An Age of Miracles Continues: The Empire of Rhomania

1628: All You Need is Love
  • 1628: Spending the winter in the capital, Andreas decides that he wants to make a progress through his western domains just as he has done the eastern. Some have argued that this decision is purely for the sake of getting away from his wife, who is now so loathsome to him that he refuses to even be in the same room as her.

    He does have a strong desire to arrange a divorce. Unfortunately the Patriarch is in the Empress’ corner which doesn’t make anything easier. It is public knowledge that the marriage between the two was consummated so that option is out the window. Ideally the divorce would be arranged on terms that would concur with Catholic tradition too, just to make things a little more palatable for Theodor.

    Nothing comes of it for now due to the intervention of the Megas Logothete, who is mortified by the turn of events. He talks Andreas out of doing anything rash before he returns from his western progress. Autoreianos’ hope is that things can calm down and maybe they’ll make up. (Some historians characterize Autoreianos as out-of-touch for his efforts to salvage the marriage, but Demetrios Sideros does report that in an unguarded moment the Logothete muttered that if he were in charge he’d “lock them up in a room and feed them only bread and water until they did it.”)

    Another argument for the delay is that Patriarch Isidore III is 78 years old and not in the best of health. Extremely popular with the population of Constantinople and many in the European themes for charity initiatives he has spearheaded over his tenure, he would not be the easiest prelate to dislodge. It’s possible he could be bought off but his price would be more church tax exemptions. In the late 1560s Helena I tried to increase church taxes and close exemptions but only had limited success due to the then Patriarch Matthaios II. Andreas is unwilling to roll back the progress made by his great grandmother in that regard and in fact the Eparch’s tax reform plan has pushing that progress forward as a component.

    Therefore it makes sense to Andreas to simply wait the Patriarch out until he dies. Then a more agreeable cleric can be appointed, one who won’t cause difficulties when Andreas divorces Elizabeth and marries Maria. The fact that Andreas now has the aim of marrying Maria and producing legitimate offspring by that marriage also means that any plans Andreas has of making Odysseus his official heir end up on hold, although his cousin is still his constant companion.

    While Andreas is in Chalcedon, Maria of Agra goes into labor and is soon safely delivered of yet another boy, who is known as Nikephoros of Trebizond (presumably where he was conceived). Elizabeth is not in the capital when it happens. She is out overseeing her newest purchase, a massive estate, one of the largest private estates in the whole empire, which stretches along the Black Sea coast south of Mesembria.

    She makes it clear she intends to be spending much of her time there, spending over 70,000 hyperpyra on new construction, furnishings, and hiring gamekeepers, attendants, and servants for the area. Recently she’d had an argument with her husband when she wanted the members of her guard to be replaced by her own appointees. As the Empress she was guarded by units of the Vigla, more commonly known as the Imperial Guard, but their membership was chosen by the Emperor.

    However only units of the Vigla and the Athanatoi (who’d been the original guard but had been transitioned to battlefield use in the War of the Five Emperors) are allowed to be guards on the White Palace premises. The fact that Elizabeth wants Saxons to be her personal guards means an exception is not happening. The compromise worked out is that Elizabeth while at the White Palace is guarded by the Vigla, but has her own choice of guards whilst outside. Hence the attraction of Mesembria, as there she is surrounded solely by men loyal to her.

    Adramyttion, Opsikian Theme, May 19, 1628:

    Odysseus looked down at his work on the canvas, up at his subject matter, and frowned, nibbling at the end of his paintbrush. The ball for the Emperor was being held on one of the local dynatoi’s estates, that of Nikolaios Mangaphas, a distant descendant of the man who’d tried and failed to take the city from Henry of Flanders in 1205. He’d been known as ‘the Fool’ for his repeated and failed attempts to take power, ending his life in a Laskarid dungeon. The family fortunes had rebounded though after Konstantinos Mangaphas served with distinction under Demetrios Komnenos in the War of the Five Emperors, being rewarded with the kernel of this very estate. Over the last two centuries the Mangaphas family had gradually grown that kernel to the point that they were the second-largest landowners in all of the Opsikian theme.

    He was at the end of the dance hall, the doors at the other end open to admit a light sea breeze, showing a splendid view of the Gulf of Adramyttion, the orb of the sun moments from kissing the surface of the sea. The light of the setting sun refracted through the Bari chandeliers suspended from the ceiling, the light bathing the Prokonnesian marble colonnade in a warm orange glow. The geometry of the glass plates was designed so that the light focused on a bronze plaque set above Odysseus’s head. It said “Rewarded for exemplary valor at the Battle of Manzikert, by decree of Emperor Demetrios I and Emperor Manuel III.” It was the prize possession of the House of Mangaphas.

    The setting though wasn’t what was giving him problems. No, that was the people. Maria of Agra was still in Chalcedon looking after her two sons, the plan that she would meet up with them at Smyrna in time for his fifteenth birthday. She’d asked him to make a series of small paintings so that she could see what she had missed. The guests at the Adramyttion ball seemed like a perfect subject, but the multiplicity of costumes was giving him some problems. He nibbled some more at the end of his paintbrush, then made a few brush strokes.

    He looked up again as a new couple entered, the herald announcing them as somebody-and-somebody. He wasn’t paying attention. For some reasons the girls here were unusually fascinating, in their bright-colored outfits that left their calves and forearms bare and in several cases showed cleavage too, a few of them more than a little.

    His eyes followed two of the most attractive girls. He thought they were sisters; they had come in together and were dressed identically in tight dark blue dresses that went down only just past their knees and that showed more of their breasts than most. They had pale skin and raven-dark hair that went down to their waists, the hair shimmering in the sunset glow. They were fairly tall too; Odysseus bet they were half a head taller than him. Considering his short stature though that wasn’t too impressive a feat. Alexios I was short too.

    His eyes kept following them, for some reason his mind imagining them sitting on him, their legs wrapped around his body…He shook his head. Where did that come from? Focus on getting this painting done for Maria. You don’t want to disappoint her. But the thought of Maria then made him think of her dancing for Andreas, her swaying hips, her long dancer legs twirling as she spun…

    Don’t go there.

    He started in his chair, glancing around. Nobody seemed to be talking to him. He noticed that he was breathing heavily. Alright, Odysseus, calm down. Just focus on the painting. He looked up, his eyes locking on one of the sisters. No, focus. He looked at the canvas. Focus.

    He tried to use his brush but it wasn’t in his hands. Where is it? He glanced around, not seeing it, then realizing where it was. He’d bitten it so hard that his teeth were wedged into it. He gave it a yank, pulling it loose, and then got to work on the painting.

    * * *

    Alexandros Drakos stood in the shadow of one of the marble columns, about halfway along the south wall looking out at the finely dressed crowd. Even though he was in dress uniform, with its gold and silver lace and cuffs, and the gleaming new insignia of a droungarios at his collar, he was still one of the drabbest occupants of the room. As an officer in the 2nd Opsikian tourma, which had its tourmatic capital in Adramyttion, he’d been invited. He sipped absentmindedly from his glass of malmsey and then ate the last bit of cheese in his hand. He frowned.

    I want more.

    You’ve had five.

    Just one more.



    Odysseus Sideros was in a corner of the hall, facing towards the entrance. He was hunched over a canvas, frantically working at it as if his life depended on him finishing right this second. Sweat beaded on his forehead, some trickling down his cheek. I wonder what’s going on there.

    The Emperor was on the opposite side of him along the north wall, talking with Nikolaios Mangaphas, Alexandros’ tourmarch Michael Mikrulakes, another tourmarch he didn’t recognize, and the Strategos of the Opsikian, Iason Tornikes. Tornikes was another of Andreas’ new appointees, filling the strategoi with distinguished veteran tourmarches who’d served through the wars of Demetrios II, in this case both against the Marinids and the Idwaits.

    He continued looking across the room, for a moment his eyes looking at one young woman, for a second their gazes locking and then flitting away. That had been the third or fourth time in the last twenty minutes or so. She was a short blond, with frizzy hair that only went down to the base of her neck, rather unusual for a Roman girl. He would guess she was Circassian but wasn’t sure.

    You could go over and talk to her, he thought. And say what? His stomach fluttered a bit at the thought. This is dumb. I’m the bravest of the brave, but can’t muster up the courage to talk to some random girl. Come on, think of something clever…


    You’re the only one who thinks cheese is sexy. So no. Try again.


    No. And unoriginal.


    Am I supposed to be impressed? Because I’m not.

    I could talk to her about fish…she might be interested.

    Well, the conversation will probably end with you being hit by a fish. There’s even some handy pieces on the buffet table. How convenient…

    Shut up.

    * * *

    “That’s really good.” Odysseus jumped in his seat at the voice. He looked up at the speaker. Andreas looked down at him, a half-empty wine goblet in his hands. “Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you.”

    “It’s…, it’s alright,” Odysseus mumbled.

    “Looks like somebody needs to relax. Come on, have a drink.” He handed the goblet to Odysseus.

    “I…I can’t.”

    “Drink. You need it.” When he still hesitated, Andreas continued. “Don’t make me pull rank.”

    Odysseus squinted at his cousin. “You wouldn’t.”

    “Hey, I’m the Emperor. Being a petty despot is part of the job description. Come on, you need a drink.”

    “Alright,” Odysseus muttered, taking a swallow. He put the goblet down, then took another swallow, and then another just for good measure. “Hmmm, that is good. Malmsey?”

    “Yup, Monemvasia’s finest. Come, I’ll get you some more.”

    Odysseus stood up eagerly. “There’s also a pair of Pontic sisters I want you to meet. Apparently they have a thing for artists.”

    Odysseus swallowed. He didn’t want to think about girls, because then he thought about Maria. “So they don’t like you is what you’re saying?” he said after a moment, trying to cover up the awkward flutter in his stomach.

    Andreas mock-scowled at him. “Quiet you. Come on, let’s get you a drink.” They started walking towards the buffet table, people stepping to the side to let them pass. Off to the side were large silver bowls placed in basins filled with ice that were full of wine. Andreas nodded toward Nikephoros Vatatzes and then at the basins; he signaled two of the guardsmen to reposition themselves there.

    “You should show them your Sunrise in the Pontic Alps. That’s your best in my opinion, plus it’s from near where they live,” Andreas said.

    “Eh, it’s not that good.”

    Andreas snorted. “Don’t be modest. You’re terrible at it. No, your landscapes are great. How many have you made, seven?”

    “Eight actually, if you include this one.” He gestured back at his stand and then looked at a man standing near it. If he knocks that over, I will kill him…

    “Well, it’s good practice for Persia and India.”

    “Wait, what? Persia and India.”

    They reached the basins, a servant ladling a glass full for the Emperor. “You heard me. When it’s time for a rematch with the Persians, I’m thinking we should march through the entire country length to length, Alexander style. Just to make it clear not to mess with us.”

    “That’s ambitious. You do need to crush the Persian army first though.”

    “I know that. Do you think I’m an idiot?” Odysseus opened his mouth. “Don’t answer that. But in five years, between us, the Georgians, Egyptians, Ethiopians, and Omani, we can put two hundred thousand men into the field. Considering how close Nineveh was with half that and Iskandar, the Persians won’t stand a chance.”

    “Omani? They went for the treaty?”

    “I got word from Sarantenos this morning. Sixty ships in exchange for Hormuz, Yemen, and the Hedjaz.”

    “That’s Persia but what about India?”

    “He also sent word that the Triunes have taken Sutanuti from the Spanish. Already most of the vassal states have accepted their over-lordship.”

    “Ugh. Just what we need.”

    “Exactly. So I’m thinking that after marching through Persia, a nice seaside break at Thatta, and then a march up to and then down the Ganges to Sutanuti where the Triunes can get some long-overdue throat punching.”

    Odysseus grinned wolfishly. “Sounds like fun.”

    Constantinople, May 24, 1628:

    Demetrios Sideros sneezed as he pushed open the door to his apartments in the White Palace, thinking about which book he should read first. In his bag he had the complete biography of Ioannes Kourkouas, Arrian’s history of the Diadochi and of the Parthians, the history of Carthage by Claudius, and the Complete Lives of Plutarch [1], which he’d just rented from the White Palace library. It was one of the perks of working here in his opinion as the list of those eligible to borrow from the Imperial archives was limited.

    Then he looked up. Shit. Triple, quadruple, mega-epic gigantic flying bananas shit. Jahzara was sitting in her favorite armchair sewing a seam on one of his shirts. Next to her on a couch was Eudoxia of Chios, knitting something. There was a small kaffos table between them, with two matching silver kaffos cups, both empty, atop it. They seemed to have been chatting amiably when he walked in. His wife and mistress on apparent good terms with each other…this could end very very badly. Germans, now would be a very good time to invade. He took a breath. No courtier ran screaming down the hallway raising the alarm. Worth a try.

    “Hello, husband,” Jahzara said, smiling at him. She had some crow’s feet around her eyes and some silver in her long black hair, the latter giving her a more distinguished air to her beauty rather than subtracting it.

    “Hello, wife,” he replied. He nodded at Eudoxia who bowed her head in response but didn’t say anything as she kept at her knitting. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I still have some work to do.” He had some letters that needed drafting, but it was nothing that couldn’t wait till tomorrow. Not that he was going to admit that.

    He headed over to his study, resisting the urge to run, pushing the door closed with his elbow as he entered. This was his inner sanctum. In the middle of the room was his desk, a finely carved work from one of the most illustrious shops in Arles, although the plush reading chair behind it was a product of Nicaea. There was an empty inkstand, a box of quills, a case of paper in the center of the desk and two unlit lamps on each corner closest to him. The ceiling above was a painted map of the world from Lisbon to Lahore.

    The back wall of the room was mostly window, covered at the moment by silk curtains that strained out some of the light of the setting sun, but the rest of the walls save for where room had to be made for the door was covered in bookshelves. These were his personal collection, 1,272 in total, not the ones he’d borrowed from the Palace library. The ones in his bag brought that total up to 459. One stretch of shelf though, at chest height in the far left corner, did not contain books. There instead was a meter-long wooden box, also finely carved but not by an Arletian but by some craftsman from the Zagros. Around the center was a golden band four centimeters wide, with silver inlaid in Arabic calligraphic.

    He set his bag down on the top of the desk and started to pull out materials. Aside from the library books he did have some memorandums from work, including one way too-detailed paper on the activities of the fishmongers of the city.

    He had his back to the door but heard it creak open. Apparently he hadn’t pushed it enough to close it. He didn’t need to look to know that it was Jahzara; Eudoxia had never been here but she wouldn’t have disturbed him in here. Jahzara on the other hand… He continued taking stuff out of his bag and arranging it on his desk, the muscles in his back tensing as he waited to be stabbed. He’d been half-expecting something like this ever since he’d somehow talked himself into taking Eudoxia to that ball, but that didn’t mean he was looking forward to it.

    He heard the rustling of her clothing as she moved, his muscles tensing even more. He felt the touch of her hands as she placed them on his shoulders right on either side of his neck, and then the hard pressure of her thumbs…as she started massaging the muscles next to his spine at the base of his neck. He sighed a little; she was good at this and it did feel really good, although part of him couldn’t help thinking that this was just to soften him up.

    “You’re really tense today,” she observed after about half a minute, moving her hands so that she was applying pressure with all her fingers on either side of his spine. She slowly started to work her way down. “Hard day?”

    “You, you could say that.”

    She didn’t respond, both of them staying in silence for a few minutes. Demetrios had his palms on the desk, hunched over a little, while Jahzara continued the massage. She was getting down to the bottom of his back when she finally spoke again. “She’s a very beautiful woman.”

    He didn’t need to ask who. “Uh, yes, yes she is.” This is how it ends.

    Two seconds. “Good, I’d be offended if she wasn’t.” Wait, what? “Oh, that’s really why you’re so tense.” There was some snicker in her voice. “Don’t worry. I’m not like Elizabeth. You can go do your thing, have your fun. I don’t mind.” She paused, then suddenly reached around him to grab a part of him that had Demetrios standing very still. Tightening her grip a bit, she leaned over and whispered in his ear. “Just remember that at the end of the day, I’m your wife.” She squeezed a bit more, then let go and marched out of the room.

    Demetrios wiped the sweat from his brow with a slightly shaking hand and looked at the books around him. “Should’ve become a monk.”

    * * *

    [1] These didn’t survive to the present IOTL, with a partial exception to Plutarch. The conceit here is that manuscript copies survived to the POD IOTL and managed in this timeline to escape the destruction that befell them in ours.
    1628: From East to West
  • 1628 continued: The last few generations have been extremely hard on the Wu. Repeated outbreaks of disease plus a few natural disasters, killing both people and livestock, have devastated the population, ruined much of the agricultural base, and left the survivors demoralized. A hundred years ago some relief might have come from maritime trade, with the Black Ships involved in both the internal trade within Island Asia and also exporting raw materials from the Wu land.

    That’s not an option anymore. The arrival of the Romans was a serious blow to the mercantile activities of the Black Ships, albeit one that managed to survive in a shrunken state. The arrival of western Europeans, first the Portuguese and now the Triunes, killed what was left. By 1625, it’s doubtful anyone remaining in the Wu lands even knows how to make a Black Ship.

    There are Wu who are skilled artisans, scholars, and shipwrights, but they don’t live in the Great South anymore. By 1625 the Wu lands no longer have a money economy, the gold mines seemingly exhausted, now relying entirely on barter and practically ignored by its richer neighbors. The Wu court, which was looking decidedly threadbare by 1550, has disbanded (dynastic collapse played a role here). Without the court and maritime trade the capital of Xi Wang has collapsed; by 1640 it is a ruin pilfered by nearby villagers in search of building materials. The port of Nan, Wu’s ‘Window of the World’, is simply a ruin.

    The Wu lands are now split up amongst collections of farming and fishing villages, with some small scale ranching and mining thrown in on the side, ruled by councils of village elders. Writing survives the general collapse for a short time but apparently disappears by 1650. Culture is that of peasant villages, not grand courts or sophisticated port cities.

    Those interested in finer things have decamped, although whether this is a cause or effect (or both) of the general collapse of Wu civilization is debated. Romans offer good terms for Wu emigrants, the last major shipload arriving in New Constantinople in 1628. They are smart and industrious, offering valuable service as artisans, sailors, shipwrights, and scribes. Here in Island Asia there is a need for such things; in the old Wu domains the fanciest products are small fishing boats. Many of the Wu end up in Singapura, which by mid-century is typically called Singapore. Although the Roman settlement predates their arrival, it is the Wu who put the place on the map and most of the grand structures in the Old City were built by the emigrants or their immediate descendants, showing that once removed from the poverty of the Great South, their genius and skill has not dissipated.

    The Wu emigrants do not forget their origins, but show little to no interest in those who were left behind. The rest of the world displays a similar indifference. Once the Black Ships ceased to sail, Wu stopped attracting the attention of outsiders. It was off the main shipping lanes and itself produced only bulk items of little value after the decline of the gold mines. Those who stayed behind remember the outside world in oral stories told around the campfire, although those who remained were the ones who interacted the least with the outside world even when the Great South was at its peak. The villages survive, fishing and farming, but as far as the rest of the world is concerned, the Wu are at an end.

    Although providing Rhomania in the East a valuable boost in manpower and technical skill, the Imperial heartland doesn’t notice, distracted by more immediately significant events in Europe and the Mediterranean.

    While Andreas is making his way through Thrakesia, there is a major riot in Tyre. A German sailor had converted to Orthodoxy and was lodging in an inn in the suburbs. The head of the local Templars [1] with a posse kidnapped said sailor, intending to put him on a ship heading back to the HRE to be handed over to the Inquisition. A mob quickly gathered to stop this, then went on a rampage through the German quarter, although only three Germans were killed and no fires started.

    Historians argue over whether anti-German, anti-Catholic, or anti-Templar animus was the main spark. All three are extant in Rhomania. The Templars, although very few in number in Rhomania (a hundred-residing in the various German quarters; more are extant amongst the Nile Germans), are especially distrusted. Dedicated to the cause of the pope, their name also inspires reminiscences of the Crusades. One reason for the extreme antipathy shown towards the Polish King Casimir V (which may have played a key role in the Romans’ willingness to bankroll Russian opposition to him) is that he is often in the company of Templars.

    To be fair, Emperor Theodor is not a particular fan of the Templars either. The graduates of their schools do make useful bureaucrats, but he doesn’t trust anyone who would put the Pope over him in their loyalties. It is unlikely the Roman people know about this; it is less likely that they would care.

    Pope Paul IV of Rome is aware of Theodor’s antipathy to the Templars but he has good reason to overlook it. Theodor’s diplomacy played a large part in the Roman papacy’s latest triumph, the transfer of Scandinavia’s loyalty from Avignon to Rome. The dissatisfaction towards Avignon felt by the Scandinavians is identical to that felt by the Hungarians. Only Arletian and Iberian concerns and individuals gain any consideration and Scandinavian representation in the College of Cardinals has been completely nonexistent since a single representative died in 1562.

    Only Arles, the Bernese League, Spain, Aragon, Mexico, the Kingdom of the Isles, and the Catholics of Sicily (who have been steadily losing ground to the Orthodox) now follow the Avignon See. It is a humiliating reverse.

    Meanwhile in Iberia, a rather unexpected firestorm has broken out. Ever since the Roman defeat at Dellys, Sultan Mouley Ismail has been making rumbling noises in the direction of Al-Andalus, the one portion of the Marinid domain outside his grasp. Nothing substantial has come of it, until now.

    Before the storm breaks though, the Sultan sends an unexpected but welcome gift to Sicily, the corpse of the great corsair al-Izmirli. The Sultan had recently ordered him strangled because of the corsair’s repeated insubordinations, including attacks on Roman shipping, and a few veiled and not-so-veiled threats against the Sultan’s person. If he wants to invade Al-Andalus, having the Roman navy on the attack is something best avoided and those threats really need to be silenced.

    It is fortunate for al-Izmirli that he is long dead before he reaches Sicilian shores. His corpse is torn to pieces by an enraged mob. Considering the amount of suffering he has inflicted on the Christian peoples of the Mediterranean, the Sicilian response is understandable. In the words of a modern historian of the period “There is no way to know how many people he captured and sold into slavery. Estimates vary from fifty to two hundred thousand over the course of his forty-year career, with about one hundred thousand the most common estimate. Considering that, and looking at his miserable and unimpressive end, it is easy to argue that he had it coming.”

    In Cordoba Malik Ibrahim II is worried about the looming Marinid threat. Unsure of his ability to resist an African invasion alone, he opens negotiations with the new King of Spain for a mutual defense pact. Before he can get anywhere, a palace coup led by his son Nasr overthrows and kills him.

    The coup is the action of a pro-Marinid faction in the higher echelons of the Andalusi hierarchy, who fear Spanish domination more than the Marinids. Many of the members are conservative religious officials who resent the prominence of local Catholics and Jews in the Andalusi government and society. Many have sympathy for the austere religiosity of Hayyatist Islam which dominates North Africa and others are impressed that it was the Marinid Sultan who redeemed the Black Stone from infidel captivity.

    King Ferdinand I of Spain is outraged by this and also rather concerned by the pro-Marinid bent of the Andalusi government. If Cordoba sides with Marrakesh, the Marinids have a straight shot at Spain. It could be the Rio Salado all over again. He immediately dispatches men and materials to reinforce the border fortresses and musters the pride of the Spanish fleet, the heavy galleons of Lisbon.

    Nasr is young and inexperienced. The Spanish moves are defensive in nature but he panics, calling on Sultan Ismail for immediate aid. Ismail, immediately noticing a golden opportunity, rushes nine thousand Marinid troops to Cartagena, while mustering a much larger force to follow.

    All of Spain is outraged when this news arrives from the south. The King immediately makes preparations to call up more troops and ships and writes to the Pope in Avignon, in the letter writing that the security of Spain is incompatible with the existence of an independent Al-Andalus. He gets no argument from the Pope, who after Scandinavia’s defection has absolutely no wish to antagonize his most powerful secular supporter.

    Ferdinand can call up an impressive array of men and ships, but money is a different matter. The Pope authorizes the King to tax the Spanish church to fund the war effort, the tax called the cruzada after the old crusading tax on which this grant is modeled. This is vital lubrication for the Spanish war machine. Three weeks after the first Marinid troops land in Iberia, Spain declares war on Al-Andalus.

    The White Palace has been following the situation, and Ferdinand approaches the Roman government to request a loan. Andreas gives his approval and the Imperial Bank floats a loan of a million hyperpyra.

    While the Spanish envoys are in Constantinople arranging the money transfer, news arrives in the city that cheers the hearts of both Romans and Spaniards. Off the Mandrare River delta on the south coast of Madagascar the largest Triune convoy of Indiamen ever sent from the east back to Europe is intercepted by a squadron of eleven Roman and two Egyptian warships.

    The Roman victory is total, with no ships lost (although five lose at least one mast) while capturing three Triune escorts and no less than fourteen Indiamen, fully loaded with the fine wares of East Asia. It is the farthest south a Roman fleet has ever ranged along the coast of Africa. More immediately, the loot is immense. Even the youngest Egyptian midshipman [2] receives 97 hyperpyra [3]. Said Egyptian midshipman is twelve-year-old Leo Kalomeros, born on the docks of Alexandria as Napoleone di Buonaparte.

    [1]: These are not the Templar warrior-monks of old. The order ITTL was disbanded in similar circumstances to OTL. However a new order, designed to counter Orthodox reformer-administrator-bishops such as Ioannes of Avlona (see the reign of Nikephoros IV), was established by the Mainz Papacy to bolster the Catholic Church. Thus the new Order of the Templars is TTL’s version of the Jesuits.

    [2] The Egyptians follow the Roman practice. Prior to becoming recognized naval officers, candidates must pass both school training and have three years of sea service. An officer candidate undergoing his sea service is called a midshipman. School and sea training can be taken in either order but both must be passed. Some midshipmen never pass the sea exam but remain in naval service as ‘old midshipmen’.

    [3] By comparison, a Roman line infantryman’s base pay is 3-4 hyperpyra per month, see ‘Worth of a Hyperpyron’ Interlude.
  • HanEmpire: The fall of Rome to Andreas I is the standard end of the Middle Ages ITTL historiography. But of course historians never agree on anything. Also even if one argues that the Middle Ages ended there, that doesn’t mean medieval elements didn’t continue on.

    ImperatorAlexander: His share has helped, although he’s still a very small fry. But keep a look for him come the early 1630s…

    The comments about how Napoleon IOTL seemed to be inclined towards a naval career was the inspiration for TTL Kalomeros.

    JohnSmith: It’s a theoretical advantage. The Romans have greater manpower resources than the Spanish and greater financial resources over both the Spanish and Triunes (the 3 are the big players; everyone else are medium-rates at best) but they've been deploying a smaller percentage to overseas affairs since the 1580s.

    RogueTraderEnthusiast: The Roman government isn’t completely hands-off but private initiative plays a majority role. To give an example, if the Romans decided to put up a 20-ship fleet, eight of those would be coming from the Katepano with the other 12 coming from Ship Lords with the biggest among them putting up 3 or 4.

    If the Roman government decided to go all-out, it would make a big difference. That is how Taprobane was taken; Nikephoros IV was willing to finance and equip a tagma-sized expedition to do so. The problem is that is super expensive and the Empire doesn’t have the spare cash for that to be a serious option. The Empire’s tax structure would still be very familiar to Theodoros IV and Andreas I while warfare has become more expensive and the Romans now have an uber-Persia with which to deal.

