Saturday, December 31, 2011

Troubled journey (16): A disputed estate

Versailles, 20th September 1713

At the meeting start, the Duke of Orleans held a studied position of indifference towards his interlocutor, but as the Legate of that rebel Catalonian province developed his story in full detail, shock and astonishment slowly emerged to his face, until at a certain time he could no longer refrain himself: --So, are you telling me the Duke of Vendôme was deliberately murdered?

--Yes I am, Your Highness --Marquis of Vilana quckly responded-- He officially died at Vinaròs town from an excessive intake of seafood. Actually, he was poisoned.

Duke of Orleans was really shocked, but managed to keep a composture: --...due to those wills I have in my hands?

The Marquis of Vilana carefully observed his interlocutor, allowing him some time to recover before assenting: --Bien sûr. Coincidentally with a disease of the Order of Montesa Lieutenant General, the Administrator of that institution erroneously sold the Ferrer Palace in Vinaròs to the Duke of Vendôme, ignoring that this was the building were the Order secretly kept its own Treasure. That terrible mistake was unveiled too late: the transaction had already met all due legal steps, and the Duke of Vendôme point blank refused to give back the property. Not even for twice its value.

--Perhaps that much of an insistence made him suspect...

--It's pretty likely --Vilana assented-- It was a determining factor that the Lieutenant General of Montesa had previously committed delivering the Treasure to Philip d'Anjou, with the aim of ingratiating the Order to him and avoiding eventual reprisals for their support to Archduke Charles... "Someone" decided the treasure should not fall into the wrong hands... The murder itself wasn't enough though, it was essential to remove all transaction traces. This is why those wills were falsified by omitting any reference to Ferrer Palace from it.

--"Someone?"

--According to Fra Arenós, orders came to him by the conduct commonly used to communicate with the agents of Philip of Anjou, and these appealed to "the highest instance" will...

Although far from an ultimate proof, evidences were overwhelmingly pointing in one single direction, and so understood the Duke of Orleans: --All this you have acknowledged me from is a remarkable gravity, dear Marquis. Obviously, the confidence of my August Brother King Louis towards his grandson will... how would I say? ...become deeply disappointed by such a deplorable procedure. Of course, if such atrocity against someone of our own blood was confirmed, nothing would justify keeping our current attitude toward young Philip.

To his interior, Vilana silently cheered: "Eureka!". Of course, the Catalan Legate cunningly omitted any comment about the disputed Palace inheritor. In his wills, Duke of Vendôme had bequeathed that estate to a mysterious Monsieur Rossignol. Vilana was persuaded the Duke of Orleans had already realized about it after reading the wills; but Vilana chose to keep silence, just as his interlocutor was doing. "Let him believe I haven't noticed", he thought. Nevertheless, Vilana was perfectly aware of who was behind that coded name. It might become a nice joker card in a future negotiation.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Two battles in prospect

First line, 12th October 1713

Impulsed by an imperative sense of urgence, on this 13th campaign turn the Catalan army has performed a number of chained moves aimed at drawing off the most of their reserves and bringing them as close as possible to first line, in attendance of the expected major clashes about to happen. As it can be seen by the attached map, their main concentration points run along the Lleida-Barcelona and Tarragona-Barcelona roads, those used by Philip d'Anjou's advancing columns.

With respect to the main Catalan armies, that one lead by Marquis of Poal has chosen to avoid an immediate clash with the dreadful Spanish Guards column of Marquis of Aitona, withdrawing his troops from Cervera some miles eastwards. In spite of having to abandon a key town, by this manoeuver Marquis of Poal manages to place himself in an excellent position where he might either take advantage from an eventual excess of confidence of his rival, or go in aid of General Bellver in Montblanc instead. Simultaneously, La Fe Dragoons Regiment at his right has been ordered to stand face to the imminent attack by a similar Horse column lead by General Bracamonte. If their stand was successful enough, left wing of the Spanish Guard would become seriously endangered --perhaps enough to drastically stop their advance.

On his side, General Bellver has preferred not to evacuate Montblanc town and calmly wait for the enemy column approaching northwards from Tarragona. Rumours about mines placement on the bridges leading to Montblanc have stopped the Spanish army, whose leader has opted to get entrenched too while sending someone for inspecting the bridges. Both armies are now watching to each other from each side of Francolí stream. Watching and waiting for the next enemy move.

Finally, the capable General Basset has nearly completed some decent fortification of Vilafranca town conveniently blocking the Tarragona-Barcelona road, while waiting for reinforcements to come too.

Meanwhile, a large convoy from Majorca has entered Barcelona harbour carrying two foot regiments and some horse. Almost simultaneously, a few privateers flying the Union Jack have just landed in Majorca carrying two of the British volunteer regiments formed in Holland on September: those of Saint Patrick IR and Queen Catherine IR.

On their side, the Catalan improvised fleet has just achieved a further goal in the Balearic Sea, for the 450 tons Nostra Donna de Montserrat 3-masted privateer, armed with 32 guns, has intercepted a Spanish convoy carrying supplies close to Tarragona harbour.

[In the end, we have 2 possible battles to fight this turn: a clash of cavalries on land, and a corsair attack on sea. Any ideas to solve them?]

Friday, December 23, 2011

On travel again

Vienna, 11th October 1713

--No-no-no-no... the shortest way between two points is a straight line, as my Monte-Cristan Maths teacher used to say --Princess Elisenda emphatically remarked--. So please don't try to fill my head to saturation with unnecessary roundabouts...

Her discouraged uncle Antoni Folc de Cardona, Archbishop of Valencia in exile, sighed and gave away. Then it was Marquis of Rubí who insisted once again:

--Elisenda, travelling by sea would be the safest method, albeit it could seem a long detour! Besides, please have in mind that his Excellency the Duke of Lagerburg-Slobbovia has committed his flagship to carry you if asked for, besides of two smaller schooners as escort... It would be too much of a challenge for the Spanish Navy, which is less than a shadow of its former power...

