An Age of Miracles Continues: The Empire of Rhomania

You asked if restaurants in Rhomania were based on Taberna and Popinae, and my point, probably a bit obscure, was that why would the Greeks take their restaurant practices from the Romans, I mean more than you can spin differences on restaurants.
 
The Empire doesn't have enough specialist trade schools to have moved past guilds yet. As things are, the master-apprentice system is the best way to ensure that techniques and information get reliably passed down instead of lost every generation.

Once widespread education, unit standardization, consumer middle class, etc. become things in the Empire then industrialization will take over and force Guilds into either reforming or dying out.
 
You asked if restaurants in Rhomania were based on Taberna and Popinae, and my point, probably a bit obscure, was that why would the Greeks take their restaurant practices from the Romans, I mean more than you can spin differences on restaurants.
We are discussing the cultural and political evolution of the Roman state, it would lend itself to be the basis for how the Rhomanoi cultural practices grew.

Taverna are a well established modern Greek style of restaurants. Take a shot in the dark where that word came from.

Latin was the largest source of loan words for Koine, a good book for reference to Medieval Greek is "Modern and Medieval Greek" by Robert Browning.

The Empire doesn't have enough specialist trade schools to have moved past guilds yet. As things are, the master-apprentice system is the best way to ensure that techniques and information get reliably passed down instead of lost every generation.

Once widespread education, unit standardization, consumer middle class, etc. become things in the Empire then industrialization will take over and force Guilds into either reforming or dying out.
It isn't so much the breaking of the Guilds but more that, at least in 18th C. France, they petitioned the have his establishment closed because it infringed on their control of preparation of certain foods, with proprietors only allowed to serve their goods. In 1765, Boulanger prepared and served multiple foods of different types on location. After his restaurant closed, copies started to spring up shortly thereafter and the birth of the restaurant truly began. These events did not have much cause from either the industrial revolution, or consumer middle class effects.

Would there be such a strangle hold on these practices to such a minute detail, or would the basis of the Popinae be enough to bridge that issue and have more freedom for establishment owners?
 
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It isn't so much the breaking of the Guilds but more that, at least in 18th C. France, they petitioned the have his establishment closed because it infringed on their control of preparation of certain foods, with proprietors only allowed to serve their goods. In 1765, Boulanger prepared and served multiple foods of different types on location. After his restaurant closed, copies started to spring up shortly thereafter and the birth of the restaurant truly began. These events did not have much cause from either the industrial revolution, or consumer middle class effects.

Would there be such a strangle hold on these practices to such a minute detail, or would the basis of the Popinae be enough to bridge that issue and have more freedom for establishment owners?
In that case I have no idea. It'd really depend on how sophisticated the Roman theories of economics are.
 
Night of the Tocsins, Part 1
Moving along now...

(I'm not commenting on the restaurant bit as some parts of the update may be pertinent:


Night of the Tocsins, Part 1: The Music of Memory


Constantinople, August 14, 1630:

Demetrios Sideros yawned, scratching his cheek absentmindedly as he turned to the next page. The History of Japan, written by a Roman priest who’d spent fourteen years in Kyushu, had come off the presses just a few days earlier. It was a welcome distraction from current events. The Empress was dead, although it hadn’t been announced to the public, and nobody had a clue who was to succeed her. Nobody had made a plan. The lamp above him flickered; he had several set up to provide him enough reading light since the sun had set almost two hours ago.

He reached over for his glass of wine, taking a sip. Next to it was a draft of his resignation letter; he’d touch it up in the morning. I’m looking forward to getting out of this place. Aside from savings from his salary, he’d made some profitable investments in various trading companies. Those plus proceeds from his published writings meant he had a nice nest egg saved up. He’d already made a down payment on a small villa and estate in Skammandros.

The door opened, him spying a flash of blue fabric that alerted him to the approach of his wife. She was saying something that he couldn’t make out to someone behind her, which gave him the time to turn his resignation letter upside down on the table. Jahzara came in, her dress brushing the ground, followed by Logothete of the Drome Andronikos Sarantenos, Protospatharios of the Office of Barbarians Konstantinos Kekaumenos, and former commander of Andreas III’s bodyguard Nikephoros Vatatzes.

Demetrios forced a smile onto his face. “To what do I owe the pleasure, gentlemen?” Go the hell away.

“I’m afraid the occasion for this is not pleasurable,” Sarantenos said. The three men took a seat on the couch near the door, facing Demetrios who had the table between them. Jahzara sat down in a chair close to her husband but perpendicular to him on his left.

“I can’t say I’m surprised,” Demetrios responded, taking a sip of wine, restraining himself from downing the whole goblet.

“The Empress is a problem.”

“I agree wholeheartedly.” Hence why I’m getting out of here.

“I overheard her talking to Xiphilinos just now,” Vatatzes said.

“So what?” The Empress and the Chief Finance Minister had been long-term political allies for years. Although neither of them like me very much. Hmmm, maybe I should look into a Georgian estate instead. He had shares in two of their largest iron mines.

“She said that very soon all of her enemies would be crushed.”

“So she’s being melodramatic and a little megalomaniacal. What am I supposed to do, tell her that her agent called and that she’s taking it way over the top, that she needs to get serious please?” He raised the goblet to his mouth, then put it back down without taking a drink. Maybe I’ve had enough wine already, I’m starting to say what I think. Jahzara was looking at him, one eyebrow raised.

Vatatzes blinked confusedly at his response, then continued. “The conversation made it clear that this was contingent on the imminent arrival of a special cargo. Xiphilinos was to ensure that payment would be ready on its arrival.”

“Huh, that’s a little strange.” I wonder what it could be…oh, shit. “You aren’t suggesting the Bremen convoy?”

“That’s what we were thinking,” Kekaumenos said. “It should be here in a few days. Based on reports, over six thousand troops could be carried in it.”

“Six thousand troops isn’t nearly enough to take Constantinople. And how in the world would they sneak that many past the Hisari forts?” Those were the massive fortifications that protected the Hellespont.

“They don’t need to take the whole city,” Jahzara answered. “They would just need to secure the White Palace, the Arsenal, and the Mint. The Vigla only numbers 750; the convoy only needs to carry two thousand and the reports show that the ships are running heavily armed with large crews. The troops could be hidden as extra gun crews. Constantinople is lightly guarded right now.” The Megas Doux was in Cyprus with the bulk of the Imperial fleet normally stationed in Constantinople and the Megas Domestikos was in Aleppo with three of the four guard tagmata. They’d been sent to the east as soon as Andreas III died to discourage the Ottomans from trying anything.

“The extra guns and crews could just be extra security against pirates. The straits of Gibraltar are really nasty right now with the Andalusi war.”

“Perhaps,” Sarantenos said. “But we can’t take the chance. The Empress has already shown her willingness to bring in Latin forces unannounced.”

“Well if you’re so convinced that she’s trying to pull a coup, why don’t you do something about it?”

“You’re the only one with the proper authority,” Jahzara said. “We need you to call out the Teicheiotai.” That was the Constantinople militia, twenty two thousand strong. “Even if the Empress is bringing in six thousand troops, if they’re in place beforehand she won’t get anywhere. And you’re the only one in the city who can do that.”

Demetrios rubbed his temples. It’d be nice if Autoreianos was here. But the Megas Logothete was in Trebizond where his brother had died recently. “I can’t order the Akoimetoi to muster without a clear threat to the city, something much more substantial then what you have here.” He squinted at his wife. It wouldn’t surprise me if you’re up to something…but I can’t take the risk that she is bringing in troops.

“The Teicheiotai will be enough. The Akoimetoi will stand to arms once they hear the tocsins anyway so when the threat appears they’ll be quick to move.”

Demetrios grunted skeptically. “I suppose you’ll want to secure the Empress too so she can’t enact her dastardly scheme.”

“Yes.”

“I won’t use the Teicheiotai for that. They’re for civic defense, not palace coups.”

“That won’t be necessary. Nikephoros has guaranteed the loyalty of the Vigla. They’ll take the Empress into protective custody.”

“You just seem to have everything planned out very nicely, don’t you?”

“I’m just being prepared and proactive.”

“Sure you are.” He sighed. “Well, if we’re going to do this, we might as well get it over with.”

