Much Fall Of Blood — Snippet 54

Chapter 29

In Odessa a very frightened little man made painstaking notes about the number of wagons passing beneath his window. He was unsure if or how he would get the information to his paymaster. But if he had nothing to sell, he would never have the money to leave.

The work was dangerous, but Count Mindaug paid well.

* * *

The work was not actually that dangerous. True, Jagiellon was wise to the workings of agents and double agents. Spies and betrayal were meat and drink to him. Anyone attempting espionage on a military or political target of concern to the grand duke was indeed taking a great risk.

But economics was not. The Black Brain knew a great deal about several planes of existence. Mindaug’s estimate was that he knew the least about this earthly one. Trade was something Chernobog had always understood poorly.

The demon was not subtle, no matter that he thought he was. To him, power meant that you took what you wanted. The only purpose of trade was to corrupt and to move spies into the territories of those who did not understand absolute power. Right now, Jagiellon judged that it was more important to keep his enemies in the dark concerning his preparations than it was to maintain the regular commerce of Odessa. So, he’d ordered the port closed. The cargo that would normally have been shipped out was piling up in the warehouses at the docks.

That also meant that Odessa was slowly starving. Mindaug’s agents reported that people were even beginning to mutter against the voivode. At this stage, all that was involved were frightened and resentful mutterings. Things would have to get much worse for the utterly cowed population to even contemplate rebellion.

Mindaug knew that the voivode of Odessa poorly understood his overlord. He thought Jagiellon was merely a cruel and monomaniacal man who could possibly be reasoned with.

He would learn the truth, soon enough. And, unlike Mindaug, he would not have had the perspicacity to organize a means of escape before the demon’s jaws closed on him.

Mindaug moved to the shelves to seek another book. All things considered, as vile a creature as she was, working for Countess Elizabeth was considerably safer than working for Chernobog. She was not actually a demon herself, after all. Simply someone who suffered from the delusion that she could trade with the greatest of demons and come out ahead on the deal.

* * *

Jagiellon had had reports, but he preferred to see things for himself. So, in a supply tent in Odessa, a blank eyed man roused himself from where he lay, rather uncomfortably. He was cold and stiff and walked, as a result, with difficulty and with a jerky and unsteady gait. No one spoke to him as Chernobog looked around the shipyard. They knew the nature of the blank-eyed man.

Neither Jagiellon nor Chernobog knew very much about shipbuilding. Jagiellon had never chosen to interest himself in such mundane tasks before he encountered Chernobog. Ships such as these that plied oceans of water did not occur in Chernobog’s normal realm. However, both of them could recognize the signs of industry. There was plenty of that. Rigging and ratlines were being strung on some of the vessels already. Others were still being clad with their outer planking. That ran to plan too: if they were going to be forced to wait for another season, they may as well build more vessels.

Chernobog left the human-vessel right there. Someone would take it back to the tent. Instead he occupied the body of a cavalry commander and looked out onto the vast parade ground. Jagiellon kept a far closer grasp on military matters than commercial ones.

Levies from across the lands that gave fealty to the grand duke Jagiellon were engaged in drill. The levies came from several linguistic groups. Many of them were hereditary enemies. To a greater or lesser extent the Black Brain managed and controlled their officers. That required a vast capacity. But Chernobog had that, even if he sometimes poorly understood human soldiers’ abilities and limitations.

The army being readied for the round ships — some forty thousand men, now — was but a small portion of the force that Jagiellon was mustering. He would have to strike in the north and the center, once he held the gate to the Mediterranean. For the last few years he had kept up a slow war of attrition, without major attacks, while building more reserves. He’d learned that it would take large numbers to bring down the Holy Roman Empire, given the capabilities of its current ruler.

This time they would feint north. The war hardened Empire, led by the knights of the Holy Trinity would stop that attack, as they had many others. But the attack would be merely a diversion. Jagiellon thought the underbelly of Europe was soft and unprepared. With any luck, Emeric of Hungary would attempt to take advantage and attack either Italy or the Holy Roman Empire — not realizing that this would leave him vulnerable on his own eastern borders. Jagiellon would settle for a bridgehead into the heart of Europe through Hungary. The part of Jagiellon that was the Black Brain, Chernobog, cared little for these geographical conquests. But they were physical prizes which were not without value in the spiritual world. And besides, pouring across the northern Carpathians from the lands of the Kievan Rus would allow Chernobog to seize the physical earthly holdings of an old enemy, Elizabeth Bartholdy. There was a certain satisfaction in that.