Bogdan is a companion from the Bulgarian lands. He is a former Bogomil Listener, but after the loss of his family, something snapped in his mind and he was never again the same. With his new desire to violently destroy the way his world has been set (hopefully leading to the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth), he is eager to join any warband that would have him.
Bogdan was born in a simple farmer’s family in a village called Sten, a few kilometres away from the ruins of the once-great city of Pliska and relatively close to the later-to-be capital city of Tarnovgrad, in times when his people were still Byzantine subjects.
When he was nearing the age of manhood and was already passing through puberty, the rebellion of Teodor, later renamed to Petar, and Asen, also known as Ioan and Belgun, broke out. The imperial forces soon arrived, led by the emperor himself, the rebels fled beyond the Danube and in return the Byzantine army burned the fields as an example. The following famine and pestilence eventually took the lives of Bogdan’s parents and most of his siblings. Only Bogdan and his older and dearest brother, Drago, survived and as the rebels returned the next year with reinforcements from Cumania, they joined the army, with the fires of hatred and vengeance burning in their eyes and hearts. Bogdan’s brother showed great courage in the battles to come and after the country was liberated, the two of them were rewarded for their service with some spoils of war and additional piece of land in their home village. In addition, Drago was hired as a regular soldier in the retinue of the local lord.
Bogdan, on the other hand, continued tilling the ground as his parents had taught him, eventually building a house of his own. In 1189, as he was nearing his 20s, he married the beautiful peasant-girl Mira. He loved her more than anything or anyone else, he worshipped the land under her feet and rejoiced even more as she became pregnant soon thereafter. His unusually strong love even caused some rumours to spread among his neighbours, that his wife had actually enchanted him with charming herbs – something not so unusual for a land well-known for its many witches and magicians.
But Bogdan’s joy was not long-lived, as the next year the Byzantine emperor marched into the Bulgarian lands once again, besieging the capitals of Preslav and Tarnovo. All men in his region were called to arms and dispatched to Preslav, to help lift the siege against Tsar Teodor-Petar. After the smaller Byzantine force there was routed, news from Tarnovo arrived and his army marched south to the Balkan passes, where they were to ambush the main imperial forces on their way back to Constantinople. The Byzantines were led into the Tryavna Pass by a Bulgarian “deserter”, actually sent by Tsar Asen, and as they entered the narrow Balkan passes, the forces of the two tsars attacked.
Like wild lions they charged down the slopes, eager to avenge what injustices they thought were done to them. But the enemies showed equal courage and started climbing up themselves, stopping the Bulgarians in their tracks and eventually repulsing them back. It was in that ferocious charge that Bogdan saw his brother go down by an enemy spear. It was in the following rain of rocks sent by the Bulgarians down the slopes that he saw Drago’s lifeless body being smashed and dragged down never to be found again. And although the battle ended with a decisive victory for his side, the bitter taste of defeat remained in his mouth for years to come. When his son was born a few months later, he was named Drago - in memory of a once courageous man and dear brother. Things didn’t go too well for Bogdan after that, as if his brother’s death made fate turn her back on him. The constant fights and ever-growing taxes started taking their toll, eventually leading his family to ruin. Mira’s health started deteriorating due to all the extra field-work she had to do while he was away on a campaign. Furthermore, it seemed she had gotten barren after Drago’s birth and never gave him a child again. The increasing poverty and all the pain in his heart led him to listen to the speeches of a Bogomil elder, preaching the rejection of all things earthly – social classes and norms, bodily desires, everything that was the work of the Devil. And while Bogdan still loved his wife dearly, his mind started becoming obsessed with a religious zeal, inspired by the Bogomil’s teachings, but transformed according to his own mind. He became more and more desperate, more and more closed and quiet, slowly alienating himself from his family.
Six years had passed after the battle at Tryavna Pass. Bogdan’s family had reached a level where they were hardly making ends meet. Due to all the debts, the local corrupt tax collector had confiscated most of his possessions and properties – sometimes legally and sometimes not. When he and his guards came again in 1196, they offered Bogdan’s family only one “choice” – “Give your son to be raised by the local priest and the church will cover your debts”, after which they dragged the little Drago to his new “family”. Mira couldn’t stand the sight and soon fell ill in fever.
In the meantime, the war was now raging to the south and south-west – in Thrace, thema Bulgaria and Thessaloniki. Some of the Cuman allies had already settled in Moesia, while large masses of them were coming from Cumania to plunder the rich lands down south and return with the spoils back to their homes north of the Danube. They were an unruly bunch and when one such group passed through Bogdan’s village soon after the tax collectors, they confiscated whatever food they could find – “the peasants are obliged to give shelter and food to the tsar’s armies”, they said. Bogdan was still strong, but Mira was already weakened enough and although her husband gave her almost all of the food he could acquire, she passed away a couple of weeks later. It was a serious hit for Bogdan and he became more closed in himself than ever before. No one really knows how he survived the following year, as he didn’t speak with anyone, like an ascetic or a madman. The few people who came to visit him were chased away by a torrent of curses.
