An Age of Miracles Continues: The Empire of Rhomania

1634: The Lord He Served
“O let our enemy’s courage glow
That our greater might may show.”
-Romance of the Three Kingdoms
1634 continued: Unusually, Blucher is up and ready on the morning of September 18, feeling better than he has in months.

The Allies don’t get much warning. Tornikes has been snapping at the Allied lines, steadily escalating his probes, inching closer and bolder for close to a month. So it doesn’t seem like anything unusual on September 17th. Then a night attack, led by scouts who’ve grown up in the area, engulfs the Allied outposts on Mt. Chortiatis, finishing up the operation just before dawn.

It doesn’t take long for the scale of the Roman threat to become apparent. With a small force garrisoning the mountain itself, there is a Roman army about 60,000 (commanded by Tornikes) swinging south of the mountain to hit the Allies from the southeast. There is another 90,000 strong (commanded by Theodoros Laskaris) swinging north of the mountain, aiming to hit the Allies from the northeast.

Blucher, taking command of the situation, immediately opts for a defensive strategy. There’s no time to march out anyway, and it’d be suicide against an army of that magnitude. The Allied camp, while strung along to blockade Thessaloniki’s landward sides, is very well fortified. Vauban had seen to that. There are a series of ditches, some of which are flooded, and tall earthen embankments. There are also wooden abatis, in some places entire tree trunks fallen so that they interlock, their tops facing the enemy, and caltrops strewn in other locations to cover the approaches. The clear lanes in between are covered by field artillery loaded with Vlach shot. Even with those numbers, the Romans will definitely not enjoy storming those defenses.

Now the Romans could counter-siege the Allied besiegers, but such a large force, especially when combined with the people and garrison of Thessaloniki, can’t be supplied for very long. Perhaps when they’re forced to withdraw some or all of that army, it will be the moment to strike, but not before.

An hour and a half later, with Tornikes and Laskaris slowly moving into position, Amirales lumbers over the horizon from the southwest, marching along the gulf coast. The two ‘eastern’ armies had been waiting for that. Amirales is the real shock; the rumors of 200,000 Greeks are evidently true. Although livid that there’s been no indication of such a behemoth from the Allied scouts, Blucher bites his tongue. Now is not the time for that. All that matters now is survival.

Playing defense isn’t going to work now. With those kind of numbers, the Romans can punch through the camp defenses. They will pay through the nose still to do so, but Blucher is inclined to believe they’re willing to pay that price. If the Allies stay, they will be destroyed.

There does seem to be a chance of escape. Roman forces are converging on the Allies, but not from the northwest, meaning that a line of retreat to Skoupoi is still open for the moment, and there are no reports to indicate that Skoupoi itself is under threat. That would mean leaving the camp defenses and staging a fighting retreat, with the enemy right on their heels, over terrain that has been stripped bare. Yet that beats staying and dying.

A powerful column of troops moves out from camp to reinforce the Allied outpost at the village of Diavata, northwest of Thessaloniki, which secures the Skoupoi road. At the same time, the Paramonai and Roman tourmai directly under Odysseus pull ahead of Amirales, moving to take the same village. Meanwhile, Laskaris’ and Tornikes’ heavy guns open up on the Allied defenses in front of them, the cannons of Thessaloniki joining them.

Thessaloniki Battle.jpg

The semaphores have flashed the news to Constantinople, the people of the capital gathering in prayer for the victory of the Roman army. In Hagia Sophia, the Patriarch of Constantinople leads a service of supplication and in attendance are all the notables of the capital, including the Emperor and Empress.

As the guns scream and powders stink, the Allied column moves to head off the Paramonai. Their assignment is to hold the road open so the main Allied army can disengage, a hard task as Laskaris and Tornikes are pressing harder in their sectors and Amirales is swinging to hit the camp from the west. Domestikos Theodoros Laskaris doesn’t want to give Blucher any chance of retreat. While a retreat-chase back to Skoupoi may destroy the Allied army, he doesn’t underestimate Blucher’s ability to keep a battered army together. And he is well aware of how his cousin Michael Laskaris was treated last year when he only destroyed half of the Allied army.