--I understand you, my dear Marquis. But travelling by sea on mid October would be an actually risky business, especially in Atlantic waters. What stormy hazards wouldn't expect to us after Gibraltar? Besides, Lagerburg lays no longer than two paces away from Carniola, where sadly we were attacked. The way to Lagerburg is at hand of Spanish and Parmigian agents and mercenaries... The whole North of Italy must be infested by them, waiting for me! No, by no means I'm going to make their day.

However, Marquis of Rubí didn't give up so easily and suggested that his excellency the Herzog of Lagerburg would feel offended by her declination.

She gently answered: --I'm convinced he will understand, if adequately explained. I beg you to seek his understanding, please let him know I shall eagerly compensate him in a future, for this disappointment of today. I cannot assume certain risks, it's the future of a whole Nation that depends on it.

A short silence followed the words of Princess Elisenda. Those meeting attendants who didn't know her personally yet started to realize the stuff she was made of. It was Guido von Starhemberg who carefully spoke now: --We should also have into account the kind offer of the Ambassador of Poland. A northwards detour might allow you to seal an alliance with that key Nation. Besides, you'd also have the opportunity of visiting the Duke of Beerstein half-way, who is a valuable ally and would eagerly offer some kind of help.

Princess Elisenda thought for a while before answering: --Herr Starhemberg, these are actually tempting suggestions, but accepting them right now would respond to the interests of my dear friend & Emperor, rather than to those of my own. If travelling to Paris via Beerstein and Poland, hurry would make me shorten my stops and visits to such an extent that it would seem a plainly offending discourtesy. This would help by no means to His Imperial Majesty's interests.

She drew a transient smile and continued: --Dear Sirs, please tell the ambassadors of Lagerburg, Poland and Beerstein that I will be happy to visit their countries... although never before having proved that I deserve the crown kindly granted to me. I must go to Versailles before. My trial by fire is there. Therefore, I shall choose the fastest and straightest land route to France, that one through the Kingdom of Wittenberg.

--That lays too close to Stagonia, Elisenda --exclaimed her uncle.

Starhemberg frowned. He had been warned by Emperor Charles: once taken a decision, the Princess wouldn't change her mind. "So the Emperor was right!", he thought. The man sighed slightly and spoke again: --I have been given instructions by the Emperor at this respect, Your Highness. He has ordered that, in case you choose such route, a picked squadron of 20 Emperor's own Horse Bodyguards shall escort you up to the very borders of France. Couriers and legates have already been sent to Versailles, Wittenberg and the rest of lands you're going to cross by.

--They shall fly two standards all the time: Emperor's own at right, to display His protection on your retinue,

--And this one to left, in your behalf. It displays your current Arms as Countess of Prades, albeit with an Aragonese Princely crown replacing the Countly one. True that is far from an accurately correct design, but we couldn't wait until heraldists reached an agreement...

Undeniably pleased with such provisions, Princess Elisenda smiled: --Well, it seems that it has been taken into account everything that ought to. When are we leaving for Paris, then?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

War waits for nobody

Spanish HQ at Lleida, 10th October 1713

Once we have (nearly) achieved to encompass the respective stories of Lady Elisenda and Marquis of Vilana with their Imagi-Nation's timing, we can now re-start the military campaign at the point it was left some (of ours) months ago (...war waits for nobody!). Let's quickly remember that the Catalans had just achieved a hard victory at Montblanc town, just a few days before that some odd rumours of death started spreading from Madrid... In the meanwhile, Lady Elisenda has just been appointed Princess of Catalonia and Viceroy(-queen?) of Majorca at Vienna, and Marquis of Vilana has presumably started negotiations at Versailles.

The Spanish Army new leader, the half-Catalan Marquis of Aitona, had some more clever ideas about the kind of war to wage than his predecessor. Giving no rest to his troops, he ordered an immediate, fast approach to enemy lines, before they could get recovered from the previous week marching and fighting. He used again a trident-shaped schema intended to press the Catalans all long the front, with the aim to seek and exploit eventual weeknesses. Time was capital to him, as Princess des Ursins had insinuated to him, especially now that diplomatical tide was about to turn against King Philip. This way, he ordered three large columns to throw themselves into the Catalan frontline from three different points.

At North, while the Marquis' own column advanced straightly towards Cervera town by road, a small horse column lead by General Bracamonte screened it by left with the purpose to catch eventual flanking enemies. And, as provided by Marquis of Aitona, there actually were flanking enemies! We have at this point two possible clashes, then: a major battle at Cervera itself, and a secondary engagement between two balanced Dragoons North if the town.

At South, the huge army recently disembarked from Sicily splitted into two. While the first column headed North with the aim to recapture Montblanc, the second one advanced into Tarragona, where some supplementary units where merged in the marching army, and continued advancing up to a few miles away from the Catalan positions in Vilafranca. Depending on the actions scheduled by the Catalan HQ, we should have then a second major battle with the town of Montblanc as main target.

Some secondary Spanish movements also took place. At the Pyrenees, an Infantry Battalion under command of Marquis of Bus was about to enter the Lower Pallars valley from Aragon, while two Dragoons Regiments entered in Catalonia from South. At the head of this Horse column there was Colonel Marimon, a Catalan respected military who, contrarily to most of his naturals, had chosen King Philip's side.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Gloriette

Schönbrunn, 9th October 1713

His Imperial Majesty looked back again, to make sure he had left behind the two loyal bodyguards usually following him from a safe distance. He smiled like a naughty child, pleased with his own cleverness, and took a half-hidden footpath running away from the topiary gardens through woodland.

The path led to a small gloriette hidden at a little known corner of the vast gardens of Schönbrunn. Sheltered from the breeze, there was a distinctively smart female figure sitting on a bench, quietly enjoying the morning sun.

--Eli...

Princess Elisenda turned head, surprised although by no means shocked: --Karl?

She made gesture to lease site in the bench for him, yet she said sarcastically: --What are you doing here, so secretly? ...Have you proposed yourself to feed your wife's jealousy?

Emperor Charles stirred slightly as a disapproval: --Don't be naughty. Elisabeth-Christine still loves you, only that...

