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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Captain DDR

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This is simply brilliant. The deep and interesting characters, well-written story and realistic settings all bound together with your masterful use of the english language make up a believable and lively world, that I find myself enchanted with. I'd especially love to hear more about Octavio de la Cruz. The little taste that you gave us of him left me lusting for more.

Keep up the good work! : )
 

Tufto

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@Captain DDR- Thank you very much! We'll be seeing a lot more of Octavo in Part 2, where he's one of the main characters, but there'll still be a few flashes of him meanwhile.

@All- I'm sorry about the lack of updates recently; a sudden essay I didn't realise I had popped up. Had to spend the last few days frantically doing reading + writing on Bodin. But that's all done now, and updates will be back to normal.
 
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Book One:

The Concert of Vienna

Chapter Twenty Four.

The date is the 20th of September, 1841. The time in London is twelve minutes past eight in the evening. In Los Angeles, California, a girl falls from a horse and begins to weep. Her parents watch from behind, her mother all fluster and concern, her father glaring sternly. A nine-year-old child, in his opinion, should not weep for an accident as small as that, even if she is female. Spare the rod, spoil the child.

A man in a small cottage in the Cotswolds of England begins to write on an empty page. "We see our lives as a prism of choices, each day making another and another."

In Mexico City, a tall man with slowly greying hair smiles. He is standing in a large room at the top of a rich, ornate house in the centre of the city. He is dressed into the black clothes of a priest, with a golden crucifix around his neck. Thin fingers slowly caress its contours and intricacies, as he looks down at the malcontent, whose pale face is bloodied and bruised. These people were a danger. God's will had to be done, and each one set its conclusion back another day. But less and less were coming now. The people were learning that righteousness did not sit well with freedom.

"Even those who believe in determinism will still treat each of their actions as something they control, they choose."

Far off, in Vienna, a Rhenish Prince writes a letter. His desk is perfectly organised. The candle is burning slowly, politely, as the prince meticulously writes a greeting to the Regent of Spain, responding to his recent letter full of useful court gossip. The prince has all Europe wrapped around his little finger, and is determined that it should remain that way. He would not let chaos triumph over order, no matter the price.

"And each action changes how we perceive life. How our view of the world changes, how we see ourselves and others, is a concept tossed about by every deed we perform and each which is performed upon us."

In the desert sands of Taza, many characters form their own little play. A woman stares at a wall, as she has been doing for the last two months. Every day, she follows Al-Fuenti. Sometimes he ends up at a gambling joint, or some other bastion of sin, there to meet pretty women for him to indulge in his life of shame with. But other days, he travels to this wall. He disappears through it, and she is never fast enough. She has now decided that instead of tailing him, she will force herself to wait here, in this hive of villainy far from home, and watch this wall until he came. Then she'd see what he did, what trick he'd employed. And stop him.

"But we lack a sense of interconnectedness. We cannot always see beyond ourselves."

On the outskirts of the city, a general paced up and down. Al-Fuenti's information on the rebel bands roaming the countryside had almost invariably been excellent. The one mishap was not being told that there were children in that camp where they'd planned to poison the water; the spy had informed him that he didn't consider it a concern. This was a little worrying to the general. What man would not pity the lives of young children?

"Even in our interactions with others, even when we perform a selfless action, even when we experience empathy, we still look at everything from our perspective, how we can relate to and understand events."

Go north, now; to the capital of a fallen empire, Madrid. There, a man sits in a tavern, betraying his noble ancestry by dressing in rags and talking to the locals of their problems and frights. If word ever got out that the heir to a powerful family liked to converse with the lowlifes, the criminals, the disreputable, then he would be socially lynched. But it never would get out. Who would tell them? The only man in that world who knew of his antics was a man he trusted, whom he had fought with in the Carlist war, who would die for him.

"So change your view. Imagine how each action is like a domino in a chain. Everything we do causes other things to happen, every smile or slash of a knife will eventually lead, or contribute towards, a thousand royalists dying at the guillotine, or a thousand republicans being put down like dogs."

That same city. A man sits in a chair, smoking a pipe from his private booth in the theatre. Strains of ordered Corelli and Haydn echo up from the stage below. The man is old, and such calm serenity is bliss to his ears. This was the one time he could unwind and relax. Never mind the cares of government, keeping his cabinet in order, putting everything in place like a complex jigsaw. Never mind the factions that his former friends were beginning to form against him. Never mind anything. Listen to the siren strains, and live in peace.

"Everything is connected. Nothing is in our control. And we are all headed towards one single, common certainty: the end of our lives. But what we try do along the way, however, is what forges our souls, no matter what gifts or curses we have been given."