The Romans advance forward in good order, the bands playing The Shatterer of Armies, the old favorite theme of Andreas Niketas. Odysseus’ Pronsky lancers and Roman kataphraktoi roll forward, heading towards the Hungarian horse that guard the right flank of the Allied ‘Diavata’ troops in front of them.

The Hungarians break before contact, fleeing the steel despite the curses and insults of their German allies. But they are light cavalry, not equipped to stand up to the heavy horse of their foes. The proper choice would be the Poles, but they’re deployed in the eastern camp and thus not available in time.

Refusing their right flank, the German troops fight as the Roman cavalry pressure them on the right flank while infantry and artillery pound them from the front. Fighting defensively, they give a good account of themselves against Odysseus’ men, although they can hear on the wind that Amirales has engaged and the Thessaloniki garrison has sallied.

And then the Hungarians slam into the Allied rear.

Count Pál Antal Esterházy hates the Greeks; he has lost far too much family to them for it to be any other way. But he is also a Hungarian patriot, and as such he also loathes the Wittelsbachs. The Greeks sundered their kingdom and ripped away provinces, but at least they had the honor to take them in open battle. They won those lands by right of conquest, but at least the Greeks have a right. The Wittelsbachs stole Austria, with lying tongues and thieving hands, with spies and tricks and insinuations. And then through a Croatian lackey, they’ve kept a stranglehold on the Magyar throat ever since.

No. More. “For no good people forfeit their freedom save with their lives.” Those words had been writ against the Emperor in Constantinople, but they speak as well against the Emperor in Munich. And those who had signed, and the King who had received those signatures, had known it.

King Stephan VII Hunyadi has been in contact with Emperor Demetrios III for some months now via their respective ambassadors in the Grand Principality of Pronsk (despite the major troop loans, the Grand Principality is not technically at war with the Allies). The Speaker of the Council of Lords, the upper chamber of the Pronsk Veche, facilitated their easy and most private correspondence. It was King Stephan who’d been Demetrios’ ‘special friend’. (While he intends to reward General Wallenstein, privately Demetrios despises the Quartermaster General as a traitor to his country-which he interprets as the HRE proper rather than Bohemia since the general serves Theodor directly, not Ottokar. But Stephan, as a sovereign lord, does not earn such condemnation in the Basileus’ eyes for his deviousness.)

They have been discussing the terms for Hungary’s change of sides, as well as the most opportune moments for when to do so. Stephan didn’t know about the lunge into Macedonia before it happened, Blucher and Theodor having kept him out of the loop. Now Demetrios certainly hasn’t alerted Stephan of his war plans, but Count Esterhazy has been looking for a good point to use that particular knife.

When the Hungarian commander, a secret Patriot that Esterhazy had managed to place there, of the Hungarian garrison of Skoupoi sent word that a Roman army was approaching to invest the city, the Count knew the time to act would be arriving soon and made preparations. That included not informing the Allied command; the messenger had been carefully selected as one who could be trusted and who knew to keep his mouth shut.

That was also the real reason why Andreas d’Este didn’t press an attack against the Hungarian army shadowing him in Austria. The Emperor had made him aware of the negotiations, and King Stephan had likewise informed the Count of Várpalota.

And now he decides to use that knife. Only a few of his officers that he can trust implicitly have been informed of the Count’s and King’s plans, but the Hungarian troops are well-disciplined. Although they don’t wear the black armbands of the Black Army, destroyed at Mohacs, they have the discipline; Count Esterhazy has seen to that. And it’s not as if Magyars need much reason to shoot Germans.

Hit from three sides, completely blindsided by the sudden betrayal, the German column at Diavata is wiped off the face of the earth in a matter of minutes. Reforming, Odysseus and his new allies secure the village and block the Skoupoi road. The last chance for a concerted organized retreat for the Allies is gone.

