She walked along the darkened street, wary of patrols, darting from pool to pool of lamplight. Her handler was camped out in the darkest and dingiest exurb of Berlin by necessity; the information that was being passed through him was sensitive enough to change the course of their mutual struggle, and explosive enough that the police weren’t the only concern.

If she or her handler were caught, they’d never make it to the secret police interrogation cell. The citizens of Berlin would tear them to pieces with their bare hands.

“You’re late.” Her handler was standing in the doorjamb of a hovel, a lit cigarette drooping from his lip.

She scowled. “I’m absolutely on time. Stop trying to throw me off balance for your own amusement. And put out your cigarette; you’ll attract attention.”

“Always so fiery,” the handler chuckled. “I hope your information is just as incendiary.”

She handed over a slip of paper. “Straight from the lion’s mouth. Heinrich’s complete itinerary, including public appearances, maneuvers, and training exercises.”

The handler eagerly took up the paper. “You’re sure there will be no changes to it?”

“It is the final draft.”

“And what of security? Guards?”

The woman held out a second slip. “The complete security schedule as well. Surprisingly slight for a figure of national importance, one so vital to the Germans.”

“You realize that if it becomes known that you have passed this information on to the British-”

“I believe in what we’re doing,” she replied, cutting him off. “And I expect to be well-paid for my espionage.”

“Oh, you certainly, certainly will.” The handler was gleefully rubbing his hands together. “And in the meantime, we’ll arrange an ambush for Heinrich. Sudden and brutal, as befits someone who’s taken down so many of our boys in the field.”

And, sure enough, the attack went forward as planned. The morning after, the major American papers across the ocean trumpeted the events: GERMAN NATIONAL SOCCER TEAM MEMBER TOBIAS HEINRICH ATTACKED, LEG SHATTERED; UK STANDS TO WIN WORLD CUP ON NEWS OF BEST GERMAN PLAYER’S INJURY.

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You see, Britain and France both claim the totality of the area, and further claims had been advanced by Germany, Italy, and other countries late to the colonization game. King Xmube, you see, was no fool; he negotiated the treaty in front of representatives of every interested nation, declining to reveal his choice until the end. Furthermore, he added that it was to be renegotiated every year before agreeing to sign.

Xmube had the treaty text translated by a missionary, and signed the mineral rights in the Mdogo Triangle to Britain, the seaport and trade rights to the French, and the protectorate status jointly to the Germans and Italians. It was a morass, a mess, and Xmube took great delight in the confusion it caused.

Eventually, of course, the Europeans colluded with one another to settle their affairs and put Xmube out of the picture courtesy of an ambitious nephew. But his legacy was such fierce wrangling over such a tiny area that even today no one is sure who owns the Triangle and Xmube’s people live much as they always have–for now.

During Stephen’s Anarchy, the power of the Earl grew tremendously. It happened that the Second Earl, who had ruled under King Henry, died shortly after Stephen’s accession.

The Third Earl was the first who was “born to the purple,” as it were, as his great-grandfather the First Earl had been elevated by William the Conqueror and his grandfather the Second Earl had known early years of hardship in Normandy before the Conquest.

The Third Earl, though, had long been the favored and only scion of the line, and doted upon by relatives after the early and consumptive death of his father, who would have been the Third Earl had he lived. When he acceded in 1137, his personal popularity among his vassals and serfs was high.

That soon changes as the Third Earl revealed himself to be of a vainglorious temperament, obsessed with the idea of his divine right to rule and the absolute autocracy such right provided him over vassals. Ordinarily such a noble would have had their power swiftly checked by the Crown, but Stephen was a weak ruler and distracted by war and intrigue.

By 1153, the situation was such that the earldom had begun to resemble a personal cult in the Eastern mold, with everything that was “of the Earl” celebrated in word and song and anything deemed “not of the Earl” scorned and attacked.