Actions

Work Header

True to Home

Work Text:

Making his way across the castle, he had thought a little of what he might say. But as he came near and motioned to the guards, he found that he was warring with himself. He could not face Jogaila after this; he had to see Jogaila.

It was not his castle, which was worse, for they had brought Jogaila to Vilnius, where he had never felt quite at home. Worse, they had locked him in his own rooms, all respect paid him but freedom. To step over the threshold was to step into the past. Any moment now he might wake and find that it had all been a strange dream, all some Teutonic plot, and that in fact, all was well. Jogaila would turn to him and smile, and they would embrace and talk again as ever, their interests and alliances shared.

To be sure, Jogaila looked up as he entered, but that was all of the acknowledgement of the remembered past. He did not get up, and his face was drawn.

Vytautas, approaching him as one might a chained beast, found himself at a loss of words. He had known, indeed, that nothing could be as it had been, known this even before news came that his father had captured Vilnius, before Jogaila departed for Polotsk, had known since he had been summoned to his father and accused. Yet still some part of him had not believed it could be true.

What have you done? he wanted to say, but the question was foolish beyond measure. He said, instead, trying to make his tone as idly conversational as though there was no problem at all, “Did they make you think that you could conceal it forever?”

Jogaila’s face barely moved. He had still that same considering gaze he’d had for years. “There’s a number of questions I might raise with you too, cousin. Do sit.” He indicated with one arm a chair on the other side of his desk.

His feet made a step forward before he knew what he was doing. It was second nature to follow such a request, to sit down by Jogaila to talk with him.

He fixed his feet firmly on the ground, and made no further moves forward. “Did you think you could convince us of anything and so never face any consequences, or were you planning to run abroad?”

It brought a reaction out of Jogaila, though not one Vytautas might have aimed for. When he spoke, it was only with that accursed half-smile that had never failed to irritate. “Do you think that they’re in need of a Lithuanian in Prague, now that your brother’s dead?”

His words, primed to hurt his pride, missed the mark. He cared little for Wojdat, who had so let down their father when Vytautas himself had been but a child, leaving him with but a memory of a tall man with a beard, who might have been anybody. Members of their families had betrayed each other, that was true, but that did not excuse what Jogaila had done.

“You ought to know then, what it means to betray Lithuania for the Order.”

Jogaila’s face hardened. It aged him; he looked, suddenly, very tired. They had taken him prisoner as he was making his way home, and that too must have been destabilising, to find your own refuge turned against you. Still, he kept his eyes on those of Vytautas. “Careful,” he said, and as if seeking to demonstrate this quality, his voice was very even. “There is much I would tolerate from you, cousin, but even you may move too far.”

This was Jogaila: even as a child he had acknowledged no set-back. He had been the shortest of the boys in the training yard, and by far the most determined. He had yielded and yielded, and said, time after time, “Again.”

“You would kill me?” he said. He had aimed for surprise, but the words came out mocking. “Your father was much mistaken in you, to think you would rule peaceably with mine, and make the dynasty flourish.” He would have made himself smile, but his lips would not curve up. “Still, it will flourish. At least my father knows who our enemies are, and I will not repeat your mistakes.”

“And so you will doom Lithuania.”

The words hung in the air. Vytautas took in a sharp breath and released it again. He reminded himself that Jogaila could possess no powers of prophesy, no ability to speak the world into being. All he had was the skill of pronouncement, of making others doubt.

What he had was what a childhood with Vytautas had given him: from years of friendship, a knowledge that ran deep and wide, and beyond that, something in his nature that had made him the leader so often, even in their childish games.

But it was Jogaila who had broken that bond and betrayed his trust. There was little that Vytautas owed him now.

He said, his eyes still on Jogaila’s, “It is you who would destroy Lithuania.”

He was watching for a reaction. In truth, he had half expected anger, which might well rise in any accused of such betrayal, but anger was more his way than Jogaila’s. Jogaila had learned his coldness from his mother; that and a certain distance. All he did was close his eyes against the blow, and his voice when it came was steady. “I did what was necessary to protect it.”

“Protect!” The word burst out of him. “It has not been so long since you and my father last signed a treaty with them. Very well, we needed time to survive and regroup, that was not so unusual. But to give your word to stand aside as you have done is a terrible thing.”

Jogaila lifted his head. His hair fell across his forehead. “You praise your father and curse me for much the same. Shame, cousin.”

“Don’t –” he started, but there was no point to it. Once, he would have called Jogaila like a brother to him, closer than his blood brothers. He could not cut him from his heart now, whatever he had done.

But what he had done was to betray his father, the one man Vytautas had always held dearer even than him.

He said, “My father would never have said, ‘Do what you will to my nephew, so long as you leave my lands alone’. Your father would never have done it to his brother; I never would have done it to you.”

He might have gone on in this vein, except that Jogaila laughed.

It was not his old laugh, the one Vytautas remembered so well from childhood. Only half in humour, it was the laugh of a stranger wearing his cousin’s face. They had grown apart, of late.

He had not noted it.

“Ah, yes,” said Jogaila now. His mirth had subsided a little, but it was still visible in the corners of his mouth. “The old story: your father waits for mine here in Vilnius. Well, no one can stand alone. I presume Jaunutis felt a little differently about the matter than the story that was passed down to us. Even, perhaps, a little like you.”

“He lost, and so did you,” said Vytautas. “And yet even Jaunutis, however many wrongs he wrought upon our fathers, was never said to have damned half the nation to the Order as you would.”

