Ilya the Wanderer
As told to me by my mother I was born in March of 1540. My father was the captain of a trading ship and we lived in Stockholm. When I was two years old my mother and I went with my father on one of his trading voyages. A great storm that lasted seven days forced the ship off course to the South until it ran aground and broke up. My mother and I were the only survivors. My mother was lost for weeks in the unfamiliar land until she was found by a caravan heading for the Caspian Sea. The leader of the caravan had known my late father and took us along. After more than a month of traveling to the South the caravan was attacked by cossacks from the Don river. Those of us not killed in the attack were taken as captives. A cossack chieftain took a liking to my mother and took in my mother and me.
The Attman raised me as his own son but he was a rigid man who I never learned to like. I grew up in the Cossack settlement of Razdory where the rivers Don and Donets flowed together. Over the years I learned to handle a boat on the river, to ride a horse, and to fight like the Cossacks. I was the leader of a kuren of ten men when at the age of seventeen years I attended my first Krug, the Cossack General Assembly. Much of the Krug consisted of politics going on around fires by small groups of men drinking vast amounts of everything. I learned to drink, which I liked, and about politics, which I didn't.
Two years later my mother died of a fever in the spring. I took my possessions, which consisted of some clothes and my weapons and left the settlement. I joined a caravan as a guard. My job was to ride on the flank of the caravan to ensure we were not being followed. It was a mostly solitary task. I spent the time thinking about and planning for the future. The caravan traveled for thirty-six days before it reached the city of Peshwar. There the goods were put on boats to travel down river. I was able to use the expertise with boats that I learned on the Don and Donets to guide one of the boats down the river called Indus to the Sea of the Indies. We then followed the coast South to Goa.
Goa is a trading center run by people called Portuguese. Several days were spent unloading the cargo onto the dock at Goa. The work was long and hard but gave me the chance to learn a few words of the Portuguese language. Mostly I learned how to say I was sorry for being in the way. After the cargo was unloaded the leader of the caravan was able to sell
the goods to a local merchant. So we received our pay immediately Wishing to
see more of the world I used my pay
to take passage on a Portuguese ship
sailing for the East. It took four days to reach the port of Jaffna on the north tip of Sielan and another thirty-one pleasant sailing days to arrive at Malacca. In Malacca cargo was exchanged at the port. Because I had only learned a little Portuguese I had to stay on the ship.
We sailed again after what was for me a dull ten days. I used the time to study the lines and sails on the ship as well as the cannon she mounted. From Malacca
it took twenty days to reach the trading post at Maccao on the coast of Cathay. The voyage had been mostly fair and I learned a little about sailing a ship but I learned more about the ship's guns and how they were used. The ship mounted twenty bronze guns that could fire a six pound ball just over a mile. I was allowed to learned how to load and aim the guns because there were pirates sailing in the waters between Malacca and Maccao and the ships gunner said that an extra hand at the guns never hurt.
While ashore at Maccao I became sick with a fever and was left behind when the ship sailed. I was cared for by a local Jesuit priest. Who after I recovered taught me to read, write, and some languages. He was an educated man from a country called Spain who had a small library. From his books I discovered an interest in architecture. I got a job keeping repaired the port defenses and with the influence of Father Diaz I was allowed to learn from the engineer in charge of the defense of the harbor. In my duties I was able to travel up the coast to the enclave at Canton. I spent several months there working on the emplacement of six new guns that had arrived from Europe. I spent three busy years in Maccao and learned much about architecture, gunnery, and military engineering. However the attitude of the officials remained fixed and uninterested in adopting anything new. Even if it was obviously better.
I came to the conclusion that there was a limit to what I could learn in Maccao so I resolved to go to Europe to learn more. I hired onto a ship sailing back to India as a gunner. The voyage to Goa took two months, passing through Jaffna and Madras on the way. In Goa I took passage on a Turkish dhow to Akabah, a port on the Northern Red Sea. A dhow is an odd looking ship. It has a triangular sail and it sails well in all winds but is not very fast. It took almost as long to make the journey to Akabah as it took to sail from Maccao. With the distance being some 1100 miles shorter. From Akabah I traveled overland the ten days to Jerusalem. I stayed in the Levant for four months visiting the holy places and studying as well as I was allowed to, the great castles Margat and Krak de Chevaliers that were built by the crusaders.