The action at Diavata, even if it had gone the Allies’ way, might not have been enough. Hit by four separate Roman forces, the ability of the Allied army to disengage even if there was an opening is highly questionable.

Amirales has a hundred and forty cannons, Tornikes a hundred and sixty, Laskaris two hundred and ninety, and the Thessaloniki garrison three hundred and two. With them pummeling the Allied defenses in a rain of steel, the din great and terrible, Roman sappers creep forward with their satchels of explosives to blow holes in said Allied defenses, while above their heads Roman infantry pour in a hail of long-range musketry. Despite the covering fire, the sappers’ jobs are extremely dangerous and casualties heavy, but the promise of four years’ pay if they live and the same amount to their families if they die mean that they push forward.

With the sappers having done all they can, the Roman troops crash forward, covered by the scream of their artillery. Some holes have been blasted, but the defenses are still formidable and the fighting is murderous. The Roman formations leading the charge take horrendous casualties, but everywhere the Romans have a tremendous numerical advantage. Stout positions are bypassed and surrounded as the Romans punch through weaker sectors, breaking into the camp.

* * *

The Field of Thessaloniki, September 18, 1634:

The crash of cannons and musketry was no stranger to Blucher, after sixty years of war and too many battles to count, but the sheer number was unprecedented. But it was still just a battle, and his duty was clear. There was no way he could win this, and the odds of saving much of his army looked extremely slim, but he could, perhaps, if God be kind and willing, save his lord.

“You need to flee, your majesty,” he said to Theodor, who was gaping at the sight before him. Powder smoke was strewn through the air, stinging Blucher’s nostrils, but a sea breeze meant it wasn’t choking, yet. It was getting thicker by the minute.

The Greeks were breaking in on all points now, with serious fighting in the camp. Some of the Allied soldiers were fighting, some were surrendering, and some were running.

“Colonel von Ompteda will see to it that you get safely out.” I hope. He looked at Wilhelm von Ompteda, his chief of staff, with his round head and pointy nose. The young Brunswicker was behind his sovereign, who was still looking dazed at the scene in front of him.

“Out? But we can’t retreat,” Theodor replied.

“Right, we can’t retreat, but you must flee.”

“Flee?” he replied dumbly, the words clearly not sinking in to get through to him. He was too busy staring at the destruction of all his plans and hopes, but refusing to accept it. Blucher took a deep breathe to calm his rising frustration. It didn’t help much, not while he heard the roar of guns and the screams of his dying boys, all for the sake of this man.

“Yes. I’ll cover your withdraw-”

“But Nostradamus, the prophecy,” Theodor interrupted. Somewhere nearby one of their powder magazines exploded, hurling a mushroom cloud into the sky. Blucher could see an intact barrel flipping through the air, forty meters up.

And Blucher’s patience snapped. His right fist smashed into his Emperor’s chin, a perfect hit. Theodor crumpled, caught by Ompteda and one of his aides, the two officers gaping at him. “Son of a…” He cupped his right hand with his left. That had hurt, a lot. His Majesty had a tough jaw. Definitely wasn’t the proper thing to do, but he couldn’t deny that right now, punching Theodor had felt really good.

“Get him out of here,” he told Ompteda.

Ompteda nodded. “I will.” A pause. “It’s been an honor to serve with you, sir.”

“And with you, Colonel. God go with you.”

“And with you, Marshal.” The pair shook hands, Blucher barely avoided a wince as his aide gripped his battered right hand.

Blucher watched for a moment while his chief of staff and his assistant carried Emperor Theodor away, each holding one arm. Hopefully in the fog of war they’d find a way to get clear. But to give them even a prayer of a chance, Blucher had one last duty to perform.

He mounted his favorite horse, an old gray warhorse much like himself that he’d named Methuselah a long time ago. Methuselah snorted quietly as Blucher got onto the saddle, surprisingly without any help. Today, of all days, he felt…better, his body somehow knowing it had not much further to go, yet determined to cross the finish with style.