    Duke of Nova Scotia: I’m planning a series of topical updates and the tax reform plus some administrative reforms will be one in that series, probably the first. I miss Theodoros IV too, which is why I have his writings pop up every now and then; it seems a good way to get some of the snark back.

    Your analysis of how to centralize the Roman East is spot-on. The Ship Lords control powerful squadrons of vessels because that has been the only way to guarantee security. The Katepanos are getting more powerful and able to provide some security so at this point a Katepano can overawe any individual Ship Lord, but the group itself still is more powerful.

    Another factor moving in the government’s favor is that beforehand naval power was all that mattered. As Roman territory expands, land power becomes more important and the Katepanos have control over the tourmatic districts so in any scenario where boots are needed on the ground, the government’s strength is too powerful to be questioned. So in Taprobane where the Katepano has 6,000+ soldiers under arms, his word is law, while off the China coast the Ship Lords can do whatever they please (a key factor why Roman-Chinese relations are so bad).

    "Cui bono?"-Cicero
    1629: The Triunes are utterly enraged when they hear what has befallen their India convoy. Now in the waters of India and Island Asia engagements do happen between Romans, Triunes, and Spanish forces as no parties appreciate the presence of the others but an attack this far away from those shores is unprecedented.

    The Triune protestations over the location of the battle, although the Romans recognize some legitimacy (their treaty with the Spanish dictates that while east of Malacca it is an open season, west of ‘the line’ attacks on the other are considered breaches of the peace), are not the real issue.

    The real issue is that the attack hurt. The newly established India Company is absolutely hammered, the price of its shares on the six-year-old London Stock Exchange collapsing from 27 pounds to 8, panicking other investors who sell their other stocks, triggering a general price collapse. Fortunately for the brokers a convoy from the Numenor Company puts into Portsmouth a few days later with a large consignment of Mexican silver, which helps restore some confidence in the market.

    Some of the Numenor investors do quite well out of the crisis. Using the windfall from the convoy, they lap up other stocks at their current low prices, all of them seeing substantial returns in the future. But many who had invested heavily in the India Company have been utterly ruined and are quite resentful of the Romans for their ‘perfidy’. Most are petty bourgeoisie or members of the professional classes, but two substantial members of this group are the Duc d’Anjou and the Earl of Wentworth.

    Meanwhile to the south the Andalusi war is going well for the Spanish. With the cruzada tax and the Roman loan providing vital gold, the tercios are now sweeping down into the Guadalquivir valley, the backbone of Al-Andalus. Despite the actions of the court in Cordoba, many of the locals welcome in the Spanish, many of the nobility negotiating favorable terms for themselves, guaranteeing their property and freedom of worship. The Jews of Al-Andalus in particular cheer on the Spanish offensive, as Lisbon is unlikely to massacre them. The same cannot be said for Marrakesh.

    Now though Marinid troops are flooding into Al-Andalus, the surge pushing the Spanish back. The retreat ends however at Jaen, where after being reinforced by Aragonese and a contingent of Arletians, Ferdinand turns on the Marinid-Andalusi army. Both sides muster between thirty and forty thousand men. The battle of Jaen is hard fought, lasting a day and a half, but on the afternoon of July 16 a furious Spanish artillery bombardment, followed by a heavy cavalry charge, annihilates the Marinid right wing. By sunset, the Marinid-Andalusi army is in panicked flight, Spanish horse cutting them down by the hundreds.

    It is a crushing victory for the Spanish, unparalleled in Iberia since Las Navas de Tolosa, fought on the same day 417 years earlier. And this time the victory is followed up, the Spanish sweeping back down the Guadalquivir, encountering little resistance until the ramparts of Cordoba. The capital of Al-Andalus defies them for a time but the walls are not the best suited to withstanding the elephant guns, the original Roman-designed fifty-pounder siege guns used across Christendom.

    Before the elephants begin the cannonading, Ferdinand is in contact with elements within the city, Mozarabic Christians and Jews who are decidedly unhappy with the Marinid presence. Apparently most of the North African soldiery have a habit of demanding items from the shopkeepers and then beating up said shopkeeper if he or she has the temerity to insist on being paid. They are willing to open the city gates to the Spanish provided Ferdinand will allow them to remain in Cordoba, their property and persons guaranteed, along with specified legal rights.

    Unfortunately for them, the conspiracy is exposed before it can take effect and the Marinids go on a rampage through Cordoba, massacring Jews and Christians. They kill some Andalusi Muslims too since they all look alike, but from the perspective of the Hayyatist [1] school of Islam the Muslim authenticity of the Andalusi is rather suspect. The death toll is debated, but around 2500 is the most common estimate of the slain. Not all of the infidels are killed however. The survivors are suspended in cages outside the city’s ramparts where they can act as cushioning for the masonry against Spanish cannonballs.

    Despite this, a practicable breach is made in the defenses on September 1 and it is stormed the following day after Nasr refuses to surrender. Per the laws of war, Cordoba is given over to sack and ruin, fires burning in some quarters until September 10. Miraculously the Alhambra Palace [Constructed in Cordoba ITTL as opposed to Granada] takes little damage, having been quickly secured by the Royal Bodyguard, and to Ferdinand’s immense delight the great library, the fifth largest in Europe (Constantinople, the Vatican, the Avignon Papal, and Paris are the four bigger-Buda before the Roman sack would’ve been included here), is untouched. By the time the last fires are put out, the King is arranging scholars from across his domain to come and start cataloging the contents.

    Sultan Nasr manages to escape from Cordoba, fleeing to Granada. Many of the garrison are not so lucky. While the Andalusi troops are given the rights of prisoners of war, the Marinid soldiery are handed over to the countryside relations of the Mozarabs and Jews they murdered. The Field of Blood one drives past on the modern Cordoba-Toledo highway is where the 350 Marinid survivors of the storming were torn to pieces.

    The lower Guadalquivir puts up less of a fight. Seville and Cadiz are both dominated by the Emir of Seville, Yusuf ibn Ibrahim, who claims descent from the Wolf King, the ruler of Murcia in the mid-1100s who was a friend to the Christians and a formidable foe to the Almohads. These commercial towns have been hard-hit by Barbary corsairs and so have the least love of any of the Andalusi for the Marinids. On October 1 he meets with King Ferdinand and bends the knee, surrendering his large governance to the Spanish crown. Ferdinand promptly bestows it back on Yusuf, making him the first Muslim governor to serve the Spanish monarchy. With this ceremony, Ferdinand is now in command of the entire Guadalquivir valley.

    Emperor Andreas III is kept well informed of the actions in Spain from the reports of Logothete Sarantenos. After traveling down through western Anatolia, he took ship from Attaleia and stopped in both Rhodes and Crete, before returning to Europe at Monemvasia. Then it is a long traverse through Greece.

    Before leaving Asia he had to deal with one rather unpleasant event. Two months before the Emperor arrived in Attaleia some troops of the Thrakesian tagma were on military exercises near Myra when Nikolaios of Myra, the archimandrite of several large monasteries in the region, turned up and ordered the troops to deal with some brigands that have been pilfering the monastic herds.

    The archimandrite is within his rights to request such an action, although that said such a request would likely be denied. That is a task for the local kentarchiai militia. The problem is that Nikolaios ordered the soldiers to attack the brigands. Now the soldiers did take immediate action, arresting the archimandrite. By law, the only civilian officials that can order soldiers around are the Megas Logothete and the Eparch of Constantinople (in his role of securing the defense of Constantinople), and in their specific districts a Kephale, Prokathemos (lieutenant to the Kephale), or Kastrophylax (commander of provincial militia and fortifications, excluding ‘imperial’ fortresses overseen by the army).

    For anyone else to order regular troops into military action is an act of high treason and the penalty for that is death. The law was written to prevent any dynatoi from getting too ambitious but even so Nikolaios is clearly guilty of breaking that law. Still executing a senior cleric seems an overreaction.

    Andreas disagrees. Per the doctrine of Sub-Legal Absolutism, which has become rather prominent since the Flowering, within the bounds of the law the Emperor’s will is law, but even the Emperor is not above the law (the obvious counter is that the Emperor can write his will into law, but it is still somewhat of a check of Imperial despotism). If the Emperor is not above the law, than an archimandrite is certainly not above it either. Furthermore Imperial control of the army is not to be threatened for even an instant. Andreas personally orders Nikolaios’ execution by long knife; the Patriarch is not amused when he hears the news.

    The islands and Hellas prove to be quieter and less controversial, with one large exception. As the Spanish are cutting down the Marinid army at Jaen, Andreas makes a procession into Athens. From a building adjacent to the Emperor’s path a musket booms out. Nobody ever figures out where the ball ended up, but the Emperor is unharmed.

    The Imperial Guard, immediately storming the building, grabs the would-be assassin before he can make his getaway. The hardest part is preventing the crowd from tearing the man to pieces before he can be questioned. The assassin turns out to be an insane Pomeranian who believes Andreas III is the antichrist and that if he is killed, Armageddon will come. Despite repeated tortures, the man insists he acted alone on his ‘quest from God’.

    Typically Roman law gives some leniency when insanity is involved, but regicide is not one of those areas. The Pomeranian is dragged through the streets of Athens behind a pair of horses, the eyes that aimed the shot gouged out, his tongue ripped out, the right hand that pulled the trigger slow-roasted over a fire, and then the man is tied up, weighed down with stones, and cast into the ocean.

    Two months later, while Andreas is now in Thessaloniki, word arrives that his eldest son, Zeno of Volos, age 7, is dead. While on an excursion to Nicaea, there was some sort of boating accident on Lake Ascanius and he drowned. There’s no evidence of foul play but more than a few whisper that Elizabeth arranged it. Although it is doubtful seeing that it would seriously endanger her position, some claim she arranged the insane Pomeranian as well.

    [1] Dominant in North Africa ITTL, it is similar to OTL Wahhabism.
    1630: Dreams and Promises
  • 1630: Andreas returns to Constantinople before the winter, but then spends much of his time over in Chalcedon. Little of significance happens in the Queen of Cities over the spring and early summer, with the one exception of the festival commemorating the 1300th anniversary of Konstantinos Megas founding Constantinople. It is a lavish affair, with the entire guard tagmata marching down the Mese in a great parade, literally thousands of barrels of free wine, races in the hippodrome (the winner’s cup is 60,000 hyperpyra), and a fireworks display unparalleled in the city’s history since the fall of Venice.

    One person who causes a bit of a stir during the festivities is Athena Siderina, daughter of the Eparch. Now fourteen years old, she is starting to catch the eyes of the menfolk around her, having definitely taken after her mother in looks. During a ball she and some others are speaking with Hektor Likardites, Strategos of the Helladic tagma, when he replies that women should have no say in political matters as they cannot stand up to cold steel. Athena promptly yanks the Strategos’ own dagger from the scabbard and slashes her left arm to show that women can, in fact, face cold steel. [1]

    Meanwhile her father has long since finished his tax reform plan but it had been put on hold until Andreas finished his empire-wide tour. Andreas now orders Xiphilinos to look it over to see if he has any suggestions to make. Xiphilinos stalls, still fuming at this encroachment on his turf. Meanwhile there are many dynatoi making visits to Constantinople to protest against this new tax-level system.

    The dynatoi are not the power they were five hundred years ago. They still possess significant wealth and land, with many retainers in their pay, but their dominance of the officer corps is no more. Many do serve in the army as officers, but there are more officers who come from the mesoi, the middle class. Plus the regular soldiers, recruited from the lower classes, know their pay comes from the Imperial government. Anybody getting in the way of that, particularly some rich twat who doesn’t want to pay taxes, is unlikely to end up well. That said, their protests are still annoying.

    It is common for the Imperial family to not spend the summers in Constantinople. Even with the sewers, the Queen of Cities, which is now approaching 350,000 for the first time in close to a hundred years, can smell rather ripe in the summer. The Sweet Waters of Asia are a common place of retirement.

    Andreas however elects to go hunting in the Haemos (OTL Balkan) Mountains prior to a planned tour of Bulgaria which had been left out of his circuit last year; according to reports the boars are out in force this year. It is a very successful expedition, with bear and boar both falling to the Emperor and Odysseus who accompanies him. One day they both fall from their horses, neither seriously injured, although it is recommended that Odysseus rest up for a few days which he does.

    While he is recuperating, the Imperial hunting party is continuing the sport, with the Emperor taking down an impressively large stag with a single crossbow bolt to the animal’s heart. But on the return to the hunting lodge, the troop is caught in a torrential downpour, everyone soaked to the skin. While annoying it doesn’t seem to be a big deal.

    The next morning the Emperor is running a fever. Historians are unsure what exactly is Andreas’ ailment, but whatever it is it wastes no time. Andreas’ condition deteriorates rapidly, which is not helped by the lack of serious medical attention. Ironically the nearest source of aid is the Empress’ large new estate on the shores of the Black Sea.

    The Empress is not at her estate but is up in Varna overseeing purchases of timber and the arrival of forty hired Saxon gamekeepers, but her personal physician races to her husband’s bedside. He is a native of Ikonion (and thus highly likely to have Turkish ancestors), a graduate of the University of Antioch’s School of Medicine, the most prestigious in the Empire and drawing international students from Paris to Samarkand.

    But even that is not enough. Just before noon on July 4, he breathes his last. His final words are unknown to posterity as just before the end he orders everyone in the room to depart, save Maria of Agra. She is the only one present for the Emperor’s final moments, and the secret of whatever happened then she takes to her grave.

    Andreas III Doukas Laskaris Komnenos Drakos was twenty five years old when he died and had reigned for just over four years.

    Dyulino Pass, Bulgaria, the Afternoon of July 4, 1630:

    Odysseus’ horse skidded to a halt, foam flying from her nostrils. He jumped down from his mount and ran toward the hut, not even thinking of securing his horse. Then he skidded to a halt when his eyes met those of Nikephoros Vatatzes. They were red and moist. Andreas’ bodyguard commander didn’t need to say anything. I’m too late.

    Nikephoros led him into the lodge, a spartan wooden structure, hardly the hall of a great prince. Nikephoros and Odysseus walked down the main hallway, which did not take very long, until they reached the entrance to the west room, the largest in the structure. Two guards were stationed outside the door.

    Odysseus opened his mouth, took a deep breath, and forced the words out. “How long?”

    “Just over an hour.”

    “Is there anyone in there?”

    “Not right now. We saw you coming and thought you might want some time alone.”

    Odysseus nodded jerkily. “Yes, thank you.” Nikephoros nodded towards the guards, they opened the door, and Odysseus stepped inside, the guards closing the door behind him.

    Andreas was lying there in the bed, a rough wooden frame that hardly befitted a great monarch. He looked almost as if he was sleeping…perhaps this is all some misunderstanding…No, he was dead. A bit of deathly pallor was already starting to seep into his cousin’s cheeks.

    “This isn’t fair,” he whispered through clenched teeth, his hands forming into fists. We had plans. Andreas had already starting drawing up plans for war with Persia to avenge Mashhadshar. Odysseus had been teaching the Persian prince Iskandar horsemanship and swordplay just as Andreas had taught him. It would have been a great adventure, possibly the greatest the world have ever seen…

    And now dead. All of it. Dead. He looked at Andreas’s face and then away. No. No more. He turned and walked out of the room, down the hall, resisting the urge to run screaming away from this place. The guards knew enough to leave him alone.

    He stepped out of the building into the compound, taking a deep breath. The cool clear air of the mountains flowed into his lungs. It helped; maybe if he just stood here and breathed, it would be better.

    Then he saw her. Maria was wearing a kaffos-brown tunic and riding pants with a black belt, a bit of silver thread fringing her collar. She was fully-clothed but her outfit was a fairly tight fit. Her eyes were red with smears of eyeshadow down her cheeks.

    Their eyes met as she rounded the corner of the building, the guards discreetly making themselves scarce. “Ody?” she asked. “Are you alright?”

    He opened his mouth. Even with her ruined makeup, she was still so beautiful…Now we can be together.

    He froze. That, THAT, is the first thing you think of! A part of his mind screamed at him. His body isn’t even cold yet and that’s all you can think of!

    He opened his mouth again. No, I don’t want to hear it, you miserable, worthless piece of shit. That’s how you repay him?

    “Ody?” Maria said, her voice full of concern. She’d walked to him, reaching out with her hand, and then lightly touched him.

    It was barely even a touch, more of a caress of his upper arm, but a shock ran through all of his body. He looked at her and their eyes met. Her eyes looked at him, almost like they were looking through him. He looked away, his stomach shriveling. She knows. She can’t, how could she? Could she? Their eyes met again…

    …And he ran. “Ody?!” she shouted after him as he crashed into the underbrush but he didn’t look back. He had to get away from there, from his cousin’s corpse that reproached him for his crime, from her. He had to be somewhere else, anywhere else, it didn’t matter where, so long as it wasn’t there. So he ran, plowing through the forest, he knew and care not how far from camp, heedless of anything in his path.

    Until one low-hanging branch whacked him about the ankles and sent him face-planting on the ground. He picked himself up on his hands and feet, and promptly vomited, the acid flashing up his throat as he disgorged his breakfast, his body dry-heaving for good measure when the contents of his stomach were spent. He flopped onto his back on the ground, cognizant enough to avoid falling on the vomit. His chest heaved violently as he gulped in air. His hands were covered in sweat and his legs trembled.

    “God’s armpit, that does stink!” a voice shouted.

    Odysseus started, then staggered up to walk toward the voice. Just behind a couple of trees a man was sitting on a log. A few meters in front of him another tree, one that looked like it had been blasted by lightning, was lying on the ground. Poking out from underneath it was the remnants of some sort of animal trap.

    The man looked at him. “Next time you do whatever it is you just did, do it downwind. The papal latrines smell better than that.”

    “Sorry,” Odysseus replied, plunking down on the other end of the log from the man. He really needed a rest. He looked at the man, who was now looking at the trap and muttering to himself. The man was clad in a faded green shirt with a brown leather jacket with same color pants, completely devoid of finery. A bow box and quiver full of arrows leaned up against the log next to the man’s feet, while at his feet was a large leather knapsack. Odysseus could see a large skinning knife peeking out the top. The man was bald, with a craggy face partially covered in a cropped white beard. His hands were wrinkled and callous, but the shape of the calluses made Odysseus think that the man had commonly held a sword. Behind the man was a long barbed-head spear with a short crosspiece at the base of the blade. Considering that this was probably still imperial estate, he was a poacher, but right now Odysseus really didn’t care about that.

    He sat there in silence, just watching the man who continued scowling at the tree, muttering to himself for a while until he stopped to pull some dried meat from his bag and gnawed on it furiously. “What’s the problem?” Odysseus asked, eager for something to distract him.

    “There’s this boar that’s been really pissing me off lately, mucking around in my garden. So I’m trying to kill it. But then this stupid tree went and wrecked the trap I spent over a month building.”

    Odysseus nodded. Admittedly he was having a really hard time caring about some stupid trap. But the boar made him thinking of hunting with Andreas, and then returning to the lodge where Maria served them both kaffos and she smiled at him…

    “So what’s your problem?” the man asked.

    “Huh, what?”

    “What’s your problem, the one that caused you to come crashing through like a drunken elephant and then puke your guts out?”

    “I…I don’t want to talk about it,” Odysseus muttered, staring at his feet.

    “It’s a woman.”

    Odysseus snapped his head to scowl at the man. “How did you know?!”

    The man rolled his eyes. “I was your age once. It was always about a woman then. Now it’s just mostly.”

    “I said I don’t want to talk about it.”

    “Fine,” the man shrugged. “But if you go back to puking, give me some warning first. I want to save what’s left of my nose hair.” He went back to eating his dried meat, but much more sedately than before.

    “There was this woman,” Odysseus said, startling himself when he started to speak. “But…” He trailed off.

    “She was married to someone else.” Odysseus’ eyes squinted at the man. “I was your age once.”

    “Yes. She was…married to…someone else.” Sort of.

    “Well, that’s no biggy. Just kill the other guy.” Odysseus stared at him. “Not funny?” Odysseus shook his head no. “Well, I thought it was funny.” He took another bite.

    There was silence for a moment and then Odysseus spoke again. “The…other guy died.” The man raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t have anything to do with it. But the first time I saw her afterwards I…” He paused, unsure if he could continue. I have to say it to someone, otherwise I’m going to explode. And better him than someone who’ll get word back to court. “I thought now we could be together.”

    “Sounds perfectly understandable to me.”

    “There’s more than that to it.”

    The man’s eyes narrowed. “The other guy, he wasn’t some enemy or random person. He was something else, something closer.”

    Odysseus nodded. “He was…” My Emperor? My cousin? That’s what he was by law and relation, but he was more than that. “He was my brother.”

    The man winced. “Ah, now I understand. That is a problem.”

    “Got any suggestions?”

    “A couple.”


    “Back in Patriarch times, it was the custom that if a man died without any heirs, his brother would sleep with his sister-in-law to impregnate her, the resulting son to be considered the son of the original husband, not his brother, so that his line could continue. That’s what the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis is about, although the priests like to forget that story is in there.”

    “And what does that have to do with anything? We don’t follow that custom, thankfully.” Sleeping with Elizabeth…eww. He shuddered.

    The man smirked. “Depends on the sister-in-law. Now did your brother have any dreams, ambitions?”

    “Yes, he did.” We did.

    “And do you still want her?”

    “Yes.” Oh yes, absolutely. I’d give anything for her, just so long as I can look at her without feeling shame for what I’ve done.

    The man was staring at him, the corner of his lip curling up. Odysseus knew he hadn’t said that, but he knew that the man knew he’d thought that.

    “Well then there’s only one thing for it,” the man said.

    “And that is?”

    “Make your brother’s dreams and ambitions become reality. Take your brother’s place. Whatever legacy he wanted to create, you create it.”

    “That’s not going to be easy.”

    “That’s your problem, not mine,” the man said, standing up and gathering his belongings. “But it’s the only way to make up for what you’ve done.”

    Odysseus nodded. “You’re right.” He paused. “Now what are you doing?”

    “Going to plan B. See boar, stab boar.” And with that he walked off into the woods.

    * * *

    Odysseus found his trail rather easily, following it back to the encampment. About halfway there he met up with a pair of guards who were looking for him and they walked silently back, getting there shortly before sunset. Nikephoros looked rather relieved to see him but didn’t say anything about his mad dash. A few minutes later Odysseus found himself once again in the room alone with Andreas’ corpse.

    It had been more fancifully dressed up but looked much the same as he had before Odysseus had thought that thought. He looked into his emperor’s, his cousin’s, his brother’s lifeless eyes. He couldn’t hear him but he still needed to say it out loud. “I swear by God and all his saints, by the Virgin Mary, and…and by the throne of Andreas Niketas I will finish what you’ve started.”

    Odysseus was back in the courtyard as the sun was setting, a gust of wind fluttering his hair as he stepped outside. He sniffed. Was that roasted boar?

    Then he saw her. He swallowed, his stomach fluttering as she approached. “Ody? I didn’t hurt you, did I? You’re not going to run away again, are you?”

    “No, you didn’t, and I won’t.”

    “Good. I’d hate to see anything happen to you. Are you alright?”

    “No, not really. But I think I’m going to be.”

    She smiled at him.

    * * *

    The whole Empire is shocked at the news. This isn’t how things were supposed to be. He was the new young Emperor, named after the Good Emperor himself, destined to bring back that golden age of prosperity and justice, when the mere name of the Romans could terrify foes across Eurasia.

    But not anymore. Now the ruler of the Empire is the empty-headed Empress Helena II. Correction, the ruler of the Empire is whoever can control Helena II; she is not the type to actually rule anything. There are two contenders, her daughter-in-law Empress Elizabeth and her first cousin Eparch Sideros. This makes a lot of the Demetrian faction nervous. The Eparch’s closeness with Andreas III hadn’t been engineered by Demetrios; it had been the product of fortuitous circumstances. The Eparch doesn’t strike many as the type to engineer control over Helena II, Empress Elizabeth on the other hand…

    Helena II herself is completely unaware of all this, both because of her stupidity and because her grief at the loss of her only son has blotted out all else. She has to be prevented from climbing into the coffin with her baby boy. In the unkind but appropriate words of an eminent historian of the period “on August 14 she does the first significant thing she ever did in her life. She died.”

    [1] Eugenie de Montijo, future wife of Napoleon III, did this IOTL.
    Between Eras: A Cultural Interlude

  • "Many things can be said of this era, both good and bad, but one thing is uncontested: they knew how to dream."-Excerpt from Summoning the Ancients: A Brief History of the Historic-Romantic Era

    "That book is far too powerful for you. Only the greatest masters can master the Compendium of Sideros, and you are very far from that yet, Mr. Strange."-Excerpt from Doctor Strange

    Between Eras: A Cultural Interlude

    The first third of the seventeenth century has often been called the beginning of the modern era as many factors taken for granted in modern eras have their origins in this period. At the same time some historians have called it, rather than the late 1400s, the real finale of the Middle Ages as many of the most distasteful elements of the medieval period are on full display.

    By 1633, the New World colonies are already an important part of the European geopolitical and economic landscape. Although many of the smaller islands are still unclaimed by any powers, the plantations already established are changing the European diet with their mass influx of sugar, kaffos, and tobacco in unprecedented quantities. Less appealing, the use of African slaves by the thousands in the cane fields is already beginning to plant the mind virus that black Africans are an inferior breed to Europeans; a pamphlet arguing such as justification for slavery is printed in London in 1629.

    On the northern mainland, Vinland is doing well for itself exporting furs, fish, and timbers but the population is still extremely small with Malmo exerting very little actual authority on the ground. The true success story here are the Triune colonies. By 1630 they extend more than 800 miles along the coast from Isengard [OTL Boston] to Cape Hatteras, with timber, mining, and small-plot farming common in the north and large tobacco plantations in the south.

    The attitude of the Triune colonists, which already number almost 60,000, towards anyone who is not them, is rather poor. Although cooperation with natives is done, the zeitgeist of the colonials show that those times are merely tactical expedients. The end goal is the complete displacement of the natives from any valuable land. Somewhat of a scandal are the number of individuals, often indentured servants, who flee colonial society and ‘go native’. These people, officially classed as ‘race traitors’ in a 1632 Isengard ordinance, are to be killed on sight.

    Slaves are present throughout the colonies, although economics mean that they are concentrated towards the south; that said the use of slaves for hauling timber in the north is becoming common. The number are only a fraction of those in the Caribbean (the number of Caribbean slaves is over a hundred thousand by 1640), but the concept of Africans as ‘inferior beings’ seems to have originated from the southern colonies, possibly in reaction to puritan religious immigrants in the north who disapprove of slavery in general.

    The western colonies are an integral part of the Atlantic economy, itself a subset of a now ‘global’ (provided one ignores the collapse of Wu civilization) economy for the first time in human history. A Toledo watch can be shipped to Vera Cruz and sold for Mexican silver. The watch can then be carted to Acapulco and put on one of the Pyrgos galleons (at this point only one or two a year sail). In Pyrgos the watch can be traded for Chinese porcelain. The porcelain is then shipped down to Surabaya to be traded for pepper. The pepper then is shipped to the marts of Constantinople where a Novgorod merchant exchanges it for the furs he’s carrying. Returning home to sell the pepper, he then uses the money to purchase a share in a ship carrying a cargo of Polish rye. In Antwerp the rye is offloaded and sold, the ship taking on a cargo of North Sea herring that is then delivered to A Coruna, eventually ending up on the dinner table of a certain watchmaker in Toledo.

