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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Stuyvesant

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The Whisperer is having a wee bout of paranoia at the end there - I hope his mental state doesn't collapse.

The description of the Whisperer (a stranger in rags), his horrible deeds and his own revulsion at them, as well as his grasping for The Greater Good (and the comment about trying to stop a hundred thousand more deaths)... All this suddenly reminds me quite a bit of Paul Atreides in Dune. :)

Of course, my first thought when I read the 'None had survived the Mongol's wrath' line: 'He's Keyser Söze'. So I guess Paul Atreides would be a preferable role model. ;)
 

Tufto

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Comments will now be answered before updates.

Stuyvesant- ah, but was he being paranoid, or were there actually hands coming to take him away?

Also, I'm afraid that I've neither read Dune nor seen The Usual Suspects. :unsure:

My knowledge of life is woefully patchy :D.
PART TWO:

Into the Gates of Hell.

Chapter Three.

Glass. It was a great thing, in Papa Rurikovich's warped mind.

With glass, one could do much. One could create strange and fantastic sculptures, create beautiful stained pictures, forge magnificent works of art.

But for the Russian Prince, it was a blockade against the wind, and a portal to allow him to view the world in safety.

If only he could build a glass castle. Inside it, he would be able to spend his days examining each divisive reflection, and how he could twist the light to his own ends.

Papa Rurikovich looked out through the new glass panes in his room. He saw a procession of people coming up the road. Excellent. His nephew had returned.

Dmitri Rurikovich was the loyal nephew of the Prince, and the man tipped to be his successor. Papa Rurikovich knew that some of his sons would objects, but they were merely dumb pawns. Dmitri knew how to think.

Papa Rurikovich sat down in his great armchair. He was an old, old man now. Time had caught up with him a long time ago. His time to die would soon come.

But not before he'd dealt with Pereyaslava and wiped Georgia off the map.

"Uncle Rodislav!" Dmitri burst into the room with a theatrical bow. He was the only person still alive who was permitted to address Papa Rurikovich by his first name.

"Dmitri! I trust that you have good news for me."

Dmitri grinned. "Indeed so, my liege. As we speak, the Cumans have the Whisperer under lock and key."

Papa sat up sharply. "What? How did this happen?"

"He was found near an arson site, along with some peasant. The Cumans are willing to hand him over to us, provided we pay the right price. The Georgians have not been informed."

The great Russian smiled. All the little flies were climbing closer to the old Rostovian spider at the centre of the web. A little chat with the Mongol and all of his problems could be solved.

"Thank you, Dmitri. I will send Alexei out to make a deal with the Cumans. I shall hear your report in full later on. I have other business to attend to."

Dmitri performed another one of his trademark bows and left the room.
 

Stuyvesant

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Oh, so he was caught, after all? I guess that old saw still holds true: it's not paranoia when they're truly after you.

At least the Russians do not seem to realize the importance of Constantijn, so maybe that gives the Whisperer a card up his sleeve. Unless, of course, the 'peasant' was offhandedly killed as some inconsequential bystander.

If you haven't read/watched Dune or the Usual Suspects, then clearly the Whisperer isn't modeled on either. Suits me for trying to be clever and detect hidden influences. :p
 

Tufto

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loki100- well, his intention certainly wasn't to be captured, but as for meeting the prince...

Stuyvesant- Actually, many of the characters do have other outside influences. Affonso is heavily influenced by Titus from the Gormenghast books, for example.

The Whisperer may be captured, but he does have several cards up his sleeve- more of which shall be revealed soon...

PART TWO:

Into the Gates of Hell.

Chapter Four.

The Whisperer spat out the blood from his mouth. Somebody would pay for this.

He had been dragged across the floor from his cell, his hands chained together, his face covered in bruises and scars. They'd given him Russian clothes to wear- his rags were lost and his face was uncovered. He was not happy.

He was now in the company of two guards, outside a set of ornate wooden doors. Doors which the Whisperer knew very, very well. These were the doors which he had travelled from Georgia to enter.

They opened, slowly, teasingly, onto a remarkably simple wooden room. An armchair lay in one corner, near a fire. The windows were fitted with stained glass, showing magnificent pictures of the Rurikovich conquests over the last half century.

