came in the form of carts rushed up the side of the ridges, hurriedly doling out shot and black powder to the cannoneers so they could continue their fire. Suddenly, at around terce or 9 AM, the air above the northern ridge was split with jackal-like screams and whoops, above it all the shouted cry of “Kika rika!”[2]. Hundreds of Circassian warriors came pouring down the side of the mountain, emerging from concealment behind bushes and trees and in innumerable hollows with swords and crossbows. Two nights before, after he had received word of the approaching army, Nogai Ahmed had sent a thousand of his fiercest Circassians up the ridge, and now his long-planned stratagem was bearing great fruit. The Circassians swarmed down the hill, driving all before them, and capturing the northern battery with the loss of only one cannon. Freshly provisioned, the guns were turned against their masters and began raining hell down upon the tightly-packed Kartvelians, in addition to a great bit of suppressing fire levied against the southern battery to keep them down.

The Kartvelians were standing shoulder-to-shoulder and so were absolutely devastated by the sudden bombardment, shot falling densely among them like they were fish in a barrel.Vakhtang had ordered his men to stand their ground at all costs, and so the bravest or most loyal of the soldiers did just that and so were massacred, while most either fled, tried to charge piecemeal and were cut down or began milling about in panic. It was at this crucial moment that Vakhtang could have salvaged things if he had acted, sending men up the ridge to recover the guns and end the flanking assault. He did not, however, have the presence of mind to do so, instead lapsing into inane ramblings in the heat of battle, which even further demoralized his men.

It was at this moment that Nogai Ahmed struck the fatal blow. In the weeks before, he had secretly conducted negotiations with the Lord of Arishni[3], a restive vassal of the Kartvelian king who resented how the king neglected his march-warden along much of the Qutlughid border. The Lord of Arishni felt that the Mongols would be able to win handily given his experiences with Qutlughid raiders, and so was remarkably defeatist and sought to find the best way out of this mess for himself personally and his retainers. In exchange for protection from pillaging and position as the khan’s chief man in Transcaucasia, Arishni agreed to refuse to take up arms against him. It was by sheer bad luck that Vakhtang appointed Arishni to occupy the very rear of the Kartvelian formation, at the easternmost edge of the part of the valley occupied by the soldiers. With his new liege’s guns turning the soldiers of his old liege into a fine paste, Arishni decided that now was an excellent time to abandon the latter ruler and began a swift withdrawal eastward, ordering his officers to proclaim that they had been outflanked by a massive force of Mongols. This caused the already panicky soldiers to collapse into anarchy, entire formations dissolving as they stampeded to try and escape the noose which they believed was closing around them.

As the rear of the Kartvelian force began to collapse, Nogai Ahmed finally made an appearance with the bulk of his men. He had intentionally kept the two strongest tumens available to him to lull the allies into a false sense of security, and with their sudden appearance many of the footmen concluded that their enemy had been reinforced and that all was lost, joining the ever-growing number of fleeing men. In formation, the khan and his horde thundered down the valley and slammed into the Kartvelian front in a tidal wave of horses and men. In spite of their light arms and armor, few of the Kartvelians fought back and so the Mongols took surprisingly few casualties. Instead, most of them turned and ran and so were ridden down. David, seeing the horrible situation unfolding before him, tried to catch the Mongols in the flank but found to his dismay that only the eleutheroi, who numbered only 2,000, followed his order to advance; rather than losing them too, he ordered his men back and into defensive formations. The Mongols pursued the routing Kartvelians all the way down the valley, riding down thousands of them before they finally broke through into the Zhinvali Pass, whose defenders had been swamped by their own fleeing countrymen. They advanced down the valley and, by sunset, had reached the plains.

The Battle of Ananuri was an absolute disaster for the Kartvelia-Trapezous alliance and both Christendom and Transcaucasia at large. Nogai Ahmed Khan and his horde had broken through onto the Kartvelian plains, and there was no-one left to stop them. Of the 70,000 Mongols and Circassians who had taken the field that day, only 10,000 had been killed or sufficiently crippled to not fight on, which left the equivalent of three full tumens with a free hand in the Kartvelian lowlands. The allies, in contrast, had lost somewhere around 25,000 men, or half of their entire force in a single day, most of them ridden down by the Mongols during the route or trampled by their comrades in their panicked flight. Vakhtang V was among them, according to varying accounts either a) being killed by a cannonball, b) being shot in the neck by an arrow, c) knocked off his horse and dragged beneath its hooves or d) falling off his horse and drowning in shit. The only saving grace, if it can be called that, was that David had managed to hold on to the camp and keep up his defenses until he could withdraw under the cover of nightfall, thus managing to keep 20,000 men--mostly Trapezuntines, but with a few thousand Kartvelians--and several dozen cannon under allied command.

In the aftermath of the disaster, David bid a hasty retreat all the way back to Imereti, abandoning the capital and the eastern duchies to the Mongols in hopes of saving what he could of the rapidly collapsing Kartvelian western provinces, inadvertently kickstarting the division of the realm into rival states….

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[1] This is a rough estimate; don’t hold me to it.
[2] ‘Kika rika’ or, more accurately, “Keeka rike”, was a famous Circassian war cry of the 19th century known for striking terror and utter panic into those on its receiving end. A visiting British traveller during the Circassian Wars described it thusly: “This war-whoop of the Circassian warriors is indeed terrific, somewhat resembling the howl of a pack of jackals; so startling and earthly, that it is said to have caused insanity in some persons who heard it for the first time. We can easily imagine the panic it might spread among an army composed of the ignorant and superstitious peasants of Russia, surprised in some lonely glen or defile of the Caucasus by a band of these infuriated mountaineers, all yelling their war-cry, as they are accustomed to do when they commence an attack.” (Turkey, Russia, the Black Sea and Circassia by Edmund Spencer, 1854). Spencer also describes witnessing a Circassian attack in the same text: “The reader may therefore picture to himself the resistless impetuosity of a headlong charge of these flying horsemen of the mountains, sweeping like an avalanche on some devoted body of their country’s foes beneath them,—at the same moment making the heights around reecho with their fearful war-cry, discharging their carbines with terrible effect on coming to close quarters, while the stout staves of the Cossack lances that oppose their course are severed like reeds, by the vigorous and skilfully-directed blows of their admirably tempered blades. They will cut their way through an entire battalion, throw a whole column into disorder, and then as suddenly disappear through the yawning portals of some mountain gorge, or beneath the everlasting shadows of their primeval forests—before the smoke of their last volley, or the dust raised in their wild fray, has cleared off—and before their panic-stricken foes, in spite of their most strenuous efforts, have been able to bring their artillery to bear on the fierce band of guerrillas, who, although coming upon them and disappearing with the rapidity of a clap of thunder, leave yet a memento of their prowess behind them in the scattered bodies of their enemies that everywhere cover the ground.”
[3] The Kartvelians considered the betrayal of the Lord of Arishni to be such a foul betrayal that by the universal accord of both the church and the nobility his very name was damned from existence, all records of it being destroyed or overwritten with one of his many colorful cognomens, the most amusing being “He of the shriveled penis and gaping rectum’[4]. Only the account of a Qutlughid chief named Mehmed of Ganja provides a clue as to his name, as Mehmed boasts of having defeated ‘Giorgi, the march-warden of Arishni’, in single combat in 1519.
[4] This is an OTL insult used by Ioannes Skylitzes (IIRC) against the eunuch regent Basileios Lekapenos/Basileios Nothos of the late 10th Century.
Wonderful battle, the best thing is that most of Trapzuntine army survived and can face the rumites.
 