--...only that someone has filled her heart up with hints of adultery, Karl.

--It's not that simple, Eli. --still standing in front of Princess Elisenda, Emperor Charles leaned back on a column-- She's suffering from anguish because she hasn't been able to give me any child yet. She feels under heavy pressure...

--Anyway, my appointment as Princess of Catalonia happens to relief a lot her anxieties, for this way she's getting ensured I'll keep well away from Vienna. And hopefully, if my Nation is unfortunate enough to lose this war, she will perhaps learn one day the sad news of my execution at the Plaza Real in Madrid.

Archduke Charles glared at her intensely, but did not respond at first. Elisenda thought he'd probably started counting to ten, as he used to do in Barcelona when he'd got particularly angry.

--That's what I wanted to talk about, Eli. As future Princess of your homeland (provided Louis XIV does confirm my decision), you will have all the powers of a sovereign... and, as such, you'd stand alone against the misfortunes of fate. And I love you too much for loosing you for a negligence of mine.

Elisenda expectantly looked at him. "This is my Karl!", she thought, smiling inwardly.

--I have now decided to appoint you as my Imperial Viceroy in Majorca, replacing Marquis of Rubí. Even if war happened to be unfavorable to your people, your condition as imperial official will prevent Philip d'Anjou from putting his hands on you.

--Has Elisabeth-Christine been acknowledged on this?

--I have told her. It's my will, after all.

The impulsive young Emperor said nothing else, but took Elisenda hand instead --and kissed it. Then some voices interrupted them:

--Majesty, Your Majesty! --it was one of his bodyguards who was shouting. The man behaved as if he hadn't seen Princess Elisenda and, from a prudent distance, he continued: --News from Paris! ... a letter from Marquis de Vilana!

Princess Elisenda jumped from her seat.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Troubled journey (15): Waiting

Versailles, 20th September 1713

He had been waiting for almost 4 hours in that hall tight of pleading subjects, so that his kidneys' pain had started reviving. Marquis de Vilana felt tired and sore, for sure. But above all, he was under a deep anxiety. He'd begun fearing he was being deliberately ignored by the French Authorities --or were they perhaps just seeking to intimidate him?

He fought against the invading discouragement by concentrating himself again on the revelations of Fra Pere Arenós, and their significant implications. He reviewed by heart the explanations of that man, who was now lying in a discreet inn on the rive gauche of Seine, permanently guarded by Vilana's trustful Catalan Guards.

Then Claire Baizanville walked quietly to him. At the risk of being recognized by someone, Claire had volunteered herself for getting introduced in Versailles, disguised as a pleading parisienne girl. After getting ensuring no one was watching them, Claire whispered in his ear:

--My Monte-Cristan informers have let me know some news of your Principality, Marquis. A few days ago, a large Spanish army was severely beaten in their way toward Barcelona, at a place called Vilafranca. Even one of their officers was taken prisoner there, a General Castillo.

--General Castillo!? --exclaimed Vilana, making an effort to not speak up. So that the man appointed by King Philip V as Captain General of Valencia, the man who had absolute powers on all civilian and military affairs of Valencia, was a prisoner of the Catalans? These were really good news indeed!

Then Claire noticed something and quickly disappeared. Before Vilana could take over the reason, a palace usher came to him:

--Excellence, would you mind to follow me?

After an almost endless walk through a number of rooms and corridors, Vilana suddenly found himself alone in an empty office. The room was small but comfortable, and there was a fire lit. Nobody else at sight, however. He decided to sit on an armchair, nearly conformed to a new long wait, but...

...but after a short time an egregious figure entered in the room without a previous notice. When Vilana realized who that personality was, he got astounded. In front of him, there was Philippe de Bourbon, Duke of Orléans.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

A mournful air

Catalonia, 9th October 1713

The second week of October 1713 began under the ominous sign of uncertainty. In Barcelona, the deputies and military authorities were acknowledged about the brilliant results of the battle of Montblanc, while simultaneously news arrived on the huge reinforcement armies King Philip d'Anjou had thrown in the Principality. Meanwhile, no news had yet arrived from abroad, either Versailles (if the Marquis de Vilana had actually arrived in there) or Vienna (where Lady Elisenda had supposedly arrived in).

On their side, Spanish military leaders in Catalonia had a not much better prospect in front of them. The defeat of Montblanc defenders had spread dismay among troops and officers, in spite of the fact that the brilliant situation management by General Vallejo had prevented the loss from turning into a real tragedy beyond repair. The arrival of new reinforcements coming from Sicily had by no means helped improving the Army morale, so that only a military victory on the field would likely turn morale back. However, if delicate was morale among the troops, even worse was among the Army leaders, for...

...for a thick layer of silence had suddenly spread over the Real Alcázar of Madrid --Spanish royal residence. Something really grave had happened behind the walls of that old Arabic palace restored by Charles I long ago, but nobody knew what had actually happened there. As aid, a thick layer of silence reigned at palace -a mournful silence, as occasional visitors would attest. The letters of Marquis of Aitona had received no response yet, either from King Philip V or the Princesse des Ursins. Everywhere reigned uncertainty in the worst possible season of year, when the first colds of winter were about to show their dreadful face.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Nothing to hide

Schönbrunn, 6th October 1713

--Sometimes you scare me, Elisabeth.

Elisabeth Christine turned to her husband with a set of feigned surprise on face and sweetly asked: --Why are you saying so, my dear husband?

--For your role in the appointment of Elisenda, Charles answered.

The young emperor's attitude was serious but by no means recriminatory, and this greatly relieved Elisabeth Christine, who had been fearing an angry reaction of her husband. --Charles, the ultimate decision was yours, after all.

--Hum.

Archduke Charles kept silence and watched through the window. Outside, close to the Neptune Fountain, princess Elisenda was amicably talking with a handful of personalities who seemed as if couldn't do enough for her. Charles forced his sight to recognize who these lords were: oh yes, that one at left was the legate of Wittenberg, that other openly laughing was the recently arrived Syldavian Ambassador Petr Kotrimanic --who had performed a so signified role at the rescue of Lady Elisenda, while the third one was...

