An Age of Miracles Continues: The Empire of Rhomania

1632: The Sinews of War
  • 1632 continued: By October the Roman Empire has, between its army, navy, and various garrisons, a quarter-million men under arms, the total not including forces active in eastern waters. It is a truly stupendous achievement, yet given the sheer number of fronts even that is not sufficient to ensure crushing numerical superiority in any one theater.

    Some of the new manpower comes from pre-existing militia units which are forcibly inducted into the army. The kephalates of Cilicia and the Antioch-Aleppo region as well as the kephalates around Lake Van field the best militias in the Empire with some battle honors going back to the Time of Troubles. They provide many recruits for the Armies of Syria and Mesopotamia while the Teicheiotai, the civic militia of Constantinople, reinforces the Army of the Danube. Though some of the militia troopers are too old to be ideal field troops, they can be used as garrisons or supply guards and come with some military training.

    However that is not nearly enough as the Roman military literally doubles in size. One of the most impressive aspects is how quickly the Romans are able to do so. However all that is needed is to ramp up the usual thematic recruiting process. In peacetime each tagma is supposed to field 10000 troops and there are a steady stream of replacements each year, sometimes volunteers and sometimes conscripts if there are not enough volunteers (which is fairly often-the pay of a line infantryman is about the same as an unskilled laborer, not much incentive).

    However several of the themes, particularly in western Anatolia, are able to support many more than 10 tourmai. In fact, it has been a common practice for more populated themes to send surplus recruits to less well-endowed districts. So when the war starts, all the themes simply maximize their own normal recruiting efforts, building as many tourmai as their population bases can support. The result is substantial differences in size between some of the tagmata. The Thrakesian by spring 1633 has 32 tourmai on its rolls while the Anatolikon is at 15.

    Much of the recruiting is done with the aid of tax records. The ideal recruit is a poor unskilled laborer as his enlistment isn’t a blow to tax returns, although the loss of his labor services on the local economy can’t be quantified so easily.

    Paying for the army is a thornier issue with military expenses more than tripling. Aside from the doubling of men on the rolls, there are huge needs for all sorts of equipment which have to be continually replaced as they are used up on campaign and in battle.

    In February 1632 Demetrios III issues the first tax bracket system, the first major revamp to the Roman tax structure since the reign of Theodoros IV two centuries earlier. (There have been minor editions such as the cannon taxes, but their effect on the government’s tax revenue is paltry compared to this change.)

    Roman taxpayers are divided into four brackets. Anyone who paid less than 16 hyperpyra in tax that year keeps their peacetime rate, which Demetrios thinks is fair since this is the socioeconomic group that is providing most of the new recruits for the army and navy. The other brackets are 17-30, 31-80, and 80+ hyperpyra, with each higher bracket having their tax upped by a larger percentage.

    Naturally those in the higher brackets (which make up less than 25% of the taxpaying populace) are outraged but Demetrios promises that this is merely a wartime expedient that will be canceled once the crisis has ended. He is telling the truth as this is not the tax reform system he drew up for Andreas III. He doesn’t think this is the proper time for such major revamping as he has planned; he can’t afford any stalling in the money flow.

    Incidentally Theodor hears of the grumbling and sees that as further evidence that if he manages to break into the heart of the Empire, he’ll get the internal support he needs to secure his claim.

    Another revenue-raising plan of Demetrios is rather counter-intuitive, the creation of a public post office system. For centuries the Roman government has had its own post system for shipping documents, letters, and packages between outposts and offices but that is supposed to be strictly for government business. But that is rarely the case. The post system is quite corrupt and full of abuses as private individuals bribe postmasters and carriers to ship private materials. The costs are considered worthwhile given the dependency, regularity, and speed of the Imperial post.

    Instead of cracking down on this, as has happened roughly every forty years or so as far back as anyone can remember (in his history of the Laskarid dynasty, Demetrios knows of an effort by Theodoros Megas in this area and of his uncharacteristic failure) to little effect, Demetrios plans to exploit this. While government papers take precedence, the system is now open to any individuals who care to pay for it. The purchaser can buy stamps at a post office, the value of the stamps needed dependent on weight of package, distance of destination, and speed requested, and then the post will take care of shipment.

    The post goes to anywhere in the Empire where there is a governmental post, so a good swathe of the Empire is covered. However while mail is delivered directly to a government post, private individuals must go to the post office to pick up any mail. Nonetheless it is an immediate success, providing a nice new cash stream for the government even after the necessary expansion of the Imperial post, whilst the public is happy for the new service, with even those who’d exploited the earlier system approving as the stamps are much cheaper than the bribes. The only losers are the postal workers who are rather miffed about the loss of said bribes. Some get the bright idea of ‘losing’ mail as a form of protest; Demetrios has the offenders promptly conscripted and dispatched to either Bulgaria or Syria, whichever is closest.

    The profusion of letters from this period, many of which survive to the delight of historians, illustrate the massive expansion of literacy that has been ongoing since the end of the Time of Troubles. It is estimated that in 1635 in the Imperial heartland adult male literacy is around 45-50%, with 27 (out of 171) kephalates with rates of 60%+. By contrast, around 1600 the rate was 35-40%.

    It is a good time to be a Roman printer. Books, pamphlets, broadsheets, magazines and newsletters abound, with Demetrios’ imposition of a stamp tax on all of these (coinciding with the postal service opening to the public) making little dent in the demand whilst also adding another revenue stream for the government. Newspapers are particularly popular, the number in the Empire increasing by over a quarter since the accession of Demetrios III. The reason is that Romans want news of the war. With newly developed and constructed semaphore lines linking Constantinople with the Danube and Syrian fronts, supplementing the pre-existing optical telegraphs, such news can be made available (admittedly in rudimentary form) far more quickly than was the case even as recently as the Eternal War.

    Demetrios immediately spots the propaganda value of this. He establishes the Imperial Herald, a government-owned newsletter that is designed to be the mouthpiece of the government (and make even more money). Within a month of its first issue, it circulates literally in every heartland city in the Roman Empire with a population of 10000 or more. It includes an advertisement section, with companies and merchants paying impressive fees to get their ads in such a widespread and prestigious undertaking.

    Meanwhile the Emperor’s Eyes are kept busy going over all this literature, looking for sedition or espionage. One advantage of the new public post system is that the institution finds all those letters a very useful and convenient mine for information.

    But the new taxes and postal fees aren’t nearly enough to cover the Empire’s massive wartime expenses. For that loans are needed. In January 1632 the Emperor and his Logothetes tou Genikou (Chief Finance Minister) Thomas Vatatzes meet with the board of directors of the Imperial Bank. Since its founding in 1553 the Imperial Bank has functioned primarily as a huge safety deposit box, issuing loans based on the money stored in its vaults, its deposit receipts functioning as legal tender throughout the empire and often traded on the market.

    Demetrios and Thomas, in conjunction with the board, wish to expand the role of the bank. The bank will take over managing the (massively expanding) national debt to ensure public confidence in the government’s solvency, thereby keeping interest rates low. The government will deposit its savings with the bank, making that capital available for the bank to issue as loans to third-parties, meaning more interest for its shareholders (this is a post-war plan).

    Previously the Imperial Bank issued loans based on the bullion stored in its vaults, with the paper value of its receipts having to match 1:1 with the coinage stored on deposit. In order to loosen up the money market, now the bank will be allowed to issue receipts up to three times the value of the coinage actually stored at the various branches. The idea is that it is extremely unlikely that enough people would cash in their receipts at the same time as to exhaust the bullion reserves.

    The directors agree to the arrangement and immediately set to work, arranging two large loans to the Imperial government. Besides using their own reserves, the directors use their contacts amongst the financiers and rich merchants of the Empire to add more subscribers to the bank loans. That way the government only has to deal with the bank and a few large loans rather than multiple smaller-scale loans and debt-holders. Simultaneously the new subscribers are willing to accept a lower interest rate on the loans as they have the support of the Imperial Bank to ensure repayment, another boon to the government. Notably Demetrios III has loans with 2% less interest then Henri II and 7% less than Theodor, with his interest rates going up a mere .15% between the first loan in January and the second in June.

    Unintentionally this ends up causing a scandal in Lombardy of all places, where King Cesare discovers that the Genoa-based Bank of St George is, through intermediaries, one of the subscribers in the June loan. To add insult to injury, the interest on their Roman loans is smaller than the interest on their loans to Cesare himself. Absolutely furious, his first thought is to seize the bank and its assets. But he doesn’t, as the Bank has substantial assets in Lisbon (providing the capital for the Spanish conquest of Al-Andalus) so while he’d hurt it, he wouldn’t kill it, and the directors would almost certainly seek revenge. He doesn’t need more enemies, particularly since it might trigger a Genoese revolt too, as the inhabitants of that great port city are apoplectic about the collapse of their commercial prospects due to the Roman blockade. They’ve noticed the growing prosperity of Livorno and are getting jealous.

    Boosting investors’ confidence in the Roman government are the massive popes (bond) drives that Demetrios starts issuing. When the very first popes drive was launched by Andreas I back in 1471 to defend against the Last Crusade, Andreas issued 2000 certificates. In March Demetrios issues one million, each one with a face value of 4 hyperpyra. Each one is bought up by mid-May. Demetrios issues another drive of 750,000 popes, these with a face value of 5 hyperpyra, in late June, all of which are bought up by mid-October.

    While the bank loans are largely financed by the dynatoi (upper) and upper mesoi (middle) classes, the popes are largely purchased by those of the lower mesoi, banausoi (artisanal and small-scale merchant), and upper paroikoi (small-scale agricultural/pastoral) classes. Almost immediately they are being traded on the Roman money market, along with shares of the bank loans in the stock exchanges of Constantinople, Thessaloniki, Antioch, and Smyrna.

    The money is quickly set to work, paying salaries and purchasing huge quantities of supplies and materials. One major procurement is a new type of flintlock musket, the D3 pattern type (named after the Emperor) but more commonly known as the Latin-Splitter. It is a 60-inch long weapon (not including the ring ambrolar) weighing ten pounds, with .75 caliber bore although the musket balls it uses are .7 caliber (they’re smaller to make it easier to ram the ball down the barrel, at the cost of reduced accuracy).

    Long_Land_Pattern.jpg

    A D3-I Model Musket.​

    By itself, the weapon is top-of-the-line for the period but simultaneously not a leap forward. However it is designed and manufactured so that the parts will be semi-interchangeable. Manufactured at 27 different plants throughout the Empire, the weapons are all to be built in the exact same dimensions, pattern, and process. Now these are not quite fully interchangeable parts. Everything is made with hand tools (although calipers, rulers, and eye lenses help substantially for consistency) so there is still some variations in part sizes, but musket parts can still be replaced far easier than before often with just a little bit of filing to make everything slot together properly.

    The push for standardization for infantry weapons is nothing new, going back at least as far as the weapons depots for the Laskarid theme-tagma system, but the sheer amount of effort to ensure uniformity is new.

    This drive also appears in artillery manufacture. Ideally all cannons of a particular size are to have a uniform design to make supplying ammunition easier. But again there is always some regional variation between guns because of the lack of standard machine tools. As a result cannonballs have to be made a bit smaller to ensure they fit down the barrels of all guns that should be able to fire them. As with the musket balls that don’t cleanly fit the barrels, this reduces accuracy.

    However now artillery-manufacturing plants are using water-powered boring machines. Instead of a cast that has to be broken while making each cannon and then another made for the next, a solid tube is bored out with one of these machines. Again there are slight variations between the sizes of each bore because the borers themselves are built by hand, but uniformity is greatly increased by this process. This also means the cannonballs can be made to fit in the barrels more tightly, increasing range and accuracy.

    Another method of standardization comes from the creation of uniform sizes. All uniforms for the Roman army and navy are to come in one of four sizes, with the various contractors providing one specific cut. The same is also done for the tens of thousands of new boots needed, also divided into four sizes. Obviously this doesn’t ensure that every recruit gets a uniform and boots that fits him perfectly, but is still a substantial improvement.

    While substantial raw materials have to be imported, such as cotton from Egypt and iron and furs (for coats and mittens) from Khazaria, the Empire is able to produce nearly all the manufactured goods it needs. This is a legacy of the Flowering, the period of rapid economic growth and cultural/social innovation during the reign of Helena I.

    Still, there are limits to this. While a quarter of the uniforms are made in what could easily be termed modern-style factories, where the entire process from raw wool to finished jacket is conducted in one centralized complex, three-quarters of the uniforms are still made by traditional methods. Artisans are making musket parts all to a common model, but they’re using hand tools to do so. Water power is used to power boring machines, the bellows of blast furnaces, and fulling mills but the only “steam engine” of the period is a simple pump of Spanish invention and no one in the Empire knows how to build one.

    So when it is proposed that he institute the levee-en-masse Demetrios immediately refuses with the support of the Megas Domestikos. On paper the levee would produce 670,000 men for the armies. However while the Empire has the manpower, it’d be hard-pressed to arm, supply, and feed such a host. Already in October the rate of new tourmai coming onto the rolls collapses as the army runs into shortfalls of new weapons and equipment.

    Now with more time the Empire could build and stockpile more weaponry and equipment and probably accumulate enough foodstuffs as well with mass imports from Egypt and Scythia. But transport is an insurmountable object. The shortage of carts and barrels is being made good over the winter but the lack of draft animals isn’t so easily resolved, not helped by the losses of Anizzah stock that played such a key role both at the end of the Time of Troubles and during the Eternal War. Imports from Russia and Arles help some but the requisitions needed to supply all the tourmai existing by October has already caused issues with harvests in several kephalates. If the Empire were to put another 400 tourmai into the field, the mass conscription of beasts of burden needed to support them could very well crash the harvest and gut the tax returns needed to pay for all this.

    Demetrios and Mouzalon are in basic agreement about what is possible. Without a substantial increase in draft animals (extremely unlikely to happen) the Empire is nearing the maximum number of troops it can support in the field, although if combat moves nearer to the coast where maritime transport can be more useful that would change. During the winter though, as more weapons are built, new reserve tourmai will be activated and trained, but kept on the coast where they can be supplied by sea. They can provide garrisons and support coastal operations, plus provide immediate replacement for losses on inland operations.

    From a report by the Megas Domestikos to the Emperor, dated October 11, 1632: “With the current strategic position of our forces, the maximum number of troops that can be fielded across all theaters without dangerously injurious effects to the war-making capability of the Empire is 275000 to 300000 soldiers. The largest army that can be sustained in any one theater is 100000 to 120000 soldiers. The exception to this is if combat operations were to move to within the Aegean & Marmara basin. Within a 2 day march of those coasts, a field army of 200,000 can be sustained, particularly if suitable arrangements are made in advance. I recommend that the aplekton [1] at Abydos be enlarged…”

    [1] Fortified army base, used as major barracks, assembly points, and supply depots/arsenals.
     
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    Interlude: Thomas Autoreianos
  • Curtain Jerker: I’m justifying it by there being a larger ‘European’ cultural sphere ITTL than OTL. Rhomania (replacing the OTL Ottomans) and Russia are fully integrated into this ‘European’ culture, which also includes Georgia, TTL Ottomans, and even Ethiopia at this point. So there’s a larger group of people able to exchange ideas between themselves, which speeds up innovation and the spread of ideas. Plus it’s cumulative. I believe I had snaphances (a predecessor to flintlocks) show up around the same time in ITTL as they did IOTL. But there was a quicker jump to flintlocks than OTL and faster development of them also.

    I haven’t decided yet the details, but I am planning on having TTL 2018 Earth being both less populous but also more advanced than OTL. I have a vison of the first Roman unmanned space probe entering the Alpha Centauri system in 2018 I want to make happen.

    Wolttaire: A lot of really good points were made that I will probably use in some form or another, but I do have my own ideas too.

    Why is the Empire constantly plagued by these self-serving asshats? The state is fighting an existential war on 2 fronts, and the guy is trying his hardest to get the Empire's closest allies to start shooting at the Empire.

    While this incorporates ideas I've been toying with about including for a while now, that this update exists in this form now and at this point in the TL, is essentially my response to this post.



    The Life and Times of Thomas Autoreianos

    Axel Oxenstierna.jpg

    Thomas Autoreianos, the longest-serving Megas Logothete in the history of the Roman Empire.​

    Thomas Autoreianos was born in 1544 in a home just a few minutes’ walk from the Forum of the Ox in Constantinople, where his ancestors had lived ever since the re-conquest of Constantinople by the Laskarids in 1272. The Autoreianos family made a tradition out of serving in the Roman civil bureaucracy with one member ranking as Eparch of Constantinople under Theodoros IV and another as Kephale of Trebizond under Nikephoros IV “the Spider”, but otherwise usually remained stuck in the mid-level tiers.

    His first memory at the age of four was going with his father, who was the Eparch’s senior secretary, and riding on his shoulders to watch the Imperial procession down the Mese of the just-crowned Empress Helena I Drakina. Later that day he was presented to Her Serene Highness Theodora Komnena Drakina who gave him a sugar roll.

    His upbringing was what would be expected from someone of his station. Educated at a primary [1] [2] and then secondary school [3] which sat adjacent to each other along the Mese near the Forum of Arcadius, he then attended the University of Constantinople in 1560. While an average student before, now he gained notice for his attention to detail, excellent memory, and impressive stamina for working and studying. After his first year he was the recipient of a government scholarship, performing well enough that in 1562 the White Palace reimbursed him for his freshman-year expenses, a bonus granted to exemplary students. In 1564 he graduated with a degree in philosophy [4], which included historical and basic scientific components (by the standards of the time), and per his scholarship conditions and family tradition entered the civil bureaucracy.

    Starting out in secretarial positions in the kephalates of Gallipoli and then Naxos, in April 1570 he was promoted to be prokathemenos (lieutenant to the Kephale) of Thyatira. This was just in time for the outbreak of the War of the Rivers when Helena I’s eldest son and her husband rebelled against her with the eastern armies. Thyatira was a small city but also a nexus of several highways in western Anatolia, with large elements of the European tagmata marching through the area on their way to confront Nikolaios Polos’ invasion of Anatolia. Coordinating well with army quartermasters, he did an excellent job of ensuring prompt delivery of supplies and was awarded a certificate of merit and a two-month pay bonus by a grateful Helena I.

    After that promotions came rapidly. In 1573 he was Kephale of Skammandros and in 1579 was promoted to Kephale of Smyrna. In that capacity he helped to organize supply for the naval expedition of 1580 that took Djerba and Mahdia. And in 1587 he was promoted to Eparch of Constantinople, matching the height of his family’s success a hundred and fifty years earlier. His first major duty was to help arrange the coronation of Demetrios II as Emperor of the Romans.

    In 1596 he was part of the commission that drafted the 34 Articles which tightened Roman control over the Despotate of Egypt after the Copts’ poor showing in the Great Uprising. As part of his reward he was promoted in 1599 to Megas Logothete.

    It is an incredible boon, far outshining anything his family has ever achieved in its centuries of service. The only official that Thomas looks at as an equal is the Megas Domestikos, his only superiors Their Imperial Majesties Helena I and Demetrios II. It is also a job that requires a great deal of work. As head of the Imperial civil bureaucracy he is responsible for overseeing the various senior department heads such as the Logothetes tou Genikou (Chief Finance Minister) and Logothetes tou Dromou (combination of Foreign Minister and Postmaster General), amongst others.

    One of his first appointments, in 1600 to the post of Logothetes tou Dromou, is Andronikos Sarantenos, another member of a service family ten years Thomas’ junior who has made his career in the Foreign Ministry. A year later the new Logothete negotiated Helena I’s approval of the Safavid marriage union with the Georgian-Bagrationi branch of the Drakos family.

    However the Megas Logothete is also his own department head, so to speak, as all of the 171 Kephales of the Imperial heartland plus the eastern Katepanoi report to him. While the Katepanoi in the east have Kephales subordinate to them and so act as an intermediate authority there, the heartland Kephalates all answer directly to the Megas Logothete with no interim supervisor.

    During the Laskarid re-conquest of Anatolia during the late 1200s, they’d set up Katepanoi as major regional governors in conjunction with the re-established themes and their strategoi. Giorgios Komnenos, the controversial uncle of Demetrios Megas, served as Katepano of Bithynia during his exile from court in the 1390s. However the Katepanoi proved ridiculously easy to suborn by the various contenders in the War of the Five Emperors and their ranks were disbanded by Demetrios Megas in the 1420s. In theory multiple Kephales reporting directly to the capital would be harder for a pretender to corral into obedience, with their jurisdictions also not mapping up exactly with the theme borders as had been the case with the Laskarid Katepanoi. That system has been the basis of Roman internal administration ever since although the number of Kephales has grown from 49 in 1425 to its current 171.

    The rank of Katepano remained on the books however. Demetrios Komnenos, the Coptophilic eldest son of Andreas Niketas, was appointed as Katepano of Egypt when he was sent there as governor, overseeing the entire region rather than a small Kephale. The rank then migrated east with the conquest of Taprobane under Nikephoros IV for the autonomous Viceroys overseeing Roman territories.

    For a hundred and fifty years, despite its flaws, the system overall worked well. Senior Kephales of major provinces often acted as unofficial Katepanoi supervising the minor Kephales of surrounding districts. The chief exemplar was Andronikos Diogenes, Kephale of Antiocheia during the Time of Troubles (and originator of the levee en masse) who led his kephalate and those of Cilicia and a good portion of the Syrian coast during the crisis years whilst cut off from Constantinople. But by the late 1500s it was coming under strain. Firstly, the massive expansion in the number of Kephales during the Flowering to oversee tighter local administration made that aspect of the Megas Logothete’s job loom larger despite the doubling in number of notarioi (scribes/secretaries in government service) assigned to him since 1425.

    The second major reason had to do with the general spirit of the age. While on the frontier the Great Uprising and the Eternal War ravaged territories and dented Imperial prestige, it was a good time to be a Roman civil bureaucrat. After the trauma of the Time of Troubles, the Triumvirate (Helena I, her stepsister Theodora, and her younger sister Alexeia) were inclined toward civilians rather than soldiers. During the Flowering, it was civil bureaucrats rather than soldiers that earned prestige and Imperial favor rather than soldiers (an attitude that may have contributed to the War of the Rivers, given Nikolaios Polos’ dissatisfaction with the state of the Empire). The Great Uprising and the Eternal War dampened this trend but did not reverse it.

    While the Roman civil service was supposed to be a meritocracy, open to anyone who managed to get the requisite education and pass the exams, as in any system it was often ‘not what you know but who you know’. While lower and mid-level ranks remained open, the upper tiers of the bureaucracy were typically within the hands of forty or so ‘service families’.

    Although glass ceiling is the most common analogy used, a more accurate one is a strong current. Most swimmers will be pushed back but a powerful one can still beat his way forward. The Autoreianoi were a service family, but not one of the upper forty. Thomas’ rise was how most of the upper forty got their position. An exceptional individual would climb the ranks through merit and then use his status to promote members of his family. But he would have to take care to choose family members with merit; their ability would improve his prestige but their inability would similarly destroy it. If a family name became associated with excellence of service, in essence a ‘brand’, it became easier to sell said ‘brand’ so future generations would have an easier time of gaining office.

    The Roman army had a similar issue, with the upper ranks often dominated by a few dozen families (often related to the great service families), with the most obvious example when during the early 1630s the Domestikoi of the West and East were both cousins. This was a partial factor in the generally lackluster performance of Roman strategoi during the Drakid dynasty.

    Having said that, a tradition of family service would foster a sense of honor and responsibility to live up to the family name. Returning to the ‘brand’ analogy, if a family produced an idiot for office (think a bad product), that could mar the entire ‘company’/family and damage relatives’ prospects. So service families often policed their own members. Hektor Chomatenos, Megas Logothete from 1577 to 1585, made certain to keep two nephews from doing any better than minor secretarial posts as ‘any greater office would reveal their even greater incapacity, and destroy the Chomatenos reputation for skill in governance’. And while being a member of one of the families helped a lot, they still had to go through the training, pass the exams, and work their way up the hierarchy.

    But with increased prestige and honors attached to high civic office, competition between the families grew rougher, with families determined to also outshine their rivals as well as outrank them. This required money. Many acquired the necessary cash through investments in the expanding Roman economy during the Flowering, but at its most extreme it encouraged the most ambitious to be rather unscrupulous. The two exemplars of this trend were Petros Cheilas, Protospatharios of the Office of Barbarians, and Andronikos Sarantenos, Logothete of the Drome. The former used his position to speculate on the market whilst neglecting official intelligence gathering while the later took subsidies from foreign powers, chiefly the Safavids.

    Now the Megas Logothete was supposed to keep an eye out for this. However Thomas Autoreianos was assigned primarily for his skill in managing the provinces, not overseeing the bureaucratic heads in Constantinople, and with the lack of a mid-level administration managing the kephalates by this stage was a full-time job by itself.

    However, in theory, this would be the point when the Emperor’s Eyes, officially (as opposed to de facto since Andreas I) appointed to oversee internal security and anti-corruption by Andreas III, would enter the scene. However the Emperor’s Eyes organization has not grown in size since Nikephoros IV’s reign and with the growing sophistication of foreign spy rings (Ibrahim’s activities with the Syrian Muslim populace is a case in point) the agents are focused on the spies rather than Roman officials.

    Another factor weakening the Emperor’s Eyes at this point is the purge of the Office of Barbarians undertaken by Andreas III after the extent of Petros Cheilas’ corruption was revealed. Many of the fired agents were replaced by Emperor’s Eyes agents and the latter organization has yet to fully refill its ranks. As a result Demetrios III’s espionage capabilities are substantially greater then Demetrios II’s, but also at this point he is uniquely incapable of cracking down on corrupt government officials.

    Furthermore Thomas Autoreianos is a member of one of the little service families now made big. Unsurprisingly he likes to show off to some of the greater service families like the Pontic Laskarids (one of the families prominent in both civil and military hierarchies) and the Chomatenoi. This hardly sets a good example for his subordinates.

    Still he is a hard worker and honest and for the first fifteen years of his tenure everything is kept in order. During that time he begins mentoring an up-and-coming civil servant, one Demetrios Sideros. Many of their letters from the 1605-1620 period survive, showing a surprising closeness between the two despite the huge gap in their ranks (although given Demetrios’ position in the Imperial family the gap is not so great in reality). Encouraging the inexperienced official who is only twenty when the correspondence begins, Thomas sometimes seem to act as a surrogate father for Demetrios, who because of his un-military character was never close to his soldier father and didn’t seem that disheartened when said soldier father was killed by the Ottomans during the Eternal War.

    However in 1614 Thomas turns seventy and inevitably starts slowing down. In the gap enter his notarioi, who as government scribes are some of the most senior of that level, second only to those assigned to the Emperor himself. But they are the most senior of a junior tier so it is hard for them to impose their authority on the greater officials, particularly those from the more established service families. This is when Petros Cheilas starts emphasizing personal profit over intelligence-gathering.

    Now Autoreianos takes charge when Cheilas’ activities are revealed, but that it got so far is not to his credit. However having achieved an unprecedented honor for his family in its centuries of service, he is loath to give it up. Demetrios II, never inclined to look deeply into bureaucratic affairs, makes no move to push him out. Andreas III may have removed him once he started implementing the reforms he’d been planning, but died before that happened.

    Still at his post even in his mid-80s, it had been assumed that the Megas Logothete would be a key player in the succession and both Empress Elizabeth and the Jahzara-Sarantenos duo tried to get him to back their side during the factional disputes during the reign of Andreas III. To his credit he refused to get involved, despite his connection with Demetrios Sideros, but he also didn’t do much to squash the arguers. While he wasn’t in Constantinople during the Night of the Tocsins, he was largely irrelevant during the succession.

    The succession of Demetrios III could be expected to change things. He has an intimate understanding of the Roman bureaucracy to a degree not even Theodoros IV possessed and is aware of its shortcomings. He is also not part of the ‘service family’ mentality like Autoreianos is. But that said, on a personal level he is reluctant to admit the failings of his mentor. Furthermore by now Thomas Autoreianos has been Megas Logothete for thirty years, a record never surpassed to the present day. It is hard to imagine replacing him; given that Demetrios followed the same career track as Thomas, it is likely that Demetrios himself would’ve been Thomas’ replacement had Andreas III lived. At least, that’s likely what Jahzara would’ve schemed had a better job offer for her husband not appeared. With the outbreak of the War of the Roman Succession, Demetrios is also distracted and doesn’t wish to shake things up by switching leadership at such a crucial juncture. And so Logothete Sarantenos is able to work effectively unsupervised.

    [1] Being a city school, Autoreianos’ teacher would’ve been a member of the laity, probably in his case a university student who’d done 1-2 years but never received a degree, as the attendants of his school were expected to go on to more advanced learning. More typically it would be a secondary school graduate with no university training who taught at the elementary level.

    In the less prominent and affluent neighborhoods, as well as in a village or small town, where 75%+ of the Roman people lived, the schoolteacher would almost certainly be the local priest. The Orthodox Church, which’d seen much gains in southern Italy due to highly-educated priests, strongly encouraged its clerics to promote education as a means of Christian teaching. Still, teaching capability was often not a significant criteria in determining the posting of priests and, regardless of piety, many priests varied widely in their caliber as schoolteachers.

    Assuming a village priest was willing and able to teach, the parents would still need to pay a fee per children and for all their supplies and obviously forego the labor of their children whilst they were taking their lessons. As a result, even in villages that had an educated and capable priest, only the richer peasants could afford to take advantage of this.

    [2] Elementary education was restricted to teaching basic reading, writing, and mathematical skills. However in elementary schools, like Autoreianos’, where the students were expected to move on to higher education, the lessons might be more developed.

    [3] Secondary school education was mainly viewed as university-preparation, as even the basic university courses assumed prior knowledge. Some viewed secondary school as a ‘poor man’s university’ since it was much cheaper, but still opened doors for career advancements such as a merchant’s bookkeeper or local official that would be barred to those with limited learning.

    [4] Despite the high literacy rate, by pre-industrial standards, of the Roman Empire, university graduates were still thin on the ground. For every 20 who passed elementary, only three passed secondary (the gap is due primarily to students not continuing the education past elementary because of economics), and only one passed university.
     
    1632: The Wars of Latin Aggression
  • What are revenue numbers for the Empire before and after these tax reforms? I would imagine that the numbers would improve significantly after the war is over, and peace restores the economic stability of the Empire.

    If you look back at the ‘Worth of a Hyperpyron’ Interlude, set in between updates in 1626, I estimated the Imperial government’s annual revenue to be 16-18 million hyperpyra (730-820 metric tons of silver). As of 1633, with the tax brackets and other reforms in place, I’m putting the annual revenue at 22-24 million hyperpyra (1000-1100 metric tons of silver). This does not include loans or the revenue from the popes drive, as that is extraordinary revenue.

    Oops, should have re-read your post again. Is that series stored away in some dark corner of the internet and available for our consumption by any chance?

    I posted a little from my latest dabbling a few years ago in a thread in the Writer's Forum. That's the only part that's on the Internet. Most is from several years ago and embarrassingly bad. I'd like to get back into it but I'm not very good at working on multiple projects at the same time.

    * * *

    "For my purposes, The Wars of Latin Aggression is far more useful than The History of the Laskarid Dynasty. While it has its issues as history, it is a far better guide for understanding Demetrios the man." -Hektor Petros, author of The Forgotten Emperor: A Life of Demetrios III, Founder of the Sideros Dynasty and the Modern Roman Empire


    The White Palace, Constantinople, December 3, 1632:

    Demetrios took a quill, making a side-note on the margins of the report. ‘Increase by 10%’. Fishing in Prague was quite expensive but if his anglers could snare the big one, it’d be worth the expense.

    He set that down and picked up the next one, smiling a bit as he read. It was a report from the jujitsu master on Athena’s progress. She ranked second in her class, only passed by Anna, the eldest daughter of Nikolaios Philommates. He expected to hear some ‘respectful’ crowing from his Epi tou kanikleiou, the ‘keeper of the Imperial inkstand’, his senior private secretary, in the next few days.

    The Romans had discovered jujitsu from the Japanese and during the final years of Demetrios II masters of the art had been brought in to teach it to the guard tagmata and the Vigla (Imperial Guard). Athena had expressed an interest and despite repeated mentions of ‘unwomanly activities’ Demetrios had arranged for another master to teach his daughter. With an Imperial princess learning, suddenly many palace officials wanted their daughters to learn as well.

    There was movement from his bedroom that connected to his study. “It’s good to see you smile,” Eudoxia said from the doorway. Demetrios looked over at his mistress. A couple years younger than his 47, now most of her long blond hair had turned into a stunningly elegant silver-white which Demetrios thought made her look even more beautiful. She had some more wrinkles on her, particularly around the eyes, but he knew she looked better than him. His hair had gone completely white since he’d been crowned and his face was becoming downright-craggy.

    Demetrios Sideros.jpg

    Although delivered after he was crowned Demetrios III, the portrait dates from when he was still Eparch of Constantinople. In two calendar years he was said to have aged ten.
    She was also wearing one of his court jackets which went down a third of her thighs, made of the finest purple silk, which she had on backwards. And it seemed to be the only thing she was wearing, unless one counted one of his purple slippers she was wearing as a hat. Although Demetrios had to admit it was doubtful anyone who had worn that type of jacket had ever had those legs. He raised an eyebrow at her attire. “We’re supposed to be working.”

    “Yeah, and?” A pause. “Oh,” she continued, her eyes twinkling. “You mean that kind of work, not that kind of work.” She trotted over to the couch, Demetrios confirming that was the only thing she was wearing. She plunked down, pulling her bag over by her feet and pulling out some papers. She gave him a look at his amused expression. “Muffin, with what I do for a living…”

    He held up his hands in a gesture of peace. “Honey, you look great. The jacket suits you much better than it does me. I’m just imagining my officials presenting reports to me in similar fashion.”

    “Sounds like the stuff of nightmares to me.”

    “Yeah, I’m never getting those out of my head.”

    She grinned. “You’re welcome.”

    He mock-scowled at her. “You’re a horrible person, and mean to me,” he pouted. She blew a kiss at him. “Now time to work though, boring kind unfortunately.” She saluted, the slipper-hat falling off her head.

    “So I have some reports here you’ll find most interesting,” Eudoxia said, looking at the sheaf in her hands. As head of the Prostitutes’ Guild in both Smyrna and now Constantinople, she had a lot of contacts with people in that line of work throughout the Empire. It seemed an unofficial rule that head-mistresses in major establishments had to work in either of those cities or Antioch to get that posting.

    Now soldiers liked prostitutes, and those allied soldiers were no different. So Eudoxia had had the idea of using her contacts to set up a new spy network, ferrying information and relaying instructions in the Danube theater. Not all of her agents were prostitutes and they worked with the Office of Barbarians, but they’d proven to be a perfect relay service.

    “So the big one is from James Bond.”

    “Wait, what?”

    “James Bond. That’s one of my agents.”

    “What kind of name is that?”

    “Code name. It’s English.”

    “No wonder it’s dumb.”

    “Do you want the report or not? You seem more ornery today than usual.”

    “Just ornery with you. And yes, I do want the report. Although for some reason I picture this agent with lots of fancy gadgets and sleeping with every woman he comes across. I wonder why.”

    “Muffin, I don’t want to know where you get your ideas. And James Bond is a woman.”

    “Well, that changes my mental image.”

    “And she’s not an agent. But she is my best controller. Manages several agents. Got the reports on the Saxons from her. And she directed the contact with Nassau.”

    “Very impressive. I’d like to meet her someday.”

    “You could but then I’d have to kill you.” He looked at her. “What? Need-to-know; got to keep her cover.”

    “Now who’s being ornery?”

    “You, still, always.” They smiled at each other.

    Demetrios gestured. “Continue, my most insubordinate spymaster.”

    She sniffed. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I am always your most humble and obedient servant.” Demetrios snorted, sputtering in his drink, juice spraying his cheeks.

    He set the glass down and wiped his face. “You did that on purpose.”

    “Of course. Being devious is a requirement in my line of work.”

    Demetrios nodded. “And you’re quite devious. So tell me of the doings of your various minions, including this James Bond.”

    “Well, most of it is nothing special but this one report should interest you. So Agent K…” She gave Demetrios a look before he could interrupt her. “…was able to report success in Nikopolis.” One of Bond's agents, Agent K was a Helvetian, one of those German/Swiss immigrants that’d been settled in the Taurus Mountains early in the reign of Helena to repopulate the region after the Time of Troubles. “There was a bit of a delay since the guard was Saxon.” K’s family was originally from Saxony and he still spoke Saxon German fluently. His accent was a bit off though, not enough for a non-Saxon to notice, but a native of the region would get suspicious.

    “But the guard was switched to Hessians,” Eudoxia continued. “He bluffed his way through the guard post saying he had a package for delivery to the captain. He got through, set the timer, walked away, and the bomb went off.” Based off the design for the contact mines, the package bombs had a timer that at a certain point tripped a flintlock, detonating the explosives. The design wasn’t as dependable as a fuse, yet, but was much more surreptitious.

    “Well played. Probably won’t work a second time, but well played. Damage?”

    “These are estimates, of course, but K says the report is 35 dead, plus a hundred or so wounded. Secondary explosions increased the destruction; five barges burned through to the waterline, another twelve more damaged to varying extents. He believes total losses are around two hundred tons of powder, plus at least three thousand small arms and ten cannons, plus about fifteen tons of provisions. Some of the weaponry can be fished up from the river bottom; it’s not deep at the harbor.”

    “True, but that’s time and money that’ll have to be taken from elsewhere. And that powder’s ruined. Blucher’s going to be having a lot harder time feeding that grand battery of his.”

    He sighed, rubbing his temples. “Such a stupid pointless war.”

    The two of them sat there for a moment in silence. “Still want to run away with me?” Eudoxia asked.

    He smiled sadly at her. “Every day.” He barked in laughter, Eudoxia looking quizzically at him. “Think about it. A war over who will be Emperor, between one who wants it way too much and one who wants it not at all.” He sighed. “More to it than that, of course, but still…” His voice trailed off.

    “But I’m Emperor; my place is here, damnit.” He looked out the window, the light of sunset shimmering on the waters of the Marmara, silhouetting five fat galleons lumbering Syria-bound, a dispatch boat coming the other way. “Someday, perhaps. I can dream.”

    “We can dream,” she corrected him.

    He nodded and their eyes met. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

    * * *

    1632 continued: The Imperial family grows by two. On December 1, Princess Athena gives birth to a daughter who is named Sophia after her maternal grandmother (a sister of then Despot Demetrios III of Egypt). Given the timing of her birth, before any offspring of Odysseus, that she is female comes as somewhat of a relief. Given Alexandros Drakos’ far-greater blood connection to Andreas Niketas, a son would raise the specter of another succession dispute down the road (never mind the illegitimate children of Andreas III).

    Just eleven days later the Lady Maria of Agra goes into labor and is moved into the Purple Chamber of the White Palace. This is irregular as her husband is merely Kaisar and not Co-Emperor but Demetrios wants to emphasize the legitimacy of this offspring as much as possible. After six hours she gives birth to a healthy baby boy. Initially it is planned to name him Demetrios after his paternal grandfather but to the relief of history students the Emperor vetoes that idea. Instead he insists that his grandson be named Herakleios.

    There are two theories behind the choice. The first is that historically-minded Demetrios seeks to draw a connection with the original Herakleios, who beat back the enemies surrounding Rhomania on all sides, although the subsequent Arab conquests deflate that analogy’s effectiveness. The second is that Demetrios is honoring Herakleios II, the successor of Andreas Niketas, with whom Demetrios feels an affinity.

    The name choice is minor compared to his next decision. Demetrios declares his intention to have Herakleios and Sophia marry when they come of age. The children of such a union would expand the ‘reunification of Andrean lines’ that Alexandros’ family has done (whether intentionally or unintentionally), creating offspring with an unparalleled lineage leading back to Andreas Niketas. The consanguinity of the two is an issue, one Demetrios intends to ignore.

    Given the age of the children though, that’s something that can wait for now. Demetrios is busy in other areas. As a Christmas gift to Theodor, Demetrios places a bounty of 3 million hyperpyra [1], albeit to be paid out in six yearly installments, for his assassination. Not wanting to make Casimir feel left out, he also places a bounty on his head. But as an insult for the one he calls ‘the cur of God’, it’s only 300,000. When Archbishop von Hohenzollern of Cologne hears of that, he publicly remarks that he’ll add another 30,000 to the pot for the successful assassin. At this point the Archbishop and King won’t be in the same room with each other.

    Those are the only bounties Demetrios places. It doesn’t feel right to put a price on the head of generals ‘who are merely serving their lords as they should’ such as Blucher. Plus if only those two have targets, they’re more likely to feel the heat. And Demetrios is also working on subverting some of the Imperial princes, so putting a price on their head would be counter-productive.

    Demetrios is also conniving in other areas, which bear fruit surprisingly quickly. In January 1633, he gains a western ally, albeit an unexpected one.

    The Empire of Mexico has a pirate issue, specifically Triune pirates. Particularly very well-armed and official-looking Triune pirates. They’ve been snapping at Mexican ships in both the Caribbean and Pacific, aiming for the silver galleons carrying the products of the Zacatecas or Potosi mines. Emperor David III Komnenos has had enough of this and is particularly concerned about a rumored Triune plot to snap away his Incan territories. There is still a native Incan state resisting in the interior and the Mapuche to the south are not acting like good neighbors to the new Mexican order, for all of their dislike of the Incans.

    The Mexican navy does its best to beat off the pirates but it is far too small for its commitments. Furthermore it is almost entirely composed of fregatai or smaller warships. There are only two battle-line ships, the David and the Texcoco, both fifty-six gunners, putting them near the bottom of that category (50 guns is the divider at this time). As a result its ability to project power and strike back at Triune bases in the Caribbean and North Atlantic is extremely limited. So David III wants an alliance with a greater naval power.

    Demetrios III is interested. Unlike an agreement with the Arletians, which he is still trying to get but with no success, he only needs to provide ships. The fleet off Italy can easily spare some while Mexico will provide all the ground troops needed. It provides a stellar opportunity to menace Triune cash flow by threatening the lucrative Caribbean plantations; Demetrios is well aware of the importance of the Triune subsidy in maintaining Theodor’s army.

    Furthermore there are German plantations there as well, the mercantile cities of north Germany, particularly Hamburg, making a lot of money out of the sale and export of sugar, cocoa and tobacco. The Hansa is already irritated with Theodor over his cavalier tossing-out of their eastern trading opportunities; if their western markets suffer they may very well turn against the Holy Roman Emperor.

    So envoys from Rhomania and envoys from Mexico sign an alliance agreement, Texcoco declaring war on the Holy Roman Empire and the United Kingdoms. They do so in Marseilles. The Arletians will not join but are eager to facilitate an arrangement guaranteed to stick it to King’s Harbor.

    In accordance with the terms, on April 22 a small fleet weighs anchor and sets out from Palermo harbor for destinations west. The Roman flotilla comprises five battle-line ships, a pair of seventy-gunners, a sixty-gunner, and two fifty-gunners, supported by four fregatai and two sloops as well as a trio of supply ships. One of the fregatai is the Theseus, including in its complement one Eikosarchos Leo Kalomeros.

    * * *

    “It began with the Normans. A mighty people and justly proud of their achievements, for to be the most avaricious and brutal amongst the Latins is no small achievement.”

    That is the well-known opening to Demetrios Sideros’ most famous work, The Wars of Latin Aggression. Begun almost immediately after the receipt of Theodor’s declaration of war, the first edition goes to the presses in February of 1633. The fact that the author is the Emperor guarantees a wide and curious reception but the work in its own right soon enters the Roman cultural consciousness.

    During the Night of the Tocsins, inhabitants of Constantinople sang the lines “They came to steal and they came to lie. They came to make the Romans die.” While the average Roman is fuzzy on the details, there is no doubt amongst them that the Latins have a long history of attacks and atrocities on the Empire, chief amongst them the infamous sack of 1204. The book is that history, putting into detail the gist all Romans know from plays, songs, pamphlets and campfire stories. Perhaps that is why the book gains its prominence; it crystalizes Roman thought into a compact understandable whole. And while modern historians, who prefer his more sober History of the Laskarid Dynasty, have sometimes questioned or criticized Demetrios’ reasoning or arguments, they must also admit that the layman on the streets of a Roman city still quotes it and their mindset is far more like to be shaped by The Wars then any of those modern historians.

    The book begins with the arrival of the Normans in Italy, quickly followed by the mutual excommunication of Pope and Patriarch in 1054. This isn’t the start of the wars proper, but rather an introduction setting the stage. For Demetrios distinguishes between ‘typical’ aggression that can be expected anytime neighboring peoples/states rub elbows and the special ‘Latin’ aggression they exhibit toward the Romans so frequently, an exceptionally vitriolic and rabid aggressive impulse absent from the more typical variety. Demetrios places the Norman conquest of Southern Italy in the first category.

    So in Demetrios’ methodology the First War of Latin Aggression is Robert Guiscard’s invasion of Greece in 1081. He doesn’t view this as a logical extension of the Italian conquests; he considers a more proper connection to be the invasion of Sicily, which the Normans had attacked but wouldn’t fully take over for another decade after Guiscard’s invasion of Albania. So in Demetrios’ mind this is the first manifestation of that inveterate Latin aggression directed against the Romans, manifested out of their pathological violence, gnawing greed, and religious megalomania (in the last he is referring to the Catholic argument that all must be subject to the Pope, the monarch of the church who can make doctrine as he sees fit, for salvation, an attitude most repulsive to the Orthodox). He is quick to point out papal support for Guiscard’s actions.

    Yet then he doesn’t portray the First Crusade as the Second War. He points out that it was not directed at the Romans, with the conflicts between Crusaders and Romans being the cause of poor Crusader discipline on the march. Yet he does point out the tensions between the two parties, arguing that the increased exposure only strengthened Latin greed and religious arrogance, while their brutish nature encouraged them to see Roman sophistication as effeminacy, “for the Latin at his core only truly respects brute force”.

    Instead the Second War of Latin Aggression is Bohemond’s invasion of 1107, somewhat of a reprise of his father Guiscard’s attack, but with much more brazen papal support. “In little more than a decade, a supposed holy effort to aid us, their eastern brothers in our shared Christian faith, is instead turned into a weapon against us. Why? Because apparently the self-aggrandizement of a Norman count with daddy issues is a noble cause pleasing in the sight of the Latin god.”

    In the Third War the Venetians enter, “a people skilled at seafaring, trade and the making of money, willing to torture refugees and rape children if that will turn them a profit”. This is the Roman-Venetian war on the accession of Ioannes II Komnenos, the son of Alexios I, the founder of the first Komnenid dynasty. For their support against Guiscard, the Venetians had been granted customs exemptions throughout most of the Empire by Alexios but his son removed those privileges.

    Now, at first glance Demetrios admits that this might be just cause for conflict. But then he points out that the Venetians, being familiar with the Empire’s way of governance, would’ve known that Alexios’ chrysobull granting their trading privileges would’ve only been valid for his lifetime. So unless they were incompetent, Venetian outrage at Ioannes’ ‘treachery’ is simply that of a greedy man enraged at the loss of his free ride. And furthermore, Demetrios is uninclined to give any saving grace to a people that feel that the loss of tariff exemptions is justification for murder.

    The Second Crusade, for the same reasons as the First, is not included as one of the wars (although the vocal threats and insinuations of the Crusaders is recorded) but the concurrent war with Norman Sicily is listed as the Fourth War of Latin Aggression. However the next conflicts with both the Normans and the Venetians are also not listed, the first because Manuel I Komnenos started that by invading Italy and the second because Manuel I started that by the mass arrest of Venetians throughout the Empire.

    In probably the most unpleasant part of the work for modern readers is his take on the 1182 massacre of Latins in Constantinople. He admits it may have been excessive but that the already expressed Latin greed and arrogance merited a riposte, even if it was “a luxury that the weakened empire of that day could ill afford.”

    But then comes 1185 and the Fifth War of Latin Aggression and the absolutely brutal siege and sack of Thessaloniki by the Normans. “The Normans were the vanguard of intensive Latin experience with our Empire. And look at that vanguard, four unprovoked assaults in a hundred years. With such a prologue, is it any wonder the horrors to come?”

    But before that ‘horror to come’ is the Third Crusade, which is not included despite Frederick Barbarossa’s clear threat to Constantinople. Following Niketas Choniates, Demetrios blames the feckless stupidity of the Angeloi for that pointless war. This is one of the strengths of the work as it is clearly not just a list of all Roman-Latin conflicts blaming everything on the perfidy of the barbarous west.

    And then comes a not-quite-war, Henry VI’s demand that the Empire fork over a tax to fund his crusade, noncompliance to be met with an invasion. At that juncture Emperor Alexios III Angelos paid the ‘German tax’ and then Henry VI died before embarking on the crusade, although not before wiping the Norman Sicilian kingdom off the map.

    Yet despite it being a relative non-event, Demetrios focuses a great deal of attention on the reception of a German envoy on Christmas 1196 where the Roman court tried to overawe the envoys with a display of wealth and fine clothing. According to Niketas Choniates the Germans responded with “The Germans have neither need of such spectacles…The time has now come to take off effeminate garments and brooches, and to put on iron instead of gold.”

    But then comes the Great Betrayal, the Sixth War of Latin Aggression, the sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204. Demetrios, following the usual Roman practice, believes it to have been a perfidious Venetian plot the whole time. Yet he does not absolve the other parties. He views Pope Innocent III’s efforts to regain control of the crusade to be ‘suspiciously ineffectual for so powerful a pontiff’.

    Meanwhile he views the crusader leaders as also suspiciously incompetent, given that their conquest of Zara for the Venetians only gained them a postponement of their debt rather than counting as repayment. One would think said leaders would be able to get better terms. So while in Demetrios’ mind the debt issue was originally an honest mistake, by Zara he believes the Venetian and crusader leaders to be cooperating on a scheme to fulfill that long crusader desire to sack the Queen of Cities, the debt issue merely a way to browbeat the rank and file into line. And then Latin priests justify the atrocity of 1204 on the grounds that the Romans are heretics in their eyes.

    At the point he does a general overview of the Period of Exile, as the 1204 to 1272 period is styled, showing the Latin arrogance and brutality in their controlled territories. A key example is the 1231 burning alive of thirteen Greek monks on Cyprus because they rejected the use of unleavened wafers in the Eucharist, which is the Latin tradition unlike the leaven used in Orthodoxy [This is OTL]. He also draws a great deal of attentions to the popes’ efforts to sustain the Latin Empire through crusades, even at the expense of supporting the Holy Land.

    With the recapture of Constantinople in 1272 the reunited empire sees the return of new wars of Latin Aggression, or at least the threat of them. The first is an almost war by Charles of Anjou, again displaying the unbounded avarice Demetrios expects from Latins. Then there is the attempted crusade of 1305, called by the pope when Prince Manuel Laskaris captured Antioch. And there is the sable-rattling from the French, “a pious people quick to engage in holy wars and even more quickly lose them”, in the early 1300s, threatening crusades to restore the Latin Empire [also OTL]. The Italian intervention in the Laskarid Civil War Demetrios disregards as Anna I approved it.

    So admittedly the 1300s sees a lack of actual wars, but the chronicle of near-misses and continual threats shows that Latin attitudes hadn’t improved. Demetrios argues that the newfound strength of the Empire and Latin distractions were what kept manners from escalating. Southern Italy was consumed and then crippled by the long war between Angevin and Hohenstaufen and then the War of the Sicilian Vespers. Meanwhile Venice, after being repeatedly humbled by Licario in Roman service in the late 1200s, drew in her claws for a time.

    But just for a time, returning with a vengeance with Venetian involvement in the War of the Five Emperors, which Demetrios ranks as the Seventh War of Latin Aggression, propping up Maria of Barcelona and prolonging the war all to their own advantage. Modern historians consider this the weakest point of his argument as the Romans would’ve done exactly the same thing, but Demetrios is uninclined to give the Venetians much leeway.

    Especially considering what comes next, the Eighth War, the Smyrnan War, the Black Day of Rhomania. And it is followed by the Ninth War, also known as the Last Crusade, when the greatest host ever mustered by a call to Crusade marched not against Muslims but against Orthodox Christians.

    The Tenth is the Hungarian invasion which an at-death’s-door Andreas Niketas annihilated at the Battle of the Iron Gates. The Eleventh is the Milanese invasion at the start of the Time of Troubles. The Twelfth is the Hungarian invasion which was repaid and more at Mohacs. “And now we live in the Thirteenth War of Latin Aggression, greater in size than is usual, but part of a long pattern.” It is for this reason that in Rhomania this war is often known as the Great Latin War rather than the common label of War of the Roman Succession.

    Modern historians are extremely skeptical of a special type of Latin aggression, unique from the usual medieval and early modern method, and are quick to point out that calling the wars with the Normans, Venetians, and Hungarians ‘Latin wars’ isn’t accurate. But that is not how most Romans see it. They see a continual string of aggressions coming from the west, a constant pattern of terror and greed. The Romans don’t want to conquer the west; they just want it to leave them alone for once. So that perhaps explains the success of Demetrios’ work, for it gives academic respectability to what Romans already know to be true, that this attack is nothing new in concept, only in scope. That the Latin is always at your throat or at your feet.

    And perhaps not. Demetrios has an idea for breaking the cycle. The problem, he believes, goes back to the very beginning, in the early years of the crusades. The crusaders viewed the Romans as effeminate and treacherous. Yet they viewed the Turks as mighty warriors and later respected Saladin as a chivalric hero and the Mamelukes as formidable opponents. And yet the Romans were never extended that same respect “save only for the lifetime of Andreas Niketas after Cannae, and that vanished the moment he was believed dead”.

    The Kingdom of France, once the premier of crusading states, as part of the Triple Monarchy now seems to largely ally with Muslim countries. There is little to no interest in campaigning against the Muslims nowadays, and yet a huge swath of Europe is easily persuaded to take up arms against Rhomania with little apparent reason. Why?

