An Age of Miracles Continues: The Empire of Rhomania

His name I guess is Andreas Di Lecce-Komnenos Drakos, but if he manage to make it until the coronation he would be Andreas III Drakos of Rhomania and Andreas II Di Lecce-Komnenos of Sicily.

I've some doubts about the numerals of Sicilian despots (Do they include their time as Dukes of Abruzzi?), but this problem would only apply to future Alfredos and Manuels.

I've got a doubt about Andreas' father, Alexios since he is the son of Alexandra Komnena Drakina (daughter of Theodora) would he include the name Drakos? His name should be Alexios Drakos-Di Lecce-Komnenos? (It wouldn't change anything for his son)

It's easy to see how the War of succession will go global... the order right now is:
1. Andreas Di Lecce-Komnenos Drakos;
2. Manfred Drakos- Von Wittelsbach (current King of the Romans, heir of the HRE, although his father is fighting a civil war with his uncle) and his brother Otto;
3. Andreas Drakos Laskaris (Heir of Russia) and his brothers Demetrios and Theodoros;
3. Demetrios Drakos Sideros (their mothers are twins) and his his sister Zoe Laskarina Drakina Sidera (married to the crown prince of EAN)[I don't include Anna Drakina Sidera, married to the Duke of Padua];
4. Gyorgis Solomon (Heir of Ethiopia) and his brother Quastantinos;
5. Miguel Drakos Trastamara (Son of the Crown Prince of Castille-Portugal);
6. Anna Drakina Bagrationi (Heiress of Georgia);
7. Bela Drakos Hunyadi (son of Crown Prince of Hungary);

And this is just considering Helena's descendants... If we were to include also Alexeia's and Theodora's (I think Theodora is older, but since she is adopted what would be the order between them?) you can add Arles, Prussia, Vlachia, Sicily again (Andreas' brother, Hektor).

If Andreas' main problem was that he sired too many children, the Triumvirate problem is the fact of who their children married (I guess it was kind of unavoidable once Venera Bagration died and Demetrios II didn't sire anyone else).

A small nitpick about the last update: The Megas Domestikos cannot be Anastasios Komnenos Drakos, who is the current King of Prussia, but Alexandros Komnenos Drakos, which is the uncle of:
- the Despot of Sicily, not Egypt through his sister Alexandra;
- the heir of Prussia, trough his brother Anastasios;
- the heir of Vlachia, though his sister Anastasia;
- the heir of Arles, through his wife Sophia Komnena;

So It's easy to see how the children of Theodora could make some noise given the fact that they could've on their side the Megas Domestikos.

His official full name is Andreas Doukas Laskaris di Lecce-Komnenos Drakos. For 'short' he's known as Andreas Komnenos Drakos.

Sicilian Despots don't count their time as Dukes of Abruzzi (new, superior title). When the Dukes of Normandy became Kings of England the regnal numbers restarted.

Despot Alexios does include the Drakos name as he inherits it from his mother but in contrast to his son he is Alexios Drakos di Lecce-Komnenos. His 'royal' family name is di Lecce-Komnenos so that comes last as the most important. In contrast his son Andreas has his 'imperial' family name as Drakos so that comes last.

Normally the last name inherited directly from the father would be the final one. For example Demetrios Sideros' full name is Demetrios Doukas Laskaris Komnenos Drakos Sideros. But since Andreas is direct heir to the Roman throne and Drakos is the Imperial dynastic name, in his case Drakos, despite being from the female line, takes precedence.

The Megas Domestikos is not Anastasios Komnenos Drakos, he's Anastasios Drakos Komnenos. The Despots of Egypt are descended from Vlad Dracula/Drakos (via his daughter Maria) and Demetrios Komnenos, eldest son of Andreas Niketas. Demetrios I of Egypt's children thus are styled Drakos (from Maria) Komnenos (from Demetrios-which was also the imperial and most prestigious name at the time).

Confusing enough?
So has Roman trade recovered from the Great Uprising?

Short answer, no. I go into more detail in a later update.

1607: In the Constantinople papers in mid-April an article written by Demetrios Sideros is posted. It is titled Differential Taxation: A Moral and Economic Necessity. It is to that date the most articulate argument for tax brackets, levying varying tax rates dependent on the taxpayer’s income rather than just one base percentage, as is the tax policy of the time.

