East-1644: The Never-Ending Thunder
East-1644: The Never-Ending Thunder
After the battle of the Jhelum, or the Hydaspes, the Romano-Persians easily secure the former lands of Alemdar Mustafa Pasha, but afterwards they must rest. They have performed prodigies over the past year, but they are still men of flesh and bone, not iron. Aside from the areas near the battlefield, the Punjabi countryside is rich and fertile, providing ample supplies, and the soldiers rest and feed, their lean frames filling out again.
However the plan is not to return to Persia once the army has rested, even though the threat of Ibrahim has been eliminated. Iskandar may have no more dynastic challengers, but his authority is thin and his legitimacy based on conquest. He has several military victories and exploits to his credit, but they are almost all over Persians. Even Alemdar Mustafa Pasha and his army were largely Persians, albeit renegade ones.
Iskandar wants something more substantial and impressive and frankly less awkward before he returns to Persia. He is in India where his father’s most lucrative victories had been won. A victorious and profitable campaign in these lands would do much to remind everyone that he is a son of Iskandar the Great, which is a reminder everyone needs in his opinion. The mysterious end of Ibrahim is already inspiring stories, and he was the eldest son of Iskandar the Great and his chosen successor after all. Iskandar needs something dramatic for his own portfolio. The vast wealth that could be gained in a successful expedition would also be rather useful. His authority does need to be consolidated, but the process would be much easier and effective if he has some Indian laurels to his credit. The possible benefits are worth delaying his return proper.
Odysseus’s reasons are less clear, with historians debating the reasons. But he is certainly willing to participate in such a venture once the soldiers are rested and the monsoon rains clear.
* * *
Outside of Lahore, February 16, 1644:
Odysseus walked through the ranks of cannons parked at the side of the field. The occasional boom echoed over as artillerymen practiced. They were a mix of pieces, varying in size and origin, Roman mikropurs, Ottoman culverins, and those Triune 15-pounders. Those were some good cannons; Odysseus had yet to meet a gunner who did not love them.
He didn’t love them. He certainly respected them, but he couldn’t love them. He was too familiar with their capabilities. For while he had used them to great effect in battle, he had also been under those very guns. These guns were the source, the origin, of the never-ending thunder of his dreams, which shook his bones and made his joints ache, that cut through his body as if it were nothing. He had seen too many comrades, too many friends, die by those pieces when they had been commanded by Vauban. That certainly didn’t stop him from using them; he was too much of a pragmatist for that. But that meant a part of him couldn’t help but feel a bit ill just looking at them. He couldn’t help but wonder if this very piece sitting in front of him had been the one to fire the shot that killed Andronikos, or Alexios, or Ioannes, or…
He looked away from the cannon toward the horizon. Those guns had been part of the army of Theodor, and yet Odysseus no longer could find it in himself to hate Theodor. Theodor was no more; he had perished shortly after Demetrios. But his final words, and that question, especially coming so soon after Odysseus’s final conversation with his father, could not fail to strike Odysseus in his heart. After that, he could no longer find it in him to hate Theodor. Envy perhaps, to be honest, since Odysseus wondered if he could truthfully answer the question the same as Theodor, but no longer hate.
Yet that certainly did not mean there was no longer hate in his heart. Theodor at least had believed in something. He at least had a grand vision. Perhaps, probably, it was an insane vision, a dream of reuniting the west and the east, of restoring a bond sundered a thousand years ago. But Odysseus Sideros was in no position to judge the man for having insane visions.
Those guns though had not truly been Theodor’s. They had been Henri’s. The Triune monarch believed in nothing other than power itself. Theodor’s attack never would’ve been so devastating if not for those guns, sent by Henri solely as a cynical maneuver to ensure that as many of his foes would kill themselves. Henri had sent these devices that had killed so many Romans, so many of his friends, and ensured that his sleep was haunted and gave him little rest.
Marching into King’s Harbor and flattening the city, salting the earth, and killing every-single-thing in it was not possible. He understood and accepted that, and knew even if he could it would not stop the never-ending thunder. Nothing could. But he wanted revenge anyway. And if he had to march halfway across Asia to get it, so be it.
* * *
1644 continued: Early 1644 is primarily a time of consolidation and rest, with some diplomacy mixed in as well. A column secures the lower Indus, linking up with the Ethiopian enclave at Thatta. The Ethiopians provide supplies, information, and offer 1200 infantry as reinforcements for the army, an offer Odysseus happily accepts. At this point the army of Odysseus and Iskandar is quite heterogeneous, with those of Roman origin now falling below 40%. While specific individual formations still are homogeneous to their recruits’ place of origin, broader formations are now mixed. Romans and Persians truly fight side-by-side, comrades in arms with friendship forged in long marches and great battles and shared privations and dangers.
