The idea for this story comes from a video games called Europa Universalis IV, a grand strategy game starting in The Renaissance and going on until The Napoleonic Era, allowing for a world that starts out with accurate 1444 borders and nations to turn radically and interestingly different. Now, the idea and the settings comes from EU4, however, this story is not a fanfiction, not in my opinion at least, because this story only takes the broad setting from EU4 - which, like I said, starts out as historical fiction only to diverge due to both player and AI decisions - the story itself is a lesbian romance between two heiresses starting in 1555 in this video game inspired historical fiction. As it is historical fiction, the people in this story are all made up or at least fictionalized, including a very fictionalized House of Savoy at the center of it all, borders will also be different and all that, so, if you're still interested, please read, review, and enjoy!
The Marchioness of Torino.
The Heiress of The Duchy of Savoy.
The Jerusalemite Visitor.
I was born in 1541 to Duchess Giovanna Vittoria II di Savoia and her husband Gianmaria I d'Este, who became known as Gianmaria The Pious, at the time of their wedding he was heir to Ferrara, however, in the time since The Habsburgs have come to rule that particular Duchy, leading to the worrisome revelation that ruling family of Austria - the family whose heirs were practically guaranteed to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor - once again had their eyes on Italy. The Italian states have spent the last century trying to assert their independence as foreign powers seek our lands. First, there was The Aragonese, who fancied themselves as overlords of Naples and Sicily, however, The Neapolitan War for Independence repelled them and Ferrante I declared himself King of Naples and Sicily, pushing Aragon off of The Italian peninsula and severely damaging their reputation in Europe, much to the delight of the power hungry Castillans. With Italy free of Aragon, then came offers of marriages and alliances with France, England, Burgundy, and Austria, all seeking more land and more control, this diplomatic invasion was seemingly stopped when Pope Guglielmus I convinced the four powers that their combined might could finally break The Saracen menace and take The Holy Land, thus, Europe's armies ravaged The Ottomans and The Mamluks before establishing Catholic control of The Holy Land and raising The Kingdom of Jerusalem. This did little to tame desire for Italy, in fact, Europe's powers were more than happy to test their crusade hardened armies against their neighbors, all the while, The Italian states bickered amongst ourselves with armies more and more reliant on foreign mercenaries, this leaves us here in Savoy in a precarious position, bordered by France and Burgundy and only just emerging as independent from The Holy Roman Empire, all the while only The Ligurian Sea separates us from Spain's holdings in Corsica and Sardinia, because of all this, we were searching for powerful allies to leverage against our aggressors, hence, I was to host a visit from the Princess of Jerusalem, Isabelle, product of the marriage of a French supported Provencal crusader as Jerusalem's King and the sister of The King of England as Queen.
I was chosen because I'm the same age as her and because of our relatively similar positions - I was named Marchioness of Torino, the title once referred to the ruler of Piedmont, however, since the March became part of The Duchy of Savoy, the title came to refer to the heir to the throne, which my mother ensured I would be even after my younger brother was born - this was certainly unconventional, as succession almost always favored males, my mother herself only rose to the throne when her two brothers died - one due to sickness, the other died in The Siege of Albenga during the Savoyard-Genoese War - Giovanna Vittoria I before her had merely ruled as a regent for her young son, very unlike my mother whose rule is absolute, despite the objections of my traditionalist father - my mother is quick to remind him that he no longer has any power outside of our Duchy. Isabelle meanwhile remains the sole child of the Jerusalemite royal marriage as her father insists that his wife is incapable of birthing a son, given how tightly knit the thrones of France, Provence, and Jerusalem are, these remarks only raise tensions between France and England, all the while Burgundy and Austria continue to scheme and gain power while the unified thrones of Castille and Aragon seek to make Spain an even greater power than it already is, all the while the states of Italy struggle to keep their independence now that we exposed ourselves when we rejected the authority of The Holy Roman Empire, so needless to say, tensions were high all across Europe as I prepared for Isabelle's visit, choosing to host her from the northern reaches of The Duchy, meeting at our family's estate on Lake Geneva.
