July 15, 1738
Aleksander I is already a distinguished figure upon his rise to the throne, having forged himself a reputation as Poland’s military and foreign policy leader and basically serving as Niezamysl II’s public representative ever since the war. Already as High Marshal he was crafting and signing treaties under his own authority, and seems to be quite legal-minded in general, seeing laws and agreements both as something to be honored and as a useful tool to use for his own ends. Of course, this end is almost always to increase the power of the Polish crown. His most famous achievement is the Treaty of Rome of 1737, supposedly dividing Europe into Slavic, Nordic and Christian spheres of power. Now it’s up to the different parties to honor it.
He for one intends to do so, considering European wars too expensive, high-mortality and dangerous to the Polish homeland in comparison to the advantages of peaceful (if sometimes grudging) trade. However, even if it’s true that the power struggle with Italy isn’t the apocalyptic holy war some present it as, the explicit acknowledgement of this fact – not to mention tying down the country with any actual treaties – proves more than a bit controversial in the Sejm. Now that he’s actually in charge rather than just making speeches, Aleksander I is off to a rough start, having to make tough choices between his personal image and national unity.
Of course, the High King is certainly no pacifist or kind soul. In fact, he’s gotten quite used to getting all the success, power and money he wants, which also leads to most of his promises having the feeling of condescending handouts from someone in a position of power rather than bilateral, equal treaties. In private, he’s leveraging that ever-increasing money and power for his own luxury.
For a long time, including under his predecessor, Poland’s economic policies have involved keeping relatively little money stockpiled and investing as much of it as possible back into the country, which most would argue has fueled massive economic growth and development everywhere from infrastructure to education. However, the attitude Aleksander I has picked up from a few select advisors is that this generous spending has made its recipients careless, the crown hasn’t demanded proportionate control over how the money is used, and combined with the growing gold and silver shipments from Nowa Straya, the amount of money in circulation has kept inflation on the rise. The lack of a stockpile has also forced the crown to actually take loans from its own subjects when struck with a sudden need for cash, not that it’s had any trouble paying them back. With all this in mind, the High King starts implementing what historians might call austerity policies, greatly reducing government investment – though some would claim that he’s just redirecting it to himself and his cronies instead. Of course, neither Poland nor really any other country has anything approaching a social security system anyway, so the direct effects of this austerity are restricted to the upper and middle classes who usually benefit from these investments.
Partly to save on expenses, partly because he’s looking to wind down hostilities anyway, and partly because they hold a lot of positions he’d rather give to other people, Aleksander I also adops a strict stance towards the meczenniks from the get-go. They are denied their customary bonuses, no members or associates are picked for his Crown Council, and he also begins unspoken but rather obvious efforts to move them to more out-of-the-way positions. Though they provide valuable and (usually) well-trained manpower for the army, he seems to be weighing his options to get rid of them or at least eliminate them as a political player.
In any case, the High King’s treaties say nothing about the world outside Europe, which he’s eyeing with increased interest to sate both his unruly nobles and himself. The bloated Sultanate of Pasai is the last major native power in the East Indies not to fall under Polish influence yet, and Aleksander I is happy to change that, especially as it only really means sending orders to the troops already in the region.
The war starts in April 1739. Pasai is actually decently large, but in quite a sorry state, having gotten itself involved with Chinese politics only to now be abandoned by Wu in its time of need.
As Polish troops march into barely defended Pasai, elsewhere, the Italian-Asturian war comes to an ignoble end. The Balearic Islands and a number of colonies change hands, but while it’s clear that Italy won a crushing victory, it probably would’ve been far more crushing without Poland’s interference. Most notably, Italy carves out a chunk of southern Amatica to try and replace its loss of Fiorita, but while the lands it takes are quite valuable, they also have a sizable Andalusian population and
sit right next to some of the most rebel-torn parts of Tayshas.
Germany also wraps up its war against the republics of Cologne and Bar, strengthening its hold over the Rhineland region.
Pasai’s ally Ligor gives up within months, and the Poles settle for heavy monetary and diplomatic penalties in order to free up more troops for the occupation of Pasai proper. Elsewhere, the same Chinese that refused to help them win their first real victory against Rajasthan, squeezing out a favorable peace deal. While some might consider the amount of land won inconsequential compared to the parts of China still under foreign occupation, it may mark an important turning of the tide.
