Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

image of Xenograg
(Art by Isaura Simon)

Trying to Win Wars by Half-Doing

Asked to give his verdict on the foreign policy of Queen Elizabeth, Sir Walter Raleigh replied that: “Her Majesty did all by halves.” It was a fair criticism, but it was one which could be levelled against every European ruler at the time: against the kings of France and Spain, the German Protestant princes, even against the [Dutch] States General. None of them would or could put all their eggs in one basket. All of them tried to win their wars by “half-doing”. The casual character, the insouciance, of the Eighty Years’ War in particular stands out as one of its most important and most persistent traits.

Yet what alternative was there? Certainly the fate of the Netherlands was important to Spain, England, France and Germany, but was it more important than their commitments or ambitions elsewhere? Should England abandon her position in Ireland in order to support the Dutch; should Spain neglect the defence of the Mediterranean in order to suppress the revolt in the Low Countries? These were real choices, for no European state in the early modern period possessed sufficient resources to fight effectively in the Netherlands and also attain its political objectives elsewhere. The policies of the various major combatants in the Low Countries’ Wars must therefore be considered within the context of their overall foreign ambitions and overseas commitments; changes in one were normally linked with changes in the other; the course of the war was often affected by events far outside the Netherlands. From the very first, as we shall see, the Dutch Revolt was a problem which no government could tackle in isolation.

The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road 1567-1659, p. 231

The Dream of Taliesin

“There is a land,” he said, “a land shining with goodness where each man protects his brother’s dignity as readily as his own, where war and want have ceased and all tribes live under the same law of love and honor. It is a land bright with truth, where a man’s word is his pledge and falsehood is banished, where children sleep safe in their mothers’ arms and never know fear or pain.”

“It is a land where kings extend their hands in justice rather than reach for the sword; where mercy, kindness, and compassion flow like deep water, and men revere virtue, revere truth, revere beauty above comfort, pleasure, or selfish gain. A land where peace reigns in the hearts of men, where faith blazes like a beacon from every hill and love like a fire from every hearth; where the True God is worshipped and his ways acclaimed by all.”

“This is the Dream of Taliesin, Chief Bard of Britain. If you would know this land, know this: it is the Kingdom of Summer, and its name is Avalon….”

Avalon: the Return of King Arthur, Chapter 22

A King Expects To Be Followed

…[Red William] did not look back to see if the rest of them followed. A king learned to expect it.

King’s Blood, Chapter 8

Captains Held Enormous Power Over Their Companies

Every captain in an early modern army held enormous power over the rank and file of his company. In absolute charge of discipline he could flog, fine, or otherwise humiliate his men whenever he chose; because he alone decided who should perform sentry guard and other onerous duties, the captain was free to victimize the men he disliked and excuse his friends…. [Without] interference from above, [a Spanish Empire] captain chose the two sergeants and eight corporals of his company (the cabos de escuadra or corporals were in charge of twenty-five men and received a wage-bonus of 3 escudos each per month), and he distributed at his pleasure 30 escudos of treasury bonus-pay among his men. As if this were not enough, the insolvency of the military treasury made the company captains into money-lenders and welfare-officers as well. Every company had a chest (caja) kept by the captain and used by him to advance subsistence wages (the socorro) to necessitous men when no money arrived from the treasury. The captains were also responsible for ransoming, re-arming, or re-horsing any of their men who had the misfortune to lose their liberty, their weapons, or their mounts. Naturally when the treasury did contrive to pay an [installment] of wages the captains expected to receive it first in order to deduct the sums already advanced “on account”. The scheme was excellent in principle, but it assumed that all captains were honest and scrupulous men. Of course they were not…. “The arrangements for paying the troops played right into the eager hands of the captains, who took full advantage of the generous opportunities afforded them.”

