Castle of Tyrnovo, capital of Bulgaria, June 7th, Year of the Lord 1264
"What's the point of having an advisors?" my father once asked me. I looked at the men assembled at the Small Council's table. My father left his mark on all those he has influenced. Some - like Count Dobromir of Peresechen, named the Master of Coin and Steward of the Realm, present at the meeting - never quite recovered. After his stay in Tyrnovo's dungeons Dobromir has emerged different. Broken. He often woke up at night, his screaming echoed and re-echoed through the walls. Many people died down there, they're mostly gone now but screams have remained. My court thinks the castle to be cursed, that Tyrnovo's stone blocks somehow has absorbed tormented howls of men and women. That our Lord and Saviour has damned us all to Hell. Some even claim that my father himself stalks the corridors at night, forbidden to enter Heaven, and pleaded me to open his coffin and drive an oak stake through his heart. Nonsense! It's the wind, my prisoners and imagination of fools!
At least I hope it is...
After the death of our Marshall, Vintilla de Poenari, this position has been filled by Count Prijezda of Serdca. According to one of a few grim tales surrounding my father's reign his grandfather, Boril, died here. Just a few levels below, in a place usually reserved for traitors after he refused to accept a marriage proposition for the Tsar's firstborn daughter. For such an honor he had been insulted. That wasn't something a man like him would simply forgive and forget.
Tancred I d'Hauteville, newly appointed Duke of Capua, Chancellor and Seneschal of the Empire. For some not trustworthy enough to be given such an important position. His brothers and uncles did perish in Oubliette, died during the Twenty Years War fighting my father or died under murky circumstances. However, how could I don't use such a talented young man like him? The ruler who is afraid to use his resources is not fit for rule. I needed to keep my friends close and my enemies even closer, it was also a chance for him to prove his loyalty once and for all. He was given the choice - a position of power at my side or chains.
Last person present at the meeting was Bishop Boril. Mastermind teologician and Court Chaplain cursed with an hunchback. We both knew that it was me who elevated him above his peers and rivals. To keep his position he had to be useful and loyal. I knew I can count on him, of all people, if not by kindness alone then for being important in maintaining his superior position in the Orthodox Church across Bulgaria. He was man easy to understand and even easier to manipulate.
"Thank you for coming at such short notice, my lords" I said. "You're the Tsar, my liege, we all here serve at your pleasure" answered Tancred with a smile, looking consecutively at the rest of my advisors who noded in agreement. "I really appreciate you all for attending" I said. "We've received a message of great importance from Hungary. King Jeno I is dead". Count Prijezda waggled uneasily on in his seat. "With all due respect to you, Your Imperial Majesty" he said, "Why does it matter? Let the Arpads quarrel for the throne, it's none of our concern". "That's where you are wrong. The Archbishop of Esztergom will place the Holy Crown of Hungary on the brow of my son, German".
Advisors were astonished. Chaplain cought, "Isn't the young King German of Catholic faith, the follower of the Pope? Wouldn't our support for the hungarian monarch be seen as inappropriate by the Eucumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople?". I frowned. "If His All-Holiness won't support our cause then perhaps the Second Bulgarian Empire should have its own Patriarch who will be more likely to see reason and benefits of friendships of the Hungarian King, would-be Tsar of Bulgaria and King of Sicily. For too long the head of the Orthodox Church has been pupet in the hands of the Romans" I looked at Boril and saw a flash in his eyes. I rised my hand to signal that I want to speak more. "I think" I begun, "that your faithful service to the Empire needs to be rewarded, good Bishop. Let it be known from this point on that you're given the County of Taranto and be known as Metropolitan". Boril was speechless and I noticed that Tancred - for all his smiles - looked down at priest with cold eyes, wondering if he won't be a potential rival to the title of Duchy of Salerno.
"My lords" I focused their attention on the matter at hand, "I decided to send a token of my support to Sarbogard. This gift" - I pointed at the small chest lying on the table before me - "is to be presented before the King and his court". "It isn't" started slowly, and perhaps a bit cowardly, Count Dobromir "a severed head, my Tsar?". I shaked my head and opened it, the eyes of the Council started to goggle as they realised its meaning. "I will send Djordje of Rashka" I said. "He is no diplomat!" protested Tancred. "That's why you're going with him" I smiled, "It's only fitting that my gift would be presented by Djordje". Prijezda looked at the content dubiously. "Are you sure that the King will be able to comprehend the importance and the meaning of your... present? He is barely fifteen".
"It is not for him. It's for them" I answered, looking at the chest. Inside, displayed on plush upholstery, was laying a small object. A knive. The Komnenoi dagger.