He raised his eyebrows in surprise: the Ambassador of Poland, of course!

...War in Spain had made him put aside Central European affairs for some time --a diplomatical imbalance he had to correct with no delay. Frederick Augustus of Saxony had increasingly bothered him lately, not to say about Prussia. He ought to take care again on those umpredictable neighbours. If he only could strengthen links to Poland and, by this, to set a counterweight to the increasing involvement of both Electorates in that kingdom... provided the ever conflictive Silesian issue was successfully avoided... He devoted a moment to memorizing he ought to talk later with Elisenda about that.

Elisabet Christine approached to the window too --but her eyes only could see Elisenda, and Charles noticed it: --Elisabeth, you're totally wrong.

She turned again, this time sincerely surprised: --What do you mean?

--There is nothing between Elisenda and me. She is my best friend, and her friendship comforts me. True. However, there is nothing I should hide, nothing you should be jealous of. Remember that once you professed that same love for her, too. What has made your mind change so radically?

Elisabeth Christine blushed. She was going to reply, but her eyes welled with tears.

--I know --he continued-- We have no children yet, true. So what? ...do you actually believe I'm starting to seek solace in other arms for this? No I won't, Elisabeth. Absolutely not.

Elizabeth groaned and threw herself into the arms of the Archduke, weeping quietly.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advice needed

I've just posted at the TMP 18th century Imagi-Nations Board a demand for help and/or advice about a planned trip, which can be found here: Advice needed.

Any contribution would be welcome --especially, some info about any Imagi-Nation the travelling personality would eventually visit, as well as any exciting idea/suggestion you have in mind.

Thanks!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Troubled journey (14): A murky story

Dijon, 3rd September 1713

Fearing someone might still be on their pursue, the small retinue of Marquis de Vilana continued incessantly for several days, always spending the night at humble, modest lodgings, where they would only stay just long enough to rest. Once arrived in Burgundy lands, they started relaxing and agreed to stop at a comfortable inn close to Dijon, to rest at will for a few days. On that night, the old Montesa monk --whose name resulted to be Pere Arenós-- explained his odd story.

Vilana, who had been eagerly awaiting that moment, realized of the transformation experienced by Arenós. He looked like another man, quite different from that challenging, impertinent grumpy monk they had met at Bonnevaux Abbey. He was calm with a hint of resignation, while slowly started telling with hoarse voice the odd chain of circumstances leading him to the remote French abbey.

--As you know, the Order of Montesa to which I belong enjoyed a privileged status in Spain, in spite of not being as important as, let's say, Santiago, Calatrava or Alcántara Orders. This was due to Montesa was the only order not located in Castile, but in the Crown of Aragon instead --in the former kingdom of Valencia. As with the rest of Military Orders, the Catholic Monarchy had obtained the Grand Mastership of Montesa too, but their full control was severely hampered by the particular Valencian Constitutions prescribing the Grand Master to be a resident in that kingdom. Therefore, the successive Spanish kings had no other chance than appointing a Valencian knight of Montesa as their Lieutenant. Besides, that appointment had to be agreed with the Council of Aragon, so you can imagine the royal dissatisfaction with that particular issue...

He briefly stopped to drink some water: --You know, the Order is no longer that spartan military society it had been in the past. Now is an organization in decline grouping members of powerful lineages from Valencia and all around the Crown of Aragon, who are no longer committed with the old martial spirit or the strong sense of loyalty towards the Crown, even in their conflicts with Castile. They are just committed in preserving the natural state of things and, through it, their own personal status.

--This way, some Montesa knights sided to Philip d'Anjou since the very beginning of war, and many else joined them after Almansa battle, all those more directly threatened by the airs of social revolution voiced by the popular party supporting Archduke Charles. Others wouldn't join them however, and a serious struggle inside the Order started. As king Philip had just abolished the Valencian Constitutions after Almansa, he had finally free hand to perform at will with the turbulent Order. So that, fearing a ferocious retaliation, Montesa Order chose to show a submissive attitude of reconciliation... and here is where I started playing my role in this story.

--As a relatively humble knight, I was soon persuaded by king Philip's legates to become his agent and informer from the inside. When I finally agreed to, I was quickly promoted to an outstanding office in the Order, so that was soon granted open access to many things behind the scenes and, by these, I managed to increase my personal power, you know?

He then deliberately stopped once again and stared at Vilana, who quickly understood the monk was about to unveal the core secret of his story:

--Among such things behind the scenes, there was the Treasure of Montesa.

Vilana exclaimed: --Oh no, my Lord! Not a treasure! ...are you perhaps trying to fool me with old fables about treasures?

Arenós curtly replied: --The Treasure of Montesa is a real thing. It does exist. I had its inventory into my hands.

Skeptical as he was, Vilana shut up however, ready to watch the full story.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Planning next move

Montblanc, 5th October 1713

Just before entering the room where the meeting with his officers was to be held, General Bellver sighed soundly.There was a point of dissatisfaction among some of his best men, who judged his gentlemanly after-battle agreement with the Spanish General Vallejo as too lenient. The Spaniards had been allowed to leave Montblanc town in good order, taking their flags and lighter weaponry with them.

--If we had kept pressing them, we'd have been able to crush their entire army! --had once exclaimed General Nebot, perhaps one of the least satisfied officers in his staff.

Just as Bellver expected, the meeting atmosphere was hot up, although men kept respectfully silent as he started speaking. He wouldn't start a speech boasting of his decision, for it would have been badly received by most of them. Instead, he entered straightly into matter:

--Do we have available an enemy casualties account? --Bellver asked.

--Yes we have, Sire. The Spaniards have lost some 350 horse and 400 foot. Besides, they've left on the field two batteries, one of which is heavy. --One of the colonels answered.

--...and our own casualties?