The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road 1567-1659, p. 160

Not All Recruits Were Base-born: the Gentleman-rankers

Not all recruits were destitute or base-born, however. The Army of Flanders, especially in the sixteenth century [C.E.], needed quality as well as quantity; men who excelled in single combat, in the “actions” of the war, were required as well as cannon-fodder for the great battles. Every captain therefore tried to enlist a number of gentlemen (particulares) to serve as common soldiers in his company, offering a bonus-pay (ventaja) to every gentleman who agreed to do so. Some of these volunteers would be the relatives of the captain, others would no doubt be poor gentry unable to gain a living in other ways (Spanish gentlemen were not supposed to demean themselves by manual labour or commercial transactions), others still would be aspiring noblemen who began their military service in the ranks and hoped before long to rise to a position of command.

Most army commanders set the highest value upon these gentleman-rankers. The duke of Alva, for example, was overjoyed to find that a large number of particulares had volunteered to serve in the Spanish infantry which he led to the Netherlands in 1567.

Soldiers of this calibre [wrote Alva] are the men who win victory in the “actions” and with whom the General establishes the requisite discipline among the troops. In our nation nothing is more important than to introduce gentlemen and men of substance into the infantry so that all is not left in the hands of labourers and lackeys.

Throughout the Eighty Years’ War the same sentiment was expressed in remarkably similar terms. As late as 1640, for example, a Netherlander—and a civilian at that—could write:

Gentleman-rankers…are the people who bear the brunt of the battles and sieges, as we have seen on many occasions, and who by their example oblige and enliven the rest of the soldiers (who have less sense of duty) to stand fast and fight with courage.

Service as a volunteer among the infantry was particularly popular among the Spanish gentry, but particulares were also to be found in considerable numbers in the ranks of other “nations”. The English units in the Army of Flanders, for example, regularly included Catesbys, Treshams and other members of the leading recusant gentry families—including Guy Fawkes. Not all these gentleman-rankers were poor. On one celebrated occasion the Emperor Charles V lent additional dignity to the military profession by himself taking up a pike and marching with his men; later, in the 1590s, the dukes of Osuna and Pastrana and the prince of Asculi, scions of the most illustrious houses of Spain, were all to be found serving as simple soldiers in the Army of Flanders. Naturally these volunteers, especially the nobles, aspired to an eventual position of command, but they first received an admirable apprenticeship and, in addition, their presence in the ranks helped to maintain morale and reduce insubordination. In this way the Spanish Habsburgs assembled armies which were supremely capable of victory without resort to any compulsion.

The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road 1567-1659, pp. 40-41

Emphasis mine.

Any Troops Could Fight a Battle But It Requires Trained Veterans to Win a Skirmish

Although military historians have tended to confine their attention to the formal engagements of the war [in the Low Countries], to the sieges, battles and major manoeuvres, these events formed only the tip of the iceberg of military conflict. Beneath the interplay of the big battalions, at least until 1590 [C.E.], smaller parties of troops fought, intrigued and killed ceaselessly for the control of villages. Spain’s piecemeal reconquest of the areas in rebellion in the first phase of the war created a jagged “floating” frontier, running from one fortified town to another, from one village to the next. Until 1594 the frontier ran from Groningen in the north down to Liège and then westwards to the Flemish sea-coast. All along this invisible line hostile parties of troops conducted a gruelling war of skirmish and surprise. In this situation…war became a matter of “fights, encounters, skirmishes, ambushes, an occasional battle, minor sieges, assaults, escalades, captures and surprises of towns”. It resembled a series of uncoordinated guerilla conflicts rather than a single full-scale war.

These localized dog-fights, this guerre aux vaches, was a highly intensive and exhausting form of warfare. It called for troops with an unusually high degree of endurance and experience. In battles or mass manoeuvres a commander required from his men corporate discipline, good order, careful drilling in certain collective movements and above all stoicism under fire. By contrast, for the skirmish and surprise of guerilla fighting, discipline and unit-organization hardly mattered: the critical qualities were independent excellence and complete familiarity with weapons.