The window were new, but everything else was the same as he remembered. Except that for once, Papa Rurikovich was not in his chair. He was standing in the doorway, a cruel smile on a crueler face.

"Who did this to you, my dear Spymaster?"

The Whisperer looked up at the Russian with eyes full of hatred. "You know full well, Rodislav. You ordered it."

"You aren't allowed to-"

"I don't care about your rules, Rodislav. You may be Papa Rurikovich to these insolent pawns, but I'll always know you as the man who ran away from battle in the Finnish Campaign."

His impudence was rewarded witha beating from one of the guards. When he next looked up, Papa Rurikovich was no longer smiling.

"Enter, Easterner. Guards, leave us."

When the two of them were alone, Papa Rurikovich removed the Whisperer's chains. "It was not me who ordered your... ordeal, I can assure you. Whoever was responsible will be dealt with, I promise you."

The Whisperer shook his head, wincing slightly at the pain is caused him. "There are better ways to get through life, ones that don't involve torture and death."

"I have yet to hear of them."

The Russian offered the Whisperer a glass of wine. He did not take it.

"What do you want, Rodislav?"

Papa smiled. "I have a few questions to ask you. If you recall, you left my service rather hurriedly, after Finland. Why was this?"

"I felt I no longer had any need to aid you. You were powerful enough."

Papa Rurikovich laughed. "I suppose I am. In all of history, I think that the Rurikovichs will stand a head above the rest. There is no man who can surpass my power, no realm which can conquer mine."

The Whisperer smiled, weakly and faintly. "That's all you know."

"Next, I would like to know what you were doing in the Cuman provinces."

"Travlling northwards, to see you, as it happened. You had no need to do this to me." The bitterness in the Easterner's voice was evident.

But Papa Rurikovich did not seem sympathetic. "How unfortunate. Why did you not simply send a message requesting an audience?"

The Whisperer glared at him through bloodied eyes. "I wished for a little secrecy. I have a tentative offer to put to you."

Papa Rurikovich leant forward with interest, a little glint in his eye. Was this what he hoped it was?

"And what would this offer be?"

The Mongol stared at him, his face devoid of emotion. "I wish to offer Pereyaslava's life, in exchange for your promise that the Georgians shall be left alone"

Papa Rurikovich smiled. Excellent. It was all coming together.

"That seems fair. But can you do this?"

"Easily. Affonso sleeps like a baby- he won't notice me sneaking into his room at night, drugging his bride, and taking her away. Constantijn and I could have her in Rostov before the month is out. Speaking of which, how is he?"

"He is fine, and being kept safe. But that is not important. I think we have a deal. I shall end my espionage war against Georgia, and you shall provide me with the Queen."

He had no intention of withdrawing his attacks on Georgia, of course. He would make the Whisperer his puppet, using the fear of exposure as his strings. And he would see Georgia crumble.

"May I make one more suggestion, O Prince of Rostov?"

"Of course."

"I suggest that you keep her recapture a secret. To see Pereyaslava suddenly turn up in Rostov would shake Affonso, making him fearful of you. It would be wiser not to tell anybody at all about this until she is well and truly in your grasp."

Papa Rurikovich nodded. "That seems sensible. Now, enough talk. Go, and get my granddaughter to come to me."

The Whispere bowed, and headed for the room's exit. As he turned to leave, however, Papa Rurikovich shot one final question at him:

"Are you the mole, Bagatur?"

The Whisperer did not turn around. There was a short pause, and then the reply came: "Yes. I am."

The Russian nodded. "Good. You may leave."

After the Whisperer had gone, Papa Rurikovich sat back, stroking his beard. Something was not quite right...


What is the Whisperer up too? Is he really the mole? All shall be revealed, soon enough...
 

Stuyvesant

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He's not the mole... and rather careless of Papa to ask so directly. As Loki points out, the Whisperer now knows there is one.

