An Age of Miracles Continues: The Empire of Rhomania

I think the Patreon drop is just because the pdf's caught up to the present state. The timing is probably not a coincidence.

I'm not sure what you can do to encourage people to stay on. Maybe once the new special updates are available and people know what to expect they will return.

Alternatively, I would consider "advertising" a bit. I don't think this story is well known outside of this forum. But for example people on subreddits like /r/AlternateHistory or /r/Byzantium are bound to be interested in this timeline, as they generally are just as much byzantophiles as people on here. Of course there's some overlap with readers here, but you could probably gain hundreds of readers if you made a post to gain some attention there. If only a few of those new readers became patrons you'd almost be at your old level. And since the pdfs are the definitive way to catch up thanks to the updates, maps, etc. they might be even more interesting to new readers than old ones.

If you don't have a reddit account or don't feel comfortable advertising your own work, I'd be happy to do it for you with your permission. I see it more as letting people know about a fantastic piece of alt-history fiction that matches their interests anyway. And if a broader readership and more patrons helps to maintain the current status of frequent updates, everyone wins!
 
I'm kind of questioning the viablitity of lower Egypt remaining independent. They are boxed in from all angles but the red Sea, and there are mountains in the way of that too. Considering the borders of the 2 Egypts (at around Beni seuf), upper Egypt doesn't even have any natural defences. It would be extremely easy for a competent state with the borders of the Coptic despotate just to sail up the Nile, conquer the upper valley up to aswan, and with no routes of supply (Ethiopia to the south, desert to the sides) guerrilla warfare wouldn't be possible. Considering that the upper Egypt sultanate has a reconquest mentality, I see the Coptic state just reconquering them outright.

The Coptic state hasn't shown enough competence to do this yet, but I don't see why this should last forever. To me upper Egypt's time is limited.

The state of the Coptic language will be interesting though. By the time of the reconquest it was mostly replaced by Arabic, although there still were speakers in upper Egypt. I wonder if it could revitalize, or would it end up like Gaelic in Ireland.
 
I'm kind of questioning the viablitity of lower Egypt remaining independent. They are boxed in from all angles but the red Sea, and there are mountains in the way of that too. Considering the borders of the 2 Egypts (at around Beni seuf), upper Egypt doesn't even have any natural defences. It would be extremely easy for a competent state with the borders of the Coptic despotate just to sail up the Nile, conquer the upper valley up to aswan, and with no routes of supply (Ethiopia to the south, desert to the sides) guerrilla warfare wouldn't be possible. Considering that the upper Egypt sultanate has a reconquest mentality, I see the Coptic state just reconquering them outright.

The Coptic state hasn't shown enough competence to do this yet, but I don't see why this should last forever. To me upper Egypt's time is limited.

The state of the Coptic language will be interesting though. By the time of the reconquest it was mostly replaced by Arabic, although there still were speakers in upper Egypt. I wonder if it could revitalize, or would it end up like Gaelic in Ireland.
I can see Coptic Egypt invading and getting a better border but I don't see why they would want to conquer a poor area with a large hostile population. The Red Sea is interesting and with the mountains an attempt between Rome and Ethiopia to split the Red Sea and isolate the Idawaite Kingdom from the greater Islamic world would be possible. Beyond that looking at modern borders it looks like the Idawaites go from just north of Asyut to perhaps just south of the 6th cataract. Even modern day the only thing that is really valuable in this area is the site of the Aswan Dam and that isn't feasible for about 300 years at a minimum. So take the Red Sea for strategic purposes and maybe push down to Abydos/Qena for some more strategic depth in Egypt but beyond that the area is never going to be productive or docile to rule by Copts in upper Egypt. Better to just isolate them and save yourself the cost of administration. Without the Red Sea and stuck between Luxor-6th Cataract the sultanate will never be capable of building an army that is a threat to either Egypt or Ethiopia and that covers all the strategic goals without bringing in a large angry underclass.
 
I can see Coptic Egypt invading and getting a better border but I don't see why they would want to conquer a poor area with a large hostile population. The Red Sea is interesting and with the mountains an attempt between Rome and Ethiopia to split the Red Sea and isolate the Idawaite Kingdom from the greater Islamic world would be possible. Beyond that looking at modern borders it looks like the Idawaites go from just north of Asyut to perhaps just south of the 6th cataract. Even modern day the only thing that is really valuable in this area is the site of the Aswan Dam and that isn't feasible for about 300 years at a minimum. So take the Red Sea for strategic purposes and maybe push down to Abydos/Qena for some more strategic depth in Egypt but beyond that the area is never going to be productive or docile to rule by Copts in upper Egypt. Better to just isolate them and save yourself the cost of administration. Without the Red Sea and stuck between Luxor-6th Cataract the sultanate will never be capable of building an army that is a threat to either Egypt or Ethiopia and that covers all the strategic goals without bringing in a large angry underclass.
I only meant conquering up to the first cataract (aswan), not the rest. There is so little usable land upriver of the first cataract that it would break the idawaite's ability to threaten them permanently. (And the area they would conquer is still part of the really fertile section of the Nile).
 
