MOSCOW DMITRI DONSKOI, PRINCE OF MOSCOW Were there ever such curses as ambition and ability? Latest in a family line known for its pragmatic opportunism and ruthless efficiency, Dmitri realised that while Moscow had risen as the Mongols‟ quisling, they were weakening and this was his chance to become the undisputed tsar of all the Russias by switching sides and leading the struggle for independence. At Kulikovo, he smashed the Mongol armies but now a new, greater force approaches. Can he win again? Or should he make peace with the Mongols? These and a dozen other schemes whirl in his dark and tricky mind, while he smiles and welcomes the guests to his Kremlin, apparently nothing more than the genial host at ease with the world. VLADIMIR THE BRAVE, CHAMPION OF MOSCOW Donskoi is the mind; his cousin Vladimir is the hand. The Muscovite Champion, Baron of Bolshevo, is in many ways the black sheep of the family: personally brave, tall and strong, straightforward and outspoken. He dotes on his wife Victoria, looking forward to the day she gives him an heir. He is stolidly loyal to Dmitri, happy to live for the day and let his prince worry about tomorrow. To everyone else, he is a bully or a boor, but so long as he has the reputation as the hero of Kulikovo and the prince‟s favour, it is best to take his slights and taunts. But, his enemies remind themselves, reputations tarnish and the favour of a prince – especially one as crooked as Donskoi – is short-lived. VICTORIA THE FAIR The tale of their whirlwind romance is still the stuff of ballads: he, the Muscovite boyar, she the peasant girl he rescued from death. Yet for all her common origins, Vladimir‟s devoted wife is known far and wide as the epitome of Russian womanhood: gentle and loving, beautiful and resourceful, quiet and modest. Is her failure to provide him an heir the result of a curse, or is God punishing Vladimir for marrying below his station? STRAW-HAIRED SASHA. Donskoi‟s groom may be little more than a boy, but he stands a head taller than any of the prince‟s guard and his smile is bright as the sun. For now, he is entrusted with bearing the icon-banner of St Alexander Nevsky, Donskoi‟s personal patron, but his characteristic good humour has seemed dimmed of late. Does the boy pine after a woman, or has his lowly status at court finally begun to rankle? TIMOFEI THE SOUR “The Counting Count,” “Old Lemonface,” “Closedpurse.” Timofei is a man of exacting precision and ruthless efficiency. Let the pampered princes and ambitious knights mock him: as Donskoi‟s treasurer, Timofei knows that the silver he gathers into Moscow‟s vaults represent power: swords on the battlefield, knives in the dark, an advantageous marriage here, a quiet trade deal there. Princes come and go, but Moscow must survive… METROPOLITAN ALEXEI OF MOSCOW God chose you. In your childhood, when out hunting birds, He spoke to you: „Alexei, why do you rush around so fruitlessly? I will teach you to catch men.‟ You became a monk and have done the Lord‟s work tirelessly since, bringing healing to where there is pain, peace where there was strife. You even visited Verdevir Khan to make peace with the Mongols and cured Amurat Khan‟s wife of blindness, for even pagans are God‟s children. Now are you tired, you feel you have outlived your span, but again war presses upon the Russians are again you must do the Lord‟s work – if that yammering zealot Sergius will let you. RED-CHEEKED ALYONA Donskoi‟s fabled cook. On her face, her usual smile; in her ample belly, a laugh; and in her hand… revolution. This new vegetable, brought from distant lands by Norse adventurers, may hardly look like the tool to reshape the world, and no wonder the sour- faced elders of the Church call it the “devil‟s apple,” but Alyona sees in it the perfect food to feed the hungry masses and strengthen the arm of the common worker. Potatoes for the People! SERGIUS OF RADONEZH Sometimes the most dangerous zealots are also the most softly-spoken. At first, Sergius looks like a kindly grandfather, but beneath his gentle, almost sleepy manner is an iron will and a ruthless dedication to Russia‟s future. The most arrogantly