Peasants, Revolts, and Adventurers:
Following the events in Hungary, Emperor Svend decides it is time to return to the honored tradition of slaying heathens and infidels, and so sets his sights for the duchy of Galich, which is currently rebelling against the Khan of the Golden Horde. The Mongol lords of the Golden Horde have not seen fit to convert like their Ilkhanate brethren (though the Ilkhanate had admittedly chosen poorly, aligning itself with the Sunni faith rather than Catholicism), and so the areas of the former kingdoms of Poland and Rus are ripe with pagan Tengri lands for the Empire's taking. The Emperor himself marches his Royal Guard to Galich, not bothering to call upon any of his vassals, who claim they are weary of war. Svend wonders how true this can really be, since they always seem to be warring amongst each other, but he trusts that his Guard will be enough to handle a single duchy. Just as the first siege begins, however, a new threat shows its face...
A Peasant Revolt in Bremen!
His Majesty is used to rabble rising up against him, claiming they deserve this or that right, that taxes are too high, or some other such excuse, but peasants with an actual leader? Who demand independence from the crown? That's sovereign Imperial territory, won through blood and sweat and the unfortunate and completely accidental deaths of children! Not to worry, though, as the King of Finland, who has inexplicably made his home in Slesvig (the Estrid Emperors have long since stopped asking why their vassals choose to live where they do), has more than enough loyal soldiers to speedily crush the rebels. Why they thought they had a chance in the first place is a mystery, but who can truly say what goes through the minds of peasants? Foolishness seems to be in the air, for not long after this revolt is put down, some Mongol declares his intent to invade.
A Ridiculous Plan
Svend writes a quick letter to the commander of the greater part of his retinue, the Shield of the East, warning him to look for a ragtag mob of foreigners to pay an unwelcome visit, and then returns to the siege at hand. A few months later, he is forced to write an addendum to that letter while still at the same siege, as word of another Mongol rudely planning an invasion reaches him. The Emperor wonders bitterly to himself just what makes these Steppe warriors so presumptuous, though he is sure they will never be able to mount a successful invasion. The war in Galich continues for nearly another year when a courier from Constantinople brings word...
Insurgent forces spotted in Mosul! Their path seems to be taking them to the heart of Anatolia. Scouts have already reported the sighting to the Shield of the East, on watch near the still Muslim-controlled Jerusalem, and they are marching to intercept. Though they are initially outnumbered, their host includes the Empire's most well-trained knights, and they are confident in their ability to turn back the invaders.
The Shield of the East
Bulgaria Defends the North
Meanwhile, Khudu, the other Mongol who wished to test himself against seasoned Imperial troops, arrives in the northeast, seeking a duchy of his own. Unfortunately for him, he has chosen to attack directly below the seat of the King of Bulgaria. Emperor Svend calls upon him to raise his host in defense of the realm, and he graciously obliges (not that he had much of a choice). The Royal Guard marches north to help as well, since after nearly 3 years of conflict, the holy war for Galich ends inconclusively due to a change in liege for the High Chief of Galich. Apparently he managed to lose his war against the Khan of the Golden Horde, mere days before his final holding was to fall before the Empire's might. Those who walked by His Majesty's tent shortly after this debacle swear they heard mutterings of things not fit for one so highborn, but no one has dared to say as much to his face. Both insurrections are turned back with minimal losses, and a few more peasant revolts break out as Svend plans his next move, when he is approached in April of the following year by a small group of merchants from Germany...
The Hanseatic League is Formed
The Empire has never been a foe to merchants or the gold they bring. In fact, one of the only independent lords to ever voluntarily ask for the protection of Scandinavia was the Doge of Genoa, in the time shortly after the fall of the Holy Roman Empire. Based on these historically warm relations, Emperor Svend agrees to allow the formation of the Hanseatic Trade League, though the burghers' insistence that the county of Hamburg must be made free to ensure the most prosperous trade is a bit hard to swallow. They finally agree to give Imperial merchants first pick of all trade goods before Svend presses his signet ring into the wax next to his signature. The next year and a half are much the same as before, with another wayward adventurer being imprisoned after attempting to storm the realm and peasants continuing to revolt. They always seem to have some new, completely invalid reason to demand independence. Then, while pressing a de jure claim in Basra, His Majesty receives another missive from Constantinople, this time informing him that some courtier is on the march.
A Courtier Follows His Dreams
A few days later one of Svend's own kinsman, a fellow Estrid from some distant branch of the family, evidently inspired by this Angelbert, sets off to make his own name in the world. The Emperor wishes him well, though he doubts it will come to much. These would-be adventurers are more likely to find themselves on the wrong end of some savage's spear, but he has greater concerns than what his strange relatives decide to do.
The war in Basra ends in victory, which was never in any doubt; in truth, the whole war had been intended more as a training exercise to familiarize the Emperor's personal forces with fighting in the Muslim lands of the east. The Timurids grow in power each year, and before long their banners could be turned west, toward the Empire itself. To this end, Svend decides that the Holy City of Jerusalem has languished too long under Muslim rule.
The Decision to Take the Holy Land
If taken, the city could serve as a great rallying figure for the Catholic armies of Scandinavia, an inspirational symbol to assure them the Lord fights on their side. His Majesty prepares for a massive resistance from the Ilkhanate, but is surprised when the Khagan surrenders only a few short months later...
Well, Emperor Svend's wisdom and mercy ARE legendary, after all, and a quick end to the war means less needless spilling of Imperial blood. He quickly places another far-flung Estrid (third cousin, twice removed perhaps?) in charge of Jerusalem, with clear instructions to repair and bolster its defenses.
The next three years bring more internal strife. The peasant revolts, while never quite getting out of hand, are numerous and vex the Emperor to no end. It seems that as one is put down, three more appear to take its place. As he sits in the Seat of Five Empires in early February, grateful for the fact that at least most of the nobles are actually happy for once and wondering whether he should send the headsman to clean out the dungeons, a courier bursts into the throne room, bowing hurriedly and handing over a rolled up parchment...
This is precisely why spies had been sent to keep an eye on the Khagan. There could have been no worse development. As Caliph, other Shia rulers would likely rally behind Guyug, especially if he used his religious authority to declare...
A Jihad is Upon Us! To Arms!
Less than a month from his self-anointing, Guyug makes a formal declaration of war! And not just any war, but a full fledged jihad! Emperor Svend the Great, Sovereign of Scandinavia, the Byzantine Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, Francia, and Britannia, stands stunned for a moment in the Imperial capital. But only for a moment. With a great cry of outrage, he orders a call to arms be sent to the farthest reaches of the Empire, and 900,000 swords answer him. A grand battle - no, a grand war - will soon be fought, and the victor will determine the course of Europe for years to come...
On the Eve of Battle