An Age of Miracles Continues: The Empire of Rhomania

I want to see Demetrios and Odysseus embrace their Timurid heritage and wage this war like Timur would. The name Iron should inspire fear again.
 

Attachments

Stellar Update As Usual!

Roman-Arletian-Egyptian-Sicilian-Hospitalier
Did the Hospitallers plan to commit any ground forces, even if a token one?

The White Palace, Constantinople, May 12, 1632:

Demetrios Sideros stared into the fireplace and swallowed the last contents of the bottle, then tossing it into the basket with its fellows. He picked up a new one, popped the cork, and took a drink, swirling the wine through his mouth, around his teeth, over his tongue. Then he spat it into the fire, the liquid hissing and sizzling as it struck the flames. He set the glass down and picked up the three small pieces of paper.

They all had pencil sketches of a male face, each one different. He was no artist like his son, but they were passable likenesses. He held up the first. “Casimir of Poland, noble warrior of God,” he sneered. “May a woman slay you.”

He held up the second. “Theodor of Bavaria, you who would gain the whole world. May you forfeit your mind instead.”

He held up the third. “Ibrahim of Persia, also so-called noble warrior of god. May a wo…no, should be different…hmm…eh…may a pair of women slay you.”

And he tossed the images into the flames.
Nothing for Henri? Or does Demetrios know something we don't? *wink wink*

So it's the worse case scenario for the Romans. Enemies on all sides. Persians and Georgians to the East. Germans, Poles, Lombards and Triunes to the West. No allies save for Scythia. Those are some steep odds, in there was a civil war it would be way worse than the ToT.
I'm wondering if the other allies would be willing to accept modifying the Arletian campaign into a 2 pronged Sicilian Defence/Lombard Invasion with Romans and Egyptians sweeping northwards and the Spanish and Arletians sweeping into the plains.

BTW, how integrated are Georgia's North Caucasia territories? I'd imagine it to be still quite rural although populous and completely dominated by tribals aside from Xacitarxan and Sarai.
 
Now is the time for Ody to lay an imperial smack down on the scrofulous curs invading the the east.

What I am curious about is how this war is going to affect Russia, as well the Far-East and the associated powers. We are already seeing two of the Russias working together, another doing what Russias do, conquer east, and Novgorod solidifying it's control over the Northern trade. Perhaps a shortening of the list of Russias? It feels like the story of Russia is a matryoshka doll. When will they go back into one?

The War never needed to make it's way to Rhomania-in-the-East as there was already a low level pirate war going on between the Rhomans and Triunes. What has the Triunes reputation been in its Far-East dealings? A Rhoman led confederation of small-mid powers could arise if the Triunes were bigger jerks than the Rhomans. This war could really set up the Rhomans F-E holdings to make up the shortfall in its industrial raw materials down the line. Sumatra alone has 50+ billion tons of coal, a large portion is 'clean', surface deposits. The question in the East though is how to get India on your side. They alone would help alleviate the manpower issue by simply hitting Triune and Ottoman holdings in the subcontinent, freeing Rhoman forces to work beyond the ganges delta.

With the western expedition collapsing and two 'losses', that has to mean a fabian strategy in Europe, which in truth helps the Rhomans. It is not nearly as resource intensive as massive field armies, even in their own territory. The landscape favours it, and with how effective the propaganda has been filtering down, a serious resistance could frustrate this would be legitimate liberator, compound. As good as the Allied artillery train is, it's been stated that the attrition is already taking it's toll. How fanatical is Theodor about following this course of action through? How far will his allies follow? With two new players joining the fight, spirits are high. Then there is Demetrios, who I feel is the first real 'modern' leader. The first Churchill for wartime leadership at home. He really does see the bigger picture of what the world is coming to. At first I thought his apathy as a young man was just the usual rich kid, bored existence. But the more that has been revealed, he has always been the smartest person in the room. What has made him dangerous was that intelligence was backed by a wisdom far beyond his years. If he survives this conflict, it will be his work that will maybe not retard Rhoman industrialization, but keep in such an efficient proto-form that it would explain why they will be late arriving to the industrial revolution party.
 
This war could also make Demetrios confident enough to trust his own judgement.

