Alternate History II: Son of Alternate History

Dude, you guys rock. I never fail to be amazed at how many creative and well-read people read this blog. Thank you so much!

We wound up with two very good scenarios, which basically hinged on how badly I wanted Constantinople sacked and how vital the Byzantines are. In the end, I wound up sort of smooshing them together and decided that the Byzantines were really rather crucial to keeping that end of things together.

(I also am going to have to use the word “Byzantine” despite the fact that it’s of later coinage. Rhoman vs. Roman would be too visually confusing, and Byzantine is such a gorgeous word. I do feel a twinge of guilt, though, akin to the one I feel drawing humans and dinosaurs together. (Forgive me, father, for I have sinned…))

A whole lot of people weighed in with very useful bits, and big specific thanks to learnteach, babbleon1, laughingbadger, siliconshaman, siriaeve and to prodigal for naming the Templar Plague.


The year is 1246.

Life went on pretty normally until the Third Crusade, which was a horrific awful disaster. They didn’t get within spitting distance of Acre, and instead all the port cities and a chunk of the Holy Roman Empire were hit with the Templar Plague, which is blamed on the filthy, filthy Templars. The Holy Roman Emperor died on the Crusade, the Crusaders pissed off the peasantry, dropped dead of plague, and the Holy Roman Empire (the Byzantines) nearly broke up. Hence the Third Crusade is the Cursed Crusade.

Saladin, aided by a very angry peasantry and the fact that Saracen doctors were credited with stopping the Templar Plague,  marched north practically to the gates of Constantinople and said “Hi, guys! I can see your house from here.”

The Fourth Crusade never actually happened as such. Venice, realizing that the Byzantines were actually standing between them and the Saracen, said “Y’know, we just don’t feel like funding that. Y’all have fun!” when the would-be Crusaders showed up, belatedly, in 1218.

What followed became known as the Byzantine War. The would-be Crusaders, aided by mercenaries and led by the increasingly unpopular Knights Templar, go after Constantinople. They get their asses handed to them, as the Byzantines have a substantial navy and their own crusaders, but the Byzantines, still smarting from the awfulness of the Cursed Crusade, are not happy with the West.

Our hero was one of those would-be Crusaders, a young idiot out to win a knighthood. He probably came to Venice in the retinue of one of the knights hoping to convince Venice to back the Fourth Crusade, but when it became obvious that wasn’t going to happen—hey, the Knights Templar are right there! We came here to fight Byzantines! Let’s go!

When the dust clears, he is eventually ransomed back to the West and returns to Venice, instilling in him a great appreciation of Saracen medicine, a loathing of the Byzantines, and some mild PTSD.

Meanwhile, in the larger world, the Lion Pope dies suddenly. (“He fell down the stairs. Onto fifty-three daggers. It’s a great tragedy. Mysterious are the ways of the Lord.”) A cardinal of St. Equus ascends and does not want to keep fighting these wars, because the world needs to rebuild and hey, has anybody noticed that there’s a guy named Khan clearing his throat in the direction of Northern Europe? Maybe this isn’t the time for yet another doomed Crusade. Maybe we should all just get along.

At the time of our story, Byzantium is becoming increasingly xenophobic and keeps screaming that Roman Catholics are devil-worshipping shapechangers. (They’re not getting a lot of traction though, because seriously, tell people the Pope is a were-horse and see how far you get.) Venice has taken over some of Constantinople’s former glory as the crossroads of the world. Saladin’s dead, the Saracen expansion has been cut nearly in half by the Turks, who are also pestering the Byzantines. At the end of the day, everybody’s just glaring over the walls and doesn’t want to start anything, except maybe the Templars, who are an embarrassment akin to people who speak in tongues at the church picnic.

While all this is important to backstory, the odds of most of it appearing in the story directly are slim–but that’s writing for you! The fact that I know is the important part.

