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Thread: The Devil's Darkness

  1. #241
    Field Marshal Stuyvesant's Avatar
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    I don't know all that has (will? Getting tenses right when we're dealing with flashbacks is a bit of a pain) transpired by the time we get to the 'present' of the story, but at least Tacchotan can take some comfort from the fact that Bagatur won't die.

    It does raise some questions: did the Whisperer slip away of his own will, or was he cast out? And did he get the scars on his face when Tacchotan's nightmare vision nearly came true?
    Hollow Little Reign - A brief Crusader Kings tale about family ties in Byzantium.

  2. #242
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    loki100-Thanks!

    Stuyvesant- All this, and more, will be revealed soon. And Tacchotan's happiness would still be tempered with a little sadness; her son may be alive, but is mutilated and far away from his home.

    PART THREE:

    The Whisperer's Tale.

    Chapter Three.


    The Whisperer took another swig of wine, and sighed heavily.

    Affonso's eyes were narrow, but not with suspicion; more a kind of curiosity, tempered with a little confusion. "So, what happened next?"

    The Whisperer grinned. "All hell broke loose."

    -----


    Mongolia, 26th June 1105 (3 days later).

    It was just as the sun began to set that the ground began to shake.

    Bagatur looked up from the fire, and stared, along with the rest of the clan, to the hazy vision of horses, running across the steppes. There were not too many of them; only about fifty or sixty, powering towards the camp in a ragged gallop.

    The other men around the fire were leaping up, shouting at one another and raising their spears, swords and bows. It was impossible to tell who the riders were, or their intention.

    Bagatur walked forward, slowly, to the outskirts of the camp, to get a better view. He ignored his mother's pleas for him to come back to the fire, to the safety and warmth, behind the wall of men.

    The riders were close enough now to be identified. "It's Altander! he cried. "They're home!"

    In an instant, the atmosphere changed. The tribesmen ran forward, shouting and whooping. But Bagatur, stayed still, not sharing in their happiness. Over a hundred had ridden out to the west; so why were there only twenty or thirty returning?

    The horses came closer, and Bagatur saw Altander's face. It was haunted, sad, solemn. And in his hands was a bundle of...something. Bagatur could not tell what.

    As they entered the camp at a trot, the others fell silent. Altander's face was stained with tears, and he dumped the bundle in front of the fire. Bagatur could hear a strangled sob from Tacchotan, and felt Bayarmaa's hand clasp his own tightly.

    Ogadei moved forward, as the others stared grimly. He tentatively approached the object, and turned it over. It was the body of Mongke Khan.

    Altander suddenly changed, pulling himself together amongst the wails and screams, and snapped into action. "Men! We have been betrayed. Our blood-brothers turned traitor, helping the Tatars to maul our own forces. They are hot on our tail and we must escape, now. Do as I tell you if you and your womenfolk want to live another night."

    There was no questioning his orders. His voice was iron. Bagatur turned to Bayarmaa, and saw the frightened expression on her thin, flat face, the fear dancing in her eyes like wildfire.

    "Come on," he muttered, as the fire was doused and the others began to scramble to rip down the gers. "We have to get out of here."

    For a second, he looked around; and saw a thousand little specks charging across the plains. Tatars. Bagatur swallowed down a little gulp; they were too late. They would not escape in time.

    To be continued...

    The Iron Horde: A Kirghiz Narrative AAR My Inkwell.

    "There is nowhere else. You will only tread a circle, Titus Groan. There's not a road, not a track, but it will lead you home. For everything comes to Gormenghast."

  3. #243
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    now that is a cliffhanger ...
    Remember, whatever the question, the answer on 18 September is Yes ...

  4. #244
    Field Marshal Stuyvesant's Avatar
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    [pedantic]Well, obviously he does escape, so it's evidently not quite too late for Bagatur...[/pedantic]

    Sorry: sometimes I just can't help myself.

    Anyway, we know that Bagatur/the Whisperer makes it out alive. But looming large is the question how he does so - and at what cost? Is he captured by the Tatars? Does he simply abandon everyone to their grisly fates? Or does he try to help the others to escape, but is overcome by the superior numbers of the Tatars?