Atop a balcony, watching the slow-dying embers of the sun, a woman breathes the fresh night-air. The sounds and sights of the city fill her with curiosity and fear in equal measure. She knows well that she is not the strongest of people, but she wants to be. Her lover waits for her across the houses which make up this conglomeration of crime, love, art and all the rest. She smiles, and turns to go in. She will wrap herself warm against the cold.

"For although the events that shape us are already known, and uncontrollable, and although every action we take may still lead us on the same path physically, we still have mastery of our own souls. We choose whether to love, to cry, to create or destroy. We may not choose what happens to our bodies, but we and we alone can shape our being."

A young minister of the crown is also watching the sunset. His realm is money and finance, material greed and its acquisition. It is not a job which suits his sensibilities, but it is useful. It is a platform from which he can spin the world, cause great nations to topple, make the world bow to his mere shadow. The Basque is his way to this. They have a mutual interest in order, and both will forge their dreams through the fall of the plump old ruler of the country. A little time was all that was needed.

"This is what life is. All laws and constraints are meaningless. They are simply constructs of the greedy and powerful. Christ taught us love, and they have found a way to use that word for their dreams of hate. We must all make our choices, and make sure they are good. We must not fall into sin, but neither must we let ourselves be whipped by the powerful and greedy. There is one thing in this world which we must do with all our heart and spirit."

A man in a scruffy greatcoat holds a knife between his fingers, the point trained on the wall opposite. Like a carefully constructed hall of mirrors, he thinks upon all the people in his life. They are tempest-tossed and blind, and they need order. It was his duty, he knew, to ensure they were granted it. If he had to force every last one of them into bondage he would do so. The rule of tradition and law was greater than all petty wants and desires. So what if the rich and the cruel controlled the lives of others? He would ensure that the concert of Vienna lasted a thousand years if it meant that chaos would finally breath its last.

"We must resist."

A boy stood, holding a bloodied knife above the corpse of a fox. He watched the rabbit bound away, and smiled. He's stopped the predator. He'd stopped the cruel harming the weak. He'd changed the natural order of things. He had bitten the hand that fed. There was nothing he couldn't do.

"We must win."
 
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Getting pretty close to 10,000 views, now :).

Book One:

The Concert of Vienna

Chapter Twenty Five.

22nd September 1841. Taza.

Hafsa's small eyes glared at the wall. Any minute now.

Al-Fuenti always came on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. That was the pattern she'd seen. Now, hiding behind a woven basket as she continued to examine the flaky sand and criss-crossed cracks in the stone, she was elated to finally be on the verge of cracking this mystery.

She watched. There was the peddlar, an old, grey-headed man advertising his wares from his large, rickety cart. He always hung around here in the day, making a tidy profit; this was a busy road, after all. There were the beggars, chatting to one another while eating their scraps of bread, holding out their hands in supplication to passers-by and then chortling to themselves once they left.

The sky was dark. She wasn't as fast as the man she tailed, and the same thing had happened each time she'd tried to chase him, some six or seven times in the last few months. He'd turn this corner, and when she caught up, he had disappeared. The two times she'd been fast enough to see, all she'd caught a glimpse of was him approaching the wall, and vanishing into the darkness.

The beggars and the idlers were beginning to leave. Soon, she thought. Soon...

There! Al-Fuenti was coming down the road. She crouched closer behind the basket, and watched.

There he was, going towards the wall, closer... closer... she was near enough to see, this time...

The carter began to rustle. From the bottom of his cart, he dragged up a cloak and a headscarf, and in a single movement, he handed them to Al-Fuenti. Like lightening, the spy whisked them on in a matter of seconds, then sat on the side of the road, head down, his European garb totally covered up by the long and thick garment he was now covering up. He disappeared through disguise.

A chill went down Hafsa's spine. A sense of being in a web far greater than her own began to wash over her. What had she stumbled into?

She looked at Al-Fuenti critically, through the gaps in the weaving. He was tall, dark haired... with a noble bearing and dark, handsome face...

"No, Hafsa. Such thoughts contravene our holy work," came the voice of the djinn in her ear. "Whatever he's doing, it is against the law of God. Watch him... and when he isn't looking, a knife in his craw would do a world of good-"

Al-Fuenti looked up. Straight at her. For a single second, Hafsa froze as they stared at one another. She was his neighbour, damnit, the woman who did her washing as he walked by at the end of the street, who watched him beadily. He knew who she was.

Al-Fuenti leapt to his feet and ran. Knocking the basket aside, she followed.