It is an impressive display of learning, especially coming from a twenty-two year old still in university. One theory on the streets is that it was really written by Princess Theodora shortly before her death. The street rumor however is completely false. Using a wide array of historical examples, primarily from the reign of the Good Emperor but stretching all the way back to Konstantinos Megas, Demetrios argues that different tax rates are not unjust provided “one does not follow the typical Latin practice by over-burdening those least able to pay whilst the rich are untouched. But it is a plain fact that taking a tenth of a dynatos’s income scarcely inconveniences him, whilst taking a tenth of a laborer’s pay means that starvation is an ever-present danger. By taking, for example, only five percent of a laborer’s pay as tax one removes him from the threat of starvation, something clearly pleasing in the sight of God. The damage to the state’s coffers by such actions can be more than made up by taxing the dynatos at twenty percent. While he may have to forgo buying a new carriage, he still is not threatened by hunger.

If one has a weight that needs to be moved and has one strong man and one child, no one would split the weight evenly. No, the bulk would go to the man and a fraction to the child. Each would be given the weight he could bear. By refusing to follow this basic principle, the state forfeits the extra money that would come from the higher tax rates and earns the just enmity of the poor, whose curses carry straight to the ears of the Divine Judge.”

Naturally such opinions are extremely popular with the poor but earn Demetrios the opprobrium of the rich. Several dynatoi pen scurrilous articles attacking his character, claiming that his Ethiopian wife is the one “wearing the pants”, to use a modern equivalent of their terminology. The attacks are only encouraged by the silence of Demetrios who does nothing to defend his character. But the article does gain Demetrios the attention of key officials in the bureaucracy, many of whom are from the mesoi and banausoi and have little sympathy for the dynatoi. Immediately after graduation he is given a posting in the Kephalate of Thyatira. His supervisors are surprised that the man who stirred up such a storm in Constantinople is incredibly quiet and mild-mannered in the provinces but note his hard work, attention to detail, and intelligence.

The war in the Constantinople papers is quickly overshadowed by the war in the east. On June 1, the combined Georgian-Roman army in Azerbaijan engages the Ottoman army under the command of Iskandar, both sides disposing of sixty thousand men. The battle of Astara that follows is one that will be remembered with pride and shame by all three great nations.

Both sides hurl themselves into the battle, the initial Roman offensive cracking but not breaking the line of Qizilbash who throw back six separate assaults, protecting themselves with ramparts of their own and the enemy dead. On the right wing, the Roman artillery make the hills look like ‘a constant sheet of fire’ but still the Qizilbash hold.

In the center the small town of Astara itself has the misfortune of being caught squarely between the two armies. Both sides pour troops in to seize it, the Ottomans gaining it first, then thrown out. The Ottomans take it again, are expelled again, take it back again, are expelled again, and still return to the attack as the Romans and Georgians pile on reinforcements, the fight for the town taking on a significance of its own far out of its strategic importance.

The fighting here is at point-blank range, soldiers blazing away at each other from inside the same buildings, stabbing swords into enemy bellies as their assailants plunge knives into their hearts. When powder and steel fail, it is the turn of flesh and bone as men resort to fists and teeth, one Roman dekarchos reportedly beating a Janissary to death with the Roman’s severed left arm. On and on the killing goes on, maddened farm animals tearing through the streets, bulls afire pitching into troop columns, until the houses catch fire themselves and collapse, crushing both combatants in their shared funeral pyres.

As reserves on both sides pile into the town, the Georgians on the left wing launch their assault, spearheaded by the Royal Guard. Equipped with plug ambrolars, flintlock muskets, steel ramrods, and paper cartridges, they are the most advanced infantry in the world and consternation sweeps through the Ottoman ranks when they receive the Georgians’ fire. Still the Qizilbash and Janissaries stationed there hold the Georgian infantry, but then the Georgian infantry hold them as well. Two hundred Georgian kataphraktoi rip into their flank.

The heavy cavalry are outnumbered well over forty to one but the Ottoman infantry are tired, their morale strained, and surprise is total. The entire Ottoman wing collapses, the Georgian army in hot pursuit, as the Skolai and elements of the Macedonian tagma drive the Ottomans again out of Astara.

Iskandar, painfully aware of the defeat staring him in the face, reacts quickly. Rallying the survivors from Astara with the cry “All those who still serve God, follow me!” he hurls himself into a counter-attack against the Georgians as the Shahshevan regroup the routing wing troops. At the sight of their Shah fighting in the front-rank, they return to battle with a vengeance.

