tagNovels and NovellasMaragana Girl P.S. 02

Maragana Girl P.S. 02


Postscript 2 - Notes on the History of the Grand Duchy of Upper Danubia

(more stuff that didn't make it into the novel)

King Vladik and the Judicial Reforms of 1524

Prior to the rule of King Vladik the Defender in the early 16th Century, an offender was convicted of a crime by his local village council, collared by the village blacksmith, and then became subject to the person who had accused him. Village elders who, in many cases were handpicked by the area's most important landlords, issued the convictions.

It goes without saying that such a system was vulnerable to abuses. It was common for wealthier persons to falsely accuse villagers or tenants of crimes, have them convicted and collared, and then utilize them as slaves. The abuse became worse in the late 15th Century when the custodians of convicted criminals began selling them as real slaves to neighboring countries. As the abuse became more common, the Royal Family became concerned that the country could become depopulated if too many criminals were sold abroad. There was debate within the Royal Court over how to stop the practice, but given the power of the southern landlords, nothing much could be done until 1502, the year of the first invasion from the Ottoman Empire.

The first Ottoman invasion completely altered the balance of power in the kingdom. Upon finding out that a large Ottoman force was marching northward to attack the Danubian Kingdom, King Vladik and his small army rode south. Their purpose was not to confront the Turks on open land where they faced certain defeat, but instead to organize a massive evacuation of the entire southern half of the Danubian Kingdom to the comparative safety of the north. Prior to the King's arrival, the southern part of the kingdom had been panic stricken about the pending invasion. The tenants and villagers were more than happy to join their King and flee northward, as were many lower caste knights who knew anything about Ottoman warfare. Under the leadership of the King, the lower classes revolted against the landlords, burnt their property, and fled into the forest. The evacuation of Lower Danubia destroyed the southern landowners as a social class within days. The southern landlords were left with neither land nor tenants, and thus their power was completely eliminated.

As the southern refugees crowded the valley around Danube City, the question arose over what to do about all the convicted criminals among them. The King now had his opportunity to put an end to the de facto slavery system. He simply declared that all displaced criminals were under the custody of the Crown, since it made no sense to keep them accountable to landowners that no longer had any land and to the elders of villages that no longer existed. During the brief interlude of peace following the first Turkish invasion, the King ordered all displaced criminals from the south to be rounded up and sent to live in guarded dormitories near Danube City.

With nearly half of the criminals in the country now under his control, the King's next step was to figure out which ones were wrongly convicted of crimes and order them freed. He asked the Danubian Church to assign 20 priests to interview criminals and separate innocent people from ones who had truly committed crimes. King Vladik's purpose was not entirely altruistic, because he desperately needed more soldiers for his army. Any criminal wrongly convicted and willing to fight in the impending campaign against the Holy Roman Empire would be offered freedom. When the Turks invaded a second time, the offer of freedom was extended to any displaced criminal willing to fight in the Danubian Army.

By 1520 King Vladik had successfully fought four military campaigns, but with each war the number of men available to defend the kingdom had diminished. He needed more soldiers, and realized that criminals in the custody of the country's northern landlords could provide him with a much-needed group of new military recruits. He set about creating a new legal system to justify taking control of all remaining criminals in Upper Danubia, but his effort was interrupted by yet another invasion.

King Vladik finally issued the new judicial code in 1524, which was a far-reaching set of laws that consolidated power under the Crown. Among the reforms was an edict stating that the private custody of criminals had been abolished throughout the kingdom, and that all criminals had to travel to Danube City to place themselves under the custody and protection of the King. He appointed 10 advisors to replace the 20 priests to interview the newly acquired criminals to determine guilt or innocence. Those 10 men became Upper Danubia's first Spokesmen for the Criminals. They rode with detachments of soldiers to enforce the edict, and long columns of naked, collared criminals streamed towards the capitol and King Vladik's dormitories. The edict also created the national Danubian judicial system, abolishing the right of village counsels to conduct trials and issue sentences. After 1524 the only person who had the right to issue a sentence or order a criminal collared was an authorized representative of the Crown.

