New Russian Chronicles
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The Rad reign

All hail Rad Dukas, Count of Serdica, Prince of Tyrnovo, Prince of Wallachia, titles titles and King of Bulgaria!

The boy had in fact been informed, at some point, that he was in the line of succession. But that was back when he was a child, and “line of succession” was a terribly abstract concept, enemy of going out and playing.

Years later he had been told by his tutors that, because his uncle was childless, it could very well be that he’d become the king. But by that time he only had time for two things, his studies in theology, and his passion for another fosterling in the Byzantine court.

So used had he become to receiving upon demand and to receive without demand that, when he was summoned before the Emperor so he would give him the news himself, that his uncle had passed away from hydropesia, all he had to say was “Good”. It was only when he saw one of his tutors going white that he remembered protocol.
And so he returned to rule a land he vaguely remembered.

His first actions were to actualize the alliance with Byzantion, and to begin to take stock of his kingdom. But that was not an easy task. Not only did he have trouble with the way his advisors spoke, so different from the refined Greek of the Byzantine court, but his mind was firmly elsewhere.
All his thoughts were for his beloved, a Russian princess sent to Byzantion at a young age. The fear and solitude of their early days in a foreign court had bonded them in a way few can understand. That is why, upon taking the Bulgarian crown he suffered something he was definitely unusued to: being told that he couldn’t have something he wanted. He would have had no compunction in using any method, any treachery a king can use to get her, and only the terrified looks of his advisors stopped him. That and them telling them that they would declare it madness and simply disregard such orders. She’s far away now, they told him. Better to forget her.

It would be normal to assume that someone as religious and versed in theology as rad would turn to praying in such a circumstance. But studying theology, if it had made the boy just, it had also convinced him that prayer was for illiterate peasants who didn’t know any better, and so he turned to something different. Joining quill and parchement, and trying to join feeling with verse, he turned to poetry.

His poetry is, still to this day, remembered by the name of his first composition, “συναισθηματική ποίηση”, read as “Emotionalnikos poesios”, or emo for short. Scholars say that, if it hadn’t been penned by a king, it would probably have been object of much amusement among contemporaries.

His next step as king was to marry. His advisors found that mending relations with their powerful western neighbors, Croatia, would be a good idea, and so they found princess Efrosina,a beautiful and intelligent young woman who had served under his father as mistress of the coin since her coming of age, a role she’d still perform for Bulgaria.
Rad could have chosen to turn down his marriage duty, to the happiness of his vassals. But he had plans for that gold.

Perhaps the most bitter sweet moment of his early reign was the rebellion at Gallaz. This minor peasant uprising in the county of a vassal of the German king had served as an excuse to bring together the courts of several different kingdoms and princedoms. The king couldn’t believe it, an occassion to see her beloved. His passions running high, he dreamed of sneaking into her chamber. In the end, however, he decided that prudence was the best part of valour. It wouldn’t do to provoke an unwarranted war with a Russian prince. Perhaps, his advisors thought, the boy was maturing and gaining wisdom.

But wisdom and maturity have a way of fading away in the presence of alcohol. After some cups of wine they were seen to speak too closely, to confide too intimately. Nothing objectable happened during the banquet that night, if only because the advisors of both rulers intevened, both to keep the lovers apart and to keep her husband from knowing. One thing is for sure, that was the very last time Rad was to see her or hear from her. Even years later, when he would ask about her to some Russian courtisan he would only meet ignorance and evasive answers.

Some inconsolable weeks the boy king passed. But in the end, he was back on his feet and, perhaps to forget his pain, he started taking all the interest in his kingdom.
Perhaps it was his nature, perhaps he had started noticing the charms of his own bride or perhaps the memory of how he had lusted after someone else’s wife and his own just natured made him tolerant and forgiving, when rumours reached his ears that his wife liked the company of other men in court.

“What harm can there be?” – he answered. “She knows her duties, of that I have no doubt”. A gesture that established some trust, and a certain truce, between the unhappy lovers.

But not everybody is so forgiving. Almost a year later, the prince of Vidin brought out the topic during a tourney, publicly scorning the king. Rad didn’t hold his tongue.
Hurting remarks turn into harsh words, and these, very quickly, into threats. In the end, cooler heads prevail, but a seed is planted, and Rad starts planning a war against Vidin.

But those plans have to be postponed, however. Barely 3 months later the Byzantine empire starts yet another war for some completely spurious reason, this time, luckily for the Empire, with a faraway kingdom, Bohemia. It is not so lucky for Bulgaria, though, as it is much closer to Bohemia.

But Rad stands resolute: he will not go to war with a kingdom that he holds friendly relationships with, not for spurious reason, not for a reckless ally, and not to risk his kingdom in the stead of others. The final missive to Byzantion is notably more polite than this, but Rad makes his point to the Emperor: Get a grip.

One thing Rad didn’t want to sacrifice: the prosperity that these years of peace have brought. The extended peace, the efforts of the king and his coffers have brought to Serdica clotchmakers, dyers, glass blowers,a school, a library, a monastery, a Templar house, a sawmill and many other establishments, making Serdica the richest and most civilized urbe of the region.

The jewel of the crown, however, is the castle that Rad orders built around the thermal springs that make Serdica famous. It might not compare with the castles of the kings of western Europe, and it might be dwarfed by the palaces of Byzantion.
But it certainly places the King of Bulgaria far above any of his vassals, and earned him a footnote in history, a page in history by virtue of a local tourism initiative, “The first Castle of the Dukas dinasty, Shopshka region, Bulgaria.” True as day.

But in his time, the castle is a wonder of architecture, and the pride of the king.

One whispering in court runs still, that not even the feast to celebrate its completion can’t smother.
Is Rad afflicted with the curse of the Dukas? Is he, too, infertile?
————————————————————-
I know I’m interrupting a dramatic moment, but I think I must comment on the Fountain.

I liked The Fountain. It’s cool. The visuals are amazing. But it’s, perhaps, a bit too simbolic, and the simbolism is all over the place, so sometimes it’s difficult to follow. The message is nice, though, and the film doesn’t bore.

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