humble man in Christendom, Sergius refers to himself as a „simple monk‟ even though everyone considers him the most powerful man within the Russian Orthodox Church. But he couldn‟t possibly comment. ANDREI RUBLEV Who, seeing this simple, pious monk, born of humble stock, would realize that his is the precocious talent which has painted the finest and most magical icons across Russia? His work is treasured, abbots and metropolitans compete for his services, and he is still young. Indeed, at Sergius‟s urging, Donskoi has commissioned him to produce a new icon, „St Alexander Nevsky the Victorious,‟ for his Kremlin chapel, to be unveiled during the New Year celebrations. So why is he so troubled? NOVGOROD ELIZAVETA OF BOTH BANKS To be Novgorod‟s elected mayor is no easy task. To the west, the Teutonic Order and the Lithuanians alike gaze hungrily at Novgorod‟s trading empire. Moscow wants to plunder it for its silver. The Mongols could shatter the city‟s armies in a week. At home, the noble and trading houses share little beyond a hunger for power and wealth. A difficult job indeed – and the feisty and hard-bitten Elizaveta would have it no other way. BRIGHT PORFIRI Other cities may accept the princes birth or overlords foist upon them, but Novgorod still clings to the tradition of hiring its princes. Facing the threat of Lithuanian invasion, Novgorod felt it needed a general of charisma and cunning, and found it in Porfiri, a younger son of Prince Yuri of Kiev. But the Lithuanians never came, and Porfiri‟s relations with Elizaveta and the trading magnates of the city have soured. His manners are still impeccable, his wit as sharp as ever, but a brooding anger is building… ONE-EYED MAXIM A two-fisted frontier legend, a larger-than-life drinker, brawler, entrepreneur, trapper, hunter and explorer. Maxim made his first fortune trapping furs in far Siberia, then lost it in a month-long debauch about which the vodka-sellers and whores of Novgorod are still talking. Then he engaged a troop of Lapp mercenaries and made his second fortune carving out a trading empire in Siberia beyond the far Novgorodian outpost of Khlynov. He claims to be in Moscow just for the party, but no one ever expects Maxim not to have a scheme or three up his fur-trimmed sleeve. SUZDAL PRINCE MIKHAIL OF SUZDAL A towering figure of rectitude and calm authority, Mikhail of Suzdal stands out in a time of ambition and dishonesty. It was Mikhail who brokered peace between the Votyak tribes and the Novgorodian traders of Khlynov. It was Mikhail who went into the Otherworld and ended the feud between the Tsar of the Thrice-Ninth Land and the Prince of the Wolves. Even now, as Mikhail prepares to give his daughter‟s hand in marriage to the young prince of Vladimir, he is beset by those who want him to solve the current crisis facing the Russias. But does he have a plan? PRINCESS ALEXANDRA OF SUZDAL Young princes from across the Russias flocked to Suzdal, bears to the honeypot that is Princess Alexandra. Beautiful and vivacious (and, truth to tell, an ageing father with no male heirs), she was one of the most eligible brides around. Her betrothal to the relatively unknown prince of Vladimir came as a shock to many and an affront to some. There are even those who believe there is a wicked sense of humour at work, even a desire to see the flower of Russian aristocracy duelling for her hand. BARON FEODOR OF SUZDAL Prince Mikhail‟s master of horse is a daring and innovative cavalry commander. Thanks to his inspirational leadership, Suzdal‟s small army is nonetheless disproportionately effective and mobile enough even to take on the Mongols at their own game. If only there were not fifty Mongol horsemen to each of Suzdal‟s! Although now greying, Feodor is as vigorous as ever, and even finds time to take his personal guard out into the woods for days or even weeks at a time in his determination to catch the insolent bandit known only as Black Rooster – a determination some say now borders on the obsessive. KIEV PRINCE YURI OF KIEV Ah, these days are just pale and shabby imitations of the glory days, when Kiev the Golden was the foremost city of