However, the really relevant part back in England is that the Great Heathen Army of Danes that took over Northern England never went home. Everything north of Hadrian’s Wall is now Lochlann. It’s been a hundred and fifty years, so it’s nominally peaceful at the moment, and Lochlann is largely Christian, so there is commerce and travel back and forth, but there are pockets of paganism and every now and again somebody with too much time on their hands decides a Viking raid would be just awesome.

The Abbey is in a Made-Up English Town that’s near Durham. (The Cathedral of St. Cuthbert there is possibly run by were-otters!) The Abbey is also along the River Wear, and was built as a fortification against Danish raids sometime earlier.

What all this backstory means…

A) our hero, when woken abruptly, tends to go for a sword in case Byzantines are attacking.

B) There are Saracen scholars, merchants, and travelers roaming around Europe, largely unmolested. They are a rarity but nobody wants to kill them because the Saracens are helping hold the line against those awful Byzantine heretics (Did you hear what they said about our pope?!) and because Saracen medicine is held in awe, even if it’s probably witchcraft, but seriously, Cousin Bob nearly died, and this nice man went in there and made sure they kept him wrapped and warm and didn’t bleed him or anything.

C) Minor character and murder suspect in the actual book lost a cousin in the Byzantine Wars, who would otherwise have been the heir.

D) our hero might kinda be a knight, although he’s renounced all that and mostly just keeps bees. You know where you stand with bees.

E) You see a lot of Danes in town. They are considered somewhat barbaric weirdos, but they’re neighbors, so what’re you gonna do? The Danes, following the historical path of the Scots, are somewhat resentful of imposition of English law on border territories, but this hasn’t boiled over yet.

F) People get much more ticked about the Eastern Orthodox heretics than they do about Islam. Everybody’s still down on paganism, of course, although it’s probably going on in isolated pockets in Lochlann. The Inquisition is focused primarily on said heretics.

…whew. As I said, this probably isn’t going to get into the story as a big ol infodump, but it’s helpful to me for sorting out what goes where. Thank you all so much!

Also, does anybody know what language you’d be familiar with if you were our hero? What’s gonna be the lingua fraca of Venice and the Byzantines?

9 thoughts on “Alternate History II: Son of Alternate History

  1. Tim Eisele says:

    “I do feel a twinge of guilt, though, akin to the one I feel drawing humans and dinosaurs together.”

    Here’s something to tell yourself to feel better about that sort of thing:

    Hardly anybody seems to get too exercised if you draw a Tyrannosaurus together with, say, a Stegosaurus. And yet, Stegosaurus apparently went extinct around 145 million years ago, while Tyrannosaurus wasn’t really around until about 65 million years ago. That’s a gap of about 80 million years, a good 15 million years longer than the gap between humans and Tyrannosaurus. And you probably woudn’t get too much notice if you had both Dimetrodon and Tyrannosaurus together, either, and the gap in that case is a whopping 180 million years. So if people aren’t going to complain about the one class of anachronism, why sweat the other?

  2. RhianimatorLGP says:

    Lingua Franca hrrm.. Well, that is back when all the cool kids spoke french. Him being a knight and all, makes him kinda noble-ish. If you can’t speak french and you’re a noble, it’s like being a country hick with mud on your boots.

  3. Diana says:

    The Byzantines spoke Greek. Venitians would have spoken a dialect of Italian, but Latin in the Church. Did French as lingua franca get there by then? most of my history is earlier. A lot of the historical fights between the Byzantine Patriarch and the Pope had a lot to do with mistranslations between Greek and Latin. Any literate churchman would probably speak Latin, he’d speak Medieval English of course, if France has the cultural power and history with England in this world that it did in ours he likely speaks that, and depending on what happened back in the war he might speak some Greek. And if you want you can probably justify Danish and/or the Saracens’ language (did they speak Arabic or something else? Not my area at all.)