I only meant conquering up to the first cataract (aswan), not the rest. There is so little usable land upriver of the first cataract that it would break the idawaite's ability to threaten them permanently. (And the area they would conquer is still part of the really fertile section of the Nile).
Also, controlling aswan means that the idawaite's can't send boats down the Nile, which I think would certainly be on the minds of the copts.
 
Also, controlling aswan means that the idawaite's can't send boats down the Nile, which I think would certainly be on the minds of the copts.
Don’t disagree but that’s also probably the most densely populated area by far...so not a lot on the map but you taking most of the undesirable population regardless.

For a modern example imagine if the USA annexed just Southern Ontario for whatever reason. Most of Canada on a map is still there but a solid third of the total population is gone.

Honestly long term it might be easier for the Ethiopians to push much farther north into the sparse area rather than for Egypt to push south.
 
I'm kind of questioning the viablitity of lower Egypt remaining independent. They are boxed in from all angles but the red Sea, and there are mountains in the way of that too. Considering the borders of the 2 Egypts (at around Beni seuf), upper Egypt doesn't even have any natural defences. It would be extremely easy for a competent state with the borders of the Coptic despotate just to sail up the Nile, conquer the upper valley up to aswan, and with no routes of supply (Ethiopia to the south, desert to the sides) guerrilla warfare wouldn't be possible. Considering that the upper Egypt sultanate has a reconquest mentality, I see the Coptic state just reconquering them outright.

The Coptic state hasn't shown enough competence to do this yet, but I don't see why this should last forever. To me upper Egypt's time is limited.

The state of the Coptic language will be interesting though. By the time of the reconquest it was mostly replaced by Arabic, although there still were speakers in upper Egypt. I wonder if it could revitalize, or would it end up like Gaelic in Ireland.
There is some debate about how far the Coptic language had declined by this point.
 
I'm kind of questioning the viablitity of lower Egypt remaining independent. They are boxed in from all angles but the red Sea, and there are mountains in the way of that too. Considering the borders of the 2 Egypts (at around Beni seuf), upper Egypt doesn't even have any natural defences. It would be extremely easy for a competent state with the borders of the Coptic despotate just to sail up the Nile, conquer the upper valley up to aswan, and with no routes of supply (Ethiopia to the south, desert to the sides) guerrilla warfare wouldn't be possible. Considering that the upper Egypt sultanate has a reconquest mentality, I see the Coptic state just reconquering them outright.

The Coptic state hasn't shown enough competence to do this yet, but I don't see why this should last forever. To me upper Egypt's time is limited.

The state of the Coptic language will be interesting though. By the time of the reconquest it was mostly replaced by Arabic, although there still were speakers in upper Egypt. I wonder if it could revitalize, or would it end up like Gaelic in Ireland.
I do agree with the idea of a state anchoring itself on the Aswan, but there is also the various Oases to consider as a way around that.

However, they'll always be a restive pain in the backside - and we're also talking about the homeland of the Kush - who historically succeeded in conquering Egypt for generations, it isn't the Delta, but it is also one of those regions that tends to be overlooked strategically because it appears weaker than it is capable of being.

Personally, I think the Romans need to take a campaign up to the Aswan, but only if they can find a faction of Nubians to REPLACE them. It is a prime location for a buffer state (as much as I've railed against them previously, this seems a sound place IMO because of the relative isolation, and prevents border issues with Ethiopia).

However, if the Romans don't address this, the Malikdom is well placed to provide a trade route for those who are denied access through Egypt or South Africa. Like the Ottomans could be. Further, they're vital to a continuity between Islam in the West and Islam in Arabia and the East. The Ottomans could well use the Malikdom as a proxy, as could a Malian Sultanate. I wouldn't be surprised if the Malikdom, just for it's survival and desire to reconquer Egypt, tried to ensure they were seen as the leading Sabīlillāh to receive Zakat from overseas. (At least if I understand that practice). Using that income to develop, improve their water use and retention not only would benefit the Malikdom, but more than likely hurt Egypt downstream.

Basically, if I was the Malik, and I could afford it I'd be trying everything to boost agricultural production, be it manufacturing terraces using captured silt and raised water, or whatever is needed, and import more hardy crops from overseas to grow.
 

Cryostorm

Monthly Donor
Hey Basileus, with Japan how much cross influence has there been? Obviously some martial arts but has fashion and other parts of culture like kimonos made the journey as well, always found them rather pretty and elegant as dresses.
 
Which tiers, basic or above?

After first consolidated story part basic subscribers essentially get the same thing as non-subscribers (I believe glossary is the only difference?). I consider basic tier mostly as motivation for you to write something I enjoy immensely, but others might be miffed there isn't much to differentiate them from non-subscribers.

Perhaps enabling consolidated story for basic tier and reserving special updates for higher tiers?
Some from both tiers, but mostly the upper.

That’s an idea, but then the upper-tier people will have ended up paying extra for something that then halved in price, which doesn’t seem fair to me.