After he listened to his advisors regarding Georgia and that started Persian invasion, he might go with his own plan next time.
 

Neptune

Gone Fishin'
Sorry, but what's the situation in China and India? I've been trying to follow this timeline, but it's hard keeping everything straight.

I vaguely remember something about Timur conquering China, but that's all I got.
 
Sorry, but what's the situation in China and India? I've been trying to follow this timeline, but it's hard keeping everything straight.

I vaguely remember something about Timur conquering China, but that's all I got.
India is currently being unified under the hindu Vijayanagaran Empire, which in recent memory won a smashing victory against the preoccupied Ottomans. It's a hard going process, since India is too ethnically diverse to hold together without an external threat to unite against (ie. Muslims).
China is currently unified under the new Zeng Dynasty (2nd/3rd emperor by now, IIRC). It's still mopping up the remnants of the regional warlords and Mongol invaders that settled in China after the Tieh Dynasty fell.
 
TheCataphract: The Nostradamus bit is there for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it was fun to write. Secondly, I wanted to impart the feel of an age where things like that were taken very seriously. Prophecies were not something to be ignored, every court had an astrologer, with even Isaac Newton participating. I’ll also point out that Demetrios was reading it because Theodor was very interested in it. With that in mind, does it really matter whether or not Nostradamus is full of it, if Theodor thinks it is true?

RogueTraderEnthusiast: In the words of one of my favorite podcasts, Demetrios ‘is not a happy bunny’.

HanEmpire: ITTL the ‘sad face emoji’ comes from that.

Cryostorm: Thanks for the info. I agree that resources are the tricky issue. Good relations with Russia though will go a long ways to fixing those shortfalls though.

InMediasRes: Speculation is always fun. Why do you think I try to constantly create it? (Plus it’s often good for inspiration.)

One of these things I need to have something that is completely straightforward. Nobody will suspect it and it’ll be great…

I figure that Demetrios shoved the marriage through over any clerical objections. Maria does come with complications as you pointed out, but for obvious reasons foreign marriages are looked down upon in Constantinople right now. And marrying a Roman means even more Romans get their fingers in the succession pie, which is definitely not needed.

ImperatorAlexander: Yeah, it’s bad, although I will point out that ‘no civil war’ is a significant improvement regardless of any foreign affairs.

Voyager75: I love pizza and tacos. I don’t like sushi.

Draw your own conclusions. ;)

DracoLazarus: Imagine the conversation.

Ambassador: It’s fish that’s not cooked. It’s a delicacy.

Demetrios: I think what really happened is that one of your cooks back in the past was really lazy. And then everyone for some reason decided to follow him.

JohnSmith: It is a powerful combination. I like the idea of a Roman Empire that, while it’s outnumbered, can out-think and out-spend its enemies (which was the at-least-desired modus operandi for a long time).

Yeah, Alexei would not be happy to see an uber-powerful Ottoman Empire next door. He’ll take the Shah’s money if it helps his cause. Doesn’t mean he wouldn’t make a run at the trans-Aras if he thought he could get away with it.

Evilprodigy: Azeris are considered different, but given their numbers they’re given much less notice than the Turks (which are the big #2 group after the Persians).

Andry2086: Yeah, parts of the next several updates are going to have serious GoT-vibes.

Lascaris: Precisely. It’d be harder to justify the Ottomans staying out then coming in.

Vince: Demetrios isn’t modeled on any GoT character.

JSC: You have the lineup right. And the Ottoman Empire is going to have an interesting few decades (order is mostly set, spacing is still very fuzzy) ahead.

Glad you like it. Thank you.

Soverihn: Yeah, Al-Andalus, like the Wu, fell victim to the ‘I have absolutely no idea what to do with you’ syndrome. So writing wise, it was easier to replace them with something for which I do have ideas (Spain). But the ethnic group has much better chances than OTL. This Spain would probably view the expulsions in much the same way Mehmet II did.

Wolttaire: Mali is gone. West Africa is an area I’m really weak on IOTL, so naturally I’m vague on it ITTL. The Marinids have trans-Sahara holdings but there’s no big empire in the area. Paganism is much more widespread than at this point IOTL.