    Because, Demetrios argues, the centuries-old prejudices still live. Despite all that has happened, the Latins still think of the Romans as effeminate gold-wearers, not ones dressed in iron ready for battle and for slaughter. The Romans are rich and weak, the ideal victim. They do not care to cross swords with Muslims, for they have a tradition of fear and respect for Muslim blades. But not for Roman. And so they must be taught. But how? Demetrios has an answer.

    “It is not enough for the Latins to be repulsed. That has happened many times before; they will merely return in a generation, continuing the cycle. A clever maneuver that cuts off their logistics will not be enough. They will merely make some excuse about ‘Greek perfidy’ as they have always done to cover up their shortcomings, and then resume the cycle.

    No. In the words of Tourmarch Mikrulakes the Latins ‘must be beaten with their own damn tune’. For at the end of the day the Latin only respects brute force. For the cycle to be broken, they must be met in battle and shattered, as Andreas Niketas shattered them. For while he lived, he broke the cycle, but not permanently for it was ascribed to him and not to the Romans in general. What we must do is inflict such a slaughter upon the Latin invaders that they will foul themselves at the mere thought of trying such again. That they will realize that it is not 1196 or 1204 any longer; that we have indeed put on iron. And perhaps, after we have killed enough of them, they will finally learn.”


    That is another reason for studying The Wars of Latin Aggression, although it was not apparent at the time of publication. For Demetrios III Sideros’ actions after its publication are entirely based on breaking the cycle, once and for all.

    [1] Enough to maintain 50 full-strength line tourmai for a year.
     
    Last edited:
    1633: The Kings to the North
  • 'Stern toil is his who would the empire gain.'
    -Cao Cao in The Romance of the Three Kingdoms (OTL)

    'It would have been far better for the Wittelsbachs had Elizabeth been born a man and Theodor born a woman instead."-Henri II, Emperor of the United Kingdoms, unknown date.​

    1633
    : It is a cold winter in Munich, fitting Lady Elizabeth’s mood. The former Empress of the Romans, still only twenty eight years old, is Regent for her brother over the lands he holds directly: Bavaria, Austria, Saxony, Brandenburg, Schleswig-Holstein, and many smaller enclaves. Because of her gender, overseeing the Holy Roman Empire proper is barred to her. Currently the Archbishop of Mainz, who is per the norm also Arch-Chancellor of Germany, fulfills that duty in the absence of the Emperor. Wolfgang von Dahlberg, who singularly lacks his Cologne contemporary’s ability for mayhem, works well with Elizabeth, to the relief of both.

    For this is a most thankless job. Rhomania is, in common eyes, the land of silk and gold, abounding in wealth ripe for the taking. Yet for all the victories in Serbia and along the Danube, very little treasure has come back to Germany. The only thing coming back is an incessant demand for more men, more money, more draft animals, more materials, more, more, more. Even with the winter weather preventing major operations, Domestikos Michael Laskaris is determined to inflict at least one thousand casualties per month on the invaders, and he’s succeeding handily. Although historians are unsure when exactly it appears, around this time the expression ‘going to Greece’ appears in the German language as a euphemism for suicide.

    Despite the Papal and Triune subsidies, Theodor still has to tax ruthlessly to get the currency he needs, not helped by the fact that the men he conscripts for his armies also make for the best agricultural laborers. In early April near Grimma in Saxony, a peasant force estimated at 600 strong attacks a press gang hauling 80 conscripts to Leipzig, freeing all the draftees and killing eleven members of the press gang. That is the largest incident but there are several smaller ones also in Saxony as well as Bavaria and Austria. In Schleswig-Holstein, many of those who are to be drafted have started fleeing north into Denmark. Demands for their extradition are ignored.

    To give Elizabeth von Wittelsbach her due, despite the difficulties she fulfills her duties as well as can be expected. Theodor is getting the money and men and material he needs to sustain his offensive, even building up some respectable stores in Belgrade, Vidin, and Nikopolis despite several successful Roman sabotage efforts (James Bond’s agents take pride of place but not all credit). But she knows it cannot be sustained for long.

    In her private journal she writes on April 4, 1633:

    If the war can be won this year, all will be well.
    If the war is not won this year, it is even money between everything holding together and a volcano.
    If the war is won next year, it is still even money between everything holding together and a volcano.
    If the war is not won next year it will be lost, and then the volcano is inevitable and the only question is how many of us are consumed.


    It is unknown if she conveys these sentiments to her brother, although historians doubt it. For she knows her brother and knows that he would not listen. He is determined to win this; he’s thrown too much into the effort, too much men, money, and material but also prestige.

    The House of Wittelsbach has towered over the other princes of the Empire since the 1300s, even when they were mere Dukes of Bavaria aside from their Imperial title, much less now. Frederick III von Wittelsbach was the only lord of the west able to challenge Andreas Niketas. They led the defense of the Empire in its darkest days against the Hungarians. The Brothers’ War, which consolidated Wittelsbach power both over their own lands and the Empire as a whole, has only increased that aura of might and majesty. To fail now, after having laid so much on the line, would be catastrophic, unthinkable. The only way out is forward.

    By the time major war operations can commence in Bulgaria, the Wittelsbachs, previously often a creditor to the other princes, are now humiliatingly a debtor to many of those princes. Those debts are to be repaid from exactions from Roman provinces, yet unfortunately for Theodor the lands he’s seized are far poorer than Roman lands further south. Most of those debtors though are the various Imperial free cities, whose lack of military power means their irritation at the lack of repayment moneys can be ignored for now.

    However one debtor emphatically cannot be ignored.

    The House of Premyslid is ancient by European dynastic standards, approaching its 800th year. Ruling over the lands of the Bohemian crown, territorially it is the second-largest domain in the Holy Roman Empire after the vast clutch of lands accumulated by the Wittelsbachs. With the title of King, they can look down on all the other princes save again the Wittelsbachs. Aside from the Imperial title, Theodor is also King of Austria (the territory was elevated to a kingdom whilst under Hungarian dominion and Theodor has kept the upgrade). During the early 1300s, two Premyslids were Holy Roman Emperors before the Wittelsbachs gained the title.

    Yet it must be said that the Premyslids for the last two centuries have been rather sub-standard. Athena Siderina, channeling her father, referred to a supposed Premyslid family tradition of dropping all newborns on their heads repeatedly as an explanation. A long string of minorities, insanities, and imbecilities have made the Premyslids unable to provide an effective political counterweight to the Imperial Wittelsbachs, which does much to explain the latter’s success in consolidating and expanding their power. It can be said for the Premyslids of this period that they kept their own inheritance intact, but no more.

    Yet whatever hex has lain over the Crown of Bohemia these long years would seem to have dissipated. Ottokar V, despite his fetish for giant grenadiers which he has formed into three over-strength guard companies and for whom he imports tall women from Lisbon to Baghdad to be their wives, is neither insane nor imbecilic.

    He ascended to the throne in 1616, eighteen months after the death of Duke Karl von Wittelsbach of Saxony ended the Brothers’ War. Like Blucher himself, he originally fought in the Brothers’ War (then as crown prince) on Karl’s side but reportedly was instrumental in convincing his father, Vaclav VII, to switch sides and join Friedrich. Egerland and the Imperial city of Cheb, both fighting for Karl, were the payment for the defection.

    Despite his support for Friedrich then, it was purely opportunistic rather than any real change of heart. Ottokar is determined to restore the dignity and might of the Premyslids and Bohemia and would very much like to knock the old family rival the Wittelsbachs down a few pegs.

    Although there were several battles in Bohemia, overall the Brothers’ War worked out well for the Crown of Bohemia. Aside from the acquisition of Egerland, the Moravian and Silesian foundries made good business selling cannons, firearms, and powder and Ottokar encourages their development. When the War of the Roman Succession kicks off, those foundries see their business boom much to the delight of Ottokar’s exchequer.

    Other internal projects between his accession and the outbreak of the war with Rhomania include the building of roads and bridges to facilitate trade, draining swampland to plant more crops, and encouraging the expansion of woolen textile industries. This is particularly successful in Silesia with easy access to water power. The University of Prague is enlarged and a lens-making industry established by imported Dutch artisans. Soap and lace are other new products that prove valuable as exports. And while the expulsion of the Jews turns out to be economically a bad idea, tightening credit, Ottokar gets a one-time revenue boost from extorting most of their possessions. In 1630 he is plateauing but it is estimated that in the fifteen years since his accession he’s increased his revenues by up to 70%.

    The result is a Bohemia more formidable than the rest of the Empire is accustomed. While the contingents from the direct Imperial lands dwarf it, Bohemia’s contribution to the war effort against Rhomania in 1632 is 17,500 men. The next largest contingent provided by an imperial prince is the Archbishop of Cologne with 6000. It is a very well-equipped army also, fielding the most and best field artillery of any unit in the Allied host, although at the start of the campaign their gun-handling is indifferent at best. But the Triunes soon start giving them pointers and the Bohemians are quick learners.

    The Bohemian force is commanded by Ottokar’s eldest son and heir, Crown Prince Vaclav, as Ottokar is distinctly uninclined to leave his realm. Ideally Ottokar would be in Bulgaria where Theodor can keep an eye on him, but the King is not some count with a couple of thousand men that can be pushed around at whim. Having his son around seems a good compromise, although Elizabeth knows she needs to keep Ottokar in line.

    In 1610 whilst still Crown Prince, Ottokar married Princess Zoe Laskarina Komnena Drakina, granddaughter of King Anastasios of Prussia. She is a highly learned woman, educated in Constantinople and speaking German, Greek, Russian, and Polish fluently on their wedding and learning Czech. Ottokar quickly comes to respect her wisdom and the two make for a formidable team. She oversees a court that becomes renowned for the patronage of painters and sculptors, although apparently her musical tastes are considered somewhat gauche.

    He did not marry her for her wisdom though. Ottokar is looking east, seeing that as an area in which to expand his power without crossing swords with the Wittelsbachs, who at this stage are too powerful to challenge. An alliance with Prussia would be very helpful if it came to blows with Poland. Furthermore, Prussia indirectly provides a link with Rhomania given the Prussian royal family’s dynastic connections with Constantinople (Anastasios, the Patriarch of the family, is a son of Princess Theodora Komnena-Drakina, daughter of Emperor Ioannes VI Komnenos and Andreas II Drakos’ step-daughter). While nothing substantial has come of it, the connection with Prussia has gotten stronger when eighty-year-old Anastasios I dies in December 1632 and is succeeded by his grandson Michael, the brother of Zoe.

    When King Anastasios dies, Theodor is back in Munich and thinking about marriages for both himself and his sister. His aim is to marry a prominent Roman lady as a means of binding the Romans to his side. Some of the ones he’s considering include Irene, the younger sister of Alexandros Drakos; Aikaterine, niece of Demetrios III (daughter of his sister Anna the Duchess of Dalmatia and Istria); and Anna Laskarina, the daughter of the Megas Domestikos of the East and the great-granddaughter of Her Serene Highness Theodora Komnena-Drakina. There are rumors he’s even considering Athena Siderina (never mind her marriage to Alexandros Drakos). Naturally none of the choices are practical at the moment.

    Meanwhile an ideal match for Elizabeth would be King Stephan VII of Hungary, two years her junior. It would solidify the Hungarian alliance, absolutely vital at this juncture, and potentially provide a counterweight to Ottokar’s ambitions.

    Stephan is also highly interested. He came to the throne after the disaster of Mohacs at the age of seven. Naturally he wants the territories lost to the Romans and Vlachs back, but more importantly he wants to be master in his own house. The Ban of Croatia, Krsto Frankopan, was his Regent but even now in his adulthood is the true power in the land. A pillar of his power is his close relationship with the Wittelsbachs. But if Stephan were to marry the Emperor’s sister, that closeness would become a strength of the King, not the Ban.

    Frankopan is well aware of that and works furiously to scuttle the match. He has a good rapport with Theodor because he tells the Holy Roman Emperor what he wants to hear, bringing up any shred of evidence that supports Theodor’s belief that the Romans will rally to him as their rightful sovereign.

    He points out that with Elizabeth as regent of the Wittelsbach lands, Stephan will be, as her husband, far too close to the levers of power in the Holy Roman Empire. Once Theodor is crowned in Constantinople, he’ll undoubtedly have to look east and hammer the Persians back where they belong. What is to prevent Stephan from using his access and Theodor’s distraction to overthrow him in the Holy Roman Empire, finally fulfilling that old Hungarian dream going back as far as the days of Andrew III the Warrior King? Theodor, who knows his history and is well aware of Hungarian ambitions vis-à-vis the Holy Roman Empire in the 1400s and early 1500s, quickly warms to this argument.

    Elizabeth is in Munich, but despite the conversations between Emperor and Ban being held in Belgrade, seems to guess their gist. There are a series of letters urging Theodor not to break off the proposal. This is not because of any great love for Stephan, but she recognizes that jilting the Hungarian King could be disastrous. Stephan has a lot of grievances with the Romans, but even leaving aside the Frankopan issue there is also the loss of Austria to the Wittelsbachs to consider.

    Theodor nevertheless jilts Stephan, withdrawing the proposal. Stephan is both humiliated and enraged. If he can’t outflank Krsto, then he’ll have to blast him out of the way. But for that he needs allies. And so he turns to Ottokar.

    The Bohemian King is delighted at the turn of events and immediately offers his fifteen-year-old daughter Mary in marriage. Acting quickly, Stephan and Mary are wed in Esztergom, the powerful Archbishop presiding over the service. Elizabeth, although she predicted this, is aghast but there is nothing she can do. Frankopan is also horrified, but with him down in Belgrade ensuring that Theodor is well supplied with Hungarian and Croatian troops, Stephan has presented him with a fait accompli.

    Still, to smooth over ruffled Wittelsbach feathers, Ottokar volunteers to increase the size of the Bohemian contingent by four thousand. Theodor, who needs more men and the materials that come with them, including the Bohemian field artillery so useful in grand batteries, accepts the gesture. He is not blind to Ottokar’s ambitions, but reasons that with over 20,000 Bohemian troops in Bulgaria the King doesn’t have enough muscle to cause trouble in the Holy Roman Empire.

    Stephan’s new irritation isn’t ideal either but Theodor figures Frankopan can keep him in line. Furthermore with most of the Hungarian troops tied down along the Danube, Buda also doesn’t have much free muscle to spare either.

    Demetrios III is also getting reinforcements from the north. The war between Novgorod-Prussia-Pronsk and the Empire of All the North has reached a stalemate. The Allied armies here have swept over most of the territory the Great Kingdom of the Rus lost in the Great Northern War and Finland has suffered a few cavalry raids, although some of those have ended disastrously for the attackers.

    But while Archangelsk has fallen to Novgorodian arms, the ports on the Baltic have not, chief of which are Narva, Reval, Pernau, and St Petersburg, the last founded by the Scandinavians during the Great Northern War to solidify their conquests. They are all stoutly fortified and the Scandinavians have complete control of the seas. The vastly outnumbered Prussian navy has been blockaded in Riga while raiders based out of Saaremaa and Gotland harry the Prussian coast. The Scandinavians have even attacked the Prussian colonies in the Caribbean.

    The only way to take these cities seems to be to blast or mine their way in, which is a slow process. This is a war waged by shovels and cannons; there are a lot of Russian cavalry sitting around with little to do while costing a lot of money to maintain.

    Enter Demetrios III, metaphorically waving around the hyperpyra from a third popes drive issued in January, two million popes at two hyperpyra each. The even lower price makes them affordable to almost any Roman who isn’t a landless or unskilled laborer (admittedly that exception makes up a huge portion of the population) and they buy them. Aside from patriotism and the investment, waving a receipt for a war pope is a good way to convince the conscription officials to go take someone else, such as one of those landless unskilled laborers.

    The flashes of gold get the attention of the Pronsk Veche and with the concurrence of their Novgorodian and Prussian allies they send seventeen hundred cavalry southward to join the Roman army. Roman coin in turn flows north, paying for more cannons and the transport of shipbuilding material to Prussia.

    More men come from Lithuania. Ivan Sapieha, a major political player in the infighting between the Sapieha, Kesgailos, and Gostautai families, has found the water rather too hot for him. So he decides to take a ‘vacation’, traveling to Rhomania with his retainers, two thousand foot and four hundred horse. Right now he needs relief from the political pressure, and if he can return in a few years with Roman gratitude and gold, his position will be far stronger even with his absence.

    The Lithuanians and Pronsk cavalry, who get along well together, are joined with the Serbian forces under the command of Prince Durad. And they are reinforced by Arletian volunteers coming to enlist in the Roman army with the encouragement of King Basil II.

    The final, and arguably most powerful addition are twenty seven hundred veteran Spanish infantry, blooded in battle against the Andalusi and Marinids. The year 1632 has seen many triumphs, albeit bloody ones, to add to the ranks of Spanish honors. Only Granada and Malaga still hold as the last Muslim footholds in Iberia. So now Ferdinand has the same problem as the Pronsk Veche, too many men and not enough money. And he is concerned about demobilizing his huge (by Spanish standards) army, releasing thousands of suddenly-out-of-work men into the countryside. So sending some over to Rhomania in exchange for hyperpyra is a good deal for him. It is also useful to the Romans, given the veteran-state of many of the foreign troops arriving.

    All of these foreign troops are consolidated into one new formation, “the Paramonai (from the verb parameno, “to stand near someone or something”)” [1], named after a Laskarid formation from their re-conquest of Anatolia and disbanded with the establishment of the Laskarid theme-tagma system. The Spanish, Arletians, Serbians, Lithuanians, and Pronsky are all distinct units within the Paramonai unlike the Varangoi, which while composed of mainly foreigners has a completely Roman-style organization. To manage this heterodox unit the Megas Domestikos assigns Stefanos Asen-Palaiologos. Already fluent in Spanish, Russian, German, and Serbian [2], making it easier to communicate with his troops, he is also the grandson of Princess Alexeia Drakina and grand-nephew of Helena I. The dynastic connection is useful in getting the various contingents to respect his authority.

    As Stefanos musters the Paramonai at Varna, drilling them to work together, the Allies stir from their winter slumber. The armies are again on the march.

    [1] From Mark Bartusis’ The Late Byzantine Army: Arms and Society, 1204-1453, pg. 276. IOTL, a Byzantine military formation from the late 1200s/early 1300s, little mentioned but composed of Greek troops. Please note that with the etymology and translation of the term, I'm quoting Bartusis directly.

    [2] All graduates of the School of War must learn either Turkish & Persian or German & Russian, plus Arletian or Spanish in addition to their chosen pair, so three foreign languages total.
     
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    1633: The Happy Conqueror Today
  • "It was a woman, the Lady Alexeia, who was the death of Galdan of Merv. And do not forget to whom it has been assigned to be the deaths of Casimir and Ibrahim."
    -Irene of Amastris, on being mustered out of the army upon the discovery she was a woman.

    Danube 1633 map.png

    Google map screenshot. Locations in black boxes are of significance.​

    1633 continued: Blucher resumes his offensive with a host numbering 90,000 men, not including the many garrisons and supply guards he has along the Danube River, a most formidable army but one whose cavalry is 30% weaker than last year. Also a greater proportion of the troops are fresh conscripts, although Michael Laskaris and his 84,000 men has the same weakness.

    It is a weakness the Archbishop of Cologne is able to exploit in what is inaccurately called the First Battle of Ruse. As Michael marches northwest to Ruse up the Varna road where his army held winter quarters, his army is spread out into several columns over a series of roads. While he makes sure to mix veterans with new troops, the proportion of veterans to new troops decline as one moves southwest to northeast.

    The Archbishop, who has his 6,000 troops mounted on cheap nags or donkeys for extra mobility, is on Blucher’s right flank, keeping an eye on the approaching Romans. Eyeing an opportunity, he swings north fast and then comes down hard on the northernmost Roman column. There are 12 tourmai in this column, strung along the road, all but two unbloodied. Two of those 10 tourmai have only been issued real D3 muskets a month ago, having trained with wooden replicas beforehand.

    The two tourmai in the front are the 3rd and 7th Thracian, the latter granted Guard status for its good service around Nikopolis last year. A contingent of attached Hungarian horse bashes aside the Roman cavalry screen and Hohenzollern hits the two veteran tourmai hard. But they ram back equally hard, hurling musketry volleys with crisp precision. But ‘Bone-Breaker’ is prepared for that, working around both their flanks which is rather easy considering his 3-to-1 advantage in numbers.

    Recognizing the danger, the two tourmai fall back but in fine order, snapping volleys at any Rhinelanders foolish enough to get too close. Then they bash into the 19th Thracian tourma, whose tourmarch has urged them forward to support their comrades. Unfortunately the 19th is one of those tourmai which has just received real weapons; when Hungarian cavalry pitch into their flank they panic and flee back down the road.

    They plow into the 16th Thracian, which has more experience handling their guns but is equally green when it comes to battle conditions. Infected by the 19th’s panic, a smashing volley from Rhineland infantry send them flying too. Recognizing the opportunity, the Archbishop menaces the 3rd and 7th with his cavalry, forcing them to form square to defend themselves. They beat off all attacks but are immobile, unable to come to the support of their green comrades who are savaged by the Rhineland mounted infantry.

    The 16th and 19th then sweep along the 17th Thracian as well, although some droungoi here let rip a volley or two before they are swept back. The flood only ends when the 14th Thracian comes up. While equally green, it was mustered back in November and has been able to drill with real weapons since mid-December. Additionally by this point the officers realize what is happening and have enough time to steady their troops.

    Standing off the road, they let what’s left of the other three tourmai pass through, and only then secure the lane, meeting the oncoming Germans with ragged but continuous volleys, backed up by a three-pounder battery hauled into position. The Germans are tiring now, but are veterans and still hold a sizeable numerical advantage. The situation for the 14th is very hairy, and it is a credit to the officers and men that they hold. Still without the support of the battery and the quick reinforcement of the bulk of the 17th, which almost immediately reforms once the pressure on it slackens, they too might have been swept aside. But they hold instead.

    With more tourmai coming up the highway from the rear of the column, the 3rd and 7th trying to claw their way back down the line, plus more Romans sweeping north cross-country from the next column to the south, Hohenzollern elects to call it a day and fall back. He successfully disengages and evades Roman cavalry sent after him, returning back to Blucher without serious contestation.

    It is a small but impressive victory. For six hundred casualties (three-fifths dealt out by the 3rd and 7th and practically all of the remainder by the stand of the 14th and 17th) he paid back twenty two hundred. The 19th is so battered it is dissolved after its first engagement, the survivors amalgamated in the 14th and 17th. The Hungarian cavalry took as well as inflicted two hundred casualties. It is a humiliating start to the campaign, the only silver lining that Allied casualties were mostly veterans and Romans mostly fresh conscripts.

    * * *

    Excerpt taken From the Cannon’s Mouth: A History of the Great Latin War in the Words of Those who Fought in it.

    [The following is taken from the journal of Alexeia of Didymoteichon, who joined the Roman army as Alexios of Didymoteichon. She is one of forty-three confirmed individual women who dressed up as men to fight for the Empire during the Great Latin War. Historians estimate that the total of these cross-dressing warriors was at least 250, those numbers not including the famous female partisans, city defenders, or the Witches, all of which fought openly as women.

    Very little is known about these women. Those who evaded detection in their own time naturally are invisible to historians today. Women were less educated than men during this period and so the rich trove of surviving letters and journals that comprise this book is largely absent of female soldier authors.

    With one major exception. Alexeia of Didymoteichon was, for her station and gender, well educated. She recorded many of her experiences in a wartime journal, a rare feat even from her male comrades, and over 90% of the original entries still survive, providing a valuable historical resource for studies of women warriors as well as the experience of Roman army life during the 1630s.

    The following extract is from her first experience of combat at the First Battle of Ruse, serving in the 14th Thracian.]

    We were posted off the road in amongst the trees, spread out a bit so that we could take cover behind them. Mine was little, not much wider than my arm, but I felt much better having it in front of me.

    They came at us fast. It was hard to see with the powder smoke in my eyes. My first shot send a spray of sparks into my face, burning my forehead. I don’t know if it hit anyone. I doubt it. I just fired away at them.

    I nearly gave myself away when a ball hit me on a button. By the Grace of the Virgin it only bruised me on the chest. My cry of surprise would not easily pass for that of a man or boy. Thanks be to Saint Helena that nobody heard me, for the cannon and musket were loud.

    Michael was killed just fifteen feet away from me. I didn’t notice when he died. He fell at the base of a tree and Ioannes, who is really Aikaterine his sister, stood over his body and kept firing. He knew her secret; they came to war together.

    Thanks be to the Virgin she was not hurt. She knows my secret and I know hers. Interesting how women immediately recognize each other while men are clueless.


    * * *

    First Ruse doesn’t slow the Romans down much however, whilst increased Roman naval activity on the Danube slows Blucher’s advance, although it doesn’t stop him either. But the more forceful activities of the Roman fleet hamper river-borne supply, already at this early stage causing shortages.

    On June 18 Blucher finds his march blocked by Michael Laskaris, present in full force at the village of Batin about 40 kilometers up the Danube from Ruse. It is a well-fortified position. Michael has his right flank secured on the great river itself, while an island in the Danube provides more artillery emplacements to fire into the Allied left flank. Batin itself is on a long narrow ridge with its Orthodox Church bell tower providing a long line-of-sight for Roman observers. The Roman line extends southeast because of the terrain, anchoring the left wing on the village of Gorno Ablanova which is even more elevated than Batin.

    Second Ruse is a much larger affair than First Ruse, with 88,000 Allies facing 80,000 Romans. Blucher elects to focus on the Roman left wing, hoping to outflank it. Hungarian cavalry work their way around, unable to turn the line but applying extra pressure at this point. Then he unleashes another grand battery, pounding the Romans up in Gorno Ablanova. It is a formidable position, but if he can seize it, he can possibly use it as a base to pivot north into the rear of the Roman center and right (which because of the southeast orientation are further west than the left wing), trapping them whilst also pinning them against the Danube. This could be the decisive battle of annihilation for which Blucher has been hoping. A massive victory in the field is much better than a long march to bash against Constantinople with a shaky supply line.

    The grand battery pulverizes the Roman line, the counter-battery fire from the Roman guns gradually slackening as they’re overwhelmed. While the Hungarians attack from the flank, three massive German assault columns pile on the village. They’re met with massed musketry volleys which blow the heads off all the columns, but that’s to be expected. What’s not expected is when Roman cannon open up again, slamming double Vlach shot into the columns, wreaking carnage.

    The Roman artillery here had been battered, but Michael had expected this and ordered the batteries to gradually slacken their fire to make it appear they’d been disabled. Still some guns have been destroyed or forced to withdraw, so the barrage isn’t as fierce as Michael would like, but still more than fierce enough for the Germans.

    Yet the Germans are brave and experienced veterans who know the best path is forward and they plow into the Roman line, both sides hacking and hammering at each other in a furious press. The fight see-saws back and forth until Roman cavalry slam into the right flank of the assault column that’s hitting the far left of the Roman line. While Roman black horses and light cavalry scattered the Hungarians, kataphraktoi had swung around the edge of the Roman line, appearing out of nowhere to the horror of the German infantry.

    The column is slaughtered, with reportedly kataphraktoi skewering foot soldiers like fish on their kontoi. The heavy horse then wheel and plow into the second column, although the charge is more disordered and not a surprise. That column, sorely bruised, falls back with kataphraktoi slashing at it, the first retiring with it.

    Then Casimir piles in with the Polish cavalry, spying an opportunity to wipe out a good chunk of the Roman horse while they’re scattered and tired. The kataphraktoi give ground, retreating back to their own lines supported by infantry fire.

    At which point Alexandros Drakos enters the fray, leading a hit squad of 50 Pronsky lancers and Roman kataphraktoi whose sole mission is to kill the Polish King. They pile into his guard, killing Adam Mikolaj Sieniawski, Voivode of Belz, at Casimir’s side as well as his standard bearer. Alexandros goes hand-to-hand with the King, hitting him with a powerful blow on the helm, only the thick felt cap underneath saving the King from anything worse than a concussion. But Alexandros’ saber broke on that blow and the desperate guards of the King throw themselves at him, finally driving him back as the Poles and their concussed king retire.

    Seeing that his attack on the left has failed, Blucher assaults the center. It is at a lower elevation than either Batin or Gorno Ablanova and the fight on the left did suck away Roman reserves. Despite being well-supported by Vauban’s artillery the attacks are beaten back, the Paramanoi posted here giving good service for their pay, particularly the Spaniards with their rapid and precise musketry volleys.

    Having reordered the troops from the Gorno Ablanova assault, Blucher begins sidestepping more to the southeast, planning on hitting that area with greater force tomorrow. It is too late to try again today.

    The Domestikos of the West is wise to the danger and rather than take the risk elects to withdraw during the night. It is an orderly retreat, with no additional losses save for the sixteen guns on the island that have to be spiked since there isn’t enough time to retire the pieces. Blucher is aware of the Roman movements but doesn’t hazard a night attack. When dawn breaks the Romans have retired out of range.

    With the Romans retreating, the victory goes to the Allies. The Romans took six thousand casualties, most of which are veterans. Michael, recognizing that his left wing was the most vulnerable, had placed his best troops there. But in exchange the Allies have taken sixteen thousand, many of them also veterans.

    Not aware of the extent of Allied losses, Michael elects not to challenge the Allies again on their march to Ruse. He’d much rather pin the Allies up against the Danube than the other way around. Four days after Batin/Second Ruse the Allied army encamps and commences the siege of Ruse.

    Prior to the war, Ruse was fortified but not nearly to the extent of Vidin and Nikopolis, the two chief Roman citadels on the Danube. But since June 1632 construction gangs have been at work reinforcing the battlements with earthen embankments and hastily-built bastions. The results are rough and shoddy, but partially compensated by their firepower; by itself the Ruse garrison has almost as much artillery as the entire Allied host.

    Ruse Fortress Gate.jpg

    The ‘Batin’ Gate of the Ruse fortifications. Built during the 1460s to secure Roman control over their then-new Bulgarian conquests.
    A day after the Allied arrival, a rider under a banner of truce leaves the Allied army and is escorted to Michael Laskaris, encamped seven miles to the east. It is a messenger from Archbishop Hohenzollern to Alexandros Drakos. He delivers a packet containing a new saber and a note that says ‘better luck next time’.

    Blucher has tried repeatedly to lighten the tensions between the Archbishop and the Polish King but to no avail. The haughty arrogance of the Polish nobles has irritated most of the other troops, not helped when the Poles nearly riot when Blucher hangs two Polish hussars on June 26th for starting a brawl with Bohemian troops. Casimir is furious but calms down before things get out of hand.

    If things had gotten out of hand, there was the possibility that the Rhinelanders would’ve stormed the Polish camp. The Archbishop has never been really satisfied by Casimir’s restitution after the incident at Nikopolis and his mood has not improved after other brawls end up with another sixteen of his men wounded. While a hard-driving taskmaster who enjoys his luxuries at home, ‘Bishop Bone-Breaker’ is adored by his men because of his concern for their welfare and his willingness to live no better than them on campaign.

    Another item that irritates the Archbishop about the King is the presence of Templars. Casimir never seems to leave their presence and the Archbishop despises the Templars. He’s found them to be overly fond of interfering, as he sees it, in the affairs of his diocese.

    Casimir’s Templars are only the tip of the iceberg that is a growing problem for the Allies. Pope Paul IV, alarmed at Roman successes in Italy, has increased the subsidy to Theodor, which also gives him more influence with the Emperor, a fact not lost on the Pontiff. Having heard reports of Hungarian prisoners, who are already familiar with Orthodoxy, converting to Orthodoxy to get better treatment, he is concerned about more conversions to the ‘heretics’.

    To that end, he is insistent on sending Templars and Inquisitors in the wake of the Allied armies. He’s wanted to do so from the very beginning but Theodor has blocked him, well aware of the public relations disaster it would be. But with his credit growing ever worse, he needs the subsidy ever more desperately. So in the winter of 1632/1633 he acquiesces, despite a very vocal condemnation from the Lady Elizabeth.

    That said, he gives very specific orders that the Templars and Inquisitors only have jurisdiction over the Allied troops themselves, not over the Orthodox natives. Yet the Templars and Inquisitors know that there is a notice on their heads; three Inquisitors in Vidin are assassinated just in March-April 1633. As a result those willing to come are generally more fanatical than is the norm. And because of that, they rarely can resist meddling with the Orthodox, much to their fury. Inquisitors, following the practice of the Dominicans in the west in regard to the Jews, barge into Orthodox churches during services to deliver harangues about the need to convert.

    Partisan attacks in Bulgaria are growing fiercer and more numerous, partly due to the increased religious pressure. But it is also due to the Allied need for ‘more intensive foraging’. Even with the Danube as a supply route, because of the increased tempo and strength of Vlach and trapezite raids, the Allied supply situation is growing more precarious. And harried and hungry troops whose pay is in ever-growing arrears are not inclined to be gentle. It is not as bad as Upper Macedonia, but the situation is working its way there.

    Michael Laskaris has let the Allies besiege Ruse but he is not going to leave them unmolested. He launches repeated attacks on the Allied perimeter, aiming to cause as much mayhem, destroy as much material, and inflict as many casualties as he can. At this stage he isn’t trying to break the Allied army per se. He wants to bloody his green troops and make the Allies use up their powder and supplies. Although not aware of the extent, he does know Allied logistics are suffering. When it comes time to smash them, he wants the Allies to be as tired, hungry, and powder-less as he can manage.

    What he doesn’t do is pivot west and try and cut the Allied supply line directly. He knows that Ruse’s defenses aren’t up to the caliber of Vidin or Nikopolis despite the recent work, so breathing down Blucher’s neck is the best way to keep Ruse secure. And he needs Ruse to stay secure for his planned counterstrike.

    Some of the attacks are launched in conjunction with the Ruse garrison. Signal mirrors and semaphores are used for some communications but there is the risk of the Allies cracking the codes. At the very least they know some kind of communication is in effect.

    Most messages are conveyed via the river fleet. Ruse is the headquarters of the Roman Danube flotilla and the gunboats are active, bombarding any Allied formations within range, blocking allied efforts to push down the Danube, and raiding upstream repeatedly to snap at supply barges. Messages are shipped downstream, delivered to a waiting courier, and carried to the Domestikos.

    On August 1, with Ruse still defiant and fighting hard (a counter-mine blows up a Bohemian battery the day before), Blucher decides to wheel on Laskaris rather than risk being ground down further. By this point many of the wounded from Second Ruse are back on the line so even with needing to keep troops to mask Ruse he has a slight numerical advantage, 80000 to 77000.

    Laskaris comes out to meet him. Third Ruse is a confused melee with both sides gaining local victories and defeats, but at the end of the day it is Blucher who withdraws. Laskaris, battered and cautious, does not pursue during the night. Both sides have taken 15% casualties.

    A week later Laskaris has been reinforced by 5 tourmai, all green but with eight weeks of drill and practice with D3 muskets. After First Ruse, he told the Megas Domestikos not to bother sending any troops with any less drill; they would be useless to him at best if any more inexperienced. He has also received news from Ruse, for which he has been waiting since before Second Ruse.

    On August 10 he launches a full-fledged assault on the Allied lines, right where their trenches intersect the Varna road, at night. It is a confused assault and after a few hours of battle he is thrown back with close to 2600 casualties to only 1300 allied. So Fourth Ruse is listed as a Roman defeat. But while the Allies were focused on the Varna road, they were not paying attention to the river.

    A dozen Roman warships, their lights doused, sneak their way up the Danube. While some of the German lookouts may have noticed some movement, they cannot see how many ships are moving past their lines. The next day more Roman warships, this time in full daylight, row their way upstream on the far side of the Danube from the allied camp, staying out of cannon range. Cavalry are immediately sent racing to Svishtov to alert the Allied Danube fleet.

    The Roman naval officers and men have been busy since the defeats in 1631. Their losses have been made good and then some. Aside from bolstering their number, they’ve improved their kit. Part of their new weaponry is an enhanced blast ram. Rather than using a lit fuse as the Allies do, the Romans have set up a contact detonator like the ones used in their mines to ignite the ram. As a result the spar can be made stronger, meaning a much larger charge can be used. Also rather than the box of the Allied blast ram, the Roman compartments are egg-shaped, the rear and sides reinforced to further channel the explosion forward into the target.

    There are also five new ships included amongst the regular designs. Three-mast vessels with oar banks in-between broadside gun-ports, they run much more heavily armed than is usual amongst the riverine galleys. The two largest mount twenty ten-pounders and twelve three-pounder cannons. Given the Allied practice of festooning their river ships with lots of heavy muskets shooting a pound-ball, to protect the crews of the deck bow guns thick wood-plank mantlets are placed surrounding the guns, with an opening through which the weapons can be aimed and fired. From the side these are said to look somewhat like rhino horns, from which comes their name- rhino galleys.

    Upon hearing word that the Romans are heading upstream the Allied fleet sallies. They too are eager for another battle of annihilation, unaware that the Romans are at greater strength than reported. Some Vlach riders drop mines behind them, but that is nothing unusual, albeit annoying. They’ve been laying mines here and there for months now. But while Vlach troops are driven off from one mine-laying effort, the sheer number of mines being dropped far exceeds earlier attacks.

    The fleets clash near Batin, although the battle is better known as Fifth Ruse. The Allies are shocked at the greater Roman numbers, and even more shocked when the rhino-galleys open up on them. For river vessels they are very well-armed. Still the Allies fight hard and only after two hours do they break, fleeing back up the river.

    And then they run into the minefields. Horrified, they begin the laborious process of clearing them but the Romans are on them, standing at range and pounding them with cannons. It is a complete and utter rout.

    The Vlachs who laid the mines had placed markers, hidden from view on the river, to remind them where they’d dropped the mines so it is a much quicker process for the Romans to clear the fields. The fleet rushes upstream, running the guns at Svishtov although one regular galley veers too close and is holed, beaching itself on the Vlach side where the crew is rescued by the Vlach army marching alongside.

    On the fleet surges, ferrying the Vlach army over to Belene Island which is overrun in a matter of hours. To cap it the fleet and Vlachs land on the south shore of the river, annihilating the small garrison and supply depot at Belene with the support of the villagers.

    The fleet does not stop there, proceeding further upstream and landing Vlach soldiers to smash every single Allied detachment and depot in sight. Only the great guns of Nikopolis and the quartet of floating forts on the waters halt their advance. Then the Roman fleet retires, trailing the streamers and pennants of the captured and sunk Allied vessels in the river. Belene Island is fortified as the forward base of the Danube flotilla. With a swarm of new cannons from the foundries of western Anatolia covering both channels of the Danube where it splits around the island, everything downstream is made impregnable to any future naval attacks.

    Blucher is aghast; in two and a half days the last 100+ kilometers of his supply chain has ceased to exist. And he has already been suffering from shortages. There is no way around it; he has to withdraw, much to his sovereign’s despair. On August 16 he breaks camp and begins his retreat.

    The retreat is a nightmare. Michael launches furious assaults, one after the other. The rearguard is commanded by General von Mackensen, who fights with desperate courage, his losses steadily replaced as Blucher funnels back more troops to stall the Roman army. From the 16th to the 20th Mackensen’s forces take 135% casualties. In the front the Vlachs try to cut off the Allied retreat, but vastly outnumbered are slammed aside.

    With the Vlachs out, Laskaris then tries to swing around the Allies to block them and smash them up against the river. But Blucher has the advantage here as the roads parallel the river, forcing Laskaris to sidestep south, adding to his journey. To ensure that he wins the race to Nikopolis, Blucher is forced to ditch wagons and cannons, strewing the landscape with the detritus of his army. Svishtov has to be abandoned because of lack of supplies. Meanwhile the Roman gunboats shell any target in sight, adding to the carnage and confusion.

    The discipline of many of the newer troops breaks under the strain and they swarm south. They know there is food there, and would like to get it, damn everyone who gets in their way. These soldiers-turned-brigands leave a trail of rampaging brutal destruction, taking out their rage upon everything in their path, the infuriated peasantry striking back with all their strength but they are unequal to the contest. Incidentally these deserters do Blucher a good service, as these swarms entangle with Michael’s sidestep-advance, slowing him down as his troops exterminate the Latins in front of them.

    * * *

    Excerpt taken From the Cannon’s Mouth: A History of the Great Latin War in the words of those who fought in it.

    [The following is taken from a letter by Manuel Argyrochoou to his father.

    Manuel Argyrochoou was a member of the 36th Droungos of the Teicheiotai during the Night of the Tocsins. As such he was one of the first to be drafted into the Roman army during its massive expansion in 1632 and he fought during most of the 1632 and 1633 campaigns.

    The following took place at the village of Oresh, about 13 kilometers southeast of Belene, on August 19th.]

    We took the village without a fight, entering the central square shortly after noon. The Latins who’d been in the village most of the morning were still in sight, about a half-mile distant.

    Spread across the square, about a third in one large pile, were the corpses of the females of the villages, at least thirty of them, ranging from girls of eight to old women. They had all been mutilated and raped. I noticed one, a pregnant woman, had had her belly cut open and her child impaled on a broken ambrolar.

    The church was still burning. In the wreckage lay more bodies, at least five of which looked to be that of small boys.

    Dekarchos Demetrios, who has been a pillar of strength to the droungos since the beginning, was born and raised in this village. He gave a cry of horror and before we could stop him, he rode off at the gallop at the enemy, charging into their ranks to be immediately cut down.

    We chased after them, catching them a mile and a half to the west of town, and we slaughtered them. About a third of their company managed to get away but the rest we cut down, save for fifteen that looked like their officers and dekarchoi. Those we strapped to the mouths of cannons and fired off. It was a beautiful sight, albeit too quick a death for Latins.
    [1]

    [1] This incident is based off the OTL event where the Turks raped and massacred the Arab village of Tafas in 1918, as recorded by Lawrence of Arabia.

    * * *

    On August 21, the Allied army encamps at Nikopolis, tired and demoralized, low on supplies and now weak in artillery, although some of the shortfall is made good by taking pieces from the citadel.

    Save for cavalry sniping at outposts, the Romans are a few days behind them. The Army of Europe has taken heavy casualties of its own. Also the strewn wreckage of the Allied army has to be cleared out of the way and more supplies brought up; with the main depot back at Varna this is not a quick operation. Furthermore the Danube valley up from Ruse is a blasted ruin stripped clean, the local survivors desperate for aid. A good portion of the army rations coming up by wagon from Varna or by barge down the Danube is distributed to the survivors. And the former-soldiers-turned-brigands need to be exterminated.

    Michael finally attacks on August 25, inflicting three thousand casualties for about the same received, but isn’t able to break the Allied lines. He draws back, hovering just out of artillery range, while Roman gunships dart up, fire a few salvoes, and retire out of range as well.

    Although the Romans are held at bay for now, Blucher is still very concerned about his position. A huge portion of his supplies was lost both in the retreat and in the depots the Vlachs destroyed. More is coming down from the depots at Belgrade and Vidin, plus Blucher is pulling from Nikopolis’ stores as well, but it isn’t enough. A special concern is powder for the artillery. Much was lost in sabotage over the winter and combined with all the other losses it means that Blucher has to start restricting the number of times the artillery can fire per day.

    Michael senses this and on August 29 he draws up at extreme cannon range and commences a long-range bombardment of the Allies. Their accuracy is terrible, but then their target is quite big, and the feeble reply of the Allied guns is demoralizing to the Allies and invigorating to the Romans. The Allies close to engage, the Romans accepting the challenge. For an hour the two armies clash, blasting away at each other.

    Then Michael goes on the offensive, slamming forward twenty two tourmai, fourteen of which have been awarded guard status for valor during 1632-33, supported by four new horse artillery batteries. The murderous hail of bullets and cannonballs cracks the Allied lines, nearly breaking them before the reserves halt them. Then a general attack by the whole Roman army hurls the Allies back into their camp, a desperate defense barely keeping the Romans at bay before nightfall brings fighting to a close save for some desultory Roman shelling.

    Both sides are battered, the Allies taking thirteen thousand to ten thousand Roman casualties. Michael had hoped poor morale from defeat in battle would’ve enabled him to carry the camp fortifications. Having failed in that, he doesn’t want to charge in now with the Germans somewhat recovered and also covered by Nikopolis’ guns, although he still maintains a long-range bombardment.

    Blucher would like to fight, thinking that if he can just get enough powder for his artillery, a Third Nikopolis will go much better than the Second (the initial Roman attack on August 25 is listed as First Nikopolis in the histories). But on September 2 he receives news that the convoy carrying more powder has been ambushed near Almus and half of its contents lost. This is the last straw; if he stays here longer the army will be destroyed sooner or later. He needs to retreat again.

    Even so, his supply situation is still better than it was after Fifth Ruse so he can plan the withdrawal much more carefully. Under cover of night, he transfers his wounded and many of his supplies onto river barges, a few rowing north every day so it doesn’t look suspicious. He steps up his counter-battery fire to make Laskaris think his powder-situation is better than it really is. From spies Blucher knows the Domestikos is waiting for siege artillery to come up from Varna; with those the Romans can really blast the Allied camp and compel Nikopolis to surrender.

    On the night of September 6 he begins his retreat, marching out of camp but leaving the fires burning. Despite precautions, the noise alerts the Romans that something is up but Michael doesn’t want to launch a rush attack in darkness; that is a good way to blunder into an ambush. At dawn, the Romans, who can now see what is happening, overrun what’s left of the camp.

    Nikopolis still has a garrison and some artillery; as long as it is held by the Allies the Romans can’t use the Danube upstream from the city as a supply route. Michael detaches ten tourmai to besiege the city, marching after Blucher and using Serdica/Sofia as his depot. But because of the need to transport everything by land, his supply situation isn’t as good as it was earlier in the campaign.

    There are several smaller battles between Blucher and Michael but despite his best efforts the Domestikos is unable to force a major engagement. And now he has the problem of lengthening supply lines and the need to detach rearguard forces to besiege first Kozloduy and then Almus/Lom. After he draws up against Almus, he halts his offensive. After dropping off a siege force here he’d be down to less than 50,000 men, too small in his opinion to challenge even the heavily battered Allied army which by now has reached Vidin, drastically improving its powder supplies and artillery numbers.

    After reorganizing, Blucher comes marching back down to attack the Roman siege lines at Almus, mustering 55000 to Michael’s 52000. On September 28 they clash, the Allied attacks broken up by heavy Roman artillery fire. He retires at the end of the day, Michael not pursuing as now he is the one low on powder for his artillery.

    Over the course of the next three weeks, Almus, Kozloduy, and Nikopolis all surrender, restoring Roman control over all of the Danube downstream from Vidin. Afterwards Michael throws his outposts within a few miles of Vidin before retiring them a bit, mauling a Croat contingent in the process.

    It has been a most bloody year. Even with the reinforcements, after leaving small garrisons in all the recaptured fortresses Michael’s field army is down to 62,000 men. Yet that is far better than how the Allies fared. Svishtov’s garrison was attached to the field army and Nikopolis’, Kozloduy’s, and Almus’ were all reduced before the Romans besieged them to bolster the field army. Even with those, several thousand reinforcements received over the summer, and the troops no longer needed to guard the 300 kilometer long supply line lost since Seventh Ruse, the Allied army on November 10 is down to 53,000, less than 5/8ths of its June iteration. Michael Laskaris himself states ‘it is a testament to Marshal Blucher’s capability as a strategos, for under any less of a leader his army would have disintegrated entirely’.

    Despite his numerical advantage Michael doesn’t try for a winter campaign. He’s burned through most of his supplies and it will take time for more to be brought up, especially as much of the Danube valley needs support if the inhabitants are not to starve over the winter. It is estimated that around 100,000 Roman civilians are killed over the course of the campaign, a quarter of the population, whether by direct Allied action or by the resulting famine despite the best efforts of the White Palace to get relief convoys sent as soon as possible.

    Plus he assumes that the war is effectively over. Theodor’s great gambit has failed. Even if he is able to rebuild his army, there is no way he can force his way back down the Danube now. The Allies are in no position to challenge the reinvigorated Roman fleet, which by November is 10% stronger than it was at the beginning of Fifth Ruse. All that remains now is to expel the barbarians from the last patch of Roman soil they hold.

    ‘Thus does fortune alternate, victory, defeat,
    The happy conqueror today, tomorrow, must retreat?’
    -The Romance of the Three Kingdoms (OTL)​
     
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    1633: Dueling in Tuscany
  • Central Italy 1633.jpg

    1633 continued: The main debate in Italy for the Romans and Sicilians is, what now? The immediate goals have been achieved spectacularly, but King Cesare has not made peace. He is gambling that if he sticks it out, he can get concessions at the peace table (at this point, spring 1633, the Allies still control the bulk of the Roman Danube valley). Cesare has managed to up the number of troops he commands, but the new additions are weak in artillery and their equipment is often shoddy. The Sicilian army is still smaller overall, but it has expanded to 46 tourmai, the new recruits all equipped with D3 muskets produced at Bari, Syracuse, and Naples which match the Roman pattern.

    There are a few targets in mind. Rome is one; it is not a long march away for the Sicilian army and the besiegers could be easily supplied via the Roman enclave at Civitavecchia. It would also be emotionally satisfying for the Romans, who have had quite enough of papal encouragements for attacks on the Empire.

    The Sicilians don’t feel that to the same extent, but have their own reasons to be irritated with Pope Paul IV. The Orthodox proportion of Sicily’s population has been growing steadily over the past several decades due to increased trade and influence from the Romans, helped along by dismay at the growing corruption in the Avignon Papacy. There is also alienation along the Hungarian and Scandinavian models because of the solely Arletian & Spanish nature of the Papal court. Save for Naples, the cities of Sicily are mostly Orthodox and it is making inroads into the countryside, particularly Apulia, Basilicata, and Calabria. By 1630, the population is more than 60% Orthodox.

    Pope Paul IV, of course, is not amused at the nest of ‘heretics’ to the south. An Inquisitor prior to his accession to the Pontifical Office, he has gone out of his way to harass Sicilians in Papal territory. In 1629, a well-loved Orthodox priest was in the Papal States overseeing purchases of sheep when a mob surrounded and beat him badly, although he managed to escape finally with help from his assistants. Although it appeared to be spontaneous, more than a few Sicilians think it was ‘encouraged’ from above.

    At the same time, while it’d be emotionally satisfying, Rome is strategically insignificant. The papal subsidies to Theodor’s exchequer are noteworthy, but those are going from German clerics directly to the Holy Roman Emperor, not via Rome. So taking Rome wouldn’t do much to stop the flow of money, unless the Pope would rescind that at sword-point, but then such an arrangement could easily be repudiated by the Catholic Church in Germany, making the whole operation pointless. For this reason, an attack on Rome is shelved.

    Another proposal is to muster an army in Venetia, using it as a base. The objective of this army would be to storm and seize the Brenner Pass, with the initial target of Innsbruck. The conquest of Tyrol by itself would be a serious blow to the Wittelsbachs. Its mines provide vital raw materials for weapons manufacture and its silver ones are important collateral for their snowballing loans. Furthermore, from Innsbruck one could strike east into Austria, hampering the flow of supplies down the Danube, or north into Bavaria itself.

    The flaw to this plan is that such an offensive would be highly vulnerable to a flank attack from Lombardy to the west or Croatia to the east. Verona is a massive Lombard fortress, perfectly placed to take this Roman offensive out at the knees. Udine to the east is not so formidable, but still a threat that cannot be ignored.

    There is some hope that the Bernese League might be persuaded to join in this attack. The League has been making covetous glances both to its south and east and an eastern assault would provide valuable cover. Furthermore relations between the League and the Holy Roman Emperor are rocky given that requests for battle cohorts have been denied; only the League and Lotharingia have declined to contribute in some way. And while the growth of professional armies amongst the great powers of Europe has diminished the qualitative lead of the cohorts that they held back in the 1400s and early 1500s, the League can still put at least 18000 well-disciplined infantry backed by a respectable field artillery into the field. But the current situation, with Allied forces well down the Danube, means the League for the moment is inclined to sit this one out.

    Even without the league, this offensive could still work if it was in conjunction with a second attack to keep the Lombards off-balance. There are a couple of proposals there. One is an attack on Genoa, the key port of Lombardy. However Genoa is also very well fortified and garrisoned, including with the bulk of the Lombard fleet. While far smaller than the Roman-Sicilian battle-line, the twenty three battle-line ships there, mounting over 1300 cannon between themselves, cannot be despised.

    Furthermore Genoese financiers are heavily involved in supporting Spain’s war in Granada and anything that interrupts Ferdinand’s credit and seriously irritates him is politically out of the question. Only he has the forces available in Western Europe to challenge the Triple Monarchy. Demetrios isn’t willing to offer concessions in the east but he does provide war materials for the Spanish at a discount to hopefully speed up the fall of Granada and Malaga. At the same time as the squadron departs for Mexico, another force of 2 battle-line ships and 5 smaller warships are sent to Malaga to help with the blockade. It is cast as a reprisal for corsair attacks on the Sicilian coast and Roman ships despite the peace treaty with the Marinid Sultan, but the real reason is that if Ferdinand’s hands are free he might use them against the Triunes.

    It is decided finally to focus on Tuscany, not as significant to the Lombards as northern Italy, but much more vulnerable. An easier march for the Sicilians, the region was conquered by Theodoros Doukas, King Cesare’s father, less than thirty years ago. Many there still hanker for independence, or at the very least an overlord who is more lenient and particularly farther away. Those who feel that way also haven’t failed to notice the growing prosperity of Livorno in Roman hands.

    Alessandro da Verrazano is a prominent and prosperous Florentine nobleman, having made a lot of money from investing in sugar plantations on St. Kitts, the pearl beds of Venezuela, the salt mines of Curacao, and the slave trade that keeps all of those running. Forty-five years old, he fought at the battle of Vaiano against the Lombards in 1603 as a standard bearer, a high honor for one so young. He walks with a slight limp, his right leg viciously scarred by saber wounds from a skirmish against Lombard cavalry five years later.

