East-1645: The Final Promise
East-1645: The Final Promise
Much of 1645 is spent in the process of the soldiers of the expedition returning home, some by land and some by sea. Northern India is left as a political vacuum, with a multiplicity of small states replacing the larger entities of Awadh, Triune Bengal, and Alemdar Mustafa Pasha’s Punjab. At some point in 1645 Iskandar withdraws his garrisons in the Punjab back behind the Khyber Pass. Given the need to consolidate his authority in Persia proper, the strain on manpower, and Indian hostility he decided it would be best to pull back. Given his great military prestige post-Panipat, he can afford to do so.
The biggest beneficiary of the change is the Sikh Confederacy. Although still small, it is a cut above its typical neighbors now and Ranjit Singh’s participation at Panipat meant that a proportion of the plunder afterwards ended up in Sikh hands. Moreover their participation in the progression gave them a good opportunity to scout out the lay of the new political landscape. But one element has not changed. The Empire of Vijayanagar lacks the ability to push north and fill the political vacuum itself, but the Vijayanagari do not want another imperial power to arise in northern India.
Odysseus and Iskandar go by land across northern India, eventually taking ship in Thatta. They disembark in Basra and proceed north to Baghdad, a shadow compared to its pre-war days but still one of the largest cities in the area. The first task is to reward the soldiers who participated in this Odyssey. Roman battle and campaign medals are not new but this is the first time the Persians copy them. To receive a Panipat-badge, which show a Roman eagle and Persian lion defeating a great snake, is a special honor, a marker of a special bond between wearers. As soldiers depart to return home, they leave friends and comrades with whom they have shared incredible trials and glories. It is a bond that is not easily forgotten.
An issue that gets wrapped up around this time is the matter of the Triune prisoners from the Viceroyalty. The Roman attack had provoked an unsurprising infuriated response from the Triune ambassador in Constantinople, with Athena privately expressing frustration as she had no inkling of this, but by that point it is a fait accompli. The Triunes demand restitution, which the Romans resist. One advantage of not retaining any territory in Bengal is that the Triunes cannot make any claims on Roman holdings there.
Odysseus leaves the resolution of the matter in Athena’s hands; he has other concerns. She has no interest in a war with King’s Harbor, and Henri has no interest in a war with Constantinople. The loss of Bengal is a humiliation, outraging his English subjects, but he lacks the means to effectively retaliate against Rhomania where it would hurt and enough items on his docket already. So it is agreed that the prisoners will be released without ransom and their travel expenses, made a bit generous, for returning to the Triple Monarchy to be paid for by Constantinople.
At this time Odysseus is engaged in some statecraft of his own, finally settling the status of Mesopotamia. Although the actual treaty is drawn up and signed in Baghdad, the speed with which it is organized strongly suggests that Odysseus and Iskandar had already worked up the details well in advance.
Mosul and the area surrounding it, for twenty kilometers to the south of the city, is ceded to Rhomania. However the rest of the region is assigned to a new polity known as the Kingdom of Mesopotamia, with the relationship of Mesopotamia to Rhomania and Persia to be modelled somewhat after that of Cyprus to Rhomania and the Caliphate back in the 700s to 900s. Of the Mesopotamian state’s revenue, it is to keep 50% for its own purposes and send a quarter each to Rhomania and Persia. It is also to be mostly demilitarized, although it can keep a small military force and some minor fortifications to ensure internal order and keep local nomads in line. For foreign defense it is dependent on Rhomania and Persia, which both pledge in the treaty to defend Mesopotamia against any foreign invaders, including the other if that be the case.
(In terms of Ottoman territorial concessions, the trans-Aras is also signed over to the Georgians in a separate treaty.)
The new ruler of Mesopotamia is to be the unintentionally-appropriately-named Alexandros of Baghdad, the eldest son of Andreas III and Maria of Agra, who recently celebrated his twenty-first birthday. When he arrives in Baghdad he will wed the granddaughter of Suleiman Pasha, now Iskandar’s right-hand man. Accompanying him to Baghdad will be his brother Nikephoros of Trebizond, four years his junior.
Also accompanying Alexandros is his mother Maria, who elects to go with her elder children by Andreas III as opposed to her younger children by Odysseus, which has certainly gotten many scholars to speculate on relationships. Some have criticized Maria (with the important qualifier that any decision an important woman makes is guaranteed to be criticized by men) for going with her children aged 21 and 17 and leaving her sons Herakleios and Demetrios, aged 13 and 6 respectively, in Constantinople.
But it should be noted that her relationship with the White Palace had always been tense and awkward and uncomfortable even at the best of times; her mere presence and that of her children with Andreas III cast a shadow on Sideroi legitimacy. Even as Empress she’d been pushed into the shadows by Jahzara and Athena, not even being able to conduct much in the way of charity campaigns that are expected of an Empress. The prestige and public credit for those works were reserved for Jahzara and Athena. In Mesopotamia she would have much more opportunity to spread her wings, and she plays a significant, possibly crucial, role in bolstering Alexandros’s new regime. Given his Roman origins, Alexandros is not popular when he arrives.