    Anyway, as loki observes, that's quite the cliffhanger. An old gent named Storey would be proud (sorry, old in-joke - I've been around this place too long).
    Hollow Little Reign - A brief Crusader Kings tale about family ties in Byzantium.

  5. #245
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    I must apologise for my absence. My laptop recently broke, and having little knowledge of computers I gave it over to some tech people in my local town, who have now had it for a week without doing anything. As a result, I am currently using a laggy netbook with a tiny and erratic keyboard, which makes update-writing very hard.

    If I can't get my laptop back soon then I'll simply brave it with the netbook, but I'd prefer to wait for my laptop to be fixed (if it can). In the meantime, I urge you to bear with me.
    The Iron Horde: A Kirghiz Narrative AAR My Inkwell.

    "There is nowhere else. You will only tread a circle, Titus Groan. There's not a road, not a track, but it will lead you home. For everything comes to Gormenghast."

  6. #246
    Field Marshal Stuyvesant's Avatar
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    No problem, we'll wait. Quality narrative writing is worth the wait. I hope your laptop gets fixed pronto - be careful not to inflict any carpal tunnel issues on yourself, while you're fiddling with a netbook. Is it one of the 10-inch models? They always look painfully tiny to me...
    Hollow Little Reign - A brief Crusader Kings tale about family ties in Byzantium.

  7. #247
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    Computer won't be fixed until Monday, if at all, so I'll update now.

    Stuyvesant: Hah, thanks and yep, a little 10 inch one. It's annoying, but I'm just about managing. It's touch and go on whether the laptop can be saved; I may have to get a new one. I'd preserve the hard disk from my old one, though, to continue my AARs.

    And as to the cliffhanger- the cost is great indeed, as we shall soon see... enough to make this a cliffhanger even though we know what happens... .

    loki100- Thanks! and now for the conclusion...

    PART THREE:

    The Whisperer's Tale.

    Chapter Four.


    Fire.

    The red tongues licked the tent, scorching the fabric with their kiss. They spread across the thin grass, lapping at the heels of the screaming women and children.

    The menfolk of the clan were trying to fight the attackers. But Bagatur could not see who was who any more. He ran, screaming the names of his mother, of Ogadei, of Bayarmaa.

    He slipped, stumbling, and fell to the floor. For a moment, he wondered what the point was. He was no warrior; his name was a cruel lie. He didn't belong in this world. Better just to sit here, and let death come. It would be no great loss to the world...

    No. He may not be able to wield a sword, but he could still fight. He just had to use his mind as a weapon.

    He stood up, shaking. It seemed for a moment as though he was apart from everything. He could see his brother, roaring orders as he clashed blades with a burly Tatar. There was no coherent strategy in either side; just desperate strokes from his tribe, and grinning rape and murder from the others.

    He could see Ogadei, running to the left. And he could see Bayarmaa, stumbling away from a darkly smiling Turk.

    "No!" he yelped, and ran forward, forgetting in his desperation that he was a thirteen-year-old boy, and the man ahead was a murderer.

    Bayarmaa had slipped, and the man had grabbed her as she tried to rise. Bagatur drew his little blade and slashed clumsily at the man's hands. He roared, threw Bayarmaa away, and rounded on the boy.

    Bagatur saw Bayarmaa fleeing, away from the grasp of the attackers. He tried to turn, and run, but the man was quicker. Once, twice, three times his face was slashed by Turkish steel.

    Howling with pain and blinded by blood, he didn't see what happened next. Presumably the man had found something else to kill, or someone had run him through. But Bagatur just ran. He couldn't see but he kept running anyway, through the grass and through the hellish cold, away from perdition.

    Mile after mile fell away. Eventually, he could run no more. He collapsed to the ground, breathing heavily. After a few minutes, he looked up, and took in his surroundings.

    The sky was blackening. He could see the bright glow, far away, of the burning remains of his camp. By now, any survivors would be fleeing, scattered, for their lives.

    He would do well to do the same. Find some friendly tribe, settle down there, and live the rest of his life in a new clan, make new friends, forgetting about the old.

    Dragging himself upright, he began to trot away, into the plains. But even as he did so, a little voice crept into his head, whispering, "Bayarmaa..."

    Sighing, he halted, and for a brief second screwed up his eyes. Then he turned and began to walk in the other direction, back to the blazing grass on the horizon.