By the late 1520's the Danubian government became completely unconcerned about the criminals' pasts. Worried about another invasion, King Vladik simply ordered all criminals, even recently convicted ones, to train as soldiers while Danubian scouts nervously patrolled the forests bordering the now lost provinces of Lower Danubia. The feared invasion finally came in 1531. Nearly all of the country's remaining criminals, along with the King, his heir, and 80 percent of the country's men of military age, died in the forests south of Danube City fiercely defending the kingdom. The country itself survived, but just barely. However, the legal system created by King Vladik remained in place, as did the idea of keeping all criminals under the custody of the Crown.

The dormitory system for housing criminals remained in place throughout most of the 16th and 17th Centuries, due to fears of more invasions. However, over time the government tired of having to house and feed large numbers of criminals if there was no military necessity for doing so. In 1710, the Grand Duke established the Danube City collar-zone and allowed criminals to live with their families, but under the supervision of their Spokesmen. In 1780 the dormitories finally were torn down and the stones used to construct a new Parliament building.

A Duke instead of a King

King Vladik the Defender was killed in battle in 1531, during the final and most serious invasion of the country from the south. Nearly 70 percent of King Vladik's soldiers died in a series of fierce battles as the invaders slowly made their way through the forests towards Danube City. Finally, the king's only son, together with his son-in-law, rallied the survivors of the Danubian Army for one last attack to prevent the invaders from escaping the forests and besieging Danube City. King Vladik's son was killed, and his son-in-law crippled, but the Danubians won the battle.

The nation was stricken with grief, given that King Vladik and his only son were dead. The only living heirs to the throne were the King's daughter and her wounded husband. When offered the crown the dead King's son-in-law responded:

"I will rule, if that is what you wish. However, I have no right to be called King. Our true King has died defending our people, and I will leave his throne vacant so perhaps he can watch over us from the land of the dead."

King Vladik's son-in-law took the title of Grand Duke of Upper Danubia. From that point on the Danubian Royal Family always referred to themselves as Dukes instead of Kings.

"Wood Nymphs" - 16th Century female guerilla archers

In 1531, following the six military invasions that were successfully repelled by King Vladik, the Danubian Kingdom was a very different place than it had been prior to 1499, the year he took the crown. The most obvious change was the loss of the fertile manors of Lower Danubia and the transfer of nearly half the country's population to the much less fertile Eastern Valley. Another obvious change, especially in the region surrounding Danube City, was the absence of men. King Vladik's six military campaigns had decimated the male population, leaving barely 10 percent of all men of military age still alive. Of the survivors many, including the Grand Duke, were so badly crippled from battle that they were unable to perform normal chores. The situation was so extreme that the area around Danube City became known as "The Valley of Women".

The Grand Duke, quite reasonably, was concerned about yet another attack from either the Ottoman or the Holy Roman Empire. Were such an attack to take place there was almost no one available to defend the kingdom except a few Royal bodyguards and the women of the Central Valley. The new ruler felt unable to rely on the villagers of the Eastern Valley, who were in the process of reconstituting the society they formerly had in Lower Danubia. The crippled Grand Duke and his female subjects were largely on their own.

Like his father-in-law, the Grand Duke was a shrewd military planner who was willing to discard social rules and long-held assumptions to defend his kingdom. He understood that the Central Valley would be most vulnerable for about a 15-year period, the time needed for a new generation of boys to grow up and re-build the Danubian Royal Army. That meant the women of the Central Valley would have to do two things to save the country that were taboo for European women in the 16th Century: take up arms to defend the Kingdom, and bear children without husbands.

In 1533 the Grand Duke issued several edicts. The most important was to open a series of government positions to women, including city guards, tax collectors, scribes, horse breeders, and archers. The next edict allowed women to buy and inherit property. A third edict eliminated the legal stigma of having children out of wedlock. A final edict, issued by the now ex-communicated Danubian Clergy, opened the Priesthood to women. 1533 marked the year that Danubian women achieved a temporary legal status that came very close to that of Danubian men.

