RIP Sjef van Vlaanderen

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An entirely too long story for most but if you have half an hour to kill you might enjoy it. I just finished a playthrough of several months yesterday (started end of April) and felt compelled to write a little something about it. Except I never stopped writing! :razz: I put in some tongue-in-cheek remarks about the patches, general development and quests of the game. After finishing this story I do feel like I can't play Vlandians ever again. :wink: I kept one early save from when Sjef was a free agent but I think his story is finished as it is now. Thank you Taleworlds for the experience, although some of it was unintentional, it was quite a ride! Can't wait to go again!


Sjef was always meant for greatness. He was born from urban merchants and he showed leadership skills at a very early age. He also loved to care for the family horses growing up. As he was growing up he rode with the scouts and learned he had a knack for archery and even defeated an enemy in one-to-one combat. He grew up to be abnormally large - the tallest man in all the lands.

One fateful day his parents were slaughtered and his two youngest siblings were taken but Sjef and his brother Nogand survived because Sjef managed to subdue a raider. Nogand and Sjef traveled to a training field right in the middle between Poros, Canoros, Zestea and Tevea, the only one of its kind in all the lands. Sjef ran the courses and they went smoothly for him, like he'd somehow done this all before...

Then word reached them that their brother Varic and sister Alda were kept in a bandit hideout in a forest just a little north from their position. After recruiting some local villagers they rode out. Sjef led the group and quickly defeated the bandits sitting at their campfires. Suddenly, the bandit leader Radagos marched out from the forest with a group of tough looking bandits. Radagos was impressed with Sjef's abilities and offered him a duel to settle the matter. Sjef was all to happy to accept.

Sjef drew first blood with his second swing and was confident he would settle this matter in just a few more seconds. But then Radagos managed to get a swing in of his own. And another. And another, and this one really hurt bad! Sjef turtled behind his shield as Radagos was wailing away at it. The blood was pouring into his eyes and it was hard to think. It seemed like the bastard had cut him everywhere! Meanwhile the splinters were flying off his shield from the relentless attacks of Radagos. Sjef didn't think the shield would last much longer. What to do, what to do? In a desperate move he suddenly rushed Radagos and bashed him with his shield. The mighty bandit was stunned, his eyes opened wide as Sjef let his sword swing down on the mighty bandit. Radagos surrendered just as Sjef was preparing to deal the fatal blow.

Radagos was very forthcoming after that. He told Sjef that Varic and Alda were kept safe by his men. He just needed to be sure he would be safe and he would lead them to their siblings. Nogand decided to take Radagos to the slaver market and find a way to release the kids. He asked Sjef to raise the money and build a respectable clan.

So it was that Sjef would roam the lands. He became an accomplished trader and he loved slaying looters. I can't be emphasize enough how much he enjoyed slaughtering them. He would chase them all across Calradia no matter how big or small the group was. Honestly, he spent entirely too much time slaughtering the poor guys until there wasn't a bandit to be found in all of Vlandia. Once he had made enough money he bought a brewery in Sargot and hired Lyd Horsethief to become the leader of a caravan. Money started to really pour in and Sjef bought several more workshops but he wanted more...

He decided to offer his services to Derthert of Vlandia. Born a Vlandian himself, Sjef thought Derthert would be able to conquer all the lands and he would be the Chosen to make it happen.

All beginnings are hard and for none it was harder than the men hired by Sjef. Siege upon siege was mismanaged and his troops were slaughtered by the hundreds. Fellow Vlandians were starting to get reluctant to join his armies because, although they would often capture the settlement they were after, they usually went home with just a dozen or so survivors. Thankfully, Sjef did improve his leadership and tactics over time. He found out he could keep his siege engines in reserve and then move them onto the battlefield all together to avoid them being picked off easily by the catapults on the walls of their enemy. Sieges went a lot smoother since then and many a wall was cracked in the process.

Sjef hired Arachos the Silent and Dima the Wanderer to improve his cavalry. Ratagost the Unlucky would be leading his shock troops while Undgar Bitterdraught led his infantry and also provided medical assistance. Shumsan of the Wastes was his scout and leader of the archers.

After several years and countless victories Derthert finally allowed Sjef to have his first castle, Thractorae castle. Sjef was so excited! He immediately started to plan improvements for the castle. And although he was so excited and invested in Thractorae castle, try as he might, he could not fix the issue of his people starving. Finally at his wit's end, with a heavy heart, he just gave up on his people. He feared they might rebel against him if they were without food for too long but what could he do? He tried everything...