    -----


    "What kind of place was this?", whispered Affonso. His face was white, his hands were trembling. "To do such things..."

    The Whisperer laughed, or at least croaked. "Your men do the same. So do the Seljuks. So does everyone. People are bad and do bad things to each other. It's how life works."

    Affonso looked shocked. "When I first met you, you cared for the world. You said you loved it and its rich complexities, even the bad parts. What happened to you?"

    "Oh, I don't know. I grew old, perhaps?" The Whisperer stared into the candle-flame. "I knew nothing of life, when I first met you. Granted, I had seen and caused death, had experienced love, and seen the world. But I didn't know what anything meant. I didn't understand what those experiences were."

    He was silent for a moment, before he spoke again. "Anyway, we are not there yet. You still have my wild life on the Steppes, my visit to China, my journey across Asia, my adventures in Russia, Holland and Constantinople. And, of course, my exile in the Azeri deserts."

    He grinned. "So, let us continue this merry tale."

    But he glanced for a moment at the candle again. There was but a single tongue of flame; something ordered, and regimented, something civilised.

    Not what he remembered fire as, at all...
    The Iron Horde: A Kirghiz Narrative AAR My Inkwell.

    "There is nowhere else. You will only tread a circle, Titus Groan. There's not a road, not a track, but it will lead you home. For everything comes to Gormenghast."

  8. #248
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    great stuff, really realistic and does form a good backdrop to the Whisperer's character
    Remember, whatever the question, the answer on 18 September is Yes ...

  9. #249
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    Birthday update.

    loki100- Thanks! This part will fully reveal his dark past, even the stuff in Russia and Holland.

    PART THREE:

    The Whisperer's Tale.

    Chapter Five.


    30th August 1108

    "Accept it, brother. She is dead."

    "Never."

    Bagatur and Altander stood either side of the cart-wheel, glaring deep into each other's eyes. Altander stood tall, proud, his large form made even more fierce by the long and wild beard he had grown. Twin swords were slung across his back, and he looked every inch the powerful chieftain. His eyes were dark and his mouth thin and hard.

    Bagatur's face was haunted by red-rimmed eyes. He didn't care who saw anymore; he let his grief be known. He was more slender than his brother, but had become a decent warrior over the last three years. He was no commander, but Altander had come to value his counsel; without it, he would surely be dead by now.

    The two of them would never be close, but they had gained respect for each other after their father's death, and the massacre of their people. Bagatur had been traumatised by the event; he vowed to never again be so helpless in the face of an enemy. Altander had been impressed by his bravery in the battle, and had taught him the ways of war.

    And Bagatur had taken Bayarmaa as a wife. It made the summers long, and sweet; he was a happy man. He wasn't a helpless disgrace anymore, nor had he become a savage brute. He had learnt the language of China from traders, and had learnt the basics of its written form from them too. He had a wife, he had his mind, he had his sword; and when Bayarmaa became pregnant, he had been overjoyed.

    Until today. The son no longer seemed a gift from the Sky Lord, but a demon fit for nothing.

    "There must be a way! The shamans prance around with their rhymes and riddles, surely there must be some use to them-"

    "I'll caution you not to insult them so. We honour the customs here. They helped me heal our clan and they will not fail us." Altander felt his brother's loss. Two of his wives had died in the Tatar fires, and he had never forgiven the damned Turks.

    "If the traditions are so important, then they must-"

    Bagatur was not cut off by his brother, but by the sight in front of him. Four men carried the body, swathed in the few rags they could find. Bagatur screwed his eyes and turned away.

    He felt Altander's hand on his shoulder, and heard his deep, calm voice speak. "You must be strong. You have a son to care for now."

    "I have no son." The words came from some dark, unbidden place, but he latched onto them and made them his own. "I have no son. I will not raise him, Altander. I think I shall go away for a while."

    He turned to see his brother's amazed face, but spoke before Altander could react. "I have decided, Altander. Do what you will with the boy. Proclaim him your own, make him your heir. You need one. Call him Esugei. But leave me out of it. When they tell tales of your greatness, leave the name Bagatur out."