    One unpleasant effect of the global economy is general price inflation, which is picking up at the end of this period. The likely cause is the influx of Mexican and Japanese silver. Prices have now more than doubled since a century ago, wages rarely keeping pace, with all the attendant social difficulties.

    Rhomania is no more exempt from these pressures than any other early modern state. Bread riots and wage strikes disturb cities and towns; none are significant individually but do illustrate the precariousness of many people’s existence even in one of the richest and most prosperous early modern states. The Roman government does intervene with work programs and charitable endeavors, as well as leaning on the church to contribute as well. That said, given the military’s insatiable demand for money and supplies during the Eternal War, said efforts are hardly adequate. Demetrios Sideros’ argument for heavier church taxation is to ensure these efforts become more substantial and stable. While to their credit, many priests and bishops do contribute to what in modern terms would be called social welfare, many remark that the church as a whole is rather tight-fisted, an observation not limited to the Orthodox Church.

    What catches many historians’ eyes though is the increased exchange of ideas that go along with the exchange of goods. This is helped substantially by the growth of two ‘pan-national’ languages which have come to dominate much of high European society by the end of this period. These languages are Greek and French.

    The prominence of Greek is well established. Knowledge of the Roman tongue is extremely valuable amongst the various Roman vassals and in the rest of the Orthodox world, while in Hungary, Lombardy, and Spain it is still a useful skill. Within that zone it has become the international language since the reign of Andreas Niketas.

    The prominence of French is much more recent. Although militarily the Triple Monarchy has not been very impressive the last couple of generations, culturally it has shined. Opera, developed in Paris, has captivated the hearts of many with opera houses built from Lisbon to Riga. In sculpture, music, and poetry the Triune dominance is near complete. The German lands are by no means bereft of similar accomplishments but these fail to expand beyond the German linguistic zone.

    In science too the Triunes have been proficient. The microscope is invented in Caen at the same time as the Academy of Sciences is established in King’s Harbor. The Academy isn’t a school but a meeting place where scholars can gather and discuss, provided that religion and politics are left off the table.

    The Academy is a microcosm of a pan-European ‘college of letters’. By 1630 scholars from across Europe are discussing various questions amongst themselves in correspondence, the topics varying from botany to physics to political science. If one can master French and Greek, then one can communicate with practically nearly every member of the ‘college’.

    This ‘college’ is not anything even remotely resembling a formal structure, but one unwritten rule is that theology is to be left out of the conversation, with some exceptions such as that shown below. As a result, relations between individuals is much more amicable than might be expected from the political tensions between the great powers, particularly at the end of the period.

    One item of great interest to the ‘college’ is the discovery of the ruins of Pompeii in 1618 with some small excavations already taking place within a decade. Some credit this as the beginning of the modern discipline of archaeology, although the methods are exceedingly primitive and haphazard by modern standards. Still some historians see this discovery, which give the people of the era direct access to the world of antiquity, inspiring them with ages past, as a significant impetus to the character of the ensuing era, the Historic-Romantic.

    Another topic discussed is the idea of international law. Even before this era there has been some progress in this area. By 1600 the execution or even imprisonment of an ambassador would be considered a most heinous crime; the fact that many Asian and African powers, including the Ottoman Empire up until 1550, do not concur is one argument for questioning whether such powers can truly be call civilized.

    In the first third of the 17th century, some moves are made to soften the edges of warfare. Although nothing is codified, customs are arising for the fair treatment of captured officers in war (common soldiers are usually conscripted in their captor’s armies) as well as better treatment for enemy civilians. The Roman sack of Buda was legitimate under the rules of war, and although brutal was not extreme by the standards of the early modern era. However some quarters view the Roman actions there as rather uncouth. The Roman response to such protests is usually a contemptuous sneer and the remark that Latins seem to have no such misgivings when it comes to them sacking Roman towns.

    Although completely uninvolved in anything related to law, international or otherwise, one prominent individual involved in the college is one Abraham Spinoza, a Lotharingian Jew who is often called the father of Biblical criticism. In 1622 he is excommunicated by the Antwerp Jewish community for his writings on the Bible. His crime is treating it as a historical work, with all the source criticism that entails. He argues that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch and that Deuteronomy specifically was a cynical power ploy by the Jerusalem priesthood to enhance their authority [1].

    While the Jews of Antwerp are horrified by his heresy, Spinoza corresponded with several Christians throughout Europe who are more sympathetic to his arguments. One of his most frequent correspondents is Demetrios Sideros who sends him a dispatch of 7,000 hyperpyra after Spinoza’s excommunication for moving to Amsterdam, a small merchant and fishing town in northern Lotharingia. In one letter Demetrios writes “the actions of the deity in the scriptures our faiths share in common are those that, if conducted by a man, would mark the perpetrator as a most cruel and bloodthirsty tyrant; said man, if he were to come under the jurisdiction of the Roman law, would receive the severest sentence possible under that law.” (The Sideros-Spinoza letters, of which there are 14 surviving, 8 by Sideros and 6 by Spinoza, are the basis for many historians’ arguments that Sideros was an atheist.)

    The less-than-reverent attitude toward Holy Scripture is a sign of things to come, but is a distinct outlier in this period. For one feature of the era noted by historians is the significant and often violent uptick in religious fervor.

    There are a couple of possible explanations for this. The social dislocation caused by inflated prices may have people turning to religion for comfort, and the era is filled with outbursts of plague and famine. None of these are comparable to the disasters of the 14th century, but things are worse than they have been especially after the comparatively benign late 16th century. The plague and ensuing famine in Roman Syria in 1626 alone killed a quarter million in the space of six months.

    Also the religious-political landscape has suffered several seismic shocks in the recent past. The Great Uprising and the Eternal War and the Sundering of the Rus scarred the Orthodox Romans, while the sack of Mecca and abduction of the Black Stone was a hammer blow to the Muslims. The conversion of Hungary and Scandinavia alarmed the Avignon Catholics while the horrors visited upon Hungary by Roman arms terrified Rome. Is it any wonder that many feel that apocalypse hangs in the air?

    And in dark times, it is the minorities that suffer. The pogroms in Sicily were a devastating blow to the local Jews and there have been more such attacks throughout much of Europe, some sparked by the infamous blood-libel. Much of the Rhineland, Pomerania, and Bohemia all order their Jews expelled during this period. Although Casimir of Poland does not go that far, his reign does mark a sharp turn from the admirable Polish tradition of (comparative) religious tolerance. A Jew can be publicly flogged for failing to pay proper respect when passing by a Christian.

    As a result, the Jewish population in the area bounded by the Rhine, Alps, Baltic, and the Russian border drops by 70% in this period. Most immigrate to the three regions that between them by the end of the period contain two-thirds of Christendom’s Jewry, Rhomania, Khazaria, and Iberia.

    Rhomania has several large Jewish communities; that of Constantinople numbers about 8,000. These are concentrated around the Aegean basin, although smaller concentrations exist in Sinope, Attaleia, and Tarsus. The Jews are clearly second-class citizens but they face less restrictions compared to Bavaria for example. In Bavaria a Jew cannot ride a horse; in Rhomania a Jew can ride a mare or gelding, just not a stallion. Also unlike in Latin Europe Jews are not at the bottom; even they can look down on Syrian Muslims.

    In addition while the Jews pay heavier taxes, that means the Roman government is even more invested in ensuring the Jews aren’t molested. An attack on Roman Jews can and will end with the instigators on the chopping block. While the Jews know that this isn’t from governmental affection, it is justice they aren’t used to getting from other Christian governments. Finally, there are many economic advantages to residing in Roman society; unlike every other European power, Jews can relocate to the eastern territories. By 1630 there are two thousand Roman Jews in eastern Rhomania, half in Taprobane and the other half split between the three despotates of Island Asia.

    Khazaria doesn’t have the wealth and development of the Roman Empire but King Theodoros highly desires the influx of skilled Jewish artisans. Many of the Bohemian and Polish Jews end up here, concentrating in the few Khazarian towns and particularly in Kazan. A few who have connections with Roman Jewry become quite wealthy by streamlining the exports of fur to the Empire, where the dynatoi and mesoi have a seemingly insatiable demand for fine pelts for coats.

    Iberia is a promising new destination in this period once the war with Al-Andalus begins. Ferdinand doesn’t trust the Andalusi Muslims after Nasr’s coup, but he knows that in the face of Marinids he can count on the steadfast support of the Mozarabic Christians and Andalusi Jews; Hayyatist Islam likes to ignore the parts of the Quran about treating fellow peoples of the Book decently. More Jews means additional manpower for keeping the local Muslims in line.

    Although the opportunities for Jews in Spain are growing under King Ferdinand, he does bar Jews from settling in the overseas territories. Mexico is the one place overseas, aside from eastern Rhomania, where Jews can settle. Although they come in much smaller numbers due to the expense of travel, the Jews of Mexico come for the same reason their brothers go to Khazaria. The Komnenid Emperors value the influx of Jewish manpower and artisanal skills and the native Mexicans don’t have a tradition of anti-Semitism.

    It is not just the Jews that suffer though. This time period is the height of the ‘witch scare’ and tens of thousands of women (and a few men, but less than 10% of the total) are burned to death for witchcraft in this era. The patterns here are different than for the persecution of Jews. Arles sees the most of witch-burning, with a third of all such executions in Europe in this period, but there are no Jews in Arles (the Jews were expelled before the Kingdom was even established and the order was kept on the books). Southern Germany, which sees no new Jewish expulsions in this period (although the odd pogrom here and there), comes up second in the murder of ‘witches’.

    There is also a distinct upsurge in the activities of the Inquisition in both the Avignon and Rome Papacy. Bohmanist groups are spreading in both areas, with surreptitious support from the Triune government. An Anabaptist sect has formed in the upper Rhineland while the supposedly sorcerous Book of Enoch, published by a Venetian printing house in 1615 (after being translated from Ge’ez to Greek by a Roman scholar ten years earlier), is gaining a dismayingly large fan club. Demetrios Sideros owns a copy.

    In modern eyes it is Spain that comes out looking best in this area. In Spain the per capita rate of witch-burning is a tenth of that north of the Pyrenees and the Inquisition is much weaker here. King Ferdinand decrees that the property of convicted heretics is to be split between the crown and the local bishops. The Inquisitors are not to see a penny; they are paid a state salary instead to cover their expenses. This is an effort to reduce corruption. Furthermore all executions have to gain the approval of the local bishop, the regional governor, and the King himself before they are to be considered valid. One Inquisitor who fails to goes through channels and conducts an unauthorized auto-de-fe is hanged as a murderer, the only concession to the church being that the Crown does not sequester the hanged man’s possessions as is its right by law.

    The Romans think even less of Inquisitors since all of them are heretics in the eyes of the Inquisition. They are a common boogeyman in Roman fiction of the period and even to this day but even in many Catholic circles the Inquisition is reviled as corrupt and vicious. In one particularly sickening incident in 1615, the pre-pubescent Catharina Latomia of Lorraine is raped twice by her interrogator, although it is claimed in the Inquisitorial report that Satan was the one who did it [2]. With that in mind, the Roman response to Inquisitors is rather understandable; any Inquisitors on Roman soil are to be killed on sight.

    [1] Deuteronomy, the last book of the Pentateuch, is purportedly delivered by Moses to the Israelites just before his death and the invasion of Canaan. Several hundred years later during the reign of King Josiah of Judah, a law book is discovered in the Temple by priests that has been forgotten for several centuries which is the inspiration for Josiah’s religious reforms. Scholars believe said book was Deuteronomy. One argument is that Deuteronomy demands centralized worship of Yahweh, something which had never been an issue in Israelite history till that point. If said text was Deuteronomy, it was discovered by a Jerusalem priest, the group that would massively benefit from the centralization of worship and the ensuing power, prestige, and wealth, which seems rather…convenient.

    [2] THIS IS OTL! The only change I made was to move the event forward from the OTL date of 1587.
    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.”


    “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.”


    “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.”


    “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.


    “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.
    1630: Long Divided
  • "In 395 the Emperor Theodosius the Great breathed his last and with his last breath so too perished the united Roman Empire which has been split to this day, more than 1200 years later. It has been given to you, my dread Lord, by History herself to make right this ancient wrong. Do not spurn her offer, for she only gives such favors once in a millennia."
    -Silvestro Mazzolini, Court Astrologer to His Imperial Majesty Theodor I
    1630 continued: Although King Theodoros of Khazaria, Prince David of Georgia, and Prince Giyorgis of Ethiopia all have blood claims on the Roman throne, there is no protest in the Orthodox world. Despot Hektor of Sicily, the uncle of Andreas III, who took the Despotic throne without contestation on the death of his nephew, promptly swears loyalty to his new suzerain. Despot Andreas II of Egypt makes a protest over the incarceration of his sister Theodora (she is released and sent to Egypt after a few months) but also swears loyalty.

    From Ibrahim comes an ominous silence, which is rather rude as during times of peace it has been customary for either polity to send congratulations and gifts on the accession of a new monarch. The Persians are not pleased at the new figure on the throne; a scion of that family is not a welcome sight. But with all of the eastern tagmata mustered since the death of Andreas III on the frontier, reinforced by three of the four guard units, there is no concern that he’ll try anything.

    Ibrahim’s reign has not been easy. Although the Turks won promise of position and power from him, they’re not easily satisfied and what is given to them served to alienate the Persians. Meanwhile the Arabs of southern Mesopotamia, left entirely out in the cold, are muttering dark thoughts of their own. Still the Persian Empire is holding together, with some victories scored against the Khazars and Cossacks although Khwarazm remains in Theodoros’ hands.

    Meanwhile Hormuz is full to the brim with Triune shipping, merchantmen loading the wares of Persia and the Orient in exchange for gunpowder and metals. A large naval yard has been constructed, producing fregatai and battle-line ships which are modern and well-armed, although the caliber of the crews are somewhat unimpressive. Neither the Persians nor the Turks have much practice with ocean-going seafaring. The Mesopotamian Arabs are better equipped in that regard so some find an outlet here for their ambitions and energies.

    The concern in Muscat is growing stronger as the forest of masts across the straits grows larger. Unfortunately the Omani fleet is not powerful enough to defy the fortifications protecting the port, even with the promise of a squadron of Ethiopian galleons in support. The Sultan did propose a combined operation with the Romans to Andreas III but he died before making a response. Demetrios III reluctantly declines as he does not wish to spark a war with Ibrahim at this time.

    That is because of the Holy Roman Emperor Theodor I who has been reunited with his sister Elizabeth in Munich. She was expelled from the Empire just after the coronation, all her assets confiscated save her dowry and personal items she brought from Bavaria, her departure from Constantinople marked by a rain of insults from the inhabitants of the city.

    Naturally she is more than a little miffed with Demetrios III and her brother is inclined to agree. By the standards of primogeniture, on the death of Helena II the throne should’ve passed to Theodor as the eldest male descendant of Helena I’s eldest daughter. It certainly wouldn’t have gone to Demetrios Sideros, the eldest male descendant of Helena I’s second daughter. He would’ve been willing to waive his claim if his sister was Empress of the Romans, but this bureaucrat upstart clearly needs to be taught a lesson in inheritance law.

    Despite Roman claims to the contrary, Theodor is not so delusional to think that the Roman populace will flock to his banner. His ambassador in Constantinople keeps him aware of the anti-Latin animus but he assumes that as long as he promises to respect the Orthodox faith and use Roman officials in Roman lands he can bring the peoples of the eastern Empire around. Furthermore the character of Demetrios III, a man ‘ruled by his own wife is incapable of ruling others’ in Theodor’s own words, suggest that he would not be the hardest to topple from the throne.

    But even with all that, invading the Roman Empire is still no easy matter. Hungary’s assistance is absolutely vital as Theodor can’t even reach his target without it. But although King Stephan of Hungary is now twenty-three he wields little more power than when he first became King, sixteen years ago after the might of Hungary and his grandfather were annihilated at Mohacs. Krsto Frankopan, Ban of Croatia, is the real power in the lands of St. Stephan, and a major pillar of his power is his ‘relationship’ with the Holy Roman Emperor. Plus Hungary will get all the lands it lost to Rhomania and Vlachia back if it supports Theodor.

    Casimir of Poland is also interested in an alliance. He has had his eyes set on Vlachia for some time now and there are old legal claims for Polish suzerainty over the lands of Moldavia. They’ve been gathering dust for three hundred years, but that’s a minor detail. Furthermore he is convinced that his attempts to expand further into Russia will be blocked if Rhomania is willing to bankroll opposition to him there (while Constantinople played a small role in the united Russian front presented to Casimir, the King vastly overestimates its importance) so having the Empire in the hands of a friend is enticing. The Polish army is fairly small but it includes crack heavy and light cavalry, arguably the finest in the world, including six thousand winged hussars.

    But those are not enough. Even with Hungary and Poland at his side, Theodor knows that the entire might of Germany will be needed for this task. After the Brothers’ War, the German princes are either too beaten down to resist or in the hands of close allies such as the Archbishop of Cologne. So there won’t be any trouble there, but beyond the Rhine…

    King’s Harbor, Capital of the United Kingdoms, October 28, 1630:

    “Take a seat, Lord Burghley,” Emperor Henri II said, taking a sip of Madeira port. “Have a drink.”

    “Thank you, your majesty,” Howard Stanley, Lord Burghley and Earl of Wentworth, said. He sat at the opposite side of the card table in his sovereign’s drawing room, stilling his fidgeting fingers. It was not often that the reclusive monarch had one-on-one meetings with his new ambassadors.

    “You’ve read over your instructions,” Henri said. It was not a question.

    “Yes, your majesty.”

    “Any questions?”

    “Yes.” A pause. “Why? You can’t want that, of all things, to happen.”

    “You’re wrong. I do want that to happen. And after your losses from the Madagascar convoy I would think you’d want revenge.”

    “I do, but I won’t put my wishes over the needs of the realm. I don’t understand how this proposal helps the kingdoms.”

    Henri smiled, the jowls of his cheeks jiggling a bit. Somehow the gesture did not seem friendly. “I’ll explain it to you then. Theodor will not march unless it is guaranteed that we will not attack him while his back is turned. But a promise not to do so may not be good enough, after all peace treaties are worth their weight in gold. But an active alliance, on the other hand, will be a guarantee. Theodor will march. And one of two things will happen.

    “One, he loses. He is thrown out, having suffered immense losses in manpower, material, money, and prestige. The Romans will be battered as well, and while we may have lost ten thousand, both of them will have lost a hundred thousand men. And in their weakness, we may do what we like.

    “Two, he wins. This is less likely than one, but much more useful for our ends. Even if he takes Constantinople though, he will not be able to advance on Asia. He will be forced to spend immeasurable amounts of manpower, material, and money holding down the European provinces whose peoples will want him gone while on the Asian side the Romans will pull a Nicaea, reform, rearm, and in a generation or two come pouring across the Bosporus screaming for revenge. And while the Germans and Romans are fixated on tearing each other to pieces, we may do what we like.”

    * * *

    “And it came to pass, after the year had expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle (2 Samuel 11:1 KJV)” that Theodor I, Holy Roman Emperor, declares war on the usurper Demetrios Sideros, joined by the United Kingdoms and the Kingdoms of Poland and Hungary. Yet in an unusual twist, he ends the proclamation by quoting a piece of Chinese literature, from the opening line of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

    The Empire, long divided, must unite.
    1631: St Andreas
  • Hello all.

    I've been busy the last few months so haven't much time or intellectual energy to work on this lately. Hopefully I'll get back to a more regular update schedule, but I make no promises. But I do have an update (and yes, it is inspired by recent events; it should be really obvious what events).

    Village of St. Andreas, Kephalate of Korab, April 25, 1631:

    Anna chewed lustily on her thick slice of ham, enjoying the light breeze that swept down from Mount Korab to the west. It cooled her from the sunlight shining down on her.

    The village couldn’t have prayed for better weather for the feast, a celebration of springtime and the patron day of their saint, Saint Andreas of Korab. He was little known outside the foothills of the great mountain, although some said the village was really named after Andreas Niketas. He’d established this village, along with dozens of others throughout the Empire, as parts of land grants for his retiring veterans.

    Although close to the headwaters of the Vardar, St. Andreas was well off the beaten track. The Ohrid-Skopje highway lay well to the southeast. There was a beaten dirt track down to Maurovi Anovi, although woe to the traveler who thought to take a cart that way.

    Still it was a fairly prosperous village, producing forest products and usually a surplus of grain that would send a mule train to sell at the harvest fair in Maurovi Anovi. The proceeds from that paid for whatever goods the village required and in the summer peddlers usually came through every few weeks.

    She looked up around her. The whole village was seated at tables set up in the square in front of the village church, a plain but well-built small stone structure. It’d been a mild winter following a bountiful harvest and there were high hopes for another good year. There were concerns about the gathering storm to the north, but there were advantages to being isolated. The Hungarians had never come close during the beginning of the War of Mohacs.

    There was the sound of glugging next to her and she looked over at the drinker. He finished quaffing his wine and looked at her. “Want a refill?”

    “I’m good, thanks though.”

    He nodded and headed over to the kegs set in the center of the square. They were at one of the best tables, close to where the food and drink was set out. There was a loud thunk as Zoe set up a keg, her thick arms flexing as she man-handled the full container by herself. She was the miller’s wife, ten years older than Anna but she’d run the mill since her husband’s death which helped explain her strength. She also used for hunting a steel arbalest, a family heirloom that she spanned herself.

    Many in the village hunted in the woods and a few still used arbalests rather than muskets, with some others using rifles. Anna was different; she used a composite bow. Her father had paid a professional bowyer to make one specially fitted for her once she’d stopped growing. That’d been eighteen months before both he and her mother died.

    Gabriel sat back down, nearly spilling some of the wine from his very full cup. He gulped down half of it and set it down to take a bite of ham, his eyes darting over to a table to their left. She took the cup from him as he reached for it again. “Easy there, little brother, not too much. Women don’t like it when men throw up on them.”

    His ears reddened and she grinned at him. Gabriel was her only sibling, six years her junior, although the sixteen-year-old with his green eyes, scruffy brown hair, and what could be called the start of a beard (if one were feeling generous) stood half a head taller than her. They shared the same eyes and hair color, although her face looked a bit rounder than his and she’d avoided the double-chin.

    Between the two of them they managed the estates they’d inherited from their parents. Although nothing compared to dynatoi lands for peasants her father had been quite wealthy. A sixth of the village were tenant farmers of theirs, they had large swine herds, and a share in a nearby copper and tin mine. The latter was proving quite profitable at the moment.

    She elbowed him in the ribs. “Go on, do it. It’s the Saint’s Day; she’s obligated to be nice.”

    He blushed even more but squared his shoulders and got up. “Alright, I’ll do it.” He sounded like he was about take a Frank heavy cavalry charge head-on. He headed over.

    There was a snort to her right. She looked over at Michael who was chewing happily on a chicken leg. He was wearing his army officer’s silver-gray tunic, with black threading on the cuffs, neck, and shoulders, a new eikosarchos’ insignia marked on them. Son of the village blacksmith, the village had made a subscription to help fund him through officer school; having friendly officers helped for army contracts, never mind the social prestige. “She’s going to eat him alive,” he chuckled.

    “Not so,” she argued. “I have faith in his charms.” She kept a straight face, mostly. Michael snorted again.

    She looked over at her little brother who was approaching Maria, a year older than him, the carpenter’s daughter, and definitely the prettiest woman in the village. She had long wavy blond hair which hung loose, unlike Anna’s shorter brown that was bound up in a ponytail, and a figure that made men dumber than usual.

    She looked back at Michael. “When do you need to head out?” she asked.

    “Planning on day after tomorrow. Need tomorrow to recover from today. The Macedonian tagma is mustering at Skopje but I’m still on leave for another week.”

    She nodded. “Latin bastards,” she whispered. “When will they piss off and leave us alone?”

    “When we’ve killed enough of them to get through even their thick skulls that they’re not wanted here.”

    “Just don’t get killed yourself.”

    “Well, as Andreas Niketas once said, the job of a soldier is not to die for their sovereign, but make the other guy die for his.”

    She didn’t respond, the two of them eating in silence, although she did note that Maria hadn’t sent Gabriel packing.

    At the closest end of the table next to them Agatha, a plump woman in her early 50s, approached Father Petros, their village priest, with a covered basket in her hands. “Bless me father, for I have sinned.”

    He looked at her, his large girth wobbling as he shifted. “Really? Must be Tuesday.” He smiled at her and she mock-scowled back at him. “What is it now, my child?”

    She set the basket down in front of him and removed the covering. “I put too much chocolate on these pastries.”

    His eyes widened in delight as he saw the dozen pastries, positively dripping in chocolate. “You have indeed sinned greatly, for it is blasphemy to suggest that there is such a thing as too much chocolate. You see, in Genesis when God said ‘it’ was good, in the original Hebrew he was referring specifically to chocolate. When the Holy Fathers translated the text into Greek though, this nuance was lost through their ignorance of chocolate.” Anna had heard this ‘story’ a few times before but was still amazed how the Father could keep a straight face while saying it.

    Agatha smiled at him. “Now who’s committing blasphemy?”

    “Me, never. I am a man of God. I speak only truth. And you wouldn’t even dare suggest such a thing if you’d heard of my latest plan.”

    “What’s that?”

    “Chocolate covered bacon. I intend to make some and take it personally to the Emperor. He will reward me magnificently for my nearly-divine achievement, and I shall be promoted to a see with a godlier, goodly, respectful congregation.”

    “Not to mention more boring.”

    He slumped. “That is the one flaw.”

    “You’d miss us and you know it.”

    “I’d miss little Zoe here.” The little girl had been looking plaintively at the priest ever since Agatha had unveiled the pastries and he handed her one. She beamed at him and he patted her gently on the head. He looked back up at Agatha. “You, not so much.”

    “Hmmph, a priest lying.” Her eyes twinkled. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

    He grinned. “I’m not.” His eyes darted over to little Zoe who was sharing half with her little brother.

    “Is something wrong, Father?” Agatha asked, putting a hand on his shoulder.

    “I have an announcement to make. It’s not something I look forward to, and I don’t wish to spoil the mood, but I should go ahead and get it over it. It has to do with the courier.” There’d been a courier that morning, with a very official, as in from-the-capital official, missive for the Father.

    He stood up. “My children!” He said. “Could I have your attention please?!” Conversations quieted as his words cut through the noise. “You too, Gabriel!” Anna looked over at her brother who was sitting next to Maria. “Maria, will you smack him for me?” She did with a playful smile. “Thank you.” There was some laughter through the crowd and Gabriel’s ears reddened.

    “Ah, young people,” Petros said. He was a similar age to Agatha, with his once-black beard now mostly a smooth silver-gray similar in hue to Michael’s tunic. “Annoying disrespectful brats they may be, but they’re nice to have around, at least when you have something heavy you need moved.”