Back on the homefront, Aleksander I has to personally address another political controversy, directly related to the scientific and “rationalist” policies of his predecessor. The Khazar cities around the Black Sea have, pleasantly enough, become a minor hub of medical research, but this has also given rise to a black market for all kinds of unsavory materials, not least human corpses. Though it is in fact impoverished Jews digging up the bodies of Jews, and the local Jews themselves are obviously the ones most outraged, to the pagans (who mostly associate graverobbing with black magic even if not sacrilege in itself) this threatens to become a more widespread stereotype of the oddani. In any case, the High King decides to put an end to the whole practice, declaring harsh punishments for graverobbing or “body snatching” throughout the country and leaving the doctors to obtain their test subjects elsewhere. His relationship with the so-called scientific community and its associates starts to worsen in general.
His penchant for deal-making seems to prove more successful in Frisia, where he manages to soothe both longstanding grudges and more recent grievances (mostly over preferential treatment for Yugoslavia) with a series of new agreements regarding its political and economic autonomy, or lack thereof. Practical measures can only go so far in the face of ever-growing cultural identity, though, and the general tension remains.
His generals strike an even more one-sided deal with Pasai in July 1740, annexing the vast majority of the country into the East India Company without really having fought a single major battle. It’s a lot of land, and a lot of people, for comparatively cheap. Profit!
Not much later in November, Chernigov (sigh) requests Polish help in a colonial war it’s starting in southeast Africa. It’s not an entirely African affair, though, since Arabia is closely involved in the region and has already vowed to defend the republic of Betsimisaraka. Still, since Rûm isn’t participating, Poland and Moldavia seem sufficiently safe from any repercussions, and Chernigov is leveraging both its previous help in the Dalmatian War and Aleksander I’s diplomatic tendencies to make him promise his aid.
Poland doesn’t really have any troops in the neighborhood, though, and the East Indian garrisons are still needed to secure the recently annexed provinces, so it’s going to be a while before any real fighting can happen.
It’s surely not unrelated that Italy almost immediately sends an embassy to Sofala, forging a closer alliance against any (other) European incursion. Luckily, the Cesira stops short of joining this current war, but this reminds the High King that he still needs to keep most of his army in Europe and stay careful in case she does use it as a pretext for invasion.
Arabia seems to opt for what could be called annoyance tactics, sending a large fleet and nearly 40,000 soldiers to harass the Polish colonies in West Africa. At least the Scottish army in the region is eager to run interference. The Grand Marynarka and Atlantic Fleet are rallied to get the coast under control, but they’ll take a long time to get there.
As the High King starts organizing this large-scale response, some gaping holes where meczennik officers used to be quickly make themselves more and more apparent…
Still, ferried over by the Black Fleet and marching through the Levant, the Slavs strike straight for Arabia. Aleksander I himself isn’t present on the field, but Arabia’s most important harbor Alexandria is seized by May 1741 after a naval skirmish and amphibious landings around the city. Cairo, Arabia’s “second capital”, follows a couple months later.
After these initial moves, the whole war seems to become a continent-sized game of cat and mouse for several years, with forces big and small chasing each other across the Egyptian desert, the Senegali savannah and even the Chernihiv steppe. It’s another war of maneuver and logistics, though, with little to no pitched battles for the Poles. At least the army is getting a lot of “valuable experience” in managing troop movements and sprawling supply trains in less hospitable environments.
As it happens, the East Indies garrisons do end up having to deal with an armed uprising of over 100,000 people in the urban centers around the Straits of Malacca in March 1742. The rebels don’t really stand a chance against the Poles on the battlefield, but due to the size of the uprising, it still takes until autumn to properly suppress. After then, the garrisons are finally able to send some troops to support the war effort.
Rebel sentiment seems to be high all over the place, with another (much smaller and little-remembered) uprising occurring in Polish Hungary, and yet another among the German minorities of Frisia. The latter in particular are actually notable as a rare breed of young, well-educated idealists who dream of escaping Polish, Frisian and monarchist oppression all at once and establishing a free republic of their own. Unfortunately, their education must be of the human sciences kind, as they apparently cannot count, happily splitting up and charging the Frisian military only to get themselves slaughtered. Anti-Polish sentiment is often accepted, or even quietly encouraged, but apparently the vassal government will tolerate no protest against its own regime.
Asturian Tayshas remains an anarchic mess of political, religious and native rebels of all kinds, bankrupt several times over and with little help forthcoming from the motherland. Tayshas' attempts to use its large stores of precious metals to mint more and more money have failed to fix its economic woes and only made them worse, and now most of those mines have been seized by the rebels anyway.
