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So I’m Feeling My Way Through An Alternate History…

…and I could use some help, because I am sort of throwing down crap and it is entirely possible that there is a decisive factor that could make the whole timeline Basically Stupid.

Caveat the First: I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, my entire knowledge of this era is from Wikipedia and a fold out map a friend of mine had in college. I prostrate myself now, so that the sounds of your weeping over my ignorance do not drown out the rest of this thread.

Caveat the Second: This has to be good-enough-for-fiction, not good enough to write a thesis on. I basically need a reasonably well thought out timeline for my character to fall into that doesn’t scream OH MY GOD HOW STUPID IS THIS?!

Caveat the Third: By throwing out ideas here, you agree it’s cool if I use them and not to sue me if I do and all you get is my undying gratitude. If you are the sort to get very attached to your Random Cool Ideas, then I love you very much but please go watch a Star Trek marathon or something.

Caveat Emptor: I am not saying this will ever get published, but if it does, reading this is totally spoileriffic. Or not. Because it may never get published, or I may decide the hero is actually a chicken farmer from Tennessee.

Right! So here we go.

The year is 1246 AD. Probably.

Our hero and heroine are a monk and a nun respectively, at the Abbey of Blessed St. Ursa. They are were-bears (although the reader will hopefully not know this until most of the way through the book.) Some saints and martyrs are, for whatever demented reason I haven’t figured out yet, animal saints like St. Vulpes and St. Leo and so forth because why the hell not, people?  The monks and nuns dedicated to the service of these saints are thus lycanthropic, some of ‘em, although they don’t talk about it much. This is seen as a divine blessing by the monks. People are likely to be freaked out, though, so they keep it on the down-low and people just know that you really really really don’t mess with nuns. (We’ll see how that plays out, but I think it’s more likely that the populace is largely ignorant of this ability, and of course there are plenty of Franciscans and Benedictines and whatnot to act normal. )

There is no magic in this world, because I’m writing were-bear mysteries here, people.

The Abbey is probably in England, although if somebody wants to make a compelling case for France, I’ll listen. I’m just much more familiar with English popular history and can fake it better.

Alternate History Time:

Life seems to have gone on pretty much normally until the Third Crusade, which was even more of a disaster than it was in our world. It did not re-establish the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, but in fact was pretty much a total rout.  The death of the Holy Roman Emperor on said Third Crusade led to a quicker and uglier fragmentation of the Holy Roman Empire. Saladin, who lived about twenty years longer in this timeline and was rather more successful in gathering allies, simply moved north and took half of the former Holy Roman Empire while everyone was standing around wringing their hands and saying “But will we call it Rhomania or Byzantium?”

The Third Crusade went so badly that the Fourth Crusade didn’t get underway until 1218. This went even worse and would go down in history as the “Cursed Crusade.” The Crusaders sacked Constantinople (the Eastern Orthodox Church is probably NOT keen on were-whatevers now, if any were doing the berserker thing…) but instead of establishing the Latin Empire, they sort of vaguely remembered where they were going and headed south towards Jerusalem, looting and burning as they went.

The peasants did not appreciate this, and they appreciated it even less when the Crusaders brought some kind of plague with them. An aging Saladin sighed heavily and mobilized the army, aided by said very angry peasants, and completely wiped out the Cursed Crusade. Saracen medicine at the time was far more advanced and they could treat the Crusader Fever (might be a little too twee a name) which endeared them to the populace. A lot. What with one thing and another, Saladin found himself at the gates of the then-Republic of Venice, saying “Really, I don’t feel the need to go any farther, but seriously guys, give up on Jerusalem.”

A new pope (some say the old one was…helped…on his way out, and I would love to see Richard the Lionheart actually a were-lion and the Pope at the time, although I realize this may be just fan service) said “Y’know, I think this is a very good idea, let’s all just settle down.” This pope was originally of the order of St. Equus, and there are a lot of disparaging remarks made about how he’s a plowhorse, not a warhorse, and more interested in rebuilding than conquest.

So thirty years later, we come to our heroes.

Is the world at peace? I’d like it to be not in the middle of exploding too badly. Are the Danes doing anything? Is the remains of the Byzantine Empire still really pissed about that Constantinople thing? Are there three empires glaring at each other in this area going “Go one, somebody, make a move…”?

