Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
This is the name used by the Saxons of the Siebenburgen; it is also known as Székelyföld to the Hungarians (as well as the Szeklers themselves) and Ținutul Secuiesc to the Vlachs.
This borderland was granted to the Szeklers (also known as the Székely) by King Bela III of Hungary, in return for their pledge to protect his Transylvanian holdings against the raids by Cumans, Pechenegs and the independent Vlach lords south of the Carpathians. The land is hemmed in by jagged, nigh impassable mountains. The valleys in the south-eastern and eastern interior are difficult to traverse, and rough, steep hills and gulleys at their feet provide considerable cover for various Vlach hill folk, bandits and disinherited nobles. The interior of Szeklerland consists of low, rolling hills and a great deal of forest. Land has been cleared to make pasture for the tough horses prized by the Szeklers, and many of them keep sheep and goats as well. The settled life is coming slowly to the Székely, who continue to take great pride in their rough and ready nomadic roots.
In the south-east and the east, two treacherous passes head into the lands of Cumania and the plain of the Siret river basin. The first, known as the Törött (or Broken) pass, is particularly rugged, with room for only one horse at a time. It freezes late in the autumn and does not become safe until late in the spring. Although it is difficult going, it has often been used by Cumans and Pechenegs hoping to skirt the more heavily travelled (and readily watched) Buzău pass that borders Szeklerland and the Burgraviate of Kronstadt. The second, known as the Bostral pass, is far broader than the Törött. In theory, it is much safer, but it is avoided due to the tales told of the wicked folk over the mountain, and the demons that rule them from the caves known as the Vrance. The Bostral tends to remain open into the first month of winter, and is clear by the second month of spring.
The aforementioned Buzău pass, sometimes referred to as the Kronstadt pass or the Argeș pass, is one of the safest and gentlest passes into the Transylvanian basin. While initially a possession of the the border chieftains, it proved to be a difficult pass for the thinly spread Székely to cover, and in the mid 12th century it was granted to the incoming Saxons of Kronstadt to manage. The loss of their primary charge is still a sore point of pride for the Szeklers, and they hope to have the king’s confidence in their abilities restored when the Saxons inevitably fail. Indeed, for many years the well-armed and equipped soldiers of Kronstadt were able to secure the pass, but since the turn of the 13th century, the pressure from Cuman raids has grown steadily worse. King Andrew II seeks a more effective solution, and the Székely, now a much stronger and more cohesive political entity, have sought to regain their charter.
Unlike the magyars of Hungary proper, the Székely have been slow to adopt Westernisation. While they tend to settle in small communities, they have little regard for agriculture and instead raise horses, cattle and sheep. Only the poorest and least able men till the field, and they have few rights. The Szekler’s claim descent from the Hunnic horde. They are a martial society; a person’s worth is measured by their bravery and skill in battle, the number of horses and swords at their command, and the reputation garnered by victory on the field. While clan rulership is not hereditary, the likelihood of leadership passing on to a chieftain’s son happens more often than not, as most főnöki strive to leave a legacy through their children. For the most part, lands owned by lóföki and common Székely are redistributed among the clansmen when they are no longer in use. However, as the Szeklers become more feudal in their outlook, the notion of tying the commoners to the land of their betters is beginning to take root.
Few Szeklers ride into battle wearing anything heaver than leather, and they favour the spear, the sabre and the bow to the lance, the sword and and the crossbow. Their mounts are descended from hardy, sure-footed steppe ponies rather than the increasingly prominent destriers that the Hungarians now favour. Rather than massed battle, they favour skirmishing tactics like their frequent enemies, the Cumans and the Pechenegs.
Political Dynamics: More than two score Szekler clans hold the Székelyföld against all comers. There is little sense of unity, other than this intense desire to hold their ground. When they are not patrolling the borders or away fighting the wars of the Hungarian king, they raid each other relentlessly. Deaths among the chieftains and their privileged supporters are rare, for ransoms are a matter of course. Those too poor to own a horse or afford the upkeep of good arms are less fortunate. These incessant small wars drain the Szeklers of able bodies, but those who survive are strong and hard, able to face dangers from which more settled men would surely run. Outsiders are often surprised to discover that in the decades since they took the Székelyföld, there has been no outbreak of large scale civil war among its peoples. Those more informed will tell them that they police their own to prevent such calamity, both out of fear of the Hungarian king as well as knowledge of the revenge that their enemies would take if they allowed themselves to become weak.