In his long robe, Al-Fuenti was unable to run as fast as he ordinarily would have. "Now, Hafsa!" roared the djinn into her ear. "Now, slice the devil and make him bleed!"

Running through alleys in the night. Al-Fuenti's stumblings through a foreign, unknown place made him seem like a graceless goat compared to Hafsa's fluid motion through a city which was her lifeblood. Past the minaret, into a crowd- the people shouted protests as the two of them shoved their way through the hordes of thieves and merchants. Al-Fuenti ran through a passage, Hafsa followed him. Al-Fuenti ran into a square, Hafsa almost caught him. They turned again into a network of alleys, with the dark sky lighting the night, and she reached out, almost grabbing his hood-

Then Al-Fuenti slammed himself to a halt. Hafsa careered into him, tripping and falling. No sooner had the pain of her bruises began to sting, she was hauled to her feet, and pinned against a wall, with dark and cruel eyes staring into the blackness of her own.

The moon shone down, but nobody was their to see them. She looked deep into Al-Fuenti's eyes, trying to see if she could recognise him, make out his features-

"Who sent you?" came a rasp, both rough and eloquent in equal measure.

Hafsa tried to squirm away but the djinn made her stop. "Honesty. Truth for truth. Find out as much about this devil as possible, so we can use it against him..."

She spat in the face of her assailant. "I do Allah's work! You sleep with the innocent maidens, you sneak around... who are you? What do you want from us?"

Slowly, with a kind of restrained fury, Al-Fuenti took a cloth from his pocket and wiped the spittle from his face. "You aren't an agent, are you? You're just some pious heathen..."

"You are the heathen, dog!"

Al-Fuenti laughed, quietly. "You, me, Pope, Caliph... we're all heathens, eking out our meagre existence on this foreign soil. Nobody goes to heaven. No-one will welcome you there. But here... here I will give you a welcome. To my world." Buenaventura Rodrigo laughed again, more bitterly. "A shame you have to leave so soon."

Hafsa barely saw the glint of the knife, as it flashed towards her throat. Sheathing it as her body hit the floor, Rodrigo let out a satisfied sigh, closing his eyes and walking away, a slow and steady swagger on his hips.

Hafsa's conscious thought began to slip away. "I'm sorry, Hafsa", murmured the djinn into her ear. "But I'm a demon. You shouldn't trust a demon."
 

Tufto

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Oof, been a few days. Where were we...

Book One:

The Concert of Vienna

Chapter Twenty Six.

1st October 1841. Los Angeles.

"Greetings, my child. And what can I do for you?"

The crowd was frozen. It was a clear, warm day at the precipice of Autumn, and until a few moments ago, the people had all been cheering for their leader. Octavo knew the power of a symbol, and dressed in modest black, the priest had walked (flanked by bodyguards, of course) barefoot through the streets, smiling and waving at the crowds.

He was no fool. He did not make himself look akin to the humble penitent, to be patronised and taken as a mere naive moraliser. Every single stinging step was slow, deliberate, in regular time with the beating smile on his face. An air of confidence, authority and strength was what he went for.

He had them. California was his birthplace, and this was where he loved to preach. His lightly greying hair had been clipped short and smart, and he looked every inch the respectable, knowledgeable clergyman. They were putty in his hands; he would make them in his image. The concert's notes were all playing out in delightful harmony-

And then a discordant note had shattered the illusion. A girl, some eight or nine years old, had darted into the road and spat at his feet, before glaring defiantly up at him.

The people were frozen. Octavo's heart had nearly missed a beat. His procession was stumbled, his line was stopped. Ordinarily, the crowd would laugh and the mother would tug the child away- but the mother was staring, aghast, at the scene before her, and the people were too shocked. Rebellion, against their leader? Their priest, who had clawed the Texan country back from the brink of oblivion? Their captain, defied by a lone mutineer- and a young girl at that?"

The girl's eyes were flicking across his face, as if trying to read him. Some little part of Octavo's mind, that always mocked and detracted from him, whispered in his ear: Someday, this girl will be the end of you. Someday, you will die at her hand.

But Octavo de la Cruz did not listen to the voice. Octavo de la Cruz did not take heed of the baying voices of the devil. So when the child spoke, his head was back in gear, looking for ways to exploit the situation.

"You took my daddy!"

Ah... that was OK. It was a personal matter. No scandal which only a child would dare say- just something affecting a single family, which he could easily cover up.

"Well, my girl. And who was your father? What is your name?"

"Rosa Maria!"

A little titter from the crowd- a falter on the girl's face. "Your surname, my girl," said the preacher in a voice both fatherly and mocking. "Your father's surname."