Jahzara and Vatatzes both stood up. “I’ll get your secretaries to help you draft the orders,” she said.

* * *

Jahzara reached up to rap on the door where her husband’s secretaries lodged, an apartment next to their quarters so that they could be summoned quickly for emergencies, like now. “He doesn’t seem very convinced,” Nikephoros said.

She turned to look at the guardsman, tall and muscled, with a thick trimmed brown beard and a small scar on his forehead from Syria. “He’ll do what we need him to do. That’s what matters.”

* * *

She came back into their quarters with the three secretaries following her. Demetrios was walking to the table, a small box in his hands. He plunked it down, pulling out some sheets of paper. She didn’t need to look to know what they were, pre-printed orders to muster the Teicheiotai, needing only the Eparch’s seal, signature, and the date to be valid.

Demetrios looked up. “We’re calling up the Teicheiotai. Nikolaios, I need you to take care of distribution of the order and also for a sea wall defense posture. Matthaios and Alexios, I need you to draft the orders for some food at their mustering points and for breakfast at their stations. They’ll get ornery otherwise.”

“You should also send a message to Hisari,” Jahzara said. “Tell them to bar the convoy if it hasn’t arrived yet.”

“That’s outside my jurisdiction,” Demetrios protested.

“It’s your responsibility to secure the defense of Constantinople. The best way to do that is to stop them before they arrive.”

“Plus the forts can inspect the convoy,” Andronikos interjected. “If our concerns are unfounded, then we can stand down more quickly.” Demetrios nodded. “Also I’d order the Gallipoli and Skammandros Kephales to reinforce the garrisons with their kentarchiai.”

“That’s definitely beyond my jurisdiction,” Demetrios protested.

Jahzara smacked her palm down on the table. “Demetrios, you don’t have a choice here. If the convoy is hostile, the forts can use the reinforcements. We need to go all out; the security of the city could depend on it.” The secretaries were glancing at each other confusedly, but she knew they would follow orders. She also knew that the Kephales could be relied upon to listen. The Kephale of Gallipoli was married to one of Andreas’s former mistresses; if the Empress was in charge his demotion, at best, was guaranteed and he knew it. The Kephale of Skammandros was Demetrios’s prokathemos when he was Kephale there.

Demetrios stared at her for a moment, then nodded. “Very well. Alexios, draft those missives.”

* * *

Elizabeth, Empress of the Romans, set down the shirt she had just finished embroidering. It was of the finest purple silk, with golden thread outlining a roaring lion trampling a city. Finally. She glanced over at one of her ladies, Theodora Drakina-Komnena, who was drafting a document for her. “It’s ready for your seal,” she said a moment later.

She affixed it, handing the shirt to the lady as well. “You’re to summon him first thing in the morning.” She thought about calling for him now but the Akoimetoi were settling down for a hearty meal in barracks after a week of training maneuvers and getting between soldiers and food was never a good idea. Besides there was no reason for a rush.

She heard raised voices in the outer vestibule that marked the entrance into the Empress’ quarters, nothing distinguishable but the tone was distinctly unfriendly. You just had to jinx it. “What’s going on?” she asked, standing up out of her chair. She had a half dozen ladies in-waiting, three German and three Greeks who she knew she could trust, half of whom were with her in one of her inner chambers, egress to which could be blocked by a set of solid oak doors which were currently open.

One of her other ladies, a tall and plump twenty year old with curly blond locks, scurried into the room. “Soldiers, my Empress! They’re here to detain you! Vatatzes in charge!” Elizabeth squinted. Vatatzes had had a great deal of informal authority when her cheating husband was alive, but that had vanished the moment the last breath had left his whoring mouth. He wouldn’t dare to act on his own; he was much too small for that. But the Megas Domestikos and Megas Logothete were out of town and the Eparch Pimp didn’t have the spine…It didn’t matter at the moment anyway.

“Quick, bar the doors.” She needed to stall the soldiers. She grabbed the letter and the shirt that had providentially just been finished and turned to Theodora. The dusky-skinned, curly black-haired seventeen-year-old, who had been with her since she was eight, was the shortest of her ladies-in-waiting, coming up just to Elizabeth’s chin, but she had the most distinguished lineage. She was the youngest sister of Despot Andreas II of Egypt, who if one were to go by eldest male descent from Andreas Niketas, rightly should be Emperor of the Romans. Elizabeth didn’t much care for that thought, but her presence was a useful extra dose of legitimacy to her position. Anything that tied her closer to the Good Emperor was a valuable tool.

Theodora saw the package and took it without being prompted. “I’ll see that this gets to him, your Majesty.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth whispered, lightly brushing Theodora’s cheek with her hand. “I know I can count on you.”

“I won’t fail you.”

“Of that I have no doubt. I’ll cover your exit.” She turned to the main entrance where her other ladies were heaving the door shut.

“God go with you,” Theodora said.

Elizabeth turned back to face her. “And with you,” she replied, managing to keep nearly all of the tremble out of her voice.

Theodora lifted the portrait of Zoe Laskarina, sister of Emperor Theodoros III who was killed at Cappadocian Caesarea by Timur and wife of Demetrios Megas, founder of the Second Komnenid Dynasty, and pressed the stone that opened the secret entrance. The Empress of Blackbirds had overseen the construction of the Empress’s quarters of the White Palace and had installed secret passageways, both to facilitate private access to her husband Andreas Niketas and to stay in contact with her network of spies covertly. Elizabeth didn’t know the whole extent of the passageways; she doubted anyone other than Kristina herself had known, but she knew enough for it to be quite useful.

The door was closed now but she doubted that would hold against a determined assault. “Start piling up furniture. They’re not to get into this room.” With the departure of Theodora she had three of her ladies with her, the German three. “Start with the bookcases.” They grabbed the one on the left of the door and pulled it up in front, pushing it up next to the oak with very unladylike grunts. Elizabeth shoved the other one into place next to it by herself. Then the four of them shoved the large kaffos table up as well, the three taking one side while Elizabeth took the other.

They flopped it onto its side just as something crashed against the door. One of her ladies shrieked in fear. “Quiet,” Elizabeth growled. “Bring chairs,” she ordered, pulling one against the back of the table. There were a couple more bangs against the door as someone tried to push in, then silence.

“Lady Elizabeth,” a voice said from the other side, causing her nostrils to flare at the lack of a certain title. “This is Tourmarch Vatatzes of the Imperial Guard.” She didn’t need that information. She already knew. “You are to come with us.”

“By whose authority?” she called back.

There was a pause. “By the authority of Eparch Sideros, in the interest of the security of the City.”

She snorted, a very unladylike snort, but right now she didn’t care. The Eparch was responsible for the safety of Constantinople, true, and did have authority over the city at large, but he had no writ whatsoever, for any reason, in the grounds of the White Palace itself. But legalistic quibbling doesn’t seem quite right for this.

She smiled as a response came to her. This scenario wasn’t unprecedented after all, and while that event had not turned out well for her predecessor, unlike Elizabeth she wasn’t about to have five thousand of the finest soldiers in the world at her command. “I am Elizabeth, Empress of the Romans!” she shouted back. “Great-granddaughter of Helena I Drakina, of the blood of Andreas II Drakos, Andreas Niketas, Demetrios Megas, and Theodoros Megas! Only God can summon me!”

* * *

Vatatzes swore under his breath as he heard Elizabeth’s response. He knew the precedent and definitely did not want to repeat it. “Do you think she has any weapons in there?” his second, Leo, asked.

“I don’t think so, but it doesn’t really matter. We could hack down the door, but they’ve got all kinds of stuff piled in the way, and the optics of blowing down the door really don’t look good.” He chewed his lip furiously for a moment. “Post ten guards here at all times until further notice. Only I or the Lady Jahzara can countermand this, do you understand?” Leo nodded. “It’s a gilded cage admittedly, but it’s still a cage. Good enough for now.”

As soon as he finished that sentence, the tocsin bells began to sound.

* * *

Manuel flopped over onto his back, sighing. His wife Anna traced some circles in the hair on his chest. “Is that all you got, old man?” she snickered.