Another aspect of the treaty covers arrangement for the hajj. The Romans will allow the passage of pilgrims for this and will provide accommodations and supplies, for which the pilgrims can pay (pious wealthy Muslims can provide funds for this as charity). The Persians can even provide a limited number of soldiers to guard the pilgrim caravans, which would otherwise be juicy targets for Bedouin raiders, while the Romans will also provide security arrangements in exchange for a fund from the Persian government specifically for this purpose. Many Romans like to look on this as tribute, but the amount is such that the White Palace sees no profit (but no loss either) after paying the caravan guards.
After the treaty is signed, there is a week-long celebration at the Topkapi Palace and the surrounding grounds, with feasts and parties, the participants the remaining soldiery attached to Odysseus and Iskandar. It is a final celebration before the parting of the ways, as the participants of this expedition resume their separate and more ordinary lives. And so they feast and drink and party, reveling in past successes, many anticipating future prosperity financed by the plunder they seized across the breadth of India. So they dream and dance, surrounded by the wrecked and near-empty remains of Baghdad, the debris, and the price, of other dreams.
* * *
Topkapi Palace, Baghdad, October 2, 1645:
Michael Pirokolos and Iskandar were at one of the buffet tables, sampling some of the shrimp. The sun had long set, but that had not stopped the revelers. Officers were dancing with local and not-so-local women; a few might actually have been their wives. The musicians had just been replaced by a new shift, with the former players tucking into plates brimming with breads and meats, although one had piled on a sizeable fraction of a sausage pizza instead.
Odysseus came over to them, sipping from a wineglass. “We did it,” he said when he reached them. “We really did it.”
Michael smiled. “We did.”
“Still sometimes feels like a dream.”
“It can’t be a dream. It’s too nice for that,” Iskandar said acidly. Both Michael and Odysseus nodded grimly in response.
For a moment there was silence between them. “I just wanted to thank you both again for all you’ve done,” Odysseus said.
“You’re heading up?” Iskandar asked.
“Yeah, I’m tired and need to rest.”
“Well, God go with you,” Michael replied.
“And we’ll see you on the other side,” Iskandar added.
Odysseus smiled. “I will.”
* * *
Odysseus was in the private chambers he had taken up in the Topkapi Palace. He could still hear the celebrations continuing, but the noise didn’t bother him. They all had more than earned it.
He looked out of his window which looked out over Baghdad. Next to it was a painting, Nighttime over Baghdad, which he had completed yesterday. It was to be the last in his series of Campaign Paintings, seventy-seven in all, stretching from the Hellespont to the Bay of Bengal. He was proud of those paintings, because they were truly of him. His victories on the battlefield had been made possible by Iskandar, by Michael, by all the men who’d served with him on that long march. But the paintings had been all Odysseus Sideros.
He had fulfilled all of his promises. He had ensured that his younger brother would sit on the throne of his father. He had also given a throne to a son of his elder brother, and a chance now for Maria to have her own life. He didn’t know if it was enough, but it was all he could think of. And he had ensured that his father would have the oblivion he’d desired.
He had fulfilled all of his promises, save one, that to himself. He had promised to himself that after he had fulfilled all of his other promises, he could rest, for he was tired. But he wanted the rest that held no dreams. He had had enough of dreams, for too many of them were nightmares.
He looked out again through the window, upon Baghdad and the world, and spoke, quoting the reported final words of Caesar Augustus. “Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit.” He took up the plain silver goblet that had been his father’s and drank all its contents down to the dregs.
* * *
1645 continued: Odysseus Sideros is found dead in his chambers on the morning of October 3. Given the circumstances there are immediate rumors of poisoning and murder, but there are such rumors on the deaths of anyone important throughout most of history. Most scholars completely discount such tales, believing his death to be the culmination of the strain and injuries of the campaign, combined with probable illnesses contracted in India.
His Indian exploits are what make the Romans call Odysseus “the Magnificent”, for the plunder brought back from the subcontinent is truly that. His expedition certainly lends itself to an epic quality, with more than a whiff of Alexandros Megas. It is unsurprising that his reign, made all the more dazzling by being brief, is regarded as splendid and glorious. With the brilliant lure of his victories in Persia and especially India, it is extremely easy to overlook the blood-soaked sands of Mesopotamia and the atrocities in Syria, and most Romans to this day prefer to do so.
His death casts a pall over the celebration, although it was officially over the night before. However political disruption is minimal. Athena, acting as Regent for her absent brother, seamlessly transitions into being Regent for her underage nephew, and she fully approves of the arrangements of the Treaty of Baghdad.
Odysseus’s body is embalmed in Baghdad but conveyed to Rhomania to be laid to rest in the Sideros mausoleum. He had reigned for a little over six years and was thirty-two years old.