Sjef thought it was time to concentrate on other things in his life. At a banquet several years earlier he had seen the beautiful Silvind. She was as cruel as she was beautiful but Sjef didn't mind. He was head over heels with this woman from the moment he had laid eyes on her. He had thought himself below her, coming from a merchant family and Silvind being a noble. But now he had a castle! After asking every noble he encountered about Silvind he finally found her just outside Pen Cannoc. Sjef confessed his love to her and Silvind was very flattered. She would, however, need him to speak to her again later, she wouldn't just let him take her away to his new castle. She was a lady, after all.

Sjef would become a legend in the tournaments. Every settlement he visited that had a tournament, he would participate. After a while, though, when he had improved the equipment of his companions, he found Ratagost to be an exceptional challenge. Fighting Ratagost felt like cleaving a tree with a stick at times. He even bested Sjef on more than one occasion. Sjef's ego got the better of him and Ratagost became his first companion to have his own party. Anything to keep him away from these tournaments!

Sjef found Silvind once more. She was clearly impressed by his deeds, his tournament wins and his successful sieges. Still, she wanted to be impressed further and she wanted him to get the approval of her parents as well.

Meanwhile a miracle had happened: The lands had gone into era 1.2 and Thractorae was no longer starving! Sjef thanked the gods for his newfound fortune and with renewed vigor started improving the castle and pumping money into the projects to have them complete as quickly as possible.

The constant little attacks from Battania started to frustrate Sjef. They never managed to take his castle from him and never really held on to any territory outside Battania for too long but Sjef had had enough. He had wanted to impress Silvind and he decided that destroying Battania was the perfect way. He would bathe in Battanian blood to show his commitment to Silvind, her parents Unthery and Calatild and to all of Vlandia!

It took years but Derthert finally saw the potential that Sjef had. Sjef was awarded Flintolg castle, Rhemtoil castle and even the great settlement of Seonon. Seonon really helped Sjef become richer and richer. He even became a millionaire! But Caladog proved to be a sly dog. Although Battania was whittled down to only a fraction of its former glory, the iconic city Pen Cannoc still stood and Caladog was proud of it. Sjef set out to take it from him.

Pen Cannoc was the hardest siege of Sjef's life up to that point. The Battanians here were expert woodworkers and seemed to be able to build catapults and scorpions almost as quickly as Sjef's trebuchets and catapults could crush them. After more than a month, finally a wall was breached and Sjef ordered his army to rush in. Sjef was bloodthirsty, he wanted Caladog's head! He jumped off his horse and rushed in together with his men. There were so many of his men in the stampede that Sjef thought he might get crushed. Thankfully he was a giant of a man and his troops allowed him just enough space to wade through the masses to engage the enemy. Sjef cleaved his way through the gaping hole in the wall leaving bodies behind left and right. He left his men in the courtyard as he cleared one of the towers of archers and when he returned he found his men had slaughtered every single Battanian warrior in Pen Cannoc. No Caladog, though. The cowardly bastard had fled his last standing and greatest city the night before the wall was breached. "Fine", Sjef thought, "let him rot in the forest like the cowardly dog that he is!" Battania was declared to be eradicated. Caladog never joined any other faction and truly did rot in the forest.

Sjef went back to his darling Silvind meaning to ask for her hand in marriage. Alas, somehow he could not speak the words. Sjef was 45 years old. The "powers that be" found him to be too old for marriage and even took the power to utter the word marriage away from him... Enraged, Sjef set his sights on Sturgia, led by the mad king Ragavand. The man had done nothing to him but Sjef would destroy his kingdom because he felt like something had to suffer for his loss. He was never going to be with the woman he loved so much and someone, anyone, would pay.

The whole kingdom of Sturgia would fall within weeks. Sjef didn't know if it was his rage or his improved experience but the Sturgians didn't seem even remotely as tough as the Battanians had proven to be. Sjef's hunger for destruction was far from satisfied. Sjef's mighty armies would destroy both the northern and southern empire in the weeks following as well. Vlandia now held roughly 3/4 of the lands: Vlandia, the former Battania and the former Sturgia. Encounters with the Aserai had been brief and pretty insignificant. There had not really been an encounter with the Khuzait up to that point either.

Another miracle happened: The lands went into era 1.4 and Sjef found that he could speak about marriage again! He rushed back to Sargot and did whatever menial tasks Calatild could come up with. Satisfied, Calatild agreed to Sjef's and Silvind's marriage! Sjef rode out to find Silvind as soon as he could. He managed to surprise her as she walked alone in the forest around Pen Cannoc, her favourite city. He handed her a single rose, got to one knee and asked her to marry him. She said yes! They finally got married on Winter 11, 1099. Sjef was as happy as he had been when he was awarded his first castle. Sjef kept her close in the beginning and as the governess of Seonon for a while but eventually allowed her to have her own army again. Remember, she was as cruel as she was beautiful and her need for blood-shed was perhaps even greater than that of Sjef. They would join forces regularly and their combined leadership formed some of the largest and most feared armies in the lands. Alas, she would never bear him any children.

