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.