General de Ramon coughed: --Er... A final count gives us the cypher of 200 horse and nearly 750 foot, including dead, badly injured and missing. Among the infantrymen, we've lost almost 500 miquelets, many of them belonging to one single Mountain Fusiliers battalion, which is currently decimated. Besides, all of the 200 line infantrymen lost belonged to one of our best units, Our Lady of Disempared Regiment. Not to say about the 50 Royal Guards fallen.

--..and our light battery was so severely damaged that is unusable. --continued a junior officer.

Bellver delayed a while his conclusions, in order to leave his officers digest the data: --And now gentlemen, may I ask you to figure out the aftermath if we had been forced to storm Montblanc town? With all those Spaniards entrenched behind every house, every wall, every street? No, gentlemen. Our army is too small, too valuable our men, to squander them for desire to win in the grand manner.

Silence.

Finally, it was General De Ramon who spoke: --You are right, Bellver. As a matter of fact, there are two huge Spanish armies dangerously approaching this area right now, one at north by the Lleida-Barcelona road, the other at south along the coastal road to Tarragona.

--So we're risking to be encircled soon. Therefore gentlemen, the sooner we find out a solution the better, provided we would dislike this recent victory to turn into a sound disaster.

Nebot cautiously asked: --Hum... So, after all, do we have reconquered this town for having to abandon it right afterwards?

--Unfortunately, we cannot rule out anything --Bellver replied, very serious.

[At this stage, nothing is known in the Principality about Lady Elisenda, except that she survived to an attack by a band of mercenaries by the Austro-Venetian border. So no one in there is aware about her appointment by the Emperor & King Charles. Less is known about Marquis of Vilana, of course]

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pragmatica Sanctio

Vienna, 1st October 1713

--I am getting old and tired, Your Majesty --it was Count of Erill who started speaking--; this is why I'm begging you to be relieved from the Viceroyalty of Sardinia. Badly sick as I am, I'm afraid not to be able to keep serving you with the most efficience. (1)

Archduke Charles nodded slightly. He gazed for an instant at Guido von Starhemberg, who was also attending the meeting, before replying: --I understand your motivations, dear Count. It would be unworthy not complying with your fair demand. However, this comes to open a significant issue, which further increases our still unsolved vacancies. I'm referring not only to Naples, but also Catalonia. And now Sardinia, too.

It was Lady Elisenda who unexpectedly spoke now: --Well, isn't perhaps Lord Starhemberg still our Viceroy?

--No longer... Milady --although smartly disguised by Starhemberg, Lady Elisenda was nevertheless able to perceive the imperceptible inflection in his voice. She was sure, he'd been about to say something different to "milady", and started getting seriously worried. Meanwhile, Starhemberg continued: --I've just resigned the office too, after being asked to chair the Imperial War Council. As you know anyway, that Viceroyalty was actually no more than a merely formal office.

--But our Principality urgently needs a leader to rely on... --she promptly answered.

--True --Archduke Charles simply said.

Feeling herself encouraged by the Emperor-King assent, she continued: --Why not appointing Marquis de Rubí as Viceroy of Catalonia and Sardinia, besides of his current office at Majorca? Numerous are the precedents of multiple viceroyalties upon one single personality. Besides, by rejoining all three Lieutenantships under our good Marquis, you would finally be able to fulfill your own 1706 assertions about fully restoring the Crown of Aragon... This would be a major goal for your popularity, Your Majesty. (2)

Now it was Marquis of Rubí who got visibly alarmed. He stammered for a moment, but the Empress opportunely intervened with undisguised irony: --...and why not Naples too? Lady Elisenda, your suggestions would result in the creation of something stronger and farther than Hungary, too large to be adequately digested by the Crown... and an appetizing prize for any sorrounding major power. No, I oppose it.

Archduke Charles said nothing at first, but stood in silence for a while instead. But when he spoke, he drastically changed the conversation subject to ask: --Are there any news from Vilana?

--At this stage, he should already be at Versailles and be acknowledged first hand about King Louis' position. However... --replied Marquis de Rubí, who seemed well informed at respect. Links among Academy of the Distrustful members had kept being strong in spite of war events, and not in vain Rubí had been a mentor of Lady Elisenda at the illustrated brotherhood, alongside with Vilana.

--Anyway, we've recently got further news from Eugene of Savoy at Rastatt --Starhemberg intervened--. According to these, the French would be open to discuss the issue at hand.

--So that we might proceed with some reasonable rate of confidence --Archduke Charles concluded. And he then solemnially went a little apart from the small group before speaking again:

--Accordingly to the terms of conversations held with France so far, aimed to give a satisfactory end to this exhausting war, it is compulsory for Us to deal with the Catalonian issue apart from the rest of our vacant Viceroyalties. It's my will the Marquis of Rubí to take charge as Viceroy of Sardinia from now on, while Naples Viceroyalty is to be assigned to Wirich Philipp von Daun. This leaves vacant the Viceroyalty of Majorca, of course, but this matter can be dealt later. It's prioritary to asset the situation of Catalonia in order to satisfy King Louis requirements. (3)

Lady Elisenda was about to start a timid protest, but the Emperor-King wouldn't allow hear to speak. Instead, he continued: --With respect to Catalonia, it is my will to announce the perpetual assigment of my rights to that Principality to a personality designated by me. Such personality ought also to enjoy the explicit agreement of King Louis XIV.

"What!?" Didn't it mean "Philip d'Anjou"?? Did it mean that Archduke Charles had agreed to resignate his sovereignity to King Louis' pretendant? Lady Elisenda was shocked, she could hardly believe! She stared desperately at Rubí and Erill, but none of them seemed as alarmed as herself. Desperately, she tried to change the Emperor-King's mind:

--But Your Majesty, the Catalans wouldn't accept a Bourbon as their king. Not after this horrible war!

--And King Louis wouldn't accept an Habsburg. It's the price of peace, Eli. Everything depends on it --Charles gently responded.

Lady Elisenda blanched; wasn't it an abandonment, she thought? Nearly faint, she could only whisper: --Your Majesty, we need... you can't... not the Anjou...

It was the Empress who intervened now again, using a willingly casual voice: --Dear Eli, hadn't you told me once that, through the Countship of Prades, your Cardona linneage is connected to the Anjous, albeit remote it might be?