    He paused, his smile fading. “Which is why I’m interrupting the feast in the name of our Saint. You all know that the German Emperor has made a fatuous claim to the throne of the Caesars and is even now marshalling armies against the Romans. What you do not know, is that Jacques Almain, chief secretary of Cardinal Cajetan of the Papal Curia, proposed to his master what should be done once the German Emperor has claimed his so-called right.”

    He pulled the missive from one of his pockets. “It is proposed that a child be taken from each Orthodox family, to be sent to be raised by a Latin family that will instruct them in what they claim is the true faith.” [1] There was an angry murmur in the crowd. “They would take our children. That is the threat we face. One would hope that men, ordered to tear children from their mother’s arms, would instead look to the state of their soul and the cause they support, and conclude that such an order is evil as are those who would order such. But then that is what the Pope has Inquisitors for, and he is an Inquisitor himself.

    “Now I quote here the words of the Emperor himself. ‘It must be pointed out that this is not official policy of the Catholic Church, only a proposal by a fairly junior member of the hierarchy. Furthermore, the logistical feasibility of such a proposal makes any effort questionable, unless the church was not concerned with many of the children dying of lack of victuals, neglect, and mistreatment.”

    Anna nodded. The words were true, and at the same time clearly not designed to improve their mood. She had no children of her own, as she was still unmarried, but if some Inquisitor were to take Gabriel away, with a good chance of him starving on the way… Her fists clenched up and Michael placed a soothing hand on her shoulder.

    “Whether or not the Papacy would do such a thing we do not know, yet,” Father Petros continued. “But to merely consider such a thing is damning. The Emperor would have you know this, that this is the sort of thing the Latin would do to us were he to have us in his power. The Fourth Crusade may be four centuries past, but that spirit is still strong in the west. We must not forget that, we cannot forget. For the consequences are far too dire.”

    He stopped; the square was silent. “I propose a toast,” he said, taking his wine glass. He lifted it up. “To our children, may they have long and undisturbed happy lives in peace, the glory of their parents in their old age. To our soldiers-” He nodded in Michael’s direction. “-and to the Emperor who protect us. And finally…death to the Latin dogs who would propose such crimes!”

    Anna lifted her cup and with the rest of the village shouted “Death to the Latins!”

    [1] This is from OTL. In the early 1300s the theologian William Adam suggested that a child be taken from each Greek family and sent to Western Europe to be raised as Catholics. See “Byzantium and the Crusades, 1261-1354”, pg. 52, by Deno Geanokoplos in The History of the Crusades, Vol 3, ed. Kenneth Sutton.
    1631: The Hosts Gather
  • 1631: It is a common Roman tradition to disparage the war-making capabilities of the Latins. While there is no question of Latin courage, there is usually the sense in Roman accounts that Latins have applied very little in the way of brains when it comes to warfare. As one of the more eloquent versions of this puts it, “they are fervent devotees of Ares, yet know nothing of the worship of Athena”.

    That is unfair, particularly in the case of the army Holy Roman Emperor Theodor I assembles to assert his inheritance rights for the throne of Rhomania. The Brothers’ War saw a significant improvement in German military administration. Bavaria, Austria, Saxony, Brandenburg, and Schleswig-Holstein all are divided into cantonal districts which provide the manpower for local military units, as are the smaller Imperial territories scattered throughout the Holy Roman Empire, although some of the smaller units are amalgamated to support suitably large formations. On paper, the cantons can field an army of 100,000 infantry and 20,000 cavalry, and this is disregarding all the other forces the various other German states field.

    Of course, paper strength and real strength often are far removed from each other so the actual numbers available to Theodor are far less. On the other hand, the same applies to the tagmata rolls at Demetrios III’s disposal. So Theodor is one of the few sovereigns in the world that has access to a pool of soldiery large enough to pose a threat to the Roman tagmata.

    It is also a well-lead pool of soldiery with many officers bloodied in the Brothers’ War and against the Triunes. Field Marshal Blucher is the supreme commander of the Imperial army and his chief lieutenants include Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz (Commander of the Imperial Horse), August von Mackensen (Commander of the Imperial Foot-born a commoner but ennobled for bravery during the Brothers’ War), Joseph Radetzky von Radetz (Chief of Staff-one of many Bohemian officers in the Imperial army), and Albrecht von Wallenstein (Quartermaster General-another Bohemian).

    German foot soldiers are well-known throughout Europe for their hardiness and bravery but cavalry and artillery are weaker points in the armies Theodor commands. Fortunately for him his allies help to cover that shortcoming, with both Hungary and especially Poland providing thousands of superb cavalry. Meanwhile the Triple Monarchy, per its alliance, sends Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban who spends the winter and spring overseeing the construction and organization of a powerful artillery train. When he is finished he is joined by Triune gun crews and a small infantry escort. There are some ugly incidents when some Triune soldiery get frisky with the local womenfolk; no one is quite sure where all of the offenders’ body parts ended up.

    Paying for all this is a greater challenge though as the Holy Roman Empire doesn’t have the financial and especially banking institutions that either the Roman Empire or Triple Monarchy possess, both of whom can borrow with lower interest than Munich. In fact if it weren’t for the great victory over the Triunes at Antwerp in 1615 and the staggering windfall in plunder both there and in ‘contributions’ from northeast France, the Imperial government would’ve been forced to declare bankruptcy at the onset of the Rhine War. The massive reparation wrung out in treaty in 1619 had similarly been essential to averting that outcome.

    Part of the Triune commitment besides Vauban and cannons is a subsidy, while more money comes from the Triune purchase of trading privileges in the various outposts German merchants have established in the east. None of them compare in size or number to those wrested by the Triunes themselves, but it is a useful supplement to the Triune trading network. To the impotent fury of the Hansa, one of the conditions for the alliance is that German merchants are barred from Triune posts. Also Theodor, acting as Roman Emperor, formally cedes all of ‘Rhomania in the East’ to the Triunes, and allows them to bar all of his subjects, both present and future, from those territories. Obviously the Triunes still have to take them by force; the Katepano of New Constantinople remarks that the only reason he doesn’t use said notice from his ‘legitimate sovereign’ to wipe his ass is that ‘the texture is inappropriate’.

    But that is nowhere near enough. For more revenue Theodor is forced to turn to Pope Paul IV who is receptive to the proposal. The successes of the Roman Catholic Church in the past few years with the ‘return’ of Hungary and Scandinavia to the fold, the first significant changes to the Papal Schism since its inception over 250 years ago, have him feeling rather ambitious. Emperor Theodor is not the only one dreaming great dreams of unification. Perhaps the schism in the Catholic Church can be undone, and perhaps even the Great Schism as well. Christendom, long divided, must unite. So he opens the papal coffers.

    Subsides from the taxes on the clergy are an incredibly welcome boon to Theodor’s war chest, eventually contributing over a quarter of his war financing. But while Theodor is openly proclaiming his respect for the Orthodox faith of the Romans Demetrios III immediately latches onto the tax which is identical in form although not in name to that issued by the Avignon Papacy in support of the Spanish war effort, the cruzada. Crusade. And would the Pope in Rome really be supplying so much money if Theodor’s claims were genuine? More than a few are doubtful.

    Shortly after comes the report from an Office of Barbarians agent ensconced in Rome of the proposal to abduct Roman children for Catholic education. Historians today agree that the Papacy had no intention of even attempting such an effort but Demetrios III uses it for all its propaganda worth, sending word of it to every village from Dyrrachium to Manzikert. Theodor himself when he hears of it is cross with the secretary who proposed it. While he issues a statement to his ‘subjects’ that he has absolutely “no intention of breaking the God-ordained bonds of family” his criticism of the Papacy is muted at best. He can’t afford to endanger the flow of papal subsidies. Demetrios III muses loudly that even if Theodor were earnest, will he be able to deny the Pope when he demands his price?

    Rather than trading barbs with Demetrios III, Theodor makes overtures to Serbia. King Stephan VII, now an old man in failing health, is still on the throne, the throne and his kingdom garnered through the support of Emperor Demetrios II from the Hungarians who now march at Theodor’s side. Buda’s support is vital for Theodor’s effort and he’s undoubtedly made promises, almost certainly at Serbia’s expense, making any German promises to Stephan automatically suspect in his eyes. From his capital of Raska, a thriving city of 12000 souls, his response is a declaration of war on the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary, and the signing of a military alliance with Constantinople.

    Vlachia too rallies to the Romans, although that is not surprising. Casimir’s ambitions to the region are no secret and his alliance with Theodor is an open threat to Targoviste. Theodor on the throne of Rhomania would be nothing less than a catastrophe for the Vlachs, potentially reducing them back to the dark days before Dragos I when they lived under the Magyar yoke.

    Although there is a prosperous export business of leather, dairy products, mutton, and grain to Constantinople, plus mines in the Carpathians, Vlachia still is a poor and lightly populated country with just over 1.25 million people, its largest town the capital of Targoviste, all of 9000. So military strength it can apply directly is rather limited, but Vlach recruits into the Roman ranks are always welcome.

    Vlachia has long and exposed frontiers with Poland and especially Hungary and the Magyars are eager to retake what was lost at Mohacs. But while the frontier is breached repeatedly by raids from both sides, serious strength is not committed here. The center of gravity is not here. The decisions of consequences will not be made here. That honor goes to Rhomania.

    Serbia and Vlachia cleaving to the Romans is to be expected but both sides are busy wooing other parties. Recruits from Pronsk and Lithuania make their way south to muster in the Roman ranks. Although the line and guard tagmata are at as full strength as they ever are, garrisons need to be expanded and the sleeping tourmai, the deactivated field units that have only a small support staff active in peacetime, need to be filled. At the same time King Vakhtang IV of Georgia doesn’t officially join the war on the Roman side but in exchange for a subsidy he loans the tagma of Abkhazia, eight thousand strong, to Demetrios III.

    Far to the south old Negusa Nagast Tewodros I, uncle-in-law of the new Roman Emperor much to his chagrin, does enter the war, although the immediate impact is minimal. Ethiopian ships have been skirmishing with Triune convoys for years now, so little changes.

    Mustering in Buda, the combined German, Hungarian, and Polish armies proceed down the Danube while Serbian and Roman raiders set southern Hungary on fire, burning villages and slaughtering the peasants. The goal is to create a dead zone to hamper Theodor’s efforts to supply his armies. Playing a major role in these attacks are Roman trapezites, fast-moving but well-armed elite cavalry units used as scouts and for carrying out raids behind enemy lines, named after the units used by the Macedonian-dynasty Emperors for similar purposes.

    Hungarian forces, backed by some early German arrivals, do their best to protect the region, and there are several small clashes. The honors go mainly to the Romans but the battles are of little significance in the grand scheme of things. On one occasion Tourmarch Michael Mikrulakes leads his soldiers forward with his band playing the German song ‘Watch on the Rhine’ with the words “we’ll beat them with their own damn tune!” The skirmish goes to the Romans.

    Not everything though goes in Constantinople’s favor. A Croatian army, although small, quickly overruns the interior of Istria and launches strong probes into Dalmatia. The coastal cities, backed by warships from the Venetian squadron, are in little danger, but the rest of the two duchies has little in the way of defense.

    King Casimir is present in the Imperial army, given command of all the cavalry. To avoid any issues of rank, Emperor Theodor I is also present and the official commander of the entire host, but Blucher is the one who issues the real orders.

    He immediately proves his mettle, overrunning the Banat in a matter of days. The Serbian army under the command of Crown Prince Lazar, reinforced by the bulk of the Macedonian and Bulgarian tagmata, bars passage across the Danube. So after demonstrating on the far side for a while, Blucher withdraws back a little and then dispatches a strong cavalry force upstream where their mounts foul the water while the riders dump the typical detritus an army produces into the river.

    Seeing the garbage on the current the prince, fearing the worst, immediately flies northwest with the bulk of the army at which point Blucher hurls a vanguard across the river led by Archbishop ‘Bone-Breaker’ Friedrich von Hohenzollern which brushes aside the token defenders. As soon as Lazar hears news of this he wheels around and attacks the bridgehead. But the Germans are already well-fortified and the Serb-Roman forces are strung out and tired from their recent forced marches. Five hundred casualties later and the German bridgehead is barely untouched.

    Covered by Vauban’s artillery train more troops start flooding over the river, the guns also beating off three attacks by Roman gunboats to interdict the boat traffic. With Hungarian cavalry raiding all across the Danube frontier now and threatening further breaches Lazar pulls his forces back to consolidate. He knows, everyone knows, where the Germans must go next.

    Belgrade, the great citadel, the Guard of the Danube. No advance south can be made until that is secured. The mighty fortress in Hungarian hands defied the Romans for years. Although not upgraded it has been completely repaired and is well-stocked with arms and supplies. Let the Germans bang their heads against that for a while.

    Thus far only the troops of the Roman European themes have been involved. Shah Ibrahim has been in Baghdad since February, making many in Constantinople reluctant to deploy Asian troops to Serbia lest they be needed in the east. But intelligence reports that Ibrahim has crossed back across the Zagros allow Anatolian troops to begin moving westward as Vauban starts setting up his parallels around Belgrade.

    The plan is simple. Belgrade-anvil. 120,000+ Serb-Roman army-hammer.
    1631: The Valley of Death
  • "Over there stands a miserable collection of sheep-worrying ass weasels. There are priests' assholes with more wit than those chamber pot drinkers. Do they deserve to live? I think not."
    -attributed to Strategos Leo Neokastrites

    Ours not to reason why, ours but to do or die...
    1631 continued: It is said that Andreas Niketas was the one to coin the phrase ‘the trait a general most needs is to be lucky’ although military aphorisms of unknown origin are usually sourced to him, so that assertion is uncertain. But it is a true statement nonetheless.

    On the second day of the Allied siege of Belgrade the main Belgrade arsenal issues a leaky powder barrel to one of the defensive batteries, which then takes a direct hit from a Triune howitzer. The shell ignites the powder trail, the flame racing up it. The resulting explosion is heard in Ohrid. It is a clear disaster, taking out the bulk of the garrison’s powder and a sizeable portion of its other supplies stored adjacent to the arsenal, as well as killing or wounding a tenth of the garrison plus seriously damaging the fortifications. [A Spanish fortress under siege by the French during the Peninsular War was crippled by an identical mishap.] Vauban immediately shifts his attacks to the damaged sectors.

    So now there is a serious risk that the anvil might shatter before the hammer is ready and Megas Domestikos Nikolaios Mouzalon, now in personal command of the Roman armies in Europe, really does not want to see Belgrade in Theodor’s hands. He was present during all the sieges of Belgrade during the Mohacs War and is painfully aware of how formidable an intact Belgrade can be in the hands of an enemy.

    At this point he has almost seventy five thousand men under arms. The Bulgarian, Macedonian, Helladic, Thracian, Opsikian, and newly arrived from the east Chaldean tagmata have mustered with Crown Prince Lazar bringing fifteen thousand Serbs as well. It is a force numerically similar in size to the one besieging Belgrade. While it would be preferable to wait while more Roman forces arrive from the east, Casimir’s cavalry screen makes getting clear news from Belgrade impossible, which helps Mouzalon think the worst.

    Alternative efforts to gain more information via the Danube are also a miserable failure. Danube riverboats beat their way up the current only to meet hastily erected earthen fortifications containing gun batteries. That is to be expected. What is not expected are rafts laden with explosives, launched from the shore with lit fuses, which drift down on the gunboats. Now the accuracy of these are bad and with no way to direct the explosions they cause minimal damage to gunboat hulls. However it takes much less to damage the oar banks and render the gunboats easy targets for the shore batteries. Three attempts to run the gauntlet end with five gunboats blasted to pieces and another three badly damaged, a third of the entire Danube flotilla.

    Mouzalon elects to march now.

    For diplomatic reasons Crown Prince Lazar with his Serbs is put in command of the left wing, his forces bolstered by the Chaldean tagma. The suave debonair Mouzalon doesn’t have a high opinion of the “uncouth peasant” Leo Neokastrites, now sixty-four years old and accompanied by his seventeen and fifteen year old great nephews who serve him as aides. But still he would prefer having him in charge of the left wing but Lazar, who is soon to be King (his father has suffered four strokes since the start of the war and is clearly failing fast), insists on a prestigious command.

    On August 14 near the village of Sopot south of Belgrade the two armies draw up for battle, Blucher choosing to fight away from the city to avoid the risk of having the garrison pitch into his rear during the battle. Both sides muster slightly over seventy thousand men. Although the impetus for the battle has been a Roman offensive, Blucher chooses to be tactically offensive. He is aware that sizeable Roman reinforcements are on the way so wants to wreck this army before they arrive. Also a significant victory over the relief army may convince the Belgrade garrison to capitulate. Blucher knows he has reinforcements of his own but can’t supply them until he has Belgrade as a depot.

    The artillery starts trading shells at 10AM and for the first two hours Blucher keeps a steady pressure on the Serb-Roman lines, its purpose not to force a breakthrough but to distract the enemy while he works a force of Hungarian cavalry and mounted infantry around the Roman right flank. However on the Roman left there is a walled villa, set too far forward to be incorporated into the Serb-Roman lines, but occupied by a 700-strong garrison as a defensive bastion.

    August von Mackensen is commanding the German troops here and while he doesn’t press his attacks too hard he quickly notes that the troops in the villa haven’t gotten any replacement ammunition (it is due to an administrative snafu, although whose is never determined). A sudden assault at noon overwhelms the defenders, the survivors fleeing as they are cut down. Mackensen immediately puts in more troops and some artillery, the cannon punishing the Serbs terribly. Blucher, spying a potential opportunity, immediately reinforces Mackensen with more infantry and cavalry, including the Polish horse.

    Lazar, alarmed at the losses, orders six of the Chaldean tourmai to attack and retake that villa. Neokastrites furiously protests, arguing that any assault is suicidal with the Polish cavalry swarming menacingly behind the German lines. Lazar insists, arguing that the villa is too dangerous to be left in enemy hands. Despite repeated arguments Lazar remains adamant, also explicitly ordering the strategos not to appeal to Mouzalon. And while Neokastrites thinks this is stupid, he is a soldier and orders are orders.

    So to the surprise of Mackensen and Blucher six thousand Roman troops leave their prepared positions and begin to advance forward, a high-ranking Roman officer mounted and riding ahead of them. It is Neokastrites. Although he was not ordered to personally lead the assault he is not going to send his men into this of all things and stay behind. He orders his senior tourmarch to take care of his grand-nephews and it is all the officer can do to keep the teenagers from joining their great-uncle.

    It is, if nothing else, magnificent to see. The six tourmai move forward in perfect formation, as if on a parade ground. For a moment the Germans hold their fire and then the cannons open up on this target. Still the Chaldeans advance, still in perfect order. Theodor, looking on the scene, doffs his hats, points towards them, and tells his courtiers “Look, those are brave men!”

    At 50 meters the Chaldeans halt, present arms (Neokastrites, somehow untouched, pulls back to the line), fire one crashing volley into the German lines, and charge. Clearly visible is Neokastrites, the first to crash into the enemy, his saber flashing. He goes down almost immediately as his men plow in behind him. The German lines shiver at the impact, several companies of Thuringians and Hessians routing. For a moment it looks like this attack might succeed, and then the Polish cavalry comes sweeping in on both flanks.

    The Chaldeans are annihilated in twenty minutes. And now there is a gaping hole in the Serb-Roman lines, set in between the left wing under Lazar and the Roman center. Casimir, now up personally, leads the assault, the fresh Polish cavalry backed by German horse and foot coming up behind. They fly into the breach, turning to flank their foe, and are met by desperate and furious counter-attacks by the Roman reserves, the kataphraktoi leading the way, the air filled with the shrieks of dying men and mounts.

    The reserve bloodies the Poles and annihilates the German horse but at the cost of their own destruction and with the Hungarian flanking maneuver threatening on the right Mouzalon can only commit enough forces to blunt the assault, not push it back. Finding the Serbs a softer target, Casimir wheels around to drive them back as Mackensen forces more troops in, driving a wedge between the Serbs and Romans. Lazar begins to retreat west while Mouzalon, his left flank hanging by a thread and his right about to come under attack, retires southeast.

    Both retreats are relatively unmolested. Blucher’s cavalry is either bloodied or blown and in no condition to pursue. Still he has reason to be proud. For four thousand casualties he has inflicted close to nine thousand on the enemy (two-thirds of those are Chaldeans) and split the Roman and Serbian armies. After a brief respite he focuses on the Serbs, who are in worse shape and not retreating towards thousands of reinforcements. Meanwhile Vauban, playing up the defeat for all that it is worth, convinces Belgrade to surrender.

    The news of Sopot does it for old King Stephan VII of Serbia, who dies at his palace in Rashka. Lazar rushes back to the capital and is quickly crowned King of Serbia.

    At Sopot Emperor Theodor has Strategos Neokastrites buried with full military honors. On the spot where he was killed he orders a monument erected to the Chaldeans. On the plinth in Latin, German, Hungarian, Polish, Serbian and Greek are the words of the famous observation he made of them whilst they advanced. And underneath are the lines that made their charge immortal:

    Half a League, Half a League,
    Half A League Onward,
    All in the valley of death
    Marched the six thousand.

    It is still there to this day.
    1631: Tell the Spartans
  • 1631 continued: The losses at Sopot are painful, and the splitting of the Serbians from the Romans is very useful, but Blucher’s ideal of crippling the Roman army before more Asian reinforcements arrived is a failure. A month after the battle, Mouzalon has almost a hundred thousand troops mustered in Macedonia.

    Blucher has not been idle though. Engineers swarm over Belgrade, working to repair the fortifications at a feverish pace while cavalry columns fly across northern Serbia, sweeping up the harvest to fill German bellies and scattering the Serbian populace. Little effort is expended in harassing the refugees but what is done purposely nudges them to the southeast where their march will congest the roads on which Mouzalon is marching to re-engage.

    Mouzalon makes no move to link up with Lazar’s forces. There is a large amount of disgust in the Roman ranks with the new Serbian King, one of the droungarioi of the Helladic tagma penning The Charge of the Chaldeans less than three weeks after the battle. Having Roman officers quoting ‘Lazar had blundered’ would hardly do well for diplomatic relations. Rumors abound that if Lazar ever found himself within musket range of the remains of the Chaldean tagma he would be fired upon.

    Furthermore there is the issue that having Lazar around would probably require appointing him back into an important position. Given the size of the army Mouzalon now has and the limited number of troops Lazar could add, having the Serbian army with that price tag just isn’t worth it in Mouzalon’s opinion.

    There is argument in favor of not advancing back into Serbia to battle the Allied army. Blucher’s logistics are shaky at best and would only get worse if he had to advance further south.

    But the Roman cavalry, already badly damaged at Sopot, is now having difficulties with the Hungarian and Polish cavalry up in force, so Mouzalon has few means to interdict Allied supply convoys or foragers and also limited intelligence on Blucher’s forces. Yet he does know that more reinforcements are on the way and that Belgrade is being repaired. Avoiding another brutal siege of that place is greatly to be avoided. Furthermore Ibrahim is back in Mesopotamia and reports from Lombardy are not encouraging.

    The Roman and Allied armies draw up for battle on September 20, the Serbian village of Drenovac forming part of the Roman line, which is anchored on the left by the Great Morava River and partly screened by stands of wood on the right which Mouzalon fills with pickets of akrites. The center is mostly open farmland.

    To Mouzalon’s surprise, Blucher fields only a slightly smaller army, ninety one to his ninety four thousand. Blucher was able to rush reinforcements despite questionable ability to feed them, estimating that Mouzalon would attempt to counterattack before Blucher received said extra troops.

    But Mouzalon immediately realizes the logistical constraints Blucher faces so he holds his position, declining two attempts to be baited into attacks. Although Polish cavalry beat off efforts by trapezites to hit the Allied supply lines, Mouzalon’s presence means that they can only forage a little. A Hungarian effort to hit a Roman convoy ends with it being hurled back with the loss of four hundred mounts and half that number of men. So either Blucher must retreat in the face of an intact enemy force, starve, or attack.

    He chooses to attack, by which point it is September 24. Polish and Hungarian cavalry attempt to turn the Roman right flank but get snarled up in running battles with the akrites in the copses. They make progress but it is slow and bloody.

    The main assault is on the village of Drenovac itself with German infantry storming forward with tremendous courage to be met by furious blasts of point-blank musketry. The fighting is brutal at close-quarters, with several older officers stating it was as intense as that of Astara in 1607 during the Eternal War.

    The Germans manage to seize about a quarter of the village but can’t press any further while the Romans are unable to hurl them out. Soldiers fire away at each other at ranges sometimes little longer than the length of their muskets. Still the pressure does suck in some of the Roman reserves. Meanwhile the cavalry flanking effort is slowly, bloodily, grinding its way through the copses, sucking some more reserves that way, including portions of the weakened Roman cavalry.

    It is now that Blucher reveals his masterstroke. The Roman left flank is secured by the Great Morava River and so cannot be turned. It is thus not so strongly held, especially when one realizes that a good percentage of the Roman reserves have been siphoned off to Drenovac and the right flank.

    Vauban hits it with a grand battery, 98 cannons pounding the Roman lines, overwhelming the 28 Roman guns that try to respond. German assault columns storm forward, taking heavy losses from Roman musketry but the lack of artillery is crucial. Sheer weight of numbers smash through the Roman lines.

    Mouzalon immediately orders a withdrawal. With his left flank turned and his right pressed, trying to keep these positions is a hopeless task. But an organized withdrawal in the face of enemy attacks is a hard thing and Blucher presses his advantage for all that he’s worth, determined to wreak as much damage as possible while he has the upper hand.

    The Domestikos orders the Akoimetoi into Drenovac to act as a rearguard, although he explicitly orders Alexandros Drakos, son-in-law to the Emperor, not to accompany his unit. He protests furiously but obeys. Covered by the Akoimetoi the Roman army manages to disengage, smacking aside the few Allied units that work around the village and try to impede their march.

    Meanwhile the bulk of the Allied host turns its full fury on the Akoimetoi. A demand for surrender is answered by Strategos Abalantes, who played such a key part in the Night of the Tocsins, with the immortal words “The Guard dies, but does not surrender.” Considering Nineveh that is not exactly true, but the unit is eager to wipe out that black spot.

    And for five hours, the Akoimetoi defy an army that outnumbers them well over sixteen to one, enduring the pounding of Vauban’s guns, responding the best they can with their own artillery. Assaults are thrown back with bullets and ambrolars, swords and rocks, fists and teeth. When night falls the village is still in the hands of the Akoimetoi, who then sally forth, hacking their way through the cordon to safety. When they reunite with the main army a day later their unit cohesion and discipline is still intact, even though only 2 of 5 remain to the colors. Abalantes is one of the fallen.

    Drenovac is a German victory, of sorts. Blucher has forced the Roman army once again out of Serbia, Mouzalon retiring back across the border, although woe betide the Allied formation that gets too close. Furthermore he inflicted ten thousand casualties on the Romans for eight thousand of his own.

    But while the losses to one of the guard tagma is painful, Roman losses are soon made good whilst the same cannot be said for the Allies. Already one-sixth of the Polish heavy cavalry that Casimir led forth from Krakow in the spring have fallen. Reinforcements are coming, but whether they can keep up with casualties is doubtful. Despite the fall of Belgrade and his two victories, Blucher in a letter to his wife admits that he finds the prospects for the next campaigning season to be doubtful, especially when it is reported that there are plans to bring twenty thousand Sicilians come the spring.

