Much Fall Of Blood — Snippet 61

Chapter 33

In his throne room in Vilnius, that which sat behind the eyes of the grand duke was concerned by the continued absence of his new shaman. True, he could do without one. He had in the past. But having a shaman was less fatiguing. He would send fresh messengers to Karelia, with dire warnings. He did not like being kept waiting, or — although this was unlikely — being defied.

Jagiellon wondered briefly if there were some way to suck Count Mindaug — or better, Elizabeth Bartholdy — into the conflict he was stirring up in the lands of the Golden Horde. With the magical forces being unleashed, either one of them might with some luck be destroyed or at least damaged.

Neither of them existed in the spirit world to the degree he did. Mindaug dug for knowledge in print. He was clever, in that way, but in the end such knowledge was inherently weak. For her part, Elizabeth’s power came from borrowing against her bargain. That made her formidable, for the moment, but eventually she would have to pay her side of that bargain.

But Jagiellon-Chernobog could not believe either could be that stupid. In the meanwhile he waited for his other plans to come to fruition. His targets walked cheerfully into his traps. What rich prizes to be so foolishly risked! Pawns, true, but pawns of some considerable value.

Magical communications were always fraught with risks. In common with several other religious sects, the Baitini believed themselves especially good at it, and protected. Chernobog knew otherwise, but if that was what they wished to believe, or that the drug enhanced their skills, he would not stop them. Like the belief that he would return them to power, they were welcome to their delusions as long as they were of use to him. As a fifth column within the Ilkhan they were very useful.

Jagiellon had received news of the progress of Prince Manfred of Brittany and his knights with some satisfaction. Although he had shattered the eastern dominions of the Golden Horde into a number of little khanates that served him, he knew that his hold on them was fragile. He needed to subjugate the Horde for once and for all. At a stroke now he would create a new ruler and a vassal, together with new enemies for them — the Ilkhan and the Holy Roman Empire. That would make the new western Horde’s ruler very dependent on Lithuania’s support.

The Baitini thought that, because of the visions of paradise he’d supplied them, that they were dealing with their god. That was amusing, insofar as the Black Brain Chernobog was capable of being amused. The Baitini earnestly believed that they were doing the righteous and honorable thing. Which, indeed, it was — for Chernobog. It was all about perceptions. Like their name, which had been a derogatory term until they embraced it.

It would be necessary to allow some of the lesser knights to escape. Perhaps a few, to give them a better chance of returning the news to the Holy Roman Empire. And at least one of the Ilkhan envoy’s escort must return to the Ilkhan. Preferably they would have terrible tales of the other’s vile duplicity and perfidy. He must brief his servant about that. He hoped the tarkhan’s mind would not be so drug-mazed as to forget.