The Duchy of Savoy currently consists of our capital Chambery in Savoia itself, our largest city Torino in Piedmont, as well as the counties of Cuneo, Nice, Monferrato, the recent addition of Albenga in Liguria, and two Swiss cantons: Vaud and Valais. On the Italian side, we border The Duchy of Milano, a state almost as large and almost as strong as us, however, relations between us was largely cordial, to south was Genoa, a declining but wealthy republic who has not been as friendly to us, hence we recently waged war against them, expanding our coastline in the process. Beyond Milano lies Venezia, a large and wealthy republic that has traditionally controlled trade in The Mediterranean, however, The Ottomans, Spaniards, and French seek to dispose both Venezia and Genoa as the maritime powers of The Mediterranean, Florence to the south is a rich banking power, however, their military ability isn't overtly impressive, the minor states of Mantua, Ferrara, and Siena are similarly unimpressive, the rest of the peninsula is divided between Naples in the south and The Papa State in between, both are large and power countries, however, neither seems particularly inclined to assist the rest of Italy - The Papal States are mainly concerned with their own interest and The Pope is aware of his special position and the fact it means he's hardly limited to the same obligations as a normal monarch, meanwhile, the young Kingdom of Naples practically considers itself a whole world apart from the rest of Italy, the southern nation refuses to waste its time on the bickering of the northern states, hence we looked beyond our regional borders for allies.
We would be alone other than the villa's staff - we weren't quite going so far as to create an alliance, this visit was just meant to build good will between our nations as the first step of a process eventually leading to an alliance.
I waited just outside of the estate for her arrival - she arrived in Nice by ship and then here to Lake Geneva - I was dressed in a red dress with white trim, behind me flanking the door to the estate itself were two guards, local Swiss mercenaries hired to protect the outside of the estate - they weren't trusted enough nor necessary to allow inside, our dependence on mercenaries was certainly a precarious issue, however enlistment for our professional army remains pitifully low. On my side stood Marie, the handmaiden who would serve Isabelle during her stay here, and Lucrezia, my own handmaiden. I smiled and watched as her carriage arrived and stopped a few meters away from me, a man came down from the reins and prepared to open the door for my guest.
"Introducing the blessed virgin Isabelle York de Valois, Princess of Jerusalem, heiress of The Holy Land, child of England and Provence, blood of Kings Richard IV of England and Rene III of France, her beauty and mind be only matched by the finest in Christendom!" Royal introductions were long and very grand, I should know, I had my own after all. I watched as the servant opened the carriage and Isabelle descended in her gold and white dress, she was roughly the same height and weight as I was, her hair was black and her skin, despite her English and Occitan heritage was an even tan - I had to imagine that this was due to exposure to the desert sun in Jerusalem.
"Greetings and virtues Isabelle of Jerusalem," my handmaiden began "I present to you Teresa di Savoia, Marchioness of Torino, heiress to The Duchy of Savoy, The Duchy of Monferrato, The Principality of Piedmont, The County of Nice, The Canton of Vaud, The Canton of Valais, and The County of Liguria, may she continue the great and holy reign of The House of Savoy."
"Hello Isabelle," I greeted, the royal formalities were over - I dropped the d'Este name when my father lost his power, I was fully aware that the marriage was purely political, my mother wanted all the power for herself and she would have it all while my father grumbled about it but lacked any means to resist, my mother largely left him to his devoutness and his search for alleged heretics - Isabelle's servants prepared to lift a chest containing her possessions "Welcome to Savoy,"
"Thank you Teresa, this is a lovely country." she replied as we walked into the estate itself, the two handmaidens directly behind and her servants behind them.
"Indeed, from the Ligurian coast to the vineyards of Monferrato, to these mighty Alps." I gestured to the mountains all around us, a beautiful sight any time of the year, from the luscious green peaks rising from the summer fog to the bright white winter snow, The House of Savoy really did hold a rich and diverse slice of Italy, a slice that we were determined to defend and control, regardless of the mounting threats from the great powers of Europe and from our own neighbors vying for supremacy of the peninsula.