    He and his family seem to have reconciled themselves to Lombard dominion, but the Verrazano family had been prominent in the Florentine administration when it was ruled by a cadet branch of the Wittelsbach family. It is not now. It is Lombard policy throughout most of their territory to keep the major local families, if not destroyed, at least outside of political office, while giving them free rein economically. Hopefully wealth will compensate for lack of power. Meanwhile local offices are aimed at mid-level families, those who couldn’t expect to reach their high station under local authority and so are loyal to their Lombard benefactors. That is the case with Gonfaloniere (regional governor of Florence) Tommaso Guadagni.

    Verrazano’s wealth has not reconciled him to his lack of power. Since the accession of Andreas III he has been in contact with Hektor di Lecce-Komnenos, the paternal uncle of Andreas III who served as his regent in Sicily and became Despot Hektor I on his death. Nothing much had come of these talks; Hektor by himself could do nothing and Andreas III had his eye firmly fixed eastward with the goal of avenging the humiliation of the Eternal War.

    Demetrios III, on the other hand, is much more interested. With Verrazano’s wealth and connections, he can create a powerful pro-Roman fifth column in Florence. With Siena, its rival, now in a sad state of decay with less than a quarter of Florence’s population, as Florence goes so will most of Tuscany. And Verrazano thinks that Despot Alessandro of Tuscany has a very nice ring to it.

    The Sicilian field army, comprising 38 Sicilian, 6 Roman, and 1 Dalmatian (from the Duchy) tourmai, is ensconced in Ancona, commanded by Nikephoros Mytaras, a descendant of one of Alfredo di Lecce’s lieutenants from his days as an Apulian rebel. The family name, which in Greek means ‘big nose’, derives from that lieutenant with his large nasal capacity.

    His first target is Urbino, which during the winter was partially blockaded by cavalry raiders. There is some hope that he might manage to convince the city to surrender without a fight. The Montefeltros are still well-respected in their former territories, and the cousins of the Drakos have done quite well for themselves in the Empire after being expelled by the Milanese back in the Time of Troubles. (Andreas II Drakos’ wife and the mother of Helena I was a Montefeltro, herself a descendant of an illegitimate daughter of Andreas Niketas). But it has been a hundred years since those days and so that hope quickly fades.

    The new commander of the main Lombard field army, currently encamped around Florence, is the Duke of Parma, Niccolo Farnese. He is one of the premier nobles of Lombardy, although a relative parvenu, his family having come to prominence because of his great-uncle who was pontiff at the end of the 1500s. He was also one of the few major figures at the Lombard court who opposed the war with Rhomania, arguing that either Theodor would be defeated and drag Milan down with him or that he’d create a super-state that would eventually turn around and crush Lombardy. For wouldn’t the One Roman Emperor seek to add the old heartland of the Romans to his dominions?

    Because of his ‘defeatist’ attitude, he was rejected as first choice for the commander of the main Lombard army, despite his substantial military experience. He fought as a junior officer in King Theodoros’ wars that brought Tuscany under Lombard rule; cavalry under his command were the ones who wounded Verrazano’s leg. He led the army that forced Ancona to kneel. Another credit is two naval victories against Barbary corsairs off Majorca and Sardinia, where he commanded the soldiers stationed on the ships.

    Not given a post, he spent 1632 on his estates, predicting in general the Roman-Sicilian riposte to the Lombard declaration. At the end of 1632 Cesare recalled him to Milan and appointed him commander of the field army. While he does not expect to win the war (just before being recalled to Milan he predicted that Blucher’s army would either starve or be smashed to bits somewhere on the Thracian plain), his goal is to make the war as expensive and difficult for the Romans as possible. That way Lombardy may get off without making any concessions.

    He would like to advance and give battle to the Sicilians but operations on the eastern side of the Apennines are difficult to support. The main highway there runs along the coast, within cannon range of any offshore warships, such as the half-dozen prowling on the approaches to Rimini. Therefore his supply lines would be wagon trains having to traverse mountain tracks. So instead he shifts south to Arezzo, sending cavalry to raid the Sicilians, but waiting for the Sicilians to come to him.

    The Sicilians have a high-quality though fairly small artillery train, but Urbino’s fortifications are an early-gunpowder design. Three weeks in, the guns smash a storm-able breach in the defenses, at which point the garrison capitulates.

    Moving west, the Sicilians face little opposition save for some annoying light infantry as they push through the Apennines. But as they debouch from the mountains near the commune of San Giustino, the Lombard army approaches in full battle array, 46000 strong compared to the 38000 that Nikephoros commands, although 18000 of the Lombards are new recruits with little training and poor equipment.

    Despite being outnumbered, the Sicilians advance to attack, subjecting the Lombards to a fierce cannonade while forces try to work around the Lombard left flank. The Duke is wise to the danger, his cavalry parrying the blow and sending the would-be flankers back in disarray. But it has fixed the Duke’s attention squarely on his left.

    The Strategos had expected the Lombards to attack him on his exit from the mountains, so he detached a flying column of three thousand cavalry and black horses before proceeding. They cross the Apennines, coming out near Citta di Castello twelve kilometers to the south of San Giustino. Immediately they swing north, riding hard, and pitch into the Lombard right flank with complete surprise. The men and horses are tired after their march, but the shock demoralizes the new Lombard soldiery which make up the reserve which counters their charge.

    That aside, sheer numbers and freshness help make up for it, until Nikephoros reinforces them with troops from the main body. Hit by crashing musketry from both front and flank, they break. The Duke of Parma manages to extricate himself with his left wing and center largely intact, even succeeding in drawing away most of his guns, but his right wing is mangled. For three thousand casualties, the Sicilians doled out five thousand, plus another six thousand prisoners, mostly the new soldiers.

    Now outnumbered, the Duke pulls back to Arezzo, but then withdraws further to the northwest to avoid being pinned up against the city. As the Sicilians begin digging parallels for the siege, he starts raiding their lines. Now the Sicilians are the ones having to deal with wagon trains over the mountains and Nikephoros has to commit a good portion of his cavalry to guarding the convoys. Although Lombard horse gets in some telling blows, enough gets through that along with forced requisitions from the surrounding countryside the siege proceeds, albeit slowly.

    Reinforced with new recruits as well as siphoning from various garrisons in the north, the Duke returns to the attack to relieve the city but is unable to break the Sicilian army which parries his attacks until he retires. He has nothing to show for his eight thousand casualties save for fifty five hundred Sicilian ones, although he is able to draw off all of his artillery and banners. Upon the failure of the relief effort, Arezzo capitulates to Nikephoros.

    After garrisoning it, he begins the march on Florence. At the same time, Roman naval forces intensify their raids on the Tuscan coast while the Livorno garrison sallies repeatedly against the Lombard siege lines. There’s no substantial aim behind these attacks, but are done to distract the Duke of Parma and hopefully split his forces. But the Duke is wise and refuses to cooperate.

    Instead, after receiving another batch of reinforcements from Lombardy proper, he pivots south to Siena, hovering off Nikephoros’ left flank. If the Sicilians proceed north to Florence, he can swing behind them. Arezzo helps to anchor the Sicilian supply lines, but with Livorno still blockaded, preventing supply from the Tyrrhenian, it’d be a big gamble to let the main Lombard line loose to conduct mischief whilst attempting a siege of a city of 100,000 souls. Particularly after the Duke has stripped the Tuscan countryside to support his own army and deny them to the enemy.

    Nikephoros is concerned, but also hopeful that he won’t have to siege Florence if Verrazano can open the gates. Unfortunately the Gonfaloniere Tommaso Guadagni discovers the conspiracy and moves to arrest Verrazano. Forewarned, he launches his rebellion early but the Sicilians are still encamped at Reggello, far too away to provide support. Street fighting erupts between the partisans of Verrazano and the supporters of the Gonfaloniere while Nikephoros force-marches to support the Florentine nobleman.

    He is too late. Verrazano’s generalship does not equal his financial acumen and he is defeated, although he manages to cut his way out of the city with a good portion of his partisans, linking up with Nikephoros.

    The situation is not ideal. The Duke of Parma is camped to the south, already swinging towards Arezzo. He can draw on supplies coming up from Latium, while a siege of Arezzo, even if he fails to take it, will still require the Sicilians to detour their own convoys, significantly lengthening their transit time. If Nikephoros splits off forces to open a line to Livorno, there will be an opening for the Duke to attack him while his forces are split. Furthermore, Florence is massive, the city bisected by the Arno River. Meaning that if Nikephoros wishes to seal up the city, he’ll have to split his forces anyway.

    He lays siege just to the city south of the Arno for now; not all of Verrazano’s partisans have been arrested or expelled, so there is a decent chance he might still be able to take the city without a formal siege.

    Meanwhile Nikephoros detaches 18 tourmai and hurls them at Livorno. With the Tuscan countryside stripped bare he really needs a supply line opened up promptly, but considering the difficulties in reducing Florence, he doesn’t want to abandon any chance of Verrazano’s partisans giving him an opening into the city.

    Between the 18 tourmai and the garrison, which has been reinforced with four newly recruited tourma from the Morea (one is mostly comprised of Slavs from the Taygetos mountains), they brush aside the Lombard besieging force. But the bulk manage to escape, retiring to Pisa, ready to harass any Livorno-Florence convoys.

    The Duke of Parma, after leaving a blocking force at Arezzo, charges north as soon as he hears word that the Sicilian army has split. In a sharp battle, he defeats the outnumbered two-to-one Sicilians, Nikephoros retreating westward to Livorno. Joining up with his detached force and the Roman garrison, he pivots back east. The Duke of Parma offers battle and they trade long-range cannonades for a day, but then Nikephoros retires westward again.

    Right now he has 40,000 men under arms to the Duke’s 48,000 (he is receiving a steady trickle of new recruits from northern Italy and their equipment is improving), and he doesn’t see a way to successfully siege Florence while the Duke’s still in the field. He has to split his forces across the Arno; with the Duke controlling the city bridges that gives him a perfect opportunity to defeat him in detail again. Furthermore Pisa has 6500 troops as well, mostly militia or new conscripts, but still another threat that needs to be guarded against, meaning more splitting of his limited forces.

    At the same time, the Duke of Parma is also stuck. If he uncovers Florence, Nikephoros can attack the city and if he takes it that would be a disaster; there’s still concern that not all of Verrazano’s partisans have been accounted. Yet he can’t destroy the Sicilian army. Encamped at Livorno it is covered by the fortifications and the guns of two dozen battle-line ships. So while the two spar and skirmish, the campaign falls into a stalemate, not broken even by news of the disasters to the Allied cause along the Danube.

    Meanwhile to the northeast, while the Sicilians are setting up their siege lines at Urbino, a new commander arrives in Venetia, Tourmarch Andreas d’Este. That ancient family, like the Montefeltros, was expelled from Italy by the Milanese during the Time of Troubles, resettling with their Roman benefactors. The family has been largely Romanized in the passing century, but they still hold firmly to their distinguished name, again like the Montefeltros.

    He would very much like to lead an invasion through the Alps into Bavaria, but with only four thousand regular troops and nine thousand militia, he doesn’t have the numbers he needs. So for now he raids, wreaking havoc across the countryside and bloodying the militia, already experienced from earlier raids. But while he ravages, he also notes the fruitfulness of the region. Perhaps the concerns about supply lines being cut by a Lombard force staging out of Verona are irrelevant. As long as the army isn’t too large, foraging should supply all needs, particularly since there isn’t any desire to be particularly pleasant to the peasants. And Bavaria is also rich and fertile, untouched by war since the days Germans and Hungarians dueled for the crown of Charlemagne.

    Even so, he’d still need more men than he has, despite repeated requests to Constantinople along with his analyses and proposals. So instead he keeps up his raids, even occasionally sending a stab over at Croatia.

    Usually his attacks are solely on civilian targets, with the occasional isolated outpost or patrol getting ambushed. There is one exception to this. While the Duke and Nikephoros settle down into impasse, d’Este and 1000 cavalry and black horses come upon a long string of 4000 Lombard infantry and 400 cavalry. Attacking with a fury, he scatters the Lombard horse. With the black horses dismounting and sniping at them with their muskets, the infantry are never able to properly organize and the Roman horse rolls them up. For 180 casualties (only 31 are fatalities on the field) he inflicted over 900 and took 1500 prisoners.

    Compared to the slaughter on the Danube, it is a small matter, but nevertheless highly impressive. While occurring too late for anything to be done this year, it definitely makes Megas Domestikos Mouzalon and Emperor Demetrios III think this junior officer may be on to something in his propositions.
     
    1633: The Guns of Syria
  • "How can a hare or a deer expect
    To conquer in tiger strife?
    Minnows and shrimps that with dragons contend
    Already have done with life."
    -Romance of the Three Kingdoms (OTL)


    Syria-physical-map.gif
    1633 continued: The Roman army under Domestikos Theodoros Laskaris and Shahanshah Ibrahim have continued to spar and snap at each other in northern Syria, but neither has pressed a major engagement. Both armies are similar in size, 80,000, and very good and quick at throwing up field fortifications.

    The flow of reinforcements to Theodoros has dropped substantially since last autumn; the Empire is unable to maintain the rapid expansion rate of 1632. More men and materials are coming in, enough to replace losses and still allow for some growth, but nothing like last summer. While the Romans have more men available, there are equipment and supply bottlenecks and even with Demetrios III’s financial innovations, paying for the massive Roman military as it stands is an incredible strain on the exchequer.

    Theodoros also has one eye fixed on reports from the Danube, where the Allies currently control most of the Danube River valley at this point (spring 1633-so everything from Svishtov upstream). With the largest army and most veterans under his command, he is well aware that he is the prime source to be tapped for reinforcements if needed in Europe; he can’t afford to be too bloody-minded. Interior Syria can be abandoned if necessary; Thrace cannot. (The Army of Georgia is the obvious second choice for reinforcements, but it is much smaller than the Army of the East and, given the importance of Georgia in Roman eastern security, a very strong argument can be made that the Empire cannot afford to not have its finger in this particular pie.)

    It’s possible though that Ibrahim can be maneuvered into doing the abandoning. His father Iskandar massively expanded the Ottoman Empire, even after taking into account the territories in India lost to Venkata Raya’s attack. But those new lands need to be garrisoned and rebellious locals overawed. Central Asian tribes in Transoxiana need to be kept compliant, the Cossacks need to be kept out, and the Baluchi and Pashtuns need to be kept from raiding. Ibrahim has managed that so far, mostly, but he can’t risk being cut off from his domains. Aside from the new territories, Yazd, Tabas, and Khorasan in eastern Persia all have a long tradition of thumbing their noses at would-be Persian overlords. They’d be happy to start that up again.

    So Theodoros aims to hit not Ibrahim’s army but his connection to Mesopotamia. He might not even have to cut the Shah off entirely; Ibrahim may come to terms earlier. Emperor Demetrios III is willing to be generous, especially with the Germans menacing Ruse. Two million hyperpyra plus two million more in quarter-million yearly installments, in exchange for the pre-Mashhadshar border and the Syrian rebels hung out to dry. The ‘pre-Mashhadshar’ and ‘abandoning rebels’ are not negotiable. However the Shah, also banking on the German proximity to Constantinople and well aware that any deal that doesn’t weaken Roman power will result in a very painful rematch, declines this offer.

    First Theodoros sends four thousand of his own troops to reinforce the Roman Army of Mesopotamia. It’s not enough for Strategos Amirales to threaten any more major Ottoman cities, but it is a substantial boost to his raiding parties, which can range further afield now.

    Drawing on the high-quality allagions (militias) of Cilicia and northern Syria for extra numbers, he dispatches two small armies to lay siege to Maskanah and Manbij. Aside from removing the last humiliation from Mashhadshar, their capture would remove a threat to Aleppo which while small cannot be ignored. Furthermore Maskanah is one of the main transit points of Ibrahim’s supply route.

    Another major transit point is Arra (Ma’arrat an Nu’man) to which Theodoros proceeds with his main army to besiege as well. It is the fortress closest to Ibrahim and also by placing himself there he indirectly guards the much smaller army investing Maskanah. With the Arra-Maskanah road, he can easily reinforce the Maskanah besiegers. Ibrahim, on the other hand, would have to take the desert road from Hama that leads to Raqqa and then swing northwest up to Maskanah, a vastly longer march. The best aspect of this setup from Theodoros’ point of view is that the mere act of investing Maskanah and Arra mean that the Persian convoys have to detour onto the desert road, which is not as well built and maintained.

    Ibrahim is far from blind to the danger, but by the time he arrives from Hama Theodoros has already thrown up sizeable trenches and embankments. Charging against Roman field fortifications is a good way to die, and Ibrahim knows it. So he hangs back, raiding and harassing, sniping at outposts and swinging cavalry around to harass Theodoros’ own supply lines.

    Theodoros marches out to knock the Persians back, Ibrahim maneuvering to avoid a major field engagement. However on June 19 the Romans give the Khuzestan Qizilbash Uymaq [1], which veered a little too close, a bloody nose, inflicting thirty-six hundred casualties for just eleven hundred of their own. Ibrahim pulls back a little in response but keeps up the harassment. But whilst irritating, the raids are only slowing Theodoros down, not stopping him.

    Having seen the effectiveness of his field fortifications at the third day of the Battle of Aabdeh last year, Ibrahim wants to fight a battle where he can force Theodoros to attack him. Unfortunately Theodoros seems willing to accept the annoyance as a necessary evil while he slowly reduces Arra into submission.

    It is a hard task. Arra is well-fortified with modern defenses, albeit not to the scale of Aleppo or Theodosiopolis, and held off Ibrahim and the main Ottoman army for over a month last year. The damage has been repaired, the battlements reinforced by massive earthen piles, and those battlements are well-armed with light guns.

    Furthermore, recognizing the importance of Arra, Ibrahim appointed Turgut Reis as the garrison commander. An old veteran who served in his father’s armies as far back as the beginning of the invasion of India, he is uncontestably the best artillery and siege commander in the Ottoman army. In India he took thirty four fortified cities and castles, including Delhi and Agra, and he commanded the artillery at First and Second Nineveh to great effect.

    His counter-battery fire against the Roman siege guns is accurate and deadly, particularly since as soon as he took the job, he marked down the best locations for siege batteries, assigned specific guns to target those sites, and practiced ranging shots with the pieces until they were zeroed in on the positions. Damage to the Roman siege batteries is high.

    So the siege drags on. Maskanah and Manbij aren’t putting up as stout of fights, but the comparatively smaller resources committed to those sieges means they are progressing slowly as well. Meanwhile Theodoros is also stuck near Arra until he can reduce it. His supplies are coming from Aleppo so if he advances south towards Hama with his main army, he runs the risk of the Arra garrison interdicting his own supplies.

    Turgut Reis is defending well, but his defense is eating up a lot of gunpowder and he needs resupply. Somehow he gets word of his predicament to his sovereign, who dispatches a column of two thousand cavalry, each one carrying a hundred-pound bag of gunpowder. The column swings north while Ibrahim demonstrates to the south, the Persian cavalry attacking while the Romans are focused on the main Ottoman army.

    Half of the cavalry manage to break through into the city with their precious cargo. The other half, while advancing under fire from the Romans, have a less happy fate. While still trying to break through, Roman bullets spark off and ignite several of the powder bags, reportedly sending a couple of hundred Persians flying into the air. The survivors retreat, but now many of the powder bags have strung leaks, leaving a trail of powder behind them. Sparks from their mounts’ horseshoes striking the hard ground then ignite that trail, and an even bigger explosion sends hundreds more Persians flying, with pieces of horses’ corpses found up in trees afterwards. [2]

    While gruesome and bloody, the effort did help replenish Arra’s stores, so the siege drags on, the two field armies snapping at each other, accumulating a steady trickle of casualties. Still Ibrahim knows that Turgut Reis, for all his skill, can’t keep the Romans out forever. Furthermore he gets word that to the north both Maskanah and Manbij have fallen.

    The allagions from Cilicia and northern Syria are posted there as garrisons, while the regular troops from both sieges are formed together and dispatched as reinforcements to Strategos Amirales, who with them has enough troops now to besiege Raqqa. Even with Arra still defiant, it is a devastating blow to Ibrahim. The Persians have been using the Euphrates to barge up supplies (as well as the Mosul-Al Hasakah-Raqqa road), but with Amirales setting up parallels at Raqqa, the supplies have to be offloaded at Dayr az Zawr, 130 kilometers downstream and then carted over 360 kilometers of desert tracks to Homs. Water on the route is dependent on oases. (The Howeitat, meanwhile, are delighted, making a killing on selling camels to Ibrahim’s stressed quartermasters.) The Raqqa-Maskanah-Arra road, in contrast, is of much better quality and over a hundred kilometers shorter.

    Theodoros is suffering from supply difficulties of his own, given that war plans in the east since the Time of Troubles have expected significant logistical help from the Anizzah that is no longer available. But that is little comfort to the Shah, who is increasingly forced to rely on the resources of interior Syria, one of the poorer reaches of the Roman Empire and an area that lost over a tenth of its population to the plague less than a decade ago, which doesn’t help.

    Ibrahim at this point is still unwilling to consider peace. At this stage the Germans are still in control of the bulk of the Danube and the loss of Maskanah and Manbij, the last fruits of Mashhadshar, is a personal humiliation. He began his reign under the shadow of losing most of his father’s Indian conquests; he is not keen for another taste of that.

    But with Arra steadily being ground down and his logistics from Mesopotamia turning into a nightmare, the Shah knows he must change his strategy. At the moment he has an opening with Theodoros unable to proceed further into the interior with Arra still holding out. Theodoros also can’t swing back out to the coast either. If he did, he’d leave a clear path for Ibrahim to charge north and attack Amirales at Raqqa, and the Army of Mesopotamia would have over a two-to-one disadvantage in such a battle.

    Relying on his field fortifications to defend him in an open battle, Ibrahim splits off nine thousand of his troops, mostly Qizilbash with some Shahsevan and sipahi cavalry, and sends them south.

    Although Damascus fell to Syrian rebels last autumn, the fighting in Palestine has mainly been a snarl of raid and bushwhack, with the Sunnis fighting with practically everyone else. Villages on both sides are literally wiped off the map, but little strategic territory changes hands.

    The arrival of the Ottoman column in Damascus changes that. The column is commanded by Sinan Pasha, a personal friend of Turgut Reis and another veteran of much of Iskandar’s campaigns. In India he led Ottoman forces in seventeen various small battles, winning every single one, including five against Rajputs. Like his friend, he is the type of highly-skilled Ottoman officer that does much to explain Iskandar’s success in war.

    First he strikes hard into Galilee, conquering the region and bloodying Druze and Maronite militias that try to stall him. He is supported by sixteen thousand Syrian rebels. In the meantime, an Arab army, a mix of Hedjazi regulars trained by Persian sergeants (many veterans of last year’s campaign and the battle of Ma’an), Howeitat riders, and various other Arab volunteers, sweeps through the trans-Jordan. It crumbles quickly, the Owais and Hadad tribes too battered to put up much resistance. The citadel at Kerak is the one hold-out but is simply bypassed so it can rot on the vine. Lightly-equipped Arab forces, unlike the large and baggage-heavy professional armies of the Romans and Ottomans, are able to do such a thing.

    With the Arabs joining him, Sinan turns on his main objective, Jerusalem. Despite a two-thousand strong Egyptian force reinforcing the garrison, the Holy City holds out for only twelve days before surrender. The city’s fortifications are little improved from when Andreas Niketas took the city over a hundred years ago because, for all its religious significance, Jerusalem is irrelevant strategically and economically. So Roman pragmatism spent its fortress money on places like Aleppo and Acre.

    The Romans are not unique in pragmatism. As the Ottoman forces enter the city (at the same time Blucher’s battered army is approaching Nikopolis), the rebel troops start to cause havoc despite the surrender terms, which stipulated a large indemnity but promised no sacking. Sinan promptly uses the regular Ottoman and Hedjazi troops to get them back in line.

    The rebels are sullen, but they do fall into line. Muslims have been barred from the city since Helena I banished them in 1572 as punishment for their revolt during the War of the Rivers, and they’d like some payback on the Christians settled here. But Sinan’s orders from Ibrahim are clear. If the Shah wishes to take and to hold this territory, he must ensure orderly government and safety for non-Sunni populations; the Day of the Fingers was done as a tactical expediency rather than out of sadism.

    He is well aware that Sunni atrocities in the past have done much to push the minorities into throwing their lot in with the Romans, much as the Turkmen of northern Mesopotamia in the 1400s and 1500s convinced the Kurds of eastern Anatolia to support the Romans. A side advantage of having a respectable Ottoman force finally operating down here is to help curb the Palestine rebels, whose actions thus far have only continued to alienate the various minorities.

    Having put Jerusalem in order, Sinan turns his gaze to the real goal of the campaign, Egypt. Given Roman command of the sea, it is doubtful that Egyptian grain could be used to feed Ibrahim’s main army. It is also doubtful, with his current forces and the main Ottoman army tied down in northern Syria, that he could hold Egypt. But even if Sinan can just break in and cause havoc, it will seriously destabilize the Roman war effort in the east; Theodoros draws most of his food from the Nile.

    The best way to get to Egypt is the coastal highway, most of which is in range of prowling Roman warships off the coast. That is a problem. The other is Gaza, blocking the highway down into Egypt. The fortress is of similar vintage to Jerusalem’s defenses, but they’ve been reinforced by earthen embankments. While the coastal cities of Syria and Palestine are all garrisoned, most are too small to do more than defend their charges, hence thus far Sinan has not had to deal with potential threats from the coast swinging around behind him. Gaza though has a much larger garrison, enough to pose a serious threat to his rear if he simply bypasses it.

    He marches on the city with 8000 Ottoman troops, 14000 Arabs (3000 Hedjazi regulars), and 25000 Syrian-Palestine rebels, but he makes lots of noise, sets up extra campfires, and has horses and men moving constantly and throwing up dust clouds, all to make it seem like he has even more than he really has. This gets to the Roman kastrophylax, an old retiree brought back to service because of the need to fill the massively enlarged officer list, who flees in the night on a small boat.

    The desertion when discovered in the morning understandably demoralizes the Romans, just as the Persians pitch in with a furious escalade; Sinan appears to have been tipped off by a spy in the town. The second-in-command tries to rally them, but a bullet rips out his throat near the start of the attack. The third takes over, but by this point the Persians have a major lodgment and the garrison is outnumbered 9 to 1. He starts organizing the destruction of the fortress’ stores to prevent them from falling into enemy hands.

    Sinan then offers a deal, a safe conduct for the garrison in exchange for the third not destroying any more stores. The Roman officer, anxious to save the lives of his command and seeing no reason for them to die a pointless death here, agrees. Although he does spike four culverins at the very last moment. The garrison departs, keeping their standards, musical instruments, personal possessions of the soldiers, side arms, and three-days-worth of rations for each man.

    Sinan is pleased with the haul, despite not bagging the garrison. Even with the stores destroyed before the ceasefire, he’s gotten a substantial haul of artillery, gunpowder, muskets, rations, and other assorted equipment, much of which he needs to equip his Syrian-Palestine forces as proper soldiers. Of particular value are the Roman army boots. And the road to Egypt is now open.

    Both the kastrophylax and garrison of Gaza proceed to Jaffa, the next major fortress up the coast. The kastrophylax here is Alexios Gabras, former Domestikos of the East who lost to Iskandar at the battles of Nineveh. Given the rapid expansion of the Roman army and the resulting need for new officers, he was pulled from retirement. This was not without controversy, but Gabras lobbied persistently for a new post, with the support of Domestikos Theodoros Laskaris who fought under him at Nineveh.

    Still he is given a minor post, one expected not to be significant when he was assigned. But with the current situation, Gabras has put his long experience as kastrophylax of Jeddah during its occupation to good use. Reinforced by Owais riders who remember him fondly from working with him during the occupation of Jeddah and later when he was Strategos of the Chaldean tagma during the ‘truce’ period of the Eternal War, he is the most energetic kastrophylax on the Syrian-Palestine coast, smashing several small rebel bands and Arab raiding parties.

    Gabras treats the garrison soldiers generously. The cost of their replacement kit is to be taken from their pay, but he arranges it that the deductions are spread out over the next six months so it is not as painful.

    The reason for his generosity is that he does not blame them for the fall of Gaza; for that he turns his full ire, and the weight of Roman military law, down on the head of the kastrophylax. Under said law, the penalty for officers charged with cowardice and desertion is far worse than for the regular troops.

    Sentenced the day after the Gaza garrison arrives, the kastrophylax is hauled in chains to the central courtyard of the Jaffa fort. He is stripped of his insignia as a Roman officer and then forced to walk the gauntlet of three randomly selected droungoi of his command. Each droungos lines up in two files, the kastrophylax walking between them. Each soldier, as he passes, may strike him with any blunt object of his kit, such as his fists or the butt of his musket. A soldier meanwhile walks backward in front of the kastrophylax, ambrolar leveled at the ex-commander’s chest, so that he cannot go through the gauntlet too quickly. Beaten literally half to death in this manner, he is then hanged, the gallows deliberately set up so that rather than a quick death by neck-break, he is slowly strangled to death by the rope; he takes half an hour to die.

    Meanwhile Sinan Pasha is headed for Egypt, although he has to shuffle off the highway a bit inland to get out of range of the Roman warships shadowing his march. A large camel train, much of whom are hired from Howeitat stock (the Howeitat are acting for the Ottomans much as the Anizzah did for the Romans), carries the baggage.

    Egypt has been frantically rearming since the Battle of Aabdeh but it lost most of its officers and veteran soldiers at that battle, making it most difficult to form cadres for the new recruits. The victims of the Day of the Fingers are useful as training dekarchoi, but their physical condition make them useless as line troops. But their mutilated hands are a powerful motivator for revenge.

    There are workshops at the Despotic capital of Tanta and Marienburg am Nil producing D3 muskets and light artillery, plus Roman ones at Alexandria. Between those and shipments from the Imperial heartland, the new Egyptian army is at least decently equipped.

    To the south though the Idwaits start causing trouble, raiding both north into Egypt and south into Ethiopia. Having heard word of the advances of the Germans and Persians into the Roman Empire, and the heavy losses suffered by both of their neighbors at Aabdeh, they’re eager to hammer at their former overlords.

    The Idwait Malik-ate has had a rough independence. Hassan, the great peasant leader, held things together until his death in 1612, but his son and heir was deposed in a coup twenty months later. Since then Hassan’s former lieutenants and their descendants, who’ve become the premier landowners and local powers, have been intriguing against and backstabbing each other. Six Maliks since the death of Hassan, and only one died naturally, wisely indulging in massive alcoholism until it killed him before a less fun death took him. The new Malik, Hassan VIII (all Maliks take the regnal name of Hassan, in honor of the founder), is more stable than most in his power, thanks to the lieutenant families having done much to fritter away each other, and has ruled for four years, a record for the new state.

    Hassan VIII still respects the power of Ethiopia and Egypt, and the Roman leviathan behind the latter. But he also believes it crucial to break the Christian ring around his state. Per its terms of independence, the Malik-ate owes both the Romans and Ethiopians tribute, and that tribute has been in arrears since the death of Hassan I. He is also aware that Andreas III, while in Syria at the beginning of his reign, had expressed a strong inclination to ‘establish a more satisfactory situation in the Sudan’. An Ottoman Egypt would certainly make his life easier.

    The Idwaits are just raiding into Ethiopia but the attack into Egypt is a proper invasion, with sixteen thousand men crossing the border and laying siege to the fortress of Beni Suef, the Egyptian border citadel right on the frontier. It is a pivotal location in the Idwait psyche; here was fought and won the first major battle of the Great Uprising in 1591 and its loss in 1599 was the last blow suffered in the war for independence.

    So the Idwaits attack with fervor, but with less artillery. They have some cannons, mostly old pieces leftover from the Great Uprising, and these are light field pieces at that. Beni Suef’s fortifications may be crude compared to Roman or Ottoman fortresses along the Syrian frontier, but the thick earthen embankments (many raised by the Idwaits during the Great Uprising) are superb at absorbing Idwait shot. So the small Egyptian garrison is able to keep the attackers at bay, although they can’t prevent their supply lines from being cut.

    Beni Suef is rather small so a few thousand of the Idwaits bypass it to raid north while their comrades work on reducing the town. In the lands of the hated Copts, in domains that used to be theirs before they were expelled at the end of the Great Uprising, the Idwaits are savage on the inhabitants.

    Those inhabitants are mostly fellow Muslims, the landless fellahin of the region who took over the vacant farms when those who would be Idwaits went south. Mainly tenants to absentee Coptic landlords as it had been before the Great Uprising, their economic situation has improved immensely now that they have their own plots while the landlord abuses of the pre-uprising period have been largely eliminated. Thus the fellahin, having benefited greatly from their absence, are not keen on seeing their former neighbors back. Meanwhile the Idwaits view the fellahin here both as religious traitors and upstart social inferiors. There have been repeated skirmishes between the two sides for over twenty years now, but the fighting here is the largest and most brutal to date.

    This is a serious threat, unfolding precisely as Sinan Pasha is bearing down on Egypt. The Persian is recognized as the greatest threat; with the Idwaits the worst case scenario is that they manage to roll all the way up to Marienburg am Nil but will then be stopped cold by the massive citadel. Sinan Pasha will not so easily be contained if he gets loose in Egypt. Furthermore he can threaten the Delta, the economic heart of Egypt.

    Sinan is invading with 44000 men, although two-thirds of those are not professional soldiers. To muster against him, Despot Andreas II has thirty four thousand Egyptian soldiers, two thousand Romans from the Alexandria garrison, and three thousand Ethiopian troops. He personally commands the army. The Ethiopians are all veterans of Aabdeh and eager for revenge, but over two-thirds of the Egyptians have never seen battle. Still Andreas marches out to meet Sinan, aiming to force a battle where he can get offshore fire support from Egyptian and Roman warships.

    Alexios Gabras meanwhile gathers together the best twenty five hundred troops from the Gaza garrison and sends them on ships to Damietta. The men sent are mostly old kastron troops, men who served their stint in the field army and now posted on fortress duty. While older than the ideal line infantryman, they all have extensive military experience.

    Theodoros too sends reinforcements. He can’t send too many with Ibrahim so close, but four Roman tourmai head for Lattakieh to be put on ships to Egypt, although they don’t arrive in time.

    As Blucher begins his retreat from Nikopolis, the Egyptians and Ottomans collide at the Battle of the Dunes, the former reinforced by the men sent by Gabras.

    Battle of the Pyramids.jpg

    This is the most famous depiction of the Battle of the Dunes in Western Europe, despite very little of it being true to the actual event. The Triune artist, who just knew that it was somewhere in Egypt, assumed that meant pyramids and the Nile River were involved somehow in the action.​

    It is a hard-fought battle, both sides attempting to outflank the enemy on their landward side, but with no success. The new Egyptian recruits perform admirably in their baptism of fire. Their volleys may be ragged but they are continuous. A few men break and flee, but that is to be expected in any battle. Overall there is a grim determination to avenge both Aabdeh and particularly the Day of the Fingers.

    The Egyptian infantry hold the line, but it is the four Egyptian warships plus two Romans cannonading offshore that play a key role in breaking the Ottoman line. Sinan’s right flank, near the sea, gradually comes apart under the bombardment and Despot Andreas II sends the Ethiopians and Gaza-garrison troops crashing into it. Breaking through, the veterans promptly pivot right and start smashing up the Ottoman line. Sinan throws in his reserve to hold them at bay, which works until nightfall. At that point Sinan retires, in good order but soundly battered with over seven thousand casualties; the Egyptians take just under five thousand.

    The Despot follows but cautiously; the new recruits have proven their bravery and steadiness under fire, but that doesn’t mean they’re very maneuverable on the field. Ideally he would send some troops down to battle the Idwaits, but with Sinan’s army still intact, he can’t afford to split his forces. Besides with Gaza still in Persian hands, there’s no guarantee the Ottoman commander won’t try another run.

    Another battle takes place just a few miles short of Gaza, the fight playing out much as it did at the Dunes. Again landward flanking maneuvers are blocked on both sides, but offshore pounding from the ships allows a breakthrough along the coast. But this time it is Coptic tourmai that storm the breach, forcing Sinan to retire again, although again his army retreats in good order.

    The Despot, now reinforced by the tourmai sent by the Domestikos, settles down to besiege Gaza, making sure to throw up fortifications against a relief effort from Sinan. The Ottoman commander is busy working to restore the battered morale of his Syrian-Palestine forces before he attacks. But he wants to force a battle away from the shoreline.

    So like his sovereign at Arra, he hovers out of reach, snapping at outposts and isolated Egyptian detachments, raiding supplies, and sending in small parties at night to infiltrate the Egyptian trenches and hopefully slit a few throats. Using his large number of camels, he sends several parties across the Sinai to raid into Egypt, which cause significant damage, but not enough to get the Despot to split his forces.

    Gaza eventually falls in mid-October, just as Nikopolis is recaptured. And to the north Arra has finally surrendered, Turgut Reis riding out to submit. It is to be a rather fine confinement on an estate in the Peloponnesus that has a history of hosting, and sometimes turning, captive Ottoman officers.

    Despite the fall of Gaza and Arra, neither the Despot nor the Domestikos seek to press the attack on the Ottoman armies near them. Given the importance of shipborne artillery in his two victories, the Despot is loath to fight a battle without it. Besides the Idwaits need to be dealt with. Alexios Gabras is transferred to be Kastrophylax of Gaza per Theodoros’ orders and given a large garrison, including an Egyptian tourma. Meanwhile the Despot marches back home to deal with the Idwait threat.

    With Raqqa falling to Amirales a week after Gaza, Theodoros’ plan has been successfully achieved despite the exemplary performance of Turgut Reis. The loss of interior Palestine and particularly Jerusalem is embarrassing, but all it really does is enlarge the cell in which Ibrahim is now emplaced. He still has contact with his empire, but it’s via a long desert track before it reaches the Euphrates. To maintain his army, he must rely on interior Syria and Palestine, which does not quite have enough to sustain him. It will not happen quickly but there is no need for a battle; hunger will do the job.

    Theodoros does want to push once the hunger has started to bite, giving time for it to whittle down Ibrahim whilst also giving him more time to drill his newer troops and integrate enlarged artillery batteries into his formations. Most of the detached forces over the campaign were composed of his best veterans, to make up for their usually small sizes, so his main force is clumsier than he would like. But any offensive ideas he fosters are soon brought to a halt by a surprising source, Demetrios III Sideros.

    There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, the Emperor, unlikely most of the senior leadership in the Roman Empire, is not so sure that the war on the Danube is quite so near to conclusion. He considers it most unlikely that Theodor will bow out without some kind of grand gesture, and so wants the Army of the East still available as a reserve, not battered by blasting through Ottoman entrenchments.

    Also, Demetrios hopes that Ibrahim, with his connection to the rest of his realm rather tenuous, will be more amenable to a peace deal now. There seems little reason to fight a major battle now if the Shah can be convinced to withdraw without said battle. Plus the threat to unleash Theodoros might be a useful stick with which to threaten Ibrahim if he is uncooperative.

    Finally, if Ibrahim doesn’t bite, Demetrios is also satisfied with the situation, at least after the scare to Egypt is resolved. The conquered territories provided little profit to the Roman exchequer anyway, so while large on a map the damage to the Empire’s war-making capabilities is practically nil. Meanwhile feeding the Ottoman army will be hard on the Syrian-Palestine rebels, undoubtedly straining their relationship. And if some of those rebels starve over the winter, all the better. That’ll make Demetrios’ long-term plans easier.

    In a way, Demetrios’ long-term plans are already starting to be implemented. Theodoros has not been completely idle since the fall of Arra. Raids basing from that retaken city, plus several of the larger coastal garrisons, chief of which is Gaza now hosting a sizeable Ethiopian contingent, are striking deep and hard into interior Syria and Palestine.

    Their first goal is to bring any remaining loyalist garrisons and populaces back to the coast; in this wide and not heavily-populated country people are more important than land. In a way, this is abandoning the interior to the rebels and Ottomans. But this also means that after this phase is complete, the Roman raiders are now free to kill or enslave anyone they encounter without a second thought. Owais, Haddad, and remnant Anizzah riders eager for revenge happily participate, rounding up Syrian-Palestinian peasants and hauling them to the coast in chains. If they resist, they are killed on the spot.

    Merchants from Arles, the Kingdom of the Isles, and Aragon (who sell to the Spanish market) buy up the slaves. This is an easy way to bolster relations with all those kingdoms and make some money at the same time. The loss of manpower to the rebels weakens them and also make agriculture more difficult, increasing Ibrahim’s supply problems. Plus the removal, either through extinction or enslavement, of some of the rebel populace means they’re less of an issue in any negotiations with Ibrahim. In some of the Shah’s earlier proposals, he suggested evacuating Roman lands but taking the rebellious populace with him. Demetrios wants the rebels gone, but does not want to strengthen Ibrahim at the same time. The current situation helps with the former, but does not do the latter. That suits Demetrios just fine.

    [1] The Qizilbash field army of a khassa. The term derives from the elite household troops of a tribal chief, supported by the chief’s family and lesser chiefs brought under the big chief’s umbrella. [A History of Islamic Societies, by Ira M. Lapidus, pg. 377] These formed the basis of the early Ottoman army prior to the conquest of Mesopotamia and organization of the Janissaries. However the Qizilbash iteration is a professional military organization.

    [2] This is from OTL. During the War of the Spanish Succession, the French fortress of Lille was besieged by the Allies. The French tried to resupply the garrison with gunpowder, and that is what followed. I tell you this lest you start wondering about my disturbed imagination, although I suspect that horse has long since bolted from the stable.

    Furthermore I would like to point out that IOTL, half of the French cavalry did manage to get into Lille with their precious cargo, despite the Allied army being commanded by the duo of the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy.
     
    1633: Swords in the East
  • The Romans can always take advantage of a crisis to bind these friends “closer” to the Empire.
    Like how Theodor converted Serbia into a Despotate. Will D3 keep the arrangement? It’ll make the borders of the Empire look a lot neater in the Balkans.

    The Empire could, but that would engender bitterness down the road. That’s how Edward I’s ‘Scottish school of diplomacy’ got started, in a Scottish succession crisis in which he was asked to mediate. It might work in the short term, but then the former friend may decide to join up with an enemy of the Empire if that’s what it’ll take to get independence back. The Auld Alliance between Scotland and France against England wasn’t formed until Edward I started messing around in Scotland.

    A Roman emperor who sits strongly on the throne and is victorious in the field is unlikely to change anything in the formal relationship of these states with Romania, as Roman strength will de facto make them vassals; a weak emperor, who seeks legitimacy through "cheap" expansion, is far more likely to attempt such a move, to bolster his position, and then see it backfire spectacularly...

    Exactly. Some states, like Vlachia and Scythia, are de-facto satellites of the Empire. But they’d strongly resent any attempt to make them de-jure vassals. If Georgia was vassalized by the Romans, the Georgians would definitely ally with the Ottomans if that is what it’d take to get independent again.

    Just a couple months ago I find this wonderful TL, and it's easy in my personal Top 10 in AH.com, and I want to thank you for your work and dedication.
    At the end of this war, after the Romans kick ass and take names, what do you think D3 makes the Germans give up the Roman part of their title? there is only ONE Roman Emperor.
    Another thing, when it's time, can you tell a little about what is happening in Chile? maybe something cool? Orthodox Greek speaking mapuches? :extremelyhappy:

    Thank you. :)

    The best way would be to somehow force Theodor to abolish the Holy Roman Empire altogether, like how Francis did IOTL. But that was after repeated pounding by Revolutionary France and then Napoleon, so I very much doubt that the Romans can deliver that much punishment.

    As of this point in Chile, the Mapuche were first enemies of the Incans but have since become enemies of the new Mexican Viceroyalty after the Incan conquest. They’re still largely isolated from the outside world, but a few Triune and Arletian ships have rounded the New World and have made contact with the Mapuche, so there’s some opportunity for trade there. But that’s very much in its infancy. The Mapuche certainly won’t be going Orthodox; Roman involvement in the New World is going to be pretty minor. Aside from the heartland, their energy is focused in the way of India/Indonesia.


    _____________

    “Two heroes new to war’s alarms,
    Ride boldly forth to try their arms.
    Their doughty deeds three kingdoms tell,
    And poets sing how these befell.”
    -Romance of the Three Kingdoms (OTL)

    “Where Persia ends and Persia begins,
    I saw a boy, a sword, and a friend.

    A brother mourned, a promise made,
    And ancient words on ancient walls,
    Carved out beneath a lazy sky.

    A city’s cry, an army’s camp,
    And memories of early time,
    Carved out beneath a lazy sky.

    Where Persia begins and Persia ends,
    I saw a boy, a sword, and a friend.”
    -On Sardasht Tower

    1633 continued: Demetrios III’s annoyance at what he perceives as King Alexei’s unreasonable intransigence manifests itself in the Georgian theater as Konstantinos Mauromanikos begins pushing eastward from his base in Artaani. On the one hand, he wants to maintain good relations with Georgia, but on the other he wants this theater resolved; Mauromanikos’ thirty thousand men are needed elsewhere.

    Demetrios’ hope is that a ‘nudge’ from Mauromanikos will make the would-be Georgian King reasonable. He is still unaware that Logothete Sarantenos is misrepresenting the diplomatic proposals to both Demetrios and Alexei. He views this ‘nudge’ as a first step towards convincing his sovereign that Alexei is hopelessly irreconcilable and that the Emperor has no choice other than to throw his full weight behind Konstantin and his regent mother Anna Drakina. Anna, recognizing the importance of the Logothete to her and her son’s continued survival, steadfastly maintains Sarantenos’ retainer despite the severe strain on her finances and promises a hefty increase when full control over Georgia is restored.

    Mauromanikos meanwhile is making a glacial crawl towards Tbilisi. The slowness is the trade-off for keeping absolute control over his soldiers. There is to be no pillaging and any requisitions made are to be paid for either with cold hyperpyra at best or Imperial bank certificates at worst. Nevertheless there are a few incidents, unavoidable with any army, but justice is meted out swiftly and publicly.

    For the moment with the Romans far from the capital, Alexei can afford to give way in front of them. He was no desire to tangle with the Romans if he can avoid it. For his part, he wants to maintain good relations with the Romans, provided the Emperor would let him get rid of the Safavids and not demand an impossible fortune.

    That said, he is still accepting the small subsidy from Ibrahim, despite knowing that doing so is hardly likely to help the White Palace’s opinion of him. But he badly needs the money; the Safavids completely emptied the contents of the Royal Treasury when they fled Tbilisi. Furthermore, most Roman-Georgian trading now is being done via smuggling, meaning his take of customs has cratered (this fact is also annoying Demetrios, who wants his take of customs as well). Ironically one of Alexei’s best income streams is selling provisions from his estates to the Roman army.

    However he has no love for the Persians. He lost three cousins and his younger brother during the Eternal War, including one female cousin who ended up in the harem of an Ottoman Emir. He is also a veteran of the Eternal War, including the slaughterhouse of Astara in 1607 which cost even the victorious Iskandar a third of his army. He was a junior officer in the Royal Guard, fighting in the charge that came within a hair’s breadth of breaking the Persian army. Aside from revenge for lost comrades and family, he keenly feels the humiliation of the loss of the trans-Aras. But first he wants the Safavids out.

    There is some skirmishing between Roman and Georgian cavalry and light infantry, but neither side presses their attacks hard, both preferring to stay out of each other’s way. Both Konstantinos and Alexei know though that will change once the Romans are in a position to threaten Tbilisi. Then Alexei will have to fight.

    Konstantinos is in no hurry for that day. Between his slow advance to maintain order and the rugged and mountainous terrain, hampered by roadblocks and ruined bridges, he averages one kilometer a day. When he arrives at the large village of Poka, along the southern shore of Paravani Lake, he establishes his winter quarters there. With an elevation of 2300 meters, pushing onward as winter approaches doesn’t seem like the best idea. He is about halfway to Tbilisi from his starting point.

    Alexei takes advantage of the Romans’ lack of urgency. While keeping some of his forces to mask the Romans, he now concentrates the bulk of his strength against the Safavid loyalists in Shirvan. Taking the fortress of Tsnori that held him up last year, he marches down the highway towards Baku.

    Although he has a greater sense of urgency, he too suffers from the rugged terrain and is faced with stiffer opposition. But he manages to smash through every obstacle, advancing halfway to Baku from Tsnori. He caps the end of the campaigning season with the capture of Gabala, a respectable and ancient fortress and the capital of a lush agricultural district. It is also the site of one of the main Georgian armament production centers. Although much of the equipment and workers are taken away by Safavid loyalists before its capture, the loss of Gabala is still a devastating blow to Anna.

    She is hopeful that the improved news from the Danube will encourage her cousin Demetrios to send more effective and forceful aid. It may. But with the strain lessened there, the Emperor is also free to look more thoroughly into other fields, and he is getting suspicious that something fishy is going on in these waters.

    To the south, Thomas Amirales and the Army of Mesopotamia has been keeping up his furious raiding, not only attacking Ottoman caravans but also wrecking irrigation channels, burning villages, and slaughtering or deporting the inhabitants. It is a continuation of Eternal War era tactics, which during the great push that had died at Dojama-Al Khalis had aimed to wreck Mesopotamia’s economic capabilities.

    Unfortunately raiding is all that Amirales can do at the moment, even with the reinforcements initially sent from the Domestikos of the East. Raqqa and particularly Mosul are far too large to be challenged by what he can muster. But the boost does give him the strength he needs to drive something more ambitious than anything in the campaign to date. As Theodoros is setting up the first parallels around Arra, thirteen thousand Romans ride out from Duhok, aiming to ravage the lands east of the Tigris. This is largely untouched territory, promising a rich haul and possibly offering a chance to smash supplies and recruits coming over from Persia proper. Plus it is a message, a warning that not only the lands between the rivers may feel the kiss of Roman steel.

    Included in those thirteen thousand is Kaisar Odysseus. There is a great deal of concern about him going on this; nobody wants another captured Kaisar. But he is an excellent scout leader, extremely in need in this kind of operation, and he insists, very strongly, that he is going.

    Constantly at his side is his new friend Michael of Tephrike, a young officer recently graduated from the School of War. He is the son of a carpenter, rather than the typical officer drawn from the mesoi or dynatoi. It is the practice of some rural villages to pool their resources to send a favored local son to the School of War. Having a local son as part of the military administration may come in handy in the future, and during Andreas III’s reign he began to offer small tax exemptions to villages whose local sons performed well in their exams.

    Commanding the operation is Tourmarch Manuel Philanthropenos, who is given a brevet rank of strategos for the mission. With detached forces in various theaters that are the size of pre-war tagma, that is an increasing practice. He is the youngest son of Alexios Philanthropenos, the commander who withdrew the Army of Edessa safely across the Tigris at Al Khalis despite Iskandar, fresh from his victory at Dojama, breathing down his neck, and the one who had been slated to command the great offensive that culminated at Nineveh. His sudden death before the campaign had been what placed Alexios Gabras there instead. Aside from his father, Manuel is also descended from the great general of the late 13th century, the terror of the Turks. [1]

    A veteran of some of the toughest fighting at First and Second Nineveh, Manuel seems to have inherited his ancestors’ martial prowess. Not long after breaking away from Amirales’ main body, he is challenged by an army eighteen thousand strong, made up of a mix of new Qizilbash recruits, south Mesopotamia Azabs of high-quality, local Azabs of middling quality, and Turkmen tribesmen, all commanded by the Emir of Arbil.

    After some brief exchanges of musketry, the outnumbered Romans give way, falling back to the west. The Ottomans pursue, spreading out a bit in the process, at which point Roman cavalry and black horses come swinging out from ambush as Philanthropenos about-faces his main body, hurling shattering gunfire and then advancing back into the fray. It’s all over in less than two hours; with a loss of four hundred casualties he pays back two thousand and another two thousand prisoners. The cherry on top is that this all takes place at Ain Sijni, the site of the famous victory over the Ottomans in 1422 by Alexios Palaiologos, the Lion of Syria and distant ancestor of one Shah Ibrahim.

    After sending his two thousand prisoners back to Amirales, he pursues the Emir of Arbil, mauling his army in a second battle. Unable to bag the Emir himself despite a pursuit that takes the Romans within cannon range of his city, Manuel satisfies himself with the additional three thousand Persian casualties, plus fifteen hundred prisoners and nine captured cannon, for the cost of about eight hundred more Roman losses.

    During the pursuit up to Arbil, Michael of Tephrike jumps up on the barrel of one of the Ottoman guns, giving a loud war whoop to encourage his men to push on with the chase. Unfortunately for him, the gun barrel is still hot from recent firing and he burns his buttocks, much to his chagrin and the amusement of his fellow officers. [2]

    The Emir’s army was originally intended as reinforcements for defending northern Mesopotamia and its loss is keenly felt. As Philanthropenos chases the Emir into Arbil, Amirales annihilates a 1000-wagon supply convoy near Sinjar. Its escort was woefully inadequate. There are some more convoys destroyed in the next few weeks, including sixteen Euphrates barges burned, with a few more chased into fortresses, although no hauls comparable to the first are taken. When Amirales moves west with the bulk of his forces to besiege Raqqa, the convoys can resume again, but rather cautiously.

    Philanthropenos meanwhile is thoroughly ravaging the ‘trans-Tigris’ countryside, leaving a twenty-kilometer wide swathe of destruction, plumes of burning villages rising into the clear blue sky. Aside from a few cavalry raids of far smaller size than this, this area was untouched by Roman arms during the Eternal War (Mesopotamia proper took the brunt) and the Roman soldiery now make up for lost time. Terror is the name of the game and the Romans can play it very well.