Lady Elisenda didn't answer. Shocked as she still was, she was plainly unable to play with hidden meanings. Her brain only started processing words again after the next speaking of Archduke Charles: --As you all know, I am the sole male member of the House of Habsburg still alive. In provision for any sad contingency prematurely affecting my life, I have recently ordered a Pragmatic Sanction to be published, eventually legitimizing female effective inheritance to the Crown ...or any of its parts, if I would. (4)

Herr William Baron of Beerstein, who had been watching in silence so far, then turned towards Lady Elisenda and bowed with a wide smile in face: --Her Highness...

---

(1) Count of Erill actually resigned due to bad health in 1713. He was dead two years afterwards. Of course, I've forced History with respect to his illness, that would have likely prevented his fictional trip from Sardinia to Vienna.

(2) Historically true. King Charles III had undertaken the restoration of a co-ordinate structure for the States formerly belonging to the Crown of Aragon, thus allowing them a substantial increase of political significance inside the Spanish Empire.

(3) Historically true too, although I've forced a bit its timing. Marquis of Rubí did not undertake the Viceroyalty of Sardinia until the loss of Majorca in 1715. At here I've... er... accelerated the process a couple of years.

(4) And... yes!! The Pragmatica Sanctio that eventually would allow Maria-Theresa's access to the Throne was published in 1713. At this I've simply forced a bit its timing. Historically, it was published in April, while Elisabeth-Christine was still about leaving Barcelona --or had just left the city. Instead I've simply stated that it has been "recently" published --thus allowing a double intentionality.

And last but not least, yes the Majorca Viceroyalty issue is still open. There is a small bit of plot to be unveiled yet!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Back to present

Vienna, 1st October 1713

Milady, please follow me --the usher said, pointing her the way with a discrete indication.

Lady Elisenda was caught in surprise: for what she had been described before, that way was by no means leading to Schönbrunn's Great Gallery, where formal hearings where held. She was about to lodge an objection, but she gave up instead and chose to follow the usher with docility.

After climbing a staircase, they went through numerous corridors and spacious rooms until they finally came to a small room guarded by three armed guards, led by a young officer. They had been alerted to their arrival, because she was instantly recognized and martially saluted by the guards. Then the officer took over the usher and offered himself to accompany her. Lady Elisenda perceived the discretely admiring gaze by the officer, that made her feel pleased and embarrassed altogether, for it was clear the officer was quite younger than herself.

After some supplementary walking around, they finally came to a double door lacquered in white with gold trimmings --These are the private rooms of Their Imperial Majesties --the officer informed. Immediately afterwards, he knocked on the door with a sign agreed upon, and it was slightly opened by someone. The soldier whispered something to the person holding the door, which ought to be another usher or assistant, and nodded at the answer he was given. He then turned towards Lady Elisenda again and said:

--You are being awaited, Your Highness.

"Highness?" Maybe it was that the word sounded in German as more dignified than in Catalan, but to some extent it seemed to her she had been addressed with exaggerated solemnity... in the end, she was persuaded the young officer's family would treasure more dignities than herself, who was little else than a young countess from an exotic, marginal corner of the Empire!

After crossing the door, Lady Elisenda unexpectedly found herself in a room of great beauty that shone with light through wide windows. It was the so-called Small Gallery, a room normally used by the Emperor for family events. It had been arranged as a reproduction of a Hearing Room, however --albeit at a reduced scale so that distance between attendants was quite smaller, thus contributing to lesser solemnity and higher familiarity.

In spite of the numerous chairs and divans scattered all around the room, a small circle of dignataries was standing and conversating with Their Imperial Majesties. At the circle center was Emperor Charles, who instantly turned his august gaze towards the young Catalan countess.

For a brief moment, Lady Elisenda perceived a genuine glow of joy in his eyes, as well on those of Empress Elisabeth Christine, who was the only one seated in the room. Her eyes shone with odd intensity, however. Euphoria? Anxiety? To her discomfort, Lady Elisenda understood she was the cause, and this disturbed her deeply. "Oh, by all the gods of Olympus!" Was that perhaps a sign of some kind of jealousy? Who the hell would have poisoned her mind?

--Your presence fills us with joy, dear Eli --Emperor Charles warmly told her, and then to everyone in the room: --Now that we all have come, let's finally start. My dear Count of Erill, what is the concern you would share with us?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Troubled journey (13): Fighting

Bonnevaux (Dauphiné), 25th August 1713

A clap of thunder echoed in the distance. Lieutenant Llinàs grunted and told to the young soldier accompanying him:

-Josep, prepare four pistols. And by the sake of God, get ensured to keep them out of the rain!

After a short while, Marquis de Vilana and Claire Baizanville came in the stage coach helping an old man walking. They were followed by a chorus of protesting monks, who nevertheless didn't dare to do anything else than complaining when the vehicle left the abbey's main yard. Both Llinàs and Josep settled on the stage coach box, while in turn Claire sat cross-legged on the vehicle roof, conveniently covered by a thick canvas protecting not only herself, but a loaded blunderbuss too, from the imminent rain.

In order to reach the main road to Paris, they should take the same way their Maltese pursuers would follow to come in the abbey. So that, according to Llinàs calculations, both retinues would meet half-way. Vilana's motto had been clear enough: they could not risk an inspection or interrogation by the Knights of Malta. They should force their way.

The stage coach was no more than a mile away from the road crossing when a fuzzy grouping of figures gradually emerged from the thick water curtain, a few dozen steps ahead. Seven riders in two rows marched towards Bonnevaux, moving under the shower at a not less painful slowness than themselves. Claire exhaled air, preparing herself for the impending action.

The riders noticed their presence and stopped, momentarily undecided. After a few seconds, they all drew their swords --their safest option under the heavy rain. One of the knights who went before the group broke up slightly, raising a hand to warn the stage coach to stop.

However, they wouldn't stop. By no means...

--Don't shoot until perceiving white in their eyes! --shouted Llinàs, and then he spurred the horses, so that the vehicle began accelerating dangerously on the muddy road.