He rode towards the battle lines. Fighting was going on inside the camp, with almost a flavor of urban warfare about it. Given the long encampment, many of the canvas tents had been replaced by packed-earth structures for better protection from the elements, and now gunfire.

It was a disorganized confused melee, knots of resistance surrounded by other units giving way, the battle lines far from straight. But right now, he didn’t need the specifics. He knew where the enemy was, and he knew where his lord was. That was enough.

“With me, boys!” he shouted, his voice booming at full volume through the carnage. “Rally to me!”

“It’s the Grand Old Man!” he heard a Bavarian sergeant cry out.

“It’s Old Goat Whiskers!” a Saxon lieutenant shouted.

“Rally to the Marshal!” came the command from a Brandenburg captain.

“Rally to me!” Blucher shouted, riding forward, calling out into the din and powder cloud. “With me, boys!”

He rode through the area, shouting out to his boys, gathering in those who were fleeing. “What are your orders, sir?” one of his aides asked.

Blucher pointed straight ahead. “We need to set up a proper defensive line here, here, and here.” He pointed at three large earthen structures that had been used as depots during the siege, and now could serve as mini-forts. There were some men already fighting from that position, but the sound of gunfire was a lot louder from the Greek stations. But if they could hold the Greeks up there for a while, that might give Ompteda enough time to get the Emperor clear. This thrust from the northeast was the closest, and the biggest too.

“Done, sir!” a Holsteiner Colonel shouted.

Blucher and his aide and the various officers nearby got the men moving forward to those defensive positions. The Greeks were pressing hard, but those knots of resistance were tripping them up, never mind the difficulty of moving such huge masses of men through the crowded camp.

Then Blucher started riding forward to the firing line. A Saxon corporal grabbed the bridle of Methuselah. “We’ll hold that line for you, Marshal. Don’t worry about that. But you should go to the rear.”

“Marshal Blucher to the rear! Marshal Blucher to the rear!” The shout went up from men nearby.

“No boys, not this time, my boys!” Blucher replied. “I’m too old for that sort of thing. From now on I’m only going forward! Who’s with me?”

“We’re with you, Marshal! Forward!”

“Forward!” Blucher shouted, blinking the tears from his eyes.

“Forward!” came the call.

The fighting was the hottest Blucher had ever experienced in his entire career. The layout of the camp, the narrow lines and interspersed buildings and the jumble of the detritus of any army camp and battle made a charge impossible. So instead the two sides hurled musketry volleys at a range of twenty five meters, at most, the sound like a kilometer-long piece of paper being violently ripped in half…every few seconds.

The Greeks tried to maneuver around him, but while they had the numbers, Blucher had the terrain. The confused warren of the camp didn’t allow for quick movement. It was not enough for him to win the battle, but all he needed, if God was kind, was to win some time. And that he could, would do. If God was kind.

He rode up and down just behind the line of his boys, shouting encouragement. “Keep on them, boys! Keep firing!” He was acting like a Captain here rather than a Marshal, but that seemed right. He was asking these men, his boys, to die, and the very least he could do, would do, was share their danger. “Keep firing!” No more politicking, no more managing a gaggle of different armies and generals, some of whom wanted to kill each other more than the enemy. Now all that remained was to carry out his last duty as best he could, and then finally he could rest. He prayed to God that his boys, and himself, would find peace and mercy when this was done, if not on earth than in heaven.

Cannons were now in play on both sides, firing at ranges of twenty five meters, but neither side broke despite the slaughter. Blucher saw a Greek cannonball hurl through the air, neatly decapitating four men, the bodies all falling to the ground next to each other while the remnants of their falling heads thumped and bounced and spattered around them. He saw a German cannonball hit a Greek cannon, shattering its carriage in a shower of splinters while the barrel itself flipped up into the air and then fell, a spray of blood flying up on impact as it squashed somebody.

And yet he, somehow, was untouched. He could hear the bullets whizzing around him like mosquitoes; one came close enough for the heat of its passage to lightly burn his cheek. If he was his normal weight, he’d have been hit by now; he could feel the rustle of his loose clothes as musket balls sliced through them.