    During the swathe of destruction, Manuel starts to take the young Kaisar under his wing. Although Odysseus took some classes at the School of War, he hasn’t the formal training a graduate would possess. Seeing promise in this young officer, never mind his social station, he sets out to hopefully remedy some of Odysseus’ gaps.

    Aside from assigned reading from Manuel’s book satchel (he never goes anywhere without it) Manuel also seeks to give the Kaisar more command experience, although taking care not to risk him too much. He is a hard taskmaster; overseeing the destruction of a pair of villages is no excuse for missing his daily reading assignment.

    After burning the village of Baba Gurgur just twelve kilometers from Kirkuk, the Roman army swings north and east, continuing its destruction, not facing any serious opposition. Now they enter the foothills of the Zagros, entering lands no Roman soldier has entered save as prisoners of a conqueror. No one would mistake these Romans as prisoners. One of the first things they do is storm the small city of Sardasht, whose medieval fortifications fail miserable in keeping its enemies out, and put it to the torch.

    * * *

    Sardasht Castle, September 5, 1633:

    Michael of Tephrike looked out from the ancient battlements, over fifteen hundred years old. The sun was drifting lazily toward the western horizon, while dying pillars of smoke wafted from what was left of the city of Sardasht. When the wind blew from that direction, Michael could faintly hear the wail of what was left of the inhabitants. They were too far from the borders of Rhomania for a large haul of prisoners to be manageable, so instead the survivors of the sack were being expelled from their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs. If exposure, bandits, or animals didn’t kill them in the few days it took for the Romans to move on, they could go back to what was left of their homes and maybe eke out survival in the ruins. It was cruel, but war was cruel, and Rhomania had not started this war.

    The breeze shifted a bit, tickling the hairs on the back of his neck. It felt good; the air was a bit muggy, but thankfully temperatures were decreasing from the nightmares they’d been a few weeks ago. That heat, along with his scorched buttocks, had been most unpleasant. Then he’d been hoping that a new army would be needed in Greenland and he could get a transfer.

    He glanced over at Odysseus, sketching on a large canvas with one of those Triune graphite pencils, nibbling absentmindedly on the end as he pondered the scene in front of him: the burned-out city, the military encampment, the to-and-fro of scouts and foragers, all under lengthening shadows. “It’s good,” Michael said. He couldn’t draw to save his life, although if one needed to ‘creatively interpret’ the card rules he was your man.

    “Eh, it’s alright,” the prince said. “Have to paint it once we get back to Duhok. Hope I remember the colors right.” He traced a little something in the corner; when he drew his hand back Michael saw a teamster arguing unsuccessfully with a cantankerous mule. For a moment they just looked out in silence.

    “This isn’t the first time I’ve been here,” Odysseus said.

    “Really?”

    Odysseus nodded and moved his canvas. Carved in the stone behind it was writ ‘Andreas Drakos’ and ‘Odysseus Sideros’. Underneath the names-‘Brothers’. “We were being taken to Mashhadshar,” Odysseus replied, his voice a bit raspy. “It seems like a lifetime ago.” A pause. “He should be here.” Michael knew he meant Andreas Drakos, better known as Andreas III. “This was his dream.” He gestured out at the army camp. “A few years to survey the Empire, a few years to reform it, and then revenge.” His mouth twisted.

    “And now your dream,” Michael said.

    Odysseus nodded. “But for now just a dream.” Michael opened his mouth to protest; Sardasht hadn’t been a dream, never mind the carnage they’d wreaked down in the blisteringly hot lowlands. “It’s a start,” Odysseus conceded, cutting him off before he could speak. “But that’s it. And that’s all it will be for now. Revenge, proper revenge, won’t come in this war; we’ve too many enemies right now. But the next war, his war, my war, our war…that will be a very different story.” The Kaisar of Rhomania smiled coldly, his hand absentmindedly stroking the hilt of his sword, the sword of his great and terrible ancestor.

    Timur. “Kneel before me,” Michael heard Odysseus whisper, not at him, but at the land of Persia sweeping eastward out before him. He was quoting the first words Timur had ever directed at an Ottoman lord. “Kneel before me, or die.”

    * * *

    1633 continued: After destroying Sardasht, Philanthropenos continues onward to similarly trash the slightly smaller city of Baneh, then turning northward to start heading home. Local Persian levies converge on the Roman column, hoping for revenge. Because of the difficult terrain, about which the locals obviously know better, it takes some time before Manuel can get a clear picture of enemy dispositions. Odysseus Sideros, out leading several scouting parties, plays a major role in getting the intelligence the brevet strategos needs.

    Encamping on the south shore of Lake Urmia, the Romans are faced with two enemy armies, one to their northeast coming down from Tabriz, the other to the southeast from Bukan. The Tabriz force is ten thousand strong, the Bukan army seven thousand.

    Moving east so he can operate on interior lines, Philanthropenos throws a blocking force of eighteen hundred to hold off the Bukan army, which is mostly militia. Odysseus picks out the defensive terrain for the blocking force, which is then approved by Manuel, although he keeps the Kaisar with the main body.

    The Tabriz force, aside from its larger size, also has Qizilbash and Janissaries in its ranks. Manuel meets it in battle at the village of Bonab, near the east shore of Lake Urmia. After a stiff firefight, Manuel’s cavalry successfully turn the Ottoman left flank, driving it pell-mell into the lake. While the haul of prisoners is disappointingly low, their casualties are high and the supplies looted from the Ottoman baggage train are a welcome boon.

    Manuel then swings south, linking up with the rather-battered but still intact blocking force at Qoshachay. The Bukan army, hopelessly outmatched in quantity and quality, is smashed to bits, with most of the survivors deserting their banners to flee into the hills. Some of the militiamen eventually return, lessening the long-term damage, but the defeat of the two Ottoman forces leaves Philanthropenos free and clear. Two weeks later the Romans are back at Duhok.

    On the way back they transit the Kelashin Pass in the Zagros Mountains. The local tribes are Kurdish but decidedly unfriendly to the Romans (they’re not fond of the Ottomans either) and some try to ambush the Romans. Instead they are massacred as a detachment composed largely of Helvetian infantry had snuck up the mountains above them and fell on the ambushers’ backs.

    Also in the pass is the Kelashin Stele, of which Odysseus makes an inscription for study by Roman scholars; the discovery of the ruins of Pompeii in 1618 has sparked interest in ancient ruins throughout much of Europe. At the time, the Urartian/Assyrian (Akkadian) script, twenty-four hundred years old at that point, is completely unknown and indecipherable to the Romans.

    Far to the south, the Ethiopians have yet to provide the promised reinforcements to Egypt because their armies are focused on other matters. Firstly a small force is dueling with the Idwait raiders on the northern border, steadily creeping north into the old Kingdom of Makuria lost during the Great Uprising. Its first target is the reduction of the town of Soba near the confluence of the Blue and White Niles. It is also the site of a crushing Ethiopian defeat at the hands of the Mamelukes in 1450, not long before the birth of Brihan of Merawi.

    Two more Ethiopian forces are attacking Yanbu, the port of Medina, and Jeddah, the port of Mecca, as a means to pressure the Hedjaz and keep Arab troops from reinforcing Ibrahim up in Syria (in that these attacks are only a limited success). Both towns have decent if simple modern fortifications protecting them, the defenses of Jeddah built partially from the rubble of the demolished Roman works during their occupation. So Jeddah can’t be easily overwhelmed this time as it has been in the past.

    Both cities require a siege, with Arab attacks a nuisance but ineffective; the main difficulty is supplying the besiegers, especially with water. But with Roman and Ethiopian warships dominating the Red Sea, both cities eventually succumb. But rather than garrisoning them, the Ethiopians hand over control to Omani garrisons; both Constantinople and Gonder are thinking that Omani control over the Hedjaz would be useful in the future. Then the Ethiopians proceed onward to Suez, moving up to Gaza to reinforce Alexios Gabras who uses his increased strength to harass Sinan Pasha, encamped around Jerusalem.

    Meanwhile in the Gulf the Roman and Omani fleets, supported by a powerful Ethiopian squadron, are attempting to crack the formidable defenses of the island of Qeshm and the cities of Hormuz (on the island of the same name) and Gamrun (OTL Bandar Abbas-the OTL name is from a Safavid Shah so I’m using its earlier name) on the mainland. Although the Ottoman fleet and the several Triune vessels supporting it has been driven into harbor, the presence of said fleet makes any landing on Qeshm or Hormuz Island too hazardous.

    Gamrun, which has been massively enlarged as a naval depot and trading port since the start of the Ottoman-Triune alliance, could be threatened by an army landed up or down the coast which then marches to the target. But with Qeshm guarding the waterborne approaches, it would be hard to supply the besieging army since the supplies would have to be transported from the landing. And with the fleet unable to get too close to Gamrun, the besieging army would be well-placed for the Ottoman fleet to shell them from offshore.

    So for now the Romans, Omani, and Ethiopians have to settle for blockading the area as best they can, although they stage several seaborne raids on villages further up the Gulf coast. All attempts to lure the Ottoman fleet out fail, the admiral there not rising to the bait even when the blockaders snap up three Triune Indiamen.

    There are a few more naval battles to the east. The ones off the eastern coast of India between Ship Lords from Taprobane and forces from the Viceroyalty of Sutanuti are inconclusive. Of far greater significance is the Battle of the Lingga Islands. While the threat of Acehnese attacks is always high, Roman convoys carrying Indonesian and East Asian goods often use the Straits of Malacca rather than the more hazardous Sunda Strait between Sumatra and Java.

    An unusually large convoy is transiting the Strait, protected by a powerful escort that is expecting an Acehnese attack. Included in the escort are a pair of Spanish sloops as well as two small fregatai; the Spanish have their own grievances against the Acehnese and five of their own Indiamen are allowed to join up with the convoy for protection.

    Off the Lingga Islands the convoy is challenged by the full might of the Acehnese navy and for three days (giving the battle its alternate name of the Three Days Battle) the two sides clash. It is brutal and bloody, and when the sun sets over the hills of Sumatra on the third day, it is said by Roman accounts that “there was not a household in Aceh that did not wail and lament at the news of their calamity”. Acehnese losses are somewhere in the range of 15,000 men, their losses swelled by their common practice of filling their ships with musketeers to bolster their firepower. It is not a death blow to Aceh, but a state that was a week ago one of the premier native naval powers of the east has been shoved down firmly into the second-rate, at best, category.

    Further east than that, a Roman fleet sets up a blockade around Surabaya, second city of the Semarang Sultanate, situated in the northeast corner of Java, while the King of Mataram lays on a siege with 50,000 men. Included in the blockade force are a trio of Lubeck ships, the Hansa crews really not caring that they’re fighting alongside the enemies of the Holy Roman Emperor. The Holy Roman Emperor has ruined their mercantile prospects in the east because of his Triune policies and a man has to make a living somehow. The Romans offer a chance for profit, both via a share of the spoils and the promise of a warehouse and dock for Lubeck’s merchants, and the opportunity to shoot Triunes; no self-respecting man of Lubeck can pass that up.

    Surabaya is one of the great cities of Java with a large population and formidable defenses. But Sanjaya is patient and methodical, borrowing heavy naval guns from his Roman allies to pummel the city’s walls. A relief army from the west, despite being outnumbered two to one, tries to draw the Hindu king away, but to no avail. Both Semarang and Triune warships try to break the blockade, and while some manage to run it and offload supplies, it is not enough to turn the tide. After nine weeks, the inhabitants open the gates and surrender, paying a massive indemnity and swearing allegiance, but escaping what would’ve been a most brutal sack.

    It is a tremendous victory for both Mataram and Rhomania. It is a crippling blow to the Semarang Sultanate, long-time enemy of both, and the Romans quickly settle down into their massive and splendid trading quarters. Alongside them is a smaller Ethiopian district and the Lubeck warehouse and dock. The Hansa ships load up on pepper which fetch them quite a tidy profit when they get home and they remember whom they should thank.

    In India though the allies of Rhomania are not prospering. Kishan Das, the Maharaja of Oudh who turned his state into the lord of most of the Ganges, is hard pressed between his treacherous brother and the Viceroy of Sutanuti, and the Katepano of Taprobane is on the lookout for new powers that might serve the Empire’s interests in this part of the world.

    * * *

    The Red Fort of Agra, December 16, 1633:

    Ranjit Singh inhaled, the smell of powder and blood intermingling in his nostrils. It was a familiar smell, often experienced these past few years since he and his squadron burst over the walls of Delhi. He was used to that smell, but what really intoxicated him was the scent of victory. Three times Agra had defied him, but now it was at his feet.

    He looked out over his conquest, the city sprawled before him. The last of the fires were being put out now, but it had been a hectic week. He felt the rough red sandstone of the battlements beneath his callused hands. The Red Fort was of similar age to himself, built by Iskandar of Persia in an effort to solidify control over his new Indian conquests. Yet for all the Persian Emperor’s skill in battle, he’d never managed to really control his lands east of Delhi unless he had an army sitting on said lands. But Ranjit Singh, the Lion of Agra…oh, I like that more than I should, he thought, would take the fort anyway. It’d be a good base for the start of his own empire.

    Spying movement below him, he saw riders approaching the Elephant Gate, the guards opening up; they and Ranjit Singh knew the man was a friend, and a most useful friend at that. Ranjit Singh smiled and started from the balcony to go down and greet the new arrival. He needed to thank that tourmarch for those lovely culverins.

    * * *

    [1] This is a reference to OTL Alexios Philanthropenos, who is essentially the same person ITTL. Reportedly, even after being blinded and imprisoned for decades IOTL and with no army, the Turks still broke off a siege rather than face him in battle. Imagine what he could’ve done with the greater resources of the Empire ITTL…

    [2] Happened to an ACW officer, although I can’t remember who. But it’s too hilarious to pass up. Also, someone fluent in Greek please come up with a nickname for him based on this.
     
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    1633: Ships in the West
  • caribbean_pol.gif

    1633 continued: The Roman squadron bound for Mexico lands at Tenerife in the Canary Islands for resupply before crossing the Atlantic, yet it has already drawn Triune blood. Two days before sighting the island, Leo’s luck with attracting prize money, a skill that makes him very popular with his shipmates, awakens. The Theseus and one of the sloops each take a Triune Indiaman bound for the east.

    The hauls aren’t as great as they would’ve been if the Indiamen had been on their way back from the east, but prize money is prize money, even if the money in question is in Spanish escudos. The Spanish governor, not caring one bit about any neutrality violations, buys the captured ships and cargoes, crews them with his own men, and sends them out east in the name of his profit.

    For eleven days the crews lay on provisions, particularly fresh produce and chickens (that will be kept alive for eggs and later fresh meat) but also purchasing cattle that are butchered and salted down before being loaded. But there is some time for fun and relaxation. An expedition of some of the junior officers, including Leo Kalomeros, climb Mount Teide to study the geology, flora, and fauna, and to make stellar observations at night. On the return Leo Kalomeros adopts a Goliath Tenerife Lizard [1] as a pet, a young one only 18 inches long. Named Theodor, the lizard is accepted by his Kentarchos [2] Hektor Kraikos as the animal promises to be very useful in keeping down the insect population aboard ship.

    With supplies fully stocked, the fleet, under the command of Kometes [3] Basil Paxamadas, sets sail across the Atlantic. The expedition leadership has been carefully selected for this assignment. The Kometes plus all the ships’ Kentarchoi and Protokaraboi [4] have experience of sailing in the Indian Ocean and every ship has a hired Arletian or Spanish pilot familiar with Caribbean waters. The one exception is the sixty-gunner Ajax whose special pilot is a native of Corfu, one of the few Roman merchant sailors who’re familiar with those waters.

    It is a forty-day crossing from Tenerife, mostly long and boring, the monotony ‘enlivened’ by the usual unpleasantness of life on a sailing ship in this era. Despite every effort to eradicate them, pests abound. On the fregata Anaximander the Kentarchos offers his crew an extra wine ration for every thousand cockroaches they kill; to determine the count the Kentarchos has a chest from his Indian Ocean service which when filled to the brim with the corpses counts as a thousand. They earn 17 and a half extra rations. [5] Meanwhile on the Theseus Theodor grows rapidly and happily chowing down on the insect pests.

    Arriving in the Caribbean, before proceeding on to Mexico, the Kometes first lays claim to two small islands in the name of the Emperor. Because of the growing economic importance of the region Demetrios III considers it necessary to have an outpost in the region, although defending it is guaranteed to be problematic.

    Another reason for wanting a Caribbean colony is that competition from Madeira and the Caribbean has driven the once mighty Roman sugar industry to the brink of extinction. Cyprus and Crete just cannot compete with the higher-quality (because of the growing climate) and vastly more numerous Latin sugar. Attempts to squeeze more out of their Sudanese slaves hasn’t helped and those are getting more expensive as ever-expanding Ethiopian kaffos plantations suck up most of the supply. So it is hoped that a Caribbean colony will help Rhomania reassert itself in the sugar market and possibly the kaffos one as well, and maybe even cocoa too.

    There are also some proposals about a Caribbean colony being a source of settlement for demobilized veterans to keep them from causing trouble after the war, although that is hardly conducive for a plantation economy. The principle though seems sound, although Demetrios III, aside from the heartland, is looking more at Rhomania in the East for that.

    On June 26, Paxamadas lays claim for the Empire to the island he names St David, after St David the Dendrite, as he is commemorated on this day. [6] The next day he lays claim to the larger island just to its west, which he names St Giorgios after St Giorgios of Athos, a Georgian just like his flag kentarchos. [7] At the deep water harbor on the south side of St Giorgios, he establishes a settlement named Jahzara after the Empress. [8]

    One of the skevophora [9] is carrying 122 colonists, 89 men, 24 women, and 9 children, plus provisions and materials for getting a settlement started. Although mostly recruited from the landless poor, there has been care to ensure that those sent know how to farm and fish and some artisans are included. Also in the number are 6 Sudanese Digenoi, mixed-race descendants of Sudanese slaves who’d worked in the Cypriot sugar plantations. It is common for Roman sugar slaves, after earning their freedom, to return as paid overseers as they know the business, and often their descendants get into the trade as well. The six are to provide the expertise for setting up sugar plantations, with the plan to procure slaves from the local traders.

    While they get to work, sailors and soldiers from the fleet erect a packed-earth fortress to defend the harbor with naval guns taken from the larger warships, and some of them will stay behind as a garrison.

    The colonists receive some unexpected ‘help’. On June 30 the Anaximander snaps up a Triune slave-ship out of Mbanza Kongo inbound for Jamaica carrying 413 slaves. Eighty of those slaves are taken and put to work at Jahzara while the slave ship is sailed over to San Juan, the main settlement on Puerto Rico, a Spanish holding. There the remainder of the slaves are sold to the delight of the planters there, always in need of more African labor. The money from the sale is distributed as prize money, while the Kometes takes the crown’s share and uses it to purchase more provisions and materials both for the fleet and for the colony. Prior to the expedition, Demetrios III had specified that the crown’s share of the prize money could and should be used for such purposes.

    With Ft Odysseus raised in at least rudimentary fashion, Paxamadas sets sail west with the bulk of the fleet. One of the sloops is left to guard the new colony along with a garrison of sixty soldiers. Three fregatai, including the Theseus, head east to raid Triune possessions in the Windward and Leeward Islands while the battle-line ships and remaining light vessels move to rendezvous with the Mexican fleet. Sailing north of Puerto Rico (Spanish), Lesser Antillia (Hispaniola-Arletian), and Greater Antillia (Cuba-Arletian), the Romans then swing over to Vera Cruz.

    Meeting them there is Admiral of the Fleet Rodrigo Temilotecatl Ecatzin y Tizatlan, Duke of Zautla and Quechula, a member of the highest nobility of the Mexican Empire. He is descended both from a conquistador who accompanied David Komnenos’ expedition and from the Tlaxcalan Lord of Tizatlan, Maxixcatzin, who became one of David’s principal native allies. That is rarefied blood in these parts, for the descendants of David’s expedition and the nobles of Tlaxcala and Texcoco (and now the Tarascan nobles as well) are the highest echelon of nobility.

    He only has two battle-line ships under his command, both fifty gunners, the smallest a warship can be and still fall into that category. (Technically, at this point in time the use of ‘battle-line ship’ is somewhat of an anachronism as it is the fierce naval warfare between the War of the Roman Succession and the War of the Capes that leads to the term to denote a ship capable of standing in the battle-line. That said, even at this point it is recognized that a warship that doesn’t mount at least fifty guns isn’t really up to the hardest fighting.) But to support them he has six fregatai and fourteen sloops and brigs and, most of all, nine thousand troops including the crack Davidian tagma. Twenty five hundred of them are African slaves inducted into the Mexican army.

    Also included in the list are fourteen Japanese ronin (landless samurai). Expelled after a failed rebellion against the Shimazu, they took service as Roman mercenaries in the Far East under the Katepano of Pyrgos. They then hired onto the Mexican Pyrgos galleons on their return run to Mexico. Once there they served as highway patrolmen, hunting down brigands, earning respect for their valor and honesty. Although the current structure is of a much later day, the Shinto Temple in Texcoco is built on the site of the original small structure built for the use of these ronin and others like them. [10]

    The combined Roman-Mexican fleet gets going quickly as Vera Cruz is rather unhealthy for outsiders. Their target is Jamaica, where the primary port of Port Royal is the base for the bulk of the pirates harassing the Mexican coast. Although the individual pirate ships are usually no bigger or better armed than a sloop, there are enough to give two 50-gunners pause. Between the two ‘70-gunners’, one 60-gunner, and four 50-gunners the pirates are hopelessly outmatched and they know it. They scatter before Port Royal is blockaded and Mexican soldiers start treading on the soil of Jamaica.

    Only four days after the siege begins, a Triune relief squadron appears on the horizon. Rumors and vague reports of a Roman squadron being sent to the Caribbean had reached King’s Harbor in the spring, prompting Emperor Henri II to arrange reinforcements for his New World holdings. That said, he was reluctant to commit too many forces west given the expense, lack of information on the strength of the Roman squadron, and concerns to keep Triune fleet strength high in home waters in case King Ferdinand tried anything.

    So the Triune fleet is slightly outgunned, with six battle-line ships to the Romans and Mexicans’ seven, their flagship Avalon, a sixty-four gunner, the most powerful. That said, Avalon is the most powerful battle-line ship present as both of the Roman seventy-gunners are now sixty-gunners, having given up some of their cannons both to bolster the Mexicans ashore and to arm Ft Odysseus.

    Both sides plow into each other, the lighter vessels joining into the fray. Given the small number and fairly small size of the big warships, even a twenty-gunner sloop can make a difference. Tactics are extremely rudimentary at best, both sides’ commander trying with limited success to control the affair with signal flags, but the battle is basically a brawl. The idea of line-of-battle tactics has yet to be really developed.

    It is a bloody punch-up with heavy losses on both sides, particularly on the Roman and Triune flagships which slug it out in a personal duel. The Roman flagship eventually triumphs, a boarding party seizing the Avalon, but only after losing her fore and mizzen masts. When night falls the two sides break off by mutual consent, the Triunes slipping away in the gloom to Barbados to lick their wounds.

    Aside from Avalon, the Romans also captured the 52-gunner Black Prince and sank or captured four more Triune light warships. In return the Triunes captured a Mexican fregata and sank two more. While ship losses heavily favor the Roman-Mexican fleet, they still took heavy damage and casualties. Out of the twenty-one masts on the battle-line ships, ten were broken and the fifty-gunner Alexios Palaiologos has to have her pumps running constantly for twenty hours after the battle before the leaks in her hull are plugged.

    Port Royal surrenders after the withdrawal of the relief squadron, the battered Romans and Mexicans docking to begin repairs. Meanwhile many of the Triune loyalists take to the Jamaican interior, waging a guerrilla campaign against the attackers. Making life harder is the yellow fever, endemic in Africa but a new and unwelcome immigrant to the New World, and malaria that tears through the Roman ranks. The Mexicans hold up slightly better, particularly the African slave-soldiers, but the results are all-around devastating, crippling the Roman squadron. Unbeknownst to them, the same diseases are rampaging both through the colonists on St Giorgios and the Triune squadron at Barbados.

    Far to the east, the Roman fregatai are having a far more interesting and healthy time of it. All of the colonies in the Windward and Leeward Islands are less than twenty-five years old, with a good chunk of Europe represented in these waters. The three primary Triune holdings here are Barbados, Martinique, and Guadeloupe and each Roman kentarchos, in consultation with the other two, picks an island for harassment.

    The Theseus, as the most powerful of the three warships, is sent to Guadeloupe (a name given to a small cluster of islands, not one larger island as is usually the case). It is the most recent Triune settlement, established in 1624, and still possesses a large Carib population on the island of Marie-Galante. The natives, who ate the first European explorer to land on their shores [11], are hardly easy neighbors and, in the words of Spanish merchant Luis Suarez, “enjoy dining with Frenchmen.”

    The Roman fregata first snaps up a pair of small Triune vessels going to cut timber on Dominica, which is still controlled by the Caribs, and then a larger merchantman out of King’s Harbor carrying supplies for Jamaica, a very useful boon to Theseus’ stores. On the approach to the merchantman, Leo notes from the crow’s nest that the ship’s crew must be new as her sails are discolored. That is from the frequent vomiting of the seasick sailors handling the canvas.

    Then the fregata runs into something with decidedly more teeth, encountering off the Isla de Aves a pair of Triune sloops, the Octopus and the Stingray, each mounting twenty guns to the fregata’s thirty-two. The Romans do mount bigger guns so the throw weight of both sides is only slightly tilted in favor of the Triunes. But Kentarchos Hektor Kraikos is a fighter, a veteran of many sea brawls in Island Asia, and pitches right into the pair.

    Both sides fight hard and well, but Kraikos’ ship-handling is superb and the Theseus’ thick planking holds up stoutly to the lighter guns of the sloops. Disabling the rigging of the Stingray so that she falls behind, he concentrates on the Octopus which strikes her colors. Stingray, having made repairs, returns to the fight unaware her sister has surrendered, and after a gun duel with the larger Roman warship she also strikes.

    The crews are put aboard the Triune merchantman, which had been anchored off Isla de Aves during the fight, and then sent to Jahzara. Meanwhile both warships are patched up and given crews from the Theseus. They are under-manned and so not as effective as they could be, but the pair make for a formidable addition to Kraikos’ might. Kalomeros is put in command of the Octopus, a more-grown and substantially larger Theodor accompanying him.

    The trio proceed back to Guadeloupe, on their way meeting a very friendly and talkative Spanish merchant captain, one Luis Suarez, who has been looking for them to tell them some interesting news. In the harbor of Basse-Terre, the only real settlement established thus far in Guadeloupe on the island of the same name, is a Triune merchantman with seventeen hundred pounds of Mexican silver ingots in its hold, plus another 300,000 Mexican stavrata, the Mexican silver coin modeled off the Roman issue and the main currency of the Caribbean.

    It was procured after the start of hostilities between the Triple Monarchy and the Empire of Mexico, but apparently the Triune captain had a fake Spanish registry (which is how Suarez heard of it) and the Mexican officials, in exchange for some bribes, didn’t look too closely. Apparently the captain is also somewhat on the shady side in King’s Harbor’s eyes, wanting to avoid paying the royal fifth owed on any bullion imports into the Triple Monarchy, so this large shipment of bullion isn’t escorted by any warships. But the Triunes got hit hard by disease and then a storm so had to put in here to get some more crewmen and make repairs.

    Suarez wants to get his hands on that mountain of silver and the Roman sailors, their hands rubbing gleefully at the thought of all that prize money, feel the same. But with the Roman prize crew on the merchantman, which had to be large to keep an eye on the Triune prisoners, and the crews of the sloops, the Romans don’t really have the manpower to spare for an attack on Basse-Terre, which is decently fortified. Plus Suarez doesn’t know if the silver is still on the ship or stored in the fort for safekeeping. Because of the need to move quickly before the bullion moves, there isn’t time to try and contact the Roman fregatai somewhere off Martinique and Barbados.

    But Luis Suarez is prepared, and through him Kraikos makes contact with some allies who can provide manpower. Firstly there are the Caribs of Marie-Galante, who have a relationship with Spanish merchants like Suarez. They will kidnap Triune slaves from the new plantations on Basse-Terre, selling them to the Spanish for supplies and weapons. With their cut of the silver, they can get even more weapons.

    Next are the maroons of Grande-Terre, the large island separated by a narrow channel from Basse-Terre. These are escaped slaves from the plantations who’ve established communities of their own, and who have a complicated relationship with the Triunes. On the one hand they raid their former masters, who want them back, but the Triunes also pay them to act as slave-catchers against more recently escaped slaves. And sometimes the maroons will capture plantation slaves and sell them to Spanish for supplies and weapons, just like the Caribs.

    With the sloops blockading off Basse-Terre in case the Triunes come out, Kraikos and Suarez proceed to Dominica for the final member of this most eclectic alliance, Jacob Tirado, also known popularly as the Pirate Rabbi. [12] A Bohemian Jew and a young rabbi in Prague who was expelled by King Ottokar V’s decree, he made his way to Spain where he soon got involved in seafaring. Although Jews weren’t allowed in Lisbon’s New World holdings, the law was not very well enforced and so Jacob ended up in the Caribbean.

    At some point he turned pirate, with a mixed but largely Jewish crew, but he never attacked Spanish vessels because of their comparatively good treatment of Jews, focusing his ire on the Triunes and Arletians. As a result, he is unofficially encouraged by the Spanish authorities in the Caribbean who view him as a means of weakening their rivals, with them providing supplies and weapons under the table in exchange for a cut of his prizes. Tirado, laying up timbers on Dominica, is easily convinced. Although he has no experience with Romans personally, he has heard good things about their treatment of Jews and besides, that is a lot of silver.

    So on September 3 the Allies make their attack, the Romans providing the firepower while the Caribs, maroons, and Tirado provide the manpower. Meanwhile Suarez keeps everyone working together towards the common goal of getting that silver. With the Roman warships hurling fire into the fort defending the harbor, the allies, landed up the coast a few hours earlier, attack on the landward side while Kalomeros leads a trio of boats on a cutting-out expedition. With the fort distracted, they clamber aboard and after a sharp fight seize the merchantman. It turns out the silver is still in the hold.

    Meanwhile after taking the fort, the allies go on a rampage of destruction throughout the town, wrecking and burning, while parties raid across the island, snapping up slaves for resale elsewhere for additional profit. All participants get in on the action with a combined haul of over 900 slaves.

    After a few days of wrecking, raiding, and celebrating the parties break up, all very pleased with the results. Both Suarez and Tirado buy up the maroons’ and Caribs’ captured slaves, to be resold in Puerto Rico. On September 8 Kalomeros takes a Triune merchantman making its way towards the harbor, unaware of the change of owners, and Kraikos fills that with the Roman haul of slaves. Some will be sent to Jahzara for the colonists to use, while some more will be sold on in Puerto Rico as well. The Spanish there are very appreciative of the business.

    The trio of Roman ships proceed to Jahzara to wait out the worst of the storm season, procuring some supplies in Lesser Antillia afterwards, and are then back at it, expanding their activities north toward the smaller Triune holdings in the Windward Islands. They are joined by the Anaximander, driven off from Barbados by the retreating Triune relief fleet. Aside from attacks at sea, sending small raiding parties ashore to nab Triune slaves is a common practice. The price of the slaves at re-sale counts as prize money, making these expeditions popular with the Roman sailors, and is simultaneously a good way to procure favor with the Spanish and Arletians of the region. There are no major hauls here, mostly small vessels used for inter-island work, although Theseus takes a pair of ships that work between the Caribbean and the mainland colonies to the north.

    On December 9th, the Triunes manage a blow back when a frigate and sloop run in with Stingray, chasing her into Sint Eustatius, which is a Lotharingian holding. Not caring about neutrality or territorial waters, the Triune ships storm into the harbor, firing on the Stingray. Hopelessly outmatched, the Roman sloop surrenders. [13] It takes several months before news of the incident reaches the courts of Europe, prompting a protest from King Albrecht III of Lotharingia in his capital at Antwerp. Emperor Henri II does not bother to respond.

    [1] IOTL these went extinct sometime in the 1400s. ITTL they’ve lasted into the modern era.
    [2] Byzantine Greek term for a ship’s captain. Not to be confused with the army rank.
    [3] Byzantine Greek term. Squadron Commander. At this time the equivalent of a Royal Navy rear admiral.
    [4] Byzantine Greek term for First Officer or second-in-command of a warship.
    [5] This is a story from OTL, although I added the bit with the box because I couldn’t picture them counting out 17,500 dead roaches.
    [6] This is the isle of St John in the US Virgin Islands.
    [7] This is the isle of St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.
    [8] Taking the place of the OTL town of Charlotte Amalie.
    [9] Plural of skevophoron, an OTL Byzantine term for a supply vessel.
    [10] Landless samurai being hired by the Spanish in the Far East and ending up as highway patrolmen in Mexico is taken from OTL.
    [11] Giovanni di Verrazano IOTL was reported to have been killed and eaten by Carib natives of Guadeloupe.
    [12] He is based off and inspired by the OTL figure Samuel Pallache.
    [13] The action off Isla de Aves and the recapture here, including the violation of a neutral harbor, are all based off the OTL battle between USS Constitution and HMS Cyane and HMS Levant and the subsequent British recapture of HMS Levant in a Portuguese port.
     
    1633-34: The Sideroi
  • “Wherefore one who would rule, chiefly must exercise forethought.
    This and a keen-edge blade, these must suffice to maintain one.”
    -Romance of the Three Kingdoms (OTL)

    Constantinople, October 20, 1633:

    Jahzara, Empress of the Romans, sat down in her theater seat, her husband the Emperor sitting down next to her a moment later. Though they had a private box for viewing, they were not in the Imperial box. Demetrios didn’t care for it as the theater would’ve made a big deal about him being in attendance; he had little patience or liking for much of the imperial pageantry at court. And he was generally irritated with the people of Constantinople nowadays. Jahzara had some grievances of her own in that regard.

    Plus he didn’t want to make the actors nervous. So they’d taken this fancy but much less obvious seating; Demetrios’ chief secretary had made the booking in his name. Jahzara disagreed; even with her own irritation with the people of the city she was Empress and didn’t care for the temporary demotion to just another dynatos lady. But Demetrios had wanted her here with him, which was unusual and piqued her curiosity.

    She looked to the right over at her husband, somewhat surprised to see that he didn’t have a wine bottle within arm’s reach. They’d never been particularly close, and even less so after he became Emperor. The strain of the office and the times, plus resentment as he knew she’d been the prime mover behind his promotion, was the cause. She understood that and accepted it, but she was surprised that sometimes it hurt anyway. Yet she was grateful for Eudoxia; she provided the emotional comfort that Demetrios needed and she couldn’t provide. Not that she was going to tell Demetrios that. Make him sweat every now and then. So she’d been most surprised when Demetrios had invited her and not Eudoxia to the Empress Theater.

    As buildings went in Constantinople, the Empress Theater was quite young, constructed during the reign of Helena I, its first play performed in the 1580s. Jahzara remembered taking young Odysseus to see David of Mexico, written by that Romanov playwright, here.

    She looked at Demetrios again; his face seemed more relaxed than usual. “You look happy,” she observed.

    “Good news. Nikopolis capitulated at noon today. Got word through the semaphore. There’ll be an official pronouncement next morning.”

    Jahzara smiled. “That is good news.” Now Vidin was all that remained of Theodor’s ‘new empire’. “Your majesty is well rewarded for your patience.”

    “Thank you,” he replied. There’d been calls for Michael Laskaris to be recalled ever since Blucher had taken the Iron Gates in 1632, from people angry over his giving ground throughout the year despite his being outnumbered. The calls had only gotten louder after First and especially Second Ruse. And while both Demetrios and Mouzalon had backed Michael’s play, the Domestikos was well aware of the discontent, which had sometimes expanded into attacks on his character and even that of his wife’s.

    “I’ll send a personal note of congratulations to Michael tomorrow.” She’d sent one after the Domestikos had broken the siege of Ruse, but another one was definitely due.

    “That would be a really good idea,” Demetrios replied. “I’ll be sending one as well, plus the deed to a fine estate near Kyzikos.”

    “That one? Being generous, you are.”

    “He deserves it, especially after dealing with all that crap. Being called a traitor after retreating from Second Ruse…” Demetrios shook his head. “Some of these newspaper editors really should have their hands broken.” There’d been an undertone of resentment in Michael’s missives to the capital afterwards, which Jahzara understood. It also alarmed her; it was a milder version of the bitterness they were seeing in the Duke of Parma’s correspondence vis-à-vis Milan.

    While Gabras had not been the most popular of officers, there was still bitterness in the upper echelons of the army that he’d been given the sack for Nineveh while Sarantenos, the chief negotiator at Mashhadshar, was still at his post. The delegates had been dispirited and demoralized, certainly, but Gabras had said he could still hold all the lands he currently held with just his already extant forces, although for another offensive he wanted more and, at the time, unavailable men. But it’d already been decided to make the Domestikos the scapegoat, and therefore he had to be wrong and therefore the Romans couldn’t defend those lands, so logically the Romans had to give way to Iskandar’s demand for border forts they couldn’t hold anyway. So Sarantenos argued that he had just made the ‘best’ of a bad situation. Never mind that later intelligence had supported Gabras’ arguments.

    At the time even the army had been fine with leaving Gabras out in the cold, if nothing else to remove a painful memory from sight. But the sense of bitterness had still lingered under the surface. Jahzara well remembered Strategos Andronikos Abalantes, commander of the Akoimetoi on the Night of the Tocsins, and his comments about Mashhadshar men. The criticisms against Michael in 1632 and early 1633 had reawakened that bitterness.

    There were voices raised behind them, one of which sounded quite drunk. Then there was a loud thump and the sound of feet being dragged along the floor. Demetrios smiled coldly. “Must’ve been some twit who thought this was his seat. There are some perks to being Emperor.” He had two members of the Vigla in plain cloths outside the box entrance.

    The theater director stood onto the center stage, taking Demetrios’ and Jahzara’s attention away from the back. “Ladies and gentlemen,” the director said. “It is my pleasure and that of the Empress Theater to present the Spanish epic Las Sergas del Virtuoso Cavallero Esplandian!” There was a loud round of applause, both the Emperor and Empress joining in to the call.

    Jahzara was vaguely familiar with the work. A Castilian chivalric romance, it had first appeared in Toledo sometime near the end of the reign of the Good Emperor, and been made into a play some fifty years later. Translated, it was quite popular amongst Roman audiences.

    It featured a mythical Emperor of Constantinople, Esplandian, hard-pressed by the Turks. But in the work he was succored by an army of black amazons ‘of strong and hardy bodies’ who rode wild animals they’d tamed and were led by their Queen, who ruled the island of California. And between the Queen and Esplandian, they delivered Constantinople from the Turkish menace. [1]

    The play started and soon the Amazon Queen of California appeared. Jahzara squinted her eyes as she looked at the actress. From her skin tone, which looked like that of Athena and Odysseus, or Manuel I Komnenos for that matter, Jahzara would guess that she was the daughter of a Sudanese freedman or an Ethiopian, and a Roman. But other than her lighter skin tone, she was pretty much the spitting image of Jahzara at twenty-five or so.

    Her eyes narrowed even more as she looked over at her husband. He was very carefully not smiling but she spotted the twinkle in his eyes that appeared when he thought of something clever and for once wasn’t second-guessing himself.

    She smiled. “You planned this, didn’t you?”

    He shrugged. “Maybe. Another perk of being Emperor, I’d say.”

    She smiled even more, squeezing his forearm playfully. “I like this perk.” A pause. “But what do you want?”

    “I have an assignment for you.”

    She raised an eyebrow. “Need me to give a dressing-down to some impertinent official?” She’d done that several times before, as a way to help Demetrios out, but he’d never aimed her specifically at someone. He nodded. “I’m surprised you’d want to use me.”

    “Well, it’s your fault I’m Emperor, so the least you can do is help me stay Emperor.”

    Jahzara nodded and then reached over to place her right hand atop his left. “You know, I never would’ve pushed for you to take all those positions, even the Throne, if I hadn’t known you were up to the tasks. You are, and will be, a great emperor.” She squeezed his hand gently.

    There was silence between them for a moment and then he squeezed her fingers back gently. “Thank you,” he whispered, his voice a rasp.

    Some more silence passed as the two held hands. “So, who do you need me to bludgeon into not being an idiot?” Jahzara asked.

    Demetrios smiled, but gestured at the play where the Queen was marshaling her tourmai for the voyage to Constantinople. “I’ll tell you after the play.”

    * * *

    The White Palace, Constantinople, October 23, 1633:

    Jahzara grabbed a shrimp with her chopsticks and ate it. She wasn’t nearly as proficient with the chopsticks as her husband or daughter, but she could manage somewhat. Logothete Andronikos Sarantenos, on the other hand, stuck with a fork for eating his seafood pho.

    It was customary for the two of them to have lunch at least once a week. They’d been political allies since Demetrios had been appointed Eparch so it was a good way to share news and discuss strategy.

    “Any further news from the Duke of Parma?” she asked.

    “No,” he replied, sighing. “He seems interested; there are a lot of other Lombard nobles he wouldn’t mind putting down. Some war chests full of hyperpyra would go a long way towards ensuring the Lombard army would back him if he turned. On the other hand, he could just be stringing us along to try and get some intelligence and maybe trick us out of some gold too. It’s hard to say.” Jahzara nodded. “And Verrazano’s talking to Milan,” Sarantenos continued.

    She took a sip of wine. “Can’t say I’m surprised. If he can’t be Despot, maybe he could be Gonfaloniere.”

    “He’s not going to get that unless he does something of value for Cesare. Lead Mytaras into an ambush or something.”

    “Yes, but then I’m certain a Lombard gunner would ‘accidentally’ shoot Verrazano in the process.”

    Sarantenos finished eating a clump of noodles and smiled. “Most definitely. Wouldn’t consider it a great loss myself. He’d be trouble as a Despot. He’ll take that over Gonfaloniere, but he’d rather be Duke of an independent Firenze.”

    “There has to be a couple of other families we could use instead.”

    “There are two I have in mind. The problem is that if either one knows I approached the other, they’ll shout it from the top of the Duomo as an excuse to see the other house exterminated. And even if one bites, that doesn’t change the fact that Mytaras won’t be taking Firenze, making this all moot. Unless Parma turns or Mytaras gets at least 15,000 more men.”

    “Pity,” Jahzara replied. Despite the reverse on the Danube, Cesare was still refusing to yield. The Sicilians were being held at bay for now, but it was requiring all of Lombardy’s strength. Theodor meanwhile still had a sizeable army in Serbia, and Firenze had once been ruled by a Wittelsbach until Cesare’s father overthrew him. If Theodor got out of the war with an intact army while Cesare had bailed on him, the German Emperor might take it personally and decide to come pay Cesare a visit regarding that little matter.

    And there was the possibility that if Cesare bowed out, one of the Lombard grandees might use the humiliating loss of prestige to off him. Theodoros Doukas had been a mighty war leader and provided the grandees with lands and titles and moneys from his conquests across Italy. He’d vaulted Lombardy from its low after the Dantean War to its greatest heights since the high water mark of the Time of Troubles. Cesare was far less impressive. There were already low whispers against the ‘Greek king’, which wasn’t helped by the deliberate assignment of one of Cesare’s Doukid cousins as the garrison commander of Civitavecchia and another as a Kometes in the fleet blockading Genoa.

    They ate for a little while in silence. “I heard you acquired some new paintings,” Jahzara said after taking a bite of fish.

    Sarantenos nodded, finishing off a piece of octopus. “I did. Some Leo Drakos works.” That was the famous painter that had also been the brother of Andreas I’s first empress. “Early ones, paintings he’d done while still serving at the Andalusi court. One of them is a portrait of the Hammer.”

    “Impressive. They must have been quite expensive.”

    “Not as bad as you’d think. The Spanish didn’t really care for the Hammer portrait; they prefer to forget he existed.”

    “I can understand that.” A pause. “So did you pay for them with the Safavid money?”

    He paused, and then gave her a confused look. “What Safavid money?”

    She smiled coldly. “Don’t lie to me. We’re supposed to be allies.”

    “Well, alright. I didn’t pay for the Drakos works with the Safavid money, but I am getting a retainer from them. But how did you know about that?”

    “The Emperor told me.”

    “Ah,” he said, leaning back in his chair and setting his fork down. “That is a problem. I suppose I should make a generous donation to the war fund.”

    “That would be good. And make sure it’s more than what you would owe on back taxes for the amount.”

    “I’ll make sure to do that,” he said, sounding annoyed but not particularly concerned.

    Jahzara frowned a bit. She thought he should be more worried. He’s used to getting away with it; he’s not used to being watched. He’d come to power when Helena I was in her early 70s and Demetrios II had never paid much attention to the finer workings of government. Thomas Autoreianos had been too busy and then too old to notice and Andreas III had been out of the capital for most of his reign. She smiled inwardly. But he’s not used to Demetrios.

    “He also knows that you’ve been fudging the negotiation terms with Alexei.” Now he looked worried.

    “Knows, or just suspects? It is an odd situation out there, I admit.”

    Jahzara pulled out the folder she’d stashed under her chair the whole lunch, plunking it down on the table. It was at least four centimeters thick full of documents. “He knows. He’s had Leo Sideros sniffing around for some time now.” That was Demetrios’ nephew, the son of his sister the Duchess of Dalmatia and Istria. He’d helped uncover Cheilas’ shady dealings and clearly had a promising career in the Empire’s Eyes ahead of him.

    “Well, that is problematic,” Sarantenos said. His face was calm, but there was a hint of worry in his voice and more in his eyes. “But I’m certain you can intercede for me. He’ll listen to you.”

    Yes, Demetrios listens to me. Because I also know when he won’t listen. And right now he won’t listen, and even if he would, I wouldn’t try.

    “I’ll do no such thing.”

    “Why not?”

    “Firstly, you didn’t tell me about this, so this is all on your head.”

    “We’re supposed to be allies. Your husband wouldn’t even be Emperor if it weren’t for me.”

    “And for that I thank you. He won’t but I will. But now that he is Emperor, I want to make sure that he stays there and that Odysseus inherits from him. And your shenanigans are endangering that. So I’m not helping you here. You were an asset, once. But after this, no more.”

    “So you’re abandoning me.”

    “Don’t act like you’re the victim here. You knew damn well what you were doing. Between Mauromanikos and the tagmata we could’ve squeezed out of Alexei in exchange for recognizing him, we could’ve had another fifty thousand men. Fifty thousand. Imagine what we could’ve done with that.”

    The Logothete’s face hardened. “I’m an experienced senior member of the Imperial bureaucracy; my expertise is vital at a time like this.”

    “Normally my husband would agree, but after what you pulled you can’t be trusted. He wants you gone, now. But he’s willing to make it easy for you.”

    He squinted. “How?”

    “Simple. You resign. Say because of bad health. Or something. You can’t get it up anymore. He doesn’t care. I don’t care. Just resign. Retiring to a monastery to contemplate the state of your soul would be a nice touch but not required. He’ll even let you keep your pension.”

    “Why?”

    “Because you are a senior member of the bureaucracy and the Emperor doesn’t want to create a scandal right now. It would only encourage Theodor to try something next summer.” Plus he doesn’t want to deal with a big court brouhaha right now. Sarantenos had been Logothete for three decades; a lot of people were his people.

    “And if I don’t resign?”

    “Then he’ll stick you and Gabras in a locked room and walk away for five minutes.” He blanched at that. Gabras despised Sarantenos; the Logothete had done everything to besmirch the Domestikos. After all, if Gabras had been right then Sarantenos’ ceding of the border forts at Mashhadshar had been criminal negligence rather than the ‘least evil option’ as the Logothete had argued in defense of the terms he’d negotiated.

    “He wouldn’t dare.”

    “Maybe he wouldn’t, and maybe he would. But if you make this difficult for him, he’ll make it very difficult for you. As in, high treason charges. That’s a nasty way to go.” Most of the ghoulish forms of execution in Roman law had been removed to be replaced by decapitation via long knife. There were a few exceptions though, including regicide and high treason. And Romans had a very long history of coming up with horrible ways to execute someone.

    “I guess I’ll resign then.” A pause. “I’m going to miss this place.”

    “I’m sure you will. And Andronikos.”

    “Yes?”

    “Make sure your war fund donation is really big.” And enjoy your retirement, because after the war that you’ve done so much to screw up, those high treason charges will still be there.

    * * *

    1633 continued: Despite the reversal along the Danube, the year has been frustrating for Demetrios III Sideros. Most of that has to do with the people of Constantinople.

    While the quantity of newspapers by modern standards is pitifully low, the twenty-four that exist in Constantinople in the summer of 1633 is a staggeringly large number for that time. Competition is fierce for readers and each paper is forced to distinguish themselves in some way from the others in order to gain subscriptions. Hence with the news often comes polemic.

    Editors eager to make a name for themselves are responsible for most of the abuse hurled at Michael Laskaris, and they are not afraid to stoop to personal attacks. It is a good way to gain publicity. Theodoros Laskaris gets a share as well, but he is further away and thus of less interest to the readers in the capital.

    The Empire’s Eyes react with arrests and fines and dressing-downs of editors and writers in unpleasant locales, but where one stops another rises up. And now the papers sometimes attack Demetrios III, calling him a tyrant for the actions of the Empire’s Eyes. The editors seem emboldened by the comparatively light response and enjoy the notoriety they gain in Constantinople society. That said, some of the editors of other papers respond in defense of the Emperor, but it’s understandable that Demetrios III is irritated.

    That said, up to this point Demetrios has been trying to be reasonable, hoping that this all was just the case of a few cranks that would soon shut up. Aside from the fines and temporary arrests, he also encourages and supports the more agreeable papers by offering them ‘first access’ to news gathered by Imperial services. But this threatens to put the other papers out of business. Some fall into line; others double down and get even more explicit as a way to draw readers.

    And then one editor decides to really up the scales, mocking the Emperor as a whore-using cuckold and the Empress as a whore. The Eyes seize and smash the typeset of this before it can be printed, fining the editor and giving him a clear warning not to try anything in the future. The Emperor, although seething, again settles for the warning shot, thinking that will be enough. But the editor, more ingenious than intelligent, “drunk for fame” as Athena describes him, had an extra hidden typeset and manages to get a small batch printed and distributed two days later.

    Demetrios III Sideros hits the roof. Many note that while he is irritated by the personal attacks on himself, it is the slandering of Jahzara that really sets him off. And he is done. If the velvet glove didn’t work, then it’ll be the iron fist instead. By noon, ten newspaper editors or writers are in jail, including the editor and writer responsible for the personal attacks.

    Those two are charged and convicted of lèse-majesté, while the other eight are charged and convicted of sedition and treason. The argument is that they have aided and abetted the enemy by slandering the Domestikoi and thereby demoralizing the soldiers at the fronts. The argument is tenuous but Demetrios has had enough of all this and is going to make an example.

    Demetrios, in an act of clemency, changes their sentences to death by long knife rather than the much more torturous executions that can be applied for those crimes. But the morning after that article was printed, the people of Constantinople awake to find ten heads on pikes in the middle of the Forum of Konstantinos, where the bodies of prominent criminals are typically hung as a warning to others. There is the origin of the Roman slang term ‘forum breakfast’, meaning a grisly end brought on largely by one’s own stupidity or stubbornness.

    Demetrios III doesn’t have any further trouble with the newspapers after that, which because of competition whittle themselves down to five, including the Imperial Herald. It must be pointed out that the majority of editors and writers did not resort to such scurrilous tactics. But the whole affair decidedly sours the Emperor’s opinion of the capital.

    More issues come from the diversion of Scythian grain shipments to the Danube to alleviate the famine there. To forestall shortages in the capital the Emperor implemented short-term rationing. Even though it lasts only a month, Demetrios is booed in the Hippodrome for it.

    There is also continual discontent over the tax brackets from the richer taxpayers, who also resent Demetrios’ efforts to cut down on tax evasion. There is some suspicion, although it is never proven, that discontented dynatoi financed the personal attacks on Demetrios and Jahzara. But what is definitely true is that some start trying to make contact with Theodor to offer their support, who is quite ready to receive it and promises to restore the ‘Helena I’ style tax system.

    Demetrios is furious but also not surprised. He has the example of the central Anatolian dynatoi who defected to Bayezid III during the Time of Troubles to protect their property and in many cases converted to Islam. As a proportion of the upper class, their numbers are still quite small but it is immensely frustrating for Demetrios who knows their missives are music to Theodor’s ears, encouraging him on his course. So when a pair of dynatoi are convicted of treason for corresponding with Theodor, he lets them have the whole horrific execution meted out to those who betray the Empire. The people of Constantinople, who despise these traitors to the Empire and the Orthodox faith, enjoy the show.

    His daughter Athena has had a more relaxing time of it. While her husband is off at the wars, she spends the winter and spring in Constantinople but come summer she is off touring Bithynia with friends. (Her daughter is left in the care of the White Palace nursery.) One of her traveling companions is her faithful Illyrian mountain dog, highly devoted to her to the point that he has to be locked away when she goes swimming, because he’ll try to rescue her from drowning.

    During the summer, she and one of her friends come across a peasant being taken away for burial, but with no family or friends or mourners there. So the two follow along to the burial and pray for him, so that he is not buried un-mourned and without prayers for his soul.

    On a different note, in early September she is staying at a villa on the shores of Lake Askania, opposite of Nicaea. While in her room brushing her hair, she saw in the mirror that there was a man under her bed. She told her maid that she’d accidentally left her fan in the ballroom and wrote out a note for her to give to the ballroom servant to retrieve the fan. However the note was actually saying that there was a man hiding under her bed.

    The maid took the note and left to get help. Athena meanwhile, being bold and teasing, sat on the bed, humming a tune. With her feet dangling over the side, she slowly removed one stocking, pushing her leg back so that it was almost in the man’s face. She then did the same with the other stocking.