Now it is the turn of the Georgians to be completely surprised. Their formations disordered and tired after their rapid advance, they are confronted by counter-attacking infantry. Fierce fighting seesaws back and forth for a time until three hundred sipahi lancers come crashing out of the murk. This time it is the Georgians who break, the Ottomans driving them pell-mell back to their original lines.

With even a moment’s relief the Royal Guard would have reformed and provided a rock for the rest of the Georgians to rally upon, but Iskandar knows that if he relaxes his grip for a moment he is likely doomed. So he keeps up the attack despite the exhaustion of his troops and his reserve. But the sight of the Royal Guard in disorderly retreat unnerves even those Georgian troops not engaged and as soon as the Ottomans get close enough to send shot whizzing about their heads they fall back.

The collapse of the Georgian position leaves the Romans dangerously exposed and they begrudgingly retire. But the Roman reserves have been crippled in Astara and Iskandar, wringing a last bit of strength out of his troops, threatens to turn their flank. Faced by seemingly overwhelming force, to escape the Romans abandon the bulk of their artillery, wounded, and many of the soldiers holding Astara.

The carnage is unimaginable. Out of the sixty thousand Ottomans twenty three thousand are casualties, out of the twenty five thousand Romans ten thousand are casualties, and out of the thirty five thousand Georgians nineteen thousand are casualties. The Georgian army has been effectively finished as a fighting force, although it will be quite some time before the Ottomans are in a position to take advantage of that.

Far to the west the armies of Islam are also on the move. The Marinid Sultan is Mouley Ismail, who thus far has done nothing in reaction to Roman actions, either in Arabia or North Africa. Building on a resurgence of Marinid might, he has solidified his control in Morocco, caring little if the Romans crush Algerian emirs recalcitrant in their loyalty to Marrakesh. It is a respectable accomplishment but nothing that places Mouley Ismail above the more vigorous Marinid Sultans that have periodically revived their unusually long-lived dynasty.

But that was just a springboard for a great offensive to the south, a Moroccan invasion of the lands of the blacks on the opposite side of the Sahara where the kingdoms of gold lie. Since the collapse of the Jolof Empire the region has been a patchwork of states although when the thirty seven hundred Marinid gunners, eight hundred cavalry and seven cannons arrived the Kingdom of Zaga had a new and shaky hegemony over the Niger River valley.

At Tondibi the assembled might of Zaga challenged the northern interlopers; the Marinids were outnumbered six to one. Four hours later the might of Zaga was no more, cut down by the gunpowder weapons of the north to which they could make no reply. In the ensuing vacuum the Marinids have been able to seize a sizeable section of the Niger valley, including the great city of Timbuktu, filling Mouley Ismail’s coffers with gold and his armies with hardy and brave Zanj slaves.

The Sultan is now in a position to intervene decisively against the defilers of Mecca and he does so with overwhelming force. Near the fishing village of Dellys the Roman-Sicilian army, seventeen thousand strong, encounters an immense host. “The horizon from north to south was covered in rank after rank of Sudanese, strong of arm and broad of chest, flanked by cloth-armored Berber horse and heralded by a host of skirmishers, all supported by at least a dozen batteries built and manned by Triunes,” in the words of one of the Sicilian droungarioi. Exactly how many Mouley Ismail fielded is uncertain, with reports ranging from two hundred thousand to ‘only’ sixty thousand.

The Roman attempts to withdraw prior to a confrontation fail in the face of waves of Berber cavalry swirling around them. But the fighting retreat is conducted skillfully despite the massive disparity in number and the Marinid host soon learns to fear the frown of eighteen Roman warships that reach the coast by mid-afternoon. Covered by their artillery, the battle is merely a major disaster for the Romans rather than a total one, with casualties close to 30%, although every Roman wound was repaid with a Marinid one.

What follows afterwards, in the release of tension after the ships arrived, is what makes Dellys one of the most humiliating defeats in Roman history. The troops are tired and low in morale, many having served here for eleven years straight and keenly aware of how low their situation is in the War Room’s priorities. Even before Mouley Ismail entered the fight, the resources allocated were inadequate. Now they are patently absurd. Roman/Sicilian forces are scattered in small garrisons along the coast, too small by themselves to stand any chance against that host, but even combined with the forces left after Dellys that leaves the Roman-Sicilians only twenty thousand men.