Russia, when Moscow was just a pig-herding hamlet, and when real heroes walked Russia‟s black earth, like mighty Ilya Muromets, his family‟s patron. – wants the old days back. Prince Yuri has retreated into mournful introspection, his mind occupied by the past. None can deny his piety, his learning and his magical abilities – but can they persuade him to use them? PRINCESS SVETLANA OF KIEV Kiev may still be a city in mourning, its gaze – like her father‟s – fixed on past glories, but the sternly energetic Princess Svetlana, a young woman of unfashionably extensive education, is determined to give it a future, too. METROPOLITAN PAVEL OF KIEV There are those within the Church who wear the plainest of robes, but inside burn with pride and ambition. Metropolitan Pavel, though, humbly accepts that as God has clearly elevated him to the rank of metropolitan, then He Himself wants Pavel to wear the finest robes, dine off the most succulent foods and collect some really big, elaborate hats. Surely the future of the Orthodox Faith ought not be left in the hands of bareheaded zealots? Something must be done. But not quite now – it‟s time for lunch. VLADIMIR PRINCE GAVRIL OF VLADIMIR Everyone knows that beneath his scholarly manner, the prince of Vladimir has a hidden heart of iron. Literally. But these are dangerous and difficult times and he seems more interested in his (admittedly famous) library than his city‟s future or the fate of the Russias. Does his son‟s impending marriage mean that Vladimir will simply become part of Suzdal‟s domain? PRINCE ROMAN OF VLADIMIR The heir to the throne of Vladimir is something of an unknown quantity. Neither recluse nor party animal, he has fought, hunted and caroused like any good Russian prince should, but no one seems to know or remember much about him. That is why it was such a surprise when his betrothal to the beautiful Princess Alexandra of Suzdal was announced, a wedding to be held during the Moscow conclave. Many are the unsuccessful suitors eyeing him up with newfound respect and also envy and curiosity. She is out of his league – so what‟s his secret? TVER PRINCE IVAN OF TVER The young prince of Tver was the only survivor of the terrible fire which claimed his father and older brother, and he is determined – desperate, even – to prove himself. In battle, he will be in the thick of the melee; in any party, he will be the one dancing on the table; and in any race, he must be at the fore. Despite his uncle‟s attempts at moderation, he is equally keen to prove that Tver deserves to be recognised as a great city. In fact, he wants it all – and by tomorrow at the latest. BARON OLEG OF TVER Ivan‟s dutiful uncle, for whom keeping his nephew out of trouble seems at times a full- time job. Behind that urbanely cheerful countenance is a quick mind, though, and a wealth of knowledge. But why did he get so angry when Arkady Six-Bells – back when he could still talk – proposed writing a ballad about his life? OTHER RUSSIANS BRIGHT-EYED KOLYA The Ataman of the Don Cossack Host, Kolya is just what you would expect. Fierce to his enemies, cheerily hospitable to his friends, his sabre can cut the wind into ribbons, his dances shake the earth. Brave Kolya, quick Kolya, a twinkling eye for the ladies, a manly hug for the men. But look closer; behind all that bravado, the wink and the grin, is a deep dread. What could frighten Brave Kolya? SIX-BELLS ARKADY A Skoromokh is a travelling minstrel and holy man of the ancient pagan Russian ways. Arkady is one of the most famous, the hero who tamed the Three Hungry Mountains, who set the Great Growing Goose free and charmed a spirit of the deep woods into his dancing bear. Yet what can a Skoromokh do now that he has lost his voice? BORIS THE DANCING BEAR No common bear, but the mighty pagan spirit Arkady bound. Even when capering for the entertainment of yokels, there is a melancholy grandeur in his countenance and an unexpected intelligence in those great brown eyes. Why, one could almost believe he can talk! VOLODYA THREE-FATHERS One of the last and greatest of the Volkhvs, the priests of pagan Russia, Volodya has bought and sold favours