The clans are organised along military lines and led by a főnök (chief). The chieftains rule by dint of military skill, political cunning and personal wealth. Power is not necessarily hereditary, but most attempt to create legacies that strengthen their descendants. A strong chieftain can rule like a king, and set their children up with all the advantages necessary for them to carry on in the same manner. However, the Székely are a hard, unforgiving people who punish incompetence and weakness in no uncertain terms.
Beneath the chieftains are their privileged followers, known as lófök (horse-heads). Invariably, these men have good land, a surfeit of mounts, and a number of poorer or less fortunate men to back them. More of than not, they are relatives and friends of the chieftain, who tends to mete out largesse in reward for loyalty. In large part then, the horse heads owe their position to the beneficence of their főnök and they tend to be grateful while he is strong and successful.
Men who cannot afford to ride into battle, and especially those who cannot maintain their equipment, are given little regard in Szekler society. Increasingly, they are becoming relegated to a serf-like state, and this is driving many to seek a trade in the growing Szekler towns.
The Hungarian king appoints an Ispán (or count) to oversee the Szeklers. They are required to swear fealty to the king through this man, and he is the only chief resident in all of Szeklerland who enjoys the honour of being able to call the banners of all the clans. In practice, however, the true power of the position has thus far proven to lie in the office, not the man…
Count of the Szeklers: This noble, a “royal servant” who rules at the king’s pleasure, is always a Magyar with significant holdings in Hungary proper rather one of the Székely. This is for three reasons: firstly, having a servant so far away from his primary holdings makes it easy to confiscate them if he is disloyal; secondly, putting an outsider in charge of his ferocious Szekler allies both prevents them from banding under one of their own and limits his capacity to turn traitor; and lastly, rewarding a loyal servant with the generous revenues of the office ensures capable, loyal and reasonably incorruptible proxies in a region noted for its wealth in gold, silver and salt.
The Count is responsible for leading the Szeklers in times of war, and for coordinating punitive forays across the borders in times of peace. More commonly, he adjudicates disputes between the chieftains, and is also considered the highest judge in Szeklerland. If a local magnate or judge rules against a man of influence such as a lófök, he may appeal to have his case heard by the Count before judgement s carried out. As payment for his duties, the count enjoys the right to administrate the royal domains within Szeklerland (including the mines), and may take one third of all revenues for his own.
The current Count of the Szeklers is Tamás Zsoldos, a Magyar noble with lands along the Danube south of Buda-Pest, He loyally supported King Andrew in the dynastic disputes with his brother, Emeric, and received his post when the throne changed hands in 1205. The previous count, István Szabo (ruled 1192-1205), was a partisan of Emeric, and has since returned to his lands near Esztergom. A lonely widower, Tamás wed Anna, the daughter of Ferenc Bőti of Sekulvasarhel in 1207. He spends much of his time trying to assist Szekler chieftains north of Bőti’s city against the Vlach insurgents in the heartland south-west of Reghin and along the banks of the Maros river..
There are dozens of small villages, thorpes and semi-nomadic camps dotting the Székelyföld. Even the most densely populated have no more than 200 souls, and the trades and services on offer are meagre. It is rare to find an inn with more than a couple of rooms, for most travelling Szeklers are in the habit of either camping, or staying with extended family and friends when they travel. Only five settlements of any size exist in Szeklerland, and all are ruled by powerful chieftains who understand the importance of trade and the people who bring it with them.
Sekulvasarhel: a market town on the left bank of the Maros (aka Mureș) river, in the far north and west of Szeklerland. Some 750 hardy souls hunker behind earthwork ditches, a strong wooden palisade and a small wooden keep. The borderlands immediately to the north of Sekulvasarhel have long been troubled by sporadic small wars between recalcitrant Vlach insurgents and the bellicose Hungarian warlord of Reghin. In actuality, this conflct masks the hostilities between two powerful Tzimisce lords: Vlad Ionescu, who styles himself the Voivode of Mureș, and Visya, who has taken the somewhat erroneous title of Voivode of the Szeklers. The mortal chieftain of Sekulvasarhel is Ferenc Bőti. He is a skilled captain, with a solid grounding in both the skirmish tactics common to his own people and the more standardised fighting style of the more Westernised magyars.