What follows is a complete collapse of the Roman position in North Africa as all of those newly-won garrisons, save the island of Tabarka itself, are abandoned. Eleven years of blood and sweat vanish in about as many weeks, the extent and speed of the retreat surprising even Mouley Ismail himself. Izmirli too, smelling blood, sallies. An initial attack on a pair of Roman galleon squadrons fails against their massed firepower, but storms, so often the bane of those who would invade North Africa, scatter the Romans. Izmirli snaps up a detachment of four galleons, plus another seven isolated Roman warships, and two troop transports carrying the 3rd Bulgarian tourmai.

As this is happening, Stephan Tomasevic, a Bosnian émigré descended from the former Princes of Pec, flees with his retinue into Roman territory where he is quickly conveyed to Constantinople. Since al-Hasakah, the Hungarians have returned to persecuting the Orthodox in Serbia, much to the vexation of the Serbian nobility and Emperor Demetrios, who has continued his habit of surreptitiously supplying them with money and arms.

In the spring, the new Hungarian King, Andrew VII Hunyadi, instituted a new practice, that all Serbian nobility were required to hand over one son and daughter to him to be raised at court as Catholics, and that the court-Catholic children are to be given primacy in inheritances forthwith. Tomasevic refused to hand over his son with the famous cry, “His soul belongs to him and God alone, and you are no God!” Stephan beat the initial Hungarian attack on Pec, but could not stand against the Black Army contingents sweeping down from the north.

Andrew is extremely irritated by the warm welcome accorded to Stephan in the White Palace, well aware of Roman activities in Serbia, and determined to put a stop to it. He is especially incensed with Demetrios since Andrew is married to Demetrios’ younger sister Theodora. With Roman arms hammered by Astara and humiliated by Dojama and Dellys, now though seems to be the time. On November 1, with the aid of well-placed bribes in the understrength garrison (the Bulgarian tagma is in North Africa), units of the Black Army seize Serdica/Sofia. According to the War Room, “assuming no opposition and reasonable weather, the Black Army can be at the Herakleian Walls in two weeks’ time.”
When it rains, it pours. At least the Romans have finally caught onto the idea of proper tax brackets.
What are the Lombards and the Germans up to?
Surely the Iberian Kingdoms will intervene or take advantage of the situation in one way or another? An overly powerful Marinid state threatens them and provides even greater protection to the Corsairs to raid as they please.
How are Roman relations with Vlachia right now? I would presume they wouldn't look too kindly on the persecution of Orthodox by their long time enemy, especially as a crippled Roman Empire leaves them exposed to continued Hungarian aggression.
Well, I knew the Roman house of cards would collapse soon, but I didn't think it would happen this fast. Great update! Just asking, are the Marinids encroaching on Portuguese territory/sphere of influence, and, if so, how will the mighty hosts of Lusitania respond? Could this be the long-awaited reawakening of the Grand Alliance of All Spain?
Tinfoil hat on. This all feels like a build up to the War of Roman Succession (WWI), more and more players are getting involved. North Africa and and south-west Africa (any Iberian trade ports affected?) are getting overrun by the uber Marinids. Georgia is in danger of a Persian invasion which in a worst case scenario opens up to the possibility of a new threat in the black sea. Hungary threatens to invade Macedonia and Thrace without reprisal. Since Emperor Demetrios isn't the most mentally sound right now will these serious reversals against the Romans break him? If he and Helena die soon it would open up a vacuum to allow a succession war to happen.
I don't think the Persians are up for an invasion of Georgia or Rhomania, only a negotiated end where they get to claim victory. They're bleeding pretty heavily from this war, and Rhomania and Georgia are extremely hard nuts to crack.

The Marinids too, will be suffering from very extended logistics soon. They'll roll back the Roman conquest in the region but I don't think they're capable of destroying Carthage or Sicily.

No, the big threat right now is Hungary. Fresh and strong empire, up against an exhausted one on an underguarded frontier close to Constantinople. Unless the Germans, Lombards or Poles invade Hungary it's going to be a bloody affair driving the Magyars back.
Am I the only one completely terrified that the Marinids may have opened a disease-ridden pandoras box? Sure the gold is nice, but that many slaves must bring some new diseases over. This could simply be a Marinid flash before a demographic collapse.