More fire, more blood, more death.

Blucher turned his head, looking to the north. With the powder smoke, he couldn’t see but he hoped, he prayed, Ompteda would find a way. Theodor, to be blunt, had been a bad Emperor, probably disastrous even. But it had been Blucher’s duty to serve him, regardless of his faults. He had done the best he could as he saw it, and whether that would end up being for good or for evil was in the hands of God and his mercy.

Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher, Field Marshal of the Holy Roman Empire, never saw or felt the bullet that killed him.

* * *

“Who of all the official throng
In the North was true like Shen Pei?
Sad his fate! He served a fool,
But faithful, as the ancient humans.
Straight and true was every word,
Never from the road he swerved.
Faithful unto death, he died
Gazing toward the lord he'd served.”
-Romance of the Three Kingdoms

* * *

1634 continued: The death of Blucher, once word spreads, breaks the spirit of most of the Allied soldiers still fighting at the battle line he’d formed. Most either break or try to surrender, although in the heat of battle many of those trying to yield are shot out of hand. Some of those are done in cold blood. A small band, carrying the body of their fallen commander, retreat to one of the largest earthen warehouses, and well-armed including with field artillery, defy all Roman efforts to force them to surrender. It is not until Archbishop von Hohenzollern appears, appealing to them in the name of life and the good of Germany, that they capitulate.

The Archbishop with his Rhinelanders had been posted on the far west end of the Allied siege lines and thus was hit head-on by Amirales’ main force. After intensive bloody fighting at the camp ramparts, the Romans, supported by mass application of cannon fire and grenades, break through. Recognizing the inevitable, and wishing to spare the lives of his men, the Archbishop offers to surrender in exchange for a promise of safe and fair treatment for himself and his men. Amirales promptly agrees.

But the Archbishop insists he will only personally surrender to the “meanest ugliest son-of-a-bitch” in Amirales’ army, as “he does have standards.” A hulking scarred nose-less tetrachos from Dazimon appears. The Archbishop replies that he’s “not quite as ugly as my mother-in-law, but you’ll do.” (Since he’s not married to his concubine, for obvious reasons, technically he doesn’t have a mother-in-law, but nitpicking Bone-Breaker’s jokes is also unwise from a health and safety standpoint, for different but equally obvious reasons.)

The Archbishop surrenders, but also hands out silver ducats, equivalent once exchanged for half a month’s pay, to each member of the Dazimon tetrachos’ squadron. This is on the grounds that for the sake of his pride, his captors should get a nice reward for their ‘valiant and noble deeds’. The droungos’ mascot, a female Croatian shepherd dog, immediately takes to the Archbishop, who reciprocates the affection, which significantly raises the status of their captive in the eyes of the Roman soldiers.

By two in the afternoon the Allied camp, save for a few stubborn pockets, has been overrun and the bulk of the Allied army killed or captured. But given the confusion and chaos of battle, the thick clouds of powder smoke, and the spacing between the various Roman columns, some Allied units manage to hack their way free.

The largest is a contingent about four thousand strong that breaks out in the juncture between Laskaris’ and Sideros’ forces, fleeing north. But the Domestikos had prepared for something like this. Many of his troops were kept in reserve, particularly swarms of cavalry that would be useless in an assault on a fortified camp.

The Allied troops, remaining steady and disciplined, beat off the cavalry attacks but they are constantly hounded and harassed until the Roman horse succeed in driving them into a large wood near Drymos, keeping them trapped in there until Roman infantry and artillery arrive. The Allies, hoping to hold out until nightfall and then slip away, refuse all demands to surrender. They’ve seen too many of their comrades killed while surrendering.

The Roman commander there sets up his cannons, dividing the wood into various sectors and assigning particular batteries to each sector, then orders them to fire blindly into their zone. Accuracy is abysmal, but hits on trees send clouds of wooden slivers, some the size of a man’s forearm, screaming through the air. On three occasions, unable to endure the punishment, the Allies sally, but when that happens a signal flare shoots up and then every gun that can be brought to bear fires on that sector, driving the Allied troops back into the woods. About a half-hour before nightfall, having taken over a thousand casualties, the Allied troops surrender.