Sjef went on to capture Epicrotea which would prove to be the greatest single battle of his life. The speed at which these people built their defences was truly awe-inspiring. Sjef spent months trying to break them down. His army would be attacked by other armies several times in the process as well. Many of the forces of Epicrotea starved to death but still more stood as he finally broke down that wall and captured the city. Sjef never felt so tired ever again as he did after the Epicrotea siege.

Sjef and Silvind would go on to capture Diathma, Argoron and Amprela in the following months. But that seemed to have been stretching too far. They also seemed to have angered the Khuzait in the process. Monchug was starting to fight back and his horse archers required very different strategies from what Sjef was used to up to that point. Sjef was getting most frustrated with Garios, the western Emperor. Why can't he crush him like he did the others? Fighting two fronts at the same time, with the occasional skirmish from the Aserai mixed in, Vlandia was pushed back further and further. Sjef rushed from battle to battle but he couldn't do it all on his own. Vlandia was pushed back to Epicrotea. The Khuzaits had taken much of former Sturgia and the western Empire had taken most of the other Empires' former territories. Sjef decided he would focus on Garios and get him down to his knees and beg for his life and that of his family! He remembered a conversation he had had shortly after defeating the bandit boss Radagos with a man called Arzagos some twenty years prior. They agreed that the empires must be eradicated from this world and he was close to this goal. He had also talked to a lady called Istiana who wanted the empire to rule all but he had refused to help her even after lying at first saying that he would. Sjef swore he could feel the witch's eyes looking at him from the dark sometimes. He needed Garios out before she could do something about it.

The war did not go well. Sjef let the other Vlandians deal with the Khuzait even while they harassed his castles Kranirog and Mazhadan. They would never capture them, though. The Vlandians looked after their own. Sjef besieged Rhotae and Jalmarys. Then either the western empire or the Khuzait would besiege his settlement of Seonon and Sjef would break his current siege rush back to it. Many times he found his fellow Vlandians protecting Seonon as well but he was just too scared to lose this settlement to leave it for too long. Before he could get back Rhotae and Jalmarys were already under Empire rule again. He would occasionally have to take back Epicrotea as well. Finally he decided to do something he hadn't done all these years. He invested in a proper garrison in Seonon. He thought to be clever and took the troops of his companions and put them in the garrison, only to find that they would steal them right back as soon as he turned his back! So ultimately he actually had to draft and train up some troops himself and put those in the garrison. Also making sure to keep his companions busy so they wouldn't take all those troops again. It proved to be a drain on his funds but he had over 10 million now so he could deal with it.

The constant attacks on Seonon finally died down but the endless cycle of Epicrotea, Rhotae and Jalmarys switching hands still didn't seem to stop. A few times Sjef would retake Rhotae and Jalmarys and found that he could go on even further. He would take Amitatys as well only to find that Jalmarys was now taken and even the silly Aserai had been so bold to take Ortysia from them. Sjef would stay persistent despite the hopelessness of it all. Whenever his armies would break he would travel back to Vlandia to pick up recruits and make a detour through former Battania to pick up some Highborn youth and warriors because they were truly remarkable archers. He was not able to break the cycle, try as he might.

In came era 1.5. Sjef feels Garios' armies weakening. For the first time he is able to break through to Zeonica and take it! He is able to hold on to Amitatys longer than he did before. Sjef is getting frustrated with Garios' generals. It is always Desporion, Achios and Vipon that take the settlements back. One day he captured Vipon for what must have been the 50th time and he's just too tired to look at that face again. He orders him to be put on the ground on his knees and beckons Ratagost for his two handed axe. He takes a long look at Vipon, at his neck. He is drained, tired. Desperate. He suddenly lets out a terrifying howl at the sky... and lobs off the annoying imperial's head. Remarkably, this was his first execution in all his conquests and he can't remember having felt this satisfied in a long, long time.

After all these years finally his brother Nogand shows up again. He found out where Varic and Alda are being kept! One of Radagos' rivals has them. Radagos apparently stayed with Nogand for almost 30 years trying to find them. Sjef seems to have missed an important part of what happened but it doesn't matter now. He needs to get his brother and sister back! He assembles a team of his most elite infantry and archers and, under the cover of darkness, they assault the bandit hideout. Sjef and his troops easily cut through their forces and Radagos seems to have learned a few new tricks as well. They finally get to the leader, Galter, and Sjef duels him. Now, so much more experienced than when he fought Radagos, he is able to easily fend off any attack from the bandit leader and defeat him. Sjef is finally reunited with Varic and Alda who, for some mystical reason, have remained kids all this time... The kids are transported away. For his help, Sjef allows Radagos to go free. Unfortunately, the caravan must've misunderstood and both kids were brought to Chaikand and were executed the next day. RIP Varic and Alda.