The offer by the Whisperer seems suspect. He must know full well that Papa Rurikovich wouldn't simply stay his hand against Georgia, unless it somehow benefitted him. Since the Whisperer must know this, his offer must not be sincere. A suspicion raised even further by the Whisperer's request to keep things secret. I'm not sure what his purpose with the secrecy is, but I feel it is intended as a weapon against Papa R, an opportunity to double-cross him.
 

Tufto

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loki100- he and Pereyaslava certainly appear to be at odds- and things will seem even more suspicious after this update...

Stuyvesant- The Whisperer certainly would like to get back at Papa Rurikovich, after the injustices which he has received.

And yes- Papa, for a man who has built his empire on careful control, was being very careless. There may be more to his comments than simple recklessness...

PART TWO:

Into the Gates of Hell.

Chapter Five.

Two weeks later.

Affonso slowly opened his eyes. As he lay upon his bed, he could hear the sound of the waves lapping against the shore- the same noise which had haunted his grandfather and driven him to suicide.

But for Affonso, it was a peaceful sound, cloyed with lethargy, and filled with the desire to sleep forever more.

He could see a little light filtering in through the windows. It would be a glorious summer day, with the blessed sun shining down on a city sorely in need of a little happiness

He rolled over onto his side. Pereyaslava was not there, but this didn't surprise him. She often went to walk on the beach at dawn. She would be back soon enough.

He rolled over onto his back again. How odd. There was a little slip of parchment stuck to the top of the four-poster bed, with a tiny message written on its surface.

Resisting the urge to sink back into his dreams, he sat up, and reached for it. The handwriting was that of his Spymaster.

Affonso was now fully awake. The Whisperer had disappeared shortly after Romanos' murder. He was officially the prime suspect in then Chancellor's death. Catarina, Romanos' wife, was screaming for his capture.

But Affonso did not think that it was the Whisperer. The man had been a loyal servant of Georgia, and was Romanos' closest friend, after the two of them had fought together in the Turkish War. It would make no sense for him to kill Romanos.

There was one sentence written on the paper: "There is a mole in the court."

Affonso licked his lips. He trusted his Spymaster. But a mole? Who could it be?

The Whisperer. Akakide. Pereyaslava. General Kommenus. His own brothers, Pedro and Vicente. Catarina. Possibly even Maria.

They were the only people close enough to him- but who was it?

The Whisperer would not try to turn himself in. Akakide... this wasn't his style. He was a general, not a spy. And Pereyaslava would not help the people who were trying to kill her.

General Kommenus had not been in the court for months. Pedro was a madman, incapable of a conspiracy such as this. Catarina would not harm her husband- presuming that the mole and the murderer were the same person.

That just left Vicente and Maria. Akakide told Maria everything, and she certainly had a motive- but she was in prison. How could she get information out? And Vicente... that was unlikely. Vicente was as loyal as they came.

He felt that he was missing something- but he couldn't quite tell what.

He stood up, and went to the window. It was the middle of the morning, well after dawn. Strange. Pereyaslava should have returned by now...
 
Last edited:

Stuyvesant

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If the Whisperer left that note, then it seems likely that he also took Pereyaslava (since the Whisperer made that comment to Papa R, about whisking her away from the bedroom under Affonso's sleeping nose). But if Pereyaslava is known for taking walks on the beach, then why wouldn't she be taken there? Much less risky...

Anyway, the Whisperer is playing a very deep game here - still assuming he's not blindly doing Papa Rurikovich's bidding, of course.
 

loki100

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I suspect the mole is in the second circle of the court ... close enough to observe and with enough information to interpret what happens but not actually in the inner list? I must confess I've given up trying to work out why the Whisperer is doing as he does - and have decided to enjoy the consequences instead
 

Tufto

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Stuyvesant- The Whisperer is playing a very deep game indeed- and he still has a vitally important card up his sleeve...

loki100- If you read the rest of Book Two very, very closely, you might just work out who the mole is. And as for the Whisperer, all shall now be revealed...

Also, thanks for voting for this AAR in the AARland Choice AwAARds!


PART TWO:

Into the Gates of Hell.

Chapter Six.

Two weeks later. Rostov.

Rain splattered down onto the street. A single candle lit up the window of a tavern, a single, little sign slowly swinging in the road.