"I wish I could say the same about my country, despite relentless efforts from soldiers and mercenaries alike The Kingdom remains very dangerous outside of the walls of Jerusalem itself, but if that's the cost of holding The Holy Land, then I suppose it's worth it." she replied, somewhat somber - I doubted she would be comfortable enough to elaborate fully just yet, but I could definitely imagine that things were far from easy for The Jerusalemite Monarchy, the great city simply lacked many of the amenities that the courts of Provence or London would be used to - soon the city would, given that Jerusalem was considered so holy and so vital that each and every Catholic head of state paid tribute to Jerusalem, from Archbishop-Princes to Doges to Dukes and Kings to The Holy Roman Emperor himself, even his holiness The Pope makes sure his newfound subjects in The Holy Land are well taken care of, however art, architecture, conversion, and modernization take time, so for now, the crown jewel of The Catholic world is little different than what the heathen Saracens reduced it to over the last few centuries.
"You will have no such worries here however, we're in a safe and luxurious estate under the protection of a well paid garrison, you will be served entirely by the handmaiden Marie - she is a native French speaker who is additionally fluent in English and Piedmontese Italian - she will be more than capable of understanding any order you can give." I didn't want - or need - to expressly share that the garrison was made up of mercenaries, nor were such politics necessary right now, our parents and ambassadors can handle the political aspects of this relationship, we were merely planting the seeds of good will, we were merely the first step - a much more important step would come when my father would visit King Robert I himself while on a holy pilgrimage, however for that to happen, this meeting had to go well - and so far, it seemed to be going well, Isabelle definitely seemed to be trying to hide quite a bit of enthusiasm - again, this was definitely a very different place than Jerusalem was.
Two Swiss pikemen opened the grand entrance into the estate for us - they would only get a brief glimpse of the interior - and Isabelle and I entered the estate, the main hall was decorated in white and gold with predominantly red furniture, the walls were filled with the portraits of various Savoyards Dukes and Duchess, including my mother and her namesake Duchess-Regent Giovanna-Vittoria I, I knew that one day my portrait would be on these walls, Duchess Teresa I di Savoia - however, I would surely have time, my mother was merely 36 years old - my father was 43, his first marriage was to a Habsburg princess who died along with her son during childbirth, Gianmaria wanted to disinherit himself and retreat to a monastery, however, his aging father persuaded him to remarry for political reasons - not that it stopped the Habsburgs from claiming the throne of Ferrara, which they ensnared in web of royal marriages to begin with - hence Gianmaria was known as The Pious. In any case, back to the present, I have a guest to entertain after all.
"This shall be your room, a spacious place including a large bed, a bath, and an excellent view of Lake Geneva" I said to Isabelle as we reached the second floor of the estate and I opened her door "and as I said Marie will service you, feel free to rest after your long trip, we will have plenty of chances to spend time together and enjoy the wonders that Savoy has to offer, there's no need to rush."
"Thank you Teresa," she replied "The voyage and then the wagon trip was certainly exhausting. My servants shall leave my belongings and then I'll dismiss them, I'm certain that your hospitality will be more than enough for me."
"Very well my new friend, should something arise, I will be in the estate's library attending to my studies." despite the royal visit, I was still expected to spend at least a little bit of time with my tutor, Brunella insisted that I learn the all of the various dialects of Italian, French, Castillan, and English, saying that I needed to be versatile as a ruler and that I needed to be prepared should the most advantageous husband be a foreign one - I was well aware that the royal customs meant that I had no choice but to accept whatever particular political marriage my mother deemed best, it would have little to nothing to do with whoever - if anyone - I actually came to love, but such was the circumstance of my otherwise privileged birth.