    Post-Drenovac operations are also less promising. There are four smaller battles as Blucher, at Theodor’s insistence, tries to grab some Roman territory before the onset of winter kills major operations. The political import of securing some Roman land is significant, as is the need to secure more peasant-stocked foodstuffs. But every attempt to breach the Roman frontier is bloodily repulsed.

    But the optics of Drenovac are more important than the reality. Lazar, on hearing the news, capitulates to Theodor. Bosnia is to be ceded back to Hungary but Serbia proper is reduced to a Despotate, Lazar renouncing the Serbian crown and receiving the rank and insignia of a Roman Despot (identical in every detail to what Demetrios III would issue to his Despots) on his submission. The same can’t be said for his subjects. Serbians are to be conscripted into the Allied ranks, but their loyalty is questionable and four thousand slip across the border to present their arms to the Romans, including Lazar’s younger brother Durad.

    Stephen Bathory War with Muscovy.jpg

    Emperor Theodor Receives the Submission of Serbia. Note the Winged Hussars. King Casimir is the black-bearded and black-hatted figure mounted behind the nearest Hussar.​

    Before returning to Munich to oversee domestic affairs and some important negotiations over the winter, Emperor Theodor erects another monument to the Akoimetoi in the center of Drenovac, underneath which are lain the bodies of the fallen. On it is writ:

    Go, tell the spartans, stranger passing by
    That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.

    Like Sopot, it is still there to this day.
    1631: The Faces of Demetrios Sideros
  • The White Palace, Constantinople, October 21, 1631:

    Demetrios Sideros, Emperor of the Romans, turned the page of the manuscript. It was a Greek translation of The Centuries by a certain Nostradamus, Triune court astrologer in the 1560s and 70s. It was apparently very popular with one Theodor Wittelsbach, hence why Demetrios had been studying it intently for the past few weeks. Taking a gulp of wine, he reread the passage that seemed most pertinent.

    And the Lord of the West shall gather up a great host,
    And the Lord of the East shall assemble a vast army,
    And they shall battle with each other till all Europe trembles.

    The Great Turk shall usher into the fray,
    Jerusalem shall come under his sway.

    And the Lord of the West shall be exalted,
    And win glory on the fields of Philip.
    The city of Constantine will hear the sound of thunder
    And the Lord of the West will gain his prize.

    He took another swig of wine, a deep draught. It seemed straightforward, although these things never were, but the most intriguing portion lay ahead.

    As for the Lord of the East,
    No one shall know where he sleeps.
    But his seed shall journey west,
    Where there shall be Antichrist.

    And his seed shall battle Antichrist,
    The West will shudder with the noise of their battle,
    Till Antichrist shall drive them out,
    And they return unto the east.

    Yet Antichrist shall follow them,
    Till his hand reaches the city where the wise sleep.
    And he shall sing in his heart,
    That the world shall soon be his.

    But the sons of Leonidas shall sally forth,
    With the sons of Xerxes at their side,
    And the children of Solomon with them.
    And even Antichrist shall quake at their might.

    But even such great power shall not be enough,
    Till Russia shall march forth,
    With a host no man can number.
    And not even Antichrist shall be able to stand.

    So stay your hand, children of the west.
    For when the bill comes due,
    It shall be the peoples of the east that shall save you.

    He took another deep drink of wine. All very interesting…

    There was a knock on the door and he finished his cup of wine. The change of topic would be welcome. “Enter,” he said as he took the bottle on the corner of the desk, set in an ice-filled basin, and filled his glass. One of his guardsmen opened the door and ushered in the person into his study. Although now Emperor, it’d be hard to distinguish his new study from his when he was merely Eparch. After all it was the exact same desk, although nicer chair and carpet.

    “Hello Maria,” he said as she entered.

    “Your Imperial Majesty,” she answered, curtsying, staying down and looking on the floor.

    “I seem to have gotten uglier after I was crowned,” Demetrios mused. “Nobody wants to look me in the face anymore.” She looked up, a bit of a smile on her face. “Please take a seat.” He gestured at one of the chairs set in front of his desk. “And no, you are not allowed to comment on my last statement.” The expression on her face was a little too innocent.

    She sat down, looking at him, but not before her eyes flitted over to the tomes on the bookshelves behind him. He smiled. “Go on, take a look. I’m the same way.”

    “I wouldn’t dare to intrude-”

    “You’re not. In fact, I insist. I like getting other people to read. Makes me feel less weird.” He gestured at the shelves. “Go on. If one particularly strikes your fancy you can borrow it.”

    She did, scanning the titles as he drank more wine, eating his snack, and reading the reports from the Office of Barbarians. “May I borrow this, your Majesty?” She held up a thick velvet-bound book. It was his history of the Laskarid dynasty.

    “If you’re trying to get on my good side, you’re succeeding.”

    She had the decency to look embarrassed. “Thank you, your Majesty. I look forward to reading it.” A pause. “Your Majesty, may I ask you a question?”


    “What are you eating?”

    He looked down at his snack, then back at her, and grinned. “It’s called a burrito. Spanish invention. Lovely thing. There are also these taco things too… I’m going to stop there before I make myself hungry.”

    “Of course. I’ll try them at the White Tower when I can.”

    “You do that. I highly recommend them.” He gestured back at the chair and she sat down. “Now you’re probably also wondering why I asked to see you.” She nodded. “It’s quite simple; my son wants to marry you.”

    “I know.”

    “Of course you do. You’re a smart woman with excellent taste in reading material. Now there’s potential matches with the Spanish and the Arletians, but recent history suggests Latins make terrible in-laws.” He paused, looking at her.

    “While marrying me would help to remove a potential dynastic time bomb,” she replied. “If I’m married to the Kaisar I’m not likely to intrigue on behalf of my children with Andreas III.”

    “Precisely. You weren’t married to Andreas III so there’s no consanguinity issue. But there is possibly another issue.”

    “What would that be, your majesty?”

    “Quite simple really, do you want to marry my son?”

    She blinked in surprise. “You’re asking me that?”

    He grinned. “I am. I take a perverse pleasure in being unusual. So that’s why I’m asking you. I know that you were a gift to Andreas III; you had no choice there regardless of how it turned out. Now politically there is a good reason to marry you to Odysseus, but I want it to be absolutely clear. The choice is yours. Your station will not change from what it is now if you say no. You have my word.”

    “Thank you, your majesty,” she replied with a glimmer of tears in her eyes. “That means a lot to me.”

    “You’re welcome. Now you don’t need to decide right now. Go and think on it. If you wish to marry someone else, and I entirely understand if you do, I think something can be worked out. That said, considering your…political position any such marriage would have to be approved by me.”

    “I understand, your majesty, and thank you again for your compassion. But that won’t be necessary. I would be honored to marry your son and become your daughter-in-law.”

    He smiled a bit. “Are you sure? Consider who your mother-in-law will be.”

    She gave him a matching smile. “I’m quite sure.”

    * * *

    1631 continued: The marriage of Kaisar Odysseus Sideros and the Lady Maria is a joyous occasion for the people of Constantinople. Present at the wedding are Andreas III’s three remaining bastards, Theodoros of Nineveh (8 years old), Alexandros of Baghdad (7 years old), and Nikephoros of Trebizond (3 years old); the latter two are the sons of Maria. Their exact status is deliberately left unstated.

    The Roman and Allied armies in winter quarters along the Serbian-Roman frontier bicker in a war of outposts but neither side decides to push further. The Romans want to assemble overwhelming force with new recruits and Sicilian reinforcements for the spring while the Allies are having a hard enough time just keeping their troops in the fields, much less supporting an offensive.

    Aside from the outpost skirmishes there is a war of words and here Demetrios far outperforms Theodor. Pamphlets that somehow end up in Roman towns arguing for Theodor’s rightful claims are ignored at best and more usually actively mocked. Somewhat more effective are sheets maligning Demetrios’s character, describing him as a weak-willed bean-counter who is dominated by his wife who furthermore cuckolds him behind his back with Nikephoros Vatatzes, Andreas III’s former bodyguard commander and now the commander of the Vigla.

    It is true that the Empress is having an affair with Vatatzes, except Demetrios knows about it. As long as it is discreet it doesn’t bother him. After all, he’s had Eudoxia as a mistress since he was Kephale of Smyrna so it’s only fair in his mind. As for the citizens of the Empire, regardless of their sovereign’s marital ‘peculiarities’, that is still far better than having some Latin.

    Roman propaganda is aimed at the fact that it is a coalition force that opposes them. One poster in German says ‘While you’re here, what’s going on back home?’ It shows a family in Rhineland attire in their home, where a Frenchman is making moves on the wife and daughter whilst an Englishman gathers up all the valuables. Generals Mackensen and Seydlitz both have copies of it, commenting on its accuracy.

    At the same time in Constantinople there is an investigation on the battles of Sopot and Drenovac. The latter raises few issues but the former is a different matter and there is a question of censuring Neokastrites posthumously. The Megas Domestikos himself squashes it, somewhat surprisingly given his personal antipathy to the Chaldean. He argues that Neokastrites “remonstrated with his superior on the feasibility of his orders, but nevertheless carried them out to the best of his ability. It is the duty of a subordinate officer to use initiative, training, and ingenuity in carrying out their orders to the best of their ability, but it is their duty to carry them out. If the order in question is impractical or foolhardy, the fault lies with the one issuing it.” The Emperor personally absolves Mouzalon of all blame here, as he’d told the Domestikos of the need to cooperate closely with Serbia when he’d set out originally.

    On the diplomatic front the winter is much more frustrating for Demetrios. In July King Vakhtang IV of Georgia died (historians believe liver failure-like many of the Georgian nobility he was a notoriously heavy drinker). He was succeeded by his son David IX, who incidentally has a pretty decent claim on the Roman throne. But in October he is bitten by a monkey in the menagerie and dies a week later from infection (the monkey is given the full punishment for regicide). His successor is his son Konstantin IV, who is born during the week between his father’s accident and death. His mother Anna Drakina, granddaughter of Helena I, serves as regent.

    Enter Alexei Bagrationi, Prince of Imeretia, senior-most noble of the realm. He is based out of the city of Kutatisi (which served as Georgia’s ‘Nicaea’ during the dark days of the Mongol yoke). Furthermore he is the leader of the chief cadet branch of the Bagrationi, giving him an excellent claim to the throne and he is none too pleased at the Safavid hijacking. Until now, the Safavids had been protected by their connection to the House of Drakos. That is no longer the case.

    Announcing his bid for the throne, on December 1 he is crowned King Alexei III in the Cathedral of St Giorgi in Kutatisi, where Konstantin the Great, the Unifier of the Georgian Lands, had been crowned in 1293. The tagma of Imeretia, of which he is strategos, rallies to him and he is soon joined by the tagmata of Guria and Tashiri. There are many Georgians disgusted with how the Azeri Safavids have gained power and are eager to throw them out. For support Regent Anna can only count on the tagmata of Kakheti and Abkhazia and the latter is currently encamped in Thrace, aiding the Romans.

    Frankly given Alexei’s domestic support, Demetrios is inclined to throw his some-kind-of-cousin Anna to the wolves. Even if he were to think like a dynast, which he doesn’t, Anna is Drakina, not Siderina. But Alexei is receiving a small subsidy from Shah Ibrahim, who apparently helped encourage Alexei’s scheme (although Alexei didn’t need much encouragement). Now Demetrios is inclined to just outbid Ibrahim, but the Megas Logothete, Logothete of the Drome, and the Protospatharios of the Office of Barbarians argue that they cannot take any risk of Georgia becoming a client or ally of the Persians. Furthermore it is argued that a serious show of force on the eastern frontier is needed, given Ibrahim’s provocative movements in Mesopotamia, to keep the Shah from getting ideas. After being worn down by repeated arguments, Demetrios reluctantly concedes.

    Megas Domestikos Mouzalon isn’t any happier than the Emperor at the turn of events. Not only is he losing the Abkhazians, who performed well in the post-Drenovac actions, but to make up for Alexei’s additional Georgian tagma, the remnants of the Akoimetoi and Chaldeans are to accompany them. At a stroke, Mouzalon’s army has lost as many men as it lost at Sopot and Drenovac combined.

    Demetrios, who still leans towards negotiating with Alexei, has his son-in-law Alexandros Drakos transferred to the Athanatoi before the redeployment. His rationale is that if a member of the Imperial family, even one by marriage, marches against Alexei, prestige needs will demand that the attack be seen through and Alexei destroyed. By ensuring no such member is present, Demetrios makes sure a change in policy remains possible without loss of face.

    This makes the need for more allies even more urgent. The Scythian Veche agrees to enter the war as a Roman ally, providing six thousand cavalry, including fifteen hundred horse archers recruited from the Tatar population which dates back from the Blue Horde era. Given the losses the Roman horse took in 1631 this is most welcome, although the ranks of the kataphraktoi, needed for taking on the Polish winged hussars, are still depleted.

    Further north the news is much less helpful. Demetrios had hoped that Lithuania and Prussia could be convinced to pitch into Poland. While there are still substantial contingents of troops there, the first-rates are with Casimir in Serbia. Except while Blucher was forcing his way across the Danube, Prussia and Novgorod formed an alliance and declared war on the Empire of All the North. The Novgorodians want their Baltic and White Sea coastlines, which were lost during the Great Northern War, back. Their loss remains a crippling blow. The Holy Roman Empire was the main power that forced the territorial concessions from a then-united Russia in the 1570s and is the guarantor of said borders. So from Novgorod’s perspective now is the perfect time to strike. Meanwhile the Prussians have their eye on Estonia.

    So not only can Prussia not attack Poland, the EAN can’t be used to threaten Theodor’s northern frontier.

    Lithuania meanwhile is suffering from serious internal strife as the powerful Sapieha, Kesgailos, and Gostautai family jockey for power in the Lithuanian Veche, with rumors that each of the families is interested in installing themselves as monarchs and reviving the line of Grand Dukes. Somehow it has not spilled into open violence but Lithuania is in no shape to attack even a weakened Poland.

    Great Pronsk, with its 8+ million subjects, is the most powerful of the Russian states. Already well over four thousand Pronsky men have enlisted in the Roman army, but the Pronsk Veche is more interested in the action to the northwest. The main Pronsk export is grain and that mainly ships to the Baltic and on to Western Europe (Scythian grain forces it out of the Roman market). The EAN’s stranglehold of the export ports is extremely annoying and the great landowners who control the Veche are eager to expand their profit margins. In exchange for a Pronsk alliance, grain customs duties (plus some others) between Novgorod and Pronsk are dropped. There will still be an export duty if shipped beyond Novgorod but only a fraction of the exorbitant one the Scandinavians currently charge (which doesn’t include the import toll just to bring it to the harbor for shipping).

    Arles looks more promising, but King Basil II has no desire to take the Triple Monarchy alone. Although the HRE’s forces are committed, only a small portion of Henri’s are encamped in Serbia. Basil wants either the support of Spain or forty thousand Roman troops.

    Demetrios would like the support of Spain. Lisbon currently has 75,000 men under arms, many veteran troops bloodied in battle and victory. Except the reason King Ferdinand has so many soldiers is that he is still at war. The Andalusi have been driven entirely out of the Guadalquivir River valley but now the fighting is in the mountains of Granada, bitter grinding combat. The going is slow and painful. The Spanish fleet is also raiding the North African coast with substantial success but also heavy losses. Thus Spain is not really in a position to help, and despite the recent losses to the Triunes old habits die hard and the Spanish are used to viewing the Romans as enemy number one in eastern waters, which doesn’t exactly incentivize them to shelve their Marinid war for Roman benefit.

    So Demetrios goes with option 2. With Basil’s agreement, come the summer the Romans will provide 25 tourmai and the Sicilians and Egyptians one tagma each, sea lift to be provided by combined Roman-Arletian-Egyptian-Sicilian-Hospitalier efforts. It’s five tourmai more than Basil originally insisted upon, which makes for the fact that two of the tagmata are Despotic, not Roman proper. And Ferdinand strongly suggests that despite the Marinid war, if the Romans were to send that many troops to Arles he would reinforce them with twenty thousand or more of his own soldiers. That would mean Henri would find a combined army of at least a hundred thousand on his doorstep.

    And then it all goes to hell. Despite massive bribes Lombardy enters on the war…on Theodor’s side. King Cesare doesn’t want a super-HRE on his doorstep, but the Doukas claim to the throne is extremely shaky at best so he has to pay attention to the opinions of his ‘great men’. And those great men are enamored of the idea of getting their hands on the riches of the Despotate of Sicily and unifying the peninsula under their banner. And getting their hands on all those Sicilian shinies, don’t forget that.

    There is some criticism of Theodor on the grounds that he is alienating his birthright (this is the diplomatic way used by the many who consider this a foolhardy venture), that he is having to sell what he’s trying to gain so that he can gain it in the first place, in which case what is the point? Theodor counters that the Imperial heartland is the main prize and that ‘once that is gained everything is re-negotiable’.

    So the Arletian intervention is out, meaning no Arletian or Spanish support. Given that Lombardy has a 3-to-1 advantage in population over Sicily, those 25 tourmai will likely have to go to Italy and obviously the Sicilian tagma isn’t going anywhere. So the idea of bringing over the Sicilians to Serbia is out as well. Although the Megas Doux looks rather excited at the prospect of letting the Imperial fleet loose on Lombard shores.

    But the Megas Doux will be of no assistance to the second threat that appears on the horizon, far more serious than that of Lombardy. It is unknown if the decision to use force against Alexei influenced his choice, but Shah Ibrahim has made his move. Over seventy thousand Persian troops begin crossing the Syrian frontier.

    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.
    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)
    1632: The Danube Campaign
  • Bulgaria-political-map.gif

    1632 continued
    : Before Blucher can invade the theme of Bulgaria, he must first reduce the northeast section of Serbia, which has thus far remained free. Disgusted after hearing of Lazar’s capitulation and installation as Despot by Theodor, when he hears word of Durad’s arrival in Ohrid the regional governor immediately recognizes Durad as the King of Serbia as opposed to ‘Lazar, the betrayer of the Serbian people’.

    Domestikos Laskaris knows that he doesn’t have the numbers to take on Blucher, who has at least 25,000+ more men in his main host, head-on. But he aims to fight. The Allies will be engaged daily, at some point or another, wherever they happen to be. His aim, to bleed the army as much as possible. As Blucher advances, Laskaris retires before him, but every day is accompanied by gunfire.

    June 3 sees the start of the Long Battle of the Iron Gates, not a set piece battle but a series of continuous rolling engagements, with at some points over forty thousand soldiers in action. Blucher continues steadily pushing forward but clearing the Iron Gates costs him over nine thousand casualties alone.

    Whilst Vidin is important, Laskaris knows his army is far more crucial than any fortress, so he does not contest Blucher when he sets it under siege. But he remains in the area, constantly harassing Blucher’s ranks as Vauban sets up his siege lines.

    Meanwhile on the Danube the Roman and Allied fleets battle, the Allies fielding a new weapon, called ‘battle-barges’. They are barges with a stern paddlewheel which is powered by pedals, the peddlers cranking to the beat of drums just like rowers on a galley but without the vulnerable banks of oars. The paddlewheel is obviously a weakness but set in the stern it is much harder to hit when approaching an enemy.

    Their sides are raised to protect the crew but still make for a much lower profile in the water, as there isn’t the need for above-water oar ports. This makes them a smaller target.

    They are armed with heavy muskets and some light cannon but their primary weapon is the new blast-ram. On the ship’s bow is fixed an underwater spar, partly hollow, at the front end of which is a box with a reinforced rear end and a spike on the front. The whole apparatus is attached to the barge with chains. The idea is that explosives are placed in the box and then the barge rams the enemy vessel, the spike sticking in the enemy hull below the waterline. Then a fuse is lit on the barge, which races down the hollow part of the spar and then ignites the explosives. With the rear end of the box reinforced, the explosion takes the path of least resistance, forward into the punctured underwater (and therefore weaker) timbers of the enemy ship. The chains are then broken so the spar falls off, letting the barge reverse-paddle out of the battle.

    These come as a nasty surprise, inflicting heavy losses on the already battered Roman river flotilla, but they quickly figure out the paddlewheel weakness. They equip their gunboats with more light (and faster-firing weapons), aiming to shoot up the paddlewheels. Easily damaged, a battle-barge is helpless then.

    The Allies then get a nasty surprise as their gunboats approach Vidin. Vauban himself watches as the flotilla approaches and then suddenly an explosion erupts under the bow of the lead ship, damaging several oars on the port side. The galley slaloms to the side, another pair of explosions bursting under its starboard side, sending clouds of wooden splinters, some as thick and long as a man’s arms, chewing through the crew, whilst a fourth explosion bursts under the stern. The shattered wreck sinks shortly afterwards. No Roman vessels are in sight.

    Before retiring downstream, the Roman river fleet started laying the first known contact mines, a series of two-chambered barrels. One chamber is filled with air to keep them buoyant and the other filled with gunpowder. The whole apparatus is then sealed and anchored to the river bottom, ideally so that it is a couple of feet below the surface, deep enough so that it’s hard to spot but shallow enough that they’ll hit the enemy on the weaker underwater timbers but not on their tougher keels. Inside the barrels beside the gunpowder is a flintlock mechanism. A strong enough impact trips the flintlock, the sparks igniting the priming powder around it, and then the barrel’s whole contents explode. To help direct the explosion sideways, the tops and bottoms of the barrels are reinforced. The disadvantage is that the charges are quite weak because of the need to keep a lot of air in the barrel.

    Despite the setback Vauban presses his siege of Vidin, which has modern fortification but not the size of Belgrade. This time there are no unlucky accidents and the garrison resists stoutly. Vauban’s barrages are met with sulfur stink-bombs and catapults hurling clods of burning belladonna giving off clouds of poisonous smoke, besides the usual weapons of war.

    This early chemical warfare is not enough though and Vidin is eventually forced to capitulate, but not before costing the allies three thousand casualties and a month.

    Blucher pushes on, the campaign continuing in the same vein. Laskaris remains just out of range, snarling and bickering with Allied contingents, gradually working up the casualty lists. Almus (Lom to the Bulgarians) and Kozloduy both fall but each take a fortnight to be reduced. Meanwhile the Vlachs are raiding all across the Danube as Blucher is unable to secure both banks, no raid individually significant but each one another cut to the Allied behemoth.

    Nikopolis proves to be a harder nut to crack, keeping even Vauban out for six weeks. During the siege Laskaris comes up, mauls a large foraging detachment, and when a twenty-thousand strong force stationed to cover the foragers moves up, he mauls that as well before retiring as Blucher comes up with the main body.

    Still Blucher presses on, investing Svishtov, Vauban taking it after a fortnight. By this point winter is now descending in force across Bulgaria, bringing major operations to a halt. The next serious fortress on the Danube is Ruse, where the Danube starts curving north. Ruse is a major port along the Danube, the terminus of a major highway, the other end of which is Varna on the Black Sea coast.

    Whilst Blucher had hoped to secure Ruse before the winter to use as a base against Varna, the planned springboard for the attack on Constantinople, the campaign seems to be quite a success. He has taken five major fortresses, two of which, Vidin and Nikopolis, are first-class, and seized a significant chunk of the Danube river valley, although no point is secure from raids from the northern Vlach bank.

    Said fortresses are repaired and well-garrisoned, meaning that the Romans can’t swing behind him and take them back quickly. They’d be forced into a siege and potentially pinned between the citadel in question and Blucher’s host. And despite the need to garrison those fortresses, Blucher’s field army is still the same size as when he started his advance in the spring. Supplying his huge army is difficult but control of the Danube and forced requisitions from the Bulgarian population (conducted in a much more disciplined manner then in Macedonia) make it possible, although the proportion of cavalry in the army, heretofore a significant advantage he had over the Romans, is dwindling.

    Yet having said all that, things are not all roses. Despite several receiving bloody noses, Vlach raids are incessant, whilst Roman trapezites and local partisans add their own blows to the fray. Between those, Laskaris’ constant drive to rack up kill counts, and the normal wastage of war, Blucher’s host has taken 30,000 casualties, over a third of their number. The flow of reinforcements means he’s able to replace those losses, for now, but he and his entire senior staff are openly concerned about what’ll be left of Germany’s menfolk at this rate. The Romans are taking heavy losses as well; although he was failed to bring above a general engagement Blucher has been energetic about attacking the Romans for his part. But despite those losses, Laskaris’ army has grown by 10 tourmai over the campaign and the Domestikos expresses optimism for more forcefulness in the coming year.

    Although Demetrios III Sideros approves wholeheartedly of the Domestikos’ aim to kill Germans wherever and whenever they are, his success inadvertently undermines the Emperor’s efforts to exploit the fact that the enemy host is composed of various allies. Sheets of propaganda pamphlets are constantly left where Allied soldiers can get their hands on them, which work on existing grievances. Brandenburgers don’t care for Poles; Rhinelanders fear and hate the Triunes.

    During the siege of Nikopolis, a brawl breaks out between the Cologne contingent commanded by the Archbishop ‘Bone-breaker’ and Polish troops, which leaves over two dozen wounded, none too seriously save one Pole who is paralyzed from the waist down. Casimir is utterly furious and sends troops down to arrest the Cologne soldiers responsible. The Cologne troops prominently brandish their weapons in response, the tense confrontation not helped by the Archbishop, who has developed a strong personal antipathy towards the Polish King (he is not alone in that), publicly announcing that king or not, he’ll break Casimir’s nose personally if Polish troopers seize any of his men.

    Blucher is highly irritated by the whole affray. Now dependent almost entirely on Hungarian and Polish cavalry for horsemen, he cannot afford to alienate Casimir. Yet Archbishop Hohenzollern is his most effective point-man and commands the second largest contingent (after that commanded by the Crown Prince of Bohemia) from the Holy Roman Empire not drawn from imperial lands. The other princely contingents look to him for leadership. So he can’t alienate him either. Plus Blucher is irritated that Casimir unilaterally took it upon himself to arrest men from a contingent that was not under his authority.

    Fortunately for Blucher, this is the point where Laskaris comes up to pummel the foragers and then their covering force, so the potential fight breaks up to go pursue the Romans. Given a stark reminder by the six thousand casualties Laskaris inflicts before he withdraws, that here if they don’t cooperate they will die, a compromise is patched up. Casimir will drop any charges in exchange for the Archbishop paying a large annual stipend to the paralyzed Pole and his family for the rest of his life. That settles the matter.

    But on the march to Svishtov Blucher privately has a talk with Hohenzollern, pointing out that his threat of breaking Casimir’s nose was hardly diplomatic. Hohenzollern agrees and promises not to do so again. ‘He’ll break something else instead.’
    Patreon Launch Announcement
  • So since there actually seems to be some interest, I went ahead and started a Patreon page to support this (URL: There’s only one tier right now, $1 per update. The only tangible benefit is that you’ll get a little preview of what’s coming in the next update (I don’t post an update until I’ve completed the next two after it), but it would be a huge motivator to my writing and producing content for this.

    I’m not going to put the TL itself behind a paywall (I was thinking the updates on Patreon would be a link to the just-posted update here on the forum, plus the preview for the next update). But if there are bites, I am considering benefits-materials for patrons. Some ideas I have are providing the TL as Kindle files and/or PDFs with the images and maps re-added and possible extras added. Or perhaps patron-only updates on niche topics (dependent on topic-I’m not writing an update on music because it’d be crap). Or the original ‘Age of Miracles’ document that predates the TL. I’m open to suggestions.