“We signed a treaty not much different from the one your father put his seal to. His own seal hangs on a treaty that did not protect his lands. Look to him if you fear for your people!”

It was too much. They had raided Trakai, they had raided Žemaitija, they had taken good people who would have served them well into their foul hands. They had been so near his home, the castle so recently raised up by his father. They had been far too near his daughter for his liking, for all that he had sent her away to safety with her mother. They could have taken Sofija off in chains... “My father did not give those damned priests a map and point out areas he would not defend!”

“Neither did I,” said Jogaila calmly. “You go too far in making the point, and doom yourself in it. You were at my side at the hunt.”

So he had been. Five long days they had hunted, those long spring days and cool nights. Throughout it all wherever he turned he would lock eyes with a Prussian.

The memory of it made him half-sick. Any sacrifice was worth it for Lithuania, whose place in the world required careful diplomacy with unruly neighbours, but those cold faces had chilled his blood. Any of those men might have looked wrongly at his daughter, might have used her ill, and she such a happy child, of such proud carriage and the flicker of her eyes that was all her mother.

He had not caught Jogaila’s eye so often during those few days. It was usual; it should have meant nothing. But his carelessness had, perhaps, brought them here. If he could have seen what Jogaila was planning…

Now it was the softness of Jogaila’s voice that riled him most, not quite conciliatory, not quite soothing. He spoke much as he did in some idle argument, picked up for diversion and prone to being abandoned just as quickly. Vytautas had never found it easy to do that. His own temper flared more easily than Jogaila’s.

He said, “I trusted you,” and hated himself for how it came out. The words tore at his throat, but once he had started, he could not stop. “My father suspected you months ago! But I defended you; for hours I stood before him in his chambers and pled your case like some common supplicant. I made him see that it was only a ploy to divide us, that he ought to trust that you would not betray the memory of your father so, that I knew you so well I could guarantee that you would never – ”

“Enough!” said Jogaila, leaning forward, his hands tight on the arms of the chair. “Save the theatrics for some public audience, you are wasting it on me.” He kept his eyes fixed on Vytautas. “Your father was prepared to take over Lithuania at my expense; under such circumstances, should his lands be my priority over safeguarding my rights? Try to think a little.”

“My father!” exclaimed Vytautas. He took a step backward. Had Jogaila not been his kin, he would have struck him for the insult. “Is that what your mother told you? Or is this the work of that lickspittle Vaidila? That peasant’s long overdue for hanging.”

“You would make my sister a widow? And shamed too, since you would twist her husband’s birth so. She always cared for you.”

They had all been children together. She had been kind enough, always full of cheer. It meant little now, in their family. “I mean her no harm, but my regard for her will not save his neck. You made her a widow when you followed his treacherous advice as surely as if you had tied the rope around his wretched neck yourself.”

“It is to be done, then?”

The order had not yet been given. But he could no more imagine Vaidila being neutralised than he could imagine that in other circumstances, Jogaila might have successfully prevailed upon Ivan to abandon him. He said, “It is.”

Jogaila received this without outward perturbation. He closed his eyes for one long moment, then opened them again, and raised not one word in the man’s defence. This was how it worked: one day one walked upon the earth, and then one day, one did not. Fortunes turned.

He waited, but Jogaila did not ask what had been planned for him. Instead, he said, “And Andrei?”

Andrei was a menace, had been once since Vytautas’ uncle had died. “What of him?”

Jogaila leaned forward. “Will you have him reinstated in Polotsk?”

That was the question. It was the issue of Polotsk, of Jogaila’s brothers, that had saved them a battle when the news had reached his father. To take Jogaila into their custody, scarcely defended, could have been done without great loss even by one without his father’s long experience.

He took his gaze off Jogaila and swept it over the room. Little had been moved since last he had come here, and yet so much had changed. Jogaila’s sacrifices on behalf of the Order were much like the ones Andrei and Dmitri had laid on eastern altars. And yet…

“Better him than Skirgaila.”

He knew Skirgaila. Skirgaila had a temper worse even than his own, and alongside it the calculated cruelty he had learned from his mother. Besides, he loved his brother well, and would now surely become as ardent an enemy as they had ever had. Faced with that, one inclined to make unbearable concessions to the Muscovites was preferable.

“Ah,” said Jogaila with a sigh. “So you really did ally with him. I did not believe that of you. You never liked him, and Uncle certainly never cared for him.”

“No,” said Vytautas, turning his gaze back on his cousin. The lines of his face were achingly familiar, but then Vytautas had watched him grow from a short chubby-cheeked child. That made it harder; his Uncle’s children from his first marriage he had never known well, all long grown already when he had been but a boy, and so their choices, unreasonable though they might have seemed to him, had never pained him so.

He wondered how it felt for his father, who had watched them all grow from swaddled babes, and watched them too as they turned against him – and now too the added blow of Jogaila, the favoured son of his most favoured brother.

He said, “No, we trusted you and it has nearly bought us to our doom.”

They had stopped him, they would in time repair the damage caused by the Order’s incursions. With good fortune, it might even be done before they had to defend themselves yet again. And yet, facing his cousin in those familiar rooms, Vytautas could not rob himself of the feeling that all was not to be made well.

He had lost his cousin, yes, and his cousin had lost. But there was, as ever, little of defeat in Jogaila’s gaze.

There was only the look of a man who had yielded because circumstances had forced it on him, and who would yet rise again, and then the gods help Lithuania.