He mock glowered at her. He had some gray seeping into his black hair and beard but he was still only thirty two, just six years older than her. “No, I just wanted to give you a respite since you’re such a fragile thing.”

Now it was her turn to glower as she crawled on top of him, reaching down. “I wouldn’t talk about fragile things if I were you…”

He opened his mouth to deliver an extremely witty retort, honestly, when he heard something. “What was that?” Anna looked confused too. Their eyes widened in shock simultaneously. The tocsins…

All of a sudden they were both out of bed, Manuel scrambling to get some clothes on while Anna grabbed his weapons. He had no uniform, just his work clothes, but Anna grabbed his hands and pushed up to his triceps the gray wool armband with a black-thread double-headed eagle holding a sword in both talons that was the insignia of the Teicheiotai. That done, she handed him his weapons which he belted on, a sword and musket with plug ambrolar, then a satchel with enough shot and powder for twenty rounds and three extra flints. “I put some cold bread and cheese in there as well,” she said. “Let me know where you’re stationed and I’ll get you something hot.” He nodded. She leaned forward to kiss him; he had to bend his head down slightly. “Stay safe,” she whispered once they broke off for air.

“You too.”

He stepped out of his house, running down the street toward his mustering point. The bells stopped ringing just as he started but they’d done their job of waking the city. People were up and out, talking worriedly, the snippets of conversation making it clear nobody knew what was going on. “Make way, Teicheiotai!” he shouted, people scattering out of his path.

He didn’t have very far to go, reaching the square after just two minutes. Even so, over half of his kentarchia was already there with more coming in even as he came to a halt. “Men!” his commanding officer Alexios of Ainos, a former dekarchos in the Roman army, shouted. “Get into parade formation. I’ll let you know what’s going on as soon as I do.”

Manuel fell into his assigned slot just a moment after his friend Nikolaios did. Nikolaios was a few years older than him, although infuriatingly looked a few years younger, his silversmith shop just a few places down from Manuel’s own. Their kentarchia was drawn from the higher-class metal-working artisans, gold and silversmiths plus a few coppers. “I’ll bet you thirty folloi that this is just another stupid drill.”

Manuel hoped he was right but thirty folloi was enough for a round of the good stuff at the Sultan’s Daughter. “You’re on.”

“BLUE BLISTERING BARNACLES AND A POX UPON YOUR ARMPITS!” That would be Michael of Tao, the Georgian who ran the tavern and cookhouse on the opposite corner of the square and who was contracted to provide rations for them when they mustered. His son was pushing a cart in front of him as he came out of his establishment. He came to a halt on the right side of the square, perpendicular to their formation. “I’ve got bread and olive oil, plus cheese and weak wine. I’m brewing up a pot of rice and vegetable soup which should be ready soon.”

“Make sure it’ll be ready to travel,” Alexios replied. “We should be receiving our deployment orders soon.” Michael nodded, muttering oaths under his breath and headed back inside, his son parceling out the portions while Alexios kept the men orderly.

A few minutes later a pair of horsemen clattered into the square, their horses’ hooves lighting sparks on the cobblestones. One pulled out a leather case with a sheaf of documents. “District 36?”

“District 36,” Alexios confirmed.

“Here are your orders,” the man said, handing him three pieces of a paper and a wooden tablet. The other horseman dipped a quill in an inkpot he apparently had in his satchel and handed it to Alexios, who signed all three and handed two back.

“District 36 orders received.”

“Very good. Carry them out.” The two headed down the street.

Alexios turned to face them. “Men, we have been ordered to deploy for defense against a seaborne assault. We have been stationed at the Jewish Gate.” That was their usual station during their drills for this, a gate in the sea walls that accessed the eastern edge of the Harbor of Theodosius, long clogged up but dredged just ten years earlier and regularly seeing commercial traffic. He paused, his eyes bugging out for a moment. Manuel felt a knot from in his stomach. “This is not a drill.” A murmur of shock swept the column. I would have preferred losing the bet. “Enemy forces may appear at any moment.” He paused. “It doesn’t say who.”

It only took Alexios a minute to get them marching towards their station and about two seconds more for someone to ask the obvious question. “Who the hell is attacking?”

“Persians,” answered Konstantinos, a goldsmith journeyman with a moon face barren of beard. “I bet it is Persians.”

Several snorted derisively, including Manuel. “How would they get here, magic carpet?”

“Well, it can’t be a Latin force, otherwise we’d be stationed on the Land Walls,” Konstantinos protested.

“Lombards maybe?” Nikolaios suggested. Several muttered that could work.

“No, not Lombards,” Manuel said. “It’s Germans, it has to be.”

“The Bremen convoy,” Nikolaios snarled. “That’s it. It’s probably full of German soldiers. And I bet that the German bitch is behind it.” Alexios, who was at the head of the column, looked back at them for a moment, then looked ahead. “Probably wanting to seize power for herself now that the Emperor’s dead.”

“I heard she killed him,” Konstantinos said. “Had her doctor poison him.” Many more mumbled words of agreement.

“I believe it,” Manuel said.

Nikolaios whistled a tune, one they all recognized. He whistled again and Konstantinos began to sing. “They came to steal and to lie, they came to make the Romans die.”

Several more took up the next line. “They came to plunder and for gold, they came to rape the Romans cold.”

They all sang the next line, even Alexios whistling the music. “Who is like the Latin? Can anything reach that blackened soul? No words of truth, no deeds of good, no acts of love, can come from him. For gold is God and greed is glory. Who is like the Latin?”

People were out in the streets lining the buildings watching them pass and they joined in now. “They came to steal and to lie, they came to make the Romans die. They came to plunder and for gold, they came to rape the Romans cold.” The song was sweeping through the crowd, being taken up by more and more. “Well, we say let them come. In the name of justice let them come. In the name of vengeance let them come. For our daughters raped and our murdered sons, let them come. Let the Latin come, and we’ll make them die.”

And at least two thousand voices shouted as one. “LET THE LATIN COME, AND WE’LL MAKE THEM DIE!!”

* * *

“Pay up, sucker,” Hektor said, holding out his weather-beaten palm.

“Screw you,” Alexandros Drakos replied, his smile belying his words as he plunked three miliaresion down into the palm.

“Well, better luck next time, Tourmarch.”

“There won’t be a next time.”

Hektor snorted. “Yeah right.”

Hektor was the second-most junior tourmarch in the Akoimetoi, the most junior being Alexandros himself. He looked over at his shoulder insignia, two golden crossed swords whose gleam clearly gave away their newness. The appointment had only come through a few weeks before the Emperor died. Considering he was just twenty-eight it was an impressive feat, although he knew his name had much to do with that.

They were both in the officer’s club of the Akoimetoi, mostly empty with only fifteen patrons, he and Hektor the most senior. Most were clustered around a pair of eikosarchoi, one of whom from Alexandros’ unit was nursing his right elbow. His loss in an arm-wrestling competition was what had cost Alexandros his money. “So, care to place a wager on the Hippodrome races tomorrow?” Hektor asked, his eyebrows waggling. “I hear the odds are good on Ilion, a good Paphlagonian stock.”

“No.”

“Oh, come on. Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“It left with my money,” he answered just as the doors opened and five more officers walked in, including Alexandros’ senior droungarios Petros. What was that noise? It was hard to tell with the chatter of the eikosarchoi.

“EVERYBODY QUIET!” he snapped. He looked at Hektor, confused. “Is there a Teicheiotai drill scheduled?” Although there were surprise drills for the Teicheiotai, the Eparch’s office always gave the guard tagmata advance notice of those. Hektor shook his head, his face grim. Alexandros looked at Petros. “Get the men mustered immediately and start arming them. My authorization. Go.”

Hektor was telling one of his droungarioi, who was in the group that had been there to bet on the arm-wrestling, the same thing. While in Constantinople, weapons and ammunition were kept in the armory except for maneuvers and soldiers on guard duty. Everyone else was filing out, heading to their own units. He and Hektor did the same, stepping outside but then bounding up the outside steps to the rooftop which gave a view of the Golden Horn.

“I don’t see anything obvious,” Alexandros muttered.