The flag of Savoy was a central white cross on a red background, in the four corners of the cross, were the letters FERT - our dynasty's motto was Foedere et Religione Tenemur - We are bound by treaty and religion - a rather suitable motto for a state in Catholic Europe, where treaties and alliances are a constant phenomenon as each and every state attempts to subjugate its neighbors, its friends, and its enemies alike, regardless of comparative size or power - should the Duke of Milano decide to become King of Spain, he won't let Milano's weaker position stop him, he'll use marriages, favors, perhaps even assassination to maximize his chances at getting what he wanted, and his rivals would go just as far as to stop him - this is merely an example, as far as I know The Milanese Sforzas aren't attempting to usurp The Spanish Borgias. The Borgia and Sforza are both young and ambitious dynasties, the Sforza only rose up after the last of The Visconti died off about a century ago whilst The Borgia pledged their allegiance to Castille against their Aragonese homeland, the dynasty's head, General Fernando de Borja was married to a Castillan princess, suspiciously, his brother-in-law and heir to the throne died on a hunting trip, in any case, when Fernando's cardinal cousin was named Pope, The Borgia name suddenly meant something and the dying Castillan King reluctantly named Borgia as his heir, thus Fernando II Borgia of Castille rose to the throne and he quickly moved to unite Spain after Aragon was left weak and embarrassed by the rise of Naples. Castille was dominant over Aragon and Navarra was already a vassal, Fernando II became ruler of all of Iberia except for the very rich and very powerful seafaring nation of Portugal. All around Europe powerful nations were growing ever larger and ever stronger, every day more of Ireland falls to England as The House of York attempts to unify The British Aisles, meanwhile France has long ago crushed The Bretons and effectively acts as overlord to both Provence and therefore Jerusalem - very dangerous for us given that France considers Nice and Chambery as their rightful territory, meanwhile The Habsburgs in Austria consider the entire Duchy to be their rightful territory as part of their Holy Roman Empire, east of The Empire is Hungary, a large but declining state that The Habsburgs have come to rule, beyond that, The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth shields Europe from outside threats, The Jagiellon Kings have eliminated The Crimean Khanate and halted the western expansion of Russia, north of all this lie Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, bickering Scandinavian Kingdoms at each other's throats since the collapse of The Kalmar Union, and here on the shores of Lake Geneva we're not very far from The Burgundian border, Europe is a very dangerous place right now and a rolling pebble could easily turn into an avalanche in these conditions, the only good side is that right now it seems like The Italian peninsula itself is at peace, though even we're not safe from a bloody conflict that will likely drag in all of Europe and perhaps even beyond.
Needless to say, politics were a stressful matter, so once my studies were over, I went to my bedroom and had Lucrezia prepare me a bath - I was certainly capable of bathing myself however my handmaiden was willing to help and besides, I enjoyed it when she bathed me - her hands were quite soothing and I trusted her in these matters - I hardly saw it as particularly unusual, it was just bathing and if my handmaiden's presence made things more comfortable for me, then so be it, besides, given just who my current visitor was, it was very important to be as clean and as impressive as possibly, I had to communicate that Savoy was a wealthy and powerful state with a high standard of living by modern standards to impress The Jerusalemites, make it clear that an alliance would be mutually beneficial - we were aware that such an alliance risked war with The Ottomans and Mamluks who seeked to recover their lost territory from the newly reformed Kingdom, however, given the situation around us, this was a risk that we were willing to take - after all, The Ottomans and The Mamluks were distant enough as to not provide a direct threat for our own country. I seriously was spending far too much time thinking about politics, I really did need to relax and hopefully this bath would get me there, this wasn't a political meetings, Isabelle and I were merely building good will, chances are she'll eventually have a younger sibling that will become heir to Jerusalem and she'll never end up in an actual position for power, as for me, well, I'll deal with that hurdle once I get there.
"My lady," Lucrezia summoned me "The bath is ready."
"Thank you Lucrezia," I lowered my body into the warm and soothing water and I let the young woman wash my stress away, I looked around my room, the design was intricate and screamed of wealth, a white décor with golden trim and red furniture, my large poster bed was surrounded by white curtains - I enjoyed my privacy while asleep - which I do recognize is rather strange coming from someone who is being bathed by another girl - opposite of my bed was a set of decorative swords flanked by the flags of The Duchy of Savoy and The Duchy of Monferrato - a simple flag with a thin red band above a much larger white one - the two primary titles of The House of Savoy - this wasn't common bedroom furniture however my bedroom also doubled as my own private sanctuary here on the shores of Lake Geneva where I often spend the summer months, hence there were various chairs and couches throughout the room, a desk, and even a small bookshelf - only a fraction of the size of any of the shelves of the estate's library, however, it suited my purposes. My room also had access to an excellent view of the lake and of The Alps around as beyond a set of curtains was the doors to the balcony.