Papa Rurikovich liked to keep his city poor. The more poverty below, the more riches for him. And none of them would dare to rebel against the most powerful man in the world, after all.

The Russian had made sure that he was alone. His cloak was up, masking his face- but there was little need of it in weather such as this. Nobody would be venturing out of their houses

Not a single living person knew why he was going to the tavern. He'd followed the Whisperer's advice- he hadn't allowed anybody to know about Pereyaslava. When Affonso learnt that he'd managed to pluck his wife from the middle of nowhere, the Portugese dog would never touch Rostov again.

He hammered on the door of the tavern. A royal prince should not be exposed to this kind of treatment- the rain was for commoners to endure.

The door opened. There stood the Whisperer, a blank expression on his bandaged face. "Enter, please, Prince."

Papa Rurikovich stepped across the threshold, removing his hood as he did so. The owner of the tavern was clearly not around.

The candle was flickering on a table next to the window. At the table sat his granddaughter, gagged and bound, her wide eyes etched with fear.

Papa Rurikovich smiled. "You have done well, Bagatur."

The Whisperer bowed, and went over to his bounty. He dragging her to her feet, and threw her at the Prince. "She's all yours, sire." Such a quiet voice.

Almost as quiet as the noise of the knife which Pereyaslava, whose chains fell away from her, had thrust into the stomach of Papa Rurikovich.

The Rostovian sunk to the floor, gasping. The Whisperer and Pereyaslava stood over him, both gazing in contempt. Then the Mongol began to speak.

"I knew that I couldn't just kill you. It needed to be subtle- the Georgians couldn't know about it, with the possibility of Russian agents being in the court. Nobody else could know either, as it would start a war. I knew that I needed an excuse to be alone with you, without anybody knowing."

The Whisperer sat down. "So, I devised a plan with the Queen, as I knew that I could trust her. We pretended to have a great argument, to make your spies think that you could use me against her. I then travelled north, proposing to take her to you. "

Papa Rurikovich groaned on the floor. Pereyaslava kicked him- most un-royal behaviour, true, but she was delighted to have her grandfather in her power. It made a nice change.

"So Pereyaslava and I came here. I knew that I would have to actually bring her, and not merely deceive you- I imagine that you sent someone to check that she was here, and killed them afterwards to preserve secrecy?"

No response, other than a faint sobbing sound.

"So, you came, and Pereyaslava stabbed you. Nobody knows who killed you. By the time they find you, we'll be back in Georgia. There is nothing you can do."

Pereyaslava laughed. "Funny, grandfather, how the tables have turned. You planned to steal me from under Affonso's nose. But it seems you have died under the nose of your palace, and-"

She stopped. Why was there flour spilling out from under the Prince's robes....?

Papa Rurikovich leapt up with an uncanny speed for someone his age, the bag of flour falling to the floor from under the cloak. He drew out his sword.

The Whisperer, unfazed, stood up too, whipping out his own blade. The two of them faced each other for a second- and then metal clashed on metal as the Russian and the Mongol began to fight to save their kingdoms, their lives- to save the fate of the East itself.

To be continued...
 

Stuyvesant

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That must've been one heavy sack of flour. :p Allowing for just a pinch of suspension of disbelief, I must say that was an exciting update. :) I favor the Whisperer - not only is he younger (I assume) than the geriatric Papa Rurikovich, there's also the fact that there is still Pereyaslava, armed with her own dagger... I'm hoping she gets a nice backstab in.
 

Tufto

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Stuyvesant- Hah, yes, I have been going a little over-the-top recently. I can promise that Book Three will be a little less ridiculous. But yes, it was a very heavy sack of flour, and was only not seen because it was so dark.

loki100- thanks, and yes, he is a very fickle character indeed...



And without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, here is the final chapter of Part Two...

PART TWO:

Into the Gates of Hell.

Chapter Seven.

Lunge. Parry. Kick. Jump backwards to avoid the Russian blows. Lunge again, as one's ears ring with the clash of warfare.

Papa Rurikovich had sliced blindly at Pereyaslava, leaving her crumpled in a corner. The Whisperer couldn't spare a second to check to see if she was alright. He was losing the fight.