    Then help arrived and pulled the man out from under the bed, who turned out to be a fairly famous bandit. Kneeling before Athena, he asked for one favor before he was taken away, telling her that the sight of her feet right in front of him had driven him nearly mad and asked to be allowed to kiss them. She stretched out each leg, one at a time, and he kissed both feet repeatedly. As he was being taken away, he said “Goodbye, milady. I am proud to think that both you and I are Romans.” [2]

    * * *

    The White Palace, Constantinople, December 24, 1633:

    Demetrios frowned, looking at the paper, then angrily scratched out a couple of words, writing a few different ones above it. It felt good to dive back in the past, where the peoples and crises and problems were all nicely dead and substantially less annoying, but he was using this for the present crisis and so he needed it to be just right. He sighed, drank some more wine, and rubbed his temples.

    Then he smelled it.

    Getting up to follow the scent, he opened the door to the study and entered the main area of his living quarters. His daughter Athena was there, next to the table, on which was a large pan from which was coming the aroma.

    His seventeen-year-old daughter had a large smirk on her face that made her look a lot like her mother when he’d married Jahzara, in what seemed like a wholly different era. “Works every time,” she said.

    “Quiet you,” he said as he sat down next to the pan. It was full of his daughter’s ball-shaped kourabiedes, a type of shortbread made with almonds and a lot of sugar coating, made to the recipe attributed to Anna I Laskarina of all people. A decidedly newer addition though was the bowl full of very-warm chocolate frosting. Some people might disapprove of that; Demetrios III Sideros was fine with executing such people. He took a bite. So much sugar…So much chocolate… “This is divine.”

    “Got you out of your study awfully quick,” Athena said, sitting down to eat another in the pan.

    “I needed a break anyway.” Athena looked at him skeptically as he licked powdered sugar off his lips. “I don’t know why you doubt me.”

    “I’ve known you a long time.”

    “Yeah, but I’ve known you longer.”

    “No, you haven’t. You met me the same time I met you,” Athena countered.

    “But you don’t remember the first few years. I do.”

    “Ah, but I’ve known you my entire life, while you haven’t. Therefore, I win.”

    “I don’t think it works that way, yet I’m too hungry to figure out a counter-argument.” Athena smirked again. “Where did you learn to argue like that?”

    “From you.”

    “Oh, right. Figures.” She beamed a sugar-coated grin at him.

    “Speaking of arguments, I have a present for you.”

    “That statement makes no sense,” she replied as he stood up.

    “I know,” he answered as he went to the corner of the room where he had the box. “But ever since I named that pool the Piranha Pool people are starting to think I’m crazy, so I figure I’ll just own it.”

    He set the box down on the table. “You know it’s early,” Athena replied. Normally gifts were given on January 1, St Basil’s day, not on Christmas proper. [3]

    “I’m the Emperor. I can do what I want. Anyone who disagrees can go swim in the Piranha Pool, which may or may not be stocked.”

    “So what’s in it?”

    “I was thinking piranhas, but then I realized giving you flesh-eating fish would be a terrible idea. So here’s a different implement of destruction, not that you need the help.” He opened the box.

    “They’re beautiful,” she said, hefting one of the two kyzikoi in her right hand. They were flintlock gunpowder weapons, a foot long with ivory handles. Finely polished, they were inlaid with silver etching outlining the Lion of Ethiopia on one side of the handle and the Eagle of Rhomania on the other. In gold was writ ‘Athena Siderina’. “Perfectly balanced too.”

    “I had them hand-crafted by the Vigla master gunsmith just for you.”

    “So that’s why he wanted all those measurements when I was down on the range.” Demetrios nodded. His daughter had been practicing with kyzikoi from the Vigla armory, amongst other weaponry. “Still not that good of a shot.”

    “Better than me.” He took another bite of chocolate-sugar goodness. “Try not to shoot anybody I like.”

    “That’s a short list.”

    “Quite true.”

    They each took another piece of shortbread, chewing on them silently, so they heard the sounds of children caroling outside the walls of the White Palace. They listened to it; it was faint and the words indistinct, but they could make out the melody. That was enough. “Peace on earth,” Athena whispered. “Do you think it’ll happen anytime soon?”

    “Not likely.” Another bite. “But you never know.”

    They sat and listened to the carols on the wind, eating the kourabiedes until they were gone and all the chocolate frosting wiped up.

    “Merry Christmas, father,” Athena said.

    He smiled. “Merry Christmas, Athena.”

    * * *

    1634: After Sarantenos retires on grounds of ‘ill health’, although not before giving a hefty donation to the treasury for use in the war effort, Demetrios also gently pushes out Megas Logothete Thomas Autoreianos. While he still greatly respects his old mentor, this issue is far too large for him to just ignore. As a sop for his retirement, his grandson Alexios Autoreianos is appointed Kephale of Corfu.

    Meanwhile as replacements Demetrios appoints Megas Kouaistor Alexios Komnenos as his new Megas Logothete. While fond of fine food, which shows in his girth, he has a deserved reputation for being personally incorruptible and he has almost as much experience in the upper echelons of the Roman government as Sarantenos did. Both make him attractive to Demetrios, who also remembers the Kouaistor fondly for his efforts in clearing his name after the issues with Mashhadshar and the Cheilas allegations.

    To replace Sarantenos he appoints Manuel Tzankares, who has been throughout his career in the Foreign Department an ambassador to the Vlach, Georgian, Spanish, and Ottoman courts. Despite that long career, he was not one of Sarantenos’ prime appointments, which is another selling point in the Emperor’s eyes.

    The first task of Tzankares is to do a proper negotiation with Alexei. Although the Emperor is still annoyed with him even after discovering Sarantenos’ misdeeds, he also recognizes that Alexei is the popular choice of much of the Georgian establishment. If Roman-Georgian relations are to be restored to their ‘proper’ setting, it has to be through Alexei.

    Part of the diplomatic package going to Alexei is Demetrios III’s latest historical work, The Life of Konstantin the Great. It is a biography of the King of Imereti who reunified the Georgian lands after they’d been shattered by the Mongol invasions. Alexei has a particular fondness of this one of his ancestors, using him to bolster his native Georgian credentials in contrast to the Safavids, an Azeri family. A major feature of the work is the great prominence Demetrios gives to the Roman-Georgian alliance of the time, in which 2000 Georgian troops played an important part in the Laskarid re-conquest of Anatolia.

    Alexei is quite open to such overtures, especially as Demetrios’ terms are most mild. Anna Drakina, Regent for her now-toddler son Konstantin IV, will be granted 250,000 hyperpyra by the Roman Emperor as compensation for her losses. Alexei meanwhile will recompense the Emperor for his expense in five yearly installments.

    Konstantin IV will ‘renounce’ his claims on leaving Georgia and be settled in Roman Europe and at the ages of 12 and 20 will be required to publicly renounce them again in audience at the White Palace. If he attempts to return to Georgia, per the terms he will be considered an outlaw in the Roman Empire and treated as such.

    Alexei will also have to promise no retribution towards the Abkhazians who fought in Mauromanikos’ army against Alexei.

    Recognizing that these are excellent terms, Alexei promptly agrees, also pledging to provide sixteen thousand men to fight against either the Ottomans or the Allies once ‘Anna and Konstantin have vacated the lands of the Kingdom of Georgia and her supporters have disarmed’. This is to encourage Demetrios to put pressure on Anna to capitulate.

    That turns out not to be necessary. Recognizing that her last hope for victory is gone with the treaty between Demetrios and Alexei, she gives in and also accedes to the treaty of Tbilisi, although not before securing clemency for her followers.

    And so the war ends, although not quite as quietly as the above would suggest. When spring in 1634 arrives and it comes time for Mauromanikos to break camp to return to the Empire, Alexei and many of his men arrive in Poka. Together the Romans and Georgians have what has been called “the party of the seventeenth century.”

    To most Romans this is not a surprise. On the one hand there are the Georgians, and many on the Roman side are Pontics. They have a stereotype in the Empire of being impertinent and ornery, but also very fun-loving. There is a common saying to the present day in Rhomania: “if at the end of it all you’re up and not down, then it isn’t a party like in Trebizond town.”

    Aside from the numerous toasts to peace and eternal friendship (due to the lack of serious fighting and the good behavior of the Roman soldiery, little damage has been done on the ground to Roman-Georgian relations), there is some fighting. Specifically there are a lot of games of cannonball played outside of the town.

    Cannonball is a ball game reportedly invented by the Metropolitan of Trebizond, who went on to become Patriarch Matthaios II under Andreas II and Helena I, during the siege of Trebizond as a way of boosting morale. He also reportedly bet heavily on the outcome of the games. By this stage it is highly popular throughout eastern Anatolia and Georgia.

    In cannonball there are two teams, each with their own goal, with the objective of getting the ball into the opponent’s goal as many times as possible, the team with the most points winning. The ball can be moved with any part of the body, so long as it is not held or carried.

    The Metropolitan, being a devious sort, didn’t stop there. One half of the ball is painted a bright color (not standardized at this point), and that half cannot be touched during the game. If a player does, they cannot use the limb they used during the rest of the game, and if the bright portion touches their torso or head, the player is considered ‘dead’ and is removed. A ‘dead’ player cannot be replaced on the field. (To prevent cheating, sometimes the painted side is given a fresh coat so that if touched, bits of paint will stick to the player or their clothing.)

    The goalies are called ‘strategoi’ and each team is given three special gloves that go up to the elbow. These gloves cannot touch the ball at all but they can be used to grab the opposing strategos; no other part of the player’s body can touch the strategos. If a team can drag an enemy strategos over to their goal, it counts as a capture and an automatic win. Of course other players will intervene to defend their strategos and oftentimes fights will break out, which according to many players and spectators is the point and half the fun.

    * * *

    The White Palace, Constantinople, March 1, 1634:

    Demetrios looked over the paper, rubbed his temples, and sighed. He wasn’t sure what to do. He hadn’t been sure what to do with this for a while. He’d discussed this both with the Megas Domestikos and the Domestikos of the West several times. Their arguments made logical sense to him, and this was a military matter. All he knew about soldiering were things that he’d picked up from military men throughout his career, both strategoi as Emperor and kastrophylaxes while a Kephale. So he wasn’t completely clueless, but he was painfully aware of his ignorance. They knew far more about such things than him, and he knew it. He’d deferred to their judgment in the past for that very reason, so it made sense to just continue to do so here.

    And yet…

    His instinct was saying otherwise. He’d done as much of a character study of Theodor as he could, reading his favorites works, trying to think like him, even getting a hold of some of his own writings as aids. There were reports from the Office of Barbarians that he’d read and reread, which had helped, although none were as close to the object as he would’ve liked. And after all of that, his instinct was saying this was something Theodor would try given his circumstances. It said that he, Demetrios Sideros, was right and his strategoi were wrong.

    And yet…

    Mouzalon and Laskaris had access to the exact same information as Demetrios had; they even had his commentary on some of the material. And they still thought, respectfully, that he was wrong. There was Blucher to consider, after all, and Demetrios admitted he knew much less about how Blucher thought than Theodor. So it made sense to stay out of areas that weren’t his expertise and let Mouzalon and Laskaris handle the situation as they saw best.

    And yet…

    There was Blucher to consider, but Theodor was the Emperor of the Germans. His was the word, the will, which mattered at the end of the day. At least, Demetrios preferred to think that. If it were otherwise, that suggested things about his own position that he’d rather avoid. And in that case, Demetrios was right and his strategoi were wrong.

    And yet…

    Theodor listened to Blucher. The German Emperor had accompanied the Allied army when it was actively campaigning and was, on-paper, the commander. Yet everyone knew that it was Blucher’s commands that counted. On the ground, it was Blucher’s army. In which case, his word and will were what mattered. And in that case, Demetrios should shut up and let his strategoi run the war.

    And yet…

    Demetrios sighed and rubbed his temples. He was going in circles. Again. He could order Mouzalon and Laskaris to do as he commanded; he was the Emperor after all. But just because he could, that didn’t mean he should. In the military field, they knew far more than he.

    And yet…

    He’d interfered with Theodoros Laskaris out east. But that had been because there were politics and economics involved, not just warfare. The slow destruction of the rebels by slave raids was proving a nice little boost to the exchequer, and by keeping it steady rather than flooding the market, the price and the profit therefore kept up. So it’d made sense to hold Theodoros back, in this instance.

    And yet…

    Perhaps he was being overly clever out east. Theodoros was arguing strongly, on military grounds, for crushing Ibrahim now. What did it matter, after all, what Theodor or Blucher thought if they’d run into 150,000+ Roman soldiers when they tried it? If so, that strongly suggested he’d had no grounds for interfering with his Domestikos of the East and so he shouldn’t interfere with his Domestikos of the West.

    And yet…

    There, he’d started again. I need a drink. He’d been trying to cut back; it was hard to resist combined appeals from Jahzara, Eudoxia, and Athena. But one was really tempting right now.

    He picked up the piece of paper, somehow knowing that this was the decision he was going to make even before he’d made this circle of argument. He underlined the pertinent passage. “This is merely our opinion based on our analysis. We request that it is considered thoughtfully but it is NOT an order.” It seemed a good compromise, but oftentimes compromises was just an outcome that both sides hated, rather than an actual solution. Plus he wasn’t sure if this actually counted as a decision on his part.

    Just stop already.

    Good idea.

    He picked up another piece of paper and sighed. It was plans for a new School of War campus, to be set up on the outskirts of Ainos, part of a system to re-develop that organization. At the bottom was an approval signature.

    Andreas III Doukas Laskaris Komnenos Drakos

    It’d been signed just two months before his far-too-early death. Demetrios sighed. You know, it would’ve been far better for everyone if you’d stayed alive. That was unfair; it wasn’t like Andreas III had planned to die so young. He’d had plans, great plans. Demetrios should know; he’d helped draft into tangible form some of the ideas for reform. If Andreas III had lived, all those reforms could’ve been implemented and without any war or one Demetrios sitting on the throne of Caesars.

    He sighed. This wasn’t helping him. Andreas III had died and now he was Emperor. Damnit. He set the paper down. It was a good idea and Demetrios approved, but now was not the time.

    He got up and left his study.

    Outside, in the main area of his Imperial office rather than his private personal study, was Nikolaios Philommates, his Epi tou kanikleiou, the ‘keeper of the Imperial inkstand’, his senior private secretary. He was busy itemizing documents in piles that were ‘you can just sign at the bottom’, ‘you should read this before signing this’, and ‘seriously, you need to read this before signing it’ piles. It was a system they’d had for a while. Demetrios made sure to vet Nikolaios’ selections periodically, but they’d worked together since he’d been a brand-new Eparch and trusted his secretary’s judgment.

    Demetrios opened his mouth. “You want me to send a message to your daughter saying you feel like going shooting,” Nikolaios said.

    “Am I that predictable?”

    “Sometimes. But even if you weren’t, I was going to suggest it. You need a break.” A hint of a smile appeared on his face. “Besides, I can run the Empire for a little while.”

    Demetrios smiled a little back. “When you put it that way, it sounds sort of like treason, you know.”

    Nikolaios shrugged. “I’m not worried.”

    “You should be.”

    “Ah, but you don’t know where I keep the forms for executing people.”

    “This is true. Rather smart on your part.” Nikolaios smirked a bit.

    Demetrios handed him the paper over which he’d been agonizing. “Please see to it that copies are sent to the Megas Domestikos and the Domestikos of the West.”

    Nikolaios nodded. “I’ll take care of it right away, and see to it that your daughter gets your message as well.”

    “Thank you, Nikolaios.”

    “You’re welcome, your Majesty.”

    * * *

    Bithynia, March 4, 1634:

    Nikephoros Mamonas, Droungarios of the Vigla, sneezed. It was a crisp day, a bit warm for March, and he thought it rather pleasant. Although today was definitely going to be an interesting day; that was guaranteed considering where he was and with whom.

    He was Range-Master for the day at the training grounds here west of the Sweet Waters of Asia. The sprawling agricultural park and Imperial resort was half-a-day’s walk away; they’d swung by there on the way from Constantinople, giving him the opportunity to see the new greenhouses they’d constructed, reportedly using a Korean heating method.

    But the vegetables there weren’t what would make the day interesting. This was a gunnery range commonly used by the Optimatic tagma, and sometimes by the Vigla as well. But it wasn’t common for the Emperor and Emperor’s daughter to be the ones using the range.

    Princess Athena fired off a shot at her target down-range. “C2,” said her spotter after lowering his dalnovzor. The targets were large paper sheets, with four concentric rings around the bull’s eye, labeled A, B, C, and D, and divided into four quadrants. So C2 was a hit in the third ring, upper right quadrant. Athena muttered something under her breath and started reloading her rifle, the sound of her mallet hitting the ramrod to hammer the bullet down the muzzle soon filling the air.

    The Emperor fired off a shot. “D3,” his spotter said.

    Demetrios looked at his daughter, who looked a little too innocently back at him. “Don’t say anything.”

    “I didn’t say anything.”

    “But you were thinking it.”

    “Yes, but I didn’t say it.”

    Athena fired off another shot. “C1.” Another muttered oath that Nikephoros suspected was an Ethiopian curse.

    Demetrios fired again. “D3.”

    “Again? Figures,” the Emperor muttered, adding something that was definitely an Ethiopian curse. More hammering as the Emperor loaded his rifle.

    Athena shot again. “B4.”

    “Nice,” Athena said, smirking at her father.

    “Still only a B,” he retorted as he pulled out the ramrod.

    “Better than a D3.” She looked at Nikephoros. “I bet that’s what he gets.”

    “Um, no comment.” The Emperor and Athena would sass each other regularly even while others were around, but that didn’t mean it was open invitation for said others to join.

    “Wise man,” Demetrios growled.

    He looked at the target and then at the gun. “Ah, the hell with it.” He put the rifle butt to his right hip, kicked up a bit with his right leg, and pulled the trigger.

    “A1,” his observer said. Athena gaped at him.

    “Are you serious?” Demetrios asked.

    “Yes, sir. A1. Perfect shot.”

    “I might’ve known,” Demetrios snarled, rubbing his hip and upper thigh. He handed the rifle to his spotter. “Time for something different.” Athena’s ears perked up. Nikephoros sighed.

    He had long since decided that the most disturbing sound he’d ever heard was the Emperor’s evil laugh, such as now when his Imperial Majesty was gesturing at a group of servants and guards to start pushing a three-pounder mikropur into position for use on the range. While they did that, Nikephoros gestured at the range attendants to change out the targets.

    The gun was in position. “Range-master?” Demetrios asked. “Are we clear?”

    Nikephoros took up a green flag and waved it twice over his head. On the other side, his assistant made the same motion. “Range clear,” he answered.

    “Range clear,” Demetrios repeated.

    He and his daughter set to loading the weapon. It was slow going because it was just the two, but they knew what to do, having done this before. And while they wanted help moving the gun into place, loading and especially shooting the cannon was reserved only for the two Imperials.

    Athena finished loaded and Demetrios sighted the gun. She came up, sighted it too, and made a minuscule adjustment. Demetrios checked, nodded agreement, and the two played rock-paper-scissors, a game gotten from the Japanese, to decide who got to actually fire the cannon. Athena won.

    Despite that, both were smiling like mischievous children. Which, when it came to firing cannon, they really were. Nikephoros sighed again as Athena took up the slow-burning taper. “Fire!” Demetrios barked and Athena lit the touch-hole.

    But he had to admit…The cannonball smashed squarely into the center of the target, punching through the paper’s center and smashing its wooden supports to kindling, then plowing on to bury itself in the thick earthen berm that was the back of the range…the two were much better shots with the cannon.


    [1] This is an OTL work, appearing in Seville in 1510, and yes, that is the plot and supposedly the real land of California is named after the location in the romance. All the information is taken from “Samuel Eliot Morison, The European Discovery of America: The Southern Voyages 1492-1616 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974), 617.”

    [2] The faithful dog (although it was a Newfoundland), the peasant burial, and the robber under the bed (including the entire interaction and parting phrase, just replacing Spaniards with Romans) are all taken from the OTL life of Eugenia del Montijo, otherwise known as the Empress Eugenie. All the information is taken from “Jasper Ridley, Napoleon III and Eugenie (New York: The Viking Press, 1979), 150, 160, 171-72.

    [3] ITTL, all Orthodox continue to celebrate Christmas on December 25, as the switch-over from the Julian to the Demetrian calendar (TTL’s Gregorian calendar) was done under the auspices of the Roman Emperor and Orthodox Church.
     
    Last edited:
    Charalambos Caldonridis
  • So this is a special extra update. I didn't write it except for some small additions. It is the creation of @Duke of Nova Scotia so he deserves the credit. Hope you all enjoy.

    Charalambos Caldonridis
    By: Duke of Nova Scotia
    The Sweet Waters of Asia, March 4, 1634:

    A muffled ‘Thud’ of a gate being dropped between two posts of a paddock fence seemed to accent the quiet of the morning. A man scratched the back of the last draught horse sleepily trotting past him to the fresh clover shoots, dandelions, and grasses at which the other three were already contently grazing. Watching the beasts enjoy their breakfast though was a fleeting reprieve from the headache it was to convince his superior, one Amenas Gabalas, “Chief Park Steward and Administrator of The Sweet Waters of Asia”, to import Arlesian Percherons. A mouthful of a title for a contrary man with always a lot to say. The arguing it took to bring in these four animals was enough to leave the young man near breathless. Luckily, he knew his boss well enough; he’d developed the patience and stamina to wear him down. He just wished it didn’t take so damned long every time he had an idea!

    To be fair to his boss, Gabalas had to deal with the army requisitioning a good portion of the Sweet Water’s stock last year, so these four had been quite generous once Charalambos had talked him around. Still, he wouldn’t complain if there was less cajoling needed in the future.

    Charalambos Caldonridis turned and headed up the path that rounded the paddock on its left, ascending towards the trout pond at the top of the low rise. Reaching a bench beside the pool, he paused and turned east. The sun broke over the far hills, a wave of warmth and life flooding the valley below, the Potamion river glimmering like a lazy snake shaking off the sleepiness of the night. Charalambos scanned over the grounds before him, low hanging orchards stretching along the riverside, with groves of trees dotting the landscape with an almost checkerboard pattern. ‘For all his stubbornness, Megas Pronoetes Gabalas knew his trees,’ he thought.

    On one of the hills at the southern end was a small pavilion, which held the finest lookout in the whole estate. Reportedly it’d been a favorite spot for both the Empress Helena I and one Eparch Demetrios Sideros. And in earlier, more evil times, the red tents of Sultan Bayezid III had been posted there, visible from the White Palace itself.

    Thinking of happier things, his eyes drifted further behind that hill to where he couldn’t see, save for memory. He had taken propagations from Gabalas’s apple and pear trees, without the curmudgeon knowing, and planted them in a little pocket beside his modest cabin. His boss had sowed clover and onions beneath his own trees, which looked neat and organized, and to be fair, also helped with keeping the soil refreshed and pests down.

    Meanwhile Charalambos had planted mint, rosemary, peas, and gourds in addition to the clover and onions. To the untrained eye it looked like a mess but to Charal there was a layered structure of defence and fertilizing, his “tourmai and Vigla” he would joke to his fellow wardens. Every warden on tour was granted the right to tend a personal garden on patches of imperial lands, size varying depending on level of seniority, while on contract with the park. The park even paid for the tools to build and tend vegetable beds which was a perk. Although if the Emperor wanted your garlic for his dinner rolls, you’d better provide it without complaint.

    The trees however on each warden’s personal patch were a different matter. The trees themselves were still Imperial property, regardless of the planter, so a warden would be liable for damages to them but their fruit was the direct property of the grower. However a tithe of all the fruit from the Sweet Waters, both Imperial and the wardens’ personal, had to go to the Monastery of St Mary of the Mongols, a bequest from Demetrios II. And then taxes were owed on the sale of the remaining fruit. Charal figured when the time came and fruit could be harvested, he would just give it to the Pronoetes discreetly.

    There were better opportunities for money-making; the physicians of Nicaea and the capital were always in need of herbs from the gardens. The wardens were also granted a permit to sell any excess (non-fruit) harvest tax-free to local grocers, which was gratifying for his money bag. An Imperial park warden earned respect for his necessary duties, including overseeing the great Pontic forests that still provided a sizeable portion of the navy’s stores. But a warden’s pay wasn’t so respectable; one needed to make Pronoetes (Supervisor) for that to change.

    But he couldn’t complain too much. The harvest sales had been very helpful for his father and youngest brother. From the profit Father had bought four of the war popes, which had been most handy when the Optimatic press officer had come rolling through the village. They’d left Michael alone.

    Charal was a different sort from the other wardens who typically hailed from Bithynia or Thrakesia with a smattering of Cilician Armenians. His grandfather was a Scot who made his way south after being sent away due to a blood feud, became a Varangian, and retired to a small village in the Optimaton theme not too far from here. His father would lecture how ‘he and his father’ didn’t build a (moderately) successful trading company by putting their money into other people’s hands. Business was never something that interested him, all the pluses and minuses made life look zero sum to him.

    Thankfully his father was pragmatic enough to see that his younger siblings had more of a taste for the family business. His brother and sister have been growing their networks a little more each market day, as their father handed off the responsibilities. The biggest inclination he ever had was the goods they imported; they brought in one of the widest varieties for only having 6 stalls in the surrounding area, one in Nicaea to his father's pride, and finally their own warehouse on the Nikomedian docks. They were comfortable to say the least, and his father was able to indulge Charal’s hobbies and inquiries. When he showed a desire to want to garden, his father had the east lawn of the family estate tilled and his choice of seed stock from wherever it could be reached. That was when he discovered the potato.

    This mystical plant from beyond the Atlas, further away than Rhomania-in-the-East, in the almost mythical Kingdom of Mexico. Potatoes were still viewed with cautious eyes, from ignorance, and the fact few had used them. It didn’t help that apparently Dutch traders had introduced them into Germany recently and, on the instigation of Lady Elizabeth, former Empress of Andreas III no less, were being used to help provision the armies of her brother.

    Charal understood the unsavory association that gave the potato; he also found it irrelevant. Latins ate wheat and barley bread, and were huge consumers of malmsey wine, one of the common items in his father’s inventories. Romans used them as well, so why not the potato too?

    After planting the two varieties his father gifted him, and the subsequent second planting the following season, Charal could see the potential for this plant. Resilient to moderate drought, it grew in hills and mountains, and so far after testing in the kitchen, could be baked, boiled, or mashed. On top of its different flavour, which to a latin’s palate could be described as non-flavour, but to him it was subtly sweet, and nutty.

    He would have liked to have a conversation with the people who grew the tuber in the New-world. Nothing beat experience; alas though any who had made the journey to the Old-world either died of illness, or were such high profile they never left the courts of the nobility.

    Here his Rhoman ignorance arose, figuring the nobility of the Inca would be as invested in their land’s production as those of his home. Andreas III in his surveys had invigorated the desire of the nobility to improve the productivity of their holdings through the sharing of farming pamphlets, court incentives, and all-around browbeating to be loyal providers of The Empire. It was a matter of growing concern. Repeated bad harvests in Syria had been a serious problem during the Eternal War and the Empire’s population had grown over 50% in the last eighty years. Scythian and Egyptian grain could only be relied upon for so much.

    The sounds of some of the other wardens and a seriously irritated mule brought his mind back to more immediate concerns. There was a hustle around the communal hall a day before; the Emperor Demetrios III and his daughter the Princess Athena were going to be stopping through Sweet Waters. The wardens were posturing amongst themselves how their own tulips were going to be picked for the imperial table. Charal rolled his eyes at these conversations. He knew from reading about the man that Demetrios III was not one for fancy decor and expensive flowers. “Function is the form” was Charal’s favourite quote from him, and said volumes about his mind.

    He found he was feeling, while a loyal Rhoman, and a private fan of the Emperor, apathetic. His cynicism had told him that there was not a chance to be in his presence, let alone see him, while he was visiting. Pronoetes Gabalas however would be the Emperor’s guide which made Charal green with envy however. If anything were to be picked it would likely be his prize horses; they were arguably the strongest in the park and would make a fine addition to the imperial stud ranches. His quiet pride however knew the emperor would be drawn to the secret experiment Pronoetes Garabas and himself were working on. The Pronoetes had lent him a pamphlet on a technique from the Far East months ago. That in itself wasn’t a shock; for all his cragginess the man shared everything he could with his subordinates. It was the secrecy with which he shared this with Charal. The conversation between the two made him smile still. ‘The old man played me like a lyre’ he thought.

    Ten months ago:

    “What do you know about cocoa, Charalambos?” Garabas asked nonchalantly over the lunch of pickled beets, smoked fish and salad.

    “It is from Mexico, has invigorating properties, is the Emperor's favourite treat, and impossible to grow here.”

    The aged Pronoetes chuckled into his cup. “What about Kaffos?” An inquiring glace over said cup at the young man made Charal sit up a bit. This wasn’t simple conversation about the park and exotics.

    Charal took a settling breath. “Ethiopia's biggest export: it grows well in its warm climate and acidic soil, but not so much on the Aegean islands. Markos Tyrinos nearly bankrupted his sugar empire trying to grow it in Krete. From what I’ve read the climate isn’t stable enough temperature wise and he used lime at the wrong times. And like cocoa, impossible to grow here. Not to mention it fuels the White Palace.”

    The last comment made Pronoetes Garabas laugh out loud now.

    “A quick tongue tends to mean a quick mind, I always appreciated that about you Charal,” he said through smiling eyes.

    His boss had never been so informal before. While it was routine for him to dine with his wardens, he despised sitting and reading reports, and he had never called him Charal before. The personal compliment was the hammer blow to the bull for him. It wasn’t rare for Garabas to say ‘Good Job’ when there was a good job done, but this was far closer to an uncle enjoying the company of a favoured nephew. For once he was completely disarmed by the old man he argued with so much with.

    The Pronoetes saw this and attacked. “I’ve read about some ideas from the east. It involves heating similar to a hypocaust system, in a wattle and daub structure. Its roof however is made of oiled cloth to let light through.” On the last bit, he pulled a small pamphlet from his inside pocket. “I’d like you to read this, but please, please, do not share this with anyone. I know you are not a braggart or a loner, yet you relish in being aloof at times, so I know that it isn’t going to be hard for you to do that.”

    Receiving the booklet Charal started to flip through, noticing the writing and diagrams were all hand drawn, causing him to raise an eyebrow subconsciously.

    “I got it from a friend in New Constantinople, who translated it for me. It originally was in Japanese I think,” the Pronoetes mentioned noticing the young man's piqued interest. “Take the week to read it; we will be building one starting this Saturday coming. The clearing near ‘our’ apple trees, beside your cabin I think, would be the perfect spot. Good sun, minimal wind, and able to be under your daily watch.” Charal became very quiet at the mention of the trees, and tried to act like he was absorbed by the gift. He was never much of an actor.

    “Relax Charal, they are healthier than mine and their yield heavier. The only part that annoyed me was you not sharing your notes on their ground covers. I never thought of mint and rosemary before.” Feeling the tension leave his shoulders he looked up, as a child would after being told they did the right thing just the wrong way about it.

    “I was experimenting, and would have preferred to share the successes,” he replied sheepishly.

    “My boy, how can we figure what it is that went wrong with the failures if all we discuss are our successes? You are one of the few who sees the greater picture of our job. Yes the navy has its supply of materials, yes the White Palace has its ornate gardens, but it is in our beds that we discover new ways to feed our countrymen, new flowers and herbs that can help treat illnesses. What we do here is secure our empire’s ability to be an empire for her people. I truly believe that. I didn’t get my posting because of family, or favours. Andreas III, God rest his soul, chose me because while working in the White Palace, I had started to plant vegetables and herbs in the Garden of Helena. Not because the kitchen needed them, but the plants did. The man was on a leisure and noticed the brassicas and enquired. I explained they protected the soil and how that was important for the water in it. Next thing I knew we were on a bench having wine and food brought, having a discussion on the foods of the empire. It was shortly after that he made me Chief Park Steward and Administrator. Charal, if I were to drop tomorrow, the only person my soul would be content with taking over my life's work is you.”

    The old man softly shared with damp eyes looking out the window. Then with a clearing of his throat and in his usual gruff voice, “Be well rested, I expect you to be familiar with the diagrams and principles by this coming Saturday Charalambos Caldonridis, we have serious hard work ahead of us, and I’m 72.”

    Present:

    He was finishing his breakfast of a smoked ham monem, still in his mouth as he put on his warden’s apron of leather and canvas, and looking out the window at the indigo and saffron tones splayed out from the horizon. He thought, ‘this is going to be a beautiful day’. He glanced over his shoulder to a shelf on the north wall. A fine hand-beaten silver vessel sat upon it with a matching percolator. The canister was impressive compared to the usual contents of his modest, if one was polite, two room cabin, but its value was still paltry compared to what was stored inside the canister.

    It was a present for his recent 30th birthday from his father. He’d joked this was easier as he was terrible at wrapping, which was true. Inside was the real gift, a thin leather bag with the Royal seal of Ethiopia stamped into it with red dye. Only two items found their way to Rhome from Ethiopia with such a seal; he had an abhorrence to slavery, so that only meant Kaffos. And with the red dye, Imperial grade Kaffos. Grown on plantations owned personally by the Negusa Nagast, it was the only brand of kaffos that could be served in the palace at Gonder. In Rhomania, only dynatoi, Nea-Aneres (New-Men), and the Emperor could afford it. He would open it now and then just to breathe in the aroma, as intoxicating as it was.

    ‘Best to save it’ he thought to himself with a wolfish grin. ‘Maybe I’ll run into Barbra next market day, and invite her to enjoy some the morning after.’

    Monem still in mouth, walking out his front door, and making the turn to the clearing where the ‘new manure shed’ he and Pronoetes Garabas had joking called it in its construction, he came to a complete stop. He saw a man he did not recognize, wandering around the greenhouse. With consternation building, he took a bite of the monem he forgot was in his mouth and marched over to the interloper. He had chased poachers away before, having been proficient with a bow, and blessed be his grandfather's training, murderous with a dirk. As he reached the man, he noticed that he was exploring more than lurking. That was odd as the latter was the perfect activity for this time of day, more than the former. His pace slowed with his chewing as he tried to figure this stranger out. The man wasn’t very tall, perhaps Charal’s height, and had the build of an erudite. ‘Strange fellow to be lost in the park’ Charal pondered, finishing his last bite. He came up to the side of the man, noticing his hand flinch a bit.

    “Can I help you sir? Are you lost? It’s a big park I can understand.” Charal offered the man, who was obviously not a poacher. None he ever encountered would wear such garments. And he didn’t want to accidentally insult a Logothete.

    The man didn’t seem to hear him, but spoke. “This greenhouse, it doesn’t look like the others. It’s smaller, and its roof is oiled cloth and not glass. It was either the first, or you are very industrious,” he said, waving his hands, not taking his eyes from the building.

    Charal had stopped and turned to the greenhouse, his pride bumping his curiosity out of the driver's seat. “You are correct on both counts good sir. I built it under the tutelage of Pronoetes Garabas. His age kept him from a lot of the heavier tasks, so his experience was his muscle.” A small grin crept to the corner of his mouth thinking back to the five days it took him and his boss to build it.

    A chuckle rose out of the man, “Funny how men of advanced years can have advanced ideas that need a back of a man half their age. What do you have growing in there?”

    Charalambos straightened a bit; the new greenhouses that were built were being used to nurture seedlings for planting. His however had become the unofficial experimental grow-op between the Pronoetes and himself. No one has ventured in, mostly because few knew about Charal’s greenhouse, or were smitten by the newer buildings, and wouldn’t be caught dead in the ‘tester’. “A little of this, a little of that, flowers mostly,” Charal offered, hoping to dispel any more curiosity.

    “So nothing useful is what you are saying,” The man casually tossed.

    This comment made Charal stand upright and faced the man, his pride firmly grabbing the reins.
    “There is more worth growing in there, than your opinion is, Sir.” He said with ascorbic resolve.

    Again the chuckle, “So more of ‘this and that’, than flowers.” A twinkle flashed in the man’s eyes. He quickly turned to Charalambos with a mischievous grin and raised his eyebrows. “Let’s have a look then,” and before Charal could stop him, the man had made his way to the door and inside. He caught up to the stranger in three wide strides only to nearly walk into him. The man had stopped almost within the doorway, with his mouth agape, staring at the range of plants that would have made the Hanging Gardens look utilitarian in its greenery.

    “You’ve grown all of this here?” the man asked with a touch of genuine wonder. The 12x12 room was literally covered in vines, dwarf shrubs, flowers, and herbs, save for the most southern facing bed where a bush was dominant, a walkway circulating the room, and finally a bed in the centre playing host to a dwarf tree.

    Hearing the man’s voice Charal snuck beside him into the room, “For the last few months, this has been my refuge from people, yes.”

    The man smiled at Charal’s reply. “That I understand. I imagine the conversations in here are a bit better. Where did you acquire so many?”

    “My father has an import/export business, mostly with foodstuffs, and seeds. Naturally he sends me stuff he wants to know is a bust or not.”

    “Clever man, shame I can’t do that with my...” He muttered the last part under his breath as he started to casually wander, stopping and smelling the odd flower. “I can see what you mean by the worth. I don’t think there is anywhere in the empire where these are all growing in the same room, if even they can be.”

    Charal matched pace with his now guest. “You seem to have a good grasp of flora sir. That far corner...” He pointed to the SE corner. “...you could find those in the more opulent gardens, mostly centerpieces. These two however...” Now they were standing between the two beds that were home to the solitary bush and the dwarf tree. “...are the only two of their kind in all of Europe, the tree maybe even the entire Old World. I named this one...” Motioning to the tree. “...Veronica”.

    With a hint of mirth, the guest smiled, “You named them?”

    “Well of course sir. Plants grow better when you talk to them, and I would feel ridiculous talking to plants and not have a name for them, Theobroma Mexcoco is a lot to say.” The sarcasm was not missed by the man. A smile appeared, only to vanish with his brows furrowed in thought. “This is a cacao tree?”

    Proudly Charalambos nodded, “First guess, have you studied at the University of Nicaea? Few know the scientific name.”

    “No, I’m afraid I have not, but have been known to read anything, even missives I don’t want to.” The man replied, now turning to the bush to Charals right. “And what is this pretty lady's name?”

    “Pretty is one word. It should be fuller, and with more berries, and I can’t get the same flavour, but her name is Jahzara.” Charal answered in a wistful voice, looking at its bright ruby berries.
    His guest became still, looking at the young man before him with a hard stare, only to relax, recognizing a love in the eyes of his host as he gazed on what looked like a very ordinary plant. He turned to join him in his appreciation.

    “A rather regal name for such an unassuming bush. What’s it called?”

    Charal knew he was treading on thin ice. Pronoetes Garabas and he planted these two with great secrecy. ‘Alas the ram has touched the wall’ Charal thought.

    “Jahzara is a Kaffea plant.”

    Silence hung over the room with the weight of a water logged fleece. The two men stood there in the greenhouse, it slowly warming with the caress of the now early morning sun. Both in thought about the same thing, and in entirely different directions.

    The guest cleared his throat dramatically to drawn his host back. “Could I trouble you for a drink? The heat while welcoming, has raised my thirst.”

    Coming back to reality, he slightly shook his head and put a hand to his guest’s back. “Of course, please this way sir.” Charal noticed the man stiffen when he touched him, but chalked it up to unfamiliarity. Guiding him out of the greenhouse Charal walked him to his cabin around the corner, the man's hand twitching again. Entering the humble structure, the man scanned with pleasant surprise his host’s neatness, though noticing the austerity of the accommodations.

    “Ceud mìle fàilte, please have a seat.” Charal waved to a chair by the sole table, under the shelf. He started to draw a cup of water from the basin in the opposite corner, then stopped, looking at the urn on the shelf. For a second he thought and then shrugged. “Have you a taste for Kaffos sir?”

    His guest, taking his seat, nodded with a smile, “I’ve been known to enjoy a warm cup on a cold day.”

    With that Charal grabbed the urn, pestle & mortar, and the ornate percolator from the shelf, and began the process of grinding the beans, his guest watching him with interest. “You must hold your kaffos in high regard, to keep in such a vessel, and use such a perc.”

    “It was a gift for my birthday recently, well more so the kaffos beans themselves.” Charal was never one for putting on airs but he could not help himself, gently plopping the bag down in front of his guest. “This is not the usual Kaffe House blend, this is Imperial grade. It was the real gift my father gave me. I am a bit of a kaffos fanatic. He used the urn because as he said, ‘wrapping isn’t my thing’. Really though, I imagine he was just trying to figure out some way to spend on me. I am not one for fancy accoutrements, or useless decorations, ‘Function is the form’.” His guest raised an eyebrow, then leaned in over the bag breathing in the luxurious aroma. “He must have wheeled and dealed some serious favours,” the man mentioned.

    “He is a cagey sort. I don’t think he has ever walked away from a deal without profiting some way, and at times favours have more weight than gold.”

    The perc was shaking on its hanger in the hearth, drawing both their attention. Charalambos removed it and took it to the table. He reached up for a small lidded clay pot and two spoons. “Sugar?” He offered to his guest, who nodded and scooped what Charal would diplomatically call a healthy helping into his cup. Stirring with the second, the man then offered it back to Charal.

    “No, thank you. I rarely go in for sweets though, and have developed a ‘plebian palate’ for it as is. The blessings of living economical I guess,” he chucked the last bit with self-deprecating humour.

    The two chatted in peaceful commonality over their hot drinks, his guest taking control of the conversation. “You said a phrase I’ve never heard before, when we came in. What was that?”

    Charal grinned into his kaffos. “It’s Gaelic. My grandfather was a Scot who joined the Varangoi after leaving Scotland under circumstances his pride would not let go. He was quite accomplished as well. He was never one for the axe but wielded a claymore, fighting beside The Scourge of Mesopotamia himself, Theodoros Sideros. He retired just a few months before Dojama.” That had been one of Iskandar’s greatest victories. Theodoros Sideros, injured after a fall from a horse a week before, had been too dosed on opium to command during the battle itself. Yet the humiliation and disgrace had been too much to bear, and so he’d remained on the battlefield to be cut down by Ottoman timariots.

    “He laments that day at times. He always says that his soul will be judged harshly for leaving his comrades and commander, and not dying with the greatest men he ever knew.” Realizing he was rambling, he pulled the conversation back to the original question. “But back to Gaelic, it was something he found hard to give up so we still speak it around the house. His Greek was weak to say the least except numbers and reading, until he fell for my grandmother who brought the giant to his knees, and taught him more than army commands and the usual business interactions of a soldier. He had converted shortly after joining the Varangoi so her father did not object, I think out of fear of my grandfather as much as respect, so they married and being a proud Scot, he took the family name Caldonridis. The Gaelic helps when he and father are at market day. What I said was ‘a hundred thousand welcomes’. ”

    “‘A hundred thousand welcomes’, I like that, it’s disarming,” his guest mused.

    “I must confess sir, my rudeness, this entire time I never asked you your name, nor introduced myself. I am Charalambos Caldonridis of Nicomedia, son of Dunkeld, son of Donald Morrison.” Silly as it was to add the last two parts, but he took pride being a son and grandson of them, even if they sometimes raised eyebrows amongst the more pretentiousness neighbors.

    A knock at the door drew both of their attentions before his guest could reply. Charalambos’ face become one of inquiry, his guest’s one of resignation. “This was a lovely break from life, my good man, but reality knocks,” the stranger sighed. Not understanding, Charal rose to greet his newest visitor at the door. Upon opening he took a step back from the over six foot man crowding the doorway. ‘He is almost as big as grandfather,’ thought Charal.

    With a polite nod, the either soldier or horse juggler, Charal wasn’t sure, spoke in a measured tone towards the guest at the table. “M’lord the sun is nearing the ninth hour, and your daughter will be rising soon. She will wonder about your absence at the breakfast table if we linger any longer.”

    “I suspect she would not phrase it so diplomatically,” the man replied. The soldier did not respond.

    His guest sighed again and rose, “There are somethings a father should never be late for if he is around. Charalambos Caldonridis, it was an honest pleasure to make your acquaintance. Please have the Pronoetes forward any news on ‘Jahzara’ and ‘Veronica’. I am intrigued by their development.”

    He turned to what was now obviously his bodyguard and asked for his seal and wax. “Have you any parchment and quill, Charalambos?” Charal nodded, and went to the second room, returning with parchment, ink, and quill in hand, setting them down on the table. His guest sat down and started to write on the leaf, then wax sealed it at the bottom. Standing and reaching into a pocket in the arm of his coat, he drew a small sack out and handed it over to Charal. “You are a genuine sort, and equally as hospitable. Please take this simply as a gift in return for letting me be just a man.”

    He now handed him the leaf. “And this for sharing your most prized possessions with me, both in the garden and at the table.” With that he turned to leave, only to stop in the doorway and turn back. “Where are my manners? I am Demetrios Sideros, Son of Theodoros, Son of Timur II, in respect to your introductions. That missive should set you up with a lifetime's supply from my Kaffos supplier, now that I know we share similar tastes.” And with that, the Emperor and his guard made their way back to the imperial villa for breakfast, leaving Charal standing there dumbfounded.
     
    1633: Friedrich Zimmermann
  • The Kephalate of Vidin, September 24, 1633:

    Friedrich Zimmermann looked out in front of him down the dirt track and held up his hand, the rest of the company halting behind him. They were on their way to reinforce the garrison of a village that was guarding one of the approaches to Vidin.

    It was a gray day, but dry and warm, a slight breeze nicking through the trees. He looked to the left. There was a wooded hill there rising above the road which made him nervous, but they had jaegers out as flankers in the trees, a runner from them reporting every five minutes. One had just arrived and was heading back out there, so that didn’t concern him, too much.

    To the right were more woods, with the ground rolling and bumping but overall staying level with the track. Which made it not as good as an ambush point, but that was the direction of Almus, besieged by the main Greek army. They had jaegers out there too, also reporting via runner, but it’d been a few minutes since he’d shown.

    “See something, Sarge?” his lieutenant, Reichsritter Wolfram von Rotenhan, asked. He’d been walking beside his horse, handing the reins off to one of the teamsters working the wagons.

    “No, but there aren’t any birds,” he replied, scratching his thick red beard thoughtfully.

    “Great,” Wolfram muttered.

    Friedrich looked down at his commander, literally. The Imperial knight, whose voice still cracked occasionally and who only needed to shave every two weeks, only came up to Friedrich’s armpit. But then, the sergeant had always been a big man.

    But despite his youth, Friedrich liked the lad. There was a lot he didn’t know, but Wolfram knew that and was willing to learn, and he learned fast. He wasn’t the type of noble that would get his men killed because he had no more brains than the horse he rode, or perhaps less. Unlike their last commander who’d somehow managed to get a bullet right at the base of his skull. Nasty creatures, those Greek snipers.

    He looked down the track at the rest of the company, what was left of it. A hundred and twenty Bavarian peasants had come down the Danube last year. There were forty five of them left, including the jaegers, and a third of them were fresh recruits from the Vidin depot. The veterans knew what the lack of birds meant. They were loosening the packs on their backs, all the better to drop and use for cover. The teamsters working the two mule-drawn wagons had loosened the hitches so they could pull the animals behind the carts for cover. The smarter newbies were doing the same, albeit slower.

    “See anything, Franz?” the lieutenant asked. Franz was the other point man with Friedrich. Franz shook his head no.

    A musket boomed from the woods and Lorenz, the right flank runner, flew out of the woods through the powder cloud, opening his mouth to shout a warning just as an arrow impaled his neck from the back. He toppled.

    Friedrich heard the whistle of arrows in the wind. “Down!” Wolfram yelled. The company dropped, some of the men, particularly the dumber newbies, getting skewered.

    “Contact right! Two o’clock!” Friedrich roared. Behind him men were down on their bellies, crouching behind their packs. They couldn’t reload their muskets that way, but they could take cover and shoot back with the one round already loaded. German muskets boomed back as another flight of arrows sounded, joined by some Greek musket balls.

    Further back, one of the mules was down, thrashing madly until one of the teamsters blew its brains out, but the other three were behind their carts. Other teamsters heaved the wagons over onto their sides, cases and barrels tumbling onto the road, so that the thick bottom planking could act as a shield. They’d been built with that in mind.

    “Phillies!” Otto, one of the new recruits, shouted unnecessarily. The Greeks still had archers from Philadelphia, who were very good with their bows. Fortunately there weren’t many of those.

    Friedrich, Wolfram, and Franz were all shuffling on their bellies, crawling back towards the rest of the men. More arrows were snapping out of the wood, answered by German balls as men behind the wagons loaded muskets. Others were lying on their sides on the ground, reloading their muskets that way. It was awkward and slower, but better than standing up and getting punctured.

    Friedrich and Wolfram got behind a pile of packs that had been thrown up as a makeshift cover. Both looked up to see the Roman ambush point and then saw that Franz had been hit. “Number five, sarge!” Wolfram shouted, then scurried out front to grab Franz.

    “Number five!” Friedrich roared. “Mannie, you’re up!”

    “Aye!” Manfred shouted. More muskets boomed from the German position as the boys laid down covering fire for him and five men loaded with bandoliers of grenades, leaving the cover of the wagons the opposite side of the Greek ambush point. They’d hit the woods, swing back up, and lob a pile of grenades into the Greeks’ left flank.

    Wolfram grabbed Franz, who’d been flipped over onto his back, hooking his arms under Franz’ armpits, and pulling. In a different place, it would’ve looked ridiculous. Wolfram weighed 120 pounds, at most; Franz was half again his size. But the lieutenant heaved, lifting Franz’s butt off the ground and hauling him as he walked backward, arrows and bullets snapping around him. Friedrich fired his musket, hearing a scream of pain from the woods.

    Wolfram pulled Franz behind the packs and set him down, Hans scurrying over to look at his wounds. “Lieutenant,” Friedrich said with a smile. “With all due respect, that was really stupid of you.”

    “Sarge, you of all people are in no position to judge me for that.”

    A musket roared one more time, and then there was no more shooting. The men reloaded their pieces while Wolfram and Friedrich watched the tree line, looking for movement and seeing none. Back up the road, Mannie and his men had reached the trees but had halted with the new tactical development.

    “They could’ve broken contact,” Wolfram said. “The jaegers may have tripped the ambush early. Or…”

    “It’s a number three,” Friedrich replied, finishing the thought.

    “Yeah, almost certainly a three.”

    Friedrich held up three fingers, the men mimicking that gesture and carrying it down the line. The veterans were nodding all-too-knowingly. All loaded their pieces but put the flint to half-cock, fixing their ambrolars when finished. Wolfram nodded and Friedrich gestured; aside from half dozen staying behind the wagons to control the mules, care for the five wounded, and to provide covering fire, the rest cautiously came from behind their cover. Wolfram motioned at Manfred to start moving once they did, and forming a rough skirmish line they inched towards the wood. Posted at the other end of the line was second sergeant Ludwig, to keep the men in line while Friedrich looked after the lieutenant.

    Friedrich listened. The crunch of boots on the packed earth, the complaints of the mules, the rustle of the leaves, the pounding of his heart…the click of a musket flint being cocked. “DOWN!”

    The veterans dropped without thinking. Some of the newer recruits had to think, and that doomed them as a roar of musket fire snarled out from the trees, whipping over Friedrich’s head.

    “UP!” Wolfram yelled, and those unscathed stood up. “Fire!” A roar of musket fire snarled into the trees. “Charge!”

    They plowed into the vegetation, one soldier tumbling over a branch. Some Greek muskets volleyed back, with a meaty smack down the line from Friedrich, but the shots were ragged. Friedrich saw Greek soldiers yanking backward from behind their trees, making a run for it. “At them, boys!” he shouted.

    One of the foe stumbled, scrambling upright just in time for his jaw to meet Friedrich’s musket butt. The Greek spun completely around, landing on his back, while a bit of what Friedrich assumed was one of his teeth striking him in the knuckle. He shoved his ambrolar up under the Greek’s rib cage into his heart, yanking it out.

    He looked up; the Greeks had scattered but a few had been caught and dispatched. Hopefully this had been enough to scare them off, but he wouldn’t have bet much money on that outcome.

    Wolfram blew a whistle. “Reform!”

    “Rally on the lieutenant!” Friedrich yelled. Many of the veterans hadn’t gotten too far and were behind trees reloading their pieces, but some of the new recruits had not known when to stop.

    He bounded over to the lieutenant. “They’ll probably be back soon. There were too many for just a hi-and-bye.” That was the term they used for when the Greeks showed up, shot a few rounds, and then just ran for it.

    “Probably blocked the road up ahead.”

    “And behind.”

    Wolfram’s mouth twisted. “Sarge, sometimes you are very depressing.”

    “That’s my job.” Behind Wolfram one of the new recruits was loading his musket, but not standing behind a tree to do so. Behind Friedrich, Wilhelm and Anton were going over the Greek he’d killed for any valuables.

    “Hundreds!” someone shrieked, one of the new recruits flying over a knoll in front of them. Friedrich saw the pair of musket balls that slammed into the man’s left shoulder, spinning him around just in time for another one to split his skull. He fell, his brains splattering over a stump.

    “Contact head! 12 o’clock!” Friedrich yelled, flattening himself behind his tree as a volley, much bigger than before, screamed out. Wood splinters spattered onto his face as one ball nicked the tree at eyeball-height.

    Wolfram shoved the recruit behind a different tree as Friedrich and the Greek muskets roared, then spun and toppled onto his back.

    Friedrich fired back at the Greeks, the boom of more muskets sounding beside him as the boys replied. There was a ‘thonk’ right at crotch-height and Friedrich saw a ball wedged into the trunk at an angle, nearly cutting through to strike him. He made a hasty sign of the cross before continuing reloading. Nearby the recruit was tending to Wolfram. “Keep firing, boys!” he shouted. “Keep it at them!” More guns sounded; simultaneous wails went up from both the Greek and Bavarian ranks.