Evilprodigy: Do you mind telling me where you got the pop figures for Ottoman Egypt and Sicily in 1600? I could always use that kind of data.

I’m on record at multiple points that Egypt is still only around 3 million people. The Time of Troubles and the Great Uprising really did a number on the place, plus only the Copts and Nile Germans are of sufficient size and loyalty to provide lots of troops.

Sicily is in the same way; I’m on record at multiple points that they’re around 3 million as well. Although here I don’t have a good reason for the lower figure. Time of Troubles hurt a lot, but aside from bad corsair raids in the past few decades they haven’t had major issues. Pogroms would’ve hurt some. I’m probably forced to handwave some bad epidemics and leave it at that. Not a good solution admittedly but the best I can come up with.

Anizzah are still an important eastern ally. Ethiopia too can help with the Ottomans, both through harassing them in the Gulf and potentially sending troops to the Levant.

Kaizerfox: The Aztecs proper got pretty much wiped out. David I conquered them but his successor flattened Tenochtitlan after they rebelled early in his reign. Texcoco (because it’s the capital), Tlaxcalla, and the Tarascans are the major native groups in the Empire of Mexico.

Christos: Does that mean I need to rethink my ‘God-Emperor of Mankind’ plot?

Viciosodiego: I do have plans for some more dragons…

Babyrage: A lot of the princes got battered down during the Brothers’ War. And their best forces are all down in Serbia fighting. But that also means they’re conveniently camped next to each other, which will be an important point later on.

Kimo: #MakeSiderosTimuridAgain?

Boa: No ground forces from the Hospitaliers. With the numbers everyone else is throwing around, any contribution they’d make would be insignificant. Naval-wise in the western Mediterranean they could be very hopeful though.

Henri’s not so obviously a threat like the other 3. The only Triune forces attacking Rhomania directly are ships in the east (not new) and an artillery train under Vauban. Admittedly that’s an excellent artillery train but nothing like what Theodor or Casimir or Ibrahim are throwing at him.

Plus I can picture Demetrios going ‘You’re my enemy but I at least respect you as a sneaky bastard. These other guys are just asshole idiots’.

Arles won’t be invading Lombardy because that would only means they’d be exposing their northern borders to a Triune attack. Remember only a tiny fraction of Triune manpower is actually engaged in battle against the Romans.

Georgia’s north-Caucasia territories are still largely rural and tribal, although there are some large towns/small cities along the Don and Volga that are mostly peopled by Georgians. There’s a strong Kalmyk presence that’s a recent addition.

Duke of Nova Scotia: I’m not sure exactly when Russia will get the band back together, but the sundering happened specifically so that a united Russia wouldn’t be a factor at this time. Because a Russia-Rhomania alliance is unstoppable to anybody that isn’t China or Vijayanagar.

Triune reputation in the Far East varies from place to place. The Romans have some locals in their corner (Cham is the big one here) and the Triunes other (Ayutthaya and Aceh are the big ones here). Rhomania has big holdings (Taprobane, some big chunks of Indonesia and the Herakleians) whilst Triunes have Bengal.

I do plan for Indian states to have a role in the war (still fuzzy on some of the details). Vijayanagar’s a wild card because their opinion is pretty much ‘a pox on both your houses’.

Theodor is pretty fixated on Constantinople; it is his destiny after all. Plus there’s the sunk cost fallacy warming up in the corner. Hard to back out of something like this without looking like a complete dipstick.

Stark: Yeah. I’d say some of Demetrios’ biggest weaknesses is lack of confidence in himself and also isn’t very good at asserting himself. I mean, he literally became Emperor despite not wanting anything to do with the job.

Neptune: See HanEmpire’s post for a quick explanation. I plan to do a more detailed look at India and China at some point. At least a bit of a look on India should be coming up in 1632 or 1633, not sure about China.
 
1632: Some Bullets and a Gun
1632: With the Empire now facing a multi-front war, Megas Domestikos Mouzalon returns to Constantinople to help oversee the entire war effort. The command of the Roman army in the west therefore devolves to the Domestikos of the West Michael Laskaris. A veteran of practically every major battle during the Eternal War and the War of Mohacs, there are few officers in the Roman army with his level of experience.