Papa Rurikovich may have been an old man, but there was no person in the East who could match him in a duel. Years of bloody conquest had allowed him to perfect the art of swordplay.

The Whisperer was good, yes, and much younger, but he was still at a disadvantage.

The Mongol jumped backwards again, this time onto the table by the window. The candle was knocked over, the little light they had being whisked away as it fell upon the stone floor.

Darkness surrounded them. Neither of them could see the other. The room was chillingly silent.

Then the Russian began to speak.

"Did you really think, Bagatur, that I would not see through your plan? You couldn't have been more transparent. Asking me to keep the whole thing a secret- I mean, really. You're getting exceedingly sloppy."

He slashed wildly in the darkness, missing the Whisperer by an inch. The Mongol slowly exhaled, reaching into the folds of his coat.

"But I decided not to tell anybody. No, it is much, much more fun this way. I'm too powerful, Bagatur. I have too many servants to do things for me these days. I just wanted to feel a little of that old rush of youth, to be able to crush you like the bug you are."

The Whisperer began to draw his hand out of his coat, clutching his little candle. A laugh came from the dark, slightly to his right.

"You thought that you, some Asiatic dog, could defeat the Prince of Princes? The Ruler of Rostov? The Head of the Rurikovich clan? How dare you! You will regret your insolence!"

The man's voice had become a twisted roar, the climax of sixty years of butchery and evil, all leading to utter insanity.

"Where are you, you little rat? Come here-"

A fire blossomed out of the Whisperer's hands. He threw the candle in the direction of the Prince's voice, and watched as the old man screamed and dropped his sword. As quick as he could, the Whisperer grabbed his sword and plunged it into the body of the great prince.

Papa Rurikovich sank to his knees, gasping, for real this time. The Whisperer ignored him, and ran to Pereyaslava. She was unconscious, and her face had been badly scarred, but she was otherwise fine. He let out a sigh of relief.

He stood up, and wiped his sword with one of his bandages. He remember what Romanos had said to him, in the desert, so long ago: "There's no honour any more, no sense of decency."

He knew now how Romanos had felt. He had not bested a man in combat- he had tricked him with fire, and sent him into the gates of Hell with an unmanly death.

But then, he heard a faint, wheezing chuckle. Papa Rurikovich had not quite gone over to the other side.

The Whisperer went over to him. "Why do you laugh, Russian?"

With his last smile, the Russian responded: "I... have left a little surprise for you, Mongol. Even... Even now, my messenger is on his way to Georgia with a request for my dear little mole, whoever he really is. Just think... with you gone, who is left to protect the king...?"

With one last, ragged breath, Papa Rurikovich died, his darkened soul leaving his body. The Great Prince of Rostov had finally fallen, fulfilling the hopes of thousands upon thousands. But the Whisperer didn't care.

He lifted Pereyaslava up, and half-ran out of the tavern, to where Constantijn was waiting for them, a few streets away.

They had to get to Georgia before the message reached the mole- and before the King of Georgia would suffer an untimely death...


THE END
OF PART TWO.
 
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loki100

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so for the moment at least the Whisperer is back on side (with Georgia) ... presumably in traditional Rus-style its now down to Papa R's offspring to fight for the sucession so that should buy some peace for a while, unless the mole is up to actual violence and Alfonso dies?
 

Stuyvesant

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There might not be any honor anymore, but I think Papa Rurikovich had a headstart on that of several decades. Plus, whenever did honor ever have anything to do with exterminating vermin? So, no honor - no problem. Papa Rurikovich didn't deserve any.

Now back to Georgia, in hopes that a last-ditch violent spasm can be avoided. Affonso has not yet fathered an heir, right? But he does have a brother, so a succession of sorts seems assured.

Good job explaining away Papa R's disadvantage that I presumed, namely that he would have to face both the Whisperer and Pereyaslava. :)
 

Tufto

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Stuyvesant- Well, the Whisperer has his own, strange code of honour. Papa Rurikovich may have been a dishonourable fiend, but the Whisperer will always stick by his principlies.