in the court of the Sea Tsar, he has felt Baba Yaga‟s foul breath on the back of his neck and he is owed favours unspecified from the Leshy, the mighty lords of the deep forest. Now, as he watches the spread of the Christian way, he is determined that he will not shirk in his duty to protect Moscow‟s shrine to Perun, celestial tsar of the lightnings. THE BIRCH WOMAN None know the true name of this pagan fortune-teller of the woods. There are those who point to her wild hair and alabaster limbs and call her a night-spirit or a lover of the moon, and the Christians mouth the word „witch‟ and would see her drowned or burnt. Yet princes and priests, merchants and mariners all depend on her prophesies. FOREIGNERS TIMUGKE FIVE-ARROWS Once you were a great war-leader of the Mongol Golden Horde. Heroes rode at your back, beautiful woman cast themselves at your feet and the ancestor spirits whispered prophesies of greatness in your ear. Jealous enemies brought you down, their lies doing what their arrows never could, and now you are an exile, a fugitive, at the court of a rebel against your old Khan. Nonetheless, you are still Timugke Five-Arrows, and thus a more handsome, powerful and virile hero than any around you! OSADOKO OF NO-HORDE Ragged clothes, a dirty, worried face and a humble manner often lead others to overlook the quiet authority this fugitive from the Mongol Horde retains. He has travelled the length of the Mongol realm, from the cities of China to the black-earth fields of Russia. Ask him about them and he can spin a tale to entertain you for hours. Ask him about himself, though, and expect little in return. A modest man, indeed. CONTESSA SILVANA DI BONAFEDE For some, treachery is a habit, for others, a necessity. For the elegant and glamorous emissary from distant Genoa, it is virtually a hobby. Silvana di Bonafede was born to a petty Venetian noble house, married well but dallied better. When her jealous husband killed her latest lover, she killed him in return (though not before his knife had taken out her eye) and fled with the family treasures. She ended up at the court of Venice‟s great rival, Genoa. Both because of her talents and also to place her far from vengeful blades, she is now travels far, hiring out the famed Genoese mercenary crossbowmen, as well as less public services. HER SERENITY EGERIA EIRENIKOS The Byzantine emissary to Donskoi‟s conclave. If titles, noble ancestors and pretensions were silver, Egeria Eirenikos would be one of the richest woman in all Constantinople, so it is just as well that her abilities as mediator and diplomat match her vanity. A woman of subtle wit and well-bred cunning, her motives for attending are as yet unclear. SIR WILLIAM OF HAULTBY-WHITNEY Donskoi is as happy to hire mercenaries as enlist allies, and Sir William‟s Englishmen are well-known as hard-bitten fighters, just like their commander, a commoner knighted by the Black Prince himself for his valour at Poitiers. More to the point, since the death of his Polish wife, Klementyna, Sir William has been increasingly heedless of the odds – and let‟s face it, cautious commanders aren‟t likely to take on the Golden Horde! PETRAS BERAGIS At Kulikovo, the Lithuanians were allied with the Mongols. Now, desperate to avoid a war on two fronts, Donskoi seeks to ally with them, or at least keep them neutral. That Grand Duke Jogaila sent Beragis almost seems a deliberate snub. Beragis is a minor figure at Jogaila‟s court, no polished diplomat or powerful emissary. A bluff man, he sees no reason to pretend that he does not love seeing the Russians he despises courting his favour, and even accosts every woman he meets to flaunt his worship of the pagan god Potrimpo, mightily-endowed bringer of virility and fertility… HAIRY ATCHOO Atchoo not like this stone tent which Rus‟ chief live. Atchoo not like ugly gods they worship, nothing like clean spirits of Siberia. But three things Atchoo likes. That Rus‟ make firewater which burns in veins like Sun‟s blessing. That Rus‟ need him, being nicey-nice, when really think him lower than man who fart in kayak. And that Rus‟ think they so clever and Atchoo so stupid.