¡Very good timeline! I have enjoyed very much :)

Part XLII: The War of the Three Leagues in Iberia

As previously mentioned, the long-term strategic goals of the Lusitnaians were securing their northern and western frontiers so they could continue their crusade into Africa without having to worry about conflicts in Europe. One of their short-term aims was the crippling or annexation of Aragon and Navarra, whose continued existence south of the Pyrneees was a direct threat to their security, both by allowing a long-term rival to continue to exist and as a potential route for foreign soldiers to circumvent their mountain defenses. This desire was what had led Duerte into his alliance with Louis, although he considered it more of a temporary arrangement that could be altered to best benefit his realm at any time….

Ferdinand III of Aragon had entered the war in mid-1517 at the behest of Hyginus II, raising a fleet of some forty transport ships and a host of 15,000 men[1] to invade Naples and secure his claim there. He landed without much resistance and swiftly defeated the few Neapolitans still loyal to Louis, his forces fanning out across the south of Italy throughout 1517 and 1518. Crucially, he was supported by the Deuservii, who aided and abetted his consolidation of the south. However, even with a fifth column of supporters aiding him, Ferdinand was unable to reduce several of the fortresses in the far south, which were held by diehard Neapolitans, desperate French or the remnants of the Epirote expeditionary force that had been sent late in 1517, only to have their homeland conquered in their absence. Ferdinand was forced to commit his forces to a series of long-term sieges of these hardpoints, especially Taranto and Crotone. Because of this, he had very few forces back home in Aragon proper, believing that the Lusitanians wouldn’t break the thirty-year peace of 1490, an arrangement which had allowed them both to improve their domestic situation and, more importantly for the ultra-Catholic Duerte, had been notarized by the Pope. As such, he left behind only a skeleton force to defend Aragon, along with the militias of the crownlands and a handful of mercenaries.

Unfortunately for Ferdinand, Duerte would have no such scruples. In the winter of 1518, after news came of the shocking defeat of a Aragonese and Deuservii host by a much smaller French and Neapolitan army at Cicoria in September and after the Mediterranean became too rough to be navigable, thus trapping the Aragonese in Italy until the spring, the Lusitanians struck. Duerte himself led 10,000 men across the border near Caminreal, while two other columns of 10,000 also attacked in the north, into the Ebro Valley under de Nápoles de Nandufe and at Cofrentes under the elderly but very capable Gonzalo de Cordoba. Duerte hopes that this three-pronged assault would be able to swiftly overrun Aragonese defenses before reinforcements can arrive in the spring, and it is partially successful in this. The king himself is able to blast through the small force of Aragonese border guards and rush northwards towards Zaragoza, thus completing his half of the planned pincer, but de Nápoles de Nandufe gets bogged down fighting both the Navarese and the Aragonese border forces and is unable to advance to join him. In the south, meanwhile, de Cordoba managed to fight through the militias along the border, but upon arriving in Valencia finds it torn in civil strife between the city’s guilds and their royally-appointed governor, both of whom refuse to surrender out of fear of strengthening their rivals. Valencia and Zaragoza are both put to a siege that winter--Duerte’s army being too exhausted to try and take the city by storm--while advance forces are sent eastward to secure the passes over the mountains and trap the rest of the Aragonese on the eastern plain. The Duke of Najera, who had been left behind as regent for Ferdinand while he was in Italy, frantically tried to muster a force to drive back the invaders, managing to raise an army of about 12,000 composed of a strange mixture of regular soldiers, militiamen and mercenaries. However, he hesitated to engage before the campaign season of 1518 was ended by the onset of winter, as his defeat would leave Barcelona itself open to attack.

Word of the invasion finally reached Ferdinand in late January 1519, having been carried by secret messengers all the way from Aragon itself along the shores of the Mediterranean. He had managed to quelch the breakout from Cretone, but was still forced to commit a sizable portion of his forces to keep up the siege against both it and the other holdouts scattered across southern Italy. While he was still young and inexperienced, he was not a fool and realized how much of a threat the Lusitanian invasion posed to him. He ordered his dispersed army to regroup while every ship available to him mustered at Naples.

This was a fatal mistake. Duerte knew that speedy victory hinged on his ability to keep the Aragonese in Naples, and he had dispatched a fleet of more than sixty ships (68, to be precise) to blockade them there as soon as the Mediterranean had calmed in March. Two months later, this fleet sailed into sight of Naples, where they found, much to their shock, not the small and unorganized force which they had been told was there but rather a sizable Aragonese fleet. Nonetheless, the commander of the Lusitanian armada, an experienced and decorated admiral named Jorge Correia, ordered an attack, hoping to surprise the enemy and destroy them in their harbor. The Lusitanian attack was unexpected, but the Aragonese and Neapolitans scrambled to meet the attackers, weighing anchor and sailing out to meet them piecemeal or in penny packets. The Lusitanians at first crashed through the enemy formation, but as more and more ships took to the sea, they were halted and then, slowly, driven back. The Lusitanian ships were mostly sailing vessels, awkward and ungainly in the confines of the bay, while the allied galleys were far more agile and maneuverable. The air was filled with gunsmoke and fire as cannons roared at point-blank range, and fighting soon devolved into a chaotic mess of lone ship against lone ship as strategy and orders were lost in the fog. After more than six hours of fighting, the Lusitanians were driven back with forty-two ships sunk or captured, while the Neapolitans and Aragonese lost fifty-one of their seventy-two ships[2]. The remainder of the Lusitanian force limped back out into the open Mediterranean, leaving a crippled enemy fleet behind them. However, Correia knew that he still had an opportunity to score a crushing victory, damn the costs. That night, one of the Lusitanians ships, the San Erasmo, broke off from the rest with two escorts, sailing back towards Naples. San Erasmo was stripped of anything of value and stuffed with straw and liquor, then pointed at Naples with the rising tide and eastward wind, the crew being evacuated except for Correia and a handful of fanatics. The admiral rode the caravel into the port, silent under the cover of night, then set fire to the ship as it closed to within a few hundred meters. The San Erasmo exploded into a massive fireball amongst the surrounding vessels, and within minutes the allied fleet was on fire. The Aragonese and Neapolitan fleet was heavily damaged, with only a dozen ships managing to survive intact.