Claire pulled the blunderbuss trigger and strongly wedged herself amidst the luggage, ready to withstand the weapon recoil. At a moment, the girl perceived the pupils of the knight at front and, as driven by a spring, she drew the blunderbuss gun out from the canvas, and shot. Llinàs fired his first pistol in unison to her, and less than one second afterwards it was Josep who shot too.

In a bloody explosion, the leading knight was projected violently backwards, as if hit in the chest by a mall. Behind him, a second knight fell to the mud. Llinàs then took reins again with both hands and threw the vehicle at full speed amidst the riders, opening their way down the middle of the column. Some riders fought to control their mounts, frightened by the sudden outbreak of violence. One of them fell to ground and had barely time enough to dodge the coach at the last second.

In spite of her shoulder sore by the blunderbuss recoil, Claire then got rid of the canvas with a stir and leant on a knee while extracted her small 3-gunned pistol, covering it from the rain with her left hand. At a range of no more than one yard, all three shots hit the face of a fourth knight who was just about to deliver his sword upon her.

Following its unbridled run, the stage coach quickly left behind the messed up Maltese retinue. Claire breathed hard, stretching herself back against the coach roof while clinging to anything helping her not to fall. It was a miracle they were still on the road. She looked back. Rain. Had their pursuers been caused enough casualties to desist? No. At least one of them was following the coach at a distance. She then asked Llinàs to stop the vehicle.

Llinàs glanced angrily at Josep and murmured a curse, for both of the young soldier pistols had failed. Leaving the boos for afterwards, he stopped the stage coach and climbed up to the roof, with the aim to be given a reason for the stop.

Then he saw a really unusual weapon in Claire's hands, just delivered to her by Vilana from inside the coach. It was some kind of musket, albeit quite odd and with a heavy butt. Still stretched on roof, she withdrew her soaked hair from face with an unconsciously charming gesture and aimed the weapon to some point on the road behind them. His experienced gaze was barely able to perceive...

Oh, yes. A rider. A stopped rider in the limit of visual range under the rain. Close to one hundred yards away. He looked at Claire with desbelief:

--He's far away. Too far.

--Not enough.

Claire's index caressed the trigger whose pressing would suddenly release the compressed air contained in a boiler inside the butt... for it was an air-gun, a latest-day weapon in the arsenal of Monte-Cristan Gardes de l'Etrier. A slight pressure on the trigger was immediately followed by a dull snap and a smooth decline. The rider briefly shook head for a moment and his lifeless body fell down to ground, hanging from a sturrip of his motionless horse.

The girl squinted to Llinàs who, still amazed, smiled back to her.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Troubled journey (12): An old crime

Bonnevaux (Dauphiné), 25th August 1713

Marquis de Vilana waited patiently while contemplating with a thoughtful air the peaceful small garden surrounded by the abbey cloister. The brief meeting with the abbot of Bonnevaux hadn't brought even a piece of new information, and this made him feel a growing frustration. Fra Hospitalier came to cut off his thoughts: --In a few minutes we will have prepared your premises, Sire. Sorry for the delay, we haven't had guests of your condition long since...

While following the monk's fast pace, Vilana used his most convincing air of innocence to ask: --Excuse me Brother, is there any priest from the Spanish kingdoms serving at Bonnevaux?

--No there isn't any, monsieur Villars. However, for a casual...

The monk suddenly shut up and gathered eyebrows while accelerating pace towards a half-open door in the corridor, where some sounds of angry voices and breaking objects were arising from. Vilana followed the monk with curiousity. Young Brother Adrià and Claire Baizanville in her disguise of young servant boy, who were a short while after them, could also hear the crash so they came too. A chorus of shouts in French and Latin emerged neatly from the opening door, while a young monk emerged from the room. He resignatedly looked at the Brother Hospitalier, who seemed to understand at once. The man sighed and told to Vilana:

--Unfortunately, Monsieur Villars, we've been hosting for several months a very problematic guest... A religious from The Spains precisely, a monk of the Order of Montesa. A quite sick man indeed. He ensured his stay to be only temporary and the Abbot would not refuse hospitality. We were forced to allocate him in the area reserved for guests when it became clear his attitude caused a constant disturbance to our community. Please Sire, I ask you a little patience while we fix this annoying situation...

Vilana noticed his heart wildly accelerating. An Iberian religious residing in Bonnevaux? ...from the Order of Montesa? ...was he perhaps the author of the message causing the trip of the deceased Prior Serralta? Vilana pretended to agree waiting while the Brother Hospitalier entered the room, but he immediately followed after the monk, who approached to someone in bed behind the wide, nearly empty cell.

--And here is good Brother Pierre now --the man in bed harshly said--. Are you coming to give me breakfast yourself, Pierre? It's quite of a rubbish today... Shit dump... Are you telling me now that I do disturb your honourable guests, so you're sending me in some dark corner? Don't you see that I am no more than a poor, sick old man? What a shame! Go tell the abbot that I'm not moving unless he deigns coming here and asking me himself!

The Brother Hospitalier hurriedly left the cell, harassed by a flying lamp that crashed against the wall. But Vilana stood inside, carefully studying the man. His gaze was penetrating, intense and feverish, through gray and watery eyes framed by a face of sharp features. Messy white hair, partially stuck to face by effect of constant sweat. "A sick nasty viper", Vilana instinctively sensed. He decided to gain the initiative and took a chair with resolution, closing it to bed.

--Espereu algú? (=Are you waiting for someone?) --Vilana abruptly asked in Catalan.

--No pas a vós (=Not you, indeed) --the man answered swiftly, with the fluidity of a native. His tone was exasperatingly burlesque, but Vilana was decided not to be drawn into a predictable nonsense, and placed a high bid from the very start:

--If such is your will, you may keep forever waiting in this... dump, as you say... Even better, until your health gets finally consumed in this poor cell, because Prior Serralta is dead.

The man's eyes turned into two narrow slits: --It's you who killed him?