I think the Patreon drop is just because the pdf's caught up to the present state. The timing is probably not a coincidence.

I'm not sure what you can do to encourage people to stay on. Maybe once the new special updates are available and people know what to expect they will return.

Alternatively, I would consider "advertising" a bit. I don't think this story is well known outside of this forum. But for example people on subreddits like /r/AlternateHistory or /r/Byzantium are bound to be interested in this timeline, as they generally are just as much byzantophiles as people on here. Of course there's some overlap with readers here, but you could probably gain hundreds of readers if you made a post to gain some attention there. If only a few of those new readers became patrons you'd almost be at your old level. And since the pdfs are the definitive way to catch up thanks to the updates, maps, etc. they might be even more interesting to new readers than old ones.

If you don't have a reddit account or don't feel comfortable advertising your own work, I'd be happy to do it for you with your permission. I see it more as letting people know about a fantastic piece of alt-history fiction that matches their interests anyway. And if a broader readership and more patrons helps to maintain the current status of frequent updates, everyone wins!
That sounds like the best hypothesis to me. The special updates were meant to take up when the PDFs caught up anyway, but a vague and unspecific ‘special update’ doesn’t sound that compelling. And of course, supporting this is a luxury for every patron; lots of other things take financial priority.

I don’t have a reddit and no desire to get one, but if you’d be willing to advertise, you definitely have my permission. That could be really helpful. Thank you. And you’re right that the PDFs would be good for new readers; the TL’s sheer size at this point can make it intimidating.

Just signed up to your patron in defiance of patrons leaving. Never let the roman emprie die!
Thank you very much for that! I saw the notification which really cheered me up on what was a very ‘bleh’ work morning.

Provide Patreon War-Bonds to Support D3 in his war against the Latins! :p
Yes. :D (As an aside, I sometimes wonder what would happen with the ‘forum people’ if I had come up with a plausible way for Theodor to win this.)

Egypt and the Idwaits: I’m putting this in one block since there are several posts connected to this topic.

I agree that the borders of the Idwait Malik-ate are ‘unnatural’. The border at Beni Suef is because that’s where the armies were when the peace was signed. From the Despotate of Egypt’s perspective, pushing the border southward to the First Cataract has a lot of advantages. It prevents boats coming downstream, as @MorningDew pointed out, it secures a lot of good agricultural land, and makes for much more of a buffer state. The cons are that the region in question is the most heavily populated of the Idwaits, and these are not going to be reconciled to Egyptian rule. In taking over, the Egyptians most likely wouldn’t even try. There would be either population expulsions and/or serious gluts on the Alexandrian slave market. Then new settlers brought in. Perhaps those Hungarians POWs who converted to Orthodoxy, or land grants to demobilizing Egyptian and Roman veterans (with the latter, it’s a way for Constantinople to both reward her soldiers, help prop up a vassal, and bolster influence on said vassal).

The oases could be used as bases for Idwait raids into southern Egypt with that border, but we’re talking raiding parties. They’re not up to supporting serious armies capable of conquest.

Plus that land used to be Egypt’s before the Great Uprising, so there’s the matter of pride to consider.

On the southern border, the Ethiopians could push up to the Sixth Cataract (right now the border is just south of Soba-which is Khartoum IOTL-and an Ethiopian army is currently bearing down on Soba at this point.)

The area between the 1st and 6th Cataracts are the really tricky areas. This is the old Ethiopian Kingdom of Makuria in pre-Great Uprising days, and Makuria fell really quickly to rebels because there was very little pro-Ethiopian support amongst the inhabitants and it’s a wide area to cover. On geographical grounds, locking the Idwaits between the Cataracts and securing the Red Sea coast seems the best option, providing one ignores the crime against humanity that’d be the area between Beni Suef and Aswan. One issue might be that Ethiopia might want more to salve its pride if Egypt is taking its land back, but perhaps it’ll focus elsewhere and just take a bunch of Idwait slaves as ‘compensation for tribute arrears’.

The Idwaits could try to get in more help from the rest of the Dar al-Islam, but Rhomania, Egypt, and Ethiopia all have absolutely no reason to allow the Idwaits to get chummy with the Ottomans, who’d be the prime candidate. The original Roman attack on Mecca was to cut off the flow of supplies and recruits to the Idwaits during the Great Uprising, after all.

This leaves some interesting possibilities if western (African) and eastern (Asian) Islam are effectively cut off from each other by a Roman-Egyptian-Ethiopian cordon. There might be some interaction via the Swahili coast trading with the Sultanate of Yao (centered on Lake Chad) but that’s not the basis of significant contact. Add in the fact that eastern Islam has Mecca but the actual Black Stone is in Marrakesh in a Marinid-built Kaaba replica that according to the Marinids, a pilgrimage there counts as a hajj.

The Coptic language really picked back up in the early 1500s after the Roman conquest. Demetrios, Andreas’ eldest son by Maria Drakina, was a serious Coptophile and Africa-phile. So his court and the early Despotic court went to a lot of effort with cultural initiatives to revive the Coptic language. So it’s back up and running by now.