“Same here,” Hektor said. “For anyone to approach the City this suddenly it’d have to be by sea.” On cue a signal gun from the Arsenal boomed and two cannons hurled blue star shells into the sky, lighting up the Golden Horn. Two monores, both with running lamps lit, were putting out from the pier, their oars slicing through the water at a rapid pace. They headed down the Golden Horn, wheeling towards the Sea of Marmara, not the Bosporus.

The tocsins had long since stopped but now drums in the main courtyard began to sound, beating the ‘general muster’. Both he and Hektor bounded down the steps, heading toward their units. Alexandros found his in good shape. Well over three-quarters of the men and officers were already present and Petros was organizing the distribution of ‘ready packs’ to the men. These were kits with a flintlock musket, three flints, forty powder-and-shot paper cartridges, and a socket ambrolar.

Petros saluted. “Mustering is proceeding well, sir, but we’ve received no orders from the Strategos.” Alexandros nodded, gesturing at him to continue.

He commanded the 5th tourma of the Akoimetoi, mustered at the far west end of the courtyard. It was a giant rectangle, filling up rapidly as men ran in from their barracks. Each unit’s armory was set in front of their rallying point, their barracks, messes, and wash facilities behind them, all connected by a small road. A central corridor bisected the rectangle, the south course leading to the main entrance to the compound which was situated northwest of the Blachernae district, between the Theodosian and Herakleian Walls, near the Arsenal. The north course led to the officers’ mess, a large canteen for the men, the artillery armory, stables, and the offices for the Strategos and his staff.

They waited there for over an hour, hearing no word from command. It was more than enough time for all the men and officers of his tourma to report in and for all the ready kits to be distributed, Alexandros letting them sit down given the delay. Many in the ranks were starting to whisper confusedly amongst themselves, echoing Alexandros’ own thoughts. The White Palace had ordered out the Teicheiotai and dispatched monores so they had plenty of time to issue directives to the Akoimetoi, the forefront of Constantinople’s defense in the absence of the other guard units. But where were those orders?

A staff officer on a horse galloped up to him. “Tourmarch Drakos, the Strategos needs to see you. It’s urgent. You’re to take my horse.”

“Understood.” He looked at Petros. “You’re in command until I get back.”

Two minutes later he was dismounting in front of the Strategos’ office, an orderly appearing out of nowhere to take the reins. He stepped inside to be immediately ushered into an inner office by another staff officer. Strategos Andronikos Abalantes was from a family which had provided soldiers for the Empire since the War of the Five Emperors, but he was the first to have ever attained the rank of Strategos. He had a triangular face with a cropped black beard that made his chin even pointier, plus a luxuriant waxed mustache and bushy eyebrows. His hair was as short as his beard but with some gray creeping in around the temples. His green eyes locked onto Alexandros as he entered.

“Reporting as ordered, sir.”

“Excellent. Take a seat.” He gestured at a chair in front of his desk and Alexandros sat. “Tourmarch Drakos, there’s a rather…interesting proposal here for you.” He gestured toward the short dusky woman standing in the corner.

“Cousin,” Lady Theodora Drakina-Komnena said, stepping forward. “The Empress Helena II is dead.”

Alexandros’ eyes widened. He looked at Abalantes. “You knew that, sir?”

“She told me when she came in. It’s only been a few hours and hasn’t been announced yet. It didn’t seem wise to say anything until a clear successor was established to avoid any…un-pleasantries.”

“That’s not all I came to tell you,” Theodora said. “My lady her Imperial Majesty the Empress Elizabeth has sent me on her behalf to ask you for your hand in marriage.” She held out a letter with the Empress’ unbroken seal on it.

“And it’s been said you’re terrible with women,” Abalantes said, a big grin on his face. “So what are your orders, your Majesty?”

* * *

Demetrios drained another cup of wine, taking a look around his apartments as he set it down and then filled it up again. He was in a chair in a corner while his three secretaries drafted some more orders to ensure that the Teicheiotai would get breakfast on time and that shift arrangements were made. It might be a while before the Germans show, that is if they show at all. He took another deep drink.

Odysseus and Athena were in the top left corner of the chamber, Odysseus cleaning some kyzikoi, snapping a flint back into place as Demetrios set his glass down. Athena was sharpening dirks on a whetstone, the one in her hand at the moment an Ethiopian design with a sapphire set in the hilt. It was a present he’d given her after that ball in which she’d given herself that scar lashed on her upper forearm to prove the ability of women to face cold steel.

His two children were far from the only people in the room. Sarantenos, Vatatzes, and Jahzara were talking amongst themselves in the other corner on the opposite corner. Demetrios squinted and took another drink. In the center was a large table that had been moved there, the other furniture pushed aside, and spread on top was a large map of Constantinople. Figurines representing units of the Teicheiotai were spread along the Sea Walls.

Assistants for his three secretaries were at the table drawing up more orders. Ammunition from the arsenals needed to be distributed to the cannon towers, plus rations sent up to the Arsenal. Only two line-of-battle ships were currently moored in the Golden Horn, supported by five fregatai and three Andrean dromons [galleasses]. Three of the fregatai and one dromon were fully armed and provisioned since it was standard doctrine to always have a few vessels ready for battle at the capital at all times but the rest needed to be armed and provisioned. The Arsenal had the naval stores, shot, and powder but the rations needed to be hauled down from warehouses near the Gate of the Perama, the old Venetian quarter.

There were some more figurines at the Arsenal that designated the four hundred strong guard force stationed there. These were regular troops drawn from the Tessarakontarion, the marines used in naval combat and shore storming parties. They’d be a useful reserve, but they were dwarfed by the five thousand strong Akoimetoi, which like the Arsenal had its own supply of cannon and unlike the dockyard squadrons of cavalry as well.

He looked at the Akoimetoi figures, up at Jahzara, back down at the Akoimetoi, and sighed. I’m going to need more wine than I thought.

A man that Demetrios didn’t recognize but who obviously had clearance to get past the guards Vatatzes had posted entered the room and hurried over to Jahzara, whispering in her ear. Her back stiffened, then she nodded curtly and the man left. She said something to Sarantenos and Vatatzes and then the three headed over to him.

“So what has gone terribly horribly wrong and is going to kill us all?” Demetrios asked. I have an idea.

“Andrea Drakina-Komnena was seen heading towards the Akoimetoi barracks.”

“She snuck out of the secret passage which Andreas Drakos and Giorgios Laskaris used when Ioannes VI overthrew the Mad Empress. You should’ve thought of that. And she’s probably bearing a marriage proposal from the Empress to one Alexandros Drakos. Which was her whole plan all along just more dignified, I expect, not this German stealth attack. The call-up of the Teicheiotai was to bring me out openly against her and to make the public think she was plotting a German-backed coup.” Now it was Jahzara’s turn to squint at him. “I’m not nearly as stupid as you think I am.”

Her gaze softened. “I never thought you were stupid, Demetrios, just unambitious.”

“I doubt that is considered a vice. This, on the other hand, is.” He took another drink. While his head might be on a pike by morning, he was immensely enjoying the look of frustration on their faces. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I hear Abkhazia is lovely this time of year.” Shouldn’t have put the deposit down on Skammandros. He started to stand up.

“There’s another option,” Jahzara said.

“Yeah, what? Prayer?” Demetrios sneered. He turned toward his study; he’d packed an emergency bag after Andreas III’s death, rations, three of his favorite books, writing equipment, two hundred hyperpyra, and Imperial Bank certificates worth another ten thousand. That plus his assets in Georgia and Khazaria would provide for a quiet retirement, although not quite as nice as he’d hoped for. Rebuilding my library is going to be a royal pain.

“Declare yourself as Emperor,” Jahzara said.

He stopped, turned around to look at his wife, and blinked. “Are you serious?!!”

“I am.”

He dropped back into his chair in shock, staring at his wife. Then he took the mostly full bottle of wine and drank the whole thing in a long series of gulps. He set the bottle down. I am so not drunk enough for this shit. “No.”

“Why the hell not?”

“For starters, I don’t want the job. Two, Akoimetoi.”

“You have the Teicheiotai and the common people of the city. Not even all four guard tagmata could hold down the city if they rose against them.”