Iskandar briefly leaves the army to travel to Thatta, taking ship to Gamrun and Hormuz to personally accept their submissions. While he doesn’t leave the coast, he does take the opportunity to send missives and establish appointments to help consolidate his authority in Persia. After doing that he returns the way he came and rejoins the army.
Things are quiet in his absence. Odysseus has been hard at work at his campaign paintings; he had had little opportunity to do so since Khorramabad and is making up for lost time. Many detail various aspects of camp life and are highly valued by modern historians as visual aids, detailing elements that so often are left out of the history texts. There are also natural landscapes, either devoid of human activity or showing a few small figures utterly dwarfed by nature. These are not just of the Punjab but stretch across Persia and Afghanistan. Odysseus had not had time to paint in most of 1643, but he had made quick pencil sketches of sights he wanted to capture, developing them into paintings now.
It is not all just painting for Odysseus. While Iskandar in Hormuz, Odysseus suffers his first injury in the campaign. While out inspecting some exercises, his horse stumbles and throws him. The damage does not seem to be severe; after a few days’ convalescence the Basileus returns to his regular routine.
There are also ambassadors from the great states of India arriving in Lahore, clearly interested in the shift of political power and concerned about the possible implications. The ambassadors are well-treated but Odysseus declines to discuss business with them until his friend and brother the Shahanshah returns.
Once Iskandar returns to Lahore, the Romano-Persian intentions are quickly made clear. The ambassador from Awadh is strongly criticized for his master’s apparent willingness to support Ibrahim (incriminating letters had been found in the Punjabi camp), an act the duo find hostile. They demand compensation for the encouragement of their enemies, in absolutely stupendous quantities. The pair clearly expect these demands to be refused and are not disappointed.
Odysseus and Iskandar are clearly acting aggressively and looking for a fight, but their target is hardly innocent on that count either. Chandragupta had been most disturbed by the appearance of a new and powerful threat on his western flank, and very keen to avoid a reprisal of Iskandar the Great’s invasions of northern India. In his mind, it would be best to nip this new threat in the bud. The ambassador had been sent to gather intelligence and, if possible, convince the pair to quit the Indus. In the likely chance that the ambassador could not do the latter, Chandragupta was ready to use military force to achieve it, and made the necessary preparation to launch the attack once the summer monsoon rains had ended.
The pair are much warmer to the Sikh representative, Ranjit Singh, who has prior contacts with the Romans. The Sikhs, concerned about their large and overbearing neighbor which had clear designs on their holdings around Delhi and Agra, are eager for an alliance. Meanwhile Odysseus and Iskandar, well aware that Chandragupta’s forces outnumber theirs handily, are eager for more manpower. An alliance is soon formed with the Sikhs pledging to commit 10,000 troops that will fight in a contingent under their own officers but answering to the joint leadership of the Basileus and the Shahanshah.
The meetings with the Vijayanagara ambassador are more complicated. Venkata Raya is concerned about a new imperial power in the Indus valley, in contrast to the mere regional power that had been Alemdar Mustafa Pasha’s Punjab. But he is not as bothered as Chandragupta, or even his younger self who had marched with such great hosts against Ibrahim (and felt keenly the expense of such efforts).
His concern is the existence of a great power in northern India. Vijayanagar had been founded primarily as a bulwark against northern aggression, from the Delhi Sultanate. The destruction of the Delhi Sultanate had eliminated that danger, but the fear and concern of a replacement remains in Vijayanagar. The attack on Ibrahim had been an effort to destroy what looked like a new northern threat in the form of Persia. However that effort had been followed by the meteoric rise of Awadh, which has clearly revived the northern danger, particularly when combined with its alliance with Triune Bengal.
Venkata Raya considers Chandragupta a greater threat than Iskandar and Odysseus. The former has far more human and material resources and his power base is much closer to Vijayanagar. But he also doesn’t want to destroy Awadh and see it replaced by a massive Persia-in-India realm.
So he is open to overtures from the pair, but keeps them at arm’s length. He is willing to cooperate against Awadh by launching attacks of his own at the same as the pair launch an offensive, but he is not willing to send troops to fight under the pair’s command. He does send money to the Sikhs to help them outfit their contribution, and more directly to the pair. He promises even more once their common enemy is defeated and the pair are returning to their own lands. The hint is obvious, but then it was intended to be.
As the summer monsoon fades, Iskandar and Odysseus have a little over 50,000 men under their command without the Sikhs, twenty thousand Romans and thirty thousand Persians and Afghans. They head out, music playing and banners flying, passing beyond the limits of what Alexandros Megas had been able to go two millennia past, heading ever farther to the east.