Much Fall Of Blood — Snippet 41

“It will not work,” interrupted Benito. “Iskander Beg is not going to allow foreign soldiers to use his land as an access route. For starters, it would probably break his hold on the mountain tribes. For a second, he has to live with two nations that are hostile to us on his borders. We do not intend to try and hold Constantinople. At least, I hope not. Iskander Beg would be left with a furious neighbor. He can hold the Byzantines, or Hungary. But if they both attacked him, which they would if they saw him in close military alliance with us, the Illyrians would at best be severely punished.”

“True enough,” admitted the Old Fox. “But we could at least use the Illyrians to gather some decent intelligence.”

“Well,” said Benito, “I hope that I have done that and a little more. There are commercial possibilities too. I gather you had a message delivered from Jerusalem by magical means.”

“Yes,” said Petro. “The more conventional paper confirmation arrived by fast galleass a few days ago. It filled in some of the detail that was missing from the magical communication. Our friend, Prince Manfred of Brittany, has been a busy man.”

“Not as busy as he’s going to be,” said Benito. “I have sent him and the remaining Knights of the Holy Trinity across the Balkans, to escort a party of Mongols and the Ilkhan envoy to the Golden Horde. Apparently, he is in rather a unique position to negotiate with them, and the Ilkhan Mongols can hopefully shift the election of a new khan for the Golden Horde in our favor.”

Petro pulled a wry face. “It’s too late for that, I’m afraid. They’ve had their electoral meeting.”

“I knew it was too good an idea to work,” said Benito irritably. “Well, at least Manfred is in a good position to negotiate with whoever they have elected kahn. He may still save us some fighting. And at least he is safe as a diplomatic envoy among them.”

“Like the fleet sitting at Trebizond, I wish we could get hold of him to tell him what was happening,” said Petro.

“Ah. The fleet has already left Trebizond,” said Benito. “Apparently the Mongols tried to negotiate a passage with the Venetian vessels. But they had already sailed. I heard that from Eberhart.”

“That’s very early. Something must have been worrying them. They can hardly have full holds yet,” said Petro.

“Those two factors considerably alter our strategies,” said Enrico. “I presume you’ve arranged for information to flow back with your devious Illyrian friend. Can he be trusted, by the way?. Never mind, that’s a stupid question. You would hardly have sent Manfred of Brittany off with the Illyrians otherwise.”

“Yes to both questions. Iskander Beg is both a devious and dangerous man. He’s also an extremely honorable one, in my judgment. The greatest danger that we could suffer is that someone could kill him. He makes a wonderful thorn in the side of Emeric of Hungary.” Benito smiled. “He admits, by the way, that he left Emeric alive after the Corfu campaign, because he would sooner have an enemy he knows is an incompetent idiot, than have to deal with the successor who might be more able.”

The Old Fox raised his eyebrows. “A sensible man, if not one of nature’s optimists.”

Benito shrugged. “There is little enough about his land to encourage optimism. It’s hard and poor, most of it. And the tribesmen thrive on raids and feuds that go on for generations. But he is a thinker, and a clever and learned man, despite where he lives, and his rustic people. He has studied your campaigns, by the way, grandfather. I think if he had more resources, and possibly more people, Byzantium and Hungary would have to watch that they were not consumed by him. I would rather have him as a friend than an enemy. Venice might be wise to let him profit a little from the overland trade, even if it costs us some short-term profit. But, if Manfred can reach some accommodation with the Golden Horde, that would open up a route to the lower Danube.” He smiled at Petro’s expression. “Yes, I thought that would appeal.”

“Petro, you look like a fox dreaming of unguarded hen roosts,” said the man who was called the Old Fox himself.

“He’s probably,” said Benito speculatively, “dreaming of the possibility that Alexis will successfully bottle up the sea route to the Black Sea ports. That would exclude the Genoese, and any other traders, and give Venice a large advantage, if not a virtual monopoly. Even for a year or two, that could make an almost obscene amount of money.”

Petro eyed him suspiciously. “If you should ever consider entering the services of another state, Benito, I will have a hard time persuading the Council of Ten that you are not a practitioner of black magic and an enemy of the Venetian Republic, and a suitable target for our assassins. And that,” he said to Enrico, “is by way of a joke, my friend. So you can take that expression off your face. Venice loves him far too much. He’s just too astute for his own good.”

“I took business-cunning lessons from the best,” said Benito, grinning at the former head of the trading house of Dorma. “So how is my old enemy Admiral Douro slowing things down this time? I must get across to the Arsenal later. I have some friends to chase along.”

“I’ll walk with you,” said Enrico Dell’este. “We can take a canal-boat. It will be better if you surprise them, the way you surprised me.”

A little later they were out of the Doge’s palace, and away from the easy listening of spies. Benito turned to his grandfather. “Your man Antimo Bartelozzi, grandfather. Would there be any possibility of sending him to Constantinople? On a certain commission for me… well, for Venice. I’ll have to talk to Petro about money.”

His grandfather looked at him strangely. And shook his head. “You can’t send a man to a place where he already is, Benito.”

“I should have guessed.”

The Old Fox clapped his favorite grandson on the shoulder. “And I should have guessed you’d ask. Petro knows, but not whom.”