By 1534, groups of raiders from neighboring countries were attacking some of the country's outlying villages to test the Kingdom's defenses. The Grand Duke responded by ordering several newly-ordained Priestesses and survivors of King Vladik's military command to organize the villagers to defend themselves.

The Priestesses and ex-soldiers decided to ignore any women who had children. Instead they concentrated on recruiting teenaged girls and organized them into bands of guerrilla archers. The girls were organized into squads of about eight fighters each, taught how to shoot arrows in rapid succession, live in the wild for extended periods of time, and move about quickly in the forests.

Officially the female guerillas were called "Daughters of the Crown", but unofficially they came to be known as "Wood Nymphs", or simply "Nymphs". A Nymph always began her service at age 15, immediately after mother braided her hair. Priestesses pledged the girls secretly, and once a group of eight girls was sworn in, they left their village to spend the next three years of their lives in the woods. Before they departed their home village, the girls were sworn to complete secrecy; not even parents were allowed to know about a Nymph's pending service. Nymphs always served away from their home village, to prevent their families from interfering with their military duties.

The Nymphs relied on fast movement through the trees and very sudden hit and run attacks against foreign raiding parties. Nymphs usually attacked at dusk, although they could attack anytime their squad leader thought there was an opportunity to inflict casualties on an enemy and escape. The most common attack was to fire a bunch of arrows from an ambush and then quickly disappear into the woods. After attacking the girls immediately fled. Hand-to-hand combat had to be avoided if at all possible, since the Nymphs wore no armor and were not expected to match the strength of their male opponents. Often several squads of Nymphs set up a series of ambushes, hoping to goad raiding parties to pursue them deeper and deeper into the forest. Sneaking up on sleeping opponents or distracted sentries and stabbing them was also very common, but much more risky.

Nymphs usually wore nothing but a short leather skirt, boots, and wristbands. To minimize detection during combat they often painted their faces and upper bodies green. They carried nothing with them except a dagger, arrows, and either a long bow or a crossbow. Traveling as lightly as possible was crucial to escaping their armored opponents. They quickly dodged through trees, jumped into streams or lakes, scampered up rocks, or fled into caves and tunnels, so they had to keep their hands free and their bodies unencumbered. Even the longbows were designed to aid in a quick escape, because they could easily be broken and discarded if their owners needed to drop them to flee. Each longbow had a small lever embedded in the center frame that, if pressed hard enough, split the wood and rendered it useless to the enemy.

The Nymphs understood that under no circumstances could they be taken alive. If a Nymph thought she was about to be captured, she was trained to quickly slit her wrists or her neck with small sharp blades embedded in each wristband. If a Nymph saw that a companion had been captured, she was trained to shoot an arrow into her fellow Nymph before fleeing. The Nymphs' squad leader always carefully planned the escape route before launching an attack, so forced suicides were relatively rare. As for capture, there was no recorded history of a Nymph ever being captured alive.

A typical squad of Nymphs lived in the woods for a total of three years, from age 15 to age 18. The Danubian Wood Nymphs were the closest thing Europe had to an Amazonian culture. They lived off the land most of the time, only occasionally going to a Priest's house for food or to pick up winter clothing. The teenagers were entirely self-sufficient and their lives revolved around constant hit-and-run attacks during the summer and trying to survive in the wild during the winter. At the end of three years the squad returned to its members' home village and each young veteran received the title to a plot of land as a reward for her service.

For about 10 years the Nymphs were the Grand Duke's only line of defense against both foreign raiders and rebellious village elders from the Eastern Valley. However, the Grand Duke never intended to have women fighting for him any longer than was absolutely necessary. The Nymphs' importance diminished over time, along with the temporary leading role of women in Danubian society. As a new generation of boys grew up and began receiving formal military training, the Grand Duke reconstituted the Royal Army. Armored soldiers again patrolled the southern woods while other teams of young Danubian men retrieved the huge Turkish siege cannons abandoned during King Vladik's attacks and mounted them on Danube City's walls. Within a generation Upper Danubia was ready to defend itself in a more traditional manner. By 1555 far fewer girls were being recruited to fight for the Duchy. By 1565 the Nymphs as a military force had vanished completely and became nothing more than a memory and a source of stories for older single women in the villages to pass along to their families.