He will need it, as his army is substantially smaller than was expected when it went into winter quarters last autumn. Not only does he not get any of the expected reinforcements, aside from losing the Chaldeans, Akoimetoi, and Georgians, but the Thrakesian tagma, his strongest at 25 tourmai, is also deployed east to face the Ottomans. As a result his main field army musters barely over 60,000 men, to face an appreciably larger army under Blucher.

Still the campaign season starts off well with a Vlach raid across the Danube into occupied Serbia which mauls four separate German detachments, inflicting almost 2000 casualties. But a Polish force then mauls them in turn as they retire back across the Danube.

With Belgrade secured, the great river is Blucher’s focus. Feeding his huge host is exceedingly difficult and riverine transport is by far the best way. So he lumbers forth down the river, aiming for the fortress of Vidin, the first major Roman citadel.

The Romans are still unsure about what exactly happened at Belgrade and credit its capitulation to the skill of the Triune siege train. Letting that rampage along the Danube, with the resulting potential to threaten Constantinople itself, is not an option. So Laskaris marches north to face Blucher’s main force. He leaves some forces behind in Upper Macedonia (OTL FYROM) with Ohrid receiving a respectable garrison, but the rest of the region has only token forces.

As he marches north, Allied troops still stationed in southern Serbia cross the frontier. The ones stationed here are both the hardest to supply and the ones on the bottom of the priority list. Many are fresh conscripts as well. As a result many of the soldiers are literally half-starved, with all the consequences that entails for the unfortunate peasants in their path.


St Andreas, Kephale of Korab, May 2, 1632:

Anna set down the quill to nibble on the piece of bread next to her, part of her breakfast. The dawn light was streaming in from the window now so she doused the candle she’d been using. She was in the main living area in the home Gabriel and she had inherited from their parents, a two-story stone structure, the most substantial building in the village save for the church itself. She took it back up and looked at the piece of paper, frowning.

Simon was one of their tenants and he was behind on rent. She didn’t like doing this; it was hard for her, a young woman, and Gabriel, a seventeen-year-old boy, to overawe their tenants, many of whom were twice or three times their age. But she couldn’t let them escape their obligations. The land belonged to them, well Gabriel really, but in all but name they shared the inheritance. So she wasn’t going to let some hairy man steal what was rightfully theirs. Hence the notice she was currently writing. Father Petros has agreed to deliver it, which would hopefully add enough push to make Simon comply. The village elders might not be so helpful; they weren’t too happy about two younglings owning a fifth of the village’s lands and more of its associated revenues. Now if necessary she could appeal to the magistrate down in Maurovi Anovi, but that would mean paperwork and delays and annoyed neighbors who wouldn’t care for bringing in an outsider. The tax collector was enough, thank you very much.

She frowned, considering her words, wanting to be forceful but not rude, understanding but at the same time not weak.

She wasn’t sure what made her look up suddenly, what sense made the back of her neck tingle. Since she did that before she heard the scream.

“GERMANS! GERMA-” A gun cracked.

She ran to the window, looking out. St Andreas had a main square, with the church in the middle of the east side, her home in the northwest corner. But the square itself was actually in the east end of the village, with the church marking the boundary, the rest of St Andreas spreading westward.

A party of ragged horsemen were charging into the village center, half of them already dismounted. The woman, who she didn’t recognize from this angle, was lying in a pool of her blood, face down in the southeast corner of the square. One of the soldiers, which she assumed was a leader based on his fancier clothes, barked out orders in some barbaric tongue.

By now the village, previously still half-asleep, was awake. She spotted Demetrios, the oldest of the village elders, with a long patriarch beard, shuffle out onto his porch, his cane clacking against the wood. A soldier brained him with the butt of his musket before he made it two steps out, then shoved an ambrolar into his ribs as he fell.

There was a shriek and the soldier charged in, coming out a second later dragging Demetrios’ fifteen-year-old granddaughter Theodora by her long brown hair, with a huge leer on his face.

“STOP! IN THE NAME OF CHRIST JESUS STOP!” Father Petros yelled, emerging from the front door of the church holding a crucifix in his right hand. He looked at the supposed-leader. “You’re supposed to be Christians! Now act like it! You want money, food, we’ll provide it. But leave us be and do not stain your souls.”