This is not going to be pretty.
I really enjoy the story but according to memory I do not see the OTL equivalent Ottoman Empire ever got its capital threatened directly.

What's the difference of TTL Romans or OTL Ottomans? TTL Romans just get so much stick that it seems the Otthomans did not.

An already decadent Ottomon got stronger enemies than the Romans in name of Russia, Persia, Austria Empire and sometimes the might of Christiandom but they are never seriously threatened. TTL just the Persians and Hungary can give them quite some headache.
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Am I the only one completely terrified that the Marinids may have opened a disease-ridden pandoras box? Sure the gold is nice, but that many slaves must bring some new diseases over. This could simply be a Marinid flash before a demographic collapse.

This is not going to be pretty.
Not necessarily. The Sahel has always had much less disease than the jungle south of it, and the Sahara itself acts as a filter to disease for a large part. But even so, there's nothing in Sahelian Africa that you can't get in Europe (sans Sleeping Sickness AFAIK).


I don't think Ismail can really threaten Carthage, rolling back the roman presence in Algeria sounds to me as severe over-stretching. Consolidating the conquests in Algeria and Sahel should be the higher priority, but I guess the religious fervor will get the Marinids to bite more that they can chew (like challeging the Iberian powers would be quite risky and essentialy useless, since essentialy they inhabit different "niches", they could build in time an enormous NW African empire stretching from the Mediterranean to the Guinea Gulf with the "Latins" barely noticing if the routes to India are not threatened, until the "right" moment, that is).

A severe case of deja-vu with the Hungarians. Let's see how they fare this time.
HanEmpire: The Lombards are busy overrunning most of northern and central Italy and the Germans are still fighting the Brothers’ War.

ImperatorAlexander: The Iberians are concerned but cooperation is a problem. Both Aragon and Al-Andalus are wary of any partnership with Castile-Portugal since any relationship might become the permanent variety. Neither of them is strong or confident enough to risk angering the Sultan. Castile-Portugal, by far the strongest of the Iberian states, is also the least affected and concerned by Marinid power.

Roman-Vlach relations are good. The Vlachs are indifferent to the Serbs, save in an ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’. But a war against Hungary in alliance with the Roman Empire has been the dream of the Vlach Kings since the War of the Orthodox Alliance.

Frustrated Progressive: Portugal only has coastal forts/trading depots in sub-Saharan Africa so the Marinids aren’t encroaching on Portuguese territory directly. However Marinid control of both ends of the Saharan caravan route could divert much of the gold and slave trade back to the Sahara and away from the Portuguese galleons. That will annoy a lot of people in Lisbon who might suddenly feel charitable with arquebuses to certain African chiefs.

JohnSmith: Things are threatening to snowball. But this is a regular geopolitical war. If Demetrios were to drop dead now, Helena the Elder is still around, plus Helena the Younger, then baby Andreas. Plus Princess Alexeia, Andreas Drakos’ younger daughter, who’s still off in retirement in Sinope.

Gianni Rivera: Out of universe, if I were to take the Romans to the level of OTL Ottomans people would be shrieking ‘Wank! ASB!’ In-universe the TTL Roman Empire is significantly smaller than the Ottomans at their height. They lack Serbia, Bosnia, Hungary, and Iraq, Vlachia isn’t a vassal state unlike Wallachia, Moldavia, and Transylvania, Egypt is autonomous, and Syria is a giant mess to hold down with a mass revolt seemingly every decade. Plus no Crimean Khanate to call upon. The core Roman territories are modern day Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey so a closer Ottoman parallel to TTL Romans would be the Ottoman Empire before the fall of the Mamelukes. In that period the Ottoman heartland was more closely threatened (crusades of Nicopolis and Varna, Timur’s invasion)

Arrix85: Ismail didn’t originally have plans for taking Carthage (forcing it to pay tribute maybe) but the complete Roman collapse post-Dellys makes it hard not to dream big.
HanEmpire: The Lombards are busy overrunning most of northern and central Italy and the Germans are still fighting the Brothers’ War.
How about the Poles? With Germany fighting a Civil War and the Russians having stability issues they shouldn't have any external threats. Could they intervene by invading Hungary?
HanEmpire: The Poles are free, except they're allied with Hungary.