Most of the year I spent back at Chambery in The Chateau de Chambery, where my mother held court, when I reached maturity in a few short years I'm supposed to move to Torino to administer my current title of The March of Torino, though once my mother dies or abdicates, I will return to our seat our power in Chambery - there's no reason to change the capital after all, The Duchy of Savoy should have its capital in Savoy, even if we've largely dropped our French customs for Piedmontese ones, even if we're associated more with Italia than France - indeed even I consider ourselves to be Italians now - however, our origins are in France and for the foreseeable future, as is our seat of power. I do admit however, moving our capital deeper into Italia may be the smart move just to distance ourselves a little bit more from our powerful potential enemies in France, however, as long as we remain in control of our French and Swiss territory and as long as we don't need to centralize our Italian holdings - something that we would have to do should we wish to expand into the peninsula proper, it makes more sense to govern a large Italian realm from Torino which is culturally and geographically indisputably Italian rather than the culturally and geographically French city of Chambery, however, for now, in our multicultural duchy where Swiss, Italian, and French meet and mix, our Chateau which its rich history of Savoyard Dukes and its important status to the realm itself - after all only Torino and Nice are larger. In any case, it was certainly a privilege to be the heiress of such a wealthy and powerful Italian state even as the larger and stronger countries in Europe threaten to descend upon us.
Once I had finished my bath Lucrezia helped me dry off before I dismissed her for the night, thanking her as she left. I put on my nightgown and I climbed into my bed, shutting the curtains behind me and pulling the warm covers over me as I rested my black-haired head on pillows and drifted off to sleep.
The next morning I waited in the dining room as the servants prepared a lavish breakfast for Isabelle and I, the sun came over the center of the table from the large window, slowly but surely causing the morning fog to dissipate, again, I must stress that the natural beauty of this region of The Duchy was simply unmatched, I loved my country and I hope its people did too, it is so beautiful and so diverse, from these mighty, mighty mountains around this beautiful lake to the flowing hills of the vineyards of Monferrato to the sandy beaches of The Ligurian Coast, who else could boast such natural diversity in a comparatively small area? Very few Dukes, Kings, or even Emperors could boast such a domain, therefore, I was very pleased to see Isabelle pause and admire the view before she took a seat near me and joined me for our upcoming meal.
"Hello Isabelle," I greeted my new friend "I trust that you slept well?"
"Yes I did Teresa," she smiled "Thank you very much, so far your hospitality has been legendary."
"The Duchy of Savoy is very good to her allies," I smiled in return "Later today I'll take you for a tour of the area, the local villages and the shores of The Lake, I promise you'll enjoy it."
"I'm sure I will," she replied "It certainly is beautiful, I wish Jerusalem could be more like this."
"Thank you," I noticed a very clear longingness in her voice, she loved Jerusalem and she certainly understand the significance of The Holy Land, however she misses the natural beauty and the standard of living of Europe, and could I blame her? In many ways my mission here was to show her just how much better our Duchy was than her Kingdom in order to draw the attention of her father and her King, however it did pain me to see a girl who was so much like me - same age, similar rank, same level of education, and seemingly compatible personalities based on what I've experienced thus far - with such a pronounced sadness in her voice, I'm sure that she intended to hide her feelings on the matter, however she had that momentarily slip up and I certainly noticed.
"Tell me about yourself Teresa," she requested - I had to wonder if she had any real friends in Jerusalem, I mean given that The Kingdom was established rather recently, there's not much of a European style nobility for her to socialize with, however, in any case, I was happy to do my best to become her friend regardless, she's a poor little thing - yes she's blessed with a life of wealth and royalty but it takes more than gold and titles to make somebody happy, we're a strange, selfish, and lonely race of people, every man or woman needs friends or they'll be driven mad with boredom and loneliness.
"Well I've been groomed as royalty for my entire life, I'm sure you're familiar with that aspect of our way of life," she nodded as I spoke "I've been taught history, English obviously, French, Castillan, and all of Italia's dialects, I've been trained in statecraft, even battle and war..."