    Thank you immensely to any who choose to support me in this! I really appreciate it.
    1632: The War in Italy
  • 1632 continued: On paper Lombardy possesses a massive advantage over its Sicilian neighbor to the south, with close to 8 million compared to just over 3 million subjects. Milan could, without too much effort, put sixty thousand troops into the field while the Despotate musters a mere three tagmata, the Apulian, Calabrian, and Sicilian.

    Supplying those sixty thousand in the field though would be quite difficult. South of Tuscany and north of Naples the roads in the interior of the peninsula are of very poor quality, many little more than sheep tracks. Huge flocks of sheep traverse those tracks every year, pasturing in the Kingdom during the summer and in the Despotate in the winter. Agreeing that the sheep must flow given its importance to both parties, both parties leave the migrating flocks alone despite the war, much to the impotent annoyance of Demetrios III.

    Coastal routes are much more promising for supply, but that means sea power is of paramount importance. Considering that Italy is a peninsula, one would think the Lombard lords agitating for war would’ve considered this. It does not appear that they did. They’re expecting a repeat of the Time of Troubles when the Milanese faced little Roman naval opposition, not realizing that was because the Roman navy had blown itself to bits fighting on opposite sides of the Orthodox War and had not yet recovered.

    Instead now they enter a war with a navy Sicily itself can match ship-for-ship, never mind Egyptian reinforcements and, of course, the elephant in the room.

    A very angry elephant. The Roman navy, given its poor performance on the Danube, is eager to restore its name and win some glory. The Megas Doux, Alexios Angelos, is reported to have literally cackled in the Halls of the White Palace when he received the orders to let loose his fleet. And the fleet he lets loose is immense, eighty battle-line ships, fifty two fregatai, thirty galleasses, and multiple support and smaller vessels.

    Squadrons swarm over the Lombard coastline, both the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic shores. Everywhere parties are landed to raid the countryside, their progress marked by the smoke plumes of burning villages. To be fair, the peasants of the Lombard countryside know exactly what the peasants of Upper Macedonia are enduring. Blockades are established off the major ports and the estuary of the Po mined not long after the approach to Vidin is. Although Lombard fregatai and privateers sally forth to attack any targets of opportunity, the Lombard battle-line which is outnumbered four-to-one by the Sicilian-Roman, hides in port.

    The main Roman thrust is aimed firstly at the island of Elba. Using Venetia, Bari, and the Dalmatian port cities as bases makes locking down the Adriatic coast rather easy. But with Naples as the closest base, blockading all of the Tyrrhenian shore (which is much more important anyway) is much harder. Elba looks like a desirable forward base.

    Leo Kalomeros, now sixteen years old, serves as an eikosarchos aboard one of the Egyptian fregatai participating in the attack. Under the eyes of the Roman Doux commanding the attack, Gabriel Papagos (cousin to the Katepano of Pyrgos responsible for bringing most of Luzon under Roman suzerainty), he rescues two seamen from drowning.

    Not content with that, he then swims ashore, rallying a party of armed seamen who are part of the landing force and pinned down by a Lombard battery, and leads them in a charge on the battery. Once seized, Kalomeros then commands the battery, using it against the Lombards in support of the rest of the landing troops, ‘working the guns with great skill not to be expected in one so young’.

    Elba is seized quickly but Doux Papagos does not forget the young Egyptian officer. In the embankment where the battery stood he is awarded the Order of the Iron Gates. To this day, no one younger has ever been awarded that distinction. Papagos also arranges a transfer and Kalomeros enters the Roman navy, stationed to the fregata Theseus.

    It is a fortunate posting as the fregata then joins the squadron that seizes Civitavecchia, the main port that serves Rome. There has been no formal declaration of war but Demetrios III has absolutely no hesitation treating the Pope and his lands as an enemy. Raiding parties then swarm out across the region surrounding Rome. The Eternal City itself as well as the major walled towns are safe, but not much else.

    One party races up to Tolfa and goes on a wrecking spree, interspersed by frequent explosions, to lay waste the alum mining operations. Tolfa alum is the only real competitor to Thrakesian alum, a major export from Smyrna (16% of Smyrna’s annual export duties are on alum), so this is a good opportunity to deal an economic blow to a major rival.

    More fun for the seamen and marines though are the so-called bird-hunting expeditions that prowl up to the walls of Rome, even firing some of the suburbs outside the fortifications. They are called bird-hunting because they snag five cardinals in their sweeps, their ransoms counting as prize money. The party in which Kalomeros serves captures Cardinal Cajetan, his share of the ransom/prize coming to 477 hyperpyra (3-4 hyperpyra being the monthly wage of a solider), almost 5 times the prize money he received at 12 for fighting in the Battle of the Mandrare Delta.

    Also captured is Cajetan’s Secretary Jacques Almain, he who suggested the abduction of Orthodox children. The orders, signed by Emperor Demetrios himself, are quite clear. Excepting those of the rank of bishop or higher, all captured Inquisitors, Templars (they can thank King Casimir, who is never without a Templar shadow, for that), and one Father Almain are to be executed ‘as enemies of the Roman people’. Kalomeros purportedly pulls the lever that drops the secretary on the gallows. For killing Almain, all members of that party also receive a bounty of 90 hyperpyra each from the Emperor.

    The Lombards haven’t been idle during all of this, launching an invasion of the Despotate following the old route used by Charles of Anjou back in the late 1200s. But because of the need to send supplies by land over bad roads the Lombard army numbers only 30,000 strong. The rest are busy trying, with little success, to stop the reeving of the coast.

    They run into the city of Benevento which repels an assault, the Lombards settling down to a grim siege while a Sicilian army, only slightly smaller, hovers menacingly nearby with constant battles between outposts and foraging parties.

    While the main Lombard army is pinned down accomplishing nothing in the south, Papagos moves from Elba on Livorno, landing troops to attack the city whilst the fleet blockades the fort. A small Lombard army, mainly recruits from Tuscany, and the Livorno garrison try to drive back the Romans but despite a small numerical advantage are hammered back.

    Livorno resists far more stoutly than Elba and the Romans are forced to conduct a proper siege, using Opsikian tourmai that were fighting the Germans in Serbia last year. The Lombard army returns in force and for a while the Romans are forced to ‘recreate Alesia’ where the Romans are both besieged and besiegers, although because of the fleet the Opsikians are never properly besieged.

    Despite some effective attacks from Lombard privateers, supplies are rarely a problem at Livorno. Much of what is needed, including gunpowder and shot, is procured in the Kingdom of the Isles, the Colonna Kings maintaining a benevolent neutrality towards the Romans despite having using a Lombard alliance to seize Corsica (which had been what forced Kalomeros’ family into exile).

    Just four days after Nikopolis surrenders to Vauban, Livorno capitulates to the Romans, although the city is invested by the Lombards immediately afterwards. A quick assault to try and win the city before the fortifications are repaired is beaten back and the Lombards settle down into a desultory siege.

    By deliberate design, Livorno then becomes a gaping hole in the Roman blockade. With the blockade, the price of Roman manufactures in Lombardy skyrockets. Lombard merchants hire ships, typically fishing smacks from nearby villages, and sail into Livorno carrying ‘trading passes’. Once in the city they can purchase Roman manufactures (military supplies excluded) although Roman merchants, knowing of the price increases in the interior, jack up the cost of their wares. The Lombards then ship the goods out, paying customs, and then return to their port of origin and then redistribute them for sale at the inflated prices.

    Despite the price increases in Livorno, the increased transportation costs, and the fee to get the pass, the Lombards who do this make a killing. A silk shirt that costs them 10 hyperpyra in Livorno can be sold in Mantua for 85. The Romans benefit a lot too as all Lombard purchases must be made in gold or silver coinage so this trade sucks bullion out of Lombardy, where it could pay for Lombard arms or men, to where it can and does pay for Roman arms and men. The customs duties and license fees pay for the upkeep of the Livorno garrison.

    On August 22, the Livorno garrison, which has been reinforced by transports entering by night to maintain secrecy, sallies out of the city to the complete surprise of the Lombard besiegers. A short sharp battle ensues, the Romans supported by cannon fire from the fleet and city defenses, and after two hours break the Lombard lines. The besiegers retire in disorder, although not in rout, yet leave a huge pile of supplies as well as thirty six cannons that are captured. It is a tremendous victory and more raiding parties fly out, ravaging the countryside for miles.

    Upon news of this, the Lombards investing Benevento break up their siege. They’ve had little luck against the defenses as any time they press the garrison hard, the Sicilians in the field attack them. So they retire north, heading for Livorno and taking heavy losses from Sicilian raids and lack of supplies. But by October 1, a new siege of Livorno is established and the Roman garrison plugged back into the city.

    Meanwhile the Sicilians launch their own offensive into the Kingdom, marching through Abruzzi and aiming for Ancona, which is formally invested on September 19. A heavily outnumbered Lombard relief army is smashed two weeks later and the Sicilians march in on October 8.

    By this point King Cesare is asking Theodor, much to his extreme irritation, to send him German troops. Although he still has superior numbers to the Sicilians and Roman tourmai on the peninsula, they’re now pinned down by the need to contain the footholds at Livorno and Civitavecchia, mask Venetia to prevent an attack from that quarter (there have already been several raids in the area, far larger in scale than anything conducted elsewhere), and protect other coastal settlements. Genoa by itself consumes 4000 soldiers as its garrison. With all those commitments, his field army is actually slightly smaller than the Sicilian army.

    Theodor rejects Cesare’s plea.
    1632: The War in Syria-Palestine
  • Eastern Border - Copy (585x640).jpg

    The Roman Eastern Frontier from the Eternal War


    Roman highway systems follow a similar layout to modern OTL network but a major highway from the early days of Helena I connects Maskanah to Arra (Ma'arrat an Nu'man), bypassing Aleppo altogether.

    1632 continued: An invasion of Roman Syria from the east is nothing new, such things having happened as far back as the days of Herod the Great. But Shah Ibrahim’s invasion is different than the usual Ottoman invasion of the Roman East for one big reason. He has absolutely no intention of invading Anatolia.

    Not since Timur’s first invasion has a Muslim army invaded Anatolia and lived to tell the tale. During the Time of Troubles, the Ottomans had sent an immense host there which made it to the banks of the Bosporus, watching the cooking fires of Constantinople from across the straits. And then Andreas Drakos had obliterated its supply depot at Kotyaion and the great host disintegrated without a major battle. Ibrahim has no intention of repeating that experience.

    His sight is aimed south, to Syria and Egypt. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, both regions (especially Syria) have large Muslim populations who can and will act as fifth-columnists. The term ‘fifth column’ dates to this invasion, as at one point Ibrahim tells the Sikh ambassador that his four columns here will be supported by a fifth column inside the city.

    Secondly, taking Egypt will cut off the Romans from their far eastern territories and Ibrahim is well aware of the money Constantinople gains from the trade. Plus the less Constantinople talks to Vijayanagar and Oudh the better.

    Thirdly, by taking Syria and Egypt he might be able to recreate those trade routes but to the benefit of Persia. Sending barges up the Euphrates to Mosul, then caravan to the Syrian coast, where it could be exported to European markets after paying export duties from an Ottoman port, should bring in a lot of currency.

    The Triunes definitely advanced these arguments to Ibrahim when he was debating whether or not to attack Rhomania, although whether they originated the reasons or merely reinforced the Shah’s thinking is unknown.

    Fourthly, invading Rhomania is a good way to encourage the Turks who are still somewhat lukewarm towards him. In a conquest of Syria and Egypt, they are the ones who will benefit, unlike Iskandar’s invasions of India which saw Persians put in the new positions. Now the Persians would prefer an attack on India for the same reason the Turks want to focus on Syria, but given the presence of Roman artillery officers in the Oudh court, they see the rationale for focusing west.

    Demetrios does have a potential ace which he immediately deploys, Iskandar’s youngest son and only surviving brother of Ibrahim, Iskandar the Younger. Unfortunately he is only 13 years old but he could still seriously inconvenience his fratricidal older brother. He has been given a Roman education in his time at court but Iskandar remains a Muslim despite protests from the clergy, on the grounds that his worth as a pretender would vanish if he were to become a Christian.

    Just five weeks after the invasion, Iskandar the Younger along with some retainers meets with the Emir of Mosul, a prominent Turkish official. His district is the most militarized in the entire Ottoman Empire and can easily be supplied by Roman quartermasters. If it went into revolt, Ibrahim’s invasion would collapse immediately and Demetrios is willing to pay a great deal for that to happen.

    The meeting is a disaster. The Emir seizes Iskandar and his retainers, save some who manage to bolt. Keeping the money chests that accompanied the prince, he then delivers the boy to Shah Ibrahim. The Shah is pleased until he discovers that the prince in the Emir’s custody is not actually his younger brother, but a decoy sent to trip any ambushes like this one. At that point, the real Iskandar is back on his gifted estates near Trebizond. Given how quickly that went south, Demetrios is not inclined to try that tactic again until it can be done with better odds of success.

    The Ottoman advance sallies forth from Maskanah and Manbij, the two formerly Roman forts that Iskandar the Great took as prizes at the Treaty of Mashhadshar in 1623 (the third, Jarabalus, was taken back by a Roman siege in 1626 when Andreas III marched to support Osman in his civil war against Ibrahim). These forts have been massively enlarged and upgraded during their Ottoman tenure, keeping a firm flank guard against Aleppo.

    For all their improvement, Maskanah and Manbij don’t hold a candle to Aleppo. After the breach of the Euphrates fortress line in 1623, Aleppo, already well fortified, got a massive upgrade as well. Its defenses are comparable in size to the Herakleian Walls defending Constantinople itself. Ibrahim doesn’t even try to besiege the city, merely leaving a masking force to keep an eye on the garrison and any reinforcements.

    Maskanah and Manbij are also important because they provide an invasion route of Roman Syria that allows Ibrahim to flank the territory of the Megas Kyr Anizzah. Ibrahim wants to hit the Romans hard and fast, not get tangled up in their tribal allies.

    The Megas Kyr Anizzah is a major threat to the Shah’s plans. Although he can’t hope to go toe-to-toe with an Ottoman battle line his light cavalry can play havoc on his supply lines and scouts. However Ibrahim has a counter to that.

    Ottoman victories in the Eternal War made the Sharif of Hedjaz an Ottoman vassal, although the Sharif does send four horses annually to Constantinople as a gesture of respect for the Emperor (the horses for this year crossed the Roman frontier at the same time as the Ottoman vanguard). This has allowed Ibrahim to intervene in the Arabian Peninsula to a far greater extent than any Ottoman ruler before him.

    The northern Anizzah, the more powerful branch of that family, has been firmly in the Roman orbit since the Time of Troubles. However their southern cousins have been ambivalent, sometimes working with their northern cousins on Rhomania’s behalf, but also turning on the Romans when Mecca was seized by Roman forces in response to the Great Uprising. Given the lack of trust Constantinople has in the southern Anizzah, they’ve been disinclined to provide them much support.

    But now the southern Anizzah are no more. Stoutly supported by Ottoman gold and firearms, the Howeitat tribal confederacy pushed into the region and shattered the southern Anizzah confederacy at the same time as the Night of the Tocsins was playing out in Constantinople. Now firmly ensconced in their new holdings, they are perfectly placed to attack the Anizzah from the south, as well as hammer the Owais and Haddad tribes, key linchpins in the Roman tribal allied network.

    So the Anizzah are hit from multiple directions simultaneously. A smaller Ottoman army of thirteen thousand, separate from the main force, attacks the Megas Kyr from the north while the Howeitat let fly from the south. Although the Howeitat get a bloody nose, the Ottomans then pile on the bloodied Anizzah, breaking their ranks and sending them flying westward. Despite the rather small number of combatants involved, this is a major victory for the Ottomans. The supply route from the Jazirah is vastly securer with them gone (which had been the point for installing the Great Lordship in the first place).

    Further south a smaller Howeitat force advances against the Owais and Haddad. By itself, this southern contingent could be easily handled by the two tribes despite their comparative weakness to the Anizzah. However the Howeitat are reinforced by Hedjazi forces and tribesmen from Najd and even some Yemeni. It is a polyglot and poorly disciplined army but now the Owais and Haddad are badly outnumbered. Although they pummel the Arab vanguard at several points, they too are forced westward. Now the Roman frontier from Aqaba to Aleppo is all under attack.

    And much of the land behind said frontier erupts into open revolt. Much of that is triggered simply by news that the Shah is on the march, here to finally liberate the Syrian Muslims from the Christian yoke they have worn since the days of Andreas Niketas. But Ibrahim has been planning for such a revolt, as a tool to be used against the Romans if necessary. There are a suspicious number of Muslim peasants around Homs and Hama that are well organized and have shiny Ottoman muskets.

    From the south the Egyptian army, twenty seven thousand strong (including three thousand Nile Germans), marches up the coastal route, linking up with Owais and Haddad riders, whilst eight thousand Ethiopian troops land in Aqaba. By the time the Ethiopian transports were able to move the Egyptians were already in the Sinai so it was decided to send them to Aqaba instead of Suez as it’d be a shorter march for the Ethiopians to link up with the Egyptians.

    However in a critical failure that can be explained by the one responsible looking at a map but not realizing the terrain, the only road out of Aqaba goes through the Wadi Itm. The Wadi Itm is a twenty-five mile gorge, overlooked by sheer cliff faces and winding in course, with side ravines and boulder masses spewed about the Wadi floor, at certain points so narrow that only two camels can pass abreast.

    The Ethiopians march up into the Wadi, which is normally covered by a small Owais outpost, but the defenders there were driven off earlier and the Arabs now cover the Wadi. Ambushes are incessant, coming from all sides, and to increase the Ethiopians’ misery, there is no water in the Wadi, although the Arabs in the side ravines have plenty. The lack of Ethiopian cavalry (unlike the Romans, the Ethiopians lack dedicated horse transports) is only the icing on the cake. Hammered relentlessly and desperately thirsty, the Ethiopians are forced to fall back to Aqaba, harassed from the hills by Arab snipers, although fortunately for the Ethiopians their foes lack artillery.

    After mauling an Arab detachment near Beersheba, upon hearing news that the Ethiopians are plugged up in Aqaba, the Egyptians wheel south. Hopefully they can catch the Arabs whilst they are still in the Wadi and they can squash the Arab army between them and the Ethiopians. For this reason the Ethiopians are not re-embarked for Suez.

    On their march the Egyptians run into an Arab army at Ma’an, which is mostly composed of Hedjazi infantry that have been drilled by Turkish sergeants. Heavily outnumbered, the Hedjazi are driven from the town after a two-hour battle, but the need to deploy into battle and then reform after battle stalls the Egyptians for most of a day. This gives the Arabs in the Wadi time to evacuate, which was the reason for the stand at Ma’an.

    The Ethiopians come through the Wadi Itm now, joining forces with the Egyptians, and the combined African army marches north, scattering Arab raiders and Palestinian rebels in their path.

    Meanwhile to the north Ibrahim is busy. Hama falls to a daring flying column supported by Muslim Syrian rebels who open sally ports in the walls. The Shah though is focused firstly on the fortified town of Arra (Ma’arrat an Nu’man), which is a key road link to Latakia. The main highway there also leads south to Hama, from which are road links to Tortosa. Ibrahim wants all three towns, as with them under his control he has a belt of fortresses that will keep the main Roman forces to the north separate from their garrisons in the south and the Egyptian-Ethiopian army. Roman sea power could circumvent that, but transporting the number of troops involved is time-consuming, particularly since many of the available transports are off in Italy.

    The Domestikos of the East is Theodoros Laskaris, whose grandmother was the Princess Theodora, daughter of Ioannes VI Komnenos and step-daughter of Andreas II Drakos, through his mother Anna, Her Serene Highness’s youngest daughter. While the Syrian tagma is being run ragged trying to secure fortresses and squash the rebels, he arrives in Aleppo with the first reinforcements, scattering the masking force there.

    The bulk of the forces slated to come east spent the winter in Anatolian quarters, both as a cost-saving measure but also because the Romans were unsure at the time if Ibrahim would attack or if he was just posturing. If troops are deployed in Syria but then not needed, it will take a very long time before they can be transferred to Europe, which was one reason for the defeats of 1631. But if they’re in Anatolia they can quickly reinforce whichever front is needed. Even with the Maskanah-Manbij hole in the Euphrates belt, there are a lot of fortresses in Syria that can contain the Ottoman thrust.

    Theodoros could turn east, but that is less appealing with the collapse of the Great Lordship. Even if he managed to retake Manbij and Maskanah, it wouldn’t be enough now to cut Ibrahim’s supply line. There would still be the huge Ottoman citadel at Ar-Raqqah and another not quite as large but still formidable opposite Dayr az Zawr. And such a long thrust to the east would expose his own supply line from attack by Ibrahim. Plus there is another army forming in Amida to deal with that theater. So he elects to look south.

    Ibrahim suspects the Domestikos’ plan and sends off 35000 men to maul the Roman commander while his forces are still limited whilst the Shah proceeds with the siege of Arra. Rather than risk being bottled up in Aleppo or allowing the Ottomans an opportunity to maul his reinforcements as they come up, Theodoros prefers to attack (he has the same aggressive instincts as his cousin the Domestikos of the West). Although only possessing 27000 men he attacks the Ottomans at Saraqib. The cavalry and artillery duels are a draw, but the Roman infantry advance rolling out volleys of musketry, sweeping the field and breaking the Ottoman lines. They retire, shaken but intact, with 3500 casualties to 2000 Roman.

    Ibrahim is alarmed by this reverse, especially as Roman tourmai are pouring into Aleppo. In a month Theodoros’ army triples in size, even as the Egyptian-Ethiopian army sidles west onto the coastal road. That area is peopled mainly by non-Sunnis who have little reason to cheer for a new Ottoman overlord. The Africans make better marching time and their ranks are swelled as the more capable militias are grafted onto the army plus some of the Syrian tourmai. By the time they reach Beirut, it is 52000 strong and supported by fifteen Roman warships offshore.

    By gathering together the bulk of his forces, including fresh levies from Mesopotamia, Arab riders, and new Syrian recruits, Ibrahim musters about 90000 in his main host. The Arabs, reformed after the battles of Ma’an and the retreat from Wadi Itm, are still raising havoc along the frontier further south. Meanwhile much of the countryside is in rebel hands.

    Homs falls to the rebels in late June, although not before a furious street battle between the Muslim inhabitants and the garrison, supported by three Maronite militia companies. The garrison is massacred after being overwhelmed by far superior numbers.

    On July 1 Arra surrenders after a hotly contested siege. This, combined with Homs, is a major victory for Ibrahim giving him control of the road network in the region, an asset he needs desperately. To the north Laskaris is camped at Latakia with 80000 men, taking on massive supplies of rations and ammunition through the port. He is further supported by another 20000 garrison and militia troops in Cilicia and the Antioch-Aleppo belt.

    Despite the plight of Arra, the Domestikos is being cautious now. Saraqib worked out well but it is always better to outnumber your enemy if you can. His plan is to get his large army properly supplied, get some of the newer recruits some needed drill, and then move south to link up with the Egyptian-Ethiopian army.

    Ibrahim absolutely cannot let that happen. If those two armies combine, he is doomed. Fortunately for him he has possession of the interior lines and with the main highways under his banner now he is now capable of utilizing that possession. A key factor is that because of the delay at the Wadi Itm, the two armies are further apart than would be expected otherwise.

    Leaving fires burning to throw off the Roman cavalry that has been harassing his lines during the siege of Arra, he races south. Despite the ruse, the scouts soon discover Ibrahim’s actions and alert the Domestikos, but it takes a day for the report to travel the 120km to the Domestikos. Immediately on hearing the news as well as a report of the fall of Homs (even if Arra held he had expected Homs to lock Ibrahim down on the inland highway so that he could link up with the Africans on the coastal road without hindrance), he marches south at top speed as well. Sending monores (light galleys used as couriers and scouts) to warn the Africans he also transfers three tourmai by sea to reinforce them.

    Both the Africans and Romans are astounded by the speed Ibrahim manages, making a 192 kilometer march in five days, over 40km a day, to slam into the African army still working its way up the coastal road at the village of Aabdeh on July 9. The Africans have time to throw up a few fieldworks and they are supported by gunfire from the warships offshore, but aside from the naval assistance they are weak on artillery and heavy cavalry. There are also no good defensive features in the landscape where they are caught.

    The musketry of the Egyptian and Ethiopian infantry stop a frontal assault cold, but that assault’s purpose is to fix the African line in place as Ibrahim’s far superior cavalry (3 to 1 in light, 8 to 1 in heavy) sweep around the right flank. A refused flank composed of the three Roman tourmai from Theodoros, plus three more Syrian tourmai and a half dozen Egyptian, brings them up cold as well, although not before the African cavalry is scattered.

    But now the Ottoman artillery is ascendant, with gunners moving pieces around to support the flank as well. If the flank guard forms square to guard against the cavalry, they’re sitting ducks for the cannons. When three of the tourmatic squares are broken by the guns, the flank guard gives way and the Ottoman cavalry proceed to roll up the African line.

    Now it is the turn of the rest of the army to face the dilemma the flank guard endured earlier. Form line and be run down by the cavalry, form square and be blasted by the cannon and here the Qizilbash musketry as well. Some formations choose the first, some the other. It doesn’t matter. Either way they die.

    Soon it is a complete rout as the army shatters into pieces. Some escape to the cover of the offshore warships, still pulverizing any enemy within reach. More manage to flee to the safety of Tripoli, the garrison sallying out to cover their withdrawal.

    Ibrahim has won a great victory. For five thousand casualties he has inflicted thirteen thousand, taken nineteen thousand prisoners, and captured 45 artillery pieces and 22 tourmatic standards. The next morning Theodoros Laskaris slams into his rear guard with 81,000 men.

    Laskaris cannot be accused of dawdling. He too made 40km a day and thanks to the coastal road had a much shorter march than Ibrahim, 135 kilometers, but because of the delay in getting the news of Ibrahim’s march to Theodoros, he is just a little too late.

    Twenty minutes after the Roman offensive crashes into it, the Ottoman rear guard ceases to existence. The Roman infantry roll forward, like a great undulating snake across the landscape, ripping fire lashing out, while the cannons wheel forward and unlimber, spewing their own death forward, while rank upon rank of cavalry work at the flank. Meanwhile the warships return to the fray, hurling volleys into the fight and landing the survivors from the previous day, Theodoros working them into his reserve.

    The first twenty minutes are the worst, the Ottomans taking at least nine thousand casualties in that period alone. The 16th Mazandaran Orta had 731 of its 903 men as casualties, at least 500 of them taken in the first half hour.

    But the Romans surge onward, pounding the Ottomans ruthlessly, and it seems very likely that the entire army will shatter much as the Africans did yesterday. But the Ottomans, exhausted after their hard march and a day of battle, reform themselves and begin to put up stouter resistance, fighting behind barricades of wagons, barrels, saddles, anything that can be used. They retire, giving ground, but remaining intact.

    Much credit for that goes to the Shah, who demonstrates tremendous bravery in a desperate moment, just as his father did at Astara. Twenty seven of his thirty two personal bodyguards are killed or wounded, two horses are killed under him, and at least two bullets pierce his turban and a third his right sleeve.