Hey Basileus, with Japan how much cross influence has there been? Obviously some martial arts but has fashion and other parts of culture like kimonos made the journey as well, always found them rather pretty and elegant as dresses.
There’s been some. There’s the ‘Tea Room’ that is part of the Imperial palace complex in Smyrna, which is modeled after Japanese architecture. Athena was born in that chamber while Demetrios was still just Kephale of Smyrna. There have been Japanese nobles, including Shimazu princes, who’ve come to study at the University of Constantinople. There were also plans for Shimazu princesses to marry sons of Lady Alexeia (Helena I’s little sister) but those sons were killed before the siege of Pyrgos. There will be Shimazu princesses marrying into the Roman Imperial house in the next generation or two, which will be a big impetus for Japanese fashion. I expect kimonos to become quite popular if the Empress is Japanese.
 
Special Update-A New and Ancient World teaser
The White Palace, Constantinople, May 11, 1638:

Demetrios III Sideros looked at the blank piece of paper, then up from his desk. This one wasn’t secluded in his private study; it was set in the main living room adjacent to said study. Eudoxia was seated on the central couch, knitting something; that was the main reason he wasn’t in his study.

He felt like writing. He liked writing; he enjoyed the creative process, most of the time, and often found it therapeutic and relaxing. And yet he wanted to do something different from what he usually wrote, to try something new. He just needed to think of something.

Looking around the room, he saw some new additions to his ‘cabinet of curiosities’. There was a new globe from Nicaea, which incorporated all the latest knowledge of the state of the world, including Cape Horn on Terra de Fue at the end of South Terranova and outlines of some of the coast of Nan, former home of the Wu. There was the Rosetta stone, recently excavated in Egypt; it’d be returned to the University of Constantinople in a few days so they could work on deciphering the ancient text, but he’d wanted to have a look at it himself.

There were some artifacts too from the native Terranovans, spears and wampum mostly.

Next to them were some animal bones, ridiculously large animal bones. Skeletons of these creatures had been unearthed recently in both Egypt and Ethiopia; Athena had christened them ‘dinosaurs’ and the name seemed to be sticking. Above them were Odysseus’ imagined sketches of what these creatures would’ve looked like alive. One massive beast on four legs, with a huge tail and long neck, towering over the trees, its thick hide a dark gray like an elephant or rhinoceros, although far bigger than such ‘diminutive creatures’.

The one next to it was smaller, standing on two legs. Its two spindly arms looked ridiculous next to its bulk, thick muscles formed as if the creature was about to spring to the hunt. For it was definitely a hunter, thick claws on those hands but more disturbing wicked ranks of teeth in its jaws. Its beady eyes, staring out from a thick skull, were malevolent and dangerous and hungry. Its skin was mottled green, camouflage so it could sneak up on prey.

Above them was a sketch of the moon made by Athena. She didn’t have the artistic talent of her brother, but she and Demetrios had been studying the moon through their dalnovzors from the roof of the White Palace.

Eudoxia looked up at him and squinted. “That smile is scary. What are you up to now?”

“Oh, nothing. Just got an idea for what I want to write.” He took his quill and jotted down the title.

The First Voyage of Men to the Moon.

__________________________________________________________________________________

July 1, 1782:

Basil Dokeianos looked out on the Plain of Bithynia. There was a large crowd out here, although that wasn’t surprising. The Emperor Andreas V was here along with his Japanese Empress and the whole Imperial brood, the entire senior bureaucracy both civil and military, and at least sixty Kephales.

They were here to watch the launch of the great rocket that had been christened the Argo. Based on the same principles that had been used for war rockets since the Orthodox War, the Argo was far bigger, standing two hundred feet high, squat and silver, its shape reminding him of the dome of the Hagia Sophia. Assuming all went well, it would carry its sixteen crew on a one-month journey, the first to take men from this Earth.

It was needed. The Earth was filling up. The blank spaces on the map had been drawn and it was estimated the world population had reached a billion, and still growing. It was unsustainable; more resources were needed, more arable lands, more breathing room. There just wasn’t enough on Earth anymore. So they’d have to look elsewhere.

The bell tower from the village church tolled noon and everyone looked expectantly toward the rocket. For a moment nothing happened, and then a burst of flame from its bottom, followed by a great roar that rattled in Basil’s bones.

For a moment it didn’t seem to move. And then it did, gradually creeping upward, accelerating. It seemed inconceivable that the gargantuan structure could move, let alone fly, but it did, rising higher and higher on a plume of smoke, the traces on the ground spreading. It rose into the sky, like a great fiery arrow aimed at the heavens.

Part of Basil marveled at the sight, as that huge rocket flew up so high that his thumb could blot it out from view. The majesty, the power, of man on full display, reaching up from earth to heaven. And another part of him wondered, could this be modern man’s new tower? Was Rhomania, by doing this, the new Babel? He didn’t know. But he prayed.

God be with you, brother.

* * *

-The above is an excerpt from A New and Ancient World: A Modern Re-telling of ‘The First Voyage of Men to the Moon, written originally by Demetrios III Sideros, 1638-39.