“The Teicheiotai won’t have the stomach for going up against a guard tagma. And even if they did, I will not cause another civil war. It’s simple, Alexandros becomes Emperor with Elizabeth at his side. She gets to keep her position and the rest of the Empire will follow since it’s Alexandros, multiple male-line descendant of Andreas Niketas, who is actually on the throne. All nice and neat.”

“It’s not that simple,” Sarantenos said. “There will be civil war even if you stand down. Maria of Agra is in Nicaea with Andreas’ children; she’s been ready to move since Andreas’ death. One of her friends in the Palace has certainly already sent word to warn her of the Empress Helena’s death. She’ll head east to Trebizond and place herself under the protection of Strategos Neokastrites, who knows that Andreas wouldn’t have wanted Elizabeth or Alexandros on the throne. He’ll rally to her banner and with him will come the armies of the east, who have a great affection for her from the tour she undertook with her husband. And you know that’s far from the only option for opposition to Elizabeth’s plan.”

“The only way to avert a civil war is if you proclaim yourself Emperor” Jahzara added. “You have a strong blood claim and Neokastrites won’t rise against the Sideroi. He knows the affection Andreas held for Odysseus.” Odysseus and Athena had, like everyone else, stopped what they were doing and had been listening intently to the conversation. “You can nip this in the bud. No civil war, no Time of Troubles. But you have to do it now.”

Demetrios picked up the bottle, snarled at it for being empty, and set it back down again. “Damn you. Damn all of you. Damn you for being right.” He paused. “Very well. I’ll do it.”

“You’re making the right decision.” Jahzara replied.

“Yeah, for who? And there’s still the whole matter of the Akoimetoi.”

“We need to turn Alexandros.”

“With what? Elizabeth is offering to make him Emperor. Hard to pass that up. Although I suppose I could proclaim myself Emperor, then offer to let him replace me. I like this plan.”

“That’s not going to work. I’m going to go over to the Akoimetoi barracks. Perhaps I can talk him around.”

“Alone?!”

“I’ll go with her,” Odysseus said, standing up.

“Me too,” Athena said. She had sheathed her dirk and had a kyzikos in hand. Jahzara smiled.

“I’ll provide an escort as well,” Vatatzes said. “But my place is at the Emperor’s side.”

“I’ll arrange for the proclamations to be drawn up,” Sarantenos added. “I received word that the Protasekretis docked at the Prosphorion fifteen minutes ago.” That was the head of the Imperial Chancery. “He can draw up an appropriate chrysobull and can be convinced to cooperate.”

“You do that,” Jahzara ordered. “We’ll get going immediately. Hopefully the Akoimetoi haven’t acclaimed him yet. That will make things much easier.” She started for the door, followed by her two children.

“Father,” Athena asked at the door. “What will you do if Alexandros doesn’t turn and has us arrested?”

Demetrios’ face darkened. “If he harms you, he dies. And if I do have to start a civil war to do so, so be it.”

* * *
 
Night of the Tocsins, Part 2
Night of the Tocsins, Part 2: The Poetry of Memory

* * *

“It isn’t appropriate to call him ‘Your Majesty’ just yet,” Theodora objected. “Not until the wedding.”

“What are you talking about, woman?” Abalantes said, rounding on her.

“Once wed he will be Emperor, of course, but until that time his proper rank is Imperial Consort.”

The Strategos’ eyes squinted, his sharp mouth forming into a frown as he scowled at the Egyptian lady-in-waiting. “You seem to be acting under the assumption that it is Elizabeth that confers legitimacy upon Alexandros.”

“My lady is the Empress. She was crowned as such in the Hagia Sophia alongside her husband the Emperor Andreas III.”

“And any significance that might’ve held ended when Andreas died and she failed to produce any offspring by him.”

“The failure to provide an heir was entirely due to Maria of Agra, not my lady.”

“That a young and beautiful woman was unable to persuade her husband, who was known to enjoy sowing oats, to screw her every now and then, says a lot about her, none of it complimentary.”

“In the eleventh century, Zoe and Theodora…”

“Irrelevant. Zoe and Theodora were of the Macedonian dynasty. Their husbands derived their legitimacy from their marriages to them.” Alexandros’ eyes darted back between them as they argued.

I should say something. This is about me after all.

What exactly? And don’t say fish, or cheese.

Abalantes was still talking. “Elizabeth does not have the same relation to the Drakos as Zoe and Theodora did to the Macedonian dynasty. She is incapable of conferring legitimacy as they did. And considering that they were idiots, using them as a precedent is hardly encouraging.”

“She is a direct descendant of the eldest daughter of Helena I and with the failure of the male line her line takes precedence.”

“That line is German. This is not some Latin dynastic state where provinces are shuffled around like jewelry shops. Only a Roman may sit on the Imperial throne. And Alexandros’ blood tie to Andreas Niketas hasn’t been matched since the fall of Ioannes VI.”

“Does it really matter?” Alexandros interjected, finally thinking of something to say. They both looked at him. “Whose blood tie is better? We get married, have children, and they unite the blood ties into a neat package. She is Empress and I am Emperor, so all this quibbling over titles is irrelevant.”

They both looked at him. “You are of course correct,” Theodora said. “I apologize for my zealousness. I was merely concerned to protect my lady’s prerogatives. Her late husband did not care for her needs. I trust that won’t be the same here.”

“Your lady need not worry about that account,” Alexandros replied.

“Yeah, don’t worry. He’ll put the devil in her hell.” Alexandros squirmed a little at his commander’s meaning, although he was surprised by the Decameron reference.

If Theodora understood the illusion she chose to ignore it. “Now that is cleared up, you must march on the White Palace immediately and free my lady.”

“Free?” Alexandros asked.

“When I left my lady, soldiers sent by the Eparch Sideros were coming to arrest her.”

Abalantes’ eyes squinted even more, so close that they were almost closed. “The Eparch wouldn’t have the stomach for that. He and Sarantenos are both Mashhadshar.” He spat into a waste bin off to the side away from Andrea.

“Perhaps the Eparch is being used as a convenient puppet because of his rank but she is in danger and must be rescued immediately. The Akoimetoi should march on the White Palace immediately. The Teicheiotai are at the walls and so only a fraction can come to its defense. Now is the perfect time to strike.”

“Now wait a minute,” Alexandros protested. “If we go charging down there, we’ll automatically have a hell of a fight on our hands. Only the Vigla and Athanatoi can enter the White Palace grounds armed. Even Andreas III when he was a member of this unit didn’t take his issued weapons there. If we march down there fully armed the Vigla will fight to the death to keep us out. Plus the Teicheiotai are probably very twitchy right now. Now we can talk them down and resolve this without bloodshed; I don’t want my reign to start by storming the palace of Niketas.”

* * *

Stop fiddling with your cock. Odysseus blinked, suddenly realizing the other meaning, and drew his hand away from the kyzikos strapped to his right ribcage. He glanced to the right where his eyes met those of his sister Athena who had dimples in her cheek from the grin she was directing at him. She snickered silently while Odysseus mock scowled back.

Dozens of hooves clattered on the cobblestones as they rode toward Strategos Abalantes’ headquarters. There were sixteen of them, including himself, Athena, his mother, and two of her faithful Ethiopian servants who’d been with her since she’d left her homeland. The remainder were Vigla, all of whom Odysseus knew personally. The Vigla soldiers were all in half-kit armor and fully armed save for lances, rather impractical for street combat. Odysseus and the Ethiopian servants had leather jerkins, greaves, and vambraces, Odysseus carrying four kyzikos, mace, sword, and dagger, the Ethiopians short spear and sword. Even Athena had a long dirk belted to her left hip and a thick padded tunic that included silk, cotton, and leather as a sort of armor-in-disguise. Only Jahzara wasn’t obviously equipped for war with no weapons but she had the same kind of padded tunic and wore an identical pair of riding pants and boots as her daughter.

Their path was lit mostly by the new whale-oil street lights. They’d started being set up on the Mese over fifteen years ago but it’d been his father who’d finished the task of making the Queen of Cities lit during the night. Two of the soldiers also carried lanterns set on posts held in a special side grip on their saddles. The stars and a gibbous moon completed the set. It was now close to eleven o’clock.