    Also a furious resistance from several Ortas in the village of Mahmra stalls the Roman advance at terrible costs to themselves. In places the Ottoman dead are stacked seven or eight bodies high, the streets literally covered in rivers of blood. But they buy time for the rest of the army to retire across the Bared River, little more than a nearly empty creek under the Syrian July sun, but enough of an obstacle to blunt the continuing Roman attack.

    As Thrakesian tourmai begin fording the Bared River, a small Ottoman force piles into the Roman flank. The force is made up of stragglers from the original forced march, who formed up and marched to the sound of the guns. Theodoros, who thinks a major flanking attack is in operation, throws in his reserve and pulls some of his attack troops to reinforce them. The flanking force is soon smashed into pieces and routed with over seventy percent casualties, but the time and energy needed to kill it has given the main Ottoman army a desperately needed breather and time to throw up some earthworks. Further Roman attacks, which are not as hotly pressed because of Roman exhaustion, are beaten back, Theodoros ceasing at dusk.

    July 10 has done much to avenge July 9. For six thousand casualties, Theodoros has taken four thousand prisoners and inflicted twenty thousand casualties. Nineteen horsetail banners have been seized plus 41 cannons, eleven of which are Egyptians taken the day before. July 11 looks promising as well and his artillery and the warships maintain a blind cannonade through the night.

    The sun dawns on a tired Roman army (which was kept up by its own bombardment) and an exhausted Ottoman army, but the latter had, during the night, thrown up a truly impressive series of earthworks. However Theodoros thinks that, between Ottoman exhaustion, demoralization, and the need to guard their prisoners from July 9 (a few escaped on the 10th but the bulk remain in Ottoman custody), that they can be stormed. If he can, he will destroy Ibrahim’s host and with it the Ottoman war effort. So he attacks.

    The Ottomans are exhausted but they are not inclined to give up. The Romans surge forward, covered by a ground-shaking bombardment. The trickle of water that is the Bared is little hindrance, but the sunken ditch it has carved is another matter. The attacks are bloodily thrown back, Theodoros giving up at noon. July 11 sees nine thousand Roman casualties for only twenty six hundred Ottomans. Both sides are now using flintlock muskets with iron ramrods, and even though they are inaccurate smoothbores the carnage they can wreak is truly appalling.

    With the attack blown, Theodoros now faces a problem of ammunition. He is low on cannon shot and many of the warships also have empty shot lockers. The Tripoli depot’s stores were largely cleaned out and then shot away on July 9, while Theodoros took much of the Latakia depot’s ammo and fired it off on July 10 and 11. More is coming in but it is ferried in from Acre or Alexandretta.

    Ibrahim has more serious problems. On July 12 Theodoros begins sidling east to cut the inland road, Ibrahim’s supply route and link to Homs. If he can’t storm the Ottoman lines, perhaps he can starve them. Meanwhile the Roman supply line is along the coastal highway and covered by the warships, the ones remaining on station equipped with full shot lockers having been topped off by the ones retiring to get more. Thus it’s not vulnerable to being cut, although timariot cavalry infiltrate under cover of night and burn one convoy in the early hours of July 13.

    Ibrahim can’t stay here, but he is encumbered by his huge haul of prisoners. Unwilling to just massacre them but also wanting to make sure such a huge body of men are useless to the enemy, he has an idea. July 14 is known as the Day of the Fingers as Ottoman troops, covered by artillery and muskets held by their peers, systematically cut off the fingers on the right hands of all the prisoners, making them completely useless as gunners.

    On July 15 he drives the half-handers, as they are called, toward the Roman lines. Using the confusion and disorder it causes, he blasts his way northeast, smashing through the Roman cordon and regaining the Homs road, taking out all of his baggage and light artillery, although nine of his heavier pieces have to be abandoned.

    Theodoros pursues but reports of a combined Arab and Syrian Muslim army mustering at Al Qusayr added to continuing ammunition shortages make him retire back to the coast. By July 25 Theodoros is at Tortosa and Ibrahim at Homs, each licking their wounds.

    Both armies then proceed to shadow and parry each other, the heavy losses suffered by both sides at Aabdeh making them cautious. If Ibrahim marches on the coast, he knows Theodoros can swing in behind him and cut his supply lines and he really does not want to face the Romans in another field battle.

    While if Theodoros marches inland, his secure coastal supply line becomes vulnerable to a similar maneuver, particularly with all the Arab cavalry swarming around. Plus if Ibrahim manages to seize his supply line and entrench, he’ll be forced to attack those Ottoman embankments again which he really does not want to do.

    So they shadow and parry, trading skirmishes and minor battles, but nothing on the scale of Aabdeh. Reinforced, Theodoros does make a thrust at Hama in mid-August but is faced by serious Ottoman earthworks at Masyaf. Attempts to flank them are parried and remembering July 11, Theodoros retires to the coast.

    In effect, the two main armies have canceled each other out. Thus the war further south is carried out by secondary forces. Unfortunately for the Romans, on July 9 Ibrahim crippled many of those secondary forces. The Egyptian army is mauled, the Ethiopian expedition shattered, and many of the best militias pulverized. Meanwhile there are Arab raiders and Syrian Muslims running wild in the interior.

    The coastal strip is secure, covered by the guns of the Roman navy, but inland cities are horribly vulnerable. Damascus is put under blockade in mid-July and in late September Theodoros begins marching down the coast, turning inland at Beirut. On October 2 Ibrahim’s artillery begins firing into Tortosa’s walls.

    Theodoros ignores that, driving for Damascus and scattering the blockaders. However he is concerned about his supply lines as Tortosa’s and Tripoli’s fortifications are not as state-of-the-art as he would hope. So he evacuates the populace and garrison, retreating back to the coast, and then drives hard for Tortosa. Ibrahim entrenches at his approach but when Theodoros begins working around to cut his path inland, he decamps and withdraws back into the interior.

    A Syrian Muslim army marches into Damascus on October 20.
    Last edited:
    1632: Eastern Fronts
  • Geor_tamro_aandersen.gif

    1632 continued
    : Alexei, proclaimed King of Georgia, moves quickly to secure his position. With the tagmata of Guria and Tashiri supporting his own tagma of Imeretia, he is able to attack the theme of Kakheti which includes the capital of Tbilisi from two fronts. After defeating the outnumbered royal army in two battles, Tbilisi capitulates to him after a token siege (it surrendered six hours after his artillery took up position).

    The infant Konstantin IV and his mother/regent Anna Drakina are hustled to Baku by their loyalists where they set up a government-in-exile but the odds are against them. Much of the Kakheti tagma shifts loyalty to Alexei after he takes Tbilisi and he also has good contacts with the Alans and the tribes that inhabit Georgian Trans-Caucasia. They provide him with skilled light cavalry and secure valuable grain imports from the Kuban.

    Anna can count on the loyalty of much of Shirvan as well as Abkhazia, but Alexei controls all of Georgia in between, making it nearly impossible to coordinate efforts. She dispatches letter after letter to Constantinople, pleading to her cousin for assistance.

    Assistance comes in the form of an army commanded by Konstantinos Mauromanikos, Strategos of the Armeniakon, comprising his tagma (13 tourmai strong), the Chaldeans (reinforced up to 7 tourmai by now), the Akoimetoi (consolidated into 2 over-strength tourmai), the Abkhazians (8 tourmai), and 2 tourmai from the Anatolikon. All told, it is about 30000 strong, comparable in size to all of Alexei’s forces. (Georgian tagmata are generally smaller than Roman ones, and also have varying peace-time strengths.)

    Mauromanikos has a Georgian mother and speaks the language fluently. The same can be said for many of the soldiers under his command. Georgian immigrants are everywhere in the eastern reaches of the Empire and the links between them and the homeland are strong. It is noted that a Georgian who learns Greek almost invariably has a Trebizond accent.

    He is thus not very enthusiastic about this assignment. Crossing the frontier, he slowly approaches the town of Artaani, giving the garrison plenty of time to evacuate. The only casualty taken in the capture of the town is a new recruit who falls off his horse and breaks an arm. There Mauromanikos encamps, fortifies his position, and sends out reconnaissance patrols to ‘assess the situation’, but makes no move to do anything more substantial.

    There are some skirmishes between the patrols and Alexei’s outriders but nothing major, neither side willing to press the matter. The war here causes very little damage, as all supplies are paid for in either Roman currency (which doesn’t bother the locals one bit, well used to it) or Imperial bank certificates (slightly more annoying, but there’s a coach service to Trebizond every Tuesday and Saturday). There are invariably a few incidents, many caused by the independent-minded Abkhazians who are always somewhat prickly towards their eastern neighbors.

    In fact, the inhabitants of Artaani start to welcome the Roman presence after they get used to it. So many new customers. The tavern keepers and brothel owners are positively delighted. Meanwhile farmers bring their produce to market to the hungry Romans, and reportedly some of Alexei’s own estate managers arrange sales of grain and mutton to Mauromanikos’s quartermasters, possibly with Alexei’s knowledge.

    Whether or not that is so, the mere presence of this army gives Alexei cause for concern. It’s quiescent now, but he can’t guarantee it will remain so. Someone might light a fire under Mauromanikos or he might be replaced. So the small force he sends into Shirvan gets beaten back, the front lines settling at Tsnori rather than the breakthrough to Baku he would’ve been practically guaranteed without the Roman intervention.

    Mauromanikos meanwhile sends back reports of ‘stubborn opposition and difficult terrain’ to justify his lack of movement. Megas Domestikos Mouzalon sees right through them but doesn’t challenge his strategos; he has similar feelings. His wife’s uncle is a tourmarch under Alexei.

    The prime supporter of this war in the capital is Logothete of the Drome Andronikos Sarantenos, responsible for all foreign affairs. He has been a fervent supporter of the Safavids and played a significant role in getting their ‘hijacking’ of the throne after the collapse of the royal Bagrationi line approved by Constantinople. It has essentially been his ‘pet project’ for much of his career and he is reluctant to abandon it. The long-term stipend he’s been receiving from the Safavids also is a strong motivation.

    For the moment he is supported by the Empress Jahzara, not because she cares much about the Safavids or her husband’s Drakoi cousins, but because Sarantenos has been her main political ally for years. He was a key player in the Night of the Tocsins, preparing much of the bureaucratic underlay for Demetrios’ accession.

    Both Laskarid Domestikoi are loudly demanding reinforcements and Mauromanikos’s army is an obvious choice, especially since it contains a goodly number of peacetime regular troops and not fresh conscripts. So when Damascus falls the Emperor forces the Logothete to start negotiations with Alexei. But Sarantenos plays ball with bad grace. Per the Emperor’s orders, he agrees to recognize Alexei as King of Georgia, but demands that Konstantin IV be sent to Constantinople. Alexei wants the young Konstantin within strangling distance, not at a foreign court where he could be turned into another ‘Iskandar the Younger’. Furthermore he demands that Alexei pay 2.5 million hyperpyra [1] in coin in one lump sum up front to Anna as compensation. In all of Christendom, only the Roman and Triune governments could possibly fulfill such a demand and he knows it. Alexei angrily rejects such terms.

    But Sarantenos reports to Demetrios that Alexei rejected a demand for a 700,000 hyperpyra payment to Anna, 200,000 up front and the rest in yearly installments for the next 5 years. Demetrios is irritated when he hears the news, as that seems like a responsible price for the Georgian throne. As for Konstantin IV, right now he really doesn’t care. The Empress is unaware of the deception the Logothete is playing on her husband.

    Sarantenos’s goal is to make Demetrios turn against Alexei, so that the Emperor will either get Mouzalon to light a fire under Mauromanikos, or arrange a new commander, perhaps even sending more reinforcements to Georgia to finish the matter. If more is invested in Georgia it will be harder to back out. Now if Georgia were the only concern, Demetrios would soon discover the cover-up. But right now he has a lot more on his plate.

    One of the items distracting the Emperor is the most likely source for Mauromanikos’s reinforcement if he were to receive any, the Army of Mesopotamia. Commanded by Strategos of the Anatolikon Thomas Amirales, it comprises the remainder of the Anatolikon tagma (12 tourmai), 2 Opsikian tourmai, and the Varangians (5 tourmai). Included on the rolls of the Varangians is Kaisar Odysseus Sideros even though much of the tagma, continuing the tradition of its pre-1204 incarnation, is comprised of Russians, Finns, and Scots.

    Now nineteen, the prince is eager to see action notwithstanding the fears of his parents. Despite the risk to the succession Demetrios acceded to his son’s entreaties during the fall of 1631, also aware of the PR value of having a Sideros fighting in the army. This is particularly important when the obvious dynastic alternative, Alexandros Drakos, is renowned as the ‘Lion of Nineveh’ and ‘the Bravest of the Brave’. During the Danube campaign he collects 12 Winged Hussar helmets whose previous owners he killed in battle. Odysseus is jealous of the accolades going to his brother-in-law and keen to surpass him.

    The idea is that Odysseus will serve on the Strategos’s staff but the prince is disinclined to take a job dealing with paperwork in the headquarters tent. With his artistic skill and good eye he makes an excellent scout, creating quick yet accurate sketches for the Strategos. Considering the type of warfare the Army of Mesopotamia is conducting, he is far too valuable to not be out front with the trapezites, much to Odysseus’s liking.

    Eastern Border - Copy (585x640).jpg

    Basing out of Amida, Strategos Amirales quickly seizes the border town of Cizre with a surprise escalade, the citadel surrendering a week later. Reinforced by 7 tourmai worth of troops drawn from the various Van Kephalates, the highly militarized border districts that had such prominence during the Eternal War, he drives on to Duhok. (The new tourmai are part of the Armeniakon tagma.)

    Duhok has modern if simplistic defenses, putting up a stout defense with the promise of support from a relief army comprised of new local Turkish levies and reinforced by Ortas (regiments, comparable to a Roman tourma although more various in size) of Azabs elsewhere in Mesopotamia that were held back from the initial invasion because of the inability to supply a larger field army in Syria. These include 3 Ortas from the Basra Azabs which date back to the early years of the Ottoman Empire, one of the Ortas including the pivotal 1319 Battle of the Gates among its battle honors. All three are at least 1600 strong.

    Thus the relief army of 25000 that approaches Duhok on July 8 (while both Theodoros and Ibrahim are racing for Aabdeh), whilst comprised of largely second-class Ottoman material, still has teeth. The Turkish horse try to flank the Romans but run into a refused flank guard made up mostly of the new Armeniakon tourmai. The Kurdish infantry pour a hail of bullets into them, eagerly wading in with axe and hammer on those cavalry that close to melee range. The assault is beaten back.

    Then the Roman infantry plow forward, snapping out musket volleys every fifteen paces, light cannons rolling out to add their breath to the cauldron of death. To their credit the line of Azab infantry fights hard, the Samarra and particularly Basra Ortas distinguishing themselves, but after 90 minutes of punishment they break. At that point Amirales unleashes his completely fresh cavalry which pursue the fleeing enemy, some so far that only a sally from the Mosul garrison stops them.

    Although comparatively small, Duhok is still an impressive victory. For two thousand casualties, Amirales inflicted sixty four hundred, half of them prisoners, and Duhok surrenders two days later.

    Now Amirales would prefer to head south but the next fortress on the highway is Mosul, massive and state-of-the-art. He couldn’t even properly invest it with the troops under his command. So he swings west, laying siege to the much smaller Mardin and taking it after a three-week siege, the town surrendering just as Theodoros and Ibrahim are sparring around Masyaf.

    The main highway supplying Ibrahim’s army in Syria is the Mosul-Raqqa route via Al Hasakah (site of one of Iskandar the Great’s early victories in the Eternal War). Both Mosul and Raqqa are far too large for Amirales to even think of besieging. Al Hasakah is still formidable but more manageable in size, but despite receiving 1 new tourma from the Anatolikon, 2 more Opsikian, and one more from the Van Kephalates, he doesn’t have enough men to besiege Al-Hasakah, secure his supply lines, and adequately garrison Cizre, Duhok, and Mardin.

    What he can do though is make life as hard as possible for Ottoman caravans between the fortresses. This is a war of raids and ambuscades, sudden assaults on caravans and swirling cavalry maneuvers. Odysseus is in his element here, providing reliable and quick intelligence to Amirales who is busy converting as much as his infantry as possible into mounted infantry to support the cavalry patrols. He also organizes two horse artillery batteries, each comprising six six-pounder field pieces pulled by four horses, to add firepower to the raiding columns.

    The greatest coup comes on October 1 when Roman forces attack an Ottoman caravan of 800 wagons plus camel and mule trains. Using the horse artillery to blast through the escort, the Romans run wild, destroying or capturing at least 550 of the wagons before the Al-Hasakah garrison and a Basra Orta come to the rescue.

    Odysseus is in the thick of it. At one point a timariot with at least three kyzikoi fires one at him and misses. The second shot hits him and the third misfires, at which point Odysseus runs the Turk through with his lance. The shot that struck him punctured his plate cuirass, which slowed the bullet, which then buried itself in the copy of Arrian’s Anabasis of Alexander Odysseus carried in his breast pocket. The Kaisar suffers no more than some nasty bruising although he expresses annoyance at having to buy a new copy of Arrian.

    Odysseus’s great uncle Negusa Nagast Tewodros I isn’t as physically active as his great-nephew but he is busy as well. Much of the original Ethiopian expedition was destroyed at Aabdeh but he pledges another ten thousand troops to fight in Palestine for his ally, on condition that Egypt put at least another twenty thousand men in the field beside them. Considering that much of Egypt’s army was also wrecked at Aabdeh, including a good portion of their officer corps, it may take a while.

    But Ethiopia is not inactive. Also in early July, a combined Ethiopian-Egyptian-Roman fleet bears down on Aden, landing eighteen thousand Ethiopian troops to attack the port. Considering that the last attack on the city in 1594 ended in humiliating failure and Aden’s defenses have only gotten better since then, it is a bold effort. For four weeks the Ethiopians hammer at the land walls, beating off Yemeni attacks from the interior, whilst the fleet blockades and bombards the city. On August 4 an Ottoman fleet, supported by four Triune warships, appears on the horizon and offers battle.

    In the three-hour battle that follows, the combined fleet gives the Ottomans a drubbing, sinking or capturing seven ships, including one of the Triunes, for two ships pounded into wrecks and another pair badly damaged. But during the fray, the Ottomans manage to sneak transports into Aden carrying 300000 rations, fifteen cannons, three thousand muskets, and fifteen hundred Qizilbash infantry.

    The Ethiopians settle back into the siege, grimly mining and battering the walls. Finally after five more weeks they open two storm-able breaches in the wall at which point the garrison surrenders. It was a costly siege; the Ethiopians losing four thousand of the eighteen that originally landed to various causes, never mind the naval losses. But it is a tremendous victory. With Aden under Ethiopian control, the Ottomans cannot seriously threaten the Red Sea or Ethiopian coast although they have a dozen fregatai and more privateers out commerce raiding.

    With Aden eliminated as a threat, the combined fleet reinforces the Omani who have been hard-pressed by the Ottoman navy. The Omani give as well as they get, but that’s not enough when one is outnumbered three-to-one. Now though the Ottoman fleet is bottled in the Persian Gulf save for raiders, although out of four serious raids the combined fleet unleashes on the Persian coast two get badly mauled by a combination of naval action and quick response from local militias.

    Further east the main threat is the Triune navy. There are skirmishes from the mouth of the Indus to the mouth of the Pearl (the Zeng Chinese authorities are not amused by the latter), although most are of little consequence with honors just about even. Many of these are just merchants taking an opportunity to blow competitors out of the water, as one does.

    More substantial and directed by the Katepano of New Constantinople on the Roman end is involvement in Java. The Sultanate of Semarang, which has long dominated the northern coast of Java, is now facing a threat from the interior. Mataram is an old city in the Javan interior, rich in history but poor in power for the last several centuries.

    Until a new king is crowned there who is named Sanjaya, after the ruler who founded the Medang Empire (r. 732-760) that dominated much of central and east Java for a quarter-millennia. A militant Hindu who styles himself after the great Vijayanagari Emperors, since his accession in 1599 he has used his own military skill and the army paid for and fed by the huge rice fields of the region to gradually subdue most of the interior of central and eastern Java.

    By now his only rival in the region is the Semarang Sultanate which controls the northern coast of central and eastern Java. Although Sanjaya can put into the field armies that dwarf that of Sultan Agung, the Sultan has far better and more numerous gunpowder weapons. Furthermore Sanjaya lacks a navy, meaning that the port cities that are the backbone of the Sultanate are effectively invulnerable given that and Mataram’s lack of cannon.

    Enter the Romans. Semarang has long harassed Roman traders passing by and the near complete lack of Roman interaction with Java is entirely due to Semarang. Semarang also subsidized the Brunei attacks that destroyed most of the Roman trading posts in Sulawesi in the 1590s. They can provide the naval might to complement Sanjaya’s land forces.

    In contrast the Triunes are heavily involved in the Javanese markets and have quarters in Semarang itself plus Demak and Surabaya, the three main cities of the Sultanate. Semarang has a navy that can give a good account of itself against Roman armed merchantmen and fregatai but the Katepano of New Constantinople is beginning to field 50-gunner battle-line ships purchased from the Colombo shipyards. These are another matter.

    The Triunes provide the naval muscle to counter the increased Roman threat and things would’ve come to a head sooner rather than later but the war in Europe adds an increased urgency and tension.

    Even with Roman support Sanjaya doesn’t wish to challenge the big three Semarang cities just yet; he’s tried that before on his own and regretted it. Instead his army advances and lays siege to the medium-sized towns of Gresik and Tuban which lie west of Surabaya. A smaller Semarang army but one with a 7-to-1 advantage in firearms and cannons advances to do battle but is hammered by ambushes and cavalry charges whilst the Roman fleet pummels them from offshore.

    Once the sieges are established the Semarang navy reinforced by Triune vessels tries to break the Roman blockade. They are persistent and the Romans take heavy losses but all efforts to pierce the cordon fail, both towns surrendering to Sanjaya after sieges of 6-8 weeks.

    Although the towns themselves are not great prizes compared to the big three, it is a major victory nonetheless for Mataram. Sanjaya has ripped a hole through the Semarang monopoly of the coast and through the ports he starts receiving a steady supply of cannons and firearms from the Romans. The guns are matchlocks, obsolete junk to the flintlock-using Romans, but at a stroke Semarang’s key advantage over Mataram in land battles is eliminated.

    In exchange for their efforts Sanjaya gives the Romans generous trading quarters in both towns, with the promise that they’ll be exchanged for better ones in the big three once those are seized. Furthermore he also provides a rice subsidy, very useful to the Katepano. The area covered by his Katepanate is mostly small islands used for growing cash crops, providing much money but little food, a significant weakness compared to his better endowed peers in the Katepanates of Taprobane/Colombo, Pyrgos, and Pahang.

    But the forces involved in Java pale in comparison to those active in India. The main Roman territory in the east, Taprobane, is here, as is the main Triune territory, the Viceroyalty of Sutanuti (Bengal).

    The elephant in the room of course is the Vijayanagar Empire, still ruled by the Emperor Venkata Raya, the Emperor who drubbed Ibrahim out of India at the beginning of the Shah’s reign less than a decade ago. In theory all of Venkata Raya’s conquests in northern India still answer to him, but it’s ‘on paper only’ submission and he knows it. Even as dynamic a ruler as Venkata Raya has a hard enough time riding herd on all his vassals south of the Narmada River.

    The northwest of India is a brawling free-for-all between petty states seeking to fill the power vacuum left by first the Ottoman and Vijayanagari invasions. Venkata Raya has the clear ability to project power in the region but to maintain and police the area is prohibitively expensive. The minor states are aware of that so they do pay lip service to Vijayanagar and offer token tributes, whilst doing their own thing, mainly killing each other. Venkata Raya is fine with the situation; he gets some tribute without having to do anything.

    Regarding battles between more formidable potentates, Venkata Raya cares not for either side. He dislikes the Triunes for their alliance with the Ottomans (the petty states know to avoid Ottoman connections as that may convince Venkata Raya to send an expedition northward regardless of the cost). He dislikes the Romans for more complex reasons. By far the most troublesome region of the empire is the Deccan Plateau which has a sizeable Muslim population from the days of the Deccan Sultanates. Deccan rebels frequently try to enlist the support of the Kephale of Surat. Although the Kephale rebuffs each effort, the repeated attempts can’t help but smell fishy in Vijayanagar. Given the difficulty of maintaining control along his northern frontier the Kephale, as a representative of a great power, adds a potentially dangerous variable and Venkata Raya wants it gone. At the same time he doesn’t want a war with Rhomania as that might create the very disturbance he fears. So Vijayanagar will remain neutral. Let the Triunes and Romans kill each other and be done with it.

    It is in the Ganges River valley that things get interesting. In the delta is the Viceroyalty of Sutanuti, a collection of petty Indian states providing tribute and military contingents to the Viceroy, originally Portuguese and now Triune.

    One factor that helps keep the vassal states of the Viceroyalty in line is the meteoric rise to prominence of its neighbor to the west the Kingdom of Oudh, ruled by its monarch Kishan Das, who succeeded to the throne in 1610 and has styled himself as Maharaja since 1629. At this point his domain covers the Ganges valley from Agra in the west to Patna in the east, a power that has even Venkata Raya concerned.

    In 1615 Iskandar the Great advanced as far as the Kingdom’s capital at Lucknow, but his advance caused relatively little damage to the at-that-time minor power. The great powers of the region were all shattered by the Shahanshah’s victories though. Combined with Iskandar’s inability to reliably assert his authority east of Delhi this created a power vacuum that Kishan Das has steadily managed to fill.

    His eye is set on the Viceroyalty so he needs very little prompting from the Romans to go on the attack although he happily takes the 100 artillerymen and two six-gun batteries the Katepano of Taprobane is able to send him. He launches his attack with 70,000 men, twenty thousand of which are cavalry.

    The Viceroy, Bertrand de la Faye, marches out against him with 35000 troops from the vassal princes, 1200 Triune infantry, 6000 sepoy infantry, 5000 infantry from the Raja of Bihar (a rump state sharply reduced by Oudh and now a client state in all but name of the Viceroyalty), and 12000 soldiers from his ally the Raja of Jharkhand.

    In three battles Kishan Das drives de la Faye back but never quite manages a killing blow. Unable to beat the Oriental ruler in open battle, the Occidental official tries a subtler approach which succeeds brilliantly. Learning that his brother Karan Singh has led a palace coup back in Lucknow (greased by Triune coin), Kishan Das abandons the invasion to race back to his capital.

    Halfway to Lucknow he learns that de la Faye’s diplomacy has also incited the brand-new Sikh state based in Delhi (which has been in their possession only since 1630) against him and Sikh troops are raiding his western provinces. One of the officers in the Sikh raiders is a young man named Ranjit Singh.

    [1] For comparison, it costs 600,000 hyperpyra per year to maintain a Roman tagma at full peacetime strength, and even then that sum is still distributed across the whole year.
    1632: The War Feeds Itself
  • [Revised edition: some changes have been made in all narrative sections, minor in the first but more significant in the second and third sections.]

    "And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee."

    Village plundering.jpg

    The Looting of St Michael, Macedonia. The Painting is by an Arletian, hence the Latin European look of the piece. (OTL The Looting of Wommelgem by Sebastian Vrancx)
    1632 continued: While large armies prowl along the Danube the war in Macedonia has been a chaotic mess. If anyone knows what exactly is going on at any moment, they are either insane or lying.