With Ferdinand and his army trapped in Italy, Duerte was able to resume the offensive in Iberia at a break-neck pace. After a few days of negotiations, Zaragoza surrendered in exchange for being spared a sack. With the heart of the Ebro secured, Duerte told de Nandufe to turn his attentions to dealing with the Navarese, while he himself moved against Barcelona. In the south, the siege of Valencia continued on into the winter, only ending after de Cordoba was able to convince the governor and the guilds that he would allow them to maintain their current positions during the occupation. In late May, a Castillian garrison was installed in the city’s citadel, after which Cordoba turned his attention to dealing with the remaining garrisons in Murcia and along the plains north of the city.

With the south essentially secured in all but name and the Basques pinned down fighting Nandufe, Duerte turned his attention to Barcelona itself, the beating heart of Aragon. In late June, he abandoned the Ebro valley itself and marched eastwards, aiming directly for the capital. Lleida surrendered without a fight, and with the plains secured he was free to move into the mountain. De Najera realized that this was his golden opportunity to halt the enemy advance, and rapidly moved to waylay his enemy. Even as the Lusitanians advanced further and further into the rough country, they found fortresses and castles that should have barred their way abandoned, as if dozens of garrisons had defected all at once. Duerte was suspicious, but resolved not to look a gift horse in the mouth and kept up the advance at a rapid pace. This was nearly his undoing.

On 21 July, the Lusitanian army was waylaid in the pass of Fonollosa[3] by Najera’s army. They were tired from weeks of constant marching and strung out along the road, by all rights an easy target for an ambuscade. However, the poor quality of the Aragonese force made itself known, both literally and figuratively, when a militia brigade sprung from ambush far too early, giving away the entire attack. While Najera roused his men to begin the assault while the Lusitanians were only halfway into the trap, Duerte hastily withdrew, escaping out of the pass’ northern end with light casualties. Once out from under enemy fire, the Lusitanians reformed on the plains, managing to keep order before turning to face their pursuers. Najera had been unable to halt his overeager soldiers, and many of them rushed out of the pass and onto the flatlands, where they were swiftly cut down by the far more orderly Lusitanians. For several crucial moments, Najera vacillated between ordering an all-out assault or pulling back, and during this interlude the king was able to do some hasty planning. He sent several brigades west into the nearby forest, then beat a retreat back from whence he came, seeming to be routing in front of the Aragonese. Many of Najera’s soldiers broke rank and gave chase, leaving the duke to hastily chase after them with the rest of his force. Once the Aragonese had completely emerged from their cover, Duerte about-faced to meet them, and the reverse ambuscade was hastily sprung. The Aragonese host quickly dissolved, various militia and mercenary forces fleeing in all directions while Najera desperate tried to fight a rearguard action with the remnants of his force. After an hour of assault from all sides, the duke realized that the battle was lost and surrendered rather than send more men to their deaths.

With the chief Aragonese force either scattered or imprisoned and its commander in chains, Duerte was able to advance directly against Barcelona in the following weeks, after his army had recovered from the brief battle. On 6 August, Duerte arrived outside the capital with a winded but still capable force. The people of Barcelona had hastily organized into a series of militias to hold the walls, and Duerte knew that he could never hope to take the city by storm. With siege artillery still several weeks away and having effectively outrun his supply chain, the king sent a message to the bishop of the city, -----, offering to spare the city from a sack if they surrendered to him immediately. The answer from the defenders was almost unanimously ‘No’, as they still believed Ferdinand was on the way with reinforcements, but there were enough dissenters for entire brigades needing to be taken off the walls. Scenting weakness, Duerte offered effective autonomy to the city in most of its affairs in the peace settlement if they would surrender without a fight. This piqued their interest, as much of the militia were drawn from the guilds and the lower classes, who disliked the direct rule of the king and would have much preferred a measure of autonomy. Several sally gates were quietly opened and Lusitanian soldiers entered on 9 August, joining with the anti-war militias in driving the loyalists out of much of the town and confining them within the citadel after two days of street fight. Duerte then entered the city in triumph, parading through the city streets as a conqueror, before making his way to the cathedral and having himself crowned as King of Aragon, the crown jewels having been captured before the loyalists could hide them.

This complicated things, to say the very least.

Duerte had a very weak claim to the Aragonese throne, as his grandmother Eleanor had been a daughter of Ferdinand I. However, this claim would only really come into effect if all other male members of the House of Trastamara were dead, and this was not the case as evidenced by Ferdinand III’s continued existence in Italy. Duerte’s true claim was the fact that he was in Barcelona with a large army. Even beyond the claim, Duerte’s actions had essentially thrown Aragon into a civil war as garrisons across the country would either defect to him or remain loyal to Ferdinand. More importantly, he hadn’t bothered to clear this decision with anyone other than himself, not even his advisors, and this unexpected declaration threw the internal cohesion of the French alliances into turmoil. Louis had planned to use the successes in Iberia to knock the Aragonese out of the war and thus pincer Italy yet again, but had neglected to actually inform Duerte of this, out of fear that his ally would refuse and scupper these plans. Now, with these plans wrecked beyond repair, Louis sent a series of angry missives to his ally, essentially screaming at him for destroying a plan he didn’t even know existed. This pissed Duerte off, and he became even more pissed off when he concluded that Louis had intended to trade away everything that the Lusitanians had bled for. He transferred the second force which he had been intending to send north[4] to garrison Catalonia while he personally marched to subdue the Navarese.

Throughout 1520, the Lusitanians-Aragonese were occupied with the strange conflict in Aragon, which was slowly unified around the banner of Duerte or ground into submission either way, and the reduction of Navarre. De Nandufe had been assigned to this task before he had been hastily dispatched northwards to lead the expeditionary force, and in the subsequent brief lull the Basques had made quite the comeback, even managing to recover Pamplona. Once the king himself was present in the theater, though, these gains were quickly reversed. By the end of 1520, the Navarese proper had been broken, reduced to a handful of partisan bands up in the high mountains and the forces under Pedro of Navarre, a cousin of the king, who had managed to lead a retreat across the Pyrenees, where he hoped to hold off the attacks from the south.