    He turned and walked away, calling behind him, "I shall become the shadow at noon. I shall be the cloak which encompasses the world. I shall whisper words of darkness into the ears of the righteous. Yes, that's right; I am not a mighty warrior, Altander, but a Whisperer of lying words."

    The Whisperer grinned at his brother. "Send Ogadei if you ever need me. I shall go west, far west, and see what lies beyond. Until then, brother- Goodbye."

    Without looking back, he swung up onto his horse and rode away. No time for grief, he thought, even as the tears whipped around his face. Time only to make her proud.

    Bagatur was dead, and Bayarmaa was dead. But there had been a birth that day. The Whisperer had been born.
    The Iron Horde: A Kirghiz Narrative AAR My Inkwell.

    "There is nowhere else. You will only tread a circle, Titus Groan. There's not a road, not a track, but it will lead you home. For everything comes to Gormenghast."

  10. #250
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    impressive ... and yep, it puts some of his later acts into context
    Remember, whatever the question, the answer on 18 September is Yes ...

  11. #251
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    loki100- Thanks! and some of his future ones as well, but we'll get to that later...

    PART THREE:

    The Whisperer's Tale.

    Chapter Six.


    May 7th 1109.

    The horse was small. He'd had to discard his original one somewhere across the Gobi desert months ago. The bitter cold of the night had just been too much for the poor beast.

    The rider looked weary. His clothes were ragged and poor; grey-black robes which had turned to tatters. Across his face, swathes of cloths served as bandages, to cover the scars which marred him. Most of them had actually healed quite well, being reduced to thin lines; except for a bitter cut which stretched across his left temple and down over his cheek.

    His skin shocked many, too. His Asiatic features were not often seen in Europe, and the paleskins did not like him much.

    But as he headed towards the walls of the city, his little steed kicking up the dust behind him, he could not help but be amazed at their world. It was cruel, and without honour; they were greedy and petty in the West. But the things they had built... the great palaces and churches and monuments...

    He had come to savour their world, like a fine wine. It wasn't his own, and it was forever flawed; but it could never be allowed to die.

    Eventually, he reached the gate. The guards glared at him, and began to bar the way into the metropolis. He simply dismounted, and walked forward.

    "Stop." It was not the kind of command to be disobeyed. The Whisperer halted, and smiled pleasantly at the man. "What is you business?"

    "I am a traveller. I simply wish for passage through your charming city."

    The Turk snarled. "Be on your way. Nobody is allowed in or out today."

    "And why not, sir?"

    "Haven't you heard? There is a new Sultan now. Today he ascends to the throne."

    The Whisperer stared at him through his bandages for a single moment. Then he gave the man a big grin, and bowed deeply. "Well, I'm sure my presence would be a huge disruption to your Sultan's coronation. My most humble apologies for wasting your time."

    Ignoring the Guard's glare, he rode away. For a little while. When he was sure he was out of sight, he doubled back to another part of the wall, far from the gatehouse.

    Any normal man would not have been able to scale the walls of Constantinople. But he'd met a man by the name of Abu who had taught him many tricks while in Baghdad. Constantinople was nothing to him any more.

    He climbed those rocks, making sure that the guards atop the walls never saw him. At last, he reached the last stone, before scurrying across to the stairwell, without looking up. Only when he was safely inside the city did he dare to raise his eyes.

    And what a sight greeted him. A vast mosque dwarfed the city, its four newly-built minarets echoing with the cries of the people inside. The dome of the old basilica was as grand as he had heard, now adorned with a crescent moon.

    The Sultan was being crowned inside, in the newly converted Hagia Sophia. The Whisperer simply stared, awed by the Byzantine church.

    This was a place where a man could thrive, and prosper. He knew what he must do. This surely was the right place for his plan to unfold.

    -----


    "And what was your plan?" The question was simple enough, in Affonso's view.

    But the Whisperer just laughed. "All in good time, my liege. All in good time."
    The Iron Horde: A Kirghiz Narrative AAR My Inkwell.

    "There is nowhere else. You will only tread a circle, Titus Groan. There's not a road, not a track, but it will lead you home. For everything comes to Gormenghast."

  12. #252
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tufto View Post
    "And what was your plan?" The question was simple enough, in Affonso's view.
    couldn't have put it better myself ...
    Remember, whatever the question, the answer on 18 September is Yes ...