An occasional cannon shot sounded to the southeast, sometimes accompanied by a star shell arcing into the night sky. The Teicheiotai were practicing ranging shots with their artillery and the star shells helped to make sure no blacked-out German ships were sneaking up on the walls. They also helped to keep the populace on-edge, stoking their fears at the thought of a Teutonic horde trying to storm their city, sack their homes, rape their women, and think of the one responsible for designing such a feat.

They clattered up to the gates of the Akoimetoi barracks which were shut and guarded by a brazos of soldiers, although the commander was a droungarios, not the usual eikosarchos. “Halt, who goes there?” the officer shouted.

“Lady Jahzara Siderina, wife of the Eparch Demetrios Sideros. I bring orders regarding the Akoimetoi and the defense of Constantinople against her enemies.”

She held up a packet and the officer approached it, examining the seal which was that of her husband. Of all the civilian officials in Constantinople, only the Eparch could order line or guard troops without committing treason. “About bloody time,” the droungarios muttered, handing the packet back to Jahzara. “What took you so long?”

“These are troubled times, Droungarios Blemmydes,” Jahzara replied.

The man blinked, surprised that she knew his name, but smiled a bit. “Aren’t they always?”

Jahzara smiled back. “True.” The gates were open and the party started to trot inside. Four of the Akoimetoi formed an escort around them.

“God go with you, my lady,” Blemmydes said as the last of them filed through and they started to close the gate.

“And with you, Droungarios,” she replied.

Shortly afterwards they entered the main courtyard. All the tourmai were mustered in formation but the soldiers were sitting around, some sprawled on their packs dozing while others played cards under the light of lanterns. Some groups of soldiers off on the side were sparring, one with wooden practice swords, another practicing judo throws, techniques the Romans had picked up from the Japanese. Many of the soldiers looked at them questioningly as they trotted through, their eyes flashing the same question the droungarios had asked.

They obviously haven’t acclaimed Alexandros as Emperor yet. That means this might have a chance of working. But if it didn’t… Odysseus’ hand drifted back towards the kyzikos. He knew there was no way in hell that Andreas would’ve wanted Elizabeth on the throne. Marrying Alexandros was the most certain way of her getting there. That meant…either Alexandros joins us, or he dies.

* * *

A knock sounded on the door to Abalantes’ office. “What is it?!” he shouted. “It had better be important.”

The door opened and Abalantes’ chief of staff, Tourmarch Ioannes Palaiologos, entered. “Lady Jahzara Siderina is here to see you, sir. She says it’s urgent.”

Theodora looked at Alexandros. “Arrest her. She’s the wife of a traitor and a traitor herself.”

“If that’s so, what is she doing here?” Alexandros asked.

“Yes, good question,” Abalantes mused, scratching his chin. “It’s awfully bold for her to come here.” He looked at Palaiologos. “Send her in and get her a chair as well.”

“Yes, sir.” He left to carry out the order.

“You can’t be serious,” Theodora protested.

“I’m quite serious. I’m curious to hear what she has to say.” A moment later the staff officer entered, setting down a chair for Jahzara and holding it for her as she sat down. “Thank you, Ioannes, that’ll be all. We’re not to be disturbed unless it’s a serious emergency.” His eyes darted over to Theodora. “Like the Bremen convoy being full of German troops that are planning a lightning strike on the White Palace or something.”

After Palaiologos left and closed the door, Abalantes looked at Jahzara. “Ah, Lady Jahzara, the one man in this little White Palace cabal.” He paused. “Care for a drink?”

“No thank you, strategos.”

“Well, don’t mind me if I do.” He turned behind him to open up a drink cabinet, poured himself a glass of red wine, and then added a dash of opium to it. “It’s turning into one of those nights.” Alexandros raised an eyebrow, the strategos hadn’t offered refreshments to either Andrea or himself.

“I understand completely. And I prefer White Palace conspiracy to cabal, sounds more sophisticated.” She absentmindedly brushed the top of her left hand, light glinting off a ring there.

Abalantes chuckled. “So what brings you here? I don’t think you have actual deployment orders.”

“You are correct.” She turned to look at Alexandros. “I hear you’re to be married. I came to offer my congratulations.”

“What?!” Theodora sputtered.

“Uh, thank you,” Alexandros replied. This is not what I was expecting.

“And to offer some motherly advice. Namely marrying Elizabeth is a bad idea.”

“By marrying the Empress, he will become Emperor,” Theodora countered. “How is that a bad idea?”

“Oh, there’s no doubt that you’ll be Emperor if you marry Elizabeth. I’m not questioning that.” Theodora blinked in confusion as Jahzara rubbed the back of her hand again and then addressed Alexandros. “But if you do marry her, there’s a decent chance your head ends up on a pike somewhere.”

“I’m not intimidated by threats,” Alexandros snarled.

“That’s not a threat, simply a prediction if you marry her. Because you’re marrying Elizabeth, a German Catholic who’s suspected of both plotting a German-backed coup and/or assassinating Zeno of Volos and quite possibly Andreas III.”

“That’s libel!” Theodora protested. “Those are false accusations meant to sully my lady’s good name. There’s no basis in fact for any of that.”

“I’m not saying I believe any of them. It’s just that with Elizabeth’s actions, the many Saxon gamekeepers, the tragic death of Zeno, the assassination attempt on Andreas in Athens, and the swift death of Andreas III after being attended by Elizabeth’s doctor near her estate, many people, not myself of course, could see the worst in her. This is how rumors get started, after all. And oftentimes it’s not what’s true that counts, it’s what people think is true.”

“And what do you think?” Alexandros asked.

“What I think isn’t important. I’m just the wife of the Eparch, not somebody significant in the grand scheme of things. It’s out east where you need to be asking that question. Maria of Agra and the children of Andreas are headed there, Leo Neokastrites, the Megas Domestikos, and the Megas Logothete are already there. And Iskandar the Younger too. Whoever holds him will be an important player, such a potent anti-Ottoman weapon…”

Abalantes jolted forward suddenly at the mention of the Persian prince. “Iskandar the Younger is a ward of the crown. What are you doing with him?”

“My husband has a rather diverse portfolio. When Andreas III died, I felt that such a weapon, one that must be used at some point, should be put in a safe place, so I convinced my husband to help arrange his relocation to a property out east.”

“So if, hypothetically speaking, your husband were to find himself in a position of greater authority than what he currently possesses, would you continue to convince your husband in plans of action?” Abalantes asked.

Jahzara grinned. “My husband is very open to my counsel.” Abalantes nodded, smiling a bit himself, and leaned back in his chair. Jahzara looked at Alexandros. “It’d be a pity if Iskandar were to fall in someone else’s hands instead of my husband’s. An eastern general might feel compelled to hand him over to Shah Ibrahim to safeguard his rear and that would be quite a pity.”

“So you admit that you would risk destroying a priceless Imperial asset solely to weaken my lord’s position?” Theodora sneered.

Jahzara looked innocent. “Of course not. I’m merely advising him of certain ramifications that may occur if he chooses to wed Elizabeth. Some of them happen to be detrimental to his position, but that is the way the world works.”

“Well, since you’re so full of advice,” Alexandros mused. “Do you have any alternative suggestions?”

“Certainly. Instead of marrying Elizabeth, you can marry my daughter Athena. She’s younger and prettier. And while my husband can be a miserly skinflint except when it comes to books, the dowry will be large and shiny as well.”

“So you admit that your husband is aiming to become Emperor?” Theodora said.

Jahzara glared at her, then looked back at Alexandros. “Very well, since she is being blunt, so will I. You have three choices. You can marry Elizabeth and become Emperor. Or you can proclaim yourself Emperor with your blood claim to Andreas Niketas. In both cases, you’ll likely succeed in taking Constantinople as the Akoimetoi will back you, although in the latter choice it is a blatant power grab on your part. As for whether you can convince the rest of the Empire to back you…” She shrugged. “Or you can marry my daughter. Much less likely to become Emperor that way, but also much less likely to make a mess. The choice is yours.”

* * *

Demetrios Sideros set down the booklet, a collection of Theodoros IV’s notes, took another sip of wine, and started reading again.

Copyright is an important right that encourages production of new ideas, for a man is much more likely to aspire to creation if he knows that he, and not others, will profit from his creation.

He turned the page.