So this is my idea for the new special updates to take the place of the PDFs for the upper-tier patrons. It’s a way to scratch my sci-fi itch, yet still remained attached to the world of ‘An Age of Miracles’. I want to avoid the writer equivalent of the actor sick of playing the same role, and this is my way to avoid that. Plus it’s a way to get ‘Romans in space’ earlier than waiting the few centuries the TL still needs to progress for that.

My plan is to write an ‘abridged novella’ of A New and Ancient World, with the updates being made available to the ‘Megas Kyr’ patrons on Patreon. I’m also working on ideas for stories set on Earth in the TL proper, that focus on minor characters or weird tales from TTL that aren’t big enough to warrant making it into the main TL, but hopefully add flavor and variety to the ‘Age of Miracles’ world. So the A New and Ancient World may have some ‘flavor’ updates mixed up in them.

So here’s the planned schedule. I’m currently working on the PDF that covers the period from the accession of Andreas III to the Night of the Tocsins. That will bring the PDFs up to the main TL, as the next PDF would cover the War of the Roman Succession which isn’t finished yet. That will finish off February.

Starting in March though, the ‘Megas Kyr’ would start receiving one special update per month, in addition to the regular TL updates. I’ll be on vacation for a good chunk of March, so the March update may be shorter, but after that each special update should be at least equivalent to a regular TL update. PDFs would be continued as well so that they keep up with the regular TL.

Hope that all sounds fun and exciting!
 
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Speaking of Patreon, I recently learned that Patreon's User Agreement includes a clause that gives Patreon complete control over the author's creative property. So for instance if Patreon wants to turn An Age of Miracles into a published novel series they can do it without paying @Basileus444 a single cent.
Patreon said:
By posting content to Patreon you grant us a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, reproduce, distribute, perform, publicly display or prepare derivative works of your content.
Just a quick warning to you @Basileus444.
 
Speaking of Patreon, I recently learned that Patreon's User Agreement includes a clause that gives Patreon complete control over the author's creative property. So for instance if Patreon wants to turn An Age of Miracles into a published novel series they can do it without paying @Basileus444 a single cent.

Just a quick warning to you @Basileus444.
And figures. I probably saw and then glazed over it when first setting up. Very good to know. Thank you. Definitely won't be posting my main sci-fi ideas up there then.

What's the poor man done and has been named Basil Cesspit of all things?
Ouch. That's what that means? I just picked them at random from a list of OTL Byzantine names. And there were two separate entries for guys named Bothros, plus a woman named Bothraina. I think they need to be one of the 'special updates'. There's got to be some forgotten OTL story behind these people.

I've changed his last name to Dokeianos.
 
On the Patreon thing...

It's not that I don't want to contribute (even just a little). It's that the just a little that can put toward my favourite creators has already been put toward a webcomic I read. And that sucks because I'd love to support both.

I liked the whole special update being in-universe fiction. It me reminds me of how I'd use other story Ideas of mine as in-universe fiction to establish their existence.
 
1633: Gnats Against the Sky
On the Patreon thing...

It's not that I don't want to contribute (even just a little). It's that the just a little that can put toward my favourite creators has already been put toward a webcomic I read. And that sucks because I'd love to support both.

I liked the whole special update being in-universe fiction. It me reminds me of how I'd use other story Ideas of mine as in-universe fiction to establish their existence.
I know how it is. No worries. Glad you liked the special update idea.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Who can with outstretched hands uphold the sky
Or thrones maintain by simple loyalty?
Han’s day was done; two would avert the doom,
But failed, and carried anger to the tomb.”

“As all are born, so all must die;
People are as gnats against the sky;
But loyalty or piety
May give them immortality.”

“‘You call him lord and take his pay,
Then stand by him when danger nears.’
Thus to her brother spoke Xin Xianying,
And won fair fame through countless years.”
-Romance of the Three Kingdoms (OTL)​

Hofburg Palace, Vienna, Austria, November 3, 1633:

Lady Elizabeth von Wittelsbach read the document. The news wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either, which was better than she’d expected considering the times. While the supplies of new recruits, equipment, and especially money from Saxony was weakening, peasant resistance didn’t seem to be rising. She knocked on the wooden table just to be on the safe side.

The report was written by the new governor of Saxony, former ambassador to the Roman Empire Count Philip von Stadion-Warthausen. On the one hand, she had reason to be annoyed with the Count; his reports to her brother on her conduct had not been complimentary.

Yet she wasn’t, aside from an instinctual spark anyway. Because he’d been right.

In Munich and on the road and here in Vienna she had heard the wail of widows and grieving mothers and she couldn’t help but wonder, as she had wondered before…Was this my fault? If I’d been smarter, or kinder, or more loving…

And the most damning thing of all, the answer was yes.