  13. #253
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    loki100- soon, I promise. Soon.


    PART THREE:

    The Whisperer's Tale.

    Chapter Seven.


    January 8th 1111.

    The Whisperer kicked the water-bucket over, silently cursing his own stupidity.

    He should've stayed in Constantinople. Granted, the Turkish state was too weak, far too weak, but he could've made something of it. It may have been a hollow shell of a nation, a gold-coated egg without a yoke, but at least it was better than this.

    The snow flung itself past its window, occasionally spitting a little of the white dust into his room. He watched the twisting, turning flakes as they washed past the house's walls.

    He'd only stayed in the City of World's Desire for a mere two weeks, before finding it unsuitable to the task at hand. He didn't want such a decadent place, filled with gold and riches. He needed somewhere sparse, and cold, where the men fought hard just to survive.

    He'd gone wandering to the west. He'd seen Athens, with the ruins of its ancient temples, scorned and forgotten by its citizens. He'd seen Rome's glory, but it was just a pale imitation of the East. He'd seen the mud of Paris and London; he'd even travelled north to Iceland.

    And now he was stuck, in a little cell on top of a mountain. He'd been here for several months, and had learnt much. He'd learnt to fight; not with a sword or spear, but with a knife in the dark, and with his wit and guile.

    But now he couldn't get out. They wouldn't let him- no Demon could reveal his secrets. They had to stay confined to the Peak. This place had served its purpose. They'd taught him enough. He had to leave, and complete his task.

    He slipped off the bed, composing himself. Then he left the room, as silent as a shadow.

    He moved down the stairs, praying that he wouldn't be heard. Any normal man could never detect a Demon when he wanted to conceal himself. But a Demon knew his own works. It was very possible that one of them would hear his footsteps as he creaked his way across the hall and left the house.

    But he managed it, before running forward, across the snow. He heard a cry behind him, and talking, and shouting, but it didn't matter. He ran to the stables, behind the house, jumped upon a horse and rode off into the sunset.

    Well, that was the plan. In reality, the steed couldn't handle the icy mountain paths, and after a while he was forced to abandon her. But by then he was well away, and the trail would have gone cold.

    He wondered a little about his fellow Demons. They came from across the sea, all of them, from the court of the Georgians, who inexplicably controlled these lands. The king there was just a boy, a red-eyed child with a fiery temper. Affonso, that was his name.

    He had no power, though. His mother held it all, along with a Greek called Demetrios, or so he had heard. Which raised an interesting situation.

    But not yet, he thought. I have somewhere else to be. For along with their daily deliveries of food and drink, news had arrived on Demon's peak in the last few days. The Dutch were rebelling, and all the Empire had gone to war...

    -----


    "You know, strangely, that's one of the few things that doesn't surprise me about your story- that you were a Demon, I mean. Nobody else would lurk so much."

    The Whisperer simply raised an eyebrow. "I do not lurk, sire; I simply exist."

    Affonso grinned, but the Whisperer did not. "Are you sure you want me to go on?"

    "Of course. Why wouldn't I?"

    "Because the next part is what happened in Holland..."



    Continuity is a bitch. Flashbacks can be annoying when you have to trawl through page after page making sure that your dates match up.
    The Iron Horde: A Kirghiz Narrative AAR My Inkwell.

    "There is nowhere else. You will only tread a circle, Titus Groan. There's not a road, not a track, but it will lead you home. For everything comes to Gormenghast."

  14. #254
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    indeed, but interesting to see some of the connections between the whisperer and the demon's peak
    Remember, whatever the question, the answer on 18 September is Yes ...

  15. #255
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    Real life and CKII have got in the way of my updating, for which I apologise. Business will be as usual from now on.

    Also, don't forget to vote for your favourite AARs in the AARland Choice AARwards! There are many great AARs on these forums which deserve recognition and attention, so please vote!

    loki100- Ah, yes. We can now see the reasons for their resentment of their liege's spymaster...

    PART THREE:

    The Whisperer's Tale.

    Chapter Eight.



    12th August 1111

    God, it ached.

    He could still hear the flames, distant though they were. The screams of the womenfolk and the children were etched across his eyes, a strange scar upon his brain.