It also means that you who are reading this owe me money.

Demetrios blinked in surprise and closed the booklet, setting it to the side and pulling up the Book of Enoch instead. Perhaps that would be more therapeutic, although the fact that his copy had Greek on one side and Ge’ez on the other made him think of Jahzara and his children. He sighed and took another swig of wine.

The door opened and a person entered the chamber. For once, someone I actually want to see. Eudoxia of Chios, his mistress and head of the Prostitutes’ Guild, sat down next to him, her serving lady setting down a large bag at her feet with a loud clunk. “Got everything?” he asked.

She brushed some of her long blond-turning silver hair away from her eyes. “You said to come prepared. Are you?”

He nodded, pushing an envelope and a small money bag over to her. “Seventy hyperpyra and bank certs worth two thousand for you, just in case. I’ve got more on my person and there’s a monore standing by at the palace docks.”

“Do you think that will be necessary?”

“If Alexandros marches on the palace, the Vigla won’t be able to keep him out and the Teicheiotai aren’t up to fighting without walls between them and the enemy.”

“And your family?”

“If he marches, then either they’re dead…” He took another drink. “In which case there’s no reason for me to stick around. Or they’ve been arrested, in which case their odds of survival are much higher so long as I’m alive and they can be used as leverage against me.” Another drink.

She took the bottle from his hand, sniffing a little. “How much have you had?”

“Not enough.”

“Have this instead.” She leaned over and kissed him on the mouth.

“Hmm, that is pretty nice too.”

She looked away from him and at one of his secretaries who was at the table with the map of Constantinople. “You should stop watching and get back to work, Alexios. You’re late on paying your tab this month.”

Demetrios glanced at her, then at Alexios, and then back at her. “He can afford your establishment? Clearly I’m paying him too much.”

She smirked. “He tries but the girls say he comes up a little short sometimes.” Demetrios suppressed a rather undignified snicker. God, I needed that.

“I’m just doing my part to ensure that my master’s lady friend’s business remains profitable,” Alexios replied with a straight face but slightly reddened ears.

The door opened. “Young man, you are most welcome here!” Demetrios said with a huge grin, waving the new arrival forward. The guard who had escorted him from the gate took up station by the door.

The ‘young man’, who must’ve been thirteen years old with a shock of frilly brown hair and a moon-face, had a green cap on his head with a castle tower in white thread stitched on the center, under it also in white the words ‘White Tower’. He carried a package wrapped in thick padded cloth which he set on the corner of the table in front of Demetrios and then pulled off the cloth, revealing two short but wide wooden boxes. “Two shrimp and salami pizzas, larges.”

Demetrios licked his lips. “Excellent.” The boy handed two receipts to him, one of which he signed and handed back along with the payment. Then he tossed the boy a hyperpyra. “And that’s for you.”

The boy’s eyes widened. That was half a month’s wages for him. “Thank you, sir!”

“You’re welcome. And now get out of here,” he said but with a smile on his face. The boy nodded and left, the guard exiting with him.

“You’re feeling generous today,” Eudoxia mused.

“I’m feeling hungry, that’s what.” He opened the top box, breathing in the aroma. “Oh, that smells good.” The pizza was on top of sheets of paper that were starting to soak in grease. If I have to flee the city, I won’t have time to return the boxes. That bit of guilt aside, he grabbed a piece and started to devour it.

“That does smell good. Are you going to share?” Eudoxia asked.

“That’s why I got two.” He looked at Alexios. His other two chief secretaries Matthaios and Nikolaios were behind him. “The second pizza is yours.”

“Thank you,” Alexios replied, stepping forward. “I’m hungry. But what if Vatatzes or Sarantenos return?” Sarantenos was arranging a chrysobull announcing his accession while Vatatzes was inspecting palace security.

“They’re trying to promote me. I don’t like them. So no pizza for them.”

“I can get behind that,” Nikolaios drawled.

Then another person entered, one of Demetrios’ undersecretaries. “Eparch, all of the charges you ordered are in place.”

“Good, you’re dismissed.” He left.

“Charges?” Eudoxia asked.

Demetrios swallowed his bite and smiled evilly. With the Vigla swarming around the compound now the Empress wouldn't be able to sneak away as easily as her handmaiden. “If I have to leave, Elizabeth will also be leaving…through the ceiling.”

* * *

“Uh, um…” Alexandros droned.

Well, that was dramatic and eloquent and…

Shut up. This is hardly the time.

Theodora interrupted his train of thought, such as it was. “You can’t seriously think that my lord Alexandros would consider passing over the Empress of the Romans to marry the daughter of a court official.” She looked at Abalantes. “Who is also a sorcerer.”

Jahzara stifled a laugh, although he wondered if there was a little fakeness to it. “Now who is throwing around libelous statements? On what basis do you level this charge?”

“Do you deny that he owns and reads the Book of Enoch?”

“No,” Jahzara snarled, her eyes flashing and nostrils flaring. “I bought it for him. It is a canonical book of the Ethiopian church, which as a Copt you should know.”

“Indeed,” Abalantes said, his voice flat, his eyes narrow. “That is an argument that a Catholic would make. Like an Inquisitor.” His right hand clenched into a fist. In 1616 he’d been stationed on Corfu and a Genoese ship had been wrecked and the survivors washed ashore, one of whom had been an Inquisitor. Abalantes had beheaded him personally.

Theodora looked at Alexandros. “Even if you marry Athena for some reason, that wouldn’t avert a war. By primogeniture the successor to Helena II is the German Emperor. Now with his sister on the throne as Empress he will not do anything. But if she were to be overthrown and replaced by a usurper in his eyes, he will move to assert his perceived rights. So you’d be trading the small possibility of a civil war against a Mashhadshar man for a guaranteed war with the German Empire. Hardly seems like a good bargain.”

Jahzara was brushing the back of her hand, the light glinting off her ring, sometimes into his eye, which was starting to get really annoying. He opened his mouth to ask her to stop so he could think when he saw what was on the ring. It was a duck, the bird beloved by him, although no one knew why. He knew the words on his statute, how could he not?

Know this, you who would rule my Empire and people. The day will come when you will have to answer to God for your deeds. And when he is finished then you will have to answer to me.

Cannons crashed in the distance, more ranging shots. He swallowed. “I will not have my epitaph be that I brought civil war and death to the Roman Empire. With your permission, Lady Jahzara, I would like to request your daughter’s hand in marriage.”

Jahzara was diplomatic enough not to smile but there was a glint in her eyes. “I would be honored to have you as a son-in-law.”

Theodora’s open gaping mouth clicked. “And what of the Germans?” she asked.

“Screw the Germans,” Abalantes replied. “The last time they got a hold of the Roman Empire they broke it. And if they do come…”

“Let them,” Alexandros replied. “And we’ll make them die.”

* * *

Demetrios took another bite of pizza; the White Tower had been really liking him over the last fortnight. A fortnight…it seemed like it had been a lot longer than that, since the death of Helena II and all that had followed.

The Empress, upon hearing that Alexandros had agreed to marry Athena, a proposal that Jahzara had not run by him first, had surrendered and put into chambers that had been checked for secret entrances. The Teicheiotai had been placed on standby alert after that and then stood down after the Hisari forts, after two days of inspection, had reported that the Bremen convoy was clean. The annoyed Hansa merchants were now selling their wares in the city.

The door opened and Odysseus entered. Demetrios was still in the Eparch’s apartments, sitting at that table and in that chair from that night; he wouldn’t move into the Imperial chambers until he was crowned and he wanted some things tidied up first. “Are Maria and the children settling in well?”

“Yes, I was there when Vatatzes told me that you wanted to see me.” Demetrios had sent Odysseus after Maria of Agra to bring her and the Imperial bastards back to Constantinople.

“Did she give you any trouble?”

“No, she trusts your assurances that neither she nor the children will be harmed.”

“Did you give your assurance too?” Demetrios asked. Odysseus didn’t answer, but he blushed. With Athena marrying Alexandros Drakos, it was probably time to start planning a suitable marriage for Odysseus. He knew who his son preferred.

“So the Hippodrome and Senate went well?” Odysseus asked, changing the subject.