The soldiers from the ‘Cannon Wood’, as it is still called today (and some of the trees from that time live, the scars still visible), are not the only Allied troops to fight their way free, but the remainder are in much smaller bands that manage to slip through the cracks. The reserve troops catch a lot of these, but preferring to leave nothing to chance, prior to the battle Laskaris arranged for the various irregulars to be stationed even further back, as a second web to ensnare any would-be escapees.

* * *

Northwest of Thessaloniki, September 18, 1634:

The sun was going down in the west, although it still had an hour to go. People moved silently through the trees, quickly and quietly taking up their positions. Once peasant farmers and tailors, blacksmiths and millers, this, the art of war and killing, was now habit, instinct. Anna, once of St Andreas, hid behind a tree and looked at their prey.

There were twenty or so Latins, bedraggled and battered, their clothing stained with powder and showing many a bullet hole. They showed no trace of finery, but all had some fine looking horses, which were currently drinking from the stream that ran past the base of the hill from which Anna looked down. There was another hill that overlooked the Latins from the other side of the stream and more of their group was taking up position there.

The Latins, watering themselves as well as their horses, had a few guards posted, looking outward, but their shoulders were hunched with exhaustion. Anna hadn’t been at the battle, but she’d heard the great endless thunder.

There was more than just her band preparing to strike. When the Latins had withdrawn from Upper Macedonia, they’d followed; their only source of provisions was the tribute the local garrisons paid to avoid attacks and any further un-pleasantries. Namely, the garrison fed them so the band wouldn’t feed on them. It was a system that had worked for everybody.

So they’d left their mountainous homes and descended down into Lower Macedonia. Raiding had been more difficult since they didn’t know the terrain and the Latins generally moved around in larger groups. But they’d been joined by a group of Thessalian Arvanites who’d come to slit Latin throats and loot their corpses, plus some Epirotes who had tough mountain ponies. A pair of villages had agreed to support them as a defense force against Latin raiders, although the villagers clearly hadn’t been too happy about it. Latin foragers had already taken the stores they hadn’t managed to hide, and these were more mouths to feed.

Up ahead, she could see Manuel looking down at the Latin forces. His clothes were dirty, like all of theirs, but it was the fairly-new uniform of a Roman officer. His rank insignia, covered in mud so they wouldn’t gleam, were those of a Droungarios. They’d made contact with Roman regulars since moving into Lower Macedonia, and for his service ‘behind the lines’ he’d been promoted.

Still there’d been whispers, rumors about what they’d done back in Upper Macedonia. She expected she’d just have to get used to it. She’d seen horrible things; she’d done horrible things. But she’d done them to survive. She didn’t want to eat human flesh again, but if it was that or die, she knew she’d do it again. She refused to just lay down and die because what needed doing involved upsetting the sensibilities of someone fat and warm far away. And if they wanted to judge her for it anyway, well…Judge and be damned. Let them first endure what we have endured.

Manuel crept back over to her, Gabriel taking up behind her, clutching his trusty ax to his chest. He never left her side in battle. Manuel pointed at one figure, nibbling at a piece of bread, in the center of the Latin group. “Can you take him?”

“I can take him,” she replied.

He smiled. “I knew you’d say that. Your shot will be the signal. Wait until I get back and then set up.” She nodded as Manuel went down the line. She, along with Zoe and Nikolaios, were still the best shots in their little company, so they’d be assigned to take out the leaders. The Upper Macedonians would take first blood, but the Arvanites would pitch in as soon as they did, and the Epirotes were mounted in the rear for any pursuit needed.

Manuel was back in two minutes, nodding at her and Gabriel as he passed, just in time as the Latins were finishing up and getting ready to leave.