  4. Berry says:

    French (not yet modern french), probably Middle English, possibly Latin. He might have picked up “I want beer” in Danish/ Welsh (pick your closest border), Italian and possibly whatever the Saracens were speaking at the time.

    As a random side note, this is the year Llywelyn accedes to the throne of Gwenedd, In 10 years time he will take back all of Wales, which will later be lost to Edward Longshanks.

    As another random side note, the romances of Chrétien de Troyes were popular reading.

    Oh, and have a round

  5. Anne says:

    I like this story, especially the situation in England. I like the scenario with the Danes as I am Danish myself.

    …And I want beer is “Jeg vil ha oel” 😉

    But I hope this project gets over the counter, I would love to read it.

  6. Escher says:

    I think it’d be funny if the hero spoke a little bit of Saracen, with an absolutely atrocious accent. Enough to communicate (and allowing that thing where you can tell the guy something without everyone around knowing what you told him) but any actual saracens would be like, “Please… Please stop. Use English.”

    As to kinda-sorta-knighthood — That’s easy enough. The Templars say he’s a knight ’cause he helped with their crusade. But like most crusaders, he’s a landless knight, and Templars are kind of unpopular (so using them as your authority isn’t likely to get you anywhere you want to be), so he’s got the title but it doesn’t get him anything (until his investigations lead to him needing to throw some titles around).

    I love the idea of were-otter priests. It strikes me that a lot of these abbeys would probably, purely from self-interest, have publicized rules like “Otters are sacred to St Cuthbert; hunting or killing them is forbidden within sight of the abbey’s walls.” Just to make sure no monks accidentally get shot or skinned or something. (And if somebody sees an otter wandering around the grounds, well… they’re sacred to this order, right?)

    In terms of medicine, I’m always horrified at the state of pre-germ-theory medicine, even up into the late 1800s. All those stories where mom “died in childbirth”? That doesn’t happen anymore primarily because doctors know enough to wash their damn hands. Puerperal fever was responsible for most of those cases, and it was being spread by doctors who would go from one pregnant woman to the next without washing or ANYTHING. And even when that spread was identified around 1800, they refused to accept it because “doctors are gentlemen, and a gentleman’s hands are clean.”

    I mean, that isn’t just ignorance, it’s willfully ignoring testable, repeatable evidence because the evidence doesn’t match a philosophical belief.

  7. Tom West says:

    Yay, Durham! (Close personal to links to that fair city). NB: It’s “The Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert of Durham” – three dedications for the price of one. I like the otters – somehow it works.

  8. Tom West says:

    Oh, and in addition to being St. Cuthbert’s tomb, they also have the head of St Oswald and bits of the Venerable Bede… quite a collection. Not sure it’s useful, but I wanted to say it.

  9. Jessa says:

    Anyone who had been about the world would have had to pick up at least some French (as I’m probably like the 10th person to say…). Lingua Franca of Venice was Sabir, it’s kind of a mix between modern Italian and Provençal. The Byzantines spoke a what seems to us a mix of Koine Greek and modern Greek. You could probably get away with simply using Koine Greek. It was called, obnoxiously enough, Byzantine Greek.

    Other than that, you’ve actually pretty much got a free rein from all of Europe though the Middle East as to what languages our character would be familiar with due to the Crusades. Likely suspects would be some Latin, Middle Low German, or Anatolian Turkish. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch that even for a failed crusade, some men would have stayed behind and settled down — and later crusaders would have taken sanctuary with or at least spent time dealing with these expats, to pick up expressions or at least basic phrases from.

    You might also be interested in the English Sweating Sickness (sudor anglicus). It’s technically a couple centuries too late (1480s – 1550s), but it’s a terrifying disease that stuck and killed a whole lotta people really fast, and then seems to have vanished off the earth. Just in case you need some symptoms for the Templar Plague.

    (*cough* Sorry — this was the period I focused on when getting my history degree, so I can talk your ear off if I really get wound up…)

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