Sixteenth-century commanders and military commentators naturally realized that these different forms of warfare required different types of soldier: one for routine garrison duty and mass manoeuvres, the other for guerilla action. On the whole they agreed that it was more difficult to find troops who excelled in skirmish-and-surprise, in what the English called the “actions” of war. For that veterans were required. The duke of Alva always insisted that some trained troops were indispensable for success in the Low Countries’ Wars because “One cannot fight any ‘actions’ with other troops—unless it comes to a pitched battle where entire formations are engaged.” To the duke’s mind (and he had a lifetime of experience to draw on) any troops could fight a battle but it required trained veterans to win a skirmish.

The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road 1567-1659, pp. 12-13

Emphases mine.

Shall we say “adventurers?” 🙂

It Is Never Too Early to Teach a Future King

Some time in 1614 [C.E.] a complete set of toy soldiers, made of wood, was presented to the young prince of Spain, later King Philip IV. There were regiments and companies with their various banners, weapons and equipment, there were horses and cannon for the artillery, even the distinctive shops and tents of the armourers, sutlers and barbers who followed every army. Special materials were included for the construction of artificial lakes, forests and pontoon bridges, and there was a toy castle for the “army” to besiege. And this, the first child’s “war-game” known in Europe, was proudly described by its inventor in a special publication in Spanish and Latin. The toy was no less grandiose in intention than in execution: it was to give education as well as enjoyment. “This army will be no less useful than entertaining” the designer, one Alberto Struzzi, wrote to the prince. “From it one may observe the expenditure which is necessary if a King is to emerge victorious, and how if money (which is the sinews of war) fails, the prince’s intentions cannot be achieved.” Armies which are not paid invariably fall prey to disorders, desertion and defeat, warned the inventor.

The ultimate aim of this war-game was to make Prince Philip aware of the existence of the Spanish Netherlands and of the army which defended them. The prince’s splendid toy was in fact a perfect replica of the most famous army of the day, the Army of Flanders, maintained by Spain in the Low Countries since 1567. It was never too early to teach a future king of Spain that his power was underpinned largely by military strength and that his armies could function only for as long as they were paid.

The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road 1567-1659, pp. 3

Will You Give Me Your Prisoner, Or Must I Take Him?

[El Cid confronts the soldiers taking Prince Alfonso to the dungeons of Zamora.]
El Cid:
Will you give me your prisoner, or must I take him?
Guard Leader:
[incredulous] There are thirteen of us, and you are alone.
El Cid:
What you do is against God’s law. Were you thirteen times thirteen, I would not be alone!

— “El Cid” (1961)

That last line is a declaration of a D&D paladin, if there ever was one.

Good Men Don’t Need Rules

Madame Kovarian:
The anger of a good man is not a problem. Good men have too many rules.
The Doctor:
Good men don’t need rules. Today is not the day to find out why I have so many!

— “A Good Man Goes to War” – Doctor Who, Series 6 (2011)

Elemental Blade of Fire

This new original content is an Easter Egg for myself. One of the first, crude pieces of role-playing fiction I wrote back in 1983 was a powerful magical sword called the Elemental Blade of Fire. It was owned by Xenograg’s father, and disappeared when he died. Xenograg has always desired it for himself though for childish reasons. Other writings in recent years gave me a new insight into the “how?”, “why?”, and “where?” questions regarding this legendary item. Finally brought together to start the new year.

Without further ado, Elemental Blade of Fire.

Beasts Hold Important Offices in the Cosmic Order

Deeply distrustful of their powers of achievement, people do not seek salvation in the human sphere. Their main religious functionary, the shaman, travels to the world beyond to obtain a blessing. He must also shed his human rationality and obtain a state of superhuman frenzy; he is helped by animal familiars, for human strength is not sufficient to the task.

Beasts, altogether, hold important offices in the cosmic order. In a widespread myth, the world was formed when a bird brought some mud from the bottom of the sea. Beasts may create storms and winds. And the highest god of the Ainus is a bear.