“Indeed, popular acclamation by both the Senate and people of New Rome. I’d like to build some legitimization that isn’t brazenly ‘screw you, Theodor’.”

Odysseus nodded. “Any word from the east?”

“Yes, a packet arrived just before you did. Autoreianos is on his way back here and the east is on board. David of Georgia is keeping his mouth shut.” David was the one foreign candidate that Demetrios thought had a decent chance of securing significant Roman support; the eastern themes and the tagmata had lots of Georgians. Plus a personal union with Georgia would probably make for much better joint anti-Ottoman efforts, which got a lot of people’s attention.

“So it’s actually happening. You’re going to be Emperor.”

Demetrios nodded. “Apparently. I blame your mother.”

Odysseus smiled. “You should.” Demetrios could guess how she’d talked the Logothetes tou Genikou (Chief Finance Minister) Romanos Xiphilinos, a long-time political ally of the Empress and enemy of Sideros, into retiring. It was a nice estate in Aetolia after all. Demetrios though had been in charge of finding a replacement, Thomas Vatatzes, the cousin of the commander of the Vigla and the former Dioiketes of Nicaea who had helped Demetrios draft his tax reform plan for Andreas III. But he had absolutely no clue how Jahzara had gotten the Patriarch to stand down.

Demetrios stood up. “Now for why I wanted to see you, I have some things for you. It’ll be just a moment; I need to go get them.” He went into his study, grabbed the items, came back out to the table and set them down, gesturing Odysseus to come over. He did.

Demetrios handed his son a small glass box, half the size of his palm, which he opened to reveal a small brown thing. “What is it?” he asked.

“Andreas was born holding a blood clot but he dropped it on my foot during his presentation to the court. Your mother insisted on keeping it. I think he would want you to have it.”

There were tears in Odysseus’ eyes. “Thank you.”

“And now for the big surprise.” He pushed the other box forward. This one was much larger, a meter long, made of finely carved Persian wood. Along the center of its sides where it opened was a golden band four centimeters wide, silver inlaid Arabic calligraphy written on it.

“I’ve wondered what that was,” Odysseus said.

“It helps if you can read Arabic. It says:

Five fingers are we for the Lord of Bones

Five heralds are we for the Lord of Death

Five blades are we for the Lord of Asia.


Odysseus’ eyes widened. “It can’t be…” he whispered.

Demetrios opened the box with a big smile on his face. “It can.” Inside was a sword, which looked much like a sailor’s cutlass but with a wider blade, its hilt decorated by a leaf pattern etched in silver. Along the scabbard was inscribed the same poem. “It’s number 3, the Merv one.” The warlord Timur had undoubtedly had many swords in his lifetime, but by far the most famous were the five, one each from Samarkand, Bukhara, Merv, Balkh, and Herat, forged from the finest Indian steel, shaped by the most skilled Persian swordsmiths of his age.

“How?”

“I did some shopping on the Mashhadshar trip. This was something that belongs to us, so I made it belong to us. And now it’s yours.”

“Thank you, father.” Odysseus gently reached over and picked up the sword, holding the hilt in his hand. Then he pulled it out of the scabbard.

The blade sang.

* * *

Jahzara sat down in her personal quarters in front of her writing desk, the paper, inkstand, quill, sand, and seal already set before her. Normally she dictated letters to a servant, or borrowed one of Demetrios’ underlings but this she wanted to do herself.

She picked up the goose-feather quill but giggled before she dipped it in the ink. Sometimes she still thought she was dreaming. While she’d had ambitions coming to Constantinople twenty six years ago, a way to stick it to her uncle who’d executed her father and banished her, never in her wildest dreams had she imagined that this would be possible.

She dipped the tip in the ink. Now she wasn’t going to do something stupid and end the alliance or anything like that. That would do neither her former home nor her new home any good. But she would give a hundred thousand hyperpyra to see the look on her uncle’s face when he received the news. She began to write.

Dearest Uncle,

* * *

On September 1, the first day of the year according to the Orthodox liturgical calendar, Demetrios Sideros is crowned as Demetrios III, Emperor of the Romans, in the Hagia Sophia. He then crowns his wife Jahzara as Empress. And then Odysseus, with that sword strapped to his side, is proclaimed as Kaisar of Rhomania.


The House of Timur once again commands an empire.
 
We've got our Timurid Rome and it's awesome and somehow believable.

Almost makes up for them not being descended from Kristina Shuisky :(
 
Well, that's awesome. Good to have you back Basileus.

Thank god this will be a straight fight with Germans/others. Civil wars aren't much fun for me. Now let's see how will the tagmata do :)

I hope Leo Kalomeros will start to have a role in this (although he might still be too young for anything major).
 
Damn B444, I got chills reading the update. The callback to Demetrios I Komnenos was a nice touch, I really hope Demetrios III earns a mighty epithet of his own, and isn't merely a transition Emperor like Andreas II. Although having 2 Demetrios 'the Greats' may be confusing.

I'm also really glad that the Empire is united, it'll be very interesting to see which foreign claimants declare for the Germans. I suppose that the Copts and Orthodox will support Demetrios and the Latin's (especially the Spanish) will be keen to knock them down a peg by supporting the impossible German-Rhomania scenario, but it never is as simple as that.

Excuse me while I go re-read.
 
Just to double check, Andrea = Theodora? I was confused by the sudden appearance and disappearance. In saying that, where were Odysseus and Athena during that chat? Were they waiting outside?

That's cute, Theodora thinking the Germans can take Rhomania, really good thing that there is a recently liberated, really grateful buffer state in the way, that plus the Vlachs should be enough to stall any sudden moves while the Empire musters its forces.

The only hitch is if there is a credible Eastern menace.

If I may speculate:
- Egypt may side with the Germans because of Theodora, but they're still weak and rebuilding from the Great Uprising.
- Georgia will probably remain neutral, can't make any moves west with the Ottomans breathing down their necks.
- Sicily is a wildcard, but I suspect they won't appreciate the strengthening of any Latins.
- If the Germans march down the Danube it's the perfect chance for the UK to get some revenge for their previous defeat.
- Poland is probably pro-German, IIRC their Crusader King has a grudge with Constantinople.

Either way it's going to be a clusterfuck of epic proportions, can't wait for the next update!

Also, any chance 'White Tower' sells monems too? Maybe they should consider using ground beef patties.
 
The House of Iron. Man, this is going to epic. Odysseus as the military mind, Demetrios reforming the bureaucracy and economy.

Plus, the heirs of the Lord of Asia sitting on the Throne of Caesars, and unless I'm mistaken the Komnenid Ottomans?

Ignoring the hilarious turnabout, the Lord of Asia out to get his lands back. What sort of reputation do the Sideros HAVE in the Steppe? It'd be poetic to see them rebuild a Steppe coalition to assist them in any wars in the East.
 
Well that ended rather nicely for everyone involved, except Elisabeth.

Sadly, I don't think it will end well for Demetrios Sideros as the Germans are definitely going to intervene in Elisabeth's favor now and that has the makings for a very bloody war. I'm also under the impression that Maria of Agra will probably still rebel with the Eastern Armies to put one of her children on the throne. So either way I still think we will have a civil war, unless I'm completely wrong and she is perfectly fine with her children losing their rightful inheritance.
 
An update that was worth the waiting! I think there will be a major war with the Germans/Latins. But it is good that the empire is united (for now...)
 
You know you have the best mates when you conquer the most important throne in a world in the most difficult situation possible eating take-away pizza in a room with a prostitute.
 

Arrix85

Donor
Extremely satisfying update. Can I assume that Hektor, the uncle of Andreas III has become Despot of Sicily? And what about Demetrios' sister Zoe? she was married to the crown prince of the EAN (no name). How is the relationship between them?

The pieces keep moving and the table has been (rather quietly) set. I'll go get the popcorn.
 
It makes the culinary historian in me cartwheel, with the Greeks having delivery pizza. I feel this would be an herbed-yogurt based sauce, it being shrimp and salami. Silly Neopolitans claiming its invention, they merely invented the Margherita.

I feel like this is going to be the most economically sound polity for a while. Demetrios reminds me of TheoIV, only instead of being an imperial prince, DemoIII came up through the bureaucracy and sees the cogs and belts moving.
 
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