--Of course not! --Vilana lamented his excess of anger and strived to maintain calm. --He was murdered when about to explain me the purpose of his trip in here.

The old man factions deformed into a sinister smile: --You look like a distinguished, influent man. Sure you can afford my conditions.

Vilana's reaction was unexpected to him, however. He stood up sharply, making the chair fall noisily to ground, and headed for the door with decision. His steps strongly echoed in the empty cell. He saw Claire guarding the entrance, avoiding any eventual interruption.

One, two, three steps ...

--If you take me away me from here, I can tell you valuable information that very few know!

Four, five steps...

--I just want to live the life I have left with some dignity and comfort! I'll tell you all what Serralta wanted to know!
You cannot leave me here!!
--Self-control and mockery had vanished. Demands had turned into a prayer.

Six, seven steps...

--Duke of Vendôme didn't die from disease! He was murdered, actually! ...It's me who did it!

In an effort not to loose self-control, Vilana kept is pace and went out of the room. But he was holding breath, his heart wildly unbridled.

--...by order of Philip d'Anjou!!!

Vilana finally stopped and turned back. Confusion had disintegrated his mask of resolution. The old monk had collected his last strength to stand up and was implorantly looking at him. The diplomat then hoarsely whispered to Claire, his gaze fixed on the decrepit, trembling figure on bed:

--Let's take him, Claire. Go tell Llinàs we are leaving right now.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Still around

Apologies for the delay in posting news of my Defiant Principality. I've been quite busy lately, due to a couple of issues having filled most of my time.

The first one is related to my projected miniatures company. Yes I keep working around it, and I believe some first results are to come at a not too long term. I'm currently working on corporate image along with a Catalan company of inspiring name: Arkham Studios. Alongside to this, we've also started designing our first miniatures (either human and vehicles), one of which is quite close to production stage.

I'm still worried about eventual future fundings. Not necessary to explain how difficult would be obtaining a loan from a Bank or Savings bank to-day, if I needed it at some stage. Wish I find a formula allowing me to avoid such eventual future issue, such is my main concern.

...and the second one is that my gaming mate and I have finally agreed a conversion pattern for the Orders of Battle (Two Crowns' and Catalan/Galatan) of our current 1713-1714 campaign to the new ruleset we're going to follow from now on: Beneath the Lily Banners. This ruleset is primarily intended for 28mm gaming, but we play 15mm instead, so that unit sizes and measurements scale had to be adapted. Our second trouble was agreeing a few rules adaptions to the special features of WSS Peninsular warfare (Miquelets and Catalan Cavalry, mainly). Well, it looks quite good.

Now we should get a couple of tests of it... That would require some boosting of our campaign, of course. This has been kept 'frozen' while awaiting the aftermath of Marquis de Vilana's troubled jorney. In the end, it seems that I should speed up my storytelling... If I want it to run, it's me who must run it... *Sigh*

Monday, October 24, 2011

Troubled journey (11): Vendôme

Bonnevaux (Dauphiné), 25th August 1713 at dawn

"In Dei nomine. Amén. Sépase por esta pública carta como en la villa de Vinaroz del reyno de Valencia en España a los diez días del mes de junio del año mil setecientos y doce; yo Luis, duque de Vendôme, de Mercaoeur y de Estampes, conde de Drux, príncipe de Anet y de Martigues, par de Francia, general de las Galeras..."
    ["In Dei nomine. Amen. Be it known by this public letter as in the town of Vinaròs in the kingdom of Valencia in Spain, on the tenth day of June 1712, I Louis Duke of Vendôme & Étampes & Mercaoeur, Count of Drux, Prince of Anet & Martigues, Peer of France, Admiral of the Galleys... "]
Louis Joseph de Bourbon Duke of Vendôme, brilliant and stubborn rival to the Prince Eugène of Savoy in their Italian campaigns. Duke of Vendôme, the man comissioned to stabilize situation in Flanders after the Ramillies disaster... Vendôme, who voluntarily retired to his estates after Oudenaarde battle as a complaint about the responsibility of King Louis' grandson in the defeat; the very same man who decisively aborted at Brihuega & Villaviciosa the 1710 Allied offensive on the Spanish heartland... An arbitrary whim of Goddess Fortune had determined that 2 copies of the testament of such a notorious personage to fall into hands of Marquis de Vilana, thanks to the accurate inspection of Fra Dídac Serralta's humble belongings by Claire.

During their trip to Bonnevaux Abbey, Vilana had plunged once and once again at obsessively reading both copies... until reaching for the umpteenth time to the final paragraph:

"...Y su Alteza el Serenísimo Señor Luis, Duque de Vendôme, no firmó por no poder; porque haviendo tomado la pluma para ello y executándolo, no pudo escrivir ni formar letra por cau­sa de temblarle la mano por su gran flaqueza y enfermedad. Firmaron los nombrados testigos de que yo el esmentado doy fe..."
    ["... And his Most Serene Highness Lord Louis Duke of Vendôme, did not sign because he could not, for having taken the pen to perform it, could not write or give form to letters due to hand tremble because of its deep weakness and disease. Named witnesses signed on his behalf, as I the mentioned can attest... "]
At this stage after so many readings, Vilana was nearly able to recite by heart the whole text, including all the minutely detailed life annuities, donations and rewards Vendôme had granted in it, as well as their respective beneficiaries... in both versions of the testament.

...for these 2 copies of Vendôme's wills were not exactly the same. There was one difference between them, only one slight difference close to the wording's end. One small, negligible estate located inside Vinaròs town was listed in one of the versions, but omitted in the other.

Vilana was exhausted, after so many hours restlessly travelling by night. He was persuaded these two slightly differing documents were the key of the mystery Fra Dídac had died for... but he was plainly unable to even guess why.

-Ehem... Sire?

It was Josep who had spoken. Vilana sudenly came back to reality, while the young escort soldier held the stage coach door open for him. Outside, a monk leading a loaded donkey was watching the newcomers with open curiosity. Thay had finally arrived in Bonnevaux Abbey, the secret destination of the deceased Catalan Prior.