With the return of men to lead Danubian society during the 1560's, women lost much of their temporary equality, not to regain until the 20th Century. However, the legacy of the Nymphs did have permanent benefits for Danubian women. After 1534, Danubians never regarded women as "the weaker sex", because for nearly 30 years young women had the chance to defend the Duchy and prove themselves in combat. Danubian women also attained permanent property rights as a result of the Nymphs' landholdings, centuries ahead of women in most other countries. Another legacy of the Nymphs was the Danubian custom of female Royal Guards, who later became female Police Officers during the judicial reforms of 1780.

A very important institution where women permanently attained equal rights was in the Priesthood of the Danubian Church. By 1560 the number of Priests and Priestesses was equal. In that year the Church mandated that all Clergy members had to be married to other Clergy members and work as husband-wife teams. Women became full participants in the Church hierarchy and from the mid-1500's onward the Danubian Church played a key role in raising the literacy rates for Danubian females.

Maritza's research and the Great Fire of 1755

In Danubian society professional historians are held in very high esteem. Danubian religious beliefs and the veneration of ancestors explain why a good historian is held in higher regard in the Duchy than in most other countries. Danubians are obsessed with understanding everything possible about the country's past, because their Priests believe that it is necessary to have a complete understanding of the conditions under which a person's ancestors lived to enhance the spiritual bonds between the living and the dead. Without being able to accurately visualize what life was like many years ago, it is impossible for the living to have visions, and it is through visions that the dead communicate with the living.

Maritza Ortskt-Dukovna spent her professional life as a historian and researcher of Danubian history. At the relatively young age of 30 she joined the Guild of the Ancients, which is the most competitive and highest-ranking group of historians in Danube City. She was a respected professional by the time her husband became Prime Minister, but there was nothing particularly exceptional about her work. Her main interest focused on the century following the death of King Vladik the Defender and examining how Danubian society evolved following the traumatic years of the Ottoman invasions.

About five years after her husband became Prime Minister, Maritza's career took a dramatic turn when she traveled to Vienna. Her original goal was to research the lives of two Danubian barons who participated in defending Vienna during the Turkish siege of 1683.

While looking though a collection of antique maps of city planners, she found several unpublished maps of Danube City in Viennese archives. When she examined them in detail she discovered something truly shocking. Among the Danube City maps were several drafts of the city plan of the Danubian capitol approved by the Grand Duke after the Great Fire of 1755.

The problem with the maps was their date: 1753. Maritza realized the city plans had been drawn up at least two years before fire leveled the Danubian capitol. There was no doubt about it. Those maps clearly were early drafts the city plan later approved by the Grand Duke in the fall of 1755, less than a month after fire destroyed every wooden building within the city walls.

Maritza realized she had just made a discovery; that if true, would be a horrible shock to her country's understanding of what happened during the Great Fire of 1755. What the maps indicated was that the Grand Duke had been planning to rebuild Danube City years before its destruction actually took place. The question was; how could he have known in 1753 that the Danubian capitol would need to be rebuilt?


The Great Fire of 1755 took place on a hot windy night at the height of harvest season, when most of the city's residents were outside the city gates working the fields. The flames quickly swept through the tightly packed wooden buildings, blown downwind from rooftop to rooftop by hot gusts. As soon as the fire started, the Grand Duke ordered his soldiers to evacuate everyone still inside the city, instead of attempting to combat the flames. Most remaining residents escaped over the city walls, using ladders and supply baskets that just happened to be there. Others escaped by crossing the Rika Chorna River, in small boats that, once again, just happened to be tied to the shore. It was a true miracle that almost no one was killed in the fire, given that every wooden structure in the city was destroyed within three hours.

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