The girl's next words were still defiant, but noticeably quieter.

"Vega."

The priest almost visibly relaxed. Vincent Vega was a minor noble of the area, who had been strung up on charges of adultery and organised crime. In truth, he was guilty of little more than speaking out against one of the priest's new laws, and had gained something of a following in the city- which naturally had to be dealt with. Luckily, this had only been last week- the man was still alive."

"Well, Rosa Maria," began the priest, keenly aware of the eyes of the crowd on him. "I'm afraid your father has been guilty of some very bad things. He was caught... inappropriately a noblewoman, and stealing. Do you know your commandments, Rosa Maria? Thou Shalt Not Steal?"

"But the day the men said he did all that, he wasn't-"

"Of course," said de la Cruz loudly over the girl's voice, "I am merciful. I shall speak to the local guard on the morrow, and see about the release of this man Vega. After all," a gracious, but lordly, smile, "every child deserves a father."

Wild cheering ran out. The mother took is as a cue to run in and drag the girl away. As she leant down, Octavo whispered a word in her ear. "Of course, if you wish him to return with his limbs attached, learn to control your brat and raise her like a Christian, not some Babylonian whore."

The mother didn't look up. She simply grabbed her daughter and ran away. Octavo smiled and raised a hand to his admirers- but when he glanced back, he saw something odd about the child. The colour of her eyes were red, glaring at him through tears of impotent rage.

"Demon," muttered Octavo to himself. "God, protect me from that demon child..."

-----​

(Should probably point out a couple of things here: firstly, Rosa Maria's eyes aren't actually red, as she isn't albino or suffering from eye disease; they're simply a dark, reddish shade of brown. Secondly, this does not make her the eponymous Red Mexican, as that is Diego; however, she is an extremely important figure in the future (and my favourite character in the AAR).)

As I have your attention, I urge you to go and check out the latest edition of the AARlander. It makes for an interesting read, and can always use more readers.


 
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Sorry this is such a short update.

Book One:

The Concert of Vienna

Chapter Twenty Seven.

1st November, 1841

Goya smiled. The three of them sat around the table, smoking and gazing into the candlelight.

The former captain had his boots on the table, swilling the whisky in his glass. He liked whisky. It was bitter, harsh, and poets didn't write about it. It was a sinful pleasure; but at least no pompous Romanticist extolled and hid its virtue. It was a need, plain and simple; rough, raw, and cruel. If he had to sin, let it be through whisky.

Vicario sat more upright, more proper, sipping at a deep red wine. Sometimes, when he looked at the wine's heart, at the crystalline formations deep within its blood-red core, he could see the a purity, a truth. After all, what was wine but the blood of the grape- and did blood not contain life, in its purest and simplest form? Blood and wine were both purities of one form and another. Mix them together, and an impurity is formed; something more complex, and tempting, but it lacked something, somehow. The argument with the fewest assumptions was usually the best, and consequently the sin or virtue with the least ambiguity was always more pleasurable to indulge in.

Marina only drank water. She wanted to be sober for this meeting.

It was late, and the tavern was almost empty. Once the last person filtered out, and the bartender had been given the signal to leave the room, the silence only lasted a few seconds more. Goya then gently, casually, murmered, "I bring greetings from the regent."

"And how does he fare?" The tone remained akin to court gossip, not a fervered hush of a conspirator. Marina kept watching. Their exchanges were always interesting, and every time she felt she knew a tiny bit more about her lover; even if only imperceptibly.

"He is most distressed, Vicario. Certain pieces of information have come to light about an individual who has been keeping secrets from the crown. Somebody who has lied about his heritage and his past crimes against one of the foremost men of our nation. A very prominent individual, in fact. Naturally, his Majesty is very grateful to the individuals who gave him this information, and was pleased that they came straight to him, without delay."

"Naturally. Such individuals must be men of the very highest calibre" murmured Vicario.

Marina wasn't sure what to think of Vicario. Goya committed sins, she knew, but only to stop greater crimes being committed. That was why she loved him, she thought, as she fondly looked upon his thinly scarred face and dark eyes. But this Vicario... he was Goya's ally, she knew, but he almost made sin into an art form. Every word which poured from his mouth was somehow like black ashes.

Goya used sin for the greater good. Vicario used it for light recreation.

"Now," continued Goya quietly, "I have also been in touch with a charming gentleman known as Buenaventura Rodrigo; an interesting individual, who also goes by the adopted name of Al-Fuenti in his current residence, the Moroccan colonies. He would very much like to return to a more... civilised (a brief, apologetic look at Marina) country, and do some good there. He has become adept in the art of... persuading people to see things from his point of view, and I feel that he will be an excellent attribute to our cause, should the aforementioned individual not fully understand his position."