    They were pinned. Friedrich counted as least twice, maybe even three times, as many Greek shooters as Bavarians; the only thing keeping them in the fight is that the trees here made mostly-good cover. If they broke, they’d be mowed down. Hearing movement in the bushes in the Greek-direction, he hand-signaled four of the nearest lads to move over to their left; it looked like the Greeks were trying to outflank them. Mary, Mother of God, if you’re listening we could really use some help right now. He fired off a round, along with Wilhelm and Anton, to provide cover for the four. Where is Manfred?

    A grenade exploded off to the right, then another, and another, a whole string, the explosions stacking up against each other. Pieces of trees and plants and probably people went flying. A few more muskets on both sides sounded, a feeble afterthought to the carnage.

    Silence fell, finally giving Friedrich time to really look at Wolfram. He’d managed to pull himself so he was leaning back against a tree, close to and facing Friedrich. But he was starkly pale. “I can’t…believe…I got shot…in the ass,” he rasped. He’d been shot in far more places than there. Blood drenched his uniform in great splotches from armpit to knee. In one great weeping sore in the center of his chest, air bubbles emerged as he breathed.

    Friedrich took his own whistle and blew it three times sharply. “Fall back!” he shouted. “Fall back to the wagons!” The Greeks had been knocked back by Manfred’s grenade spray, but they’d be back and soon.

    He slung his musket and bent down to gather up his lieutenant. “I’ve got you, lieutenant,” he said. “We’ll get out of this. We’re not going to die here today.”

    “You’re…good sarge…but bad…liar.” Friedrich picked him up, cradling him in his arms as if he was a child. Wolfram weighed, maybe, half as much as Friedrich.

    An arrow snapped from the Greek direction, a large ‘thonk’ as it embedded itself in a tree trunk. A musket boomed in its direction. “Fall back!” Friedrich shouted again.

    “Cover the sarge!” Anton yelled. Both he and Wilhelm fired off musket shots in the direction of the foe. A Greek bullet whipped through the leaves above their heads.

    They fell back, but orderly, snapping bullets back occasionally, the Greeks declining to get too close. It seemed to take forever, even though it was only a few minutes. Friedrich hated it; he couldn’t shot back, and walking forward he could hear, feel, the bullets snickering through the brush around him, his back muscles tensing as he waited one to find him.

    But worst of all he could feel Wolfram fading in his arms. Mary, Mother of God, he’s too young. A scream went up down the German line as a Greek missile found flesh. They’re all too young. They shouldn’t have to die like this.

    They broke back onto the road, Wilhelm snapping off a round back into the woods. Manfred came out of the woods a moment later, blood trickling from a wound in his forehead. The wagons had been righted and reloaded, with one now with the wounded laid in it, the dead lying where they fell but stripped of their weapons, valuables, and boots. It was hard, but the dead had no need of such things and the living did. Friedrich gently put Wolfram down in the corner of the wagon with the wounded. His hands came away covered in the lieutenant’s blood. Saint Raphael, please help him.

    “Report, corporal,” he snapped at Ernst, the senior corporal who’d stayed with the wagons.

    “Road back north is blocked. Trees felled. Road south is clear.” His mouth twisted.

    Friedrich resisted an urge to curse. Saint Maurice, we really need your help right now. The road south was definitely a trap; the Greeks were too careful to leave such an obvious escape route open. “Alright, boys! We need to get up to the top of that hill!” He pointed at the hill to the left of the road that had loomed so menacingly earlier. It had to be clear; the Greeks would’ve ambushed them from there if they could. “We do that and the Greeks can’t do shit until Old Man Blucher comes around and rips them a new one.” He wasn’t so sure about the last bit, but he’d be damned to hell before he’d admit that to his men. The mere mention of the old warhorse was tonic for men’s morale. Now he just had to figure out how to get the wounded up there; it’d be hopeless with the wagons but he needed every musket free. And he wasn’t about to abandon them here; Greek soldiers might take them prisoner…or they might just slit their throats instead.

    Four muskets boomed halfway up the hill, the powder smoke wafting through the trees. “German soldiers!” a voice through a bullhorn boomed from the woods in the direction of the original ambush, speaking in German. “You are surrounded! Surrender now and your lives will be spared! Resist and you will all be killed! You have one minute to decide!”

    Friedrich looked at his men, who were staring at him. “We can still take the hill. There’s only a couple of men up there we can blow through.” If there’d been more Greeks up there, they would’ve fired off more than four shots to make the ‘you’re surrounded’ claim more credible. “Ernst, Ludwig, Wilhelm, Otto, you each take one of the wounded-”

    Wolfram’s hand clamped down on Friedrich’s right wrist with surprising strength. “Sarge,” he rasped. “Don’t…don’t die here today. The boys…they deserve…to go home. Deserve…a good life. See that…they get it. You have to…take care of them.” His pleading eyes bored into Friedrich.

    Friedrich didn’t want to surrender. He’d lost too many friends to the Greeks, and was about to lose another. But he was right. The boys didn’t deserve to die just because he wanted to go down fighting. They deserved to go home. And they’d have a much better chance of doing that if he was alive to look out for them. “I will, lieutenant. I will.”

    Ernst handed him an empty hardtack bag. It was dirty but still semi-white in color. Friedrich spat into the ground and waved it over his head. “Alright, you buggers. We surrender.”

    “Wise choice,” the bullhorn speaker replied.

    Friedrich snarled, and behind him heard a death rattle. He turned around to see Anton close Wolfram’s eyes forever.
     
    Special Update-A New and Ancient World teaser
  • The White Palace, Constantinople, May 11, 1638:

    Demetrios III Sideros looked at the blank piece of paper, then up from his desk. This one wasn’t secluded in his private study; it was set in the main living room adjacent to said study. Eudoxia was seated on the central couch, knitting something; that was the main reason he wasn’t in his study.

    He felt like writing. He liked writing; he enjoyed the creative process, most of the time, and often found it therapeutic and relaxing. And yet he wanted to do something different from what he usually wrote, to try something new. He just needed to think of something.

    Looking around the room, he saw some new additions to his ‘cabinet of curiosities’. There was a new globe from Nicaea, which incorporated all the latest knowledge of the state of the world, including Cape Horn on Terra de Fue at the end of South Terranova and outlines of some of the coast of Nan, former home of the Wu. There was the Rosetta stone, recently excavated in Egypt; it’d be returned to the University of Constantinople in a few days so they could work on deciphering the ancient text, but he’d wanted to have a look at it himself.

    There were some artifacts too from the native Terranovans, spears and wampum mostly.

    Next to them were some animal bones, ridiculously large animal bones. Skeletons of these creatures had been unearthed recently in both Egypt and Ethiopia; Athena had christened them ‘dinosaurs’ and the name seemed to be sticking. Above them were Odysseus’ imagined sketches of what these creatures would’ve looked like alive. One massive beast on four legs, with a huge tail and long neck, towering over the trees, its thick hide a dark gray like an elephant or rhinoceros, although far bigger than such ‘diminutive creatures’.

    The one next to it was smaller, standing on two legs. Its two spindly arms looked ridiculous next to its bulk, thick muscles formed as if the creature was about to spring to the hunt. For it was definitely a hunter, thick claws on those hands but more disturbing wicked ranks of teeth in its jaws. Its beady eyes, staring out from a thick skull, were malevolent and dangerous and hungry. Its skin was mottled green, camouflage so it could sneak up on prey.

    Above them was a sketch of the moon made by Athena. She didn’t have the artistic talent of her brother, but she and Demetrios had been studying the moon through their dalnovzors from the roof of the White Palace.

    Eudoxia looked up at him and squinted. “That smile is scary. What are you up to now?”

    “Oh, nothing. Just got an idea for what I want to write.” He took his quill and jotted down the title.

    The First Voyage of Men to the Moon.

    __________________________________________________________________________________

    July 1, 1782:

    Basil Dokeianos looked out on the Plain of Bithynia. There was a large crowd out here, although that wasn’t surprising. The Emperor Andreas V was here along with his Japanese Empress and the whole Imperial brood, the entire senior bureaucracy both civil and military, and at least sixty Kephales.

    They were here to watch the launch of the great rocket that had been christened the Argo. Based on the same principles that had been used for war rockets since the Orthodox War, the Argo was far bigger, standing two hundred feet high, squat and silver, its shape reminding him of the dome of the Hagia Sophia. Assuming all went well, it would carry its sixteen crew on a one-month journey, the first to take men from this Earth.

    It was needed. The Earth was filling up. The blank spaces on the map had been drawn and it was estimated the world population had reached a billion, and still growing. It was unsustainable; more resources were needed, more arable lands, more breathing room. There just wasn’t enough on Earth anymore. So they’d have to look elsewhere.

    The bell tower from the village church tolled noon and everyone looked expectantly toward the rocket. For a moment nothing happened, and then a burst of flame from its bottom, followed by a great roar that rattled in Basil’s bones.

    For a moment it didn’t seem to move. And then it did, gradually creeping upward, accelerating. It seemed inconceivable that the gargantuan structure could move, let alone fly, but it did, rising higher and higher on a plume of smoke, the traces on the ground spreading. It rose into the sky, like a great fiery arrow aimed at the heavens.

    Part of Basil marveled at the sight, as that huge rocket flew up so high that his thumb could blot it out from view. The majesty, the power, of man on full display, reaching up from earth to heaven. And another part of him wondered, could this be modern man’s new tower? Was Rhomania, by doing this, the new Babel? He didn’t know. But he prayed.

    God be with you, brother.

    * * *

    -The above is an excerpt from A New and Ancient World: A Modern Re-telling of ‘The First Voyage of Men to the Moon, written originally by Demetrios III Sideros, 1638-39.

    So this is my idea for the new special updates to take the place of the PDFs for the upper-tier patrons. It’s a way to scratch my sci-fi itch, yet still remained attached to the world of ‘An Age of Miracles’. I want to avoid the writer equivalent of the actor sick of playing the same role, and this is my way to avoid that. Plus it’s a way to get ‘Romans in space’ earlier than waiting the few centuries the TL still needs to progress for that.

    My plan is to write an ‘abridged novella’ of A New and Ancient World, with the updates being made available to the ‘Megas Kyr’ patrons on Patreon. I’m also working on ideas for stories set on Earth in the TL proper, that focus on minor characters or weird tales from TTL that aren’t big enough to warrant making it into the main TL, but hopefully add flavor and variety to the ‘Age of Miracles’ world. So the A New and Ancient World may have some ‘flavor’ updates mixed up in them.

    So here’s the planned schedule. I’m currently working on the PDF that covers the period from the accession of Andreas III to the Night of the Tocsins. That will bring the PDFs up to the main TL, as the next PDF would cover the War of the Roman Succession which isn’t finished yet. That will finish off February.

    Starting in March though, the ‘Megas Kyr’ would start receiving one special update per month, in addition to the regular TL updates. I’ll be on vacation for a good chunk of March, so the March update may be shorter, but after that each special update should be at least equivalent to a regular TL update. PDFs would be continued as well so that they keep up with the regular TL.

    Hope that all sounds fun and exciting!
     
    Last edited:
    1633: Gnats Against the Sky
  • On the Patreon thing...

    It's not that I don't want to contribute (even just a little). It's that the just a little that can put toward my favourite creators has already been put toward a webcomic I read. And that sucks because I'd love to support both.

    I liked the whole special update being in-universe fiction. It me reminds me of how I'd use other story Ideas of mine as in-universe fiction to establish their existence.

    I know how it is. No worries. Glad you liked the special update idea.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    “Who can with outstretched hands uphold the sky
    Or thrones maintain by simple loyalty?
    Han’s day was done; two would avert the doom,
    But failed, and carried anger to the tomb.”

    “As all are born, so all must die;
    People are as gnats against the sky;
    But loyalty or piety
    May give them immortality.”

    “‘You call him lord and take his pay,
    Then stand by him when danger nears.’
    Thus to her brother spoke Xin Xianying,
    And won fair fame through countless years.”
    -Romance of the Three Kingdoms (OTL)​

    Hofburg Palace, Vienna, Austria, November 3, 1633:

    Lady Elizabeth von Wittelsbach read the document. The news wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either, which was better than she’d expected considering the times. While the supplies of new recruits, equipment, and especially money from Saxony was weakening, peasant resistance didn’t seem to be rising. She knocked on the wooden table just to be on the safe side.

    The report was written by the new governor of Saxony, former ambassador to the Roman Empire Count Philip von Stadion-Warthausen. On the one hand, she had reason to be annoyed with the Count; his reports to her brother on her conduct had not been complimentary.

    Yet she wasn’t, aside from an instinctual spark anyway. Because he’d been right.

    In Munich and on the road and here in Vienna she had heard the wail of widows and grieving mothers and she couldn’t help but wonder, as she had wondered before…Was this my fault? If I’d been smarter, or kinder, or more loving…

    And the most damning thing of all, the answer was yes.

    She had loved Andreas III, adored him. That silly smile, his kind laugh, his sinfully soft hair; the memories of their early years before it had all gone wrong still brought warmth to her soul. And it had hurt terribly when he’d turned away from her to other women, and in her pain she had become angry and jealous and stupid. Instead of trying to win him back, she’d only pushed him away in her jealousy, which had only made her even more jealous, which pushed him away even more. And she had been too stupid to see that, until it had been too late.

    She had learned much on the ride away from Constantinople and in the first months back in Bavaria, as her brother made his plans for this great and terrible war, because she had failed. It had been her task to get a scion of the House of Wittelsbach upon the throne of Constantinople, and because of her stupidity she had failed. Theodor would not have marched if Andreas III’s successor had been the son of his sister, but it was instead a Roman bureaucrat.

    The path of Venus had not worked, so it would be the path of Mars instead. Elizabeth wondered, doubted, if it was even possible. But Theodor had insisted; it was his by right, and God would uphold those in the right; he would orchestrate their victory.

    Sometimes, in quiet, when she let her thoughts unfold in an unguarded moment, she wondered about God’s orchestration. But instead of it being a plan for their ultimate victory, this was a punishment for the House of Wittelsbach, punishment for their pride, greed…and jealousy.

    She did not know. But she did know what she was going to do. She had failed in Constantinople. God willing, she would not do so again. She would do her utmost to ensure that the House of Wittelsbach won this war, and if that was not to be, which by now it most likely wasn’t, then she would do her utmost to ensure that the House of Wittelsbach would survive the volcano.

    Her brother the Emperor Theodor and Marshal Blucher entered the room, sitting down on the opposite side of the small table from her. Over Theodor’s head hung an equestrian portrait of Andrew III, the Warrior King of Hungary. It was a copy of the famous original; the original was on display in Constantinople, carted away after the sack of Buda. The current King of Hungary had not forgotten that humiliation, but he was also well aware that the Holy Roman Emperor was sitting in a palace and realm that’d been filched from the then boy-king.

    “Your Majesty, Marshal,” she said, nodding at each in turn. They nodded back.

    “We’re here to plan our overall strategy for the coming year,” Theodor said. “Obviously we’ll have to work out the details elsewhere with the appropriate subordinates, but we need to set the overall brushstrokes now so we can get what we need in motion.”

    Elizabeth took out another document from her bag and slid it across the table to her brother. “I’ve been thinking about that.”

    He picked it up. “What is it?”

    “Prospective peace terms with Demetrios Sideros.” She very carefully did not refer to him as Demetrios III.

    Theodor’s face darkened. “No peace terms, not unless it involves him relinquishing the crown he stole from me.”

    She took a deep breath. “Theodor, that’s not going to happen.” There, she’d said it. Before her brother could object she continued. “Even with the losses in the autumn, we still have a lot of bargaining chips. We still have Vidin and Upper Macedonia and occupy Serbia, the Banat, and Transylvania. And Ibrahim’s causing all sorts of trouble in Syria. I’m certain Demetrios will be willing to exchange a few million hyperpyra for those and peace so he can focus on Ibrahim.” She hoped.

    “We really need the money,” she added. “We can use it to pay off our creditors.” Or to help beat down Henri and Ottokar when they stab us in the back.

    “I’m not going to bargain away my God-given rights for some gold like I’m a Lubecker,” Theodor protested.

    Elizabeth looked at Blucher, her eyes appealing for assistance. The Marshal, well into his eighties, stroked his thick white moustaches. “Your Majesty,” he said. “You should consider peace. The Danube is not an option anymore. It’s too well-fortified now and we lack the resources to tackle their river fleet. There’s no way we can militarily force the usurper out.”

    Theodor clapped his hand on Blucher’s right shoulder. “I don’t disagree with you, my marshal. Militarily, you are right. But this isn’t just a military contest.”

    “How so?” Elizabeth asked, her eyes narrowing and her heart dreading.

    “This is also political. Even using the Danube, it’s still a long haul to Constantinople and the Herakleian Walls are a tough nut to crack,” Theodor replied. “But the mob of Constantinople is fickle. There have been repeated feelers to me, promises of loyalty.”

    “They didn’t do us any good this year!” Elizabeth snapped.

    “That’s because we weren’t close enough. We didn’t hit any big targets. Almus or Nikopolis doesn’t mean anything to the average burgher of Constantinople. But there’s another approach, Macedonia.”

    “Macedonia?!” Elizabeth protested.

    He ignored her tone. “Yes, Macedonia. We already have most of the upper part, which admittedly is the part not worth very much. First we take Skopje, breaking into the Axios River valley. It’s richer than what we’ve already grabbed and the road network is really good, better than most of the Danube stretch. It’s not as good as the Danube, mind you, but it’s the next best thing. We move down the Axios and once we break out into Lower Macedonia the army can live off the land; that area is more than rich enough. Then Thessaloniki. Taking that will certainly get the attention of the Constantinople mob.”

    “There’s no way we can supply the army from Thessaloniki to Constantinople,” Blucher replied. “Lower Macedonia would support the army for a time, but the supply lines to Constantinople from there would be hideously vulnerable to seaborne raiders. We’d have to detach so many guards that by the time we reached the City, the Teicheiotai would be enough to beat us. And Skopje and particularly Thessaloniki are no small matters themselves.”

    “I know that,” Theodor answered. “But Skopje and Thessaloniki can be taken. And militarily, you’d be right. Even with those we still don’t have the forces to threaten Constantinople. But this is a political matter as well. Once you take Thessaloniki, Constantinople will revolt. Like I said, there’s already discontent, and they won’t tolerate a feckless bean-counter who has to borrow a spine from his wife after a disaster of that magnitude.”

    Elizabeth wasn’t so sure. She knew the Constantinople mob was fickle, but she’d learned not to underestimate the former Eparch after she’d discovered he’d been ready to blow her up on the Night of the Tocsins. And even if the mob did throw Demetrios out, there were still his son Odysseus, Alexandros Drakos, and Andreas III’s bastards. Plus a lot of other choices that didn’t involve a Latin Catholic.

    The problem was that Theodor had his mind made up regarding the character of Demetrios, and nothing she could say would change his mind. Although to be fair, a lot of that was from her letters when she was being an idiot Empress of the Romans. “Where are we going to get the supplies, the men, the money for this?” she protested.

    Theodor smiled. “Little sis, you’re really good at that sort of thing. You’ve managed spectacularly so far.”

    “And I can’t keep it up much longer,” she admitted.

    “Well, I’ve gotten you some help in that regard. I received news from Henri II. He’s increasing the subsidy by 50%, he has Vauban organizing a new and even larger artillery train, and he’s also sending 6000 infantry.”

    “Henri can’t be trusted. He’s going to stab us in the back.”

    “Of course he is,” Theodor replied. Elizabeth blinked in surprise. “But he won’t. Not while we’re still fighting. I know he doesn’t care about my rights, but he’s concerned about Roman power too. Plus even if he did try to attack us, he first has to go through Lotharingia. And Albrecht hasn’t sent any troops to the Danube and he’s hiring more Spanish mercenaries. And all those rich Dutch towns he has are well fortified; Henri’ll want Vauban to deal with those, which is problematic if he’s down in Macedonia along with ten thousand hostages to Henri’s good behavior.”

    “He might go for it anyway,” Elizabeth said. “Lotharingia alone can’t stop him.”

    “Perhaps, but Henri is the type to hedge his bets. We still have a large and powerful army and I’m sure Vauban has told him all about Bone Breaker.”

    “All the more reason to make peace now while we have the strength to keep Henri honest.”

    He leaned back. “Sis, you’re not thinking this through. Let’s say we make peace with Demetrios. The Hungarians and Bohemians go home, and now Ottokar has the muscle to cause a ruckus, whilst Henri has no reason to wait any longer. While if we stay at war, Ottokar can’t cause trouble because he has no army with him.

    “Henri and Ottokar are both problems that need to be dealt with, but the way to deal with them is to win this war. Once the resources of the Greeks are joined to our cause, they can be dealt with. While if we back out now, not only will that show weakness but it will leave our enemies free. And that’s assuming that Demetrios would be willing to make peace so easily.”

    Elizabeth had to admit that a lot of that was valid. “But even if you take Thessaloniki and Constantinople revolts, what is to prevent Demetrios from pulling a Nicaea?” she asked. “Even without Ottokar or Vauban, there will be a point where Henri will move if it’s advantageous for him, costs be damned.”

    “You mentioned it earlier: Ibrahim. A combined German-Greek army, marching down to liberate Jerusalem, destroy Mecca for good, and drive the Turks back into the wastes of central Asia from which they sprang. It’ll be the crusades as they were meant to be, before the Papacy twisted them.”

    Elizabeth could think of objections. For starters, that was assuming the Romans would cooperate even if they believed his intentions, which she doubted. And while Theodor was ransacking Syria or Mesopotamia, what was Henri doing? And that was disregarding the fact that Ibrahim was Henri’s ally. But she knew her brother; he had that far-off dreamy look in his eyes, and that look did not brook argument.

    Perhaps there was another way. “And how is all this supposed to be paid for?” she asked. “The Triune subsidy won’t be enough.”

    “Keep doing what you’ve been doing. I trust you will find a way.” Meaning you don’t know. But perhaps having to talk about money might scare you off this madness.

    “I’m running out of ideas. By the Virgin, I’m investing in some of the Roman war popes to try and make money. I’ve been using a Bernese intermediary to purchase them on the Venetia exchange and turning around and selling them for an up-charge to Saxon burghers who don’t have ready access to the money markets.” The dreamy look in her brother’s eyes was starting to glaze over, which was a good sign. “And they’re going for it despite the upcharge, and it’s a hefty one. They want to get their money out of the markets here and think they can get better investments with Demetrios III-”

    As soon as the words left her mouth she knew she’d made an irrevocable mistake. Theodor’s face twisted in anger. “I will not hear that usurping clerk spoken as such, particularly by my own family,” he snarled.

    “Theodor, I’m sorry-”

    A sharp hand gesture cut her off. “You’ve spent too much time in Constantinople.” If that’s a bad thing, then why do you want to conquer it? “I’ve made my decision. There will be no peace, and no talk of peace, unless it involves that…usurper vacating what is rightfully mine. And you, sister, will do your utmost to ensure that the family lands support our righteous cause with all materials required.”

    He stood up, turning his head to Blucher, his face softening. The Holy Roman Emperor patted the old general on the shoulder. “Sorry that you had to see that little family squabble. But don’t fear. With you as my sword, the Greeks will be brought to heel.” And with that, he left the chamber.

    Elizabeth rubbed her temples. “He’s-” She bit her tongue to keep her from saying what she was thinking.

    “Thank you for not finishing that,” Blucher replied.

    She looked up to see the old man smiling gently at her. “You weren’t very much help,” she said.

    “I know. But I’ve been a soldier for over sixty years now, and know when I see a battle that I cannot win.”

    “You must know his plan is insane.”

    “It is. A bit of insanity is good in war plans though; it makes them harder to predict. And politically, if Constantinople were to rise up…”

    She looked at him quizzically. “It’s me here. Don’t try to pretend that you think that’s a likely outcome, especially an uprising in his favor.”

    “Alright, it isn’t. But those are his orders. So it doesn’t really matter what I think.”

    “You’re the commander of his armies.”

    “And he is my commander.”

    “He wasn’t always…”

    Blucher raised an eyebrow at what she’d said, and what she hadn’t said. “Yes, I served Duke Karl during the Brothers’ War, and I changed sides. But I swore an oath to your father, my friend, that I would protect and serve his children to the best of my ability in all things. And I will not break that oath. Andreas Drakos once said that anything can be taken from a man, save his honor. That he must give away. I will not do so.”

    “Yet if you think this won’t work, why not resign? Why participate in this madness?” She felt a bit dirty suggesting this, which smacked of treachery against her brother. Yet was it treachery if it was to foil a self-destructive plan? But she still said it; perhaps a shock like that might wake Theodor up. And yet it might not.

    “It won’t work, my lady,” Blucher said softly. “I could resign. It would shock him, dismay him, but then he would assign someone else. Or lead the army himself. But whatever he does, my resignation will not stop it but it will decrease any chance, if it has any, of success. So it wouldn’t do any good. I call him lord and take his pay, so I must stand by him when danger nears. If the danger is because of his failings, that does not absolve me of my duty to him.”

    “It might shock some of the princes…” she argued hesitantly.

    “You know as well as I that won’t make a difference. He is a Wittelsbach, of the Imperial line. And everyone knows that Wittelsbachs don’t lose, ever. Somehow they find a way.” He was right, Elizabeth knew, even as she’d said it. The Wittelsbachs had ruled the Holy Roman Empire for close to three centuries now. Frederick III Wittelsbach had been the only Latin lord able to stand against Andreas Niketas; they’d seen the empire through the dark days of the Great Hungarian War. The Great Northern War, the Brothers’ War, the wars on the Rhine, had only made them stronger. No one would turn on Theodor, not yet anyway. The family name, for all the tarnish from the year, still meant far too much in the lands of the Germans.

    Elizabeth sighed. “Wish you could disagree with me?” he asked.

    “Yes,” she sighed again. A pause. “Duty is heavier than a mountain,” she whispered, quoting the words of Shimazu Tadatsune. “But it’d be nice to have wiser lords.”

    “Not going to argue with you on that. But we play with the cards that God has dealt us. Perhaps it’s a bad hand, but we play with what we have. And that’s what matters in the end.” A pause. “You’re not going to do anything foolish now, are you?” Blucher asked.

    She shook her head. “No.” If she turned against her brother, she might be able to rally some of the Wittelsbach lands and various Imperial princes behind her on the promise of peace with Rhomania, but she was a woman and Theodor was a man. Regardless of his faults, that biological fact would loom large. All she’d really end up doing would be to create a new “Brothers’ War”. Which would probably encourage Demetrios to keep in the fight whilst simultaneously triggering a Triune and Bohemian reaction.

    “Good. And please don’t change your mind. Theodor is right about one thing. God put everyone where they are, when they are, for a purpose. We can’t know the mind of God, but he gave us minds of our own, so we can guess at his purpose. Perhaps God sent Theodor to humble the pride of the Wittelsbachs. But I think if he wanted to end them, he would not have sent you.”

    She swallowed. “Thank you,” she whispered.

    “You’re very welcome, my lady.” A pause. “Now shall we get down to work on this fool plan?”

    “Yes, of course.”

    “Perhaps if we cause enough damage, we can force Demetrios to hand over an Iskandar-size subsidy,” Blucher added. He didn’t sound optimistic but she appreciated the reminder that they could, possibly, salvage something good out of this.

    “That would help a lot.” She looked at the report from Saxony. “Now based on this, I can promise you…”
     
    1633-34: The Perception of Truth
  • “When studying the affairs and actions of men, truth is less important than one would think. For men do not act on truth, but on their perception of the truth, which may, or often may not, align with the real truth of their times.”-Demetrios III Sideros, in A History of the Great Latin War.​

    1633/34 winter: Compared to the Romans or Spain or even the Triple Monarchy, which as that name suggests is still linked by personal union, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation is a quite decentralized polity. Even describing it as a singular polity is questionable. But it helps make up for that by being massive. Not counting the lands of northern Italy that are still technically part of the HRE, there are over 26 million inhabitants in those dominions (compared to 18 million in the Roman heartland plus another 6.5 million in the Despotates, 22.5 million in the Triple Monarchy, and 14 million in the Ottoman Empire). Hungary and Poland between them add another 8 million to the lists.

    Despite her misgivings about her brother’s plans, the Lady Elizabeth sets to work gathering the resources Theodor needs for his great gambit. Manpower is fairly easy given the previously mentioned population pool, but resistance to the press gangs is growing ever more widespread. But said resistance remains on the small-scale, mainly in the form of desertion, rather than escalating into rebellion.

    Getting equipment and supplies is more difficult, but the Holy Roman Empire has several districts that are quite highly developed by pre-industrial standards (chiefly Saxony, Silesia and the Cologne-Rhineland). And overall the Imperial princes are, for their size, wealthy and their territories advanced.

    Theodor spends most of the winter crisscrossing the Empire to drum up support, leaning on recalcitrant princes and encouraging others, calling in favors and debts, promising concessions and privileges. The Wittelsbach name is still highly regarded, for the family has overall done very well by the Empire. There are mutterings, but they remain mutterings, for now. No prince wants to be the first to stick his neck out to see how sharp the talons of the Wittelsbach eagle still are.

    800px-Emperor_Louis_IV_Arms.svg.png

    The Coat of Arms of Louis IV, first Wittelsbach to hold the crown of the Holy Roman Empire.
    [By David Liuzzo, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3002196]
    An important factor in all this is Emperor Henri II, who is doing all he can to encourage Theodor to resume the offensive. Aside from wanting to weaken the Wittelsbach house further in eastern campaigns, he is also alarmed by the growth in Roman power. The attacks in the Caribbean and the reports of the size of the Roman army are disturbing. For the same reason, he is also encouraging Ibrahim to remain in the fight.

    Part of his efforts include leaning on his contacts amongst the Imperial princes to cooperate with Theodor, which is a key factor in the success of Theodor’s diplomacy. The chief contact is with King Ottokar, who very begrudgingly agrees to restore Bohemia’s contribution back up to 20,000 by the spring. Without Henri backing him, Ottokar doesn’t feel strong enough to refuse.

    Henri is playing a double game here. On the one hand, he wants Ottokar as a weapon to use against the Wittelsbachs. But on the other, he doesn’t want Ottokar to get too strong either, so having him waste resources in the east is ideal too. (Having other Imperial princes weakened as well is a nice bonus, but Bohemia is the main threat after the Wittelsbachs.) Henri has no desire to destroy the Wittelsbach behemoth and find it replaced by a Bohemian giant or Roman leviathan. There are reports that the most expansionist members of the Roman court are arguing for annexations as far afield as Vienna and the Alpine frontiers of Italy. The last in particular infuriates Henri.

    He is far from the only one to hear those suggestions and be irritated by them. Jointly, the ambassadors of Arles, the Bernese League, and Spain meet with Demetrios III to express their concerns over what they diplomatically title ‘distressing rumors’. They have no desire to see any kind of “super Roman Empire”, regardless of if its ruler comes from Germany or the Bosporus. An Italian peninsula entirely under Rhomania’s banner is an unacceptable threat to their security, one they will not tolerate “if this hypothetical scenario were, by the vagaries of fates, to happen to arise.”

    Demetrios III takes the hint and replies that he entirely understands their concerns, but that they are unwarranted as such a hypothetical scenario would not happen to arise. The ambassadors leave satisfied. Overall the relations between the three states and the Roman Empire are undamaged but Demetrios is nevertheless frustrated. A shot across his bow has been fired in relation to the war with the Lombards and more importantly, the affair has sunk his efforts to bring Spain and Arles into the war on his side. Kings Ferdinand I and Basil II are now wary of helping to slay Behemoth and thereby make room for Leviathan.

    Following the Three Johns meeting (all the ambassadors involved were named in their language’s version of John), Ferdinand, Basil, and representatives from the Council of the League meet in Perpignan (Arletian since the Aragonese War of Succession), where they draft and sign the Roussillon Accord. Much of the agreement has been a long time in coming. There are articles designed to increase commerce between the three realms, reducing or abolishing customs on certain products. Others aim to resolve colonial and trade disputes between Arles and Spain in the Caribbean and in the east.

    But the most significant clause, at the time, is the one that creates a mutual defense pact. If any one of the states is attacked by a foreign power, including the League’s titular sovereign the Holy Roman Emperor, the League will provide at minimum 15000 men, Arles 50000, and Spain 60000 in defense of the assaulted power. The alliance is mainly for the ‘benefit’ of Henri II, but it is also a reminder to Demetrios III that he needs to continue to consider the Accord members’ concerns.

    Those same “distressing rumors” also prove very useful to Lady Elizabeth who embarks on a highly developed propaganda campaign, inspired partly by what she saw in Rhomania during her marriage to Andreas III.

    There are alarms in the Holy Roman Empire as the reports of the growing size of the Roman army trickle in from the Danube. The use of Scythian cavalry by the Romans, plus the now-centuries-old Latin stereotype of the Greeks as semi-Turkish, help to conjure up memories of the nightmare steppe hordes of yesteryear. Adding extra color to this image are reports of Romans firing prisoners from the mouth of cannons, an execution method copied from Vijayanagar. It should be noted that this was only done to those Allied soldiers who turned brigand during the retreat from Ruse, but that is either not reported in the HRE or simply ignored.

    The expansionist rumor only fuels the threat of the Roman menace. King Stephan of Hungary is certainly alarmed, fearful of another Mohacs and Buda, or worse. Without support from Henri, who is not willing, or Ottokar, who is not able, he turns in a more pro-Theodor direction. King Casimir, who is also disturbed by rumors of a planned Vlach-Scythian invasion of Galicia next year, also ups his contributions to the war effort.

    Exactly how effective Elizabeth’s propaganda campaign is in working up more support in the Holy Roman Empire itself is unknown. There is a clear surge in the winter of 1633/34 and into the new year, but its effects are limited and mostly concentrated in the towns. Desertions are still high amongst the new recruits, with orders sent to the press gangs to only use roads that have wide clearings on both sides which makes it harder for men to abscond into the woods. If there is any impact on the rural lands, the upcoming Ravens’ Rebellion is proof it was short-lived.

    One factor that helps is Henri II encouraging some of the most prominent moneylenders in the Triple Monarchy, including some of the premier traders on both the London and Paris stock exchanges, to offer loans to Elizabeth. That inspires moneylenders in the HRE to be cooperative with Elizabeth’s efforts to raise more loans from sources inside the HRE.

    Henri II has a couple of reasons for his actions. Firstly, it is another way to encourage Theodor in his eastern ambitions. Secondly, throughout their tenure as Holy Roman Emperors, the Wittelsbachs have used their overall-good-credit to loan to princes or corporations in the HRE. The resulting debt is a useful political lever when necessary. By spiraling up the Wittelsbach debt, Henri II removes that weapon from Theodor’s hands.

    Lastly, Henri will need the support of the mercantile elements of his kingdoms to finance a Second Rhine War, but those elements are also heavily involved in trading with Lotharingia or the Hansa. As such they may not be as cooperative as Henri would like. However if they have large and unpaid debts from the Holy Roman Emperor, they’ll be more inclined to be supportive if Henri II marches and promises to get satisfaction for their claims.

    That said, even with pressure from Henri and/or Elizabeth, the moneylenders would be uninclined to offer credit to the Wittelsbachs if they did not expect to receive repayment. And they do expect it, for throughout western and central Europe the expectation is that the Wittelsbachs will, if not win, at least not lose. In fact, in the winter the attitude there is more optimistic than it was during the fall with the news of the retreat up the Danube.

    This is much to the surprise of most modern readers, but they have a clear view of all theaters and the advantage of hindsight. The people of western and central Europe in 1633/34 do not. They are relatively knowledgeable regarding the war in Italy and along the Danube. But their information of the war in Syria/Palestine/Mesopotamia is poor. There are reports of Romans raiding and taking cities in Mesopotamia, but nobody recognizes those names. But they do know that Ibrahim has taken Damascus and Jerusalem and threatened Egypt, and everyone knows those names. Clearly he must be winning.

    So Theodor is able to rebuild his armies. Blucher and his now indispensable right-hand man General von Mackensen set to work training and drilling the new recruits, with an enlarged artillery train developed to compensate for their inexperience. Mackensen is clearly Blucher’s protégé, being groomed as his successor to the extent that Mackensen’s son marries a granddaughter of Blucher. But Mackensen is an ennobled commoner. While the rank and file love and admire him for his bravery and coolness under fire and his leadership of the rearguard during the retreat from Ruse, King Casimir, Crown Prince Vaclav, and the vast majority of the Imperial princes and noble officers wouldn’t accept him as Supreme Commander. Meanwhile Elizabeth can’t help but be impressed by the revival wrought by their leadership, but she bluntly informs Blucher another revival after this will not be possible.

    For more manpower Theodor turns to his Despot Lazar of Serbia. The Despots of Egypt and Sicily are, between them, fielding something like 80 tourmai so it seems reasonable that his Despot can provide at least a half dozen or so. Lazar is far too nervous and cowed to refuse, so he gathers together a force which by May numbers nine thousand. The recruits are not enthusiastic about the war, but serving in the army hopefully means pay and rations, and for all the talk of a common Orthodoxy and hatred of Catholics, plundering Roman lands has been a source of wealth for Serbians for centuries.

    The position of Prince Durad of Serbia is made rather awkward by the news and the accompanying declaration from his older brother that all Serbs serving within the Roman armies after a three-month grace period will be considered traitors. His legal position is confusing. He is treated as an allied sovereign, yet Demetrios III still recognizes Lazar as the ruler of Serbia, not wanting to alienate him in the hope of pulling Lazar back into the Roman camp.

    Yet even on the ground Durad’s ‘ally’ status is questionable. He is part of the Paramonai which is made of foreign troops. Yet the Spanish, Arletians, and Pronsky are all foreign mercenaries, even if the Spanish and Pronsky came as formations rather than individuals. Ivan Sapieha and his Lithuanians are a special case as they are personally his men, but he has subordinated himself to the Roman army leadership.

    As an ally rather than a subordinate, Durad should be responsible for maintaining his troops, which at this point number just over four thousand. Yet he lacks the resources for it since he is not the leader of the Serbian state. Like a good portion of the Serbian nobility, he has some scattered estates throughout the Roman Empire of which he is absentee landlord. (This is a practice sometimes encouraged by the White Palace as the threat of the appropriation of those estates in wartime is a good way to keep their owners inclined to peace with Rhomania.) With those he can maintain his personal guard of 200, but the rest are clothed, fed, and paid by Roman quartermasters.

    To resolve the awkwardness, Prince Durad and Emperor Demetrios III meet shortly after the Three Johns discussion. Despite his weak hand, Durad is insistent that Demetrios recognize the independence of the Serbian state. If Demetrios wants to recognize Durad as the leader of the Serbs, it has to be as King, not Despot. He argues strongly that if he is just Despot Durad of Serbia, the Serbians will have no reason to favor him over Lazar, especially since an overlord in Germany will be less onerous than one in Constantinople, simply because of the greater distance. While if Constantinople promises independence and Munich doesn’t, they’ll be more inclined toward him. Plus, there is the precedent of the Serbian governor of Bor recognizing Durad as King of Serbia back in the spring of 1632. Finally, when Demetrios II crowned Durad’s father in 1610, it was as King, not Despot.

    Demetrios decides not to argue the point. Even if now he could impose a Despotate of Serbia, history makes it clear that will guarantee the Serbs allying with the next Latin invasion to come rolling down from the north. It might even encourage said invasion, since a prospective invader would be equally aware of that fact. In contrast, an independent Serbia will fight for its independence against an invader.

    So he decides to recognize Durad as King of Serbia. The church of Saint Mary of the Mongols [1] is temporarily ceded to Durad so that his coronation can be on ‘Serbian’ soil. He is crowned there by the Hegumen of the Hilandar Monastery on Mount Athos, the great Serbian monastery of the Holy Mountain, as King Durad I.

    Proceeding outside, he is greeted by the Megas Logothete and escorted to the White Palace where he has a public audience with Demetrios III. Durad promptly ‘cedes’ the church back to the Emperor and in return receives a formal alliance with the Roman Empire, along with an official subsidy to maintain his men. An additional grant helps pay for propaganda for use back in Serbia, with a thousand men eventually slipping over into Rhomania to sign up under Durad’s banner.

    More sources of manpower open up for Demetrios III as the other wars in Europe are beginning to die down. To the west, Malaga has fallen to Spanish arms but Granada still remains defiant. Extremely well-fortified with fertile environs supplying the city, it is a tough nut to crack and the defenders still remain defiant. A faction inside the city tries to betray Granada into Spanish hands to avoid destruction, but the plan leaks and the dismembered portions of the plotters are catapulted out into the Spanish forces who were to sneak into the city. So a siege it will be.

    Yet one city is not enough to absorb all of Ferdinand’s unsustainably-large army so he is still looking for outlets for his demobilizing soldiers. Demetrios III hires enough to replace all the losses the Paramonai Spanish took during the 1633 campaign, but that is it. After the Three Johns Affair, Ferdinand is wary of sending more Constantinople’s way. King Albrecht III of Lotharingia is a better choice. He is hiring and putting Spaniards into his ranks is more likely to work for and not against Lisbon’s interests.

    Better opportunities for Demetrios III lie to the north. Although Novgorod and Pronsk are the only two Russian principalities officially at war with the Empire of All the North, plus Prussia, there are contingents from Lithuania, Scythia, and even Khazaria fighting against the Scandinavians. Although Novgorod has by far the most at stake in retaking the lands lost during the Great Northern War, there is a strong sentiment throughout all the Russian states desiring vengeance for that humiliation.

    However that is not enough. The Alliance may rule the land but Scandinavia still dominates the sea. The result is deadlock.

    Enter Albrecht III. He is one of the youngest crowned heads of Europe, only twenty-six years old, and he has been on the throne for four years. He speaks Dutch and French fluently, although when emotional a faint but noticeable Dutch accent creeps into his French speech. He also can read Greek, Latin, and Spanish, although he is slow of speech in those tongues.

    By his day the Lotharingian court has been near-totally Dutchified. During the twenty-two year reign of his father Charles II, the Dutch merchant marine and economy has expanded substantially from its already rather large base. The Dutch merchant marine dominates much of the carrying trade of northern Europe, especially the Baltic, and has a sizeable trade with the Mediterranean. Most malmsey leaving Rhomania goes out on Dutch hulls and a few kaffos houses have opened up in Antwerp, Ostend, and Rotterdam.

    Their presence in eastern waters has also grown dramatically, although they are not quite on the level of the big three (Triunes, Spanish, and Romans). Lotharingian trading outposts are in the Vijayanagar Empire, the Kingdom of Pegu, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, the Kingdom of Palembang (Sumatra), the Kingdom of Siak (Sumatra), the Sultanate of Brunei, the Sunda Kingdom (Java), and Guangzhou.

    In the west their main activities are along the northern coast of South Terranova, exploiting the pearl beds of Venezuela, the salt mines of Curacao, and sugar plantations on Trinidad and Grenada. Supporting all these endeavors are a national bank (the new Imperial bank charter is modeled after the Lotharingian) and stock exchange in Antwerp, plus a system of agriculture that is already the most efficient and productive in Europe.

    The weakness of Lotharingia is its long and exposed frontier with little to nothing in the way of natural defenses and a small population (3 million) compared to its neighbors. So Lotharingia is both rich and weak, a very bad combination.

    Albrecht III is painfully aware of that fact and knows the longstanding Triune desire for his domains. He has been doing all he can to dissuade Theodor from his current course, but he only succeeds in alienating the Holy Roman Emperor who finds him ‘defeatist’. So he is looking elsewhere.

    One obvious choice for allies would be the members of the Roussillon Accords. Unfortunately while they sympathize with Albrecht, they are not willing to have him formally enter their agreement. The Accords are designed to prevent a war with one of the great powers of Europe and Ferdinand in particular thinks that having Lotharingia join with them would inevitably cause a war between the Accord members and the Triple Monarchy, probably at a very inconvenient moment. In Arles, old King Basil II is ailing and his heir is eight years old.

    Adding to Albrecht’s trouble is the situation with Scandinavia. While the Empire of All the North would theoretically be a useful ally against the Triunes, the attempted Scandinavian monopoly on the Baltic is highly damaging to Lotharingian trade. There have been frequent disputes over the Sound Tolls. Almost as soon as Archangelsk fell to Russian forces, Lotharingian ships sailed in to start trading for furs, much to Malmo’s irritation. Finally, Peter II of Scandinavia is Henri II’s brother-in-law.

    Needing the Baltic trade to pay for his Spanish mercenaries, Albrecht III moves to intervene in the Baltic War. As Blucher is laying siege to Ruse a powerful Lotharingian fleet commanded by Joris Andringa sets out from Albrecht’s domains. Because the shallow Dutch coast limits the draft of warships, Albrecht doesn’t have any of the 80+ gun monsters like in the arsenals of the Triple Monarchy, Rhomania, or even Spain. But he has sixty of the 50-60 gun battle-line ships, plus some 70-gun warships as squadron flagships, backed up by another thirty 40-gun warships, in his arsenal. Not all of these are sent to the Baltic.

    The armada, after five days of fighting, seizes the castle of Kronborg guarding the narrowest portion of the Øresund, a humiliating and devastating blow to the Scandinavian monarchy. The Scandinavian fleet, rallying from its blockade stations along the Prussian coast, arrives in force and offers battle three days later.

    The Scandinavians have sixty-three warships to the Lotharingian sixty-eight, although the two biggest warships in the fight are 76-gunners on the Scandinavian side. The battle is a confused brawl until around three in the afternoon when the Scandinavian flagship explodes, after which the Scandinavians retire. Losses in men are quite close, even with the flagship explosion, but the Lotharingians only lose 2 ships to 9 Scandinavian.

    With the Lotharingian fleet now in position to bombard Malmo, the Scandinavian capital, Joris is able to force a peace on the Scandinavians. Yet he is not to be too harsh; Albrecht doesn’t want to drive the Scandinavians into the arms of the Triunes if it can be avoided.

    Envoys from Prussia and Novgorod are ferried over and under the guns of the Lotharingian fleet a peace is hammered out in the Treaty of Kronborg. The Sound Tolls levied on Lotharingian ships will now be halved. Meanwhile Pernau is ceded to the Prussians and Narva to the Novgorodians, in exchange for three years of payment from Riga and Novgorod, the Scandinavians keeping Reval and St. Petersburg. Furthermore ‘in exchange for its support’, both Prussia and Novgorod form most-favored-nation trade agreements with Antwerp regarding grain, timber, fur, and amber exports, reducing export duties on those products for Lotharingian merchants. There is a mixture of gratitude and annoyance in the Prussian and Novgorodian lands regarding Lotharingia after the treaty is signed.

    With the Baltic quieting, Roman ambassadors are more successful in their efforts to secure Russian support. The Pronsk Veche, in exchange for a generous payment, offers twelve thousand infantry and two thousand cavalry that can march out in the spring of 1634, with the possibility of more if the Vlach-Scythian invasion goes forward. Unfortunately with Lithuania’s continued state of political infighting, which may be veering toward civil war, the support of Vilnius is out of the question. There are preliminary discussions as well with Prussia about an anti-Polish alliance, but right now Riga’s exchequer is in shambles and there is a limit to how many subsidies even Demetrios III can offer.

    Some valued manpower for the Roman Empire has come about as a direct result of the Danube campaign, in the form of prisoners of war. In Latin Europe, it is still a common practice to enlist captives in the armies of their captors, but attempts by Theodor to entice Roman soldiers into his service have been miserable failures and there is no way the Romans are giving their Latin prisoners weapons. But by this point there are thousands of Latin captives in the Roman Empire and while they can’t fight, they can work as replacements for the Roman men who are out fighting.

    The various prisoners are put into work gangs, building bridges, repairing roads, farming fields, cobbling shoes, fabricating barrels, salting pork, or any other work the government needs done. They are provided clothing and food, and high productivity is often rewarded with some folloi, enough to buy a few tankards of ale from the local watering hole. Men are usually given the same tasks they did in pre-war times, if they have certain skills such as tailoring or blacksmithing. Those with a useful trade have it best. They have quotas to meet, but oftentimes are allowed to sell any surplus for extra money, although the government takes a cut for the cost of materials.

    Officers are not required to labor, but junior officers are kept with their men to keep order and to supervise their work. Senior officers are separated, typically placed in guarded villas where they are given much food and wine to loosen their lips, attended by women selected for their skill in enticing pillow talk. This is done to extract potentially useful information and secure defections.

    There are no attempts at converting the rank and file (senior officers are another matter), but some, particularly Hungarians, do convert. They are still kept at labor, but they’re given lighter duties, more food, and extra folloi are rewarded more often. At the same time, if one then attempts to backslide out of Orthodoxy to their original faith, the beatings are most brutal.

    Some of the work gangs are hired out. Auctions are organized where bids are made on lots of laborers. The winners are responsible for feeding them but don’t have to pay them wages, unlike Roman workers, which is the attraction for those bidding. Sometimes these contracts are ‘for the duration of the war’ and other times for specified periods. Sometimes lots of laborers are ‘bequest’ to organizations or individuals the government wishes to reward.

    One of the lots bequest is that of Friedrich Zimmermann and the remains of his company. Their ‘employer’ is the Monastery of St. Constantine, which is on an island of the same name in Lake Apolloniatis near Prousa. The monastery also controls three of the other islands and many lakeshore estates. Aside from the typical produce and livestock, the monastery lands also produce raw silk, a common product of the region.

    The men are set to work tilling the land, caring for the livestock, digging ditches, mending tools, and all the other assorted agricultural labor. The men are all former peasants, so none of the tasks are unusual to them. Friedrich, as their leader, keeps them well behaved and their spirits up. While deploring their faith, the monks respect their discipline and hard work and Friedrich convinces the Hegumen to grant the Bavarians some vegetable patches for their use to supplement their assigned rations. Later he manages to talk the Hegumen into loaning them some chickens so their sick can eat the eggs, and granting them the right to whatever fish they can catch off a small dock, although it’s up to the Bavarians to make their fishing equipment.

    While working there, Friedrich makes the acquaintance of Alexios Asanes. Born in Arsamosata in the eastern reaches of the Empire, where Christians and Muslims often share the same holy men and holy sites, he became a priest as a young man. Most of his career was spent in the east, serving first in Alappuzha, then Jaffna, then Mersing, then Singapore, and then Pyrgos before he returned to the Imperial heartland. During that time he has rubbed shoulders and discussed theology and philosophy with Hindus and Buddhists and Taoists (in Singapore from the former Wu community).

    It shows; for an Orthodox priest his personal theology is rather unorthodox. The most obvious sign is that he believes in reincarnation of the soul. His argument is that God, being just and merciful, would want humans to have every opportunity to turn toward him, so they are given multiple lives on earth as a literal second (or more) chance. Although souls only reincarnate as humans, not as animals, their station can vary depending on their conduct in a past life, usually to teach them a lesson. An overly proud man may be born to beggars, for example.

    Some souls however, do not need this reincarnation to turn toward God, so after death their souls go straight to the bosom of Abraham while awaiting the Final Judgment. The saints of the Church are the obvious candidates here. The similarities to Buddhist beliefs of the souls of the virtuous achieving nirvana and breaking the cycle of reincarnation are noted by many of his contemporaries.

    However the similarity to Buddhism does not end there. Inspired by the concept of the Bodhisattva, Alexios argues that sometimes those souls return to Earth to help the living, perhaps to right a wrong, secure justice, or guide them to salvation. Perhaps the sight of saints in battle is of those blessed to see the souls return to Earth?

    Alexios is familiar with many king-under-the-mountain stories throughout the cultures he has encountered during his life, tales of how a legendary king sleeps beneath a mountain, to arise again when he is needed. The Good Emperor is the obvious example for the Romans themselves, but he is far from the only one. Alexios argues that those stories, while not physically possible, can be “spiritually” possible. The king himself is long dead, but his soul may return to Earth when he is needed, reincarnated in another body. Or at the very least, he returns to aid and guide a new king, like Krishna did for Arjuna in the Mahabharata.

    A key point that he stresses throughout all of this is the fundamental equality of all souls. That dynatos might once have been a beggar; that fisherman may once have been a king. “All souls, male and female, are equal before the eyes of God,” he repeats frequently in his writings. That, in and of itself, is nothing unusual. But he argues that therefore inequality on this earth is solely man-made, and therefore of no real value. And if it causes oppression and suffering to many people while benefiting only a few, then it is an active evil. And evil must be opposed.

    Friedrich is most interested in Alexios’ ideas and the two become unlikely friends. The priest certainly has no friends in the Orthodox Church hierarchy. It is because of his heretical views that he is here at St Constantine’s, as a sort of house arrest to keep him from spreading his doctrine. He is a hermitic monk attached to the monastery for ‘supervision’ by the Hegumen, but while he is not allowed to disperse his ideas amongst the Romans, nobody cares if he talks about them with the Catholics.

    Meanwhile to the north Odysseus Sideros returns to Constantinople, accompanied by his friend Michael, now nicknamed Pirokolos (fire-ass), much to the Kaisar’s amusement. Stefanos Asen-Palaiologos, commander of the Paramonai, came down with a really bad case of pneumonia and has been invalided out of the army. Because of the heterogeneous nature of the formation, someone of high and preferably royal rank is needed to take his place.

    That someone is Kaisar Odysseus. While he is only coming on twenty-one, he now has some combat experience and his Imperial status is very useful in leading a force containing a Serbian king, a Lithuanian grandee, and Spanish and Arletian nobility. Tourmarch Romanos Amirales, younger brother of the commander of the Army of Mesopotamia and former commander of Alexandros Drakos during the battles of Nineveh, is appointed as his chief of staff and unofficial advisor.

    * * *
    Serbia, April 21, 1634:

    Wilhelm Sebastian von Blucher looked on at the stark gray monument, grim and forlorn. He sighed.

    The blast of musty air from his lungs helped a little, but it did nothing to solve the underlying problem. He was good at hiding it, really good at it, concealing it from Theodor, from Elizabeth, from his generals, and especially his boys who did not need that burden.