These two castles, built over four hundred years ago were constructed with no modern tools and equipment and still contain many astounding innovations. The men who designed and built them must have been geniuses. The entry gallery of Krak alone is a marvel of murderous design. I pity any force that tried even today to take the place by assault.
In April of 1565 I booked passage on a ship at Acre sailing for Malta. When I reached the harbor of Borgo I found that the Knights of St. John had constructed great fortifications in the last few years. Finding no ship sailing to the West in port I used the time waiting for a ship to engage members of the Order in discussions about the fortification of Borgo and the harbor. I was greatly aided in this effort by the Knights interest in my recent study of Krak de Chevalier. A castle the Order had held during the crusades. All this pleasant discourse ended on May 19 when an army of Turks landed on the island. The Turks attacked with 180 ships and 40,000 men. The main Turk effort was concentrated on Fort St. Elmo across the harbor from Borgo. It fell on June 24th. I had volunteered my service to the Order as a gunner and was assigned to a battery in the Castel San Angelo.
After Fort St. Elmo fell it was the middle of July before the Turks made any serious attack on Borgo and the Senglea peninsula. The attack came by boat from across the harbor. Most of the attacking force was directed at Castel San Michele on the Senglea peninsula. But a group of boats came around the point and attempted to enter the Bay of the Galleys. The battery I had been assigned to opened fire on the attacking boats and sank every one of them. The siege continued for another eight weeks under bad conditions. The bombardment of the Turk guns across the harbor never ceased. It was like your own breathing, something you do not consciously think about but is always going on. The noise was a constant background to everything I did. Not actively noticed but continually irritating. Also the dust was everywhere and in everything. The food, what little we got with rations being reduced and the water both tasted of stone dust. Everyone's clothes and hair
became a uniform dull color from being constantly covered in the dust. It even got into your mouth and you could feel it grinding between your teeth. Almost half of the Knights and many thousand others were killed by the cannonade. The Spanish finally arrived in early September and the Turks retreated. It was a great relief to be able to go outside and breath clear air. Not to mention I never before appreciated how good a hot bath feels.
I was able to embark on one of the Spanish ships when it sailed for Spain and reached Barcelona a week later. As one of the defenders of Malta I was easily able to get work reconstructing old castles so they could use guns more effectively. I spent the next two years in this work being promoted to greater responsibility several times. In the fall of 1567 I left Spain and took to the road North into France. In a month of traveling I saw many great works of architecture. The cathedrals of Chartres, Notre Dame in Paris, and the castle Coucy le Chateau were the most impressive. I reached Antwerp to begin working on the Citadel under the direction of the Italian Paciotto d'Urbino for the Duke of Alva.
The citadel was constructed in the shape of a pentagon with an arrowhead shaped bastion at each point. Each bastion's face was 120 yards long and was connected to the main wall with a two level gorge mounting cannons on both levels. The scale of the work was enormous. Over two thousand men worked for over a year to complete it. The citadel when finished was the finest and most advanced fortification in Europe. The garrison consisted of five thousand men.
While in Antwerp I was constantly exposed to the never-ending conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants that had consumed France and the Netherlands for almost a decade. While my education in military engineering might have been advanced had I remained, the religious conflict was only going to get worse so I left Antwerp to avoid being forced to choose sides in a war that I had no investment in. Not knowing a specific destination I journeyed toward the Empire. I traveled South to the river Rhine and followed it through Köln and Frankfurt. At Frankfurt I left the river and traveled east and south on the road to Nürnburg. Six days on the road brought me to my destination.
In Nürnburg I heard of a Jesuit center of education to the South in Ingolstadt. The next day I learned by chance that Albert V the Duke of Bavaria was searching for engineers to reconstruct some of his castles. So on the morrow I headed South. It took me two and a half days on the road to arrive at Ingolstadt. On entering the city I used what I remembered of the Latin I had learned to reacquaint myself with the members of the Society of Jesus. At first they were cautious of the stranger with the odd accent. But after they learned of my past association with the missionaries of their order in Cathay and my recent history they offered to aid me.
I was given a letter of introduction and informed as to whom to contact at the Duke's court in Munich. I traveled to the Duke's capital was successfully received thanks in part to the letter and in part to my knowledge of military engineering. And that is how I came to be in the employ of the Duke of Bavaria, first Albert V and now his son Willhelm V these last twelve years.
Award of Arms
Axe - Axemoor
Bough of Meridies
Grant of Arms
Order of the Osprey's Jess