The soldiers and leader looked at him for a moment, the officer looked at his men for a second, looked at Petros…then wiped out a kyzikoi and fired it right into the priest’s face. Anna screamed as the men cheered, Petros’s body and shattered face tumbling into the mud. The leader yelled again in his foul tongue, his men cheered even louder, and then spread out, smashing down doors and yelling as Anna heard the cries of her fellow villagers.

Her heart was pounding rapidly as she scrambled to think, but then a shoulder slammed into the front door, a second blow smashing through it. She hurled her inkpot at him and it struck him squarely in the forehead, shattering and spraying him with ink. Swearing, he wiped it away to see her, and charged, screaming. She ran to the back. If she could get to her bow in time…

“Anna!” she heard Gabriel shout, his feet pounding against the stairs as he ran downstairs, brandishing an axe. The foot of the stairs was next to the front door, so the German was now between her and her brother.

“German!” she screamed, not looking back, knowing she had to get to her bow. The Latin yelled and she heard a gunshot and Gabriel cry out just as she grabbed her bow, which thankfully she’d strung this morning in preparation for hunting, and yanked an arrow from the quiver. Spinning around as she notched the arrow, she let fly instinctively, too hurried to aim properly.

The man roared as it grazed his cheek and she reached for another arrow, knowing that he was too close, that there was no time, that this was how she died.

Gabriel hurled the axe at the man, the weapon spinning through the air. The top of the axe-head, not the blade, hit him at the base of his skull, and Anna saw the stunned expression on his ink-stained face as he fell over just as she slammed an arrow into his chest at two-meter range. It snapped as he hit the ground. She yanked out another arrow and shot it into his back as Gabriel, screaming, grabbed the ax and began pounding the back of his head. Simultaneously she pumped shaft after shaft into the German, part of her mind knowing he had to be dead but unable to stop, just as her brother’s blows spread a sick tide of blood and brain and shattered bone.

Finally her quiver ran out and she stopped. “Gabriel, Gabriel!” Finally he stopped pulverizing a skull smashed nearly to powder and looked up at her. He had a burn mark on his right cheek. It looked like he hadn’t been hit, but the bullet had come so close that the heat of its passage scorched him. “We have to get out here, now.” There was screaming and shouting coming from outside.

He nodded. Anna grabbed another quiver of arrows, a pack already filled with her hunting gear, whilst Gab grabbed some coats and stuffed them in a bag with loaves and cheeses she had out, along with some knives.

It sounded like a drunken fracas near the back door, which was near Nikolaos’s house, who had by far the biggest wine collection in the village. Going near there was a bad idea. So they crept out the front door, hoping to skirt the square and then make a break for the woods, closest to the village near the northeast corner of the square.

It was hell outside. Soldiers were chasing hogs and chickens. Some had piles of bread and cheese dumped on the ground and were wolfing them down as if they hadn’t eaten in days. Others were chugging bottles of wine and beer. Dead villagers lay around them.

One of them was Agatha, lying on her back with a bloody gash drowning half of her face. And over her stood her son Ioannes, over two meters tall, as strong and dumb as an ox, as gentle as a lamb, holding presumably his mother’s killer up in the air by his head, which as Anna watched Ioannes crushed with his bare hands.

Another soldier stabbed at him with an ambrolar on a musket and Ioannes bellowed as it struck home, then grabbed his attacker and hurled him against a wall. Anna could hear the German’s shoulder snap as it hit the wall. Muskets boomed and Ioannes staggered backwards, then roared at his attackers and charged.

It was a perfect diversion and the two of them ran. Then they heard a shriek. A soldier had Maria, the beautiful girl with whom Gabriel had been flirting since last St Andreas’s day, by the hair. He shoved her against the outer wall of the church, her clothes torn and arms bruised. He yanked down his trousers…and Anna’s shaft slammed right into what he pulled out. The scream was nearly inhumane and sounded so sweet to her eyes. It lasted until Gabriel’s axe crashed into his face.

He took Maria’s arm. “It’s alright. It’s me.”