    He was tired. So very tired.

    He’d been a soldier for over sixty years, three-quarters of his long life. And he was tired of it. But it, plainly, was not tired of him. Despite the ache in his bones, the fatigue in his limbs, duty demanded he stand and fight. His sovereign commanded it, an oath demanded it. And so he would do it, no matter the cost. He would do his best, whether it would, or would not, be enough.

    But he certainly wouldn’t have minded if this fool’s errand had passed from him to someone else. But it hadn’t, and so here he was. I’m certain you, of all people, would understand.

    Silence. Of course there was silence. He sighed. Soon he would know if he was right. He’d sent his updated will to his eldest son back in Mecklenburg. He looked to the south, to Macedonia. This would not be the end of war, but one way or another, it would soon be the end of his part in it. And with that thought, he couldn’t help but feel a sense of relief.

    He turned and left the memorial to Leo Neokastrites and the Chaldeans.

    * * *

    “Zhuge Liang’s sole thought was service,
    Himself he would not spare;
    But Qiao Zhou had watched the starry sky,
    And read misfortune there.”
    -Romance of the Three Kingdoms (OTL)
    [1] Different person ITTL but I like the name.
     
    1634: With this Shield, or on it
  • [Here is the edited update. It should cover most of the earlier reader responses. Those that weren't, I will respond to at a later time. Updates to the original are mostly concentrated around Skoupoi and at the end of the Twelve Days, but there are edits throughout pretty much every part of the update, except for the very final scene. Patreon post will be updated with a corrected link once this goes up.]

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    Macedonia 1634.jpg


    “When players of equal skill are matched,
    Then victory hovers between;
    Perhaps your opponent's a genius,
    So put on your lowliest mien.”
    -Romance of the Three Kingdoms (OTL).

    “Remember enough is as good as a feast,
    Having sketched a good snake don't add legs to the beast;
    And in fighting remember that others are bold,
    And tigers have claws though their teeth may be old.”
    -Romance of the Three Kingdoms (OTL)


    “The due time of battle will arrive, call it not forth, when furious Carthage shall one day sunder the Alps to hurl ruin full on the towers of Rome…”-Jupiter, the Aeneid, Book 10.

    “Thrice wicked was Cao Cao, but he was bold;
    Though all in the capital he controlled,
    Yet with this he was not content,
    So southward his ravaging army went.
    But, the autumn wind aiding, the Spirit of Fire
    Wrought to his army destruction dire.”
    -Romance of the Three Kingdoms (OTL)

    “"Where is the principle for yielding when I have my orders to rescue the city and so far have not succeeded?" Throwing off his helmet, he cried, "The happiest death a man can die is on the battlefield!" Whirling his sword about, Yu Quan dashed among his enemies and fought till he fell under many wounds.

    Many were they who yielded at Shouchun,
    Bowing their heads in the dust before Sima Zhao.
    Wu had produced its heroes,
    Yet none were faithful to the death like Yu Quan.”
    -Romance of the Three Kingdoms (OTL)

    “O comrades, for not ere now are we ignorant of ill. We have been tried by heavier fortunes, and to these also God will put an end.”-Aeneas, the Aeneid, Book 1.

    “Though fierce as tigers soldiers be,
    Battles are won by strategy.
    A hero comes; he gains renown,
    Already destined for a crown.”
    -Romance of the Three Kingdoms (OTL).

    “Individuals matter in history. Great heroes and prophets can inspire mighty causes that shake empires. And a single asshole or idiot can ruin everything for everybody.”-Emperor Demetrios III, Collected Writings.
    1634: Michael Laskaris, commander of the Army of Danube, currently 84000 strong, begins to push on Vidin in May. His goal is to retake that and then march on to Belgrade. If he can seize those two fortresses, he’ll effectively sever the Allied supply lines and force them to withdraw from Upper Macedonia and Serbia or face starvation and destruction. He expects the fighting to be hard; Vauban knows how to defend as well as defeat fortresses and both Vidin and Belgrade are some of the most formidable in Europe.

    To help counter that, and to combat the reported new and improved Triune artillery train, he has pulled together cannons from gun parks throughout Europe to reinforce his own. His gun line is twice as big as it was a year ago. Blucher’s grand batteries won’t have much luck with that. The downside of that is the slower pace of the army.

    He probes toward Vidin, moving cautiously so as to avoid any ambushes. In the smaller skirmishing around Vidin at the end of last year, both sides showed an ability to play that game. And considering his large and necessary artillery train, he wants to avoid the fate of Stefanos Monomakos, who during the Great Uprising saw most of his artillery train destroyed by an Idwait ambush, ruining the Roman offensive for the year.

    And so he is caught completely off-guard and well out of position when Blucher’s army of slightly over 80,000 storms across the border and assaults Skopje, in the upper Axios River valley.

    Demetrios III had expected something like this to happen. He’d argued during the winter that something like this would be entirely in keeping with Theodor’s nature. However he left the decision in the hands of his Domestikoi, and they’d disagreed, expecting Blucher to play a hard defensive campaign around Vidin/Belgrade. Demetrios had not ordered them to guard against this, but his attempts at convincing them had mainly served to make the Megas Domestikos and the Domestikos of the West more convinced in their own opinion. Demetrios III is their Emperor and a good administrator, but they know as well as he that he is no soldier.

    There had been some reports in Serbia (the information is sparser now that Blucher is mainly operating in non-Roman territories) that suggested a southward movement but Michael had dismissed them as misinformation to distract him. Helping to push that narrative is Despot Lazar, who is rather put out by Demetrios’ recognition of his younger brother as King of Serbia. Now his wagon is truly hitched to Theodor’s train. With experience of how Romans operate, he captured a couple of Roman spies during the winter and turned them, whether by threats or bribes is unknown, using them to feed false information to Michael that ‘confirm’ that the real preparations for a southward advance are truly a feint.

    By this point Michael is starting to set up his first parallels around Vidin, entrenching his artillery and growing concerned about Blucher’s absence. The news is delayed in reaching him as due to bad weather the semaphore line from Thessaloniki to Constantinople wasn’t able to operate but he immediately breaks camp with the bulk of his army to march to Skopje’s relief. He leaves behind a portion though to siege Vidin, including the bulk of his amassed artillery and all of the heavy pieces.

    The leaving of the artillery is a gamble, substantially weakening his army, but he has to do so if he wishes to move fast. He’s still marching with an array of field pieces which can keep up, but not in the numbers he’d gathered over the winter. To move his guns and supply wagons more quickly he needs more teams of horses, and he only has so many of those to go around. Therefore many cannons have to be left at Vidin in the name of speed. Some of the losses though can be made good by pulling from the reserve guns and mounts stabled at the Serdica Kastron. That all said, the batteries he still commands would be impressive…until compared to that of the Triune train, twice the size of last year’s. Henri II, for his part, also wants to send a reminder to Rhomania of the Triple Monarchy’s power.

    But leaving Vauban unmolested at Skopje is not, in Michael’s view, an option, after seeing the devastation wrought along the south bank of the Danube in Bulgaria and hearing reports about Upper Macedonia. Skopje, along with Ohrid, were the two key citadels that kept the Allies locked into Upper Macedonia (except from some raids). If Skopje falls, Blucher has a clear shot straight down the Axios River valley which leads into Lower Macedonia.

    The region has a well-developed and maintained road network and Lower Macedonia, once one gets into the coastal plains, is per-capita possibly the richest region in the entire Roman Empire. The Macedonian theme has 2.4 million inhabitants, second only to Thrakesia, and includes Thessaloniki, the second city of the Empire. It is more than capable of sustaining even the Allied host for a campaign season, and there’s no telling the moment of damage they could cause in the meantime. But if Michael can halt the Allies while they’re still in the mountainous uplands and hold them up, they’ll either starve or be forced to retreat. However for that to happen, Michael absolutely has to move fast.

    Skopje is the third largest city in the Macedonian theme after Thessaloniki (170,000) and Dyrrachion (60,000) with a pre-war population of 35,000, although refugees from parts of Upper Macedonia doubled it at one point. Some have moved on to Lower Macedonia or further afield, but many remained in the city. There was war work available, the garrison here provided good protection against Allied raiders, and many could also be supported by family relations in the hopes of returning soon to their lost lands. Before the Allied onslaught, some of the inhabitants of the outlying villages manage to flee to the city, boosting its population back up to 60000.

    The city is known as Skoupoi [1] to its Greek-speaking inhabitants. It has modern defenses, but their size and sophistication are not that impressive. It was taken by the Hungarians and then recaptured by the Romans during the Mohacs Wars, neither side having any serious difficulty. Given the expense of building top-notch modern fortifications, the money was never available to do more. The Danube and eastern citadels were what sucked up the budget for kastron-building.

    Where money was spent was on the transportation infrastructure of the region. The old Via Militaris runs through Skoupoi southward to intersect with the Via Egnatia near Thessaloniki. It’s been refurbished and expanded, paralleled by the ‘Ore Road’, a new construction from the Flowering, built to ease the transportation of produce and livestock (despite the unofficial name) to Thessaloniki’s demanding markets.

    There’s much work on the Axios itself from the Flowering as well. Much is for flood control, but also to make the river useful for flat-bottom barges to carry loads of timber and ores from the mountains to the foundries and workshops of Thessaloniki. This parallels other riverine works in the Empire both for flood control and to improve navigation, primarily on the Meander and Halys Rivers in Anatolia. Other works are to facilitate the use of water power for various tasks; the mill that gave the battle of Miller’s Ford in the War of the Rivers its name was one of these.

    Blucher hits Skoupoi fast and hard, knowing that he cannot afford to be stuck in the mountains for long. Wagon trains are coming down the Via Militaris from Belgrade, but that’s a far cry from the Danube. They can provide him with the shot and powder he needs; Blucher absolutely wants to avoid the lack-of-powder nightmare from last year. But to feed his army, he needs to get to Lower Macedonia fast.

    Vauban is well aware of this. Historians debate how privy Vauban is to his master’s plans regarding Emperor Theodor, but no one can doubt that he did, and does, his utmost throughout his assignment with the Allied army. The simplest explanation for that is a victorious Roman army may end with one Marshal Vauban being made dead in the process.

    So he is much more aggressive here. His tactics are normally methodical and inexorable, with minimal risk to the besiegers, but at the cost of being slower. That’s not an option here so he pushes his men, digging their parallels closer and working the guns to smash the Skoupoi defenses flat.

    The men know this too so they also work harder. Yet despite their situation there are few desertions. Partly there is the example of last year, where those who deserted ended up being blasted from the mouths of cannons, while those who stayed with the standards had a chance to live. While Lazar is cooperating with Theodor (although Blucher pointedly makes sure to keep the Despot far away from a battlefield command) individual Allied soldiers still stand a good chance of being bushwhacked by Serbian peasants, for their boots if nothing else. The only difference from Rhomania is that their body will be dumped in a hidden hole rather than mutilated and left in public view.

    There are also the Roman partisans from Upper Macedonia. To reinforce his lines, Blucher has pulled the bulk of his troops from the occupied regions of Macedonia save those masking the Ohrid garrison. Unfortunately they are followed by the partisans, whose regular source of supplies has been raiding the Allied garrisons and now come in their wake.

    The most dangerous are the two bands of ‘commune partisans’. These are from two small districts that were never occupied, or at least never secured, by Allied forces. The locals in those districts set up little Roman enclaves, organizing their defenses and electing leaders and officials, typically through the preexisting village framework. Because of their small and isolated natures and no possibility of trade (although there was some smuggling, sometimes with the connivance of the garrisons) raiding is essential for their survival. And so the fighting men of the communes followed.

    There is also a much smaller third band, which extorted some supplies from Allied garrisons by threatening them with cannibalism. Despite its few members, this force has become quite a bogeyman to Allied troops for that reason. Historians of the period mostly think the cannibalism was merely a creative threat to compensate for the force’s weakness, rather than something actually practiced, although a minority think it was at least practiced at a dark moment to give the future threats some teeth. More than a few of those historians have commented that in Demetrios III’s detailed history, which does discuss this band, he is uncharacteristically silent in this matter.

    The city’s garrison is commanded by Kastrophylax Andronikos Laurentios but the heart of the resistance to the Allied siege is Konstantinos Mauromanikos, the Bishop of Skoupoi (and first cousin to the commander of the Army of Georgia). During the Council of Constantinople in 1619, he’d argued that suicide was valid, even commendable, if a member of the faithful was faced with Latin rule. This was voted down but he brings a spirit of fanatical resistance to the defense. Yet while fervor is useful, it doesn’t slow cannonballs.

    A pair of storm-able breaches are smashed through the walls on the north side, although the gun crews take heavy losses from sniper fire in the process. To boost morale and encourage volunteers, von Mackensen christens those batteries as ‘men without fear’. [2] The guns are never short of volunteers. A demand for surrender is denied and Blucher orders his men to storm the city on May 14. It will be bloody but he can’t afford to wait.

    At that time, 80% of the city is north of the Axios, dominated by the Fort of Justinian [3], built by Justinian well over a thousand years ago. It has been repaired and expanded some since then, but it is still a pre-gunpowder fortification. The city south of the Axios is connected to the north city by a great stone bridge constructed near the end of Andreas I’s reign, which is overlooked and dominated by said Fort. [4]

    Fighting is utterly savage in the way only house-by-house urban fighting can be. Battle is waged with every weapon and resource and person who can be brought to bear. It takes two hours for the Allies just to clear the Church of the Ascension of Jesus Christ, with soldiers from both sides firing on each other along the nave.

    800px-Dos_de_mayo,_por_Joaquín_Sorolla.jpg

    Spanish painting-The Last Defenders of the Church of the Ascension
    [By Joaquín Sorolla - Museo del Prado, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76135129]​

    One of the many heroes on the Roman side in the defense is a young woman named Anastasia, the Maid of Skoupoi. While bringing up supplies to one of the barricades, she saw the last of the defenders killed. With the one cannon there already loaded, she fired it into the ranks of oncoming Bavarian troops, so close that one was able to touch the barrel as she fired the double-Vlach shot into their ranks. The carnage drove them back long enough for reinforcements to arrive and secure the barricade.

    640px-Wilkie_-_defence_of_saragoça.jpg

    A Spanish painting of Anastasia of Skoupoi.
    [By David Wilkie - Web Gallery of Art: Image Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5763200]
    It is not war to the knife; it is war to the teeth. Sometimes there are firefights waged between forces in houses and shops on opposite sides of the street from each other. After five days of fighting the Allies have taken two-thirds of the north city, with the price of thirty five hundred casualties. The Roman regulars and the local allagion (militia force) have some training, which help in handling the carnage. But most of the Roman defenders, who are mostly untrained civilians and have taken over fifteen thousand casualties, have had no such preparation.

    It is an absolute nightmare, of steel and blood and screams, of young boys pleading for their mothers, screaming that they don’t want to die. Of piles of shattered limbs, of gorging ravens too fat to fly waddling through the abattoir, tatters of bowels hanging from their beaks. This isn’t Skoupoi. This isn’t Earth.

    This is Hell.

    The people of Skoupoi have taken it for five eternities, five eons of horror. But the human body is not meant to take this, and as slaughter drags on and the nightmare seems to show no signs of ending, they begin to crack. In one street a party is held where people, in the middle of a firefight, start guzzling liquor and placing bets on which of them will die first. “Happy is he who is picked to lead.” In another outbreak of madness, or celebration of life, depending on one’s view, people dance and sing together amidst the fire, trying to remember what life was like before the horror, until happy merciful death comes and releases them from here.

    The morale, the sanity, of the people of Skoupoi is falling to pieces, even as they continue to fight and die. Some charge the Allied guns, with no other purpose than to end it already, for not one more minute of this place can be endured. Not one more minute. Not. One. More.

    That it lasts this long is due to Bishop Mauromanikos. He is everywhere, pleading, cajoling, inspiring, haranguing, using every tool he can think of to encourage his flock, to get them to last just a little bit longer. To do so, because he has to, he puts himself into incredible danger to inspire them. On at least sixteen different occasions, he stands atop barricades loudly praying for the people of Skoupoi as bullets whip around him, killing his assistants who willingly accompany him, punching through his vestments, and even trimming his beard. And yet he is unharmed, but every minute he lives is a miracle.

    On May 19 the Roman Army of the Danube arrives, making the 400km march (as the most direct road goes) in ten days once they broke camp at Vidin. Michael’s initial plan had been to swing west, find some hills dominating the Via Militaris north of Skoupoi, and entrench, forcing Blucher to either attack him there or starve. But then scouts reported that the walls of Skoupoi had been breached and the city taken.

    In that case, Michael’s previous strategy would be even worse than pointless. If Blucher has Skoupoi, then he can surge south into Lower Macedonia, where supply lines aren’t necessary. Without a thorough stripping of the countryside beforehand, which isn’t likely unless Michael can at least slow him down, the area can supply Blucher with all the food, fodder, powder, and shot he needs at least through the autumn. And Michael can’t slow him down if he’s entrenched on some hill in southern Serbia.

    Scrambling in the opposite direction, Michael drives to swing around and cut off Blucher somewhere in the mountains before he can break out into Lower Macedonia. If he succeeds, the capture of Skoupoi will be irrelevant.

    While force-marching at an even faster clip, having to leave behind some of his heavier field batteries behind to maintain speed, he gets improved information. Skoupoi hasn’t fallen, but is instead in a massive street battle, fighting hard but losing ground rapidly. By this point the Army of the Danube is at a point where it’d take longer to reenact Michael’s original plan rather than march directly to Skoupoi’s relief. The army can either do battle at Skoupoi itself, likely in terrain of Blucher’s choosing, or try the initial plan, which runs the serious risk of not getting placed quickly enough to stop Blucher surging down into Lower Macedonia. Except this time, Michael will have worn out his army with repeated force marches and not be able to interpose himself in time.

    Another option is to let Skoupoi fall and take up a blocking position south. But to leave the people there to die after fighting so valiantly just seems wrong. The Army of the Danube and Michael Laskaris have had to do that too many times already, and they’ve seen the destruction wrought by the Latins after they’ve done so. And they are sick and tired of it. No more. Not this time. The army will march on Skoupoi.

    A flying column though is sent back north to at least partly reenact the original plan, although this is an ad-hoc structure rather than the original troops that Michael would’ve used for a flying column. Those, having been sent on ahead during the march south to find a good blocking position, would have to march back even further. The original flying column proceeds to Skoupoi, probing the Allied defenses, and getting beaten back for its troubles. The initial sight inspires hope amongst the Skoupoi defenders, which is crushed all the more when the Roman regulars have to retreat out of sight, linking up with the main army.

    Meanwhile, in a moment of rage at the updated report, which if he’d gotten a few days earlier would’ve made a world of difference, Michael whips his horse into a gallop, going on a furious ride to blow off steam outside camp. His horse trips and falls, seriously injuring the Domestikos who is coughing up blood at the end of the day. Taking himself off active duty, he is succeeded by the senior strategos Hektor Likardites, he who told a younger Athena Siderina that women can’t face cold steel. However despite his injuries, Laskaris stays with the army as a sort of advisor.

    Hektor approaches Skoupoi from the south, despite the extra delay that imposes. Considering the comparatively weak artillery currently at his disposal despite the pieces pulled from the Serdica kastron and the nose-bludgeoning the flying column got, he does not care for attacking the well-built field fortifications guarding the Allied northern line. But the lines on the south side are weaker. If he can smash through there and reinforce the north, he can then drive the Allies out of the city. Once properly garrisoned by the Army of the Danube, there is no way Blucher can take Skoupoi, Vauban or not, and he’ll have to either retreat or starve.

    “What, what is that?” the people of Skoupoi ask as the banners crest the horizon. There is something else out there beyond the inferno? There is a possibility of actually surviving this? There is…hope?

    The Romans crash into the southern Allied lines, scattering most of them like tenpins, but then they run into an understrength regiment of Saxon veterans, who’ve received a personal hand-written appeal rushed from Blucher himself to hold the Romans as long as possible and to the last man. And for Old Man Blucher, they will. Slamming a musket volley into the Romans’ faces at two meters’ range, the Roman advance stalls.

    Is this all just a cruel hoax? Is this hope to be snatched away as quickly as it came, more cruel than if it had never been, just like the first time? Rationality would say the delay, for all the Saxons’ skill, will only be a few minutes, but rationality, sanity, has no place in Skoupoi, and not one more minute can be endured. The last thread frays.

    Bishop Mauromanikos pleads with his flock to endure, for just one more moment, and then this cup of woe will pass from them. Just a few more minutes, he argues, but it is hard, for not one more minute.

    And then there are no more miracles for Bishop Mauromanikos. A Bohemian cannonball hits him in the chest, disintegrating his torso and sending his blood spraying on his horrified flock, his severed limps flopping to the ground.

    Not.

    One.

    More.

    The last thread breaks.

    It starts as a trickle, but the avalanche only needs one pebble to begin. The first person to run gives a license to all those who have been wanting to flee for so long. It soon it turns into a flood, despite the efforts of the still-fighting regulars and militia to keep them. They flee the barricades, flying back towards the Roman troops that by this point have overrun the Saxons and are pouring across the Stone Bridge. But that doesn’t matter anymore. Nothing matters. Not God, not Rhomania, not city, not love, not family. Nothing matters except No More. They just cannot take it anymore. And so they flee, seeking the one escape to the hell that has become their life, the overpowering cocktail of fear, panic, and madness blinding them to all consequence or reasons.

    The regular troops, who had at least some preparation for all this in training, that make up the proper garrison stand to their defenses, but now they are horribly outnumbered and soon engulfed as Blucher throws in everything he has in a do-or-die assault. The Kastrophylax is killed trying to hold the medieval gatehouse of the Justinian Fortress, the Allied assault commanded personally by von Mackensen, two bullets punching through his bear-skin cap, although he is unharmed.

    Meanwhile the inhabitants of Skoupoi are now crashing into the columns of Roman troops, snarling them in a horrific traffic jam. Panic spikes even more amidst the civilians, their courage shattered by the last five days of battle as they push and shove frantically to get south of the river, behind the ranks of Roman soldiers. Except in their panic they’re making it all the harder for those soldiers to get in front of them; in their desperation even the flats of swords and ambrolars can’t stop them.

    The only thing that would make them stand aside in their state would be for the Roman soldiers to open fire on their own civilians, and that they will not do. The pre-war Roman army might have; that one was more select, filled mostly with long-term volunteers who’re making the soldier career their life. The war army still has those, but also tens of thousands of conscripted civilian ‘soldiers for the duration’ or militiamen inducted into the army. The mad-with-terror people in front of them, filled with women, children, and old men, (who had originally volunteered to fight on the barricades to protect the many more huddling in terror in the south city) are their wives and sisters, mothers and daughters, sons and gray-bearded fathers. One Roman tourmarch in his frustration does order his men to fire on them; he is promptly informed by his first dekarchos (who is from a small village north of Skoupoi) that if he really wants that order, the dekarchos will kill him on the stop. The soldiers do not fire.

    And then the guns of the Fort of Justinian open up on them. The defenders spiked half of them before they were killed, although some of their wrecking work could be quickly repaired. But that still leaves half of the guns clear for action. During the urban battle, the guns of the Triune artillery train had mostly kept them down, but even so those cannons had afflicted heavy losses on the Allied assault troops. But now they are clear, the Bohemian gunners presented with the target of their dreams.

    It is impossible for any shot to miss, each ball carving bloody swathes through ranks of dozens of bodies. Three-story buildings on either side are splashed crimson to their rooftops by the slaughter.

    The Roman soldiers immediately start retreating under the hail, keeping good order despite the carnage, although some of the newest units are shaky. But if the civilians were panicked before, now they are almost deranged with fear. Trampling each other, they pile into the Roman soldiers again, trying to beat their way through, again tangling them as the Allied guns pour shot after shot into the massed ranks.

    The gunners also started with the square at the north end of the Stone Bridge, working their way northward as some of the Roman guns are repaired and brought back into action as some Triune guns are hauled up to bolster them. Those fleeing have to clamber over piles of shattered dead.

    Likardites is aghast at the slaughter of his forward units. Trying to throw more troops in there will only further congest the area and the Allied guns by this point are now shelling the Stone Bridge, the misses killing some of the few who seek to escape by swimming the Axios. For most, including the Roman soldiers who unlike the navy don’t have a swimming requirement, that is not an option.

    Instead he brings what guns he has to bear. But he only has light field pieces plus a few heavily outnumbered larger cannons from Serdica. With the buildings of the south part of Skoupoi obstructing firing lanes, the pieces have to deploy along the south bank of the Axios, easy targets for the Fortress guns, and at their range and angle the light pieces lack the punch even against the Fort of Justinian’s obsolete walls. First to go into action in the rush, three-pounders with no protection firing upward at protected twelve and twenty-five pounders is not a contest. One Roman cannon is smashed in less than three minutes. Three batteries have their ready and reserve crews completely wiped out. Yet there is no need to call these batteries ‘men without fear’. Volunteers come forward to man and die at the guns, trying to cover their comrades and ‘families’ trying to get to the south bank.

    A pair of eight-pounder and a twelve-pounder battery get into action, and these are strong enough to smash three former Roman cannon and three Bohemian or Triune guns on the wall to pieces, killing half of their current crews. But the Allies have numbers and elevation on their side, and send shot whistling down to wreak carnage of their own on the new Roman batteries.

    The Romans try, but despite their sacrifice they mostly fail. With Allied troops hurling musket fire into them now as well, few can escape the cauldron. And some of the Roman soldiers, veterans of last year’s campaign, as they die, turn their heads toward Constantinople and scream “Are you satisfied?! Have enough of us died for you?!”

    Others do escape, flying across the Stone Bridge, hotly pursued by Allied troops. Roman cannon and musket fire flay those pursuers, sending them screaming back to the north side. But then they regroup, supported by the Fortress guns and more Allied artillery being set up along the north bank. With the Roman pieces battered by the Fort, the contest is again unequal.

    Aside from that, Likardites now has even more civilians on his hand. Aside from those in the north who managed to make it clear of the abattoir, there are those that were originally in the south city when the Romans arrive, who make up the bulk of the city’s population anyway. And those southern civilians are catching the panic from their northern counterparts. Unsurprisingly families are not inclined to calm when they see their screaming half-mad covered-in-blood husband/father.

    On the north side it was something like ten thousand jamming the roads. Now there are forty thousand, in a smaller space, trying to flee out of the city and snarling up Roman troops trying to set up barricades. Some of the Allied pieces along the river have clear sights on the traffic jams and start reaping a harvest of their own, albeit one not quite as gruesome as on the north side.

    Considering his position untenable, Likardites begins withdrawing from the south city, although the troops at least retire orderly, either taking away or spiking (more thoroughly) the guns on the south ramparts of Skoupoi. He sets up camp just out of cannon-range of the south wall, trying to restore some order amongst the now-refugees. Blucher meanwhile occupies the south city.

    Both sides have been heavily battered by the fighting, although the casualties of soldiers at Skoupoi are roughly equal, but now the Roman soldiers are outnumbered by about 8000. The Allies started the campaign with fewer soldiers, but there is a Roman detachment still besieging Vidin plus the now-pointless northern flying column. Plus Likardites has 40,000 refugees on his hands. And he is on the wrong side of the river.

    If Likardites can still hold Blucher up in the mountains just for a fortnight, maybe even just a week, even the loss of Skoupoi may prove irrelevant. But the Axios curves downstream, its south bank becoming its west bank and its north bank its east bank, and Thessaloniki and Constantinople are both east of the river. He cannot stay here. As Blucher works down the river, Likardites moves as well, the refugees dragging on him like an anchor. Yet not all the Romans go with him.

    * * *

    South of Skoupoi, Upper Macedonia, May 20, 1634:

    Domestikos of the West Michael Laskaris looked to the north, to the battered smoking husk of Skoupoi, and to the four Bavarian soldiers watching him, their hands on their muskets. He sat on a chair, some wine and opium-laced kaffos on an army chest next to him. He really needed those, taking a drink of the now-lukewarm kaffos.

    He coughed into a handkerchief, pulling the white fabric back to see several flecks of blood now there. He coughed again, adding some more, then adjusted his very baggy coat.

    He was sick, and he looked it. He was in no shape to stay with the army, even as an advisor, with the hard fighting and marching that was to come. He probably shouldn’t have stayed with the army at all after removing himself as commander, but he’d not wanted to go back to Constantinople.

    And that had not changed. He had absolutely no intention of returning to the capital, like this. He might recover from his injuries. He might not, but either way Constantinople was not an option.

    He expected to be called back to the capital, which was partly why he’d stayed on as an advisor, even though that was not expected of him. Likardites was his second already; he knew everything already.

    The Emperor was a reasonable man though. It wouldn’t be like Gabras. If he was to be damned, then he would damned for what he deserved. And he did deserve to be damned, he admitted. He’d planned for what he expected to happen, but not for what he did not expect to happen, a cardinal error. And so when Blucher had upended the script, because of his pride over having bested the ‘Great Old Man’ last year, he’d had no real plan and been forced to improvise. And he’d be the first to admit he wasn’t the best improviser. Hence this mess. So his sovereign had every right and reason to throw the book at him.

    Except then it would be the curs of Constantinople, those…newspapermen. And he’d be defamed not for what he’d done wrong, but for whatever they could think of to boost their sales. Probably somehow sleeping with Elizabeth. He had been damned by them for all sorts of things last year, and he had not forgotten, or forgiven. He still smiled at the thought of those who’d gotten a forum breakfast. He’d been damned for being cautious; well, he’d own up to that. If he’d followed their advice, there’d be another ten thousand dead Romans, at minimum. And his soldiers knew that too, and resented it. And so, no matter how the Emperor acted, he would go out like Gabras, and Michael Laskaris, descendant of Theodoros Laskaris Megas, had far too much pride to leave like that, and be seen as a whipped dog by those curs.

    I will not go out like Gabras. Mocked and humiliated and scorned by men who’d foul themselves if a gun went off next door to them. By worms who would slander a man for no reason if that would put a few folloi in their pockets. He’d been at Astara, at Mohacs, at Buda, at Nineveh, and all the western battles of this war. He’d seen death and carnage and slaughter and pain, and he would not be judged by those who’d not been in the dragon’s mouth either. He would not go out like Gabras.

    As the Spartans said, with this shield, or on it. There were no other choices. With this shield was not an option, not for him anyway. So it’d be on it. Rather than Gabras, he would go like Theodoros Sideros instead, the father of Demetrios III who was slain on the field of Dojama, rather than return in shame and disgrace. For as he said, better a noble death than an ignominious life.

    And yet he would not, if God be kind, go out like Theodoros. For the Domestikos had just been slain on the battlefield. Perhaps he had killed a few of the Persian rankers, but that was all.

    He was quite grateful for his injury now; it’d given him the exit he wanted. Being captured in good health like this would look far too suspicious. But in his half-dead look, it seemed much more reasonable that he couldn’t keep up. And so he could serve his Emperor one more time, perhaps making up for his mistakes this season, and simultaneously pour full scorn on those vermin.

    Some riders were approaching, one of them attired in the uniform of a general in the service of the House of Wittelsbach. It seemed like his conditions for his surrender, which he’d communicated via the patrol that had found him, had gone through. God, please give me strength.

    The riders arrived, the general dismounting and approaching. Michael struggled to his feet, finishing off the kaffos, adjusting his dress sword strapped to his side. He was in the full parade uniform of a Roman Domestikos, outshining the mud-splattered and somewhat shorter German in front of him.

    “I am General von Mackensen, in service to the Emperor Theodor I,” the German said in his own tongue. “Here to accept your surrender.”

    “I said I would only surrender to Emperor Theodor or, failing that, Marshal Blucher,” Michael replied in his heavily-accented German.

    “I’m afraid that both his Imperial Majesty and the Marshal are busy at the moment.” There was cannon and musket fire to the southeast. “You may surrender to me.”

    “Those are not my terms.”

    “My good sir, you are not in a position to bargain. You may meet with the Emperor after you surrender, but only after you surrender.”

    Michael worked to keep his despair off his face. If I could get within arm’s reach of either one of them for two seconds; that’s all I need. And this is over. But it was most doubtful he could get to Theodor after captivity without being searched, and then this would all be for nothing. And that he would not allow. His shame, isn’t of being erased, would be amplified. But…while this wouldn’t be a death blow to the Allies, it would still hurt, a lot.

    “Very well,” Michael replied. “You are a man of rank and honor. It is a privilege to surrender to you, good sir.” God, please give me strength. It all came down to seconds. He unbuckled his sword and held it out in his right hand.

    Mackensen stepped forward. “It is an honor to accept your surrender, good sir.” Mackensen gripped the sword, Michael letting go.

    Michael’s left hand grabbed Mackensen’s collar, yanking the German forward. The guards started forwarded as the general started to jerk backward. Michael’s right hand came swinging, hitting the inside of the Domestikos’ left elbow, striking the flintlock mechanism there under the baggy coat sleeve. A German soldier started to grab Michael’s shoulder.

    The two grenades, to which the flintlock mechanism had been connected by a nimble-fingered and explosively-inclined dekarchos, exploded in Michael’s and Mackensen’s faces.

    * * *

    1634 continued: Likardites can’t move quickly with all the refugees in tow. A few are useful from his perspective, quick-moving, armed, and able to be pressed into service as camp guards or escorting their fellow refugees. But there are large numbers of children and old ones. If Likardites abandons them, the Allied troops nipping at his heels from south Skoupoi probably will massacre them. And there’s the matter of what that will do to the morale of much of the Roman rank and file.

    To buy himself time, he has the Macedonian tagma force-march ahead of the main body. Under the command of Andronikos Koumpariotes, it fords the river in front of the downstream-marching Allied army, setting up a stout defensive position. Taking advantage of the narrow mountainous terrain, the aim is to hold up the Allies long enough for the slow-moving main body to reinforce the Macedonians.

    Blucher though expected something like this to happen, and during the winter he’d spent a lot of effort recruiting good mountain troops from the Tyrolese and Swiss. While almost two hundred cannons pound the Macedonians in the front, the Tyrolese and Swiss work through the crags to turn the Roman position. Meanwhile the best Roman mountain troops are with the Army of Georgia or currently storming the Brenner Pass.

    Hit from both front and flank, the Macedonians are hammered brutally, although they smash at their assailants, but steadily they are ground down and back. They retire onto the main body, now across the river with the refugees still dragging, holding together but very badly damaged.

    That engagement sets the template for what follows. Roman positions are pounded by the Allied artillery train, which outnumbers the Roman at this point close to five to one (and in terms of weight of shell the odds are even longer), as Allied mountain troops turn their lines and come piling down their flanks. And yet Roman guns hurl double Vlach-shot in the teeth of Allied infantry and Roman muskets flay the head of Allied assault columns even as they break through the Roman lines, only to find the Romans, fewer in number perhaps, but still fighting, reforming a new line that must be stormed in front of them.

    It is 180 kilometers as the road goes from Skoupoi to where the mountains fade away to open up to the Macedonian plain. One hundred and eighty kilometers and twelve days of agony. Twelve days of terror and blood and death.

    Agony for the Romans. The agony of retreating, forced to abandon their wounded. The agony of huddling under the pounding of the never-ending guns, of the whistle of iron clipping off rocks in their courses, to add another tide of death.

    Agony for the Allies. The agony of advancing, of treading over their fallen. The agony of leaning forward as the never-ending Roman muskets roar down on them, of the whistle of iron clipping off rocks in their courses, to add another tide of death.

    Agony and heroes.

    On the Roman side, there is Tourmarch Alexios Maniakes, who once fought alongside Kaisar Andreas at Volos. Leading his tourma in a daring night raid, he wreaks six hundred Bohemian casualties before he retires with the dawn. There is the ‘Mad Lyrist’, the Strategos of the Opsikians, Iason Tornikes, who to bolster the morale of his men under another of those bombardments, stands and plays a tune on his politiki lira. Most can’t hear him, but they can see him, and that is enough. While sounding decidedly crazy to modern ears, such deeds earn great admiration and respect from the men, on both sides, who expect, and require, their officers to show utter contempt for death.

    And then there is Odysseus. Always where the fighting is thickest, encouraging and succoring, covering retreats and leading attacks to relieve pressure. During the twelve days, four horses are killed under him and nine bullets or shell fragments pass through his clothing; he suffers not a scratch. By the end his mere presence is enough to cheer the men around him, and more than a few are starting to call the short dark-skinned Kaisar “their Little Megas”.

    On the Allied side, there is Archbishop ‘Bone-Breaker’, leading his men forward into a hail of bullets, totally indifferent to danger. On May 23 he is nearly captured or killed, but is rescued by his ‘nephews’ Karl and Paul, who are actually his illegitimate sons. There is King Casimir. His cavalry are near useless in this fighting, but still he presents himself in blinding pageantry under the muzzle of Roman guns, deliberately drawing their fire down on him to lure it away from those making the actual attacks.

    And then there is Blucher. Always where the fighting is thickest, encouraging and succoring, urging his men forward. Theodor was disturbed by the manner of Mackensen’s death, but it is the Marshal who takes it hardest. To compensate, he throws himself into the fight. Undoubtedly it galvanizes his men, inspiring them to even greater deeds, for no young man will let it be said that he couldn’t do what a man four times his age could. And yet there are some who feel that this is not bravery, but suicide. On May 27 he is gently but firmly told by his men that they will go and take that hill, but first “Marshal Blucher to the rear”. He goes to the rear and his men take that hill.

    While this is happening, the northern flying column mauls one small Allied wagon train but then after a delay gets a rider bearing news of the debacle at Skoupoi. Realizing his original orders are pointless, the commander Konstantinos Sanianos breaks camp and starts racing south himself. A native of Lower Macedonia, albeit not this particular area, his goal is to find a more knowledgeable local (those soldiers with local knowledge had been detailed to the original, now ‘southern’, flying column and thus not available for this expedition; Sanianos himself was the next best choice) and use his familiarity to infiltrate through the mountains and come piling onto Blucher’s rear while he’s still clawing south against the main body.

    A day’s march on, Sanianos is met by an old hunter and trapper, a veritable mountain man that Sanianos knows from his childhood, a man with a reputation of knowing every goat track from the Danube to the Adriatic. The hunter gladly agrees to help in exchange for a token fee. The column sets off in high hopes of salvaging the situation. Except then the hunter leads them nowhere and into a dead end, demanding an exorbitant sum in exchange for actually leading them out of here. Absolutely beside himself with rage that this old hunter has been leading them on a literal rabbit’s trail while his friends are fighting and dying, Sanianos kills him on the spot. The column works its way back out of the mountains, but the ‘detour’ means it is too late for them to help their comrades.

    On June 1, the long-running battle finally exits the mountains, both armies tumbling half-dead onto the plains. A month ago they were both over 80,000 strong. Now the Allies have a fighting strength little more than 55,000 strong and the Romans are down to 50,000 (although 10000 Romans are up at Vidin and the northern flying column once it arrives boosts the Romans up to parity with the Allies). Many of those losses are wounded who eventually return to the ranks (although here the advantage goes to the Allies since they didn’t have to abandon their wounded at points), but the slaughter is horrific even to veterans of the battles along the Danube.

    Now there is room for maneuvering, although neither side is capable of much at this point. Likardites stumbles backward, still shepherding 40000 refugees, organizing the stripping of the Macedonian countryside to deny resources for the invaders. Somehow Blucher, who is losing weight at an alarming rate, manages to keep the army together rather than the men scattering for food. There are still some running battles between the two sides, but after the Twelve Days both are keen to have a breather, and a gap soon opens up as the Allies pick clean the area for food. The Romans, in their haste, have gotten the most obvious but not had time to be particularly thorough.

    In Lower Macedonia they start getting news of the response of the capital to the events in Macedonia. It is a torrent of abuse.

    Newspapermen in the capital had learned to steer clear of the Imperial family, but now with Michael Laskaris dead they feel free to let loose. There is a new crop this year, and since they don’t have earlier access to the news like those on Demetrios III’s shortening list-of-people-he-likes, they make up in ‘commentary and analysis’.

    Michael Laskaris’ name is damned and dragged through the mud, everything thrown at him, the lurid prose a way to draw readers and sales. Except the problem is the Roman soldiers of the Army of the Danube liked Michael. Unlike these newspapermen, he didn’t seem to want to get them all killed, which is why when some fell at Skoupoi they ‘asked’ Constantinople if they were finally satisfied.

    And it seems the answer is no. For the soldiers and officers of the Army of the Danube are dragged through the mud also, condemned as cowards, idiots, perhaps even traitors. The Twelve Days didn’t break the army of the Danube, but this, coming afterwards onto the traumatized souls of the survivors, shepherding even more traumatized refugees, is one more straw. And something snaps.

    Desertions, which weren’t a problem before despite the terrors of the Twelve Days, suddenly are, several hundred Roman soldiers dropping their muskets and disappearing into the countryside. Dying for a reason can be borne, but dying for nothing, or for such ingrates, that cannot be borne. A plea from a delegation of refugees, including the Maid of Skoupoi, begs the soldiers not to abandon them. It stops the bleeding, but cannot heal the existing wound.

    This is where the literate ‘modern’ culture of Rhomania turns out to be a problem. For all these soldiers are used to newspapers. Even isolated villages will eventually get them, albeit delayed a month or two, where it is a big event for a literate villager to read them out loud for those who cannot. So not only are they getting slandered, frustrating enough, but they know the slander will reach the ears of their family and friends back home.

    On June 4 the Army of the Danube arrives at Thessaloniki, a sullen, demoralized, bitter, resentful force. It’s been speculated by some historians that if Odysseus Sideros had asked, the Army of the Danube would’ve marched on Constantinople. Thankfully for everyone whose name isn’t Theodor, the thought never seems to cross his mind.

    Gladly getting rid of the Skoupoi refugees, Likardites reinforces the garrison, and then in the evening has a nervous breakdown, collapsing on the floor of his tent. (While records are patchy, particularly for the Germans, and while keeping in mind the limited medical knowledge of the period, veterans of Skoupoi and the Twelve Days on both sides seem to have been substantially more prone to nervous breakdowns and madness in later life.)

    He is put in a hospital in Thessaloniki. He’s suffered a torrent of abuse in the papers personally, both from Constantinople (which come on a daily packet, although the issues themselves are a few days old by the time they arrive) and a couple in Thessaloniki. One in Thessaloniki sends him some women’s clothing and a spindle to mock him for his weakness. Ashamed of his weakness and his failure, not in the best of mental health already, Hektor Likardites blows his brain out with a kyzikos. The next day several soldiers from the Army smash in the door of the editor responsible and beat him to death with the butts of their muskets.

    Taking his place as commander is the ‘Mad Lyrist’ Iason Tornikes, who, along with the rest of the army, is now in an even worse mood. Hektor Likardites was a good and close friend of his, going back to their School of War days where Likardites was one year ahead. Many of his other friends’ bones are being picked clean in the north, and he is hearing their names mocked and honor slandered. One of his first tasks after the suicide of his friend is to write a very blunt letter to his sovereign, which is rushed to the capital via monore.

    In it he states plainly that the Army of the Danube in its present condition is a frail reed that should not be leaned upon, and for that Tornikes blames Constantinople, not Blucher. The army and officers need to be treated better; they need to be treated as if their sacrifices are appreciated. They destroyed half of the Allied army last year, and were damned for not destroying all of it. They destroyed a third of the Allied army so far this year, and are damned as cowards. Their first commander, who they liked and respected for safeguarding their lives whilst others wished apparently to throw them away, killed Blucher’s right-hand man and is slandered before his corpse is even cold. Their second commander, who they admire for holding the army together during a horrific retreat, and whom none of them blame for cracking when the burdens of command are added to their shared nightmare, was humiliated into suicide when his mind was weak. This cannot be borne.

    Tornikes’s letter is accompanied by one from Odysseus, who confirms the Mad Lyrist’s analysis. He also adds that the officers, including himself, feel that they are expected to be like Andreas Niketas and utterly annihilate the Latin army whilst being outnumbered 2-to-1. If they can’t do that, then apparently they are all idiots and cowards. And they don’t appreciate it.

    Demetrios III understands. First the carrot. The Patriarch of Constantinople issues a statement that declares that Hektor Likardites’ death was not a suicide, which is a sin, but by ‘Axios Fever’. To this day, that is what Romans call PTSD.

    Demetrios III meanwhile issues orders for planned expansion of pensions for widows and orphans of soldiers killed in service, as well as soldiers’ homes for those whose injuries make it difficult or impossible to earn a living afterwards. He also posthumously awards Michael Laskaris and Hektor Likardites with Order of the Dragon with Sword medals, the highest honor that can be bestowed on a Roman soldier to this day. The former is for the 1633 campaign and his slaying of Mackensen, and the latter is for his leadership during the Twelve Days. Tornikes is granted the Order of the Dragon with Mace medal, the next tier down, as is Odysseus Sideros. More medals of the lower grades (Order of the Dragon with Spear, and the three grades of the Order of the Iron Gates) are made available to Tornikes to distribute as he sees fit. Simultaneously a handwritten note of thanks and appreciation of their sacrifice from Emperor Demetrios III is read out to the troops.

    Meanwhile, Lady Athena Siderina left Constantinople for Thessaloniki before Likardites’ suicide, but after a quick reunion with her big brother she quickly gauges the lay of the land, and starts to tour the army still encamped near Thessaloniki, as well as the hospitals inside the city. The combination of that, alongside her father’s efforts, are most uplifting for the soldiers. The capital may not care about them or their sacrifices, but the Imperial family does.

    Feeling better, the bulk of the army moves east to cover the Via Egnatia to the capital. Tornikes’ plan is to reinforce his army with some of the new tourmai recruiting in Thrace, plus the 14000 Pronsky soldiers moving down from Russia. While Blucher is stuck besieging Thessaloniki, pounding at its formidable and fully modern ramparts, he can give those new tourmai some much needed drill. He has no desire to fight a Second Ruse size battle with First Ruse troops. At the same time, he starts raiding Latin foragers and outposts, but he also tells Demetrios III that the aggressive spirit of the army is still quite weak. The Emperor’s and his daughter’s actions have helped a lot, but the scars remain. The news of the stick Demetrios is using in Constantinople, this time being more thorough than last year to ensure this doesn’t happen again, is most welcome though.

    Even with the partial stripping of Macedonia, the Allies have found enough to not be starving, for now. But they are going to need to forage widely, which presents opportunities to the Romans. Hellas proper needs to be defended as well. The Paramonai, which by now are down to nine thousand, are reinforced by five Roman tourmai (which combined are only 3100 strong) and sent westward as the Allied army finally staggers up to the walls of Thessaloniki.

    * * *

    The ramparts of Thessaloniki, June 5, 1634:

    Demetrios looked down the barrel of the cannon. It was mounted on one of the many bastions, looking out to the fields outside of the city. They’d been mostly cleared, although there still was frantic work going on westward. There was a large column of people scurrying toward the city gates, carrying their possessions and children on their backs and on their animals’ backs and in their carts. Behind him the bells of the city’s churches tolled and a battle-line ship and a transport worked their way into the harbor.

    He squinted again, adjusting his glasses on his nose. He strongly believed in pre-sighting his guns before a siege, if he had time of course. There was always a bit of ‘wobble’ with the precise ranging of each gun. Every cannon was different; they had different characteristics, quirks of their own, dependent on the manufacture and quality of the metal, the precise boring of the tube. Cannonballs always fit a little bit differently; they had quirks of their own. Quality of powder could affect the shot, the humidity of the air, the temperature of the day. There were lots of little factors that could adjust how a gun performed. A lot of them were unknown until the day of battle themselves, but he believed in getting a feel for each gun when he had time to thoroughly make their acquaintance.

    He looked at the marker where he suspected Vauban would emplace one of his batteries. He wanted his cannons pre-sighted on that place. Once they were, he’d remove the marker.

    Out of the corner of his eye he saw a party approaching along the walls but he ignored them. “Set it to 500,” he ordered.

    “Are you sure?” someone said. “Looks like 520 to me.”

    He looked over at the speaker. It was a young woman, dark-hued and a bit shorter than him, dressed in riding pants and a silk shirt. Somewhat unusually, she had two finely-crafted kyzikoi in holsters next to her ribs. There was a gash that Demetrios could tell was from a knife on her left forearm. “Lady Siderina, I didn’t expect to find you here.” He bowed his head slightly.

    They’d met before briefly, back when he was in Constantinople getting baptized into the Orthodox faith. Her father, Emperor Demetrios III, had been his godfather, hence his choice of a Christian name. That hadn’t raised many eyebrows. His choice of a surname though had, but the opportunity had amused him too much to pass it up, and given his station he had the clout to make it happen. Sometimes it seemed like a silly thing to insist upon, but it simultaneously rubbed an old man’s ego and entertained him.

    “Here for the troops. Young men fight better when a princess is watching them.”

    “They’re also more stupid,” Demetrios observed.

    She smiled. “It’s hard to notice sometimes.” Demetrios snorted. She looked out at the marker. “Are you sure?”

    “We’ll find out, won’t we?” He lit the touch-hole. The cannon roared and the ball flew, plowing into the ground and throwing up a spray of dirt just beyond the marker.

    “505,” Athena observed.

    “You were close,” Demetrios replied.

    “Yeah, but you were closer.”

    Demetrios thought for a moment and then gestured at the guns on the other end of the bastion. “Care to pre-sight some of the other pieces, your highness?”

    Athena’s face lit up. “Oh yes, I would.” Demetrios Poliorketes, formerly Turgut Reis of the Ottomans, couldn’t help but laugh.

    * * *

    1634 continued: As Thessaloniki prepares, there is more fighting to the west. A large Allied foraging party, about twelve thousand strong, mostly Bohemians and Hungarians, heads west following the shoreline, stripping the countryside bare of what remains. At the village of Methoni they run into Odysseus. The three-hour long battle is a tactical draw, but the Allies retreat during the night, although it is just a rebuff, not a rout.

    Instead they swing west, looking for greener pastures. Using the expertise of the locals who are decidedly more loyal this time, moving along hunting and grazing paths, Odysseus swings around in front of them, the Allies colliding with him at the village of Kidonochori, just east of Veria, 73 kilometers west of Thessaloniki.

    Making like he has weaker cavalry than the Allies, he prompts the Allied cavalry to attack, forcing the Romans to form square. The plan is that the Allied infantry, still in line formation, can then pound them to pieces with musketry. Neither side has much in the way of artillery.

    But as the Allied cavalry swirl around the Roman infantry squares, the Roman cavalry spring from ambush, piling into their flanks, some of the kataphraktoi and Pronsk lancers literally impaling Hungarian mounts with their lances. Caught between the hammer of the Roman cavalry and the anvil of the infantry squares, the Allied horse is shattered.

    The Paramonai and Roman infantry rapidly deploy into line, too quickly for the Allied infantry to take advantage, and the two infantry lines blaze away at each, reaping a cruel harvest. But then the Roman cavalry wheel back into the fight, smashing in both flanks of the Allied line nearly simultaneously. They disintegrate.

    Methoni is largely irrelevant. Kidonochori is not. For eight hundred casualties, mostly in the infantry firefight, in his second battle as commander Odysseus inflicts twenty seven hundred, with another three or four hundred picked up by the locals shooting down stragglers. Although it doesn’t stop them altogether, it sharply curtails foraging expeditions westward, with all the attendant strain on the Allied commissariat. Although the atmosphere at the Roman camp isn’t particularly joyful. The feeling in officer country is ‘we won, but our prize will be to be condemned for all the ones that got away’. Odysseus, who is feeling it as well, tells his father that ‘the current attitude amongst the Army of the Danube is not conducive for a direct battle with Blucher.’

    * * *

    The ramparts of Thessaloniki, June 8, 1634:

    Alexandros Drakos put down his dalnovzor and looked out at the Allied army lumbering up into position just outside of cannon-range. “There’s a lot of them,” he said. Compared to what they’d been a month ago, he intellectually knew that there really weren’t that many of them. But after the Twelve Days, he was surprised that anyone, on either side, had survived that horror, much less so many. He had nightmares of those days, and he knew he was far from the only one. His tourma had taken 30% casualties and so was an easy candidate for garrison duty.

    “The thickest grass is easier to cut than the thinnest.”

    Alexandros looked over at the speaker, his wife. Daughter of the Emperor, young and beautiful and strange. “I don’t think quoting Alaric, of all people, is appropriate at this time.”

    She smiled at him and shrugged her shoulders. “It’s what I do.”

    He raised an eyebrow at her. She raised one at him. To the east, the bells of St Demetrios tolled as three warships and four transports worked their way into the harbor.

    A cannon roared from a bastion.

    The siege of Thessaloniki had begun.


    [1] Ancient Greek name for the town. Thanks to @Lascaris for the information.
    [2] Napoleon did this at the siege of Toulon IOTL.
    [3] The OTL Kale Fortress.
    [4] This is the TTL version of the Stone Bridge of Skopje.
     
    1634: Lady of the Cannons
  • As always, thanks for answering.

    You ain't kidding. Just take a look at the 1828 election. Anti-Jacksonian newspapers called Andrew Jackson's wife a bigamist because of some weird divorce between her and her first husband that may or may not have been 100% legal (I honestly forget, but it doesn't really matter in the end. The stress from the coverage probably killed her) and pro-Jacksonian papers accused John Quincy Adams of being a literal pimp for the Tsar of Russia when he was Ambassador there. That kind of hyper-partisan, deeply personal newspaper coverage was par for the course in the first half of the 19th Century.

    That specifically was a big inspiration for all that bit.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    1634 continued: Although the main body of the Allied battle-line was badly damaged by the assault on Skoupoi and the Twelve Days, the formidable artillery train is almost entirely intact and even bolstered by some captured Roman guns. That is very good news to Vauban, for Thessaloniki will not be an easy nut to crack.