Anna took a step back and Gabriel moved in front of her, placing his back to the tree as Anna put her left hand on his shoulder for support as she aimed her bow. Synchronizing their breathing so that wouldn’t throw her off, she concentrated on the wind, tightening her muscles, feeling the tension in her bow, waiting until the moment felt just right…and let fly.

The arrow flashed out, a moment later followed by the snap of a crossbow and then the roar of a rifle, and then the crash of musketry as her arrow slammed right into her target’s right eye.

* * *

Anna looked out amongst the carnage. Between them, the Arvanites, and the Epirotes all of the Latins except two or three, and those all wounded, had been killed. They’d been unwilling to surrender, but Anna hadn’t been surprised by that. The Latins knew what happened to those captured by irregulars.

Manuel flipped over the body of the one she’d shot, which had fallen face first into the stream. “I’ll be damned. He knew. Somehow he knew,” he said with a huge grin.

“What are you talking about?” she asked.

Manuel’s grin got even bigger. “Anna of St Andreas, a peasant born of peasants. You’ve just killed a king.”

* * *

1634 continued: Blucher is killed on the field of battle, Casimir by an irregular north of said field. Wallenstein is seized during the battle, but promptly released, although the Roman officers aren’t impressed by a man who would betray his lord and country. They feel the same as their Emperor, who said “I would use such a man without hesitation, but not respect him.” Vauban and Crown Prince Ottokar of Bohemia are also captured, well cared for but heavily guarded.

Tens of thousands of Allied troops have been captured, and thousands more lie dead on the field. The entire Allied army wasn’t destroyed to the last man, but it has been effectively destroyed. The survivors still free, dispersed in shattered penny packets, a hundred here, forty there, and so on, are no longer an army.

And of those survivors, there are irregulars and trapezites hunting them and a long march to the Holy Roman Empire through hostile territory. It is doubtful any will see their homeland again. All of the big fish have been killed or captured, with only one exception, the biggest catch of all of course. As the sun sets on September 18, no one at Thessaloniki knows where Theodor, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and would-be Emperor of the Romans, is.

* * *

The field of Thessaloniki, September 18, 1634:

Athena walked through the Allied camp, her guards behind her and her faithful Illyrian mountain dog at her side. Her name was Taara, after the Hindi word for Star. She’d been a present from Maria of Agra, back when Andreas III still ruled and the world, or at least she, had not seen such slaughter. She was tense, on guard, stressed by the sight and smells around her, as was Athena. But she felt she had to look; she owed the dead that much.

Thousands of men and thousands of animals had died in the field today, and every one had voided their bowels. The air stank of excrement and urine, interlaced with the stench of blood and sweat and powder. Flies swarmed in great columns, ravens gorging themselves in the most stupendous buffet of their lives, the true winners of the day.

She looked down at herself, in her tourmarch’s uniform, stained with sweat and powder. She’d been on the ramparts all day, coordinating the Witch’s Tower fire with the sally of the garrison, and then the bull-rush of Tornikes’ army. She felt exhausted down to her bones, her whole body aching as she’d helped shove ball and powder and ramrod and cannon. Bruises were forming all over her body. And she’d had it easy. There was blood aplenty around her, but not one drop was hers.

Taara’s ears perked up, a moment later Odysseus rounding the corner. He looked just as exhausted, his uniform stained with powder and sweat as well, with splotches of dried blood on his left sleeve and in his hair, although none seemed to be his.