She had loved Andreas III, adored him. That silly smile, his kind laugh, his sinfully soft hair; the memories of their early years before it had all gone wrong still brought warmth to her soul. And it had hurt terribly when he’d turned away from her to other women, and in her pain she had become angry and jealous and stupid. Instead of trying to win him back, she’d only pushed him away in her jealousy, which had only made her even more jealous, which pushed him away even more. And she had been too stupid to see that, until it had been too late.

She had learned much on the ride away from Constantinople and in the first months back in Bavaria, as her brother made his plans for this great and terrible war, because she had failed. It had been her task to get a scion of the House of Wittelsbach upon the throne of Constantinople, and because of her stupidity she had failed. Theodor would not have marched if Andreas III’s successor had been the son of his sister, but it was instead a Roman bureaucrat.

The path of Venus had not worked, so it would be the path of Mars instead. Elizabeth wondered, doubted, if it was even possible. But Theodor had insisted; it was his by right, and God would uphold those in the right; he would orchestrate their victory.

Sometimes, in quiet, when she let her thoughts unfold in an unguarded moment, she wondered about God’s orchestration. But instead of it being a plan for their ultimate victory, this was a punishment for the House of Wittelsbach, punishment for their pride, greed…and jealousy.

She did not know. But she did know what she was going to do. She had failed in Constantinople. God willing, she would not do so again. She would do her utmost to ensure that the House of Wittelsbach won this war, and if that was not to be, which by now it most likely wasn’t, then she would do her utmost to ensure that the House of Wittelsbach would survive the volcano.

Her brother the Emperor Theodor and Marshal Blucher entered the room, sitting down on the opposite side of the small table from her. Over Theodor’s head hung an equestrian portrait of Andrew III, the Warrior King of Hungary. It was a copy of the famous original; the original was on display in Constantinople, carted away after the sack of Buda. The current King of Hungary had not forgotten that humiliation, but he was also well aware that the Holy Roman Emperor was sitting in a palace and realm that’d been filched from the then boy-king.

“Your Majesty, Marshal,” she said, nodding at each in turn. They nodded back.

“We’re here to plan our overall strategy for the coming year,” Theodor said. “Obviously we’ll have to work out the details elsewhere with the appropriate subordinates, but we need to set the overall brushstrokes now so we can get what we need in motion.”

Elizabeth took out another document from her bag and slid it across the table to her brother. “I’ve been thinking about that.”

He picked it up. “What is it?”

“Prospective peace terms with Demetrios Sideros.” She very carefully did not refer to him as Demetrios III.

Theodor’s face darkened. “No peace terms, not unless it involves him relinquishing the crown he stole from me.”

She took a deep breath. “Theodor, that’s not going to happen.” There, she’d said it. Before her brother could object she continued. “Even with the losses in the autumn, we still have a lot of bargaining chips. We still have Vidin and Upper Macedonia and occupy Serbia, the Banat, and Transylvania. And Ibrahim’s causing all sorts of trouble in Syria. I’m certain Demetrios will be willing to exchange a few million hyperpyra for those and peace so he can focus on Ibrahim.” She hoped.

“We really need the money,” she added. “We can use it to pay off our creditors.” Or to help beat down Henri and Ottokar when they stab us in the back.

“I’m not going to bargain away my God-given rights for some gold like I’m a Lubecker,” Theodor protested.

Elizabeth looked at Blucher, her eyes appealing for assistance. The Marshal, well into his eighties, stroked his thick white moustaches. “Your Majesty,” he said. “You should consider peace. The Danube is not an option anymore. It’s too well-fortified now and we lack the resources to tackle their river fleet. There’s no way we can militarily force the usurper out.”

Theodor clapped his hand on Blucher’s right shoulder. “I don’t disagree with you, my marshal. Militarily, you are right. But this isn’t just a military contest.”

“How so?” Elizabeth asked, her eyes narrowing and her heart dreading.

“This is also political. Even using the Danube, it’s still a long haul to Constantinople and the Herakleian Walls are a tough nut to crack,” Theodor replied. “But the mob of Constantinople is fickle. There have been repeated feelers to me, promises of loyalty.”

“They didn’t do us any good this year!” Elizabeth snapped.

“That’s because we weren’t close enough. We didn’t hit any big targets. Almus or Nikopolis doesn’t mean anything to the average burgher of Constantinople. But there’s another approach, Macedonia.”

“Macedonia?!” Elizabeth protested.

He ignored her tone. “Yes, Macedonia. We already have most of the upper part, which admittedly is the part not worth very much. First we take Skopje, breaking into the Axios River valley. It’s richer than what we’ve already grabbed and the road network is really good, better than most of the Danube stretch. It’s not as good as the Danube, mind you, but it’s the next best thing. We move down the Axios and once we break out into Lower Macedonia the army can live off the land; that area is more than rich enough. Then Thessaloniki. Taking that will certainly get the attention of the Constantinople mob.”

“There’s no way we can supply the army from Thessaloniki to Constantinople,” Blucher replied. “Lower Macedonia would support the army for a time, but the supply lines to Constantinople from there would be hideously vulnerable to seaborne raiders. We’d have to detach so many guards that by the time we reached the City, the Teicheiotai would be enough to beat us. And Skopje and particularly Thessaloniki are no small matters themselves.”