Evilprodigy: I can't give you an exact number without knowing OTL 17th army pay levels to use as a comparison. But in the Roman armies the pay of a basic infantry recruit is comparable to that of an unskilled day laborer, nothing great. But there are the possibility of pay raises as pay goes up based on your years of service and also the higher ranks get paid more. Also getting posted to one of the guard tagmata or serving in a tourmai that earns guard status is another pay increase. More illustrious branches of the military such as the kataphraktoi get paid more too. Also unlike a day laborer a Roman soldier has job security plus barracks to sleep in and rations to eat without paying for either. So while a skilled artisan wouldn't think twice of joining the army, many agricultural laborers without farms of their own are often enticed.

MarshalofMontival: They're busy eyeing the Rhine valley and the Netherlands while the Germans fight each other and also slowly expanding their foothold in the New World.

1608: With the crippling of the Georgians at Astara, the allied position in the trans-Aras has become untenable. Aside from the heavy casualties, the near-annihilation of the Royal Guard demoralized the regular Georgian tagmata, giving Iskandar a morale ascendancy, one that by no means is restricted to the Georgians. In the spring the War Room instructs the strategoi to avoid all direct military confrontations with Ottoman units under the command of the Shah if at all possible, hardly instructions that curb the Georgian suspicion that the Romans are proving to be a frail reed on which to lean.

Iskandar pushes against a near-vacuum of opposition, driving back the Roman-Georgian lines back to their status two years earlier with minimal losses. It is a clear-cut example of the advantage of having a formidable reputation as Iskandar himself admits that his post-Astara army was in no position for another major battle.

One disadvantage of the Shah’s prolonged presence in Azerbaijan is that it could encourage the Romans to resume the offensive in Iraq, but the Roman forces there are in no position to do so. With Hungary’s seizure of Serdica, the eastern front is no longer the top priority of the War Room. Roman forces have been withdrawn west to the frontiers of Anizzah territory and to Mosul to set up secure defensive lines, not without laying waste much of the countryside with substantial wreckage to the canal network. This is in preparation for transferring several tagmata to Europe, even if an arrangement is not made with the Shah.

Other Roman forces are in motion as well. The War Room has decided to cut its losses in North Africa, maintaining 2500 men at Tabarka and four thousand at Carthage but withdrawing the rest to Apulia to potentially be used to menace the Hungarian flank. This is much to the dismay of the Carthaginians and Sicilians but the Romans do not have the manpower to stare down Iskandar, Andrew VII, and Mouley Ismail.

An initial peace proposal to Mouley Ismail fails as the Sultan insists on regaining Tabarka and receiving a substantial tribute from Sicily and the Empire and the cession of Carthage, his only concession the recognition of Carthaginian Mahdia and Roman Djerba. The Romans are not that desperate for peace and it is highly unlike Mouley Ismail seriously expected the offer to be taken.

But what he has been unable to take by the pen he is willing to hazard with the sword. Although harassed by the Tabarka garrison he pushes into Carthaginian territory, a Carthaginian-Berber army outnumbered four to one declining to engage. Retiring into Carthage itself, Mouley Ismail follows to place the great city under siege, launching skiffs to contest control of Lake Tunis. Three days after the Sultan pitches his tent, Izmirli, leading a huge Berber fleet, blockades Carthage by sea.

Serious peace negotiations begin with Iskandar himself. The Roman proposal is that they will withdraw all forces from the Arabian Peninsula, including Yanbu where the Roman offensive stalled miserably after the seizure of the port due to sandstorms, smallpox, and raids from the Southern Anizzah. Although often willing to follow the lead of their orthodox northern cousins despite the lack of any formal allegiance to the Empire, their Muslim faith has won out due to the continued Roman threats to the Muslim Holy Cities. The new Jeddah fortifications are to be destroyed prior to the Roman withdrawal, at which point an Idwait emissary will receive the Black Stone to return to Mecca.

Aside from that, the Empire will pay Iskandar two million hyperpyra and Georgia six hundred thousand (the negotiations are conducted by a joint Roman-Georgian delegation), with all frontiers restored to the pre-war positions. The Romans also offer a quarter million Syrian Muslims to be transferred to northern Mesopotamia, moving expenses to be met by the Roman government.

This is by far the most generous Roman offer to date, but Iskandar is unsatisfied. While the western war has never been a great desire for him, his realm has paid dearly in blood and coin and he wants recompense. Also with the Roman setbacks in North Africa and the hostilities with Hungary, he sees no reason not to drive a hard bargain.