However, more importantly, Duerte was conducting a series of secret negotiations with Hyginus. The Pope desperately wanted to weaken the French by any means possible[5], while Duerte wanted, nay, needed, the legitimacy that would be provided by Papal support for his claim to the throne of Aragon, as well as the need to prevent the rising of a continental power strong enough to threaten his control over Iberia. It would seem as if their shared goals would allow them to work together for mutual benefit, but there was still a very large elephant in the room; Ferdinand. The exiled king had managed to secure control over Naples as well as the formerly Aragonese possessions in the central Mediterranean and was attempting to raise a fleet to retake his first territory in Iberia. Hyginus had to tread the tightrope between the two monarchs, as either of them swinging to (re)join the French could potentially be disastrous. After several months of silent, three-way negotiations, the pope and the two kings struck a deal. Hyginus and Ferdinand would recognize Duerte as King of Aragon, but the Kingdom of the Balearics and the Kingdom of Valencia, which were legally distinct from Aragon itself, would be worked out later. In exchange, Duerte would invade France post haste.

In April 1521, the infante Afonso (b.1498) led 15,000 men across the Pyrenees under the pretext of finishing off the Navarese. Pedro raised a final army to meet them, intercepting the Iberians at the field of Saint-Jean, where he made his final stand. Unfortunately for both him and the glory of Navarre, rather than charging up the hill to meet him as he had hoped the Iberians would, they opened fire at a distance with crossbows and arquebuses and began inflicting heavy losses on the unshielded Navarrese soldiers. Pedro made a final heroic charge, but he and his men were cut down at a distance, inflicting pathetically low losses on the attackers. Saint-Jean was then occupied, effectively ending the existence of independent Navarre. However, the Iberians did not stop here. Afonso advanced out of Navarre and into France proper, taking Bayonne by surprise and installing a garrison. Fast-moving cavalry forces then spread out across the lands south of the Adour, taking Dax and the Bearnite cities without a fight and repulsing a small force of militia and retainers from Armagnac at Castelnau. His orders were to halt here while reinforcements were brought up from across the mountains or sailed into Bayonne from the ports of Asturias, but the restless prince refused to wait, likely driven by a desire to win a name for himself and the scent of blood in the water. Afonso led nearly 10,000 men north across the Adour towards Bordeaux itself in early August, but was unable to reach the city. Alan of Albret, one of the French noblemen of the region, had managed to rally a force of several thousand militia, knights and retainers to meet the invaders, hoping to protect their lands from the usual ravages of war. This motley force waylaid Afonso and his army near the isolated Gascon village of Sabres, harassing them from the dense forests of the region and wearing down his rear and flanks in a day-long running battle. Finally, Alan met Afonso in a pitched battle, which was ultimately inconclusive. Alan keeled over from a heart attack in the heat of the battle, and while the French were forced to withdraw, Afonso decided to do the same after assessing his losses and supply situation.

Duarte crossed the Pyrenees in late July, furious that his son had gone beyond his orders and risked disaster. More importantly, Afonso’s strike in the west had thrown off his plans of an advance along a wide front, and he was left to make up for this the best he could. He split his own force of 20,000 in half, sending 10,000 west into eastern Guyenne while the majority of his army attacked Languedoc. The secondary force was able to take Toulouse and the surrounding territories with little difficulty, although they came under frequent harassment by local militias and noble cavalry from the duchies to their north. The Occitanains had by now realised that their homeland was being turned into a war zone and many of them fled northwards, burning their crops as they went to spite the enemy. Knights from the northern duchies also raided the region, seeking to deny the advancing foe supplies by despoiling the land--after all, it wasn’t their land, and so smashing it up ‘a bit’ would be more than justified to prevent the advance of the perfidious enemy. Duarte, meanwhile, advanced on the cities along the Mediterranean with surprising speed, as many of the cities were caught off-guard and surrendered rather than risking a sack. By the end of September, an Iberian army was besieging Montpillier, the only major city in the south not captured other than the mighty fortress of Carcassonne.

The French had responded to this invasion primarily by indirect resistance or sorties against isolated garrisons, such as those undertaken by Charles, the Count of Alençon. However, in October 1521, Louis and his army finally arrived from Italy, having run themselves into exhaustion to defend the southern provinces. The arrival of such a large French force caused Duerte to withdraw from Montpellier, which was relieved after a harrowing siege of several weeks to the cheers of all of its inhabitants. Several thousand pounds of cannonballs were lodged within the walls of the city, but they had stood strong against the invaders. Louis further pursued the Iberians southwards along the coast, but his army was too exhausted to keep in order and became strung out along the road, forcing him to pull back to Montpellier after chasing the Iberians across the Herault. The snows came early that year, and the three armies entered winter quarters in mid-November, supplies short all around due to the ravaging of the province that year.

The war resumed the next spring. Afonso launched another push on Bordeaux in late April, advancing through the now-abandoned and devastated countryside with his diminished army. However, he advanced at an unusually slow pace and there was more than enough time for the garrison of the city to send a cry for help to Louis’ army before the city was surrounded. Louis mustered his army, by now much reduced by the cold and the hunger of the winter, and counter-marched with some 12,000 men. After two months of force-marching across the devastated country, the king and his army arrived outside of Bordeaux, where they offered battle to the infante and his army. Fearing being cut off from his route of retreat, Afonso accepted the offer.

Knowing he was outnumbered, the Iberia deployed his forces on a line, with the river securing their left flank and a number of open cisterns to anchor his right. He was planning a purely defensive battle, hoping to inflict enough losses to force Louis to pull back. Louis, on the other hand, extended his left, hoping to sweep around the cisterns and pin down the enemy rear while he hammered into their center and left with his own center and right, hoping to break them entirely. The battle opened quietly, shortly before noon, with skirmishing between the light infantry of both armies, before Louis ordered his men to advance with the sun still high in the sky. The left, under d’Alençon, advanced slowly across the scrubby field, and so the French mainline struck their enemy line first, ranks of grizzled veterans pressing against each other, eventually beginning to push northwards as the experience of the French and the Lombards made itself known. The Iberian heavy infantry were as a whole less heavily armored, and so in addition to their experience and the weight of numbers, which was already on their side, the Franco-Lombards had physical weight on their side as well. After nearly an hour of fighting, Louis; men seemed to be on the verge of a breakthrough, the Iberians wavering desperately as their losses mounted and their line lost cohesion. The king had by now begun to wonder where the encircling force had gone, but was focused more on the struggle at hand. Then, Charles and the remnant of the French left came streaming out of the wickets in full retreat, followed shortly afterwards by Castillian cavalry. Louis turned to meet this force, but before he could, another formation appeared at his seven o’clock, then in his rear. Duarte had shadowed the Franco-Lombards along their entire march at great distance, only closing with them once the battle was in full swing. Louis was forced to pull forces back to try and defend from this new attack, forming a concave arc with their backs to the riverbank. As more and more soldiers came pouring out of the wilds, Louis ordered his men to retreat across a shallow part of the river to a river island, the rest of the army fighting fighting desperately to cover their retreat. The French put up the best fight they could, but the king soon discovered to his horror that the river was far faster than he thought it was, fed by the melting of the snowpack with the spring thaw, and many of the soldiers lost their footing and were swept away. The Iberians pressed further forwards, and gradually the French were forced back into the river and the mud, either cut down by the enemy or carried away by the swift currents. Only three hundred men escaped to the river island, Louis among them, and then escaped across to the far bank on crude rafts.