“I know that,” Theodor answered. “But Skopje and Thessaloniki can be taken. And militarily, you’d be right. Even with those we still don’t have the forces to threaten Constantinople. But this is a political matter as well. Once you take Thessaloniki, Constantinople will revolt. Like I said, there’s already discontent, and they won’t tolerate a feckless bean-counter who has to borrow a spine from his wife after a disaster of that magnitude.”

Elizabeth wasn’t so sure. She knew the Constantinople mob was fickle, but she’d learned not to underestimate the former Eparch after she’d discovered he’d been ready to blow her up on the Night of the Tocsins. And even if the mob did throw Demetrios out, there were still his son Odysseus, Alexandros Drakos, and Andreas III’s bastards. Plus a lot of other choices that didn’t involve a Latin Catholic.

The problem was that Theodor had his mind made up regarding the character of Demetrios, and nothing she could say would change his mind. Although to be fair, a lot of that was from her letters when she was being an idiot Empress of the Romans. “Where are we going to get the supplies, the men, the money for this?” she protested.

Theodor smiled. “Little sis, you’re really good at that sort of thing. You’ve managed spectacularly so far.”

“And I can’t keep it up much longer,” she admitted.

“Well, I’ve gotten you some help in that regard. I received news from Henri II. He’s increasing the subsidy by 50%, he has Vauban organizing a new and even larger artillery train, and he’s also sending 6000 infantry.”

“Henri can’t be trusted. He’s going to stab us in the back.”

“Of course he is,” Theodor replied. Elizabeth blinked in surprise. “But he won’t. Not while we’re still fighting. I know he doesn’t care about my rights, but he’s concerned about Roman power too. Plus even if he did try to attack us, he first has to go through Lotharingia. And Albrecht hasn’t sent any troops to the Danube and he’s hiring more Spanish mercenaries. And all those rich Dutch towns he has are well fortified; Henri’ll want Vauban to deal with those, which is problematic if he’s down in Macedonia along with ten thousand hostages to Henri’s good behavior.”

“He might go for it anyway,” Elizabeth said. “Lotharingia alone can’t stop him.”

“Perhaps, but Henri is the type to hedge his bets. We still have a large and powerful army and I’m sure Vauban has told him all about Bone Breaker.”

“All the more reason to make peace now while we have the strength to keep Henri honest.”

He leaned back. “Sis, you’re not thinking this through. Let’s say we make peace with Demetrios. The Hungarians and Bohemians go home, and now Ottokar has the muscle to cause a ruckus, whilst Henri has no reason to wait any longer. While if we stay at war, Ottokar can’t cause trouble because he has no army with him.

“Henri and Ottokar are both problems that need to be dealt with, but the way to deal with them is to win this war. Once the resources of the Greeks are joined to our cause, they can be dealt with. While if we back out now, not only will that show weakness but it will leave our enemies free. And that’s assuming that Demetrios would be willing to make peace so easily.”

Elizabeth had to admit that a lot of that was valid. “But even if you take Thessaloniki and Constantinople revolts, what is to prevent Demetrios from pulling a Nicaea?” she asked. “Even without Ottokar or Vauban, there will be a point where Henri will move if it’s advantageous for him, costs be damned.”

“You mentioned it earlier: Ibrahim. A combined German-Greek army, marching down to liberate Jerusalem, destroy Mecca for good, and drive the Turks back into the wastes of central Asia from which they sprang. It’ll be the crusades as they were meant to be, before the Papacy twisted them.”

Elizabeth could think of objections. For starters, that was assuming the Romans would cooperate even if they believed his intentions, which she doubted. And while Theodor was ransacking Syria or Mesopotamia, what was Henri doing? And that was disregarding the fact that Ibrahim was Henri’s ally. But she knew her brother; he had that far-off dreamy look in his eyes, and that look did not brook argument.

Perhaps there was another way. “And how is all this supposed to be paid for?” she asked. “The Triune subsidy won’t be enough.”

“Keep doing what you’ve been doing. I trust you will find a way.” Meaning you don’t know. But perhaps having to talk about money might scare you off this madness.

“I’m running out of ideas. By the Virgin, I’m investing in some of the Roman war popes to try and make money. I’ve been using a Bernese intermediary to purchase them on the Venetia exchange and turning around and selling them for an up-charge to Saxon burghers who don’t have ready access to the money markets.” The dreamy look in her brother’s eyes was starting to glaze over, which was a good sign. “And they’re going for it despite the upcharge, and it’s a hefty one. They want to get their money out of the markets here and think they can get better investments with Demetrios III-”

As soon as the words left her mouth she knew she’d made an irrevocable mistake. Theodor’s face twisted in anger. “I will not hear that usurping clerk spoken as such, particularly by my own family,” he snarled.

“Theodor, I’m sorry-”

A sharp hand gesture cut her off. “You’ve spent too much time in Constantinople.” If that’s a bad thing, then why do you want to conquer it? “I’ve made my decision. There will be no peace, and no talk of peace, unless it involves that…usurper vacating what is rightfully mine. And you, sister, will do your utmost to ensure that the family lands support our righteous cause with all materials required.”