"War?" Isabelle asked, quite surprised - and for good reason too, it certainly wasn't common for women to command armies in battle, however Giovanna Vittoria II was Duchess of Savoy, which meant that if we were to enter a major conflict, my mother would be the one to lead our armies into battle, whether the soldiers are finally the professional army that we are determined to construct or the mercenaries that we have thus far been dependent on, she would be the one at the helm - though I did doubt that she would actually advance on foot in the heart of a pike-and-shot formation - she was far too important to lose in battle - instead she would be on the front lines commanding her army to fight, and, when the time came and my mother eventually left the throne for me, I would then be expected to repeat her feats should the situation present itself, hence, even now I was taught the basics of how to fight a war.
"Yes, I'm first in line for the throne, if I need to lead Savoy's forces into battle one day, I need to know what I'm doing." I explained.
"Wow..." Isabelle seemed to be imagining herself in such a position "You're very brave, even if my parents let me learn the art of war I couldn't imagine myself on the battlefield."
"Thank you Isabelle, I smiled as my servants began to bring food in "However, there's no need to worry about war here, we're safe and sound, shielded from the dangers of the outside world by these mighty Alps."
"Very well then," she responded "What else do you do?"
"Now I don't get very many chances to do this, but I love to go out of the palace whenever possible, I like to explore the various villages of The Duchy, I want to meet the people that I'll one day rule over, I went to see the tress and the mountains up close, I want to feel the fresh grapes in the vineyards, I want to see all the wonders that Savoy has to offer." I felt very passionate about this subject, I didn't understand how I was supposed to become a monarch if I was always kept inside a palace or an estate, I felt that no amount of education or information could beat any real experience - I didn't want to hear about the state of the mercenaries, I wanted to see it, I didn't want to be told about the bickering of nobles, I wanted to go to the nobles and here both sides of the problem before using my power to resolve it, I didn't want to find out about a food shortage, I wanted to see it for myself - I wanted a more direct relationship with the people who I will govern - that's not to say that I intend to give power to the peasants or even to the nobles, I intended to rule just as absolutely as my predecessors, I simply wanted to be as well-informed and as experienced as I possibly could be when I'm making these decisions.
"Ooh!" Isabelle's head perked up even more, I could definitely tell that she was fascinated "You must show me!"
"That's what I intend to do today," I smirked as we began to eat.
"Where are we going now?" Isabelle eagerly asked as we walked away from the last of the villages we visited, I had a special surprise in store for her.
"Follow me, I found this spot a few years ago, there's a hill with an excellent view, you'll love it!" I grabbed her hand and pulled her along with me, we were having an amazing day, everything fascinated her, from the natural beauty of the area to the lavish homes of the local nobles to the towering European churches - obviously Jerusalem did have its own churches and more were being built every day since the establishment of The Kingdom, however, as of now, the largest and newest churches in Jerusalem aren't very much more impressive than what's become a standard Catholic church in Europe - whether its a towering medieval Gothic Cathedral or an older yet elegant Romanesque church or the newer Renaissance churches harkening back to the wonders of antiquity.
I took Isabelle up the hill and lead her to my special spot, we reached the top of the hill and looked out at the brilliant reflection of the setting sun across the smooth waters of Lake Geneva, the sun itself which would soon disappear below the massive Alpine peaks around us, the beautiful estate below us, we sat down on the grass and just looked across the world below us - it was bliss, just myself and Isabelle with this beautiful view, our servants have kept their distance all day and now was no exception - I knew that they were close enough that they would appear when needed, but otherwise, it was out of sight and out of mind. I watched as the sun began to disappear underneath The Alps to the west, I felt Isabelle's warm hand in my own, this moment just felt perfect, a rare moment of bliss away from politics or tutoring, this was what I needed and I could only imagine that this was exactly what Isabelle has been longing for, I turned to face her, she was absolutely delighted, her smile was effectively a constant today and I could see the reflection of the setting sun in her beautiful brown eyes, hers meant mine.
"Isn't it perfect?" I asked.
"Almost," she whispered, coming closer - I knew it wasn't right, I knew that we were both women, however, I also knew that it felt so right, I knew that I wanted it and now, I could tell that she wanted it, so with her whispered invitation, I closed the distance with a kiss.
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