Part 8: Tyrantapologies for the delay
Deep in the woods of Denmark, a band of thieves and robbers sit around a camp-fire. The winter air is cold and food is in short supply. In order to pass the time, the eldest amongst them begins telling stories, tales of the tyrant who drove them to this dark and dismal point.
"For this is the story of Duke Ernst I, the Tyrant of Denmark. May God keep the crown from his cursed head!"
"A liar, a tyrant, and an evil schemer, this brute came to power riding the success of his father's war. Through the hard efforts of his ancestors he was the second most powerful man in the land of Denmark - a power he abused like the dog he was."
"Do any remember the reign of the Ylvings? It was peaceful and secure. One family controlled the whole of Denmark, so there was no room for war amongst them. But Duke Ernst carried on the vendetta passed down to him from father to son in the accursed Hvide line and banished the just and generous Count Halvor, seizing all his property and consolidating his rule. Only barons and bishops lived under Duke Ernst now, none with the power to raise their hands against him."
"Only Sjaelland remained the property of the king, and Ernst's greedy eyes were no-doubt turned towards it too."
"Aye, the king. A son of af Bornholm, those puppets installed by the Hvide decades back. A schemer just as flamboyant as Ernst, but capable of keeping his realm together by personality alone, soon succeeded by his brother."
"And the last Ylving family member of land or title: Count Mads, a brave and honourable knight. Almost as soon as he came to power, Duke Ernst was scheming for a claim on his land and title so that he might finish his great vendetta and leave the Ylving family destitute and landless."
"And through all this scheming and posturing, the Christian world was slowly falling apart. Jihad following Jihad tore apart the Byzantine Empire, our eastern bulwark against the Muslim Hordes,"
"And rumours have spread even this far about the inbred infant who sits atop the Roman throne,"
"And to the west, the British and French crowns had united after Norway's claim on the British isles had finally been usurped."
"As you all know, Denmark's succession is made by the decision of the three Dukes who reign there. Two of those titles now live with Ernst, while one remains in the hands of the af Bornholm family. It is a blessed fact that Duke Ernst cannot vote for himself twice, unless he gives away one of his Ducal titles - which he would never do - and the quirk of the law means that the incumbent family has the tie-breaking vote.
"This means that the Tyrant will never rise to power peacefully. Sadly, his personal power is so great within the realm that he will likely do so by martial arms."
"Let us pray this never comes to pass, for the reigning king is a peaceful ruler, too gentle and womanly to wage a war as viciously as the Hvide family."
"Duke Ernst was committed to squeezing every drop of money from his lands. He would seize the titles of destitute nobles and action them off to rich merchants."
"And, far from the shining example set by his sainted grandmother, he cheerfully invented whole passages of gospel based on events in his own drunken life. These passages frequently contained self-serving justifications for his own tyranny and ruthlessness."
"The Duke spent much of his time with his low-life cronies, practising at swordplay and extorting each other for trivial sums of money."
"When they were not fighting, they were drinking, and when they were not drinking they were feasting even as the people outside starved."
"His feasts became so debauched the half of his realm that had a sense of shame refused to attend, leaving only his closest cronies and minions."
"Aye, any days of revolution and insecurity over power were far behind him. Now he was the authority and abused that position as it suited him."
"Which lead to the tale of Lorraine Rae,"
"Duke Ernst and ten of his wild friends set off into the woods, a frenzied hunt for whatever they could catch. The hounds scented a peasant girl by the name of Lorraine Rae and, uncaring and heedless, the mad nobles chased her down. They laughed and drank as the girl was torn screaming apart by the hounds, and then they dragged her corpse back to her village and tossed it down the well.
"The entire town had to move as the water was tainted. Now it stands as a ghost-village, a cursed town with a poisoned well, where the voice of Lorraine Rae still echoes."
"But Man is not an evil beast by nature, and guilt can burden even a tyrant's heart. Sadly, this makes them guarded and defensive and mad, seeing the entire world as empty and hostile as their own black hearts. The Duke became extremely paranoid about spirits and ghosts - rather than making amends to those who haunted him, he sought to ward them off with black magic and occultism.
"Countess Christina would have been ashamed."
"Every mistake or joke was seen as a plot and met with violent retribution."
"He even became convinced that the heir to the Ylving Dynasty was plotting revenge against him, and began scheming in kind."
"But when the King invited him to his feast, he took the opportunity to present his demands: Imprison Count Mads for daring to conspire against him or be considered to support him."
"Into the dungeon went the last heir of Ylving."
"Gratitude being as foreign to Duke Ernst as justice, he did not even hesitate in continuing to conspire against the King himself."
"If there was one consolation in all this, Duke Ernst was no longer a young man, and no longer as determined and swift to crush all opposition. Complacent in his noble halls, he has become weak."
"And we, the Merry Men of Fyn will hold him to account for that weakness."