His counter-offer is that the Romans will evacuate Arabia, although they may destroy the Jeddah fortifications. That proviso helps the Romans save face and since the fortifications are all landward anyway, they would not help defend against another maritime assault. But Georgia must cede all its trans-Aras territories, in exchange Iskandar waiving the tribute from both Constantinople and Tbilisi.

Up to this point the Christians are willing to accept Iskandar’s terms. But the Shah also insists that the Romans personally hand him the Black Stone on the battlefield of al-Hasakah, his first major victory over the Romans (the Roman negotiators were authorized to hand the Black Stone over if absolutely necessary to secure peace but the place of transfer is too much to stomach). That is humiliating enough but Iskandar also wants to be granted the title ‘Defender of the Syrian Muslims’ and for said people to be guaranteed certain rights, the Shah to ensure those rights are maintained. The Romans, quite well aware of how their ancestors in the 1400s had used a similar tactic via the Coptic Christians to harass the Mameluke Sultanate, refuse point blank.

By pressing these humiliating terms only on the Romans Iskandar hopes to split the Romans and Georgians so that the latter will make a separate piece. Considering the wretched state of their army it is a tactic that nearly succeeds. But the infant royal Safavid dynasty derives its legitimacy from the marriages with the Drakina Queen and Princess, and the promise of an annual 300,000 hyperpyra subsidy keep Tbilisi in the fight, at least on paper. The talks break up, peace elusive.

In Europe, the Hungarians did attempt to force the Gates of Trajan in winter but failed. The good weather feared by the War Room report did not appear. But the only troops in Europe are the Thracian tagma plus various militias and irregulars such as Albanian stradioti the White Palace can scrounge up.

Epirus and Albania with their mountainous terrain and ornery inhabitants are harassed by Hungarian hussars but largely left undamaged. An attempt to force the Gates of Trajan in the summer fails this time against the fortifications and the impressive tenacity of the Komotini and Xanthi militia, forcing the Hungarians to focus their attentions away from Thrace toward Macedonia.

A thrust spearheaded by the Black Army seizes Ohrid in June, then breaks into two prongs, one heading east towards Thessaloniki, the other south into Greece. Both are harassed but militia formations here are weak and few in number. Veroia falls in early August, Larissa a week later. The east prong gets a bloody nose courtesy of the Thracian tagma at Sindos, a small suburb town of Thessaloniki. The damage to the Hungarians isn’t serious but does spare Thessaloniki a siege, although Magyar raiding parties roam as far east as Drama. The southern prong is repulsed from Volos largely due to Roman warships cruising offshore but the Hungarian army reaches Siderokastron, not far from the pass of Thermopylae, before a halt is called.

As early modern invasions and occupations go, the Hungarian has been rather mild. But still there have been the occasional massacre or other atrocities, particularly in the larger towns where most resistance was staged. And while the Orthodox in Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Thessaly, unlike Serbia, have not been persecuted, the upper clerical hierarchy has been imprisoned and beaten, and several of the major churches seized, washed, and converted to Catholic churches. But Andrew VII is not too greedy. The initial reason for the attack was to get the Romans to stop supporting Serbian rebels, and so he is willing to back off some. To that end he dispatches a delegation to Constantinople.

The White Palace, Constantinople, September 17, 1608:

Demetrios Sideros swallowed, looking nervously across the hall. He was clad in the finest outfit he had ever worn in his life. He wore a dark blue silk shirt and pants, interlaced with silver thread. Gold thread adorned his collar and cuffs, a pea-shaped diamond, ruby, sapphire, and emerald set on each of his cuffs as well. A light purple cloak, although not the shade of Tyrian purple, also outlined with gold thread and fringed with mink, was clasped to his shoulders. A gold chain was around his neck, a diamond centered in each of the six-centimeter long ingots surrounded by two rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. It felt odd; he was used to much plainer clothes. But I can afford it now with my inheritance, and Jahzara likes to be at court.

Jahzara stood next to him, as usual resplendent in finery. She was wearing a floor-length dark blue dress made of the finest Chinese silk, with the usual stitching of the Lion of Judah across her ample bodice. That much was usual, but interlaced in the fabric were dozens of tiny diamonds and emeralds so that she literally shimmered when she moved, sometimes showing her calves through the short slits along the sides.