The Battle of Bègles effectively gutted the French army and broke the spirit of France at large. Louis insisted that victory could still be won, but few of his vassals and subjects agreed. Cities across the south of France surrendered and accepted Iberian garrisons, and the Count of Rodez[6] went so far as to swear fealty to Duarte. Gayenne, Languedoc and Santogne were all secured within a few scant months, and the Iberians went eastwards into the lands of Provence. In spite of the king’s energetic leadership, many of his nobles refused to muster out and follow him, and many of the levies which he tried to raise from across Occitane outright revolted rather than march to their deaths. Duerte sent raiding parties northwards, seeking to stir up revolts to further weaken his enemies, further devastating the regions. After several months, the king was finally able to scrape together 3,000 men, a ragged force by any measure of the definition. In September 1522, he marched to relieve the isolated castle of Lodeve, from which he hoped to threaten the Iberians’ supply lines and force them to pull back from Provence. He succeeded in reliving the castle, a fairly significant morale victory for such a beleaguered army, and began raiding the roads south-west of Montpellier. However, his scouting court was essentially nonexistent, and so an Iberian force fell upon them by surprise. The army was shattered by overwhelming attack from two directions, and Louis was forced to flee the field again.

In spite of all these defeats, Louis was certain that he still had a chance at victory. He spent the winter of 1522-1523 trying to muster forces from northern and central France, which was by now overrun by peasant revolts due to overtaxation and devastation because of Munsterian and Iberian raids. Most recruitable men were dead, already revolting, or helping de Foix in his manic defense of the capital. Unable to muster anything more than a few hundred men, he marched south once again in hopes of raiding the enemy and mustering more support. On 28 February 1523, near the small town of Vichy, the king and his men encountered a party of Iberian raiders. A Castillian arquebusier fired and Louis fell from his saddle, the left side of his head reduced to a bloody pulp. With him died the French war effort; within a few weeks, the war would be over.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
[1] The Aragonese crown was quite decentralized, and so Ferdinand raised a small host so as to not anger his subjects while he was out of the country.
[2] These were unusually large fleets, and this was part of the reason why they took so much damage; the vast majority of these armadas were merchantmen turned transports.
[3] I think this might be the contemporary name, but I’m not sure,
[4] He had been asked to send 20,000 men to the north, but obviously refused to send the latter half. He actually tried to recall de Nandufe, but the message never made it through.
[5] Hyginus was still an adamant reformer, however, and refused to excommunicate Louis for anything other than a mortal sin. They may disagree vehemently (to say the least) but he would not damn him for a temporal falling out.
[6] Butterflies mean Rodez never falls into union with Armangac.

I only would add some comments about this post:
  1. For what I know the king name Duerte is misspelled. The right one would be Duarte, that is similar to Eduard in English.
  2. Is very unlikely that a union of Portugal and Castile would be named "Lusitania". Castile has three times the population of Portugal, so the castilians would never accept a name related mainly to the latter. A realistic name would be something like "Kingdom of Castile and Portugal" that would be more acceptable to castilians. Anyway I understand is easier to use Iberians in the text rather than any other alternative.
  3. After the conquest of Navarra, Aragon and Catalonia by the Castilians and Portuguese the whole kingdom probably would be re-named Hispania, Espanya (in Portuguese) or España (in Castilian) instead of Iberia. That is because since the middle ages every king in Iberia/Hispania consider themselves kings of their kingdom in Hispania, something like "King XXX of Castile in Hispania"
 

Eparkhos

Banned
Thank you all for your condolences, they're very much appreciated. I'm on a good number of drugs right now and so I don't think I'll be able to write for a while. If anyone has anything they'd like to say or post (semi-canon, maybe?), I'd welcome it, this thread is the best I've done in my career and I don't want it to die.
 
With Eparkos approval, i post this side story that happens in Sinope:

The rooster began his religious chant, but Theophilos was already on his way to the water tunnels, in Sinope. The morning cold is kept at bay by some purridge, bread and apples.

Everyday, for the past 2 years, the same routine: Change clothes, check the tools, descend the wooden stairs and start digging.

"How much until we end this tunnel?"

"I heard one week more, but you know how is this - They will soon find another section to expand or another tunnel to make."

"Damn... the things we do for water"

But the work remained the same - digging, removing rocks, in order to keep the future water circulation as fluid as possible. Once on a while, he changed the showel for hammer and chisel to break the hardest rocks. Or, had to climb through some planks to expand the ventilation shaft, or descend through ropes, depending the day.

Certainly, these manual jobs caused some injuries, but nothing that left him handicapped. Slaves were plentiful, but Theophilos joined by himself, watching this as a quick way to earn his solidus.

As the shift ends, the smell of roasted fish and wine cheered up the crew - once on a while, a roasted pig with plentiful salads.

"Some weeks more, some weeks, and i can finally start my business" - thought Theophilos.

And he kept digging.

With a smile.
 
With Eparkos approval, i post this side story that happens in Sinope:

The rooster began his religious chant, but Theophilos was already on his way to the water tunnels, in Sinope. The morning cold is kept at bay by some purridge, bread and apples.

Everyday, for the past 2 years, the same routine: Change clothes, check the tools, descend the wooden stairs and start digging.

"How much until we end this tunnel?"

"I heard one week more, but you know how is this - They will soon find another section to expand or another tunnel to make."

"Damn... the things we do for water"

But the work remained the same - digging, removing rocks, in order to keep the future water circulation as fluid as possible. Once on a while, he changed the showel for hammer and chisel to break the hardest rocks. Or, had to climb through some planks to expand the ventilation shaft, or descend through ropes, depending the day.