Say our forty-something hero was off fighting the Byzantines in his late twenties, what would he likely think of them as a group? (Presumably everyone is rather impressed with the Saracens at this point, who has pretty much proved they can kick your ass and patch it up again, although following the death of Saladin, internal politics may be causing all kinds of squabbles not quite so relevant here.) Would said Byzantines even be called Byzantines? If not, what do I call ‘em? Are they still based out of Constantinople, or is that nobody’s business but the Turks?

Have I bitten off more than I can chew?

Brainstorming in comments is very much solicited, and while I can offer nothing but my gratitude, I kinda want to thrash this out in rough form before I go too much farther…

(Note for readers: Discussion is probably going to be centered on the LJ version of this post, owing to easier threading. Head on over if you’re interested!)

ETA: Headed to bed for the night--feel free to continue poking the comments, and thank you all so much for your thoughts! It's been very helpful! I've definitely learned a few things, and have a pretty good idea on who my hero was fighting. Now I just have to sleep on whether I like Constantinople or Venice better. And also whether I want the Danes to have taken over Northern England and not actually left. (Might be more trouble than its worth, but it's sure a neat idea!)

Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.

I have friends who could probably tell you what kind of underwear they wore when, but the Crusades are not my thing. If you need anything specific I can ask for you!
BUT... St Otter?????

Okay. this is actually fairly juicy. The things that come to mind is that Islamis inherently expansionist,and one of the things that checked the expansion was the Arabs slapping down the insufficiently pious Egyptians of the time, for actually engaging in Trade with Constantinople. Saladin himself was a Kurd, and that was the core competency of his organization were relatives and friends from back home, as they were seen as steadier, than their more volatile Tribal Arab Allies. Without a fighting defense, the Forces of Islam would move north, and west much more aggressively. Charles Martel-like figures would need to take place in other countries, or you would see most of Greece, as well as the Balkans become Islamic. The Trans-caucases would probably have to step up earlier to defend the faith.

The thing you would be missing from this is the absolutely juicy, telenovela, style politics of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire. The other thing is the orthodox Church converting people as fast as they could in the Balkans and the norther half of the Anatolian Peninsula. At times, during the various wars, Constantinople was nbearly cut off, except by from the sea , due to it's rediculously over the top, but ultimately successful defensive walls (Not quite Minas Tirith, but it may have been the inspiration for it).

As for the Abbey, so, they make a mean Honey Meade, as well as run apiaries? I am thinkina a lotof large framed nuns with skeptical expressions all the time, and a fondness for small children.

This begs the question though, what the hell do the Animal St. Fighting Orders look like?!?!?!

Are they the source of all the horrible fairytales used to scare children all over the Balkans and the Middle East?

I'd go with the 'used to scare small children' idea myself... Can you imagine what a Templar knight who's some form of lycan would be like. never mind scaring small children, those tales probably keep town guards awake.

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I was going to ask if you were familiar with the Brother Cadfael mysteries, which center around a crimesolving crusader-turned-monk (and gardener and apothecary), but I they're set a century earlier than your proposed timeframe.

*grin* They're a large part of the inspiration--I liked them, but found some elements lacking. (Not enough were-bears, obviously.) As is usual with me, when I didn't quite find what it was after, I wanted to write it. But it needed nuns. And were-bears. And didn't need Crusaders, because everybody's done Crusaders already.

Edited at 2013-02-07 12:09 am (UTC)

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Okay, if the word Byzantine is a later one, I'm not married to it! What would they be? (I think 'Roman' is likely to be too confusing, though...)

I don't need to whump them! They can be unwhumped! I just want the hero to have fought somebody that for once isn't the predictable Crusade/Saracen thing, and it seems to me that sacking Constantinople probably left a lot of people very angry, and maybe the Eastern Orthodox Church is not keen on lycanthropes, so they'd make a much better enemy.

I am willing to have them be an honorable and still mostly intact foe! The hero's retired and hundreds of miles away!

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I was going to suggest Tim Powers' The Drawing of the Dark as background reading but a look at it reminds me that is set far later. It's a good read anyway, a historical fantasy about a magical pub and the struggle between East and West. No, really.