    Allied-controlled territory extends from the Serbian border to the suburbs of Ohrid where a small force masks the garrison. Ohrid is the only settlement in upper Macedonia that is considered a city by Roman standards with a pre-war population of 14000 now swelled to 20000 by refugees from the north. Though much smaller in scale than Thessaloniki, its fortifications are built for gunpowder sieges and the garrison liberally equipped with light cannons.

    Located along the Via Egnatia, control of the city is vital for any large army in Upper Macedonia to break out of the region as the ancient thoroughfare is still the premier highway. Smaller forces can use the lesser roads, dirt tracks, and mountain paths that dot the area and raiding parties do fly out, striking at targets to the west in Albania and to the east in Lower Macedonia. The prize there is Thessaloniki, at 170000 people one of the largest in Europe.

    Currently the Allies lack the forces to launch an effective attack on Ohrid but they manage to keep the garrison mostly locked up in the town, although there are some counter-raids both from Ohrid as well as Albanian cavalry from the west. With new conscripts and volunteers entering the army, the garrison at Ohrid grows from 3000 to 4200 while the garrisons in Albania and Lower Macedonia are reinforced too. But the new troops are primarily earmarked for Michael Laskaris, the Domestikos of the West.

    As a result there is no counter-attack into Upper Macedonia which remains a mess. Many villages were wrecked and its inhabitants slaughtered in the Allied surge, the survivors fleeing into the woods and hills. Some make it south to Ohrid. Some turn into bandits, attacking everyone. Others are more restrained, acting as partisans attacking Allied detachments, often receiving supplies and information from villagers.

    For not all the villages were brutally sacked. Many were peacefully (more or less) occupied, the inhabitants adapting to life under the occupation. Some resist, most try to just live their lives, and some collaborate. The charge of collaboration adds a cruel twist as the war is exploited to further personal and neighborhood and village rivalries.

    As autumn arrives things only get more vicious. Upper Macedonia has never been particularly populous or prosperous and many fields are fallow because the workers are dead or fled, while the Allied soldiers eat everything. Although a few of the more egregious officers were executed, the Allied soldiery haven’t been punished by Theodor or Blucher for their actions, counter-productive as they are. Far from the main field, with limited supplies and pay in arrears, it is hard for the Allied command to keep much control on their soldiers. Meanwhile the lack of food and repeated guerrilla warfare is making everyone even more vicious.

    Peasants' revenge.jpg

    An Arletian woodcut showing two Macedonian peasants ambushing a Hungarian hussar.​

    Outskirts of Saint Catherine, Kephale of Korab, October 3, 1632:

    It had taken him at least a half hour to die. Anna hefted another shovelful of dirt onto Theodoros, bearing his contorted face and bruise-covered neck. Next to her Gabriel dropped another shovelful into the grave.

    Theodoros had been a ‘runner’ from Saint Catherine. That village, unlike St Andreas, had been orderly occupied by two squadrons of Hungarian cavalry. The Hungarians had cleaned out much of the village’s stores of food and all the wine, but some of the inhabitants shared what was left with partisan bands, as well as useful info on barbarian troop movements. Theodoros’s run two weeks ago had led them to capture a fully-loaded supply wagon, although most of that was ammunition and equipment, not food. Her stomach growled.

    Food. It was constantly in her thoughts, because often it was absent from her stomach. The villagers weren’t sharing much, if at all, anymore. Barbarian requisitions had taken most of the harvest; it’d be a hard winter for them. Many of the children and old ones would die, along with the poorest landless laborers. She’d seen it before, even with emergency grain shipments from government silos. This would be worse.

    So she didn’t blame them but that did nothing to feed them. She glanced over at Gabriel, helping to shovel. He nodded, knowing what she was thinking, and took from his pouch a half-thumb bit of leather they’d boiled for three days and flavored with a dash of salt they somehow still had. “Thank you,” she whispered gratefully. She took a bite, chewing it.

    “You’re welcome. It’s the last I have.” Anna nodded grimly. They were boiling more at the camp but had just started yesterday, meaning two days without any ‘food’ unless they could get some more acorn paste or the like. They’d already picked the area around camp clean of everything edible.

    Then she growled as Theodoros’s body was completely covered. Gabriel gave her a comforting squeeze on the shoulder and she took his hand in hers. On the last run Theodoros had given her a thumbnail-size bite of chocolate, rare in peacetime, probably worth ten times its weight in gold now; she hadn’t had the heart to tell him that she would’ve preferred barley bread instead.

    He’d had sandy brown hair and a mischievous gleam in his eyes and a buck-tooth smile, short and skinny. And that was what had doomed the twelve-year-old to a long agonizing death, too light for his neck to break when dropped on the hangman’s rope. Instead he’d slowly strangled to death.

    She looked over at where he’d died. The field ended at the start of the woods where the villagers let their pigs forage over the summer. Three ropes hung from the tree branches; two other runners had been hanged at the same time. Next to it Manuel was urinating on the torn-down sign that had been placed next to the swinging bodies: THIS FATE FOR TRAITORS.

    She looked toward Saint Catherine, set on the opposite side of the fallow field, from which a small crowd was coming, about forty strong. Most carried pitchforks or scythes or hammers or axes; the Allies had confiscated most of the guns and arbalests they could find. Most were old men, women, or children, as the Allies had also conscripted many of the menfolk for labor duties.

    They surrounded an older man with a slightly wrinkled face and hair more inclined to white but still with lots of black. One village boy, perhaps eight or nine, ran up through the group and hurled a fist-sized clod of dirt that hit the man right under his left ear. The man staggered and the crowd jeered, one young woman slamming the staff of her pitchfork into the back of the man’s right thigh. He stumbled onto one knee, getting bashed in the ribs by another pitchfork butt wielded by an older woman who spat on him as he did so.

    She looked over at Michael who unsheathed his sword, looted from a Polish hussar’s corpse, and stuck it point first into the ground. Manuel came up next to him, Nikolaios flanking, both of them chewing on leaves they’d stripped from the trees. Those weren’t edible but at least quieted the stomach for a time as it had something in it. The rest of the partisan band, now about thirty strong, gathered. The villagers shoved the man forward, one wizened old man stooping forward on his cane to whisper into Michael’s ear.

    “Ioannes Prodotes!” Michael barked. “You have been charged with treason, with aiding and abetting the enemies of the Empire, for the murder of three citizens of the village of St Catherine.” Those were the three ‘runners’. “How do you plead?”

    Ioannes looked nervously at Michael but he straightened himself, smoothing the folds of his jacket. “I am the magistrate of this village,” he said. “You have no jurisdiction here.” Many of the villagers snarled and one cried out ‘traitor!’

    “I am Eikosarchos Michael St-Andreas, 2nd Macedonian. The region is under martial law, meaning I have sole jurisdiction. Your position is not valid, having been assigned to you by agents of the usurper Theodor who has no right to make such appointments. Your insistence on your so-called right is proof that you are a traitor. Furthermore in your duties as so-called magistrate you reported to the Germans at Maurovi Anovi about the activities of three of the villagers, resulting in their execution. Therefore you are an accessory to murder.”

    Ioannes’s eyes darted nervously around at the partisans in front of him. If looks could kill he’d have been incinerated by the glares of the villagers behind him. The barbarians had appointed magistrates in the towns and villages they hadn’t wrecked, sometimes confirming the old one, but preferably someone with enough local clout to keep the peace and not get murdered by their neighbors. To be fair, some of the appointees looked the other way at partisan activities such as the magistrate of Mavri Petra. But Ioannes hadn’t; he’d actually collaborated. And he’d done so without the support of a local clique while St Catherine was too small and out of the way for him to merit some barbarian soldiers as guards. Not too bright.

    Michael gave him a few moments but Ioannes said nothing. “By the power invested in me by the Code of Military Law, I hereby sentence you to death.” There were a lot of grim smiles in the villagers; Anna had a matching one. It was a guaranteed sentence but still nice to hear out loud. Michael paused, his mouth pursed. Execution by long knife was not an option. Hanging him on the tree would have a nice symmetry but they needed a death that wouldn’t implicate the villagers if the barbarians came rolling back around. “Take off your clothes.”

    There were more smiles and jeers from the village at Ioannes. “Wait, what?”

    “Take off your clothes,” Michael repeated. “No sense ruining them when you get blasted full of holes. You can die naked.” There was a hoot of laughter from the crowd.

    Ioannes stared at Michael, his eyes huge, and then he bolted, running for the woods. “Predictable,” Michael muttered, looking over at Anna and Zoe, who was at her right.

    She nodded, seeing Zoe do the same. She notched, aimed, and loosed the arrow which slammed into the back of Ioannes’s neck, completely impaling his throat. He started to fall forward just as Zoe’s arbalest bolt slammed into a kidney. He’d gotten less than a quarter of the way to the woods.

    “Is he dead?” someone asked.

    “If he’s not, he soon will be,” Manuel spat. “Let the crows have some supper.”

    Everyone there agreed to that.

    * * *

    Kephalate of Korab, December 15, 1632:

    The pair of grenades went off right under the horses’ throats and bellies, their terrible shrieks of pain cutting through the din of battle as they were shredded, mercifully cut short.

    Anna was used to the sound of muskets blazing, arbalests snapping, the crackle of fire and the screams of men. It had been only six months, and an eternity, but those didn’t bother her so much anymore. But the sound of donkeys or horses, particularly horses, dying still shook her. Maybe because they were innocent. They knew nothing of war; they merely did as their masters bid.

    But that didn’t matter now. Peering through the powder smoke she snapped off another arrow, taking what she thought was the second German officer at the base of the neck, ripping through the thin plate gorget he was wearing. With the help of Thomas, a blacksmith from the burned village of St Timothy who’d joined their band back in August, she now had armor-piercing arrow tips, albeit not many.

    There was a meaty smack down below and she heard Zoe in the fog give a whoop and then start spanning her crossbow. A scream of pain sounded in the woods nearby and somehow she could hear the gurgling of hot blood as it steamed when suddenly exposed to the cool air. Now there was clanging and crashing as men grappled in hand-to-hand combat.

    She scanned the area from her perch behind a thick oak which overhung the road, looking for good targets. The wagons were stopped, their mounts blown to bits or tearing through the woods away from the battle. She couldn’t see much movement along the road; the Germans there were either dead or were in the woods where she couldn’t get a clear shot. But there were a few up front, hacking with axes to clear the obstruction the partisans had dropped to bar their progress. She lined up a shot, taking a few deep breaths to steady herself, fully used to the cling of gunpowder with a dash of voided bowels she inhaled in the process. Then she let fly, the shaft slamming into the German’s back below the shoulder blade. He staggered and fell.

    Instinct. She ducked, just as a mounted Hungarian swung his saber at his head, jamming it into the tree trunk instead. With a snarled curse he rode on but immediately turned around, drawing a second saber. She hefted her bow but then realized he must’ve nicked the bowstring, which was now broken. She had more but couldn’t re-string it in the ten seconds she’d have until the Hungarian, mounted on one of those little but sure-footed Albanian ponies, was upon her. The only other weapon she had was a small dirk.

    She grabbed the saber with both hands, straining with all her might to yank it out. The wood creaked and she felt it loosening, but not fast enough.

    “Anna!” Gabriel roared, storming out from below and behind the horseman, slashing his axe across the horse’s rump. The animal screamed and reared, Gabriel darting back as the Hungarian slashed with his saber at the new assailant. Anna gave up on the saber, slinging out her dirk, and ran to help her little brother.

    The Hungarian had his mount under control, swerving around to face Gabriel just as he swung his axe in a wide uppercut, the blade slamming into the horse’s jaw, the blow snapping the head back, and the animal toppled. Gabriel cursed as the axe, embedded in the bone, was yanked out of his grasp, but then the Hungarian screamed as the horse’s body crashed atop his right leg, pinning him under it.

    Gabriel wrenched the axe free just as Anna slammed a rock into the Hungarian’s skull, dazing him. Then she bent down and shoved her dirk up behind his jaw where the bone wouldn’t protect against the blade, through his head and puncturing his brain, ripping it out a moment later. In the words of Nikolaios, ‘confirm your kills’.

    “Are you alright?!” Gab shouted.

    “Yeah, you?!”


    A moment later they realized they didn’t need to shout; there weren’t any sounds of battle down below, although the sounds of the dying were plenty. “All clear!” Manuel boomed. “Let’s see if the pig-dogs have anything worth stealing!”

    While a few stayed on watch, the rest of them started looking over what had been left by their ambush, Anna and Gabriel coming down to participate. First though she focused on getting as many of her arrows back as she could. Making more was possible, but a pain, and fashioning arrow tips that worked well against armor was an even bigger pain.

    She started cutting out the arrow from the belly of a dead German. He moaned; apparently not so dead. She stabbed her dirk into his throat. “Shut up,” she muttered, avoiding the spurt of blood. One of the tricks she’d learned, knowledge which she’d never expected to need, was how to avoid getting blood on her clothes while stabbing someone. She finished cutting the arrow out.

    Heading up around the wagon, she saw several of the partisans clustered around a tree, including Manuel, who had tears in his eyes. She looked at the man propped up against the base of the tree. It was Alexios, an old klepht who’d been with Manuel for years. His belly was ripped open, many of his internal organs visible. She was used to blood and guts now but even that sight made her queasy. There was no way he’d live and the nature of stomach wounds guaranteed a long and painful death.

    Manuel bent down to whisper in Alexios’s ear and the pair exchanged words. Then Manuel backed away. “Do it,” Alexios said.

    “May God grant you peace,” Manuel said through tear-stained eyes, and then shoved his sword up under the rib cage, a squelch sounding as he punctured Alexios’s heart, and then pulled it out in a smooth stroke.

    “This had better be worth it,” he muttered. “What do we have? Any food?” Anna winced at the mention; her stomach woke up at the memory of sustenance. She looked over at the wagons where Zoe and several others were rifling through the contents.

    “No!” Zoe shouted disgustedly. “Some powder and boots. Mostly freaking cannonballs!”

    “Cannonballs!” Manuel spluttered. “We did all this for cannonballs!”

    “Looks like it,” Zoe snarled, hefting what looked like a twenty-pounder ball in her right hand. She walked over to a German who was barely crawling away off the road, although blood was seeping from several wounds onto the ground. She dropped the ball on his head, smiling happily. Anna jerked in surprise as a bone fragment bounced off her forehead while Manuel also smiled savagely.

    “No food,” she muttered. “We can use the powder and boots but without food…”

    “I know,” Manuel replied.

    “I don’t want to head south,” Nikolaios said, ripping the boots off a dead German to see if they fit him. “Too many vermin left to kill. But…” he shrugged.

    “We got lucky that time. Don’t particularly want to try that again.” They’d tried to move south two weeks ago and had nearly run into two companies of Hungarian cavalry; Anna still didn’t know how they’d managed to get clear save for divine favor. But here, far from Ohrid, barbarian troops were thin on the ground and they knew the terrain. Closer to Ohrid though where regular Roman cavalry was active, barbarians swarmed in far greater numbers. Going west towards Albania ran the risk of being ambushed by Albanian brigands. If they could just solve the food problem, here was the safest place for them.

    Nikolaios nodded. The boots didn’t fit. He dashed a bit of gunpowder on one of them and ripped out a piece with his teeth, masticating it furiously. That sounded disturbingly good to Anna.

    “We could eat the horses,” Gabriel said, nodding in the direction of the dead Hungarian that had almost killed her.

    “Yeah,” Anna agreed. “But that won’t last long. And these aren’t edible.” She gestured at the ones around the wagons, which had been blown to shreds by grenades. There were a few cuts they could get, but most would be too full of debris.

    “We’ll still haul them up,” Manuel said. “But you’re right; it’s not enough. The vermin have gotten smart. I was surprised to see this party with so few dogs. If they start moving in packs of twenty or more, we’re completely screwed.”

    Thomas was behind one of the horses, poking through a pile of its droppings with a knife. His eyes brightened as he found a seed in the manure and gobbled it up, looking lustily for more.

    Michael came up, holding a piece of cheese and another of bread, both the size of two fingers. “This is all I could find. Looks like they aren’t doing much better than we are.” Anna was impressed by his control; she would’ve wolfed those down immediately.

    “Good,” Gabriel muttered. “Let them starve. Too good for them, I say.”

    “We could eat them,” Anna said, startling herself as much as them. Everyone within hearing range snapped around to look at her. “What? I’m just saying what we’ve all been thinking. We can’t keep going on boiled leather…” It was even unsalted now. “…and picking up seeds from our own shit.” She gestured over at Thomas; his actions were an improvement on their usual fare. At least it was an animal’s droppings, not their own.

    Three weeks ago she’d picked through her little brother’s shit looking for seeds as he’d gone through hers. The thought of going through their own was just too much. They’d both thrown up, then eaten their vomit, and resumed their search.

    She looked over at the nearest dead barbarian. There were good hunks of meat there, unspoiled, fresh. Something that could actually resemble real food. A part of her mind shuddered in horror. Even after all that had happened, that seemed a bridge too far. But her hunger screamed, clawed, desperate for sustenance, and not particularly caring about its origin. So long as it actually fed her. Bark strips, paper, glue, sawdust, one of her own bowstrings, she’d tried them all and it wasn’t enough. Cutting her arm and sucking her own blood wasn’t enough. She wanted food. A part still shuddered, but most of her didn’t care anymore. All that mattered was ending this unceasingly hunger that seemed to gnaw through her very soul.

    She looked around. Everyone was having the same argument in their heads as she did, and all were coming to the same conclusion. They’d exhausted every other alternative. If this was the only way for them to not starve, then so be it.

    “Eat a person…” Gabriel hemmed.

    “Not a person, a Latin,” Nikolaios said. “There’s a difference. Besides they ate all the food anyway so it seems rather appropriate. They’ve got it coming. I’d rather that then give up.”

    “I’m not eating it raw,” Gabriel protested.

    “Who said anything about eating it raw?” Manuel snapped. “It’s meat. We’ll cook it like any kind of meat.”

    “It’s only a stopgap,” Zoe added. “Just to last us until we get some real food.” Even she looked a bit queasy, but also determined.

    “There may be a way we can work this to our advantage,” Michael said, his gaze thoughtful. Then he cracked a smile. “All-meat diet. I’m going to have such bad gas. I’ve heard that the Mexicans say that pork tastes somewhat like people. Guess it’s time to find out.”

    * * *

    Kephalate of Korab, February 22, 1633:

    Anna sharpened her dirk on the edge of their mountain camp, enjoying the sound the blade made on the whetstone over the sound of the brook. There was a cool chill in the air but a clear sky. Behind her they were setting up for dinner.

    Maria came up with a load of pots and pans that needed washing, bending down over the stream to get to work. She glanced over at Anna, who finished up with her dirk and was now checking the strings of her bow and feathers of her arrows. “Wish you could go hunting?” Anna asked. “I could talk to Michael.” Their band was down to twenty-five strong now, five of them women, but only Anna and Zoe went on the raids. They were too good with their bow and arbalest to be left behind.

    She shook her head. “No, thanks though. I don’t have a problem carving them up for food. But it still would be hard killing them.”

    “I thought that at first. But you get used to it. Just like slaughtering a pig.”

    Maria nodded. “Michael was right. The taste does have a hint of pork.”

    Anna nodded in response. “The Germans a bit more so.” They both smiled; it was amazing, and a bit disturbing when she thought of it, how quickly they’d become accustomed to eating human flesh. But they were Latins.

    Yet they weren’t eating nearly as many as they were having the Latins believe. Michael had told them a barrack rumors from before he was captured that the Emperor had considered bringing in cannibal headhunters from Ceram and Halmahera, wherever those were, to terrorize the enemy. The idea was dropped because those headhunters wouldn’t be nearly as dangerous in the hills of Bulgaria as in their native forests. But it had given Michael an idea for what he called ‘mental warfare’.

    Many of the partisan bands that had existed six months ago were destroyed or had fled. The couple that remained were a lot bigger than their group and purportedly had their own mini-domains centered on free villages that provided them supplies in exchange for protection. Her group couldn’t have done that and were too small to hit the big supply caravans, hence the near-starvation they’d faced.

    Joining the other bands didn’t look like an option. Unfortunately they were off near the Macedonian-Bulgarian theme border; getting there would require crossing terrain they didn’t know well, negating their advantage over the barbarians. Every time they’d tried to veer into ‘unknown’ territory they ran into some force far too hot to handle and so ended up back here.

    But now the barbarians knew that if they went up against this band, there was a good chance their corpses would be eaten, or so they thought. Naturally that terrified them so they were less inclined to stand and fight. Better to ditch the wagons when ambushed. If the partisans had biscuits, they wouldn’t need to eat barbarians. They still didn’t dare attack the big convoys but they’d been able to snap up some smaller parties they couldn’t have cracked without that edge. So now they had real food to eat.

    They’d managed to exploit that in other ways. They didn’t take from the villagers; they could’ve but needed good relations once they started producing food again. But via the local magistrate, the band had an agreement with the small garrison at Mavri Petra. One hundred pounds of bread a week and in exchange no garrison soldier from there would be eaten. They’d been able to ransom a captured officer and a couple of priests for food as well, something the barbarians were quick to facilitate considering the alternatives.

    So most of the corpses they’d ‘eaten’ since those first couple of weeks had really just been made to look like they’d been eaten, to keep the story alive. But after that first hurdle, they’d disturbingly gotten used to the taste of human flesh. Given real food, they’d pass every time. But if they needed to stretch the rations a bit during a dry spot, well they’d do what they needed to do to survive.

    Anna stiffened, gripping her bow as she heard a bird whistle, but then it whistled again. Those approaching were friendly. So Maria went back to her scrubbing; Anna finished up her kit and started helping.

    “Washing dishes, Anna?” Zoe asked, trotting past the trees. “That’s why I go on these hunting expeditions.”

    “You can catch them but you can’t cook them,” Maria countered.

    “Isn’t that what you’re for?” she countered.

    “Yeah, but the only seasoning you know how to use is salt. What we really need is garlic and some pepper. That would liven things up. Even salt would be nice at this point.”

    “Well, I don’t have pepper,” Zoe replied, but gestured behind her. Thomas, Andronikos, and Anastasios came up from the trees, guarding a pair of mules laden with packs. Two individuals, an older one dressed as a Catholic priest, and a young one possibly younger than Gabriel, were walking alongside the mules, tied to the saddlebags, their hands bound and mouths gagged, hoods covering their heads.

    “More Germans?” Anna said.

    “Yeah, I know the Poles taste better,” Thomas replied with a grin. “These idiots were traveling by themselves. But their knapsacks are full of food. Biscuit, cheese, raisins, salt…and even some wine.”

    “Wine, better drink that before Gab finds out,” Maria said with a smile.

    Zoe grinned. “Already started on that.”

    “The priest also has some books,” Thomas added.

    “What kind of books?” Anna asked.

    He shrugged, pulling one out of the bag. “I don’t know; I can’t read.” Anna saw Michael approaching out of the corner of her eye.

    “I can,” Anna replied and Thomas handed it to her. The priest fidgeted nervously. She squinted in frustration, her brow furling, as she looked at the unfamiliar lettering. She looked up to see Michael smiling a bit at her. “What?” she asked, feeling blood flowing into her face.

    “Oh, nothing,” he said cryptically but with a twinkle. “Is it in Latin?”

    “Definitely not Greek.”

    “Let me take a look at it.” She handed him the book. “I need better light to read this.” He headed over to the main camp to get the benefit of the cooking fires.

    Thomas, Andronikos, and Anastasios moved the mules and captives up to the creek, taking the hoods off the two Germans and tying them to a pair of small trees while they started to unload the mules. Anna hoped they could keep the mules; they’d be useful for hauling, although feeding them in the winter would be a nightmare.

    “Hope we can get a good ransom.” Maria said, eyeing them up. “We’re getting low on biscuit. Might have to start eating a couple for real again.”

    Zoe shrugged as she checked her arbalest. “Me too. But it’s better than picking through our shit. I refuse to do that again.” Both Maria and Anna shuddered in agreement.

    “I wonder what the two of them were doing by themselves,” Maria added.

    “Probably the priest was making rounds between David’s Staff and Mavri Petra,” Zoe replied. “Big military escort and a good chance they’ll get shot by accident. If they can be captured easily, especially with that cache to put us in a good mood, worst that happens is we ransom them for biscuits and cheese.” The barbarians would pay well to get their priests out of being eaten; she sometimes thought Michael was a genius for coming up with this system.

    A minute later Anna glanced over to see Michael storming up out of the camp, his jaw grim and his hand on the pommel of his sword. He marched up to the priest, ripped out his gag, and stepped back. “Do you have anything to say before you die, Inquisitor?”

    “Inquisitor?!” Thomas sputtered.

    “Inquisitor,” Michael snarled. Anna gripped her bow, pulling out an arrow, while all the men picked up various implements. Zoe’s arbalest clicked as it loaded. “That book was The Hammer of Witches. Something an Inquisitor would carry.”

    “I’m not!” the priest protested, speaking in heavily-accented Greek. Michael snorted in derision. “You…you wouldn’t dare.”

    “I would. I’d have volunteers lining up to do it too. So any final words?”

    The priest/inquisitor stared at him for a bit, then his face twisted. “Heretic dog, you will burn in he-” The arbalest bolt went through his mouth, puncturing his skull and pinning his head to the tree. The boy’s eyes widened and he shuddered in horror at the sight.

    Michael picked something out of his ear. “A tooth? What are the odds of that?” he muttered and then looked at Zoe as she lowered her arbalest. “You could’ve given me a little warning.”

    “Yeah, but those were boring final words. Figured I’d speed things up.”

    “Fine by me,” Thomas grunted. “Vermin.” He spat at the corpse’s feet. “Wish I’d known that when we’d captured them.”

    Michael looked at Thomas and then at the corpse. “At least it’s a head shot. Won’t spoil any of the meat.”

    “Meat? I’m not eating an Inquisitor! That’s filth!” Thomas protested.

    “We could use the food. We don’t get another Mavri Petra shipment for three days. And besides it’d be appropriate to roast him and then he ends up in the latrine.”

    “That’s true,” Thomas reluctantly conceded. He jerked his head at the boy. “Guess we’re killing this one too. By himself he won’t fetch a ransom.”

    Michael nodded. “Even if he did, he’s an Inquisitor’s assistant. So he dies.” Thomas took a step forward, hefting his hammer.

    “I’ll do it,” Anna said.

    “Are you sure?” Thomas asked.

    “I’m sure.” Zoe nodded approvingly. Although the two of them fought in battle, because they were women there was this continual need to prove they had the guts for it.

    Drawing her dirk, she stepped forward towards the boy, tied to a tree and gagged, his body shivering and his eyes wide in terror. He had big brown eyes, frizzy brown hair, and the fuzzy start of a beard on his freckled cheeks, looking a lot like Gabriel before this monstrosity had started, before she killed and ate the flesh of those she killed. And for a second she stayed her hand.

    But he was a Latin. And an assistant to an Inquisitor. He may look young and innocent now, but he would grow and he was part of an Order, part of a people that would gladly rape her and burn her and consider it glory to God. For five hundred years they had done it and they were doing it again, now.


    She snarled and shoved the dirk straight into his heart.