And it ended as it arrived – during the next harvesting season, the tax collector came again, threatening he’ll take his house and himself for a serf if he doesn’t pay up. Something in Bogdan’s mind snapped – like a wild beast he grabbed a nearby stone and crushed the skull of one of the tax collector’s guards with it. He then took his spear and killed the other guard before he could realize what’s happening. The tax collector tried to run away in panic, but to no avail and Bogdan’s anger was soon quenched with the blood of some of those he blamed for his wife’s death.
After he calmed down, he realized what he had done and ran to the Bogomil elder, hoping that the heretic would help him flee the despised authorities. But the elder refused, telling him that violence is against God’s will and he must suffer for the sin he has committed. Further disappointed, Bogdan fled to the woods, living for a time alone, like an ascetic poacher, thinking about this world and all its injustices.
That’s when his ideas started taking shape – that this world is Hell, the Kingdom of Satan, and if humankind wants the Kingdom of Heaven to come to Earth, it must fight to topple the existing order with all means necessary. And while God might have said “Do not kill”, just like all Christians, be they Orthodox or Bogomil, find excuses to kill either an infidel or a snake, so can he kill the servants of the Devil without remorse. Or, if needs be, he can join them in their fights between each other, helping them to get weakened in war. The more he thought about what had happened with his life and this world, the more convinced he was in his ideas.
In such a state he was found by a small gang of marauders hiding in those lands. As they saw he has nothing to be robbed off and as they noticed his maddened eyes, a sign of being a “God’s man”, they allowed him to stay with them, hoping he would bring them more luck and fortune. But while he was indeed maddened by grief and zeal, he was still able to think clearly and after the first time they robbed a few innocent farmers, he decided to escape, since it was the poor and downtrodden that God loved. After they made camp for the night and fell asleep, he quietly sliced their throats one by one and disappeared into the thick of the night.
For years after that he travelled the lands, joining various bands of thugs or mercenaries, honing his skills of war and speech, preaching his views and running from his persecutors. Sometimes he would find sympathizers, especially among the heretics, but more often than not he would be beaten up or even barely escape with his life. All these sufferings further strengthened his beliefs, making him think of himself as a martyr, who is paving the way for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, a new John the Baptist.
It was the year AD 1200 when he met the Player and joined his warband. He was never sure whether the Player sympathizes him and listens to his preachings or just tolerates him and waits for a good chance to turn him over to the authorities or the church. As always, he had some quarrels with some of the Player’s companions, but also found friends there as well.
Unlike other companies, however, the Player was successful – he was eagerly fighting all kinds of bandits and even lords. Like the other soldiers, Bogdan started gaining a fair amount of wealth from all the fighting and slowly, unnoticeably, started to enjoy it. When the Player eventually decided to carve a kingdom of his own, after a brief hesitation Bogdan decided to help him – from one side calming his conscience that this way there will be even more fighting against the other lords, while the Player hardly stands a chance anyway. From another side he was fooling himself in thinking that maybe the Player will be a good king, an instrument in God’s hands. But deep in his heart he knew he had become like the rest – eager for wealth and power. And the more the Player progressed, the more that desire grew.
Finally, when the Player offered him his own fief, Bogdan hardly hesitated whether he should accept it or not. Wealth eventually clouded his mind to such a degree that his old preachings not only became milder, but they were coming only from his mind, by inertia, while his heart had completely forgotten them. He joined the game of power and gambled more and more, wanting more and more, until one day he found a good time to rebel against the Player. But when they met on the battlefield yet again, this time as enemies, and he remembered how it all started, he realized what had become of him and how late it is to change now. In one last outbreak of his old “madness”, he charged against his former liege, “death and destruction” being the only things in his mind...
In the meanwhile, his son Drago was raised well by the priest and didn’t face any misery – probably the reason why Bogdan didn’t take him with himself at first, realising he can’t give him anything good for a normal life (though that’s only for Bogdan to confirm or deny). By the time his father had become a lord, young Drago had already shown exceptional skills in learning, especially in reading and writing, and had been sent to the capital to become one of archbishop Vasilii’s pupils. By the time he was 40, long after the death of his father he never really got to know, Drago was a well respected scribe and although he was of lowly birth, in 1230 he was given the honour of carving the inscription of Tsar Ioan Asen’s glorious victory at Klokotnitsa on a column in the Forty Martyrs church in the capital, where he left his signature for the generations to come.