    He bit down a scream as Constantijn ripped out the arrow. He was lucky it hadn't gone deep, he'd been told. Some luck.

    The barn they were in was little more than a shack, full of hay and barely big enough to hold the mule which lived inside. It gazed at the Whisperer with big, mournful eyes; so unlike the panicked faces in the city below.

    Here he was, in the service of the Duke of Holland. He'd left Mongolia for the freedom and adventure, and by God, he had it.

    Captain Pietersen stood at the door, his sword in its scabbard, watching intently to ensure that no Imperial soldiers would come in. He was a tall, handsome, long haired man, in his early twenties. He had deep brown eyes which flicked around whenever he looked at you, as if you were a puzzle he couldn't quite figure out. He was the fifth son of some minor noble, and he had all the madness and arrogance which went with it, right down to his ridiculous moustache.

    He'd been the captain on a merchant ship which travelled up and down the Baltic coast, and had fought his fair share of pirates. The Baltic tribes, having been forced from their homes by Polish expansionism, had turned corsair, preying on the rich ships of the Empire and the Swedish kingdom.

    Still, Pietersen was, for all his faults, a good leader. Had it not been for his quick thinking, they all would have been chicken fodder like the rest of the city fools.

    The screams...

    What the Tatars had done to his tribe seemed tame in comparison to the things he'd seen tonight. He tried to think upon other topics, of home, of his family. But that just made him think of Bayarmaa and his baby boy. It hurt more than the arrow-wound.

    Constantijn finished bandaging his leg. He was a gruff, tough soldier, who had fought before and was well-regarded by his contemporaries. He had no great love for the Duke, but after seeing the destruction the Emperor had wrought on his homeland he'd joined his fellow Dutchmen in taking back their home.

    The Whisperer stood, slightly unsteadily. Pietersen glanced at him, nodded, and stepped out of the door, to examine the situation outside.

    The five others in the shack followed him. They could see the Imperial mercenaries running up the hill; quite a way away, but gaining fast.

    Pietersen silently pointed towards the woods which could been seen on the other side of the hill's peak. The others nodded, and began to run towards them.

    They scattered themselves; it would be easier to flee. The Whisperer dived into the darkness of the trees and lost all sight of his comrades, instead running through the trunks and leaves, lost in a dark maelstrom of branches.

    -----


    "Everywhere you go seems to be full of horrors". Affonso's statement almost sounded like an accusation to the Whisperer, who bristled.

    "You think this is horrific? Need I remind you about what you did to Demetrios when he plucked out your eye?"

    He regretted what he said almost instantly. The King could have had him killed in an instant for his words, but nearly as bad was the way he closed his one remaining eye in sadness, as the memories of his moment of anger came flooding back. The regret in the air was too much for the Whisperer, who coughed sharply, and resumed his story.

    To be continued...



    Things will probably begin winding down, now. I was originally planning to take this all the way to the endgame, but I think that after the Mongols I'll stop so I can begin a new CKII AAR, and finish The Red Mexican. There'll probably be one or two more books in this AAR.
    The Iron Horde: A Kirghiz Narrative AAR My Inkwell.

    "There is nowhere else. You will only tread a circle, Titus Groan. There's not a road, not a track, but it will lead you home. For everything comes to Gormenghast."

  16. #256
    Field Marshal loki100's Avatar
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    well the Whisperer has certainly been around ... for all the slaughter he's seen and been part of its a surprise he has so much self-control.

    Given where Georgia is ... stopping with the arrival of the mongols may be a wise decision
    Remember, whatever the question, the answer on 18 September is Yes ...

  17. #257
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    loki100- Exactly; I'm not sure Georgia's strength and my playing skills are quite up to the task of beating the Khan off.

    The Whisperer's self control is something he drilled into himself after his wife's death; he knew it was the only way to survive, and that his survival depended upon his sanity. The Demons would have helped him with that too.

    PART THREE:

    The Whisperer's Tale.

    Chapter Nine.


    19th November 1112.

    It was the eyes which were so terrifying.

    Those, big, sad eyes, gazing at him with an expression of curious fascination. There was no warmth in those glowing orbs; just a strange itching to know how to unlock your secrets, to see what weird sin or pain would make you spill it all.

