I started off as a simple Welsh count, controlling a small area of land in the shadow of the growing Norman power. If we did not unite as one country, under one king as the fiercely independent Welsh had only done once before, soon they would grow tired of conquering the Saxons’ land and turn towards us. Those around me were old, unambitious, and lacking stability in their houses while I was young and already had my pure-blood Welsh heir. It would be up to me to become the King of Wales.
But, for now, I was just a count. Holding the county of Gwent. I set my eyes on smaller prizes, marrying my son into the line of succession for Glamorgan, and sending my diplomat into Dyfed in an attempt to warm their leader’s opinion of my House. If I could gain control over these three pieces of land, I could declare myself the Duke of Deheubarth. A duke would have much more sway in the wild world of international politics, where status and prestige were second only to wealth. My wife had died years earlier after all, and I was still young enough to create more heirs. An alliance with a major power would be ideal, but nothing worthwhile I could attain while so low in the pecking order.
So I began to bide my time. I focused on building the infrastructure of my kingdom, bettering the lives of my subjects. When I had the opportunity I would throw a huge feast or celebrate the summer, sometimes go hunting for game and attempt to catch the legendary white stag. I was fated to be the king, the stag was clearly in the cards.
Years passed, and my kingdom did not grow. Dynasties did not become legendary in a torrential downpour, it took a steady trickle between stones. I did not wish to wait. I called my best spy and sent him to the neighboring county. When he returned, he was no longer a spy, but an assassin. With the count dead, and no other sons or male relatives to challenge for the throne, my own son came to power. My family was now in control of most of south Wales. While I kept the guise up that I was a benevolent leader, I sent my diplomat into the last southern holdout. The stubborn old count refused to listen to logic or reason and become my vassal, so my diplomat assured me he could convince the proles that I held a legitimate claim to his seat. It took more than a year, but it gave me time to raise and train my armies. By the time I heard news that the peasants considered my claim to be just, my military might was enough to crush any cursory resistance.
I fed power the mountain of bodies it always needs, and I had become a Duke.
Now, I could make my move. I arranged a marriage for myself into the most powerful realm of the land- the Holy Roman Empire. My wealth and power made me an attractive choice for the Emperor’s third youngest daughter. Age difference, shmage difference—it is the middle ages. Besides, my family would not be holding their crown anytime soon, and they were an important ally to scare off the rising Norman tide. My might may be enough to unify a few squabbling groups of Welshman, but against one mass of screaming Norman knights? Not quite yet.
After that, we had our foothold. The Queen and I fought, negotiated, and schemed our way through the northern lands. We had our agents sow rebellion in one county so that we could invade and claim it without the Pope making angry Pope faces at us from halfway across the world. We defeated the second in open battle with a battalion of Empire troops, and the third intelligently accepted our offer of vassalization. In the the four years it took to become the true King of Wales, my wife provided me with three more sons. I was sitting on the throne imagining the possibilities that some careful planning and smart betrothals could lead to. The alliances I could form with Scotland and the Irish kings, and perhaps even with the Normans and their England. It was during this heady joy that my spymaster came bounding through the halls.
There was a plot against my son’s life. Someone within my very court was attempting to kill the heir to the freshly formed Kingdom.
My own wife.
I had slighted her by fathering a pair of bastards with a young courtesan, but that wasn’t why she sought for my son’s life. She wanted her own children on the throne—typical Germanic ambition. It, like power, needed to be fed with blood. What could I do? I could not let her plot against my son. I also could not trot her out into Cardiff and lop her damned head off to send a message. The entire army of the Empire would descent on me like flies on a dead horse. Banishment then. It angered her family and fractured our alliance, but with her still alive her brother the Emperor would not deem it worth it to bring the fight to us. Not with battles against the French raging on their borders.
My son thanked me for saving his life by demanding half of my lands, already anxious to see me in the grave. I’m sure he is the one that killed me in the end, although any number of angry vassals under my rule could have been the one that stabbed me in the back. You do not make friends on your road to the top. Of course, without the might of the Holy Roman Empire backing our line, my son was forced to lead our armies himself when the Normans finally came knocking. I had spent so much time ruling that I had not realized how little my son learned from his tutors, and he had turned out to be half the leader I was, which was barely a tenth of the leader we needed. Before my grandchildren even had a chance to extend the bloodline, the Normans promptly swept the Kingdom of Wales into the sea. For the second time in thirty years, a united Wales had fallen to its own internal disease.
And that is exactly why I love this game.