Certainly, these manual jobs caused some injuries, but nothing that left him handicapped. Slaves were plentiful, but Theophilos joined by himself, watching this as a quick way to earn his solidus.

As the shift ends, the smell of roasted fish and wine cheered up the crew - once on a while, a roasted pig with plentiful salads.

"Some weeks more, some weeks, and i can finally start my business" - thought Theophilos.

And he kept digging.

With a smile.
sounds good i like it
 
With Eparkos approval, i post this side story that happens in Sinope:

The rooster began his religious chant, but Theophilos was already on his way to the water tunnels, in Sinope. The morning cold is kept at bay by some purridge, bread and apples.

Everyday, for the past 2 years, the same routine: Change clothes, check the tools, descend the wooden stairs and start digging.

"How much until we end this tunnel?"

"I heard one week more, but you know how is this - They will soon find another section to expand or another tunnel to make."

"Damn... the things we do for water"

But the work remained the same - digging, removing rocks, in order to keep the future water circulation as fluid as possible. Once on a while, he changed the showel for hammer and chisel to break the hardest rocks. Or, had to climb through some planks to expand the ventilation shaft, or descend through ropes, depending the day.

Certainly, these manual jobs caused some injuries, but nothing that left him handicapped. Slaves were plentiful, but Theophilos joined by himself, watching this as a quick way to earn his solidus.

As the shift ends, the smell of roasted fish and wine cheered up the crew - once on a while, a roasted pig with plentiful salads.

"Some weeks more, some weeks, and i can finally start my business" - thought Theophilos.

And he kept digging.

With a smile.
The average life in Sinope. Pretty calm all things considered
 

Eparkhos

Banned
On this day, two centuries ago, the people of Greece took up arms and cast off the Turkish yoke which had so foully been laid upon them lifetimes before. Thousands of innocents would be killed in massacres and atrocities from Pontus to Epirus, but they would persist in their great struggle until Morea and Boeotia had been liberated. The war of liberation would continue off-and-on for the next century until all of the islands and everything west of the Ebros would be recovered. Unfortunately, the Turks continue to threaten Greece to this day. Cyprus was illegally and nefariously invaded and further atrocities, and to this day Turkish settlers maraud against the Cypriotes, while the government itself attempts to advance false claims in the Aegean. With future relations between the two countries so bleak, let us take a moment to remember those who laid down their lives for the sake of a free and united Greece.
 
Part LII: Red Autumn, Black Winter (1525-1526)

Eparkhos

Banned
Part LII: Red Autumn, Black Winter (1525-1526)

The months following the Battle of Ananuri would go down as some of the worst in Kartvelian history. The king was dead and the throne was left to families of squabbling nobles, all the while the Mongols swarmed across the eastern half of the kingdom with their characteristic brutality and cruelty. Tens of thousands of innocents were killed and tens of thousands more carried off into slavery, not withstanding the tens of thousands more who starved that bitter winter. Entire cities would be put to the sword, and great swathes of the country would be so desolated that they would remain uninhabited for years. This was certain from the moment of the Kartvelian rout; the only question was, how much could be saved?

After carrying the day at Ananuri, Nogai Ahmed Khan turned his attention due south. Despite the presence of the Trapezuntine aftokrator and a sizable portion of his army to the south-west of the battlefield, the khan was more concerned with the Kartvelian capital than any enemy army. After all, if the Trapezuntines posed a threat to him and his goals whatsoever, then they would not have been so easily defeated now, would they? Of far more concern was the state of Tbilisi, which was the largest city in Transcaucasia and consequently one of the richest, and moreover the seat of the Kartvelian kingdom proper. If he were to truly crush these insolent Caucasians, he needed to deal not just a physical but a symbolic, spiritual, even victory. Tbilisi provided the opportunity to do just that; take the city, steal everything that wasn’t nailed down and brutally execute everyone tangentially related to the old king, and all of Kartvelia would bow before him. Hopefully, it would also be enough of a spectacle to reach Krakow and Novgorod, inspiring similar fear in them.

On the third day following the battle--he had stopped to pillage everything of value from the 20,000 dead Kartvelians who wouldn’t be needing their arms or armor now--the khan rode due south through the Aragvi Valley. While he had definitely been the victor of the battle, he had still lost a substantial portion of his men and so reorganized his nominal five tumens into three, slightly overstrength tumens. Riding with his 60,000 Mongols were the 5,000 men of the Lord of Arishni, who were more than a little afraid of their nominal allies. Although the presence of the Kartvelian auxiliaries slowed the Horde considerably[1], Nogai Ahmed felt that it was worth it for the morale wound that defectors working with the Mongols would inflict upon any defenders they came upon. In two days, they had reached the Svetitskhoveli Gorge, where the Aragvi had carved a gap in the mountains north of Tbilisi. As expected, the Kartvelians had managed to scrape together a militia as a last line of defense and positioned them here, where the invaders’ numerical advantage would be lessened. However, despite their disadvantage, the Mongols went through the demoralized and poorly-trained militia like a sledgehammer through tissue paper, not even having to fake a retreat to lure them out before the Kartvelians routed and scattered in all directions. With this slight impediment to their advance reduced, the horde pressed onto the capital itself the next day.

On 20 September, the great Mongol host appeared north of Tbilisi, their hooves sounding the great city’s death knell. The roads south and east were already choked with refugees trying to escape the orgy of violence that was soon to follow, and so with a simple flanking maneuver by one of the tumens Nogai Ahmed was able to cut the city’s defenders off from any hope of escape or relief. The khan issued a missive, giving the people of the city three hours to throw open their gates and surrender or be destroyed. As expected, no-one did, and so the siege began in earnest. Horse archers aren’t exactly the best at assaulting walls, so Nogai Ahmed kicked up his heels and waited for his siege train, which was much slower than the horde itself, to arrive. He had marched south with eighty cannons back in the spring of 1524, and by the time the artillery arrived at Tbilisi guns captured from fallen fortresses and the field of Ananuri[2] itself had swelled this number to nearly a hundred and fifty cannons of all sizes. Within a few days of their arrival, three batteries of fifty, fifty and forty-seven had been set up, firing on the western and eastern wall, respectively, and the city’s citadel. After a week of near-constant bombardment, massive gaps in the walls of Davit IV had been pounded out, and the khan was ready to order an assault. On 3 October--hereafter known as the Black Feast[3] waves of Circassian and Arishni-aligned Kartvelian footmen (he had been able to rally many deserters to him with promises of wealth and pillage) poured through the largest gaps of both walls. The guns of the citadel had been pounded into silence some time earlier, and so they met only haggard militiamen and mercenaries, girded with desperation. Despite their best efforts, the Tbilisians were outmatched, and the city fell.