Csíkszereda: a small town of perhaps 600 people situated in a low valley running along the north-south axis. Like Sekulvasarhel, it is protected by earthwork ditches and a palisade. The chieftains motte and bailey keep sits in the centre of the town. It is primarily used as a livestock market; the local clans excel at breeding the tough ponies that the Szeklers rely on for their warcraft. The region is otherwise notable for the Dacian ruins in the hills and valleys of the Carpathian hinterland, as well as the large numbers of wolves that plague the folk here. A number of Tzimisce knezi , much reduced in their power since the arrival of the Szeklers and the Arpad Ventrue, continue to hang on to their tenuous demesnes from the safety of their mountain labyrinths. Although they lack the numbers to take back their land, they direct their mortal thralls to harry the Szeklers however they might. As a result, the local chieftains here are especially suspicious of strangers, and quickly moved to violence. Manó Kegyetli, the ruler of Csíkszereda, is an especially vicious exemplar of a people known for their warlike and harsh ways.
Sepsiszentgyörgy: the most recently established of the townships of the Székelyföld, this settlement has fast become the largest and most progressive. Indeed, the settlement was only formed in 1193, as the Szeklers of the Sebeș, near Alba Iulia, were moved here to make way for Saxon settlers fleeing the troubles of Hermannstadt. Szentgyörgy is situated on the Olt river, on relatively flat and very fertile ground, much of the woods are in the process of being cleared to make way for farmland. The relative proximity of the prosperous, powerful Saxon city of Kronstadt and its stable trade route to the south has prompted a great many greedy and ambitious Szeklers to make their home here. Much of the livestock, salt and minerals of Szeklerland makes its way through the market here on their way to elsewhere. King Andrew’s Transylvanian Auditor of Mines, Ipoch Kán, also has a base here, in a heavily guarded tower. The centre of Szentgyörgy has a fortified church dedicated to St. George, and the settlement is surrounded by a strongly defended palisade anchored by a wooden keep. A little over 950 souls reside here, with as many as 200 more visiting on market days. The local ruler, László Kopasz, is as clever as he is greedy. He is allied with Ipoch, and their dual influence has seen the rapid rise of the frontier town. Both are in turn courted by the cunning Ventrue Wiprecht von Lübben, who owes fealty to Prince Vencel Rikard of Buda-Pest. His progeny, Brother Adalbert claims domain over a small settlement in the no-man’s land between Szentgyörgy and the Kronstadt-Schaasburg road, just outside the recognised borders of Szeklerland.
Székelyudvarhel: By virtue of its relative proximity to Schaasburg, this small town of some 650 people enjoys relative stability and insulation from the frontier hardships of some of the outlying towns. It sits in a picturesque low valley, following the curvature of the hills from north-east to south-west. Like its sister settlements, a palisade surrounds the settlement, and a wooden keep stands atop a hill to the south of the town. Hot springs in the hills nearby are said to have healing properties, and Saxons, Szeklers and even Magyars journey to the small town in order to take advantage of them. The local chieftain, Osvát Bölcs, is noted for his willingness to cater to the needs of these travellers, and Udvarhel boasts more inns and entertainment than its neighbours. Osvát is in the process of raising funds to create a fortified church, and hopes to ring the town with a stone wall afterwards. No Cainites are known to dwell here permanently, but the Ventrue Simon Losonci, progeny of Vencel Rikard, sometimes meets here with Pedrag Hasek, childe of Nova Arpad, so that they might coordinate their spheres of influence.
Gyergyószentmiklós: A trade and military outpost in the far-north-east of Szeklerland, this settlement of 450 people is the last strong-point before the Bostral pass, the castle of Toth, and the hostile lands beyond. It is a particularly rugged and harsh place, forever in a state of military readiness in case the lord of Toth should fail in his duty to ward the pass. Gyergyószentmiklós has little industry; the Székely here cleave even more to the traditional stereotypes than elsewhere in the föld. The ruler is Kázmér Mezei, a chieftain with a formidable reputation on the battlefield but little imagination for anything else. The settlement is little more than a motte and bailey keep with a crude curtain palisade to protect the other residents of the town.