In a rare reversal of fate, Tripolitania (having unified most of the former Sardinian colonies) and Kanem Bornu unify their forces to invade the scraps of Francia and, if successful, conquer a piece of Europe proper for the first time since the Andalusian invasion of Iberia over a thousand years ago.
As for the Chernihiv-Arabian war, well, it turns out to be about as grueling as one might expect from one covering such a large area. The High King saves Polish lives, but certainly doesn’t make the war go any faster, by declaring that the armies will park themselves in the nicest part of Egypt to secure it rather than wade much deeper south, in particular the mountains of Abyssinia. Still, on another front, it is in fact the Poles who launch the first invasion of the Betsimisarakan heartland in Madagascar – nearly all the fighting has been against Arabia – in hopes of the war actually ending sometime soon.
That it does, in August 1744, but not in the manner expected: after the King of Chernigov dies of the health problems brought by old age, his young and “soft-hearted” heir apparently takes a second look at this war and decides that it’s not worth the trouble, coming to the same conclusion as his Polish counterpart that a full occupation of Arabia would be too costly. After already sinking tons of money and lives into it, he offers (the already pretty much beaten) Betsimisaraka a full withdrawal in exchange for some indemnities and admission of defeat, effectively a white peace for no good reason. When the Polish general in charge of the occupation of Madagascar is told of this, he actually arrests the messenger as an enemy infiltrator bringing false information to deceive him, but eventually learns the truth and has no choice but to leave the island.
There is outrage in Krakow as well: against Chernigov, but also against Aleksander I for wasting time with this war to begin with when history has already made it clear that nothing good comes out of Chernigov’s southern wars. It’s something a more popular ruler might be able to get away with, but the goodwill he had with the nobles has been quickly depleted by his unfortunate mix of “bullheaded legalism except when it comes to himself”. Opponents say that he treats foreign rulers better than his own subjects, and their narrative goes that while his foolishness dragged them into the war, it was his indecisiveness that led to it all being in vain. Now he has his hands full trying to appease them with whatever promises he can bring himself to make (and push through the strict procedures he himself put in place).
Of course, it’s not the first time that things get heated in Krakow, but it’s also a part of the local political culture and usually doesn’t lead to anything too serious, with the destructive Confederate Civil War of 1601-1604 as a rare exception. However, that’s partly because most of the time it’s just the Sejm and not the actual military joining the debate. That may be different this time around, as the meczenniks are among the people with the most grudges against Aleksander I. Having been sidelined in the conduct of the war, its outcome, and now even the appeasements that follow, they’re on the verge of taking action.
While originally just a way to extract some extra manpower from the oddani population, in the 300 years since, the meczenniks have grown into an understated but highly important presence in the military and civilian administration alike. Several rulers have turned to them when their control over the nobility seemed shaky. They’re scattered in low-to-medium ranking positions throughout the country, connected by an official network, oddani religion and their own distinct culture, all of which would be a big problem if they weren’t fanatically loyal to the crown. Usually.
Reforms to military recruitment, innocent in any other context, continue to put them on edge. At the same time that high command is further centralized, local organization is tied more closely to province lines and city registers. Notably, any mention of special forces such as the meczenniks is conspicuously absent in this new chain of command.
It all comes to a head with the so-called Černá Affair in the summer of 1745. The female (and thus volunteer) meczennik officer Maria Černá is arrested in Prague, in a largely routine manner, on charges of redirecting laborers' wages to pay her fellow soldiers instead. Such cases usually end on relatively mild fines and little more, but the High King has recently introduced harsher punishments for any kind of sedition within the military – and whether the crown knows it or not, Černá is in fact closely involved in a fledgling anti-Aleksander conspiracy that threatens to be revealed if the trial goes through. Before it even starts properly, her allies have already decided not to give the process the benefit of the doubt.
On the night of the Kupala feast on the summer solstice, when great festivals are held in every little hamlet and officials and soldiers alike are mostly away on leave, the meczenniks fill their usual roles in securing the Krakow feast where the High King is also present. He’s had enough foresight to stop using them as his bodyguards and place them under non-meczennik officers, but replacing the entire city guard is easier said than done, and they still far outnumber the loyalists on site.
As the citizens gather to watch the unsuspecting Aleksander I light a ceremonial bonfire, the meczenniks suddenly open fire on his retinue. They’re not aiming for the High King, but he also gets wounded in the side. All hell breaks loose as the rebels knock over fires and stands, overpower the shellshocked soldiers in their way and whisk the High King away into the night. Thus begins the Kupala Coup.