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?