The sack of Tbilisi contains many details which are probably exaggerated. For instance, Nogai Ahmed probably didn’t order every monk and nun in the city to be burned on a pyre built of their own severed arms, just as he probably didn’t have every man or boy in the city taller than the spoke of a wagon decapitated and their bodies floated down the Mtkvari. However, it was doubtless an event of incredible violence, even by medieval standards. Most of the city was burned to the ground, and most of its inhabitants were killed or enslaved, leaving only a few hundred survivors in what had been a city of around 35,000 a few scant weeks before. The entire eastern shore of the town was reduced to piles of ash-covered rubble, and much of the western bank had received the same treatment. The only buildings spared were the palace and the Anchiskhati Basilica, which were stripped of much of their valuables anyway. The reason for this discretion soon became apparent, for on 15 October the Lord of Arishni was crowned as King of Kartvelia and as a vassal of the Golden Horde. Nogai Ahmed saw Kartvelia as good a place as any to experiment with tributaries, and so installed his nominal ally as a puppet to streamline the collecting of taxes and tribute from Kartvelia.

The installation of a puppet ruler did not mean that rural Kartvelia would be spared. No, instead they would fare even worse than the Tbilisians; Nogai Ahmed wished to send a message, namely that if you forced him to invade to get his money, he would make it hurt for you and for everyone associated with him. That autumn, the Mongols ranged across all of eastern Kartvelia, pillaging and looting as they went. The harvest was ripening as Tbilisi was falling and so, the horsemen stole up much of the farmers’ crops for themselves and their horses as a form of payment for their insolence. They killed or enslaved pretty much everyone they came across, regularly putting any villages and monasteries in their path to the torch, carrying off anything of value that survived the fires. Whatever the Mongols could not steal or eat they burned, hoping to starve out those who had fled into the high mountains to escape their fury. Even worse, the following winter was incredibly harsh, large drifts of snow blanketing most of the kingdom and ice choking many of its rivers. By disease, by cold, by hunger or by the sword somewhere between a quarter and half a million Kartvelians died between September 1525 and April 1526.

Refugees poured out in all directions, fleeing into the mountains and isolated valleys in the interior regions or taking their chances with a run for the border around the fringes. The bloodshed in Kartvelia was so severe that Arslan II himself led an army out from Tabriz to keep the Mongols from getting any ideas about carrying over into his lands, declaring himself the protector of the exiled Kartvelians and practically daring Nogai Ahmed to try and take a crack at him. Many others fled into Armenia, which held a degree of autonomy during this period and so was hoped could resist the invaders, while many others fled into Rûmite or Trapezuntine lands. However, the lion’s share went west, where the last bastion of free Kartvelia glimmered on the far side of the Likhi Mountains.

After the disaster at Ananuri, the Kartvelian army had been almost completely annihilated and the Trapezuntine army severely damaged and demoralized by witnessing twenty thousand of their allies massacred before them. Had it not been for the presence of David, who was absolutely furious that his men had refused his order to advance and, in his mind, caused the battle be lost so had ordered several bandons’ worth of eleutheroi to the rear of the formation to kill anyone who tried to flee, it is likely that the Trapezuntines too would’ve been run down. Instead they held the line until sunset before withdrawing back to their fortified camp with the guns of the southern battery. There were some 20,000 surviving Trapezuntines out of the 25,000 who had taken the field, and they were joined by 10,000 Kartvelian survivors and stragglers to the battle. Without a doubt, this was the largest army left in all of Kartvelia, and the aftokrator knew that he couldn’t risk it in a pitched battle with the Mongols, not so soon after the last army had been annihilated. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, David decided that his best option was to withdraw as quickly and quietly as possible. And so, over the following days, the combined host would gradually slip out of their defensible position in the valley and move eastward through the foothills of the Greater Caucasus. They moved in a long, drawn-out column through forests and glades and up and down the not-inconsiderable hills that fanned out along the southern side of the mountains. They only risked moving down onto the plains after crossing the Arkiani River, making a mad dash across the lowlands that surrounded the Lakhvi River before scaling back up into the plateaus and peaks of the Likhi range, which divided Imereti and Guria from the rest of Kartvelia. At long last, the Trapezuntines and Kartvelians reached a modicum of safety at Kutaisi, now with a (minor) mountain range between them and the Mongols.

It was at Kutaisi that David was first able to survey the situation post-Ananuri and realize just how deeply screwed things were. Everything east of the Likhis was either on fire or in the process of being lit on fire as the Mongols ranged over the are, looting, raping and slaving as they went with no regard to any humanity. At best, the Mongols and the Qutlughids would fight each other, but there was no guarantee that that would allow them to undertake a reconquest. Even worse, Vakhtang himself had been killed in the battle and his successor, his son Alek’sandre, had died with him. With no-one on the throne, the typically feuding feudal nobility were already arguing over who should become king of the ashes, with no regards to the crisis at hand. At least David’s army was still somewhat intact, which effectively made him the kingmaker of the situation in the absence of some great noble coalition. Of course, domestic politics took a back seat to the massive Mongol horde that lay only a few weeks away, and he launched into making the best of this bad situation.

There were three passes across the Likhi Range large enough for a force of cavalrymen to cross through, and these were the logical points to make a defense of the western parts of Kartvelia. From north to south and in increasing order of importance and accessibility, they were the Ertso Pass, the Rikoti Pass and the Surami Pass. Ertso Pass was by far the most isolated, lying more than a hundred kilometers to the north of the other two and requiring several days’ trek through densely forested river valleys and up sharp inclines to even reach the pass itself. Once through, any attacking army would then have to slog through several dozen more miles of rough country to reach the Rioni Valley. Given the difficulties in utilizing it, David dispatched only two bandons to fortify it, as well as several dozen pounds of coins to secure the support of the Alan tribesmen who lived in the region and would be crucial for any attacker or defender. With that dealt with, he turned his attention to the two southern passes. Rikoti was the more defensible of the two, as the road to the pass made several switchbacks and could fairly easily be flooded out or trapped with caltrops and other such nasty surprises. He sent 5,000 men--a mixture of Trapezuntines and Kartvelians--to construct a series of forts to hold the pass against assault from either the east or the west. A series of earthen forts was to be constructed at the end of each switchback, and a large citadel was to be erected directly in front of the pass itself, forcing any travelers to pass around to its left or right to reach the pass proper. A dozen cannons were sent to be installed in these forts, a considerable amount for this time. Finally, there was Surami Pass, the largest, lowest and thus least defensible of the crossings. Thankfully, it also had the longest distance between its mouths, and so there was ample room to construct forts within it. David had two large bastions raised: One at Bezhatubani, where the pass turned to circle around a sizable outcropping and thus would expose any approaching host to fire and interdiction for the entirety of the turn, and one at Vakhanistskali, where the pass opened up enough to make the construction of a fortress within it possible and worthwhile. The bulk of David’s army went here, working frantically with the Mongol sword of damocles hanging over their head, and they managed to finish the construction by November, when the snows started to fall at their altitude. Given the rough seas and the shortage of cannonade after Ananuri, David had the cannons stripped from several Trapezuntine ships and hauled overland to supplement the defenses of Surami. These defenses were able to repel several Mongol probing attacks that winter, which David took to be a sign of their completion.

