16 As I gathered my valour - 1213
My days at the merchant stand prolong, and I tend to sleep through the days, forcing me to relive my younger years each time I dare close my eyes.
Mankind, I believe, though a good storyteller, is not always a reliable historian. And although not everything of interest is lost, an affair may be occasionally invested with a glamour that is not wholly its own. Personally, I venture to think that battle and war have fortuned in this particularly. Rash stories and heroic tales are often mentioned to us throughout our entire childhood, so we are inclined to base our ideas of being a warrior on the tales of knights and princesses.
1213 - Konstanz
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It was our third year in Italy. The southern German border would soon fall under my reign. The roundabout route through the outskirts of the mountains had delayed our march towards Bodensee for several weeks.
The city was called Konstanz, and I knew it as a mere centimetre of a familiar map, studied under the lamplight of a single lantern across from a group of bent heads.
The grass was thick and soft on either side of me. Hills rolled out around us, flowing one into another, as the sun peaked out behind them. We had ridden from a pre-dawn departure, but by the time we got close to the pile bridge over the Seerhein, there was plenty of light to differentiate rise from flat and grass from the sky.
My force had been making wonderful time when the crest of a western hill detached itself as a moving line that thickened and began to glint with silver and blue.
Phillip, riding at the head of his column, reined in, turning to one side. Beside him, I did the same, my eyes never leaving the hill. I heaved my hand and Louis called for a troop-wide halt. The Duke of Bavaria had spotted our opponent as well. Fierce, callous, cunning in the best of ways, with a face of the soil, grey eyes, the shoulders of a swordsman and thirty-five years of age, Louis had a remarkable intuition and was unyielding on the battlefield.
Blue, the colour of the usurper, Otto of Brunswick, scrawled over the hills with the iconography of his house. These were the banners of Konstanz and the usurper's guard. Men and riders, flowing over the hilltop like water from an over-full cup. Spreading out over the western horizon.
It was possible to roughly estimate numbers, five or six hundred man infantry, four lots of two hundred-and-fifty horses. Judging from what I had been told of the lodgings at the city, this was, in fact, Konstanz full contingent of horses, and a lesser but substantial portion of its infantry.
My own horse moved skittishly under me as the forces on the hill began to split into a widening v-shape.
"They're moving to flank us," Louis came up to us. The man's peering eyes seemed to be put aflame under his thick brown eyebrows. Julius and Auguste, the captain of my guard, soon followed. Auguste was one of the biggest men I had ever seen, with wide shoulders and bicepses as thick as my thighs that wielded a Brobdingnagian spear. While a local habitant may have found the slightest hint of an accent with only the greatest of efforts, his thick hair betrayed his foreign decent. The stout locks, as red as the ensigns upon his sparse armour, lay on his back in a burdensome, heavy braid and formed a short, thick beard around his chin.
"There's still a path open to us, to the south," said Julius.
"No," I regarded the enemy's flank, "we'll be cut off."
A parcel of men detached itself from our opponent's main column and began making right for us.
"You two," I said and dug my heels into my horse. Phillip and Louis followed. Auguste seemed eager to protest but the devoted man remained silent as he bit away any remark concerning my safety.
We rode out over the long straws of grass to meet the leader of the enemy' army. The party was led by Lord Guichard II, Governor of Konstanz, beside him his councillor and captain.
"A fine morning," I greeted them.
Lord Guichard said nothing, as impassive as the cloaked, armoured riders in the distance behind him. Though his scarred face was cold with contempt.
"I am rather surprised to see the usurper himself isn't among you," I said, "I expected him to ride out."
"Why would his Imperial Majesty ride out to meet a traitor? Your claim upon the throne has in-stabilised entire regions," Guichard said.
"That's a pity, I looked forward to seeing that bastard mishap upon-" I stopped, reconsidering my words. If I were to act rashly, it may give them reason to fight. I had had the luck to meet near no resistance in Italy; if only the same could be accomplished in Germany. So I said; "my claim is supported by Innocent III himself, I was elected in absentia as German King by the German nobility. Surely the usurper has heard of this."
"Not recognised by us," the other man said. He grinned, stretching the thin cicatrice in a rather disturbing manner, "but by a rebellious noble faction, backed by the pope. A pope, I reckon, who crowned his eminence as the Holy Roman Emperor but three years ago."
"And excommunicated him, six months ago," I looked about me, "which is the only reason he is forced to remain here in Germany isn't it?"
"His eminence is prepared to open negotiations, if you were to accept his terms, some -"
"We do not care for his terms," Louis interrupted. The duke's features were a mask of amusement as he straightened his posture, the double-handed sword on his back sticking out slightly above his shoulders.
"How dare you meddle!"
"You should show respect. You were addressing your future emperor."
Guichard turned to me, "keep your Bavarian dog in check, he spoke out of turn."
"I will be the judge of that."
The man would remain unmoved in his convictions, so after a while, both sides returned to their respective army's, readying themselves for the upcoming confrontation.
I reminisced the last time I had found myself in the direct line of battle. It had been long since the raid, yet ever since then, I had kept a distance between me and the fighting. Swallowing, I envisioned the body of the nameless man that had been lying under to me in the basin as I hid away behind a mount of mud. I had promised myself it had been the last time my reaction would be that unsightly.
I was to be Holy Roman Emperor; I would not cry when I felled another.
As I came to this conclusion, I took a deep breath, subtly ushered Auguste to a more private conversation and glanced at Phillip - commanding the east flank in the distance - as I spoke, "I will join the ranks for the remainder of the battle."
The man raised an eyebrow, "you wish to fight, your majesty?"
I nodded, keeping my gaze on the enemy beneath me. Auguste' expression shifted, a breath from deep within his chest welled up.
"Understood." He pulled his horse back and signalled towards his men. I leaned forward in my saddle and let my mount gallop down the hill towards the battlefield, Auguste on my heels.