“We need to go now,” Anna hissed. Gabriel started to help Maria help. She was trembling.

A German ransacking a house turned, spotted them, and shouted. Drawing his sword he charged. Anna’s arrow, tipped for hunting deer, not piercing armor, bounced off the cuirass. Then a crossbow bolt slammed right into his nose. Anna looked back and saw Zoe, a pack on her back, as she lowered her crossbow. “Thank you,” she said to the older woman.

“You’re welcome. Let’s go.” Then another soldier spotted them and shouted, running towards them. “Shit!” she yelled and started furiously cranking the arbalest. Anna grabbed an arrow, yanking it to her bow, but it all seemed so slow whilst this latest German ran so fast…

What sounded like a cannon boomed by her right ear. The soldier toppled, a good chunk of his right leg blown off, shrieking in agony. She looked past Zoe, just now notching another bolt into place, and there was old Nikolaios, the wizened ex-dekarchos lowering his smoking rifle. “Time to go.”

Despite the shooting and screaming, no other soldiers bothered them as they broke for the woods, the screams of dying villagers sounding by them as they fled beyond the tree-line.

* * *

She hadn’t eaten in a day and a half. None of them had. She, Gabriel, Maria, Zoe, and Nikolaios had joined up with another half dozen villagers who had escaped the abattoir that had been their home, working their way cross-country to Maurovi Anovi, avoiding the dirt road. There’d probably be Germans there.

She’d had some food in her hunting pack, plus Gabriel and Zoe had both swiped some before they fled, but between a dozen people it hadn’t lasted long. And no luck hunting either. The game had cleared out, not that she blamed them.

“Dirt track,” Zoe said. She was functioning as their point, with Nikolaios acting as their leader given his military experience. “It looks like the spur that connects to St Michael.” They’d seen the plumes of smoke that showed a visit from the new neighbors. “Must be further south than we expected.”

“Can’t be helped now,” Nikolaios muttered, leaning against a tree and giving out a rattling breath.

“Now what?” Gabriel asked, shifting the axe that was slung over his shoulder. Maria clung to his arm, where she’d been since they’d fled. As far as Anna knew, she hadn’t said a word.

“I was thinking a fat chicken monem with a slice of cheese sounded good,” Nikolaios replied. They all stared at him blankly for a second.

Then Zoe cracked a smile. “Agreed. But with two slices of cheese with mine. I’ll bring the ale.”

Nikolaios nodded solemnly. “Make it so,” and did a little gesture with his right hand. A moment and then they laughed, a brief spot of humor to lighten the gloom. Even Maria smiled.

“Seriously though,” Nikolaios continued. “We’ll cut across the road and make for David’s Staff. The villagers there could hold off a thousand men, unless they’re caught napping.” He pointedly did not say ‘like we were’. Everyone nodded agreement.

They started crossing the road just as they heard horses whinny down the lane. Zoe cursed as Nikolaios ordered them into the deep ditch that lined the opposite bank from where they’d spotted the road. It was shaded by vegetation so seemed like a good hiding spot. They didn’t have time to find a better, or further away, location.

Just as they disappeared into the ditch, lying down on their bellies, the soldiers came around the corner. There were twelve of them, three mounted on horses, the others on foot, escorting a dozen donkeys loaded down with loot. From one of the donkeys, walking behind it, was a Roman officer, covered in mud and dried blood, his hands tethered to the animal’s kit.

They continued up the track, reaching their position, and then their leader barked out an order and they stopped. The shadow of the donkey tethered to the Roman officer fell over her face and she avoided an urge to whimper. She clutched her bow for comfort although she knew she couldn’t use it without standing and giving away her position.

She looked over at the others, her eyes adjusted to the shady darkness of the ditch, ignoring the water seeping into the front of her shirt. Gabriel’s jaw was set but his knuckles were white and trembling, clutching the axe. Zoe looked grim, holding the arbalest. She could shoot that from here but the noise from her spanning would give them away just as much as Anna standing. Nikolaios’ face meanwhile was calm and composed, the face of an old man ready to die. But not die alone. He could get off one shot with his rifle…and it was pointed right at the head of the German leader. He looked scarcely older than Gabriel.