"I would be very interested in meeting this gentleman. He sounds fascinating." Goya almost smiled- Vicario had a marvellous insincerity.

"I'm sure that could be arranged. It took some effort to persuade General Aguirre of the Moroccan Army to abandon this prodigy."

Marina looked again at Goya. He had a curious expression; something akin to... was it hunger? Or peace of mind? Either way, it was a slightly... intimidating look...

The moon rolled on, as the Ides approached...
 

FellowNerd

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You have a way with words that pulls me in every time. Bravo good sir. Bravo
 

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FellowNerd: Thank you! :) sorry about the erratic updates, by the way. Essays and all that.

Book One:

The Concert of Vienna

Chapter Twenty Eight.

Marseille. Midnight, 31st December 1841.

The ships were gently swaying in the breeze. A man, clad in a black duster, stepped off a boat and onto the quay. Nobody was around; they were all in the centre of the town, dancing away. Al-Fuenti was tempted to join the crowd, but he restrained himself. There would be plenty of time to find a one-night bride another evening.

Stepping onto the stone from wood, the familiar creaks which had governed his life for the last few weeks were dispelled. The sounds of life were so far off that he could barely discern them.

"Bite the hand that feeds, and you will be free...

He stopped. What were those words? He felt as though they came from some far off land, from some future he could barely conceive of. No matter. Idle thoughts concerned him not. For within Al-Fuenti's heart, something beat against his chest and yearned for its realisation.

Al-Fuenti felt as though he was not one, but two. Buenaventura Rodrigo- his real name- had almost formed a separate identity, once concerned with schemes and hedonism. Then there was the other side, Al-Fuenti, a side which was concerned with a single object, a single goal.

One would expect those two to act in contrast, but the nature of that goal had led them to form a symbiotic relationship, creating a new person. Gone was the coward, who recoiled at filth and blood. For the last few months, he had sliced and slept his way through the spying networks of the rebels, turning Aguirre into his greatest admirer- if a rather fearful kind of admiration.

Pleasure and pain were one- he saw that now. He was concerned with nothing other than that pleasure, and the greatest pleasure of all was Al-Fuenti's principle goal: power. Power over others, to make them bend to his will and submit to his whims. To be able, in an instant, to press the bloody knife against their throat and feel their fear. That was the single greatest joy he had discovered, and the one he planned to make the most of.

He continued to walk down the side of the bay, whistling a song of his own invention. He missed the sway of the sea. He liked to belong, to feel the way of the world and flow in time with it... that, too, was a great pleasure.

He heard footsteps. He looked down an alley between two seaside houses, and saw a young couple holding hands, whispering sweet nothings into each others' ears. He smiled, and slowly drew the knife from his coat pocket. He could take a brief diversion- he didn't need to meet his contact for another couple of hours... and the sight of blood was so very sweet...

-----

A single tear trickled down the cheek of Ekaitz Goya. Grief was not an emotion he was overly fond of, but here, at this time, he couldn't help it.

The letter was quite specific. He had died, painlessly, in his bed in Gasteiz. His brother, Father Andoni, had been at his side when he had passed, had delivered the Last Rites. That seemed... right, somehow.

He was sitting in his bed, reading the letter he had been dreading ever since he saw Mother's handwriting. Father was always the one who normally wrote.letters to him. And now, as the clock struck midnight and the new year dawned, with Marina sitting softly at his side, his father had died for him.

Sway with the world...

No... he couldn't.

Sway with the world, and your existence is a crime.

What were those words? Stray thoughts, maybe, but ones of wisdom. He had to fight to impose order. The world was one step away from savagery, and he would ensure that it would never cross over.

Spain was blossoming. There were many problems; the industrialisation program was not proceeding as well as expected, while Catalan nationalists were beginning to gain ground in Barcelona, with demagogues on the streets, preaching. Xavier was tottering, and Goya was about to swoop in and finish him off. He couldn't let mere feeling influence that decision.
[I
The Lealistas continued their reactionary rhetoric, the Moderados continued to flounder, the liberal factions continued to dominate and impose their vision on the nation. What else was new? The fanatical revolution in Mexico continued, the French had attack the Dutch in Guyana... Goya closed his eyes, but a tear was squeezed out nonetheless. His hands began to tremble, his vision began to blur, and a silent wracking sob escaped from his jaw...

----​

I am well aware how disturbing the first part of that was :p I assure you, my mental health is in a perfectly fine condition.