And Affonso does have an heir- I mentioned it in passing at the beginning of Book Two. But, as will later become apparent, he isn't exactly... ideal.

loki100- Ah, but you forget that this timeline's Rurikovichs don't fight amongst themselves- they work together unquestioningly.






PART THREE:

Living Amongst Shadows.

Chapter One.

Dramatis Personae
Affonso, King of Georgia.
Akakide, Marshal of Georgia.
The Mole, the unidentified spy in the Georgian court.
The Whisperer, Spymaster of Georgia.
Pereyslava, Queen of Georgia.
Constantijn, friend of the Whisperer.


The Palace was silent. Plague, Pneumonia and fear had kept the courtiers locked in their rooms. Nobody strayed out at night any more.

Except for the mole. He had always been good at stealth and infiltration, and knew the palace well. And nobody would ever suspect him. Provided he kept his face hidden, he could live in plain sight and never be noticed.

He crept up to the door of the King's chambers. Soon, the kingdom would be in tatters, and the Rurikovichs would eliminate their southern problem. And he would be richly rewarded.

He opened the door. There, the Red-Eyed Prince lay snoring in his bed, his face pointed towards the window where the moon's light illuminated his features. He seemed peaceful, serene- and weak.

The mole stifled a laugh. The great King of Georgia, sleeping like a baby. Where was his contemptuous grin now? Where were the mocking red eyes?

The man tiptoed a little closer, his palm wrapped around the handle of his knife. He raised the blade, ready to stab down at the King.

What he did not know was that Affonso was awake.

How could he sleep at a time like this? With the only two people whom he trusted gone, with a mole running around the court, and with the Rurikovich machine on his back, he was unable to empty his mind. He'd only managed to snatch a few hours in the last month.

No, he was well awake, and had heard the mole's footsteps.

He leapt up, tackling the man as he lunged downwards, throwing him off the bed. In the dark, he was unable to see his assailant. A scuffle ensued. He felt a sharp slice at his arm, causing him to scream in pain.

He heard a distant shout, and the sound of footsteps. The mole, realising that he would be caught if he stayed any longer, fled the scene. Affonso was left alone, cradling his wounded arm.

Guards rushed into the room, baring lamps and naked blades. "What happened, sire?", one asked.

"A man... with a knife... I couldn't see who", muttered the King. He was feeling a faint- but also angry. How could his security have been so lax?

Akakide strode in, and quickly took stock of the situation. "This man needs medical attention", he snapped. "Take him to the Doctor immediately."

"No!" cried Affonso, gritting his teeth against the throbbing pain. "Not that man. I don't trust his methods. I shall stay here. Somebody tear a strip off their shirt for my arm."

A guard complied. Affonso sat upon the bed, rubbing his face with his hands. "Guards, Akakide, leave us."

The guards quickly filtered out of the room, leaving Affonso alone. Akakide looked back, briefly, a curious expression across his old face, before he too exited the King's chambers.

Affonso sat back on his bed, gazing at the ceiling. Who could the attacker have been? Not the Whisperer, not Akakide- he was fatter than the attacker- not Maria or Catarina, as he now knew that it was a man...

He sighed, and closed his eyes. This could wait until the morning.
 
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Stuyvesant

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Better hope the blade wasn't poisoned...

We ruled out a few suspects (or did we?), but there's still little to go on. You describe the mole as a man, and Affonso also thinks that's the case, but what does he really have to go on? There's a reference to Affonso's mocking red eyes, from the perspective of the mole, so it seems the mole feels wronged by Affonso... My original thought (a few posts back) was that the mole might be general Komnenos, but I don't think he was ever wronged by Affonso.

I wonder if it's a partisan of the former Queen.
 

Tufto

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Stuyvesant- Well, I'm saying nothing, but the clues are there. You just need to think a little bit outside the box.

Probably (but not certainly) no update tonight, I'm afraid- I'm swamped with work. However, there will definitely be one tomorrow.
 

loki100

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ok, by a minor act of elimination ... my vote is for General Kommenus, not sure he's been descibed as tubby but he's the only close adviser not named in the update and I guess his links back to Byzantium could give him a loyalty to the Rurikovichs.

going back a bit - somewhat worrying that the Rus won't be indulging in their tradition succession struggle