There were words exchanged between the soldiers but she didn’t understand their barbaric tongue.

“You’re cunts but at least your moms are good in bed!” a voice boomed out from the woods on the other side of the road. She could see the confusion on the German officer’s face…just as arbalest bolts snarled out of the overgrowth heralded by the blast of muskets. Three Germans toppled, two of them mounted, but not the leader. He had a holed hat but immediately began barking out orders, firing his kyzikos at the powder smoke rising. Three Germans, plus one with a bolt in his arm, took cover behind the outraged donkeys and shot fire over the animals’ heads while the rest stormed into the brush.

More bolts and bullets sang out from the wood, one nicking through the rope tying the Roman to the donkey, ripping all but a few strands. He broke those, his hands still bound, and dived into the ditch, nearly landing on Anna. His eyes widened as he saw her but she clamped a hand over his mouth. He nodded and she withdrew it.

Then her ears rang as Nikolaios’ rifle roared, at this range splitting the German officer’s skull like an overripe fruit. Zoe immediately began spanning her crossbow furiously.

A donkey screamed as some projectile ripped into it.

Some German jumped into the ditch, landing on his feet rather than belly like the Roman soldier, except one foot grazed her left arm, making him stagger. She heard him curse…and then scream as the Roman officer head-butted him right in the groin. He toppled over backward and she grimaced in pain as part of his frame landed on her. She scurried out from under him, feeling hot blood spray her back and hearing Gabriel’s roar as he smashed his ax into a part of the German that made a very loud crunch.

She grabbed her bow and quiver. She could see the backs of some of the Germans and she let fly, just as Zoe’s arbalest snapped. To her left Nikolaios was hammering another bullet into his rifle, the ringing cutting cleanly through the sounds of men and beasts dying…

Not for all the gold of Theodoros IV could she tell exactly what happened next, but within a few minutes it was all over, the silence eerie after the noise. The donkeys, tied together, had ran up the road but hadn’t gotten far dragging the corpses of three of them, and soon stopped, hawing at them as if beastly protesting the beastliness of men.

She and Zoe hunkered back down in the ditch. They still had no idea who had ambushed the Germans. The voice rang out again. “Why don’t you come out? I bet your moms are good in bed too.”

“What, why?” Gabriel whispered.

“Not as good as your sister, Manuel, you old cow’s fart!” Nikolaios roared.

“Nikolaios! You old rat’s vomit, you’re still alive! I’d’ve expected that some scullery maid would’ve brained you with a frying pan by now!”

“Not for lack of trying, I’d note!” Anna looked at him quizzically and he mouthed ‘don’t ask’.

“So how about we all come out together?”

“Sounds good to me,” Nikolaios said, nodding at Zoe who looked skeptical. “We’re coming out.”

“So are we. Prepare for manly magnificence!”

“Not likely!” Nikolaios shouted back.

They came out of the ditch and Anna finally got a good look at the Roman officer. Her eyes widened in surprise. “Michael?”

His eyes widened. “Anna?”

They embraced, or she did. His hands were still tied together but Gabriel cut them free a second later and Michael massaged his wrists. “My God, it is a small world,” Anna said.

“Indeed.” Then his face fell. “St Andreas?”

“Burned.” They looked over at the speaker. It was Maria, staring off into the wilderness, and then right at them. “Butchered.” Then she pointed at the blasted German corpses and smiled coldly. “Like these.”

‘Manuel’ came out of the woods. The verb ‘swaggering’ seemed appropriate and he was followed by eleven men.

“He’s a klepht,” Michael said. “Manuel the Dagger.”

“Indeed I am, eikosarchos. I’m quite fond of that nickname, I might add, and even fonder of the woman who coined it. Even livelier in the sheets than Nikolaios’ mom, although not quite as loud.”

Nikolaios rolled his eyes. “Careful. Or I’ll start telling stories about your sister.”

Manuel opened his mouth to reply. “I wouldn’t expect a bandit to be attacking German troops,” Michael said before he could continue.

“Oh, I’m loyal to the Emperor. I just like stuff too. And right now the Germans have the most stuff.” His face darkened. “Plus they killed a lot of my friends too. I object to that, strongly.” Michael stared at him and then nodded respectfully.