Their eyes met, and then they walked towards and embraced each other. Neither said a word. They just held and comforted each other as the sun slipped below the sky.
Now lets note that the Ottomans could supply 170,000 men in the second siege of Vienna and the empire has a stronger economy. Just saying
The Prophecy spoke true, Theodor died by a woman. What a legend. Pity no one outside the Empire will believe it to be true. It has all the marks of a propaganda.
Well, this was the decisive battle...and the Holy Roman Empire has gloriously lost it.
Blucher died as he served, a dutiful soldier to the end. Theodor didn't deserve the loyalty of such a man. And Casimir got a particularly humiliating death, killed by irregulars.
Hungary turns its cloak and most of the German forces are gone. Save the punishment of Serbia, I think the war in the Balkans has just found its climax. Macedonia will need a lot of mop-up operations, but the majority fo the slaughter is done.
Now the big question is if Theodor's bodyguards will manage to drag their sovereign back to Munich...odds are not good with Skoupoi and Belgrade under siege and many troops of Rhomania between them and their goal.
Now the big question is if Theodor's bodyguards will manage to drag their sovereign back to Munich...odds are not good with Skoupoi and Belgrade under siege and many troops of Rhomania between them and their goal.
They didn't manage it. Theodor just died.
Manuel flipped over the body of the one she’d shot, which had fallen face first into the stream. “I’ll be damned. He knew. Somehow he knew,” he said with a huge grin.

“What are you talking about?” she asked.

Manuel’s grin got even bigger. “Anna of St Andreas, a peasant born of peasants. You’ve just killed a king.”
Manuel is referring to Demetrios III's curse on Theodor.

EDIT: Nevermind, that's Casimir of Poland.
Besides, they said a King. Not an Emperor.
It counts. Holy Roman Emperors also took on the title of "King of the Romans" and "King of the Germans" multiple times throughout history, though granted the latter one stopped getting used after the 11th century IIRC.

Anyways, here are the curses:
They all had pencil sketches of a male face, each one different. He was no artist like his son, but they were passable likenesses. He held up the first. “Casimir of Poland, noble warrior of God,” he sneered. “May a woman slay you.”

He held up the second. “Theodor of Bavaria, you who would gain the whole world. May you forfeit your mind instead.”

He held up the third. “Ibrahim of Persia, also so-called noble warrior of god. May a wo…no, should be different…hmm…eh…may a pair of women slay you.”

And he tossed the images into the flames.
Casimir is down for the count.

Theodor was seen in complete and utter denial of reality the last we saw, so hopefully he reaches Munich as a babbling madman.

Verdict is still out on Ibrahim.
Whats Hungary's term for changing sides? Austria?
They were already protecting Austria from that small Roman army so that should be quite doable for them.

This will however force them to become quite close to Rhomania for the foreseeable future as I don't think Hungary's other neighbors are that pleased with them.
Theodor was seen in complete and utter denial of reality the last we saw, so hopefully he reaches Munich as a babbling madman.
Imagine him showing up a beraggled mess, with a broken jaw so his face is messed up as much as his speech. Demanding Butcher be brought before him for striking the Emperor, calling for newer reinforcements, planning a new offensive.
They were already protecting Austria from that small Roman army so that should be quite doable for them.

This will however force them to become quite close to Rhomania for the foreseeable future as I don't think Hungary's other neighbors are that pleased with them.
As much as I've wanted to see Vienna become a Roman city - if Hungary get to retake Austria, the idea of being the Romans northernmost client/ally is a pretty solid deal by any measure for Hungary. That's peace across their entire southern border, secure mountains in the north, and the ability to consume the Wittelsbachs easily.

If anything, I wouldn't be surprised if Post-War, the Hungarians tear the Wittlesbachs, the Bohemians and Hungarians are at odds in the SE, but the Bohemians are a bit neutered because of the Hungarian-Roman alliance. Certainly a strong situation, and if the Hungarians can take Bavaria as well as Austria, they've got a wealthy realm that can influence (but not conquer/rule) quite a lot of Germany.

Could Hungary become a HRE candidate? I doubt they'd ever win, but they could be considered.

This is interesting, it's not a Fortress SE, but diplomatically it certainly is, with Hungary in the position to mimic Greater Moravia. Very cool.

Are those the terms then? Independence and land for Hungary, but they're within the Roman economic orbit?
They were already protecting Austria from that small Roman army so that should be quite doable for them.

This will however force them to become quite close to Rhomania for the foreseeable future as I don't think Hungary's other neighbors are that pleased with them.
They won't be pleased with them after this battle anyway, might as well milk it for all its worth.