If you think Crusader Fever is too twee, how about the Christian Plague?

I second this book suggestion. An excellent book!

A) It'll make a great difference is all (or even the vast majority) of the lycanthropes are in religious orders. Wasn't sure from your synopsis if that's the case or not. Independent warlords who also happen to be ravening beasties is going to cause a lot of strain on the social fabric...not to mention, you know, satanist panics and witch trials.

B) Given the whole "sacredness of the human form" vibe that the Islamic faith has (I'm summarizing like _crazy_, of course) I'm pretty sure they'd be extremely non-welcoming to lycanthropes...even more so than the wary Europeans. Certainly religious orders are a much less likely sanctuary. While the whole phenomenon is supposedly on the QT (mostly), it would probably be a good rallying cry if the post-Saladin Saracens started feeling less magnanimous ("Kill the half-men...yadda, yadda, yadda")

Oh, definitely--I don't know if you can actually BE lycanthropic otherwise. I'm waffling on whether this is really truly a semi-divine power which can be retracted if you fall from the faith, or whether a nice blood-drinking sacrament is involved. (Nobody ever does enough with saints, so I'm inclined toward the former, but we'll see how the story goes...)

Get _The Cartoon History of the Universe_, volume 3. It covers the globe and includes the right time period and has the kind of story you might enjoy (I love me some cross-dressing Chinese emperors).

You have a Jenghis Khan issue - he was marauding 1206 to his death in 1227, and his sons kept going, only ending in 1241. I guess the five year hiatus might be enough to make things calmer, but they caused a lot of displacement in north eastern Europe.

Also, if 4th crusade was delayed 1203 -> 1218), then the Children's Crusade probably didn't happen, or happened later (1212-> ?).

Any of these people Robin Hood's grandkids?

Cathars (origin of the term 'bugger', from their aka Bougres) are also active, and being suppressed in France in 1244.


Venice is important, and the rigid horse collar. Inquisition started in 1227.

Constantinople's power is crushed - their empire got split up after the conquest, and Venice took a bunch of it.

My impression is that the Europeans were VERY mixed in their reaction to Saracens. Some respected their enemies for their fighting skills, knowledge and mysteries. Some looked down at them for being heathens. But they were more respected than heretics, at least.

I think given the mad upheaval, we can skip the Children's Crusade entirely and delay the worst of the Inquisition by a few years, although that's a very good point and there would definitely be some rumors that shit is getting weird on the continent. A more peaceful pope may stave that off significantly.

Lord, hadn't even thought about Khan...*clutches head*

The Byzantines would have referred to themselves as Romans. I'm not sure what those from western Europe would have called them. I know that the west didn't like the idea of the Byzantines considering themselves Romans. (It's been twenty-five years since my Byzantine history classes, so I've forgotten a lot.)

You know, at the time the Arabs probably had some of the better scientists too, and Byzantine had rudimentary technology [about the level of Faraday and Newton.] Combine those and it gets interesting.

Lets say you have all three empires glaring at each other, spying like crazy and engaged in an arms race to try and get an edge. [and not doing so because what one side invents on Monday, the other two have by the weekend.]

In this scenario Venice is a lot like Casablanca, and has some of the best bell-makers, glass blowers and alchemists... which becomes important when someone reverse engineers this funny Oriental black powder that explodes when you set fire to it.

How that effects things is debatable...but I'd imagine even out on the edge of the known world, i.e England, they'd feel cultural reverberations from all the change going on at the sharp end of things. Besides, imagine a bad-ass were-bear monk armed with a medieval flintlock shotgun...
how cool would that be?!

...I don't think we need the right to arm bears just yet. *grin* Although it occurs to me that Venice might have become almost like the former Constantinople in this scenario--"crossroads of the world" kinda thing. Maybe our monk spent time in Venice.

I don't want to give him too much advanced knowledge, because I do get a little annoyed when historical characters just happen to have been educated by so-and-so who happened to be from China/Jerusalem/whatever and thus they're working at an absurdly advanced level of medicine or whatever compared to everybody else. And he's not a doctor. The nun's an herbalist but a real one, in that she makes cough syrup or poisons or whatever, she doesn't do open heart surgery with flint knives or anything.