“So where are you headed?” Manuel asked a moment later to Nikolaios.

“David’s Staff. No fires in that direction. Figured that would be a good place to hold up.”

Manuel shook his head. “Bad idea. It’s crawling with Germans. The officer there wasn’t a prick. Figured if he didn’t kill the peasants they might feed his men. They’re getting picked clean so won’t look kindly on extra mouths, assuming you even make it.”

“Well, we were heading for Maurovi Anovi,” Gabriel added. “There’s a garrison there.”

“Was a garrison,” Michael replied. “That’s where I got captured. Town’s been overrun.”

Even that blanched Manuel. “Mary, Mother of God.”

“Well, what do we do now then?” Gabriel asked.

“Shoot them.” They looked at the speaker. Maria. She gestured at the corpses and then up at the donkeys. “Get the food, get the weapons, take said weapons and shoot more Germans with them.” She looked at Manuel. “Take their stuff, and then shoot more Germans.”

Manuel smiled. “Lady, I like the way you think.”

“Me too,” Zoe added.

“And me,” Anna said.

Gabriel raised his axe. “Can I hit them instead?”

There was a chuckle and Anna good-naturedly punched him in the shoulder. She looked at Michael. “I got nothing better to do,” he said.

Nikolaios nodded. And so they started gathering weapons.

* * *

“The Germans have been here. All is bleak, in ruin.
Macedon, Hall of Kings, is now a darkened reef.
Macedon, cradled by green branches,
Macedon, where curling waves mirror soft hills,
forests, palaces, and, on certain nights,
dancing choirs of young girls,

All is desert. But no, near a blackened wall
sits a Greek child, a blue-eyed boy,
alone and bending his head in shame.
For safety, for support, he has but a
single wrecked hawthorne bush, forgotten like him in
this forgotten, wasted corner…

…what would you wish for, oh beautiful boy,
what will it take to smile…

…What would you like? Flowers, fruits, marvelous birds?
‘Friend,’ replies the Greek child with the clear blue eyes,
‘I want some bullets and a gun.’”
-Excerpt of “The Child” by Miguel Cervantes, 1632
(IOTL “The Child” by Victor Hugo, in reference to the massacre of Chios by the Turks during the Greek War of Independence)
 
Duke of Nova Scotia: I’m not sure exactly when Russia will get the band back together, but the sundering happened specifically so that a united Russia wouldn’t be a factor at this time. Because a Russia-Rhomania alliance is unstoppable to anybody that isn’t China or Vijayanagar.
They don't need to be allied, sure both are orthodox but you could drive them apart due to other reasons or have them grow into rivals.
 
I love it when Basileus has time on his hands for what an Age of Bountiful Updates we live in. All for a patreon campaign/petition for Basileus to write full time (only if he wants to).
 
Babyrage: A lot of the princes got battered down during the Brothers’ War. And their best forces are all down in Serbia fighting. But that also means they’re conveniently camped next to each other, which will be an important point later on.
Interesting, what are the chances that the German army implodes at the gates of Constantinople? Unable to crack the walls, with their supply line overrun by a Roman counterattack, everything closing in on them.
Heck, how will that not be the case? Seems like the Allies are hugging the Danube, with no serious effort to supply anything south of it. Meanwhile, the entire Roman countryside seems to be going full guerrilla warfare.
 
Thrakesian tagma, his strongest at 25 tourmai
Interesting to note that the tagmata are no longer capped at 10,000 men.

St Andreas, Kephale of Korab, May 2, 1632:

Anna set down the quill to nibble on the piece of bread next to her, part of her breakfast. The dawn light was streaming in from the window now so she doused the candle she’d been using. She was in the main living area in the home Gabriel and she had inherited from their parents, a two-story stone structure, the most substantial building in the village save for the church itself. She took it back up and looked at the piece of paper, frowning.
Basileus is on of the few with the uncanny skill to pull off addressing both the macro and micro aspects of a war. The interactions of the normal citizens from different walks of life really help to bring a personal element into this TL, and is more than a potent combination when unleashed with vivid descriptions of battles and the scenes of the imperial palace. Off I am to join the citizens' guerilla resistance!
 
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