With the immediate threat dealt with, David was able to turn his attention to the looming threat of civil war within the Kartvelian rump state. During the months he had been busy overseeing the construction of the eastern defenses, he had been bombarded by messages from the various noble families who held land and/or titles in Imereti or Guria or had managed to escape thence with some semblance of their pre-invasion wealth. The House of Bagrationi had been nearly driven to extinction by the mass fratricide of the civil wars of the 1480s and 1500s as well as a number of purges that Vakhtang had undertaken as his mind began to slip from him[4], and most of its surviving scions had been in Tbilisi shortly before its fall and were currently missing, presumed dead. With the void presented by the seeming extinction of the house which had ruled Kartvelia for the better part of the last millennium, every noble family and their mother was trying to present themselves as the ‘True heir of Bagrat’™. As David was the most powerful man in the region at this point, many had come to him in hopes of his help in securing the throne for themselves. However, as he was distracted with the whole ‘looming existential threat’ thing, some of them had started to eye their neighbors up, calculating their odds in the event of civil war breaking out. By January 1526, there had been a number of suspicious deaths, and it seemed as if wide-spread political violence would further dog the already flagging Caucasian nation. With the most powerful man in the region seemingly uncaring, some of the more anxious nobles sought out the aid of the second-most powerful: Mamia Dadiani.

Dadiani and his men had remained at their post in Abkhazia even as Vakhtang had raised practically every other soldier in Kartvelia to join him in his march against the fateful horde. He had remained steadfast in his opposition to the smaller Mongol force in the region and their Circassian allies, not even withdrawing after word came of the death of the king and so many others. In late October, he successfully routed some 25,000 Mongols and Circassians at the Battle of Nikopsis, despite odds in a factor of three-to-one, and thus secured the north-western frontier for the time being. It was because of this victory that he was confident enough in the security of his zone of the region to turn and march into Imereti shortly after the beginning of the new year. He led some 8,000 men out from the frontier, hoping to forestall the outbreak of civil violence in the makeshift capital. However, he didn’t actually inform David of this, and so when the aftokrator received reports that a large Kartvelian army was coming towards the capital from the west, he panicked and scrambled together some 10,000 Ponts to meet them, praying that he wouldn’t have to fight a civil war on behalf of some foreign aristocrat with his head stuck up his ass. The two armies met at the fords of the Tekhur River in early February, the air tense with the expectation of violence.

To their mutual surprise, the two men hit it off at once. Dadiani was, in the view of much of the Kartvelian court, a raggedly half-civilized (his mother was a member of the Svan highlanders) brute of a man who was more feared than respected, and he was happy to finally meet a fellow nobleman who treated him as an equal. David was shocked to find that Dadiani was far more grounded than the notoriously self-important Kartvelian noblemen, and moreover they were some of the few men in the region to have commanded men against the Mongols and lived to tell the tale, something which drew them both together. After a brief explanation of their respective goals, namely that David needed someone friendly on the throne who wouldn’t roll over to Arishni and his Mongol masters under any circumstances, and Dadiani wanted a strong king who he could help against the Mongols. The two men got to drinking, and concluded that Dadiani was the best candidate due to his experience and lack of connections to any faction. The decision held up when they both examined it through a throbbing hangover the next morning.

And so, with Trapezuntine support, Mamia III of Abkhazia became Mamia III of Kartvelia on 26 February 1526. He and David planned a number of reforms and ambitious undertakings to turn the tide against the Mongols in the east, but unfortunately these plans would have to wait. In early March, David was informed by a frantic rider from Vatoume that a Rûmite army had crossed the frontier and was marching directly for Trapezous. With most of his army still needed to hold the line in the pass fortresses, David rushed for home with only 5,000 men. Even as he and his men marched, the Lord of Arishni and his masters gathered men and guns for a push westward….

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[1] Your average Mongol/Tartar mounted formation could move at a whopping sixty miles a day, during a period when the average infantry formation could make four.
[2] The Kartvelians had been unable to spike many of their guns, and David was forced to leave many behind during his retreat in the following days.
[3] 3 October is the feast day of Dionysios the Aeropagite. Also, I can’t remember if I wrote this down before, but @Dathi THorfinsson, I know that Dionysios was the name of the saint, I was writing from Funa’s point of view while he was trying to work himself up into a righteous fury.
[4] It is speculated that Vakhtang knew he was losing his mind and wanted to ape Alexios V and secure the succession with an orgy of violence. This is likely just speculation, though.
 
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This seems to be the Kartvelians’ Manzikert moment. Unlike the byzantines, they avoided a civil war after the fact, but it’ll be a long journey getting back on their feet, and they’re more likely to end up as a vassal state to one of their neighbors than anything else.

Regardless of the outcome though, it’ll take decades, if not centuries for the region to recover, demographically and economically, from mongol invasion. Some areas (as with Mesopotamia, and arguably Russia) may never fully recover. Trapezous wont be able to rely on Kartvelia bailing them out for the forseeable future, which bodes poorly for the upcoming war.

Great update, and hope you’re feeling better, Eparkhos!
 
The mongols have gotten extremely lucky, or the Kartvelians unlucky, or both, in this campaign. They’re now overconfident and hopefully the Russians/Lithuanians will take advantage of that.
 
Here’s to hoping all those deaths come back to haunt the Mongols thrice as hard.

Looks like David managed to secure himself a good ally and general. Kartvelia will probably hold with Mamia on the throne but I doubt they can hold long if the Mongols decide to actually kill them once and for all

oh and David is going to need some major MC power to win against these odds right now. He lucked out heavily by still having a majority of his forces but now he has to rush back with only a portion of his army against a highly competent and dangerous army
 
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And that the Mongols fatally overextended themselves.
They didn't overextend themselves at all. They wanted compliant tributaries, fearful enemies and reduction of any budding rivals. All this they have achieved while managing to retain their main army intact and not having to leave garrisons courtesy their puppet in Kartveli. Not to mention they have collected quite the artillery train as well.
 
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