The bear is the most sacred of all creatures, so holy that in some places his name must not be pronounced. When this noblest of all beings is killed, countless ceremonies are enacted to assuage the guilt of the human hunters. The bear is brought to the village where he is received in joy and reverence; the slayers try to overcome their shame and guilt in the rousing celebration of the “bear wedding” or “bear feast.” Seated in the place of honor, the beast is the Lord of the festivity. Throughout, the fiction is maintained that the bear is still alive, or that he himself had willed his death.

The Faces of the Goddess, p. 40

War Stories Always Forgot the Dust

The one thing war stories always forgot was the dust. Khârn learned that early, and the lesson stayed with him through the years. Even two men kicking up sand in the gladiator pits was a distraction. Two armies of a few thousand souls on an open plain would turn the air thick enough to choke on. Scale it up again, and a few hundred thousand warriors locked in conflict would darken the sun for a day after the battle was done.

But the realities of pitched warfare rarely made it into the sagas. In all the stories he’d heard, especially those woeful diatribes from the remembrancers, battle was reduced to a handful of heroes going blade-to-blade in the sunlight, while their nameless lessers looked on in stupefied awe.

It took a great deal to make Khârn cringe, but war poetry never failed.

…Visibility was a myth. It simply didn’t exist.

In ages past, when bronze swords had formed the pinnacle of humanity’s capacity to wage war against itself, mounted scouts tore through a battlefield’s dust clouds to relay information and orders between officers whose regiments were blinded in the thick of it. That was another truth that rarely survived to make into the archives.

Betrayer, Chapter 3

Transmuted From One Form Into Another

The great procession of the triumph passed under the Spatian Gate, and I marched with it, into the atrocity. That ceremonial arch, so splendid and massive, forms a threshold in the course of my life. I stepped across it and was remade, transmuted from one form into another.

Some have said that I was crippled beyond the measure of a man. I do not see it that way.

I believe I was liberated.

— Gideon Ravenor, preface to The Mirror of Smoke

Ravenor, preface

“Gideon Ravenor…suffered crippling injuries during an [atrocity] on Thracian Primaris, and was confined to a suspensor chair for the remainder of his life. His confinement only boosted his already formidable psyker abilities….”

Gideon Ravenor – Lexicanum

Once They Had Been Greater In Number

Each [spaceship], as it approached the landing site, was disguised in a different, beautiful illusion. A silver fish wound among the evening stars, singing a haunting aria. A golden dragon breathed bouquets of flowers. A sailing ship rode the air currents. A giant model of an atom made a stately descent. A pinwheel of fire spiraled through the night. They were dreamers and shapers, singers and makers.

Once they had been greater in number. Yet in the past, more had been drawn to them for power than for understanding. Now they were five hundred, dedicated to learning, sharing the beauty of magic, doing good. For once no mage was in serious violation of the Code, and no feuds between mages seemed likely to erupt into violence. They were far from perfect, to be sure—eccentric, opinionated, intense, quick to anger—but Elric had never been more proud of them.

When he had been elected to the Circle nine years earlier, his feelings toward the mages had subtly changed. Before that, they had been his colleagues, his order, his clan, his family. Now they were also his responsibility. Joining the Circle had been a great honor, yet it was also a great burden, in ways he could never have anticipated. The mages’ past, and their future, lay in his trust. It was his charge to keep them safe and whole and focused on the Code. He felt that responsibility keenly now.

The convocations were critical times of bonding and affirmation, and this one perhaps more than any other. The signs were uncertain, yet he felt a growing sense that things were changing, quietly but irrevocably, not only here on Soom but everywhere. A darkness was growing. The mages had to be unified in purpose and spirit, prepared for any danger that might threaten….

Casting Shadows, chapter 2

Artificial Distinctions In Fantasy Magic

From a practical point of view, most distinctions made between “magic,” “psychism,” “sorcery,” “witchcraft,” “psionics,” “shamanism,” or “miracle working” are simply not relevant to magic in the real world, although as artificial distinctions, the terms are useful for anthropological classification and to add variety in games.

Authentic Thaumaturgy, p. 19

Author’s emphasis.

