It was another glorious morning in Novi Byelgorod, as the Grand Prince Dmitry IV embarked upon his third panic attack of the day. Pyotr Afanasyovich Bibliotekhsky, the Court Librarian, was following the Prince up and down the salon with bundles of maps, attempting to calm the situation. As the scholar was himself of a particularly nervous disposition, this wasn't helping.
The Grand Princess Olga sipped her tea and watched the pair with ill-disguised impatience. This was not how a Grand Prince was meant to behave.
She had done her dynastic duty to her Prince and husband by producing an heir, a spare, and a daughter who might one day prove marriageable to a suitable ruler. She was determined not to risk her life (or her figure) with any more childbearing, and had made it firmly understood that she preferred to maintain a separate household in the East Wing of the sprawling Palace.
Ordinarily, she left ruling to the ostensible rulers and declined to interfere in affairs of state, but matters were getting out of hand. She lifted a perfect hand to beckon a servant, and whispered to the footman from behind her fan. He nodded and left the room.
The Grand Prince was now in full flight.
"The Herzog's letter tells us that they're NOT in Nizhny Bublik! What on earth is going on? Am I plunging the nation into war for no reason? Am I making a ghastly mistake? Or am I imagining all this?"
"Sire, I'm sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation..." Bibliotekhsky offered lamely. "Perhaps the Herzog has gone mad? There have been rumours of a strain of insanity in his family..."
|Minister for State Security|
Baron _____ _____of _____
A tapestry at the opposite end of the room was flipped aside by the opening of a hidden oaken panel. The man who stepped into the room was dressed in the manner of a nobleman, but entirely in grey, without any of the colour which might otherwise be expected in a court functionary. His garments served only to accentuate his utter lack of distinguishing features.
Princess Olga, completely unfazed by the unorthodox arrival, raised her voice to greet the spymaster.
"Ah, Baron ____, so good of you to take time from your busy schedule to not join us!" Bilbliotekhsky dropped his maps in consternation and immediately fell to his hands and knees to retrieve them.
Prince Dmitry spun about to peer up at the stranger who had materialised behind him. "Who the Devil are you?"
The Baron nodded in token of a bow. "Your Majesty, I am pleased to act in the capacity of head of your intelligence apparatus," he said in even tones. "However, Sire, I must stipulate that any attempt to confirm my position or role within the organisation, or even my identity, will be met with the most stringent denials. To put it simply, I'm not here, I'm not speaking to you now, and I don't actually exist in any official sense."
Dmitry's brow furrowed as he tried to take this in. At least he's stopped gibbering like an idiot, thought the Princess. She stood and glided over to her husband, deftly navigating a path around the crawling Librarian.
"Husband, Baron ____ is here to clarify the current situation in Nizhny Bublik. He has access to sources of information which are completely trustworthy. He will be able to shed light on the somewhat... odd response to Your ultimatum."
____ smiled a barely perceptible smile, acknowledging the Princess' confidence in his organisation. "Your Majesty is most perceptive. Sire, this is what is known in intelligence circles as 'disinformation'. Falsehood promulgated as fact, to promote the interests of the perpetrator. A ruse de guerre, if you will. Not to put too fine a point on it, the Saxe-Coburnskis are telling whoppers to throw you off balance. Though I dare say that this is obvious to Your Majesty...?"
"So... the Saxe-Coburnskis have invaded Nizhny Bublik? I'm not imagining things?"
"Yes, Your Majesty, they have, and no, Your Majesty, you're not. Though it is said that their forces have been invited by their puppet Markgraf to 'protect Saxe-Coburn und Buchholz's commercial interests' quote unquote."
Dmitry's breathing had returned to something approaching normal. "That's more... disinformation?"
"Precisely, Your Majesty!"
"Oh. Good. Thank you for clearing that up."
"Then I shall return to the Bureau and prepare further initiatives to confound the evil machinations of the Saxe-Coburnskis. With your permission, Your Majesties...?" The Baron strode across the room to a bookcase, pushing it aside and vanishing into the corridor thus revealed. It swung shut behind him with a click.
"Thank God, Your Majesty!" quavered Bibliotekhsky from his position on the carpet. "It is most fortunate that we can rely on the talents of Baron ____!"
The Princess' face was a picture of bland innocence. "Baron who? I'm sure I don't know who you might mean,"she said, turning her gaze upon the Prince.
He looked back at her and the kopeck dropped. "Yes, Bibliotekhsky, who is this 'baron' person of whom you speak? There's nobody here save the three of us!"