Much Fall Of Blood — Snippet 18

Much Fall Of Blood — Snippet 18

Chapter 9

The crowd of voivoides and hetmen in his throne room were doing their best to look brave and great. To the iron eyes that looked out at them from Jagiellon’s mask, they were neither. They were, however, the right sort of tools for his tasks. Greed and fear made great levers to drive them about his purposes. He kept them in balance between fear of their fellows and fear of him. And when he called, they came, like the cowed dogs they were.

Of course, there were a few who had attempted to avoid the summons with various excuses, and had sent representatives. They would be punished appropriately. They entertained something Chernobog disapproved of, and did his best to eradicate: the folly of hope.

Still, there was one emissary whose master would not be punished. Or would not be punished… yet. The fact that the emissary was here, and being seen in public, was an endorsement of sorts, as the remains of the Golden Horde were not yet vassals.

Not officially. Not yet. But soon they, and the Bulgar Slavs, would fall in line. Constantinople and Alexius posed no challenge. Chernobog’s geo-political machinations followed a very different logic from that of his merely mortal foes.

There was power in the geography, both on a physical and a spiritual plane. Other powers and their minions, such as that accursed Elizabeth Bartholdy, did not fully grasp that. They would. But by then it would be too late.

“Nogay Tarkhan.” Jagiellon greeted the emissary with what for him was considerable affability. The man still stood too straight. He bowed. He had not abased himself. “And what news from Gatu Khan?”

“He is still remains Gatu Orkhan. The kulurtai broke apart before his election could be finalized.”

Jagiellon stood up slowly. He was a huge man and he towered over the Tarkhan. A low moan of fear swept around the room. “The rewards of co-operation with the Grand Duchy are considerable,” said Jagiellon slowly. “It would appear however that you failed to adequately convey to your master the penalty for failure.”

He turned to the assembled lords of all of the vassal tribes and states to the east and south. “You are all dismissed,” he said grimly. “The Tarkhan and I have things to discuss privately.”

Nogay stood stock, perhaps alarmed by the hasty departure of the others. Some of them were known to him. Many of the southern clans which owed fealty to Jagiellon were blood relations of the clans within the remnant of the Golden Horde that lived on the western shore of the Black Sea. The Crimean Tatar were close kin. They were intermarried too with Basarbians under Jagiellon’s sway.

An abject lesson was called for. “You have in your retinue a favorite Vlachs concubine. She has beautiful skin.”

The Tarkhan blinked. “I am an emissary. An ambassador… You cannot…”

Jagiellon stared at him with metal eyes. “Do not presume to tell me what I can or cannot do. I am not going to touch one hair on your head, ambassador. You are simply to join me in a meal. My servants will bring the woman here. You will flay her to prepare our meal.”

“What?” Horror and comprehension dawned on the man. The terrible tales told of the lord of the north were no invention…

“We will cook and eat together. What better way to cement our relationship?” said Jagiellon.

***

Later, after they had eaten, and the blood and remains had been cleared away, Jagiellon called for the voivode from Odessa and the admiral from the secret vast shipyards he had built close to the mouth of the Dniepr where his fleet was being assembled.

The voivode had no doubts about the fragility of his position, but he had news that he believed would please his master. “We have begun pressing sailors, Grand Duke. They are river men mostly, but at least they have been on board a vessel before. We have thirty round ships and some seven galleys, and nearly forty galleasses now outfitted. The galleasses are doing patrols already with the other vessels and the crews are learning their trade.”

“I will send fresh levees. Ten more galleys must be in the water before winter,” ordered Jagiellon.

The voivode bowed. “It will be done, Prince.”

“The men to be transported on the round ships will begin to arrive in the last weeks of March. See that their the camps are prepared.”

“Could I ask the numbers, Prince?”

“Some thirty thousand. That will be adequate for the purpose. The first four thousand will arrive with the barge fleet from Kievan Rus with the cordage and sailcloth. Now go. I am going to select from the candidates who have been sent down from the north.”

The Voivode of Odessa looked both curious and afraid. As well he might, Jagiellon thought. The man was too efficient for his own good. Unfortunately, he was also too efficient to kill right now.

This was a problem for Jagiellon, and one which he had become faced with all too frequently. Ruthless ambition and greed had provided some of his best vassals, but such a vassal always wanted to be overlord. It was necessary to watch them, intimidate them, and occasionally reduce their ranks. This voivode was very close to that brink.

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