He swallowed again as the doors to the throne hall opened and the herald boomed. “The Count of Pec, Ambassador of his Apostolic Majesty, the Great King of Hungary, King of Croatia and Austria, Duke of Friuli, Aquileia, Transylvania and the Banat!”

Demetrios pushed his eyeglasses a little up his nose, his eyes glancing behind him. The Empress Helena was indisposed but Emperor Demetrios was here, seated on his throne, but the purple curtains were drawn so that no one could see him. The mood amongst the court against the Hungarians was angry, as could easily be seen by the glowers and mutterings as the Hungarian Count walked forward.

As a mark of disdain, the Emperor would not speak to the Hungarian envoy. I’m the one who is supposed to address him. Jahzara glanced over at him, smiled faintly, and held out her left hand. He clasped it and she squeezed gently. I should be angry with her; she arranged this. But her presence was comforting nonetheless.

* * *
The Count came to a stop, bowing toward the throne, although Jahzara noted that the bow was only a slight bow of the shoulders, hardly an appropriate obeisance to an Imperial Majesty. From the whispers in the ranks of courtiers she wasn’t the only one who noticed.

She examined the Hungarian. He was short and a little pudgy, but with long, powerful arms. A luxuriant and likely waxed mustache congregated under a bent nose, but no beard. His eyebrows were some of the bushiest she had ever seen. His hair was short, slick, and thin. Eh, I’m not impressed.

She looked up to the middle of the court to see Stephan Tomasevic and a flutter of desire filled her heart. Stephan was tall and broad-shouldered, with muscular arms and legs, a manly beard of black and gray covering his hard, angular face. Reportedly he already had three lovers amongst the ladies of the Roman court. I’d like to be one of them. But whilst Stephan was far more of a man than Demetrios, the blood of Sideros was far more rarified than Tomasevic.

The Hungarian count stopped, bowed to the veiled throne, and began speaking some meaningless pleasantry, completely ignoring Demetrios. She glanced at him and spotted a very faint flaring of the nostrils. The Count finished and Demetrios answered with another series of pleasantries, the ambassador not so much as turning his head. Jahzara’s own nostrils flared. Wait, what? Did he just call the ambassador’s master a Sultan? There was some murmuring in the crowd.

The exchange continued a little while in much the same vein. The ambassador continued speaking at the veiled throne, seemingly unaware of Demetrios’ presence. But the court was not, as Jahzara noticed that every time Demetrios referenced a Hungarian title he used the Arab equivalent. Finally the Ambassador, his nostrils flared, looked at Demetrios for the first time, and snarled “We are not Mohammedans.”

Flatly, Demetrios replied. “Yes, you are.” A murmur swept the crowd.

The Magyar’s face reddened in rage. “If we were anywhere else, I would kill you for that, boy.”

“This boy, emir, is of the blood of Andreas Niketas and Timur.”

He sneered. “Very little of that blood, apparently. And I am a Count, not an Emir.” He looked back at the Emperor’s throne. “Now, in exchange for-”

“YOU ARE AN EMIR!” Demetrios bellowed. Jahzara gasped in surprise; she’d never heard Demetrios raise his voice. “AND A MOHAMMEDAN! THOUGH YOU DO NOT PRAY TO MECCA IN BODY, YOU DO SO WITH YOUR HEART!” He quieted down. “You and your kind claim to be Christian, but your actions speak loudly than words. Whenever we are faced by a great Muslim foe, your…kind, rather than aiding us as true brothers in the faith would do, instead use the opportunity to attack us instead. You come here, offering peace while you issue threats you would never dare to raise were we not facing the greatest Muslim warlord since the days of Shah Rukh. You claim to be Christian, yet you act like a Muslim.

“At least the Muslim is honest about who he is. But amongst your kind, honesty is a rare thing indeed, almost as rare as an earnest desire for peace. So I say,” he continued, his voice rising again. “There can be no peace with Latins, men of stone and iron and lies. There can be only war!” The court cheered at the words, the ambassador glaring with rage.

Jahzara looked over at Demetrios. He glowered back at the Hungarian. So you do have a backbone after all; that’s good to know. But she did catch a furtive glance at the throne. The Emperor was in no mood to capitulate to Buda’s threats but Demetrios’ words were hardly proper diplomatic material.

The curtain parted to reveal Emperor Demetrios. “Go back to your master, Magyar,” he said. “And tell him what you have heard here. You wish to be paid for your troubles. Very well, we shall do so, but not in the gold you request but in iron.”