    And it was why the Whisperer was glad that he had left.

    The Cumans were out looking for him; when Papa Rurikovich spoke, pagan and Christian alike scrambled to do his bidding. But as the Whisperer lay in his tent, he felt no fear of pagan tortures. Anything was better than staring him in the face, trying to match his gaze.

    It was Finland that had driven him to leave. The Russian leader had messed up; and if a simple bunch of northern tribesmen could defeat the mighty Rusyn army, they were clearly unsuited to the task at hand.

    There was only one place left; Georgia...

    That little kingdom to the south, the last of the Eastern states. The Seljuks were decadent wastrels, the Byzantines a fractured shade of glory, the Cumans divided and weak. Only Georgia was left. And the Whisperer wasn't hopeful. The little realm was locked in a death-struggle with the Seljuks, ruled by a mad general and an inexperienced boy-king.

    ("How flattering. Whatever this purpose was, it seems you had no qualms about betraying everyone and anyone to achieve it."

    "Hush, sire. I haven't finished yet.)

    Four companions sat, miserably, on the other side of the tent. Two of them were his comrades from Holland; Pietersen and Constantijn. They shivered and rubbed their hands; they had both the cold and their memories of the failed rebellion to live with.

    Then there was Oleg, a Russian noble who had fled from Papa's wroth, and Okan, a young Turk who had joined the motley band to find his fortune.

    But here was no place for fortune-making. The Whisperer knew it, and he also knew that the Russians and the Cumans would soon be upon them. Here they sat, in these Volgan woods, with the rain and wind whistling around them. Their tent was little more than sticks and sheepskin, and their fire smouldered beneath the wet trees.

    No; it was time to disperse this strange band, this meeting-ground of Orthodoxy, Catholicism and paganism. Time to go south.

    "We have to split up." He ignored the shocked glances, and the angry cry from the ever-eager Okan. "We'll be caught in two days without doing so. The Cumans have our trail, and do you honestly think we'll last much longer with this much food?" He gestured to the scruffy knapsacks sitting by a tree.

    "But-"

    "No buts, Okan. Go, find someone else to teach you of the world. But not me. I have a plan, and I will stick to it."

    He saw Oleg nod, and the Dutchmen sigh, reluctantly but in assent. They packed their things, put out the fire, covered their tracks and made their farewells. And then, the Mongol went south; south, to his final destination.

    -----


    "You know what happened to them, of course." The Whisperer seemed unaware of Affonso now, treating him as just a target to aim his words at. "Pietersen returned to his ships, except that now he had to hide from angry Imperial avengers, determined to wipe out any traces of the Dutch rebellion. They caught him some fifteen years ago. Constantijn wandered around as a mercenary of sorts, before I took him in again. He died in that bitter winter- '32, I think."

    He passed his hand through the flame, at lightening speed. It didn't hurt him, or he showed no sign of pain at least. "Oleg is now my principal agent in Prince Dmitri's Rus, and Okan... well, Okan is a Sheikh now, of some Persian backwater. But none of that really matters, in the long run."

    Affonso simply looked at him, gazing brightly. Gone was his air of wild anger which had permeated since the war began, and worsened after hearing of Manoel. The sorrowful, regretful, regal King had returned. His one remaining eye closed briefly, before he asked another question.

    "And then?"

    The Whisperer looked up. "Then- I went south. But I overshot, by a lot; the Cumans had my trail, and I had to shake them off. In the end, I wound up in Armenia, on a high summer's day..."

    To be concluded...
    The Iron Horde: A Kirghiz Narrative AAR My Inkwell.

    "There is nowhere else. You will only tread a circle, Titus Groan. There's not a road, not a track, but it will lead you home. For everything comes to Gormenghast."

  18. #258
    Field Marshal loki100's Avatar
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    I'm not sure we've met Oleg before ... but this is doing a good job of linking up the various themes
    Remember, whatever the question, the answer on 18 September is Yes ...

  19. #259
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    I return! Vienna was excellent.

    loki100-Thanks- And no, nor Okan; but they'll be back in the future...

    PART THREE:

    The Whisperer's Tale.

    Chapter Ten.


    12th May 1113.