There's also Assassins, starting in the 1100s, so they're potential villains in the smoke.

I strongly recommend including Danish raids into England, in order to include some external danger to the investigatory were-bear idolizing Order. Random raiding for the complication win!

Fan-service or not, I LOVE the idea of a truly Lion-Hearted Richard. (Except for the question below, about where different weres might develop.)

Are people born were, or do they become were? Or both? Are there particular angels'djinn entrusted with the care of weres, one per species? ould Saladin be a were, too, of some sort of deserty breed? Are weres only from animals native to the lands? (This is more interesting to me than extremely deep delving into the politics, though Medieval politics with the twists you've outlined would be the bomb.)

*grin* Honestly, I don't see much of the politics making it into the book directly, I'm mostly trying to nail down WHO the monk was poking with sticks back in the day. Everybody does old Crusaders, and I'm tired of 'em.

Danish raids seem to have stopped around 1070, with the fall of the Great Heathen Army, which is a damn shame because dude, how awesome a name is "Great Heathen Army"?!

In this system, they become were, either through divine favor or blood sacraments. (I think probably the latter under the auspices of the former. I think that probably means that if you leave the higher orders of a were-saint, they kinda gotta kill you, unless there's a de-were-ing process.)

The Danes might be up to something if they had finally subjugated or forged a lasting treaty with the swedes (the two most inter-warring nations in the history of Europe). If so, they'd be nibbling North Sea coast, and might be eyeing England as a lost province (Sweyn, Canute and that lot).

I imagined that the third Crusade, had it gone worse, would have seen Acre lost, so the Teutonic Knights lost their base. So maybe they started on their crusades to convert the heathens in Eastern Europe much earlier? And being busy there, didn't bother with the fourth. (And also, in the Lithuanian forests, the pagans worshipped a bison, which is, yoou know, cool, and too little talked about.) I could see them carving out an ambitious new kingdom on the south coast of the Baltic sea. Maybe they and the Danes reach an agreement, and split the region east/west?

Oh, yeah, you'll have to decide what to do with the classic militant orders, the Templars and Hospitallers. Wiping them all out, at least the actively fighting ones, could work.

I don't know if Saladin could have marched to Venice - there are all these Magyars in the way, in Hungary. And they fight like the Saracens.

The plague would be called, I think, after the nationality of some of the crusading nations - Saxon Sickness (did William win, or did Harold hold out and keep Saxon rule?), Frankish Fever, Deutsch Disease, etc.

Hungary's on the north side of the mountains - Saladin could swing west in Greece and head up the coast, missing most of the Magyars. Otherwise, they need ships, which Arabs didn't have en masse. BUT! If Venice takes over Byzantium post-4th crusade, Saladin could take *that*, and send a strong message.

I also like the 'Acre lost' - Crusaders were feeling pretty nervous about their footholds by the 4th.

Danes were (I think) already somewhat Christian by 1200. Eastern Europe - meh, Khan messes up a lot of that.

1218: Subotai heads for Russia...

Vikings have mostly shifted to settlements, becoming Normans in France, for example.


The Vinland settlement of Leif Ericcson was 1013, defeated by the local Skraelings. Might be different if there's some were-people in the settlement. That could be the twitch that changes everything.

Danes were mostly not doing England at this time:

"As the Wessex kingdom in England began being more effective at repelling Viking invaders, they pirates turned north towards Scotland and Ireland. They Danes had already colonized several sparsely inhabited Islands around Scotland including the Orkneys and Hebrides, but in the tenth and 11 centuries made some major raids into Scotland and Ireland, most of which were repulsed. The Scots did not contest Danish possession of their outlying islands until the thirteenth century. "


ps: I could loan out my Cartoon History if you or the fella are in west Raleigh anytime soon. (by Larry Gonick)

They'd be Byzantines until the sacking of Constaniople in 1453, that's when the Turks took over for good.

Chances are he'd be impressed by their skills and equipment. His opinions on their general lifestyle would likelyreflect how pious he was but most Crusaders returned with a shudder of dismay at the general hygeine and cleanliness of Europe.