He stood up, turning his head to Blucher, his face softening. The Holy Roman Emperor patted the old general on the shoulder. “Sorry that you had to see that little family squabble. But don’t fear. With you as my sword, the Greeks will be brought to heel.” And with that, he left the chamber.

Elizabeth rubbed her temples. “He’s-” She bit her tongue to keep her from saying what she was thinking.

“Thank you for not finishing that,” Blucher replied.

She looked up to see the old man smiling gently at her. “You weren’t very much help,” she said.

“I know. But I’ve been a soldier for over sixty years now, and know when I see a battle that I cannot win.”

“You must know his plan is insane.”

“It is. A bit of insanity is good in war plans though; it makes them harder to predict. And politically, if Constantinople were to rise up…”

She looked at him quizzically. “It’s me here. Don’t try to pretend that you think that’s a likely outcome, especially an uprising in his favor.”

“Alright, it isn’t. But those are his orders. So it doesn’t really matter what I think.”

“You’re the commander of his armies.”

“And he is my commander.”

“He wasn’t always…”

Blucher raised an eyebrow at what she’d said, and what she hadn’t said. “Yes, I served Duke Karl during the Brothers’ War, and I changed sides. But I swore an oath to your father, my friend, that I would protect and serve his children to the best of my ability in all things. And I will not break that oath. Andreas Drakos once said that anything can be taken from a man, save his honor. That he must give away. I will not do so.”

“Yet if you think this won’t work, why not resign? Why participate in this madness?” She felt a bit dirty suggesting this, which smacked of treachery against her brother. Yet was it treachery if it was to foil a self-destructive plan? But she still said it; perhaps a shock like that might wake Theodor up. And yet it might not.

“It won’t work, my lady,” Blucher said softly. “I could resign. It would shock him, dismay him, but then he would assign someone else. Or lead the army himself. But whatever he does, my resignation will not stop it but it will decrease any chance, if it has any, of success. So it wouldn’t do any good. I call him lord and take his pay, so I must stand by him when danger nears. If the danger is because of his failings, that does not absolve me of my duty to him.”

“It might shock some of the princes…” she argued hesitantly.

“You know as well as I that won’t make a difference. He is a Wittelsbach, of the Imperial line. And everyone knows that Wittelsbachs don’t lose, ever. Somehow they find a way.” He was right, Elizabeth knew, even as she’d said it. The Wittelsbachs had ruled the Holy Roman Empire for close to three centuries now. Frederick III Wittelsbach had been the only Latin lord able to stand against Andreas Niketas; they’d seen the empire through the dark days of the Great Hungarian War. The Great Northern War, the Brothers’ War, the wars on the Rhine, had only made them stronger. No one would turn on Theodor, not yet anyway. The family name, for all the tarnish from the year, still meant far too much in the lands of the Germans.

Elizabeth sighed. “Wish you could disagree with me?” he asked.

“Yes,” she sighed again. A pause. “Duty is heavier than a mountain,” she whispered, quoting the words of Shimazu Tadatsune. “But it’d be nice to have wiser lords.”

“Not going to argue with you on that. But we play with the cards that God has dealt us. Perhaps it’s a bad hand, but we play with what we have. And that’s what matters in the end.” A pause. “You’re not going to do anything foolish now, are you?” Blucher asked.

She shook her head. “No.” If she turned against her brother, she might be able to rally some of the Wittelsbach lands and various Imperial princes behind her on the promise of peace with Rhomania, but she was a woman and Theodor was a man. Regardless of his faults, that biological fact would loom large. All she’d really end up doing would be to create a new “Brothers’ War”. Which would probably encourage Demetrios to keep in the fight whilst simultaneously triggering a Triune and Bohemian reaction.

“Good. And please don’t change your mind. Theodor is right about one thing. God put everyone where they are, when they are, for a purpose. We can’t know the mind of God, but he gave us minds of our own, so we can guess at his purpose. Perhaps God sent Theodor to humble the pride of the Wittelsbachs. But I think if he wanted to end them, he would not have sent you.”

She swallowed. “Thank you,” she whispered.

“You’re very welcome, my lady.” A pause. “Now shall we get down to work on this fool plan?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Perhaps if we cause enough damage, we can force Demetrios to hand over an Iskandar-size subsidy,” Blucher added. He didn’t sound optimistic but she appreciated the reminder that they could, possibly, salvage something good out of this.

“That would help a lot.” She looked at the report from Saxony. “Now based on this, I can promise you…”
 
I highly suspect that the Germans won't be pushing into the Macedonia, or the Roman Empire for that matter. Demetrios has more than enough in Europe alone, not counting the 40,000 odd newly freed troops from the Georgian front. No, these new resources will be diverted to protecting Germany from the coming vultures.
 
The end is near. I hope Demetrios thanks Elizabeth for making sure Theodor stayed course in committing House Wittelsbach to its own destruction.
 
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