    The desert was bright. The sun reflected off the burning gold of the sand. A shrub or piece of grass would occasionally dot the landscape, but beyond that, it was empty. Beautiful, but hollow.

    One single blemish dotted the lands. A dark silhouette scrawled its way over the sand, slowly, achingly plodding on. Its movement was disjointed, tired; its clothes were tattered rags.

    The man; for it was a man; was in the height of delirium. He'd been travelling for years, and had come full circle; back in the deserts of the East. But this time, there was no glorious Constantinople at the end; just the sun...

    No water; he'd lost the canteen this morning. Half a day in the blazing fires. He stumbled, once, but did not fall; there was no time. He had to complete the mission.

    He needed food... he needed drink... he needed life, and love...

    When he saw them, he couldn't believe his eyes. Horses, tens, hundred of them; riding towards him, from the mountains where he was headed. Upon them were men, in some kind of Oriental dress; strange, brightly coloured, unlike that of other people he had seen thus far.

    He blinked at them through red-rimmed eyes, trying to clear his mind. They encircled him, riding around and around, kicking up a mountain of dust. He began to sort through his mind; ordering the chaos, presenting a facade to the world. The thirst was unimportant. Charm was the required key to get hold of water.

    "Good day, fine gentlemen! I would implore you to cease your present action, as I would very much like to speak to you."

    Smile. Open arms, held upwards. A slight bow, but not too much.

    The horses ceased their prancing, all standing in a circle, glaring at him. One man stepped down from his steed; a tall, upright man, with a noble and arrogant bearing. "I am Romanos, servant of the Georgian king Affonso. Who are you?"

    Georgia! Excitement flowed through the man's veins. At last, he had found it; the last remaining light, his last hope.

    "Who are you?" A simple enough question, but this Romanos could not hope to understand. The man before him was a shadow, a wraith; a legend which was never written down, never codified.

    The man smiled. "My name is the Whisperer."

    -----


    "I think you know the rest. And that's it, really. That's who I am. That's what I did."

    Affonso was staring into nothingness now. "What is your mission, Bagatur the Mongol? What are you trying to do?"

    "To save you." The Whisperer leant over and Affonso looked into his eyes. There was something akin to madness there, but not quite the same; a certain obsessive quality, a certain deep, narrow-minded singularity which Affonso had not seen since he stared into the face of the dying Greek all those years before.

    "They will come. They burnt my home and they will come here too. I know they will. And someone must be ready for them." The Whisperer sat back, the gleam still swimming on his eyeballs. "There is a storm which will engulf the world, but I will not let it destroy everything."

    "You think that a bunch of tribesmen will come here? You think that they will travel halfway across the world for us?"

    "They already have." The Whisperer ignored the Portuguese king's sharp glance. "Ogadei came here a month ago. Asked about me. Wanted me to come back. I said no." He sighed. "Sooner or later, they'll all come running here. They are the darkness which engulfs the world, headed by the Devil himself-"

    "Spare me your metaphors. You never could make them work." At last, Affonso's voice was weak no more. He was drawing strength again, from some unknown, hidden corner. "Thank you for the story. It is near dawn, and we have work to do."

    "To go west?"

    "East." Affonso smiled, ever so slightly, running his finger around the rim of his goblet. "Constantinople has been taken once, and only once. It will not fall twice. It was a fool's dream, a twisted fantasy. We go east, to relieve the scattered remnants of my brother's army."

    "Not I. Your dear daughter is up to something." The Whisperer stood up, and walked towards the tent's opening. "I must go back to the city, to the palace. Make contact with your wife- she at least is trustworthy."

    "So be it. I'll see you again in Batumi." They grasped hands, for a single moment, before the Mongol left, to mount his horse. Affonso, meanwhile, stood tall and straight, his coat strung around himself, down to his ankles. The story was over, and the cares of the world came back in full force.


    THE END
    OF PART THREE.
    The Iron Horde: A Kirghiz Narrative AAR My Inkwell.

    "There is nowhere else. You will only tread a circle, Titus Groan. There's not a road, not a track, but it will lead you home. For everything comes to Gormenghast."

  20. #260
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    so the Whisperer is trying to prewarn the world of what is coming from the East? And plausibly, no one believes him.
    Remember, whatever the question, the answer on 18 September is Yes ...

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