Sjef decided to focus on combat again. The endless battle cycle seems to be broken and Sjef is getting bloodthirsty again. A few weeks later he manages to catch Monchug, leader of the Khuzaits and also takes his head. Move forward another month and Sjef now has a firm hold of Amitatys and Zeonica. He is trying to besiege Poros next. But what does his eye see? Garios is leading a small army in the region. Sjef manages to out-maneuver the smaller and quicker force into a corner of a valley. He speaks with Garios who is unwilling to bend the knee - so they fight. Sjef wouldn't have it any other way. The battle is short. Sjef is so experienced now that he has his infantry line up on the west of the enemy force while his cavalry line up on the east. The archers come over the hill just south of the enemy line and start firing while his infantry marches towards them. The horse archers circle the 200 or so men and keep shooting them down in impressive numbers. Just before the infantry reaches the enemy forces the cavalry gallop in towards them as well. In one glorious "hammer and anvil" maneuver most of the enemy forces are destroyed. Most of the survivors run off and the fools that linger are swiftly dealt with.

Garios is brought before Sjef. They look each other deep in the eyes. Garios has his ever arrogant, defiant look and Sjef on the other side has his piercing look that you can feel in your soul. It's almost like the old enemies are still doing battle even without any words or weapons. Suddenly, Sjef bursts out laughing. He points to the ground several times and his soldiers move Garios to his knees. Sjef keeps laughing, slightly louder now. He beckons to Ratagost, who knows exactly what he wants. As Sjef takes the axe in his hands his laughter gets even louder. Sjef looks down at Garios, his eyes widen and he turns his head to the sky as his laughter now turns absolutely maniacal. He swings the axe back as far as he can, bending his back as far as he can as well. And then, with all his might, he swings the axe down on the neck of Garios and thus finally ends his rule. Still laughing, he turns his back to the headless corpse and walks off to his tent while making a wave off gesture behind him. The corpse is dragged off. The soldiers would later say that the laughter would not stop until the sun came up the next day.

Sjef is now 60 years old. He feels his age catch up with him. In this new era his companions have died left and right. Most of his new companions he doesn't even know by name anymore. He just hired them for their skills, not for who they are. Many of his friends have died of old age. Some even died while in his army and their troops won't leave the army voluntarily, very awkward... Even the king has died. For some reason, the new king keeps assigning conquered settlements to those dead lords, though. Erdurand always was a bit... special... but Derthert would not hear of it.

Sjef is able to besiege Poros and Lycaron. Tadeos is clearly not the warlord his father, Garios, was. Sjef moves on further, to Vostrum, but needs to break his siege to protect Lycaron. He is now so far from Vlandia that he can't expect any help from his fellow Vlandians to keep any settlements. On the way back Sjef suddenly falls deeply ill. The physicians say it's the plague. He only has a few more weeks to live.

Silvind is summoned to his side just in time to protect Amitatys from attack by the Empire. Sjef and Silvind find each other on the battlefield after another glorious victory, having completely decimated the imperial forces. They are both covered in blood from head to toe. Slowly they walk towards each other, drop their sword and shield, and hold each other in a warm and tight embrace. And they cry. Here stand the Blood King and his Blood Queen and they know their time together is short. They don't leave each other's side for the rest of the day and that night they have one more night of passion. Silvind still doesn't get pregnant, though.

Nearing death rapidly, Sjef set out for one more siege. The nearby castle of Sestadeim would be the target. It has eluded him for years as he always had to break off the siege to defend a nearby settlement. It is a fitting end for both of them. At several points during the siege Sjef was at death's door but his surgeons were able to patch him up a handful of times. Sometimes it felt like time would pause and Sjef felt that he was about to die and he had a decision to make but what was this decision? He was waiting for some sort of sign but it never came. They finally broke the wall and Sjef called for an all out attack. He joined the battle but, barely able to stand at this point, he had to enjoy the bloodshed from afar. He smiled as he heard the cries of agony and the death gargles of their enemies. When he saw the swords raised of his troops and heard their triumphant bellowing, he let out a single "HAH!" and fell to the ground, dead.

His archer, whose name nobody cared to remember, brought his body back to Seonon to be buried close to Silvind's mansion. Nobody could control the Van Vlaanderen clan after that and so ends this story. RIP Sjef, passed away winter of 1114.
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