Humanoids Would Wear Their Personal Wealth

Humanoids would wear their personal wealth as (gold|silver) chain necklaces rather than carry it as coins.

Magic Use Elicits Strong Reactions

Pondering one of my book excerpts, Performing Miracles, led to some jotted-down thoughts:

  • Public use of magic elicits strong reactions from everyone.
  • Usually fear but sometimes awe.
  • First impressions are critical.
  • Must overcome—or confirm—initial doubt and anxiety.
  • Awe can be just as troublesome as fear.
  • Consequences either way.

(I frequently take notes in bullet-point format.)

On the Living and the Dead

“The living fight the living. The dead fight the dead. They are not to fight each other. This is the Law.” — Xenograg

A Warrior Society Does Not Last Long if the Warriors Are Too Eager to Get Killed

…Afghanistan is largely a warrior society, especially among the majority of the population living out in the countryside. An Afghan goes to war not as a soldier, but as a warrior. As such, the Afghan warrior places more importance on honor and showing off than following orders and “accomplishing the mission.” American troops carefully plan their operations and everyone follows their orders. Afghans will do what strikes their fancy and pay more attention to perceived slights than getting the job done.

Afghans have a feudal sort of military organization. All the lads going off to war from a village, neighborhood, or valley will follow the most charismatic and most battle-experienced of their group. This guy will be the leader. Not an officer in [the modern] sense…. Very democratic, but the leader might not know a lot about tactics or other military matters. These local groups, rarely more than a few dozen strong, will band together with similar-size groups from their region under an even more famous and charismatic leader. This gets you a group of a few hundred fighters and an organization roughly comparable to what we call an infantry battalion. At this point, money becomes important. Whoever leads several of these battalions is usually wealthy, or is an exceptional battlefield commander who is backed by people with money. Someone has to pay for the food, trucks, ammunition, and whatever else a popular commander can scrounge up…. Several battalions give what is called an “army”…and the leader is often called a warlord….

…An Afghan warlord cannot be ordered to take part in an operation but must be convinced via a war council. And even his assent does not always translate into consistent performance on the battlefield. Lacking the discipline of a Western army, an Afghan leader has to be very careful when it comes to casualties among his troops. This accounts for the unique way in which Afghans fight battles. Traditionally, Afghan warfare has been more about making an impressive show than getting right down to a hack fest and a lot of dead bodies. A warrior society won’t last long if the warriors are too eager to get killed. These days, a loud and impressive display of firepower, but not a lot of casualties, best represents your typical Afghan battle. When someone does lose and gets taken prisoner, he is often set free in a later exchange of prisoners….

…An Afghan commander can see his troops leave for home real quick if too many of them get killed or injured in combat. Most Afghan battles result in very few casualties. When one side sees that it is outclassed and likely to be defeated, it just takes off in the night. If the defender is protecting his valley or town, he will start negotiating a surrender. Actually, surrender is too strong a word. The preferred move is to switch sides….

How To Make War, pp. 530-31

Inscriptions Charged With Occult Force

Odin, father and chief of the Norse gods, passed on his knowledge of magic and rune-lore to poets, sorcerers, sages and other especially favored mortals. The runes in his gift constituted an alphabet for writing. But they were far more than mere symbols: Initiates knew them as actual sources of power—tools and weapons of wizardry.

Those who understood the secrets of the runes knew the proper figures to inscribe on a sword to protect its owner in battle, or which runes to carve on a tombstone to keep evil spirits at bay. The cunning of some runemasters ran so deep that their inscriptions could even control the dead, preventing a restless corpse from rising and wandering, or causing a hanged man to walk and speak.

But men of such prodigious power inspired more fear than admiration in Europe’s dark ages of rival cults and warring tribes. Kings and priests looked upon them with suspicion. In some lands the very possession of a tablet filled with wonder-working runes became a punishable crime. Adepts were burned to death, and their knowledge disappeared with them. In the remotest regions, their carved stones survived as objects of mystery and menace. But the real power of the runes was lost forever.

The Secret Arts, Chapter 1