    Thessaloniki, with its pre-war population of 170,000, is the second-largest city in the Roman Empire and the fifth largest in Europe (after Constantinople, Paris, Milan, and London). Its fortifications date back to the 1550s and 60s, built to stand up to massive gunpowder assaults. The defenses are not quite on the scale of Constantinople, Aleppo, or Theodosiopolis, but they certainly dwarf Vidin or Nikopolis in size and Skoupoi in sophistication.

    For city defense, Thessaloniki can draw on a civic militia second in size only to the capital’s; its allagion numbers 14000 strong, although many of them are newer and older recruits to replace the ones called up into regular army service. But in fighting behind walls, that makes less of a difference. There are tens of thousands of more able-bodied men that can be drafted, and some of them have at least some rudiments of training.

    There are also regular troops in the city. There are two general types of kastrons (castles) throughout the Empire. There are provincial kastrons, which are overseen by the local kastrophylax and used by the militia forces and constabulary of the Kephalate. And then there are Imperial kastrons, which are maintained and used by the regular army, although confusingly their commanders are also called kastrophylaxes. These are manned by ‘kastron troops’, who are former line troops who’ve served their stint and then opted for garrison service. So while older than the typical line infantrymen, they have the same level of training and are often veterans. The port of Thessaloniki and its defenses are rated as an Imperial kastron, with a siege-start garrison of 1200.

    Likardites, before his collapse, reinforced the garrison with 10000 troops, although many of these are recovering wounded soldiers or from the most battered tourmai. There are also four reserve tourmai in the city, all at full strength. Two have at least a few months’ worth of drill, not joining the main army because of lack of logistical support, while the other pair are new formations.

    So on the first day of the siege, Thessaloniki can muster 15000 regular troops, 14000 militia, plus whatever can be drawn from the sailors and marines in the warships in the harbor (there are 10, including four battle-line ships). And that’s before touching the civilians. Furthermore, transports carrying a new tourma from Attica arrive just two days after Vauban starts digging his first parallel, and it is far from the only reinforcement to bolster the garrison.

    Vauban sets to work with energy and skill, pounding at the battlements, but he is hampered by well-directed counter-battery fire which wrecks several of his pieces at the start. Further entrenchment, moving pieces, and good camouflage help to limit the damage afterwards, but does not eliminate the attrition. Further hampering the siege, the Allies often have to reuse Roman cannonballs in a bid to conserve supplies.

    That is thanks to the Twelve Days. If Blucher’s advance had been unopposed, he could’ve made the march from Skoupoi to Thessaloniki in half the time, meaning that the Romans would’ve had half the time to strip Lower Macedonia of valuables to keep them out of Latin hands. And Lower Macedonia is a valuable treasure trove for supporting armies.

    One-sixth of Roman small arms and gunpowder is produced in Lower Macedonia, and one-quarter of artillery production. This is due to access to water power (much more prevalent after the Flowering), raw materials such as timber and ores from the north, and availability of manpower. Thessaloniki itself counts for a respectable portion, but there are a slew of small towns throughout the regions with workshops of their own. During the war, each musket workshop specialized solely in making one specific part, with the products carted down to Thessaloniki for assembly in large fitting plants. This was to maximize the use of rural labor (which is still 80% of the Empire). During the Twelve Days, much of the kit of these workshops was removed to safer locations and denied to Allied hands.

    The city of Thessaloniki is divided into three main districts, deriving from classical or medieval origins. There is the lower city along the Thermaic Gulf, which is more residential and mercantile, and there is the upper city, which is primarily artisanal/industrial. The boundary line between the two is Aghiou Demetriou Street. Then there is the Acropolis, a semi-triangle-shaped protrusion jutting out from the top right of the upper city. The Acropolis’ purpose is primarily military and administrative. [1]

    Although in some places the medieval defenses have fallen into disrepair or been demolished, in other areas they can serve as an ‘inner wall’ to the modern defenses, much like the Theodosian Walls vis-à-vis the Herakleian Walls in the capital. The modern defenses largely parallel the older structures, without much space in between, save for the north upper city where the right-triangle medieval city becomes a rough rectangle with the new addition.

    Although sea traffic is unimpaired, without access to the rural markets and with the Skoupoi refugees, plus more from the countryside, feeding everyone is difficult and the cramped and often unsanitary conditions are a serious disease concern. Most transports that come into Thessaloniki with war materials or new troops leave with a cargo of civilians, typically depositing them in the Peloponnesus or western Anatolia. The Roman government, local officials, and generous private Romans do their utmost, but the sheer numbers are often difficult to support by surprised local resources, given the preindustrial difficult of supplying and transporting foodstuffs, and with feeding the army taking priority over feeding refugees. The numbers are unknown, with estimates from 2 to 7 thousands, but many of these evacuees from Thessaloniki perish from lack of nutrition or medical care, most young children or the elderly.

    For those who stay in Thessaloniki, there is much work to be done. Aside from the menfolk, women and children are put to auxiliary tasks, mending and bringing up equipment, cooking, cleaning, nursing, and the like. But not all women are inclined to restrict their duties to auxiliary tasks. There are at least five women serving as men in the Thessaloniki garrison, but far more famous than them are the Witches of Thessaloniki.

    The name is rather unusual; Rhomania never suffered from a witch craze and the Orthodox Church looks down on such things, viewing them with suspicion as a ‘Latin insecurity’. There are two theories. One is that the term was coined by the Allies and then taken up by the Witches as a badge of distinction. The other is that it was deliberately adopted by the Romans to needle the Latins.

    The idea came from an Arletian merchant who was in Thessaloniki when the siege began. Back in 1218, in the holy cause that was Simon de Montfort’s self-aggrandizement (also known as the Albigensian Crusade), Simon de Montfort was besieging the Catholic city of Toulouse. A stone from a catapult smashed in his skull, the catapult in question reportedly operated by the women in Toulouse. On the 400th anniversary of the death of that man, Toulouse unveiled a statue of the women who killed him.

    Everybody somehow knows of Demetrios III’s curses. Given those, why not give some of the women ‘modern catapults’, i.e. cannons, and let them have at it? Transports have brought in more cannons for the defense, but trained crews are scarcer (Likardites didn’t send any). Historians are skeptical that alone would’ve been enough, if not for the presence of Lady Athena Siderina. She positively adores the idea, and through cajoling and arm-twisting Kastrophylax Michael Damaskenos, overall commander of the city defense, gets her way. An artillery unit is formed, the gun and support crews composed entirely of women, with a dozen cannon and Athena as commander. With her previous artillery experience and some pointers from Demetrios Poliorketes, she soon has the unit organized and proficient with their weapons. They are posted at what is now known as the Witches’ Tower, near the Empress Anna gate where the eastern side of the Acropolis meets the upper city. [2]

    In a bid to keep the women, and particularly Athena, somewhat under his control, Damaskenos has them inducted into the army as the 9th Thessaloniki Battery Droungos. This is complete with army pay, (altered) uniforms, and regulations. Although with her command, she should be a Droungarios, Athena is given the rank of Tourmarch. (Amongst other effects of the Witches, Athena’s first-issue Tourmarch uniform is available to view in the Great Siege museum near the Empress Anna Gate today.)

    The siege soon develops into a predictable pattern. Both sides pound at each other with their cannons, damage is repaired, and reinforcements and supplies are brought into the city. The city garrison sallies from time to time, sometimes from the walls or sometimes using the ships in harbor (who lend their guns to the defense) to ferry raiders behind enemy lines. Both Tornikes and Sideros, for their parts, snip at Allied foragers and reinforcements, Tornikes shredding a four-thousand strong column at Atalanti [3] at the end of June. It’d tried to sneak through Lower Macedonia secretly, but one of the Upper Macedonia commune partisan companies sent word and guides that allowed the Mad Lyrist to ambush them.

    The Upper Macedonian partisans are, by the middle of June, in Lower Macedonia as well, sniping at Allied foragers and scouts, the fighters maintained by the inhabitants of Lower Macedonia as they provide protection against the raiders. Other irregulars in a steady trickle from the mountains of Hellas and Epirus (which is currently part of the Macedonian theme) also enter the fight, although most lack the combat experience of the Upper Macedonians.

    The most effective of the new arrivals are stradioti from Epirus and Albania, many of whom have longstanding traditions of service as Roman irregulars going back as far as the Laskarids. Their greatest prominence though came during the Time of Troubles and the early Drakids when members of this group married both Giorgios Laskaris (and thus are related to the current Khazar dynasty) and Her Serene Highness the Lady Theodora. They operate much in the same way as the Upper Macedonian partisans, basing out of villages that maintain them for protection, but the ones nearest in operation to regulars get some money and supplies from army quartermasters. A few of the earliest arrivals participated at Kidonochori, helping to mask the main body of Roman cavalry so it could be used in ambush.

    * * *

    Thessaloniki Acropolis, July 8, 1634:

    “And screw that with a goat!” Kastrophylax Michael Damaskenos said as Athena walked in, followed shortly by her husband Alexandros. The Kastrophylax looked at her. “Uh, sorry milady.”

    “I’ve heard far worse,” she replied, smiling. The Kastrophylax nodded. Their relationship was odd; technically she was one of his officers, and a junior one at that, but she was also the daughter of the Emperor. And possibly said Emperor’s favorite person in the world, with only his mistress Eudoxia a contender.

    She looked around at the other people in the room. There was Strategos Alexios Drakos-Komnenos, a member of one of the junior branches of the Egyptian Despotic family who’d emigrated to Rhomania in search of other opportunities. Commander of the Bulgarian tagma, he was a veteran of all the major European battles as far back as Sopot. He’d been the senior-most field army officer in the reinforcements Likardites had sent, and served as Damaskenos’ second.

    There was Demetrios Poliorketes, the old Turk smoothing his luxuriant white mustache. He commanded all the artillery batteries along the ramparts, meaning that Athena typically reported to him in her capacity as Tourmarch. His name was most unusual, and had raised many eyebrows and hackles at his choice. But the Old Turk had liked the allusion and had never appreciated the supposed virtue of being normal, and eventually he’d had his way. Perhaps that was why the two of them got along so well from the start.

    Despite his vast experience, given his quiet recent conversion to Orthodoxy and Roman allegiance, it wasn’t considered wise to give him command of Rhomania’s second city. Fortunately his still rank plus a large cash payment seemed to have dissipated any resentment he might’ve felt. And Damaskenos, who himself had been a protégé of Stefanos Monomakos and helped retake Jarabalus at the beginning of Andreas III’s reign, knew to listen to his advice.

    And there was her husband, Tourmarch of the only guard tourma currently in the city.

    Aside from the military men and her, there were also the Kephale, Prokathemenos, and Metropolitan of Thessaloniki. All of them stood and bowed to her, in recognition of her imperial status. She curtsied and they all sat down.

    “Theodor has sent a request for our surrender,” Damaskenos sneered as Athena sat down in a chair offered by Alexandros, who sat in another next to hers.

    “Who does he think we are, Lombards?” Alexios asked.

    “I have no idea,” the Kastrophylax replied. “Apparently he thinks we’re low on food or something.”

    Athena looked over at the Metropolitan. “Well, somebody did try to feed us that thing the Germans claim is sugar.”

    The cleric blushed a little. “I thought it looked nice.”

    “It was a nice shade of red,” Athena responded. “Tasted horrible though. What kind of barbarian thinks sugar from a beet is a good idea? Seriously, everybody from north of the Alps should just not be allowed to cook anymore. It’d make the world a much better place.” Everyone in the room nodded knowingly. One common belief across the entire Mediterranean basin, a perception that carried across cultures and religions and countries, was that northerners’ ideas of food were questionable.

    “Speaking of cooking,” Damaskenos said. “We should come up with a response to this, no matter how ridiculous. It wouldn’t do to be rude to the Latins before we shoot them. There are standards to follow.”

    “How about ‘nuts’?” Alexandros said.

    “I like, but I want something ruder,” the Kastrophylax replied. “I was thinking a nice fish burrito for lunch, taking a dump, and then sending that to that gaseous beer-drinker.”

    “But the poor messenger,” Athena intoned. There were several snorts of laughter.

    “Valid point,” Damaskenos replied. “Still like it though.”

    A moment. “I have an idea,” Athena said. She explained it, all of them looking quizzically at her. “What?”

    “You are your father’s daughter,” Alexandros replied.

    She grinned toothily. “I can think of worse things.”

    * * *

    Casimir V, King of Poland, looked at the battlements of Thessaloniki. There were men scurrying along the ramparts and smoke rising from a few places. Vauban was a godless heretic, but he knew how to work the guns. The ‘Manuel’ bastion, placed forward of the much older Tower of Manuel that made up part of the older defenses, had clearly seen better days. Although some godless heretic inside was also infernally good with his cannons.

    He grimaced in frustration at the truce banners hanging over the Pistotatos Gate beneath the sunny warm sky, mirroring the ones stationed near him. The Greeks were sending an envoy to reply to Theodor’s request, although Casimir didn’t expect much. Vauban was making some progress, but painfully slowly. A fast approach against these fortifications just wasn’t possible.

    To be fair to Theodor, the Holy Roman Emperor didn’t expect Thessaloniki to surrender, or even really believe they were low on food; they’d seen the ships. But it was a possible way to glean some information about the defenses. The Greeks were godless and merited only the sword for their heresy, but they were no cowards. The story of the effeminate Greeks from the days of the armed pilgrimages to the Holy Land may have been true then, but not anymore. No veteran of the Twelve Days would hear that.

    It was a pity. Had the Greeks followed the true faith, they might have been good men. But they didn’t, and thus Casimir knew, as his priestly and Templar tutors had taught him, that putting them to the sword was the only proper recourse for them. As St Bernard of Clairvaux had said, killing an infidel was not murder but rather an act pleasing to God. Some had called his tutors ‘fanatics’, even some priests claiming as such, but Casimir also knew that ‘fanatic’ was merely what the weak-in-faith called those more righteous than themselves.

    He looked over to his right, down the line of notables waiting to greet the high-ranking Greek envoy coming out of the gate, and sneered. Archbishop Friedrich von Hohenzollern felt his gaze, looked at him, and sneered back.

    Casimir hated the Archbishop. It wasn’t proper to loathe such a high-ranking official in Mother Church, but ‘Bone-Breaker’ was hardly a proper cleric. His nickname was quite the clue. He hadn’t been back to his See since the war started, and he hadn’t been much of a priest there either. Hunting and war and partying were his pleasures. As a soldier and commander, Casimir would concede the cleric was good, but he was supposed to be a shepherd to his flock, not a highway patrolmen. Two necessary jobs, but very different ones.

    The Archbishop’s two bastards were on horseback, like the rest of them, behind their father, and they were giving him the eye as well. Their existence didn’t bother Casimir as much as their father’s other failings. He’d always found it rather dumb that priests had to be celibate, yet preached to their parishioners on marriage and child-rearing. Celibacy was the holier state, but it made more sense for monks rather than for those out ministering to the laity.

    He looked out at Thessaloniki again and the approaching envoy, surrounded by several attendants and followed by a pair of large and heavy-laden wagons. He snarled again in frustration. If only he could go and fight something. Unlike the Archbishop, he was a soldier; that’s was God’s gift to him. Except heavy cavalry had been near useless in the campaign so far and that showed little sign of changing.

    The envoy and party grew closer and he stiffened in surprise. It’s a woman! She was riding her horse like a man, wearing one of those gray Greek uniforms. And an attendant to her right unfurled a banner, a field of black with three red spheres. A murmur swept through the lines of horsemen waiting to receive…her. It was the sigil of the family of Sideros, the line of Timur.

    She rode up to the lines. General Wallenstein, quartermaster general of the Allied host, nocked his horse forward a few steps. “Lady Athena Siderina, an unexpected honor,” he said in Greek.

    “The honor is mine,” she replied in German, with a Bavarian accent of all things.

    * * *

    Athena entered the great tent that was part of the headquarters section of the Allied army. The red silken canopy, made of either Opsikian or Morean silk, stretched above her head. There were three long tables set up, forming a U with the open end facing the entrance. Theodor was at the center of the setup with an elevated seat, with the twenty highest ranking generals and nobles in his army set around him. There was a small table for her in the middle of that open end. Technically she was equal with Theodor, facing him from the opposite position and even the same height, but the power play to intimidate her was obvious. She took a breath to steady her nerves.

    Her attendants entered, carrying silver basins with the contents of the wagons. Latin soldiers had checked them to make sure there were no explosives, and then others supervised to make sure the offerings weren’t poisoned. Apparently Mackensen’s death has made them a bit twitchy… She clung to that thought; it reminded her that those old men across the chamber from her could also feel fear.

    Fear itself wasn’t the problem. As her mother would said, not being afraid really meant you were too stupid to recognize danger. But letting fear control you, and showing fear…those were a problem. She took another breath to steady herself, although right now she wanted to chug wine like her father.

    Her father…She wondered for the ten thousandth time why she was here, out here in the heart of the lion’s den. She didn’t need to be here; this mission might garner some useful information, but nothing of long-term significance. Perhaps it might make some difference, but probably not. And she wondered too why she was in Thessaloniki, a city under siege. No one had required it of her; no one had asked it of her.

    Perhaps…she wanted adventure. Perhaps she didn’t want to just be the spoiled princess who did nothing but be pretty window dressing and a brood mare. Perhaps she didn’t want to be normal, like Poliorketes who’d refused to take a name that would’ve made him blend into the crowd like everyone else. Perhaps she wanted to make a difference, not matter how small, provided it was a difference she made, herself, not as a diplomatic pawn on a political chessboard. And perhaps she wanted to end this war before the strain of it killed her father.

    She really needed a drink.

    The attendants started ladling out the food she’d brought as clear proof that victuals were not a problem for the Thessaloniki garrison. It was spaghetti and meatballs, a most unusual fare for such a gathering. But one, Athena was in the mood for it. And two, it was a favored dish of one Archbishop Friedrich von Hohenzollern and one General Albrecht von Wallenstein. With silver tongs they dished out the noodles. Another followed, dispensing the meatballs, which as a show were half the size of Athena’s fist. A third came along with toppings, olive oil, garlic, and a couple of different choices of cheese.

    “A most unusual repast, my Lady,” Theodor said as her attendants finished. Most left but two remained, standing behind her chair on either side.

    Athena nodded. “I agree, but I felt a simple meal would be better than a feast. It is not good for generals and lords to eat better than their men in the field.”

    Marshal Blucher, at Theodor’s right hand, nodded thoughtfully. Athena examined him, at least as much as she could without making it obvious she was examining him. He was thinner than she expected, and paler. For a moment she thought his arm trembled as he took a fork-worth of noodle. But she couldn’t be sure if she imagined it either.

    “Well spoken,” the Archbishop of Cologne said, cutting up his meatballs and looking rather pleased with the offering. He took a bite. “And well made. I’ve always had a taste for Italian cuisine.”

    “If one were to invade the Lombards then, my lord, you might find the conquest more to your liking,” she replied.

    The Archbishop laughed. “The thought has crossed my mind…” He glanced, but noticeably, at Theodor. “…as to more profitable endeavors with our resources.”

    “There is more to life than profit,” Theodor replied. “There are matters of honor, and right.”

    “Indeed, my lord,” Athena answered. “We Romans are in full agreement.” She noticeably glanced at General Vauban. “We are not Triunes, who care only for gold and our self-righteousness.” The general looked angry; Hohenzollern chuckled.

    “If that is the case, then you understand our business here,” Theodor said.

    “We understand, but do not agree. You desire what you cannot have, while endangering what you already possess. God does not suffer a man to have all things, and will punish the man who seeks to gain such. Rhomania is not your enemy, my cousin Theodor. Your enemy lies to your west, in King’s Harbor.”

    “Amen,” Hohenzollern said very loudly.

    “These are false slanders against my master,” Vauban replied. “My lord Henri II has the warmest affection and regard for his Imperial brother Theodor.”

    “For now,” Hohenzollern muttered loudly. “But no one who calls himself wise trusts a Triune to keep his word.”

    “I consider that most uncalled for,” Vauban counted.

    “There are a hundred trees within eyesight of my own palace towers that have the marks of my people who were hung by Triunes. I can call them far worse things.”

    “Those were a different age. My master is different.”

    “In the words of St Peter, bull shit. The leopard cannot change his spots, and Triune shit stinks just as much as anyone else’s, no matter what you claim.”

    “I find your lack of Christian charity disturbing,” King Casimir said. “And your blasphemy.”

    “Oh shut up, you murderous prick. At least I don’t salivate at the idea of burning children alive.”

    “Extreme measures are sometimes needed to preserve the faith.”

    “If the church must be maintained by butchering children, as your dung-filled skull seems to think, then it deserves-”

    “Enough.”

    The word was little more than a whisper, rasping from the lips of the speaker, and yet it seemed to cut through the tent better than a war trumpet. And with that one word, everyone settled down.

    Athena looked at the speaker. Marshal Blucher, she decided, did not look well. But while the body may be failing, the will endured. And while that lasted, so did this army.

    “You are quite right,” she said. “Such discussions are inappropriate for this time and place. They should be held in more private and decorous locales.”

    “I admire your spirit, my lady,” Crown Prince Vaclav said. “But I must say, your attempts to drive discord between us are rather transparent.”

    “I would never think to do such a thing. You wound me, my lord. I would think you, of all people, rightly renowned for your swift and fair justice, would do better by me.” His face twisted slightly, before shifting into a bland smile that somehow conveyed the Bohemian prince’s desire to murder her on the spot. There’d been a plot amongst some Bohemian officers to kidnap or kill Theodor and desert to Thessaloniki in exchange for the massive bounty. Word had leaked though and Vaclav had the conspirators promptly rounded up and executed, before any Wittelsbach retainers had had any opportunity to seriously examine them.

    “Then why are you here, if I may ask?” asked General Wallenstein.

    “Ah, my good sir, you may certainly ask. My father speaks very highly of you.”

    He blinked in surprise at the non sequitur. “He does.”

    “Indeed he does. Logistics are such an important part of warfare, and yet so unappreciated in most parts of the world. But we Romans value it highly, and make sure to support our quartermasters accordingly. And you have been a most excellent quartermaster.”

    Wallenstein nodded thoughtfully. Information on the Bohemian noble who served directly under the Wittelsbach banner was somewhat sparse, but he’d done an incredible job with limited resources and organization. To support the task, he’d taken out personal loans and mortgaged a good portion of his family lands to finance them, and was hoping for remuneration from Theodor. But if Theodor went down, he’d take the Wallenstein family with him, unless the Quartermaster General found another line.

    “It does not seem that your purpose here is to tender surrender terms,” Theodor said. That seemed rather obvious to Athena, but the German Emperor didn’t sound surprised.

    “It is not. I merely wished to present a meal to such distinguished guests.” She left unstated that guests, after eating, then left. The look in Theodor’s eyes showed he’d heard her.

    “Well, if that is the case, it would not do let such a meal go to waste,” he replied. “So tell me, my lady, what are the plays circuiting in Constantinople this season?”

    * * *

    Athena stepped out of the tent, attendants following her. As a gift, they’d left the table set with Theodor. Hopefully Tornikes would show up soon and take it back. Striding to her horse, she gripped the saddle, and then stopped.

    She started to tremble, telling herself to stop but her body wouldn’t listen. A rough hand gripped her left shoulder. It was Giyorgis, one of her mother’s faithful old Ethiopian hands, who’d joined her service when she became an Imperial princess. He squeezed comfortingly and she stilled. “You did excellently, my lady,” he whispered in Amharic.

    “Thank you,” she whispered back. “It was hard.”

    “I know, my lady. But you did excellently anyway. Your mother and father would be proud. I doubt even your mother could beard Theodor in his own tent.” They both smiled.

    “Shall we go, my lady?” he asked loudly, in Greek.

    “We shall,” she answered, mounting her horse, calmly, confidently.

    General Wallenstein approached her. “My lady, it was pleasing to have your company. It is good to have things be different from time to time. I am most grateful and would be honored to bid you farewell.”

    “We would be most honored to have you do such.” She held out her gloved right hand to him. He took it, kissing the back whilst simultaneously slipping a bit of paper into her glove down her palm. She withdrew her hand, crushing the urge to pull out the paper and see what was on it. It was hardly the time.

    It was a short ride but soon they were back inside Thessaloniki, moving through the big sally port from which she’d exited the city. Kastrophylax Michael Damaskenos, Strategos Alexios Drakos-Komnenos, Demetrios Poliorketes, and her husband were all waiting in a knot for her. She rode up and dismounted.

    Before she could say anything, Poliorketes shoved a writing board with an attached sheet of paper, with a Triune-graphite pencil strapped to the side, at her. She started sketching, trying to remember everything she’d seen on the way in and out. It’d only be a look at the section she’d visited, but it was the part of the Allied line facing the Manuel bastion, currently the most battered section of Thessaloniki’s walls.

    Thankfully the men all watched her in silence as she bit her lip, tracing the lines. She was nothing like the artist her older brother was, but he’d given her a few sketching lessons in preparation for her and Father’s star-gazing. Now to apply the geometry that Father had taught her to calculate the distances… She chewed on her lip some, tweaked a number she’d written, and then handed it to the old Turk. His eyes traversed the paper, examining every detail, then nodded. Moving surprisingly spryly for a man his age, he bounded up the stairs to the rampart.

    “So how’d it go?” Damaskenos asked.

    “They didn’t surrender.” Alexios snorted. “But Wallenstein did give me this.” She pulled out the piece of paper from her glove.

    “What does it say?” the Kastrophylax asked.

    She showed it to him. “Looks like a partial supply inventory. And a name…Captain Franck von Word. That name mean anything to you?” Both Damaskenos and Drakos-Komnenos shook their heads.

    “It does to me,” Alexandros said. They all looked at him. “We captured him a week ago.”

    “Do you think Wallenstein’s suggesting Word as some kind of contact?” Drakos-Komnenos asked.

    “Well, Word is from Harburg…”

    “…which is pretty much owned by one Albrecht von Wallenstein,” Athena continued.

    “The information could be bogus or some sort of trap, but definitely worth pursuing,” Damaskenos said. He looked at Athena. “Blucher?”

    “I’ve never seen him before, but he doesn’t look well. But he’s still holding that army together. As long as he’s kicking, they’ll hold together. Once he’s gone, Bone-Breaker’s going to try and kill Casimir and probably Vauban too, but only once he’s gone.”

    “That’s what I thought.”

    Demetrios Poliorketes came down the stairs, holding the board and with a huge grin on his face. “That good?” Drakos-Komenos asked.

    “Yes, that good.” He looked at Athena. “With this I pinpointed three, maybe four, of those heavy batteries he’s camouflaged.” Considering the accurate counter-battery fire from Thessaloniki, Vauban had been doing his utmost to protect his limited number of heavier pieces, with a good deal of success it had to be admitted. Light pieces kept the defenders’ heads down when the big guns fired, meaning that the target was often the remembered glance of a muzzle flash, which wasn’t much help. But they’d been disguised from the vantage point of the ramparts, not somebody riding between them. “You’re quite amazing, my lady.”

    “Indeed she is,” Alexandros said.

    “God’s wounds! I didn’t know that was possible. You’ve made her blush,” Damaskenos said, which only made Athena blush the more. Alexandros laughed, giving his wife a hug. She playfully punched him in the shoulder.

    “When can you take them out?” Damaskenos asked.

    Poliorketes looked at his watch. “The truce ends in thirty minutes, but I can start sighting the guns now. If we get lucky, we can hit them while they’re loading. Maximize casualties and hopefully set off some powder barrels too.”

    “Please get to it then,” Damaskenos ordered. “And well done, my lady.”

    “Thank you, Kastrophylax.”

    “Care to help me sight the guns, my Lady of the Cannons?” Poliorketes asked.

    She perked up and smiled. “Indeed I would. And I’m using that title from now on.”

    The old Turk smiled. “I knew you would.”

    * * *

    1634 continued: The ‘meatball meeting’, as the meeting between Emperor Theodor and his chief officers and Lady Athena Siderina is known, is most famous in popular culture for coining the term ‘cannonballs’ for ‘Macedonian meatballs’, the name of the unusually large meatballs served with pasta in much Macedonian cuisine from that point on. [4]

    The siege continues on as before, although several heavier Allied cannons are damaged by counter-battery fire shortly afterwards. Meanwhile the Kastrophylax has a long talk with von Word, who is swapped in a prisoner exchange a week later. A week after that, a dead drop is set up down the coast for messages to be exchanged.

    Through it, Wallenstein is able to provide Kastrophylax Damaskenos a better picture of the goings-on in the Allied camp. Blucher is unwell, still losing weight although at a slower pace than in May. He still does his daily ride through camp, cheered by the regular soldiers, but even they can see ‘Old Man Blucher’ apparently isn’t immortal. And while Blucher’s existence still keeps the army together, his illness seems to dissipate the army’s drive.

    With Mackensen dead, the two most audacious Allied commanders are King Casimir and Archbishop von Hohenzollern. On July 23, a Württemberg trooper takes a shot at King Casimir, reportedly for the Roman bounty on him. He is killed in the process of trying to take him captive, but Casimir claims (without evidence) that the Archbishop had put the soldier up to it.

    Vauban, for his part, continues to conduct the siege proper with energy and skill, but he is hampered by limited supplies. He makes some progress, but never enough to be significant. He smashes breaches in two places, but they’re not storm-able and the Romans quickly throw up new defenses behind the breaches.

    Meanwhile Tornikes and Sideros continue picking off foragers, tightening the area in which the Allies can draw for supplies, but both are going at it slowly, minimizing their casualties as new recruits arrive in both forces from the Aegean themes. But the fertility of Macedonia means that even so, the Allies are getting enough food, for now, to get by, albeit with belt-tightening.

    The Allied army is also shrinking. While Skoupoi is held by an Allied garrison, the route south is unguarded and after the mauling at Atalanti, there are no more columns. Meanwhile Allied soldiers are starting to desert. It is a tricky business, which keeps this to a trickle. Allied soldiers captured by irregulars are, if they’re lucky, murdered on the spot. More commonly, they are tortured for hours before finally being murdered.

    It is much better to be captured by Roman regulars; then they’ll go to the work camps, which don’t sound that bad compared to the alternatives. The Serbians have it a bit easier; many have gone on trading expeditions to Thessaloniki so they know the terrain, are Orthodox, and have some knowledge of Greek. A common practice of Serbian deserters is to slip off during the night to make for some nearby fishing grounds where they’re picked up by fishing boats from Thessaloniki (Wallenstein’s dead drop is maintained via this route).

    It is not possible to reward Wallenstein with coinage. Large piles of Roman hyperpyra wouldn’t exactly be easy to transport surreptitiously, or easy to explain away. But the Imperial Bank Office in Thessaloniki cuts several bank certificates which combined are worth 8400 hyperpyra, but fakes the registry to make them look like they was issued by the Skoupoi branch office between January and early April. These are easy to hide and can be explained away as war booty.

    The siege drags on and on, week after week, the thunder of guns never silent. The Witches become a feared defender of the walls, with excellent targeting and exceptional reload times, but it seems both sides have slumped into a stalemate. The Allies cannot go forward and seem unwilling to fall back; Theodor is fixated on the city and Blucher’s presence and loyalty keeps the army fixed there. And the Romans have not made the great push needed to throw them out.

    As summer slips away and the world turns into September, it looks like a new variable will need to be added to the fray to break the stalemate.

    * * *

    The Witches’ Tower, Thessaloniki, September 18, 1634:

    Anna looked over at the eastern horizon, where the sun was cresting, dazzling her view and making it hard to see. Perhaps she’d just been imagining it?

    Then the horizon moved. A thick black line undulating on the edge of her world, and getting closer, lights and banners appearing on the heights of Mt Chortiatis. “Mary, Mother of God,” she whispered.

    The wind gusted from the east, carrying on it the sound of Pontic askauloi, the bagpipe instruments often used by Roman regulars. [5] And the bells of St Demetrios answered them.


    [1] Information is from Charalambos Bakirtzis, “The Urban Continuity and Size of Late Byzantine Thessalonike.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 57 (2003): 35-64.
    [2] OTL Gate of Anna Palaeologina.
    [3] OTL town of Axioupoli in Greece. It kept its classical name.
    [4] @Duke of Nova Scotia helped to inspire the scene.
    [5] OTL equivalent is a Tulum. Askaulos is an ancient Greek term for a bagpipe-type instrument.
     
    1634: The Business of Empire
  • "The Great Latin War cannot be understood without a knowledge of the character of Theodor. It also cannot be understood without a knowledge of the character of Emperor Demetrios III."-Hektor Petros, author of The Forgotten Emperor: A Life of Demetrios III, Founder of the Sideros Dynasty and the Modern Roman Empire.
    1634 continued: By the end of the Twelve Days, Demetrios III has already made plans regarding the presence of the Allied army in Lower Macedonia. To that end, on June 2 he boards a monore bound for Alexandretta in Syria. From there he heads to Arra, the headquarters of Domestikos of the East Theodoros Laskaris.

    The raids have continued over the winter and spring, Ibrahim retaliating with raids of his own both into Egypt and Roman-held Syria, but in terms of damage the lead is clearly on the Roman side. But Theodoros, per his orders from the Emperor, has not seriously pushed on Ibrahim.

    The Domestikos has not been idle though. Intensely drilling his army, he has been putting his men, and himself, through their paces in strenuous military exercises. As one of Gabras’s staff at Nineveh, he saw and was part of the clumsiness while the Romans worked to wield an army of, at the time, unprecedented size. The last time a Roman strategos had wielded a somewhat comparable number of men under a single command had been Alexios Palaiologos during the War for Asia, two hundred years earlier.

    In one of several aspects of Drakid military structure that has the Domestikos irritated, multiple-tagma training had declined significantly under the Drakids, as Helena I wanted to limit opportunities for strategoi to conspire, in contrast to the late Laskarid/Second Komnenid training regimen which produced the great strategoi of that era and the Time of Troubles. Jumping up to 100,000 men from a tagma had greatly exacerbated an already extant problem.

    Theodoros considers the results very promising and is thus straining at the leash to get at Ibrahim when his sovereign arrives. So he is not pleased when he hears what Demetrios III has planned. Under a banner of truce, Emperor Demetrios III meets Shahanshah Ibrahim I and proposes a ceasefire, with each side holding what land they currently possess for the duration.

    Given the current emotional/mental state of the Army of the Danube, Demetrios doesn’t want to rely just on new European and west Anatolian recruits plus Russian reinforcements to get it back into shape. He wants veteran eastern troops as well. Newspaper-wise, the Armies of the East have been far better served than the Army of the Danube. The people in Constantinople are, frankly, sheltered, having not faced a serious threat (save for the fake one during the Night of the Tocsins) since the Time of Troubles. The Romans in the east, with the constant, repeated, and currently active specter of native Muslim revolt and Ottoman invasion, are much more appreciative of the tagmata and understanding of the difficulties of war.

    Many on the Roman side are utterly outraged by this idea. Mashhadshar was humiliating enough, but this would leave a far greater swathe of Roman territory in Persian hands, including the famous cities of Damascus and Jerusalem.

    But Demetrios III has made up his mind. He blames himself for the wreckage on the Axios, for not making a decision and just leaving things up in the air. Furthermore, he’d been right about Theodor’s plans and he’d also been right about the whole Georgian situation, but had instead deferred to the expertise of the senior administration. So here, he is going to stick to his own judgment.

    The chief reason for his decision is that he wants to bring absolute overwhelming force to bear on Theodor while he is isolated with the Allied army at Thessaloniki. Here, the logistics are in place to support a massive Roman army, one far greater than the Army of the Danube ever was. Plus, it is 240 kilometers from Thessaloniki to Skoupoi; in contrast the retreat that so battered the Allied army last year, from Ruse to Nikopolis, was half that. So the battle of annihilation that was denied in 1633 may perhaps be available this year. Here is a chance to absolutely shatter the Allied host, to a degree not even Andreas Niketas achieved. And Demetrios III wants it, so very badly.

    Theodoros is certain he can crush Ibrahim in battle this season, but even he has to admit it probably will take at minimum a month, and most likely more than that. And it’s a 1700 kilometer march from Antioch to Thessaloniki, at least a ten weeks’ march, and the Army of Mesopotamia would need to add another three weeks to that total.

    It is pointed out that Demetrios III doesn’t need to transfer all the eastern forces to the west. There’s the Army of Georgia, the Army of Mesopotamia, and the Army of Syria to choose from. But Demetrios wants all available forces sent west.

    One reason is that doing some splitting, trying to have just enough for each front, strikes Demetrios as being over-clever, and he’s just been bitten for being over-clever. He’d thought he had plenty of time to deal with Ibrahim, so he’d held Theodoros back and stuck with the whittling slave raids, which now is resulting in this mess. So Demetrios is done with subtlety.

    But primarily it has to do with The Wars of Latin Aggression. He wants to break the cycle and here seems a perfect opportunity, a chance to obliterate an invading Latin force with overwhelming force. And he wants the maximum impact for that, such as a 200,000 strong Roman army with 500 cannons cresting the horizon. Especially after the Latins penetrated so far into the Empire. Now one could say that burying the Latins under such a weight of numbers would help make an argument that individually Romans aren’t so tough, but Demetrios argues that Latins will find justifications for their failings regardless of what happens, and victory is its own best argument. He wants to make an argument, to the whole of Latin Europe, about the sheer weight of Roman military might that can be brought down on an aggressor.

    Continuing with The Wars of Latin Aggression, Demetrios III has a ‘special friend’ in the Allied camp, one whose friendship should prove most valuable. But the Emperor wants to bring to bear such a preponderance of force to make it clear even to dense Latins that the Romans did not need said ‘special friend’ to win; he merely made it easier.

    It is pointed out that by doing so, Demetrios is effectively letting Ibrahim out of the bag. Demetrios acknowledges that, but also sees that Theodor is in the bag, and he wants that prize so much more. To him, conflict with an eastern power (not necessarily the Ottomans, mind you) is a natural state of affairs. Annihilating Ibrahim now, while a useful advantage in the short term, won’t change the “natural dynamic” as he puts it. If the Ottomans fall, they’ll just be replaced by a new eastern empire that will pose the exact same problem to the Romans as the Ottomans did; the similarity of the current border to Roman-Sassanid times has been noticed. But annihilating Theodor might just change that “natural dynamic”, for potential short and long-term gain for the Empire. (It should be noted that Demetrios III is far from alone in his thinking on Roman-East relations.)

    Demetrios further points out that Ibrahim isn’t exactly getting a bed of roses. Yes, he is getting interior Syria and Palestine, but it’s been wracked and ravaged, with a sizeable minority of the population carted off into slavery. With Rhomania occupying a good chunk of northern Mesopotamia, during the truce it’d be connected to the rest of the Ottoman Empire by an old caravan road via the Palmyra oasis, so Ibrahim’s going to have trouble controlling the area.

    And finally, at the end of the day Demetrios is the Emperor. So it is his decision.

    Ibrahim, for his part, has been interested in peace, despite the pressure from the Triune ambassador. The Shah is significantly better informed as to the situation in Europe than the Germans of Asia, and so he wants out, but he wants out with honor. There have been feelers over the winter, but Ibrahim views most of the Roman conditions as excessive. In his opinion, they’d be appropriate if Ibrahim’s main host was broken, but it’s not. If the Romans want those demands fulfilled, then they’ll have to pay the price in blood required.

    Demetrios’s terms, and his mere presence, instantly catch Ibrahim’s interest. Much has certainly changed since they’d last met, in the negotiations that’d led to the Treaty of Mashhadshar. Ibrahim is also aware that despite how well it looks on a map for him, keeping the current situation is a poison pill. Demetrios can easily secure and reinforce the Ottoman lands he holds, while Ibrahim can only do the same with his Roman holdings in token amounts. He proposes instead that the pre-Mashhadshar border be restored instead.

    Demetrios does not care for that. He’s already planning for loyalists to be settled into the sections of Northern Mesopotamia already taken, as a first move toward securing them for the Roman Empire. The northern Anizzah remnants are already setting up shop. Plus with a proper artillery depot installed at Duhok, a Roman army could be pounding at Mosul with siege artillery less than a week after the resumption of hostilities.

    Demetrios would be happy to take both northern Mesopotamia and interior Syria, but Ibrahim’s not going to accept that. So if he can only get one now, Demetrios III will take Mesopotamia. Ibrahim would have a far better chance of retaining that than interior Syria on the resumption of hostilities.

    The Demetrian Agreement between Demetrios III and Ibrahim I is signed at Arra on June 16. It is very explicitly a truce, not a peace treaty, its language modelled after the Khlat Accord used during the Eternal War. This is deliberate on Demetrios’s part; it is a salve for Ibrahim’s pride since he can draw connections to his father.

    The substance though is rather different. Aside from both sides retaining the lands of the other of which they are currently occupying, there are no tribute payments to Ibrahim. Prisoners are exchanged, with ransoms to make up the difference. Ibrahim gets a few hyperpyra here as his forces captured some high-ranking loyalists that Demetrios ransoms, but it’s a far cry from the mountain of gold Iskandar got. The slaves captured in the Roman raids are not included in the exchange/ransom.

    The truce is set to expire in February 1641. Demetrios wants plenty of time to be available to focus exclusively on Europe.

    During the Eternal War, the truce period was punctuated by frequent raids and small battles, so the pre-Khlat, truce, and post-Khlat fighting are all considered to be part of the same war, even though the truce lasted for over a decade. This truce is much quieter, so Roman historiography typically treats the pre-truce and post-truce fighting here as separate wars.

    Yet it is not all peace. During the winter the Owais and Haddad tribes, reinforced by fragments of the Southern Anizzah who are in the process of being absorbed into the Roman clients, have been infiltrating back into their Transjordan holdings. As a teambuilding exercise, they’ve chosen to kill or enslave every Howeitat they can find, and they have a suspiciously large quantity of Roman army surplus with which to do so. Per the terms of the truce, Ibrahim can’t force the tribes out, so he’s stuck with this tribal brawl, a tribal brawl which also cuts the pilgrim road to Mecca. That puts a serious tarnish on the prestige Ibrahim has garnered from taking Damascus and Jerusalem.

    After the truce is signed, Ibrahim proceeds to Baghdad. Arranging supply caches, the Ottoman army in interior Syria is marched out via Palmyra in sections, gradually withdrawing all but a garrison force. There are losses to the desert, but the operation is orderly and as good a success as Ibrahim could’ve hoped for.

    Meanwhile Demetrios III is on his way back to Constantinople with the Demetrian Agreement. Aside from the D3 musket, it is the only item from his reign that is named after him.

    Some historians have wondered about that. A few speculate that Demetrios is punishing himself for his mistakes regarding Macedonia. Others believe that the Emperor is making it very clear that he is the one responsible for the Truce. As Eparch, Demetrios was in the thick of the blame game following Mashhadshar and does not want anything like that to happen again.

    Many think that he is concerned that the army will blame the newspapers for the humiliation, saying that if their morale hadn’t been sabotaged, the Romans wouldn’t have needed to make such concessions. That by itself might not be a problem, but if that army resentment spreads to encompass, say, civilian leadership in general, than the Empire could have a very serious problem. So by emphatically emphasizing that this was his decision, Demetrios hopes to short-circuit that possible train of events.

    Returning to the White Palace, drinking and writing heavily, in late July there is an audience for the arrival of the new Persian ambassador. Odysseus is there, recalled from Macedonia for the occasion, and Demetrios III clearly takes great pleasure in introducing the Kaisar to the ambassador as “the man who will avenge me”.

    Demetrian Truce - Copy.jpg

    Black line represents the pre-war border. Red line represents the border as of the signing of the Demetrian Agreement. Green represents the caravan roads that are the only real link between Ottoman holdings in Syria and the Ottoman Empire proper. The Blue region represents the area of greatest Owais & Haddad activity.​

    Once back in the capital, Demetrios begins cracking down on the papers. Personally, as a writer himself, Demetrios favors a freer atmosphere to write and publish, but the sheer amount of social irresponsibility exercised by many is appalling. Dozens of libel suits are brought against offending editors and writers, which are easily proven given the literal written testimony lying around, ruining many of them economically.

    Last year Demetrios had gone with executing the most egregious offenders and hoping that would silence the remainder. But while that had fixed a symptom, it clearly hadn’t fixed the underlying problem.

    One tactic is fairly easy, enforcing some of the old press laws that have been quietly ignored as the market expanded. These are stepped back up to their original level. Each publication must be licensed by a censor of the Ministry of Propaganda, which thus far in the war has been focused on encouraging war popes sales and volunteers for the army. The Empire’s Eyes, in the sphere of counter-intelligence, have been the ones overseeing publications. The confusion of responsibilities between these departments has created a byzantine structure not conducive for efficiency. This is a large factor in why so much has slipped out through the papers. It is also another issue Demetrios III plans to fix, although unlike his earlier ideas this is a new flaw made apparent by the war effort.

    Any publication not licensed is automatically pulled, with substantial fines for the ones responsible. This is in contrast to the random sweeps done so far during the war, which clearly aren’t doing a good job.

    A large part of the problem though is that the Drakos-era press laws, written several decades earlier when yearly publications of all types were less than a third of the 1630s level, are annoyingly vague. Criticism of government officials and policies was allowed, provided it wasn’t too “strenuous”, but that’s not exactly helpful.

    Demetrios imposes some changes. For starters, any claim made in a paper must have supporting evidence. To call someone a traitor, one must have credible proof of treachery, not just that ‘they lost a battle’. To call someone a coward, one must provide credible proof of cowardice. Failure to provide credible evidence shall be found grounds for libel, and prosecuted as such.

    For another nine newspapermen in Constantinople and two in Thessaloniki, the prosecutions end with their executions. Several more are fined substantially, a few losing everything, the money being donated to set up homes for invalid veterans in the districts of Constantinople between the Herakleian and Theodosian Walls.

    Besides the demand for evidence-based claims, Demetrios III adds another factor, social responsibility. In his words, newspapers are a social institution that provide information to Romans so that they can make informed decisions. But they also have a responsibility to not disrupt or endanger society, firstly by not providing inaccurate information. Analysis is allowed, but it must be on the basis of evidence, not mere opinion. Secondly, they must not ‘compromise the integrity of institutions vital for the safety and stability of society. This is all the more vital in wartime, when external pressures on said institutions have increased substantially’.

    In order to secure ‘social responsibility’, Demetrios institutes new requirements. Now any newspaper contributor must have passed a ‘university-prep’ secondary school (these are more advanced and rigorous than the regular secondary school: see Thomas Autoreianos Interlude for details) and any newspaper manager and/or editor must have a university degree. While the role and especially size of the Roman university system has expanded significantly since the Laskarid model, at its core they are still focused on training good civil servants for the government. Demetrios hopes to inculcate that training, ethos, and discipline into future newspapermen.

    Admittedly, this all has issues of vagueness as well. What counts as socially irresponsible, as opposed to informed criticism? Where is the line between analysis and mere opinion-voicing? What exactly is required to be considered sufficient evidence? These are all good questions, and right now Demetrios Sideros doesn’t have time for them. There is a Latin army to destroy.

    The very first exercise drawn up by the War Room, back when it was a loose study group under old Andreas Niketas, was a plan for rapid (as much as possible given the technology of the day) transfer of multiple tagmata from Asia to Europe or vice versa. The current version is War Plan B9, drawn up by Megas Domestikos Nikolaios Mouzalon shortly after he was posted to Constantinople rather than commanding a field army.

    The Megas Domestikos wants to move over 180,000 soldiers from east to west. There are 40000 men in the Army of Georgia (not including the 16000 Georgian troops promised and added by Alexei at the start of campaign season), 50000 men in the Army of Mesopotamia, and 90000 men in the Army of Syria, not including any potential Egyptian and Ethiopian forces.

    With Ibrahim pulling out of Syria, there is not too much concern about not leaving a large field army in place. All garrisons are maintained at full strength, with an additional 10000 (taken from the Army of Mesopotamia) based in Aleppo just in case. But Ibrahim has a charismatic Afghan warlord who’s just taken Kabul with which to deal. And if the Shah decides to break the truce, he can either reenter Syria via the caravan road and risk starvation, or grind at the northern Mesopotamia fortresses Amirales captured. Ibrahim would undoubtedly take many of them back, but it would take time, and then the eastern troops could be transferred back east after flattening Theodor. So all the Shah would gain would be to start the rematch early.

    Konstantinos Mauromanikos and the Army of Georgia march on Trebizond, where a portion board ship for transport to Varna. As they sail, the rest of the army marches along the Pontic coast road, the transports returning to pick up another section while the remainder continue marching west. The process continues until all have arrived in Bulgaria.

    The Army of Georgia proper, now renamed the Army of the Danube, proceeds along the river, Konstantinos arriving just in time to receive the keys of Vidin, which has been under siege since before the Twelve Days. After depositing a garrison and reinforced by the portion of the original Army of the Danube that prosecuted the siege, he drives on Belgrade. Moving far faster than in Georgia, he faces minimal opposition as he advances into Serbia. The Hungarians, who are responsible for much of the Allied rear-area security, here put up little fight, most surrendering after a token exchange. Meanwhile the Serbian soldiers under Lazar either melt away into the Serbian populace or present themselves with their arms to Konstantinos, who promptly puts them on the army pay roll. In a week he has 1400.

    Belgrade Citadel though is garrisoned by Bavarian troops, loyal to the House of Wittelsbach. After setting up his parallels, he leaves 24000 men there and marches down the length of Serbia with his remaining 40000. It is rather tempting to swing over to Raska and pay Despot Lazar a house call, but that is not Mauromanikos’ mission. His task is to close Theodor’s bolt hole. On September 12 he lays sight on the Hungarian banners flying from the towers of Skoupoi.

    Moving Mauromanikos is comparatively easy. The prongs of the actual trap will be much harder to arrange. Theodoros Laskaris with the Army of Syria begins the long march from Syria overland across Anatolia. Thirty two kilometers a day with a rest day every Sunday, the heavier artillery to be left behind and replaced by stores in the west. To reduce river-crossing times, engineers are sent up ahead to build pontoon bridges to supplement the existing bridges. Restocking at Abydos from the large depot established there, a slew of ships ferries them across to Europe.

    More ships are in Syria. Amirales marches to the coast, where transports are docked to start ferrying his men over to Hellas. For hulls, the War Room calls up the last of the Merchant Reserve vessels that have not been summoned, and forces other ship-owners to provide their vessels. They are paid, but the government sets the price and there isn’t any bargaining. Foreign traders get snapped up as well, the big Spanish and Arletian haulers proving most useful. Grain prices go up in the major cities around the Aegean, including the capital, as grain haulers are requisitioned. Despite tax exemptions for the poorer classes to compensate, Demetrios III’s popularity suffers for it. Even with all that it is still necessary to ship the army in relays.

    To the south, the Egyptian army under the command of Despot Andreas II has advanced up the Nile River to battle the Idwaits. The Idwaits have succeeded in finally taking Beni Suef but the Despot crashes through their raiding parties, storming the mostly-ruined defenses of Beni Suef and slaughtering the garrison.

    Proceeding south along the great river, the Army of Egypt engages in clear-cut genocide. Every male of military age (and the definition of that is rather loose) is killed on the spot, and everyone else is hauled off into slavery. The Despot wants the land, which used to be Egyptian before the Great Uprising, back but does not want the people. Some of the Idwaits flee and some fight, but slowly the Egyptians grind along.

    The ‘remainers’ are prominent in the slaughter. They’ve suffered much from Idwait raids and are eager for revenge. To facilitate the killings, Despot Andreas says that if a remainer kills an Idwait and provides proof of the deed and proof of ownership, the remainer can take the Idwait’s lands and possessions. Plus there is the profit of selling the slaves downstream.

    In modern eyes, this is a war crime. This is genocide. And Rhomania is complicit. The army is Egyptian, but it was taught by Roman soldiers, and there are a few attached advisors to Andreas’s staff. There is no evidence they took any explicit part in the crime, but they certainly provided ‘expertise’.

    There is no criticism or condemnation either from the Empire (considering what Demetrios had been doing to interior Syria, it’d be hypocritical if there was). Demetrios III, in one of his more chilling phrases, calls it “the ugly but necessary business of empire”.

    Malik Hassan VIII orders a scorched earth campaign, organizing an evacuation of as many as he can to Asyut or further south, which he works on further fortifying. Egyptian supply is dependent on river barges, so the guns of Asyut seem the best place to stop them.

    There are many of the Idwait grandees, whose wealth and power is based on large tracts of land worked by tenant farmers in a share-cropping arrangement, who protest. While some of the grandees have their estates concentrated, many have distinct plots scattered along the Nile valley, and many of the best plots are north of Asyut. So several get together with their retainers and try to kill the Malik.

    Unfortunately for them, they fail. Hassan VIII is unharmed, and he hits the roof. He is trying to save as many of the faithful as he can, and these…people, instead of fighting against their common enemy, instead turn their guns and spears on him. So, after gathering in troops that were hampering the Egyptian advance, he turns on the grandees with full fury and a fatwa from the Mufti of Aswan declaring the rebels ‘traitors to Islam’. Everyone connected with the rebellion, be that family, friends, or retainers, are to be hunted down and shot. The only ones escaping are the share-croppers themselves, since they wisely promise their produce to the Malik.

    Meanwhile, Egyptian guns start to pound the packed-earth walls of Asyut.

    Andreas II is facing problems of supply because of the scorched-earth, and by now he is going to soon be faced by the flooding of the Nile, which will temporarily halt operations anyway. So he sends 10000 Egyptians back to the Delta, where they are joined by 7000 Ethiopians that have landed in Suez to reinforce the fight where they are needed. Proceeding to Alexandria, the combined Egyptian-Ethiopian force is loaded onto more vessels for shipment to Attica.

    There they join the Army of Hellas, which is comprised of the old Army of Mesopotamia, minus the detachment left in Syria, joined to the Paramonai and attached Roman tourmai. The combined force, under the command of Thomas Amirales, musters 70,000 men. Meanwhile Theodoros and his 90 tourmai have linked up with Tornikes’s 71 tourmai. And that is not including the 40,000 Romans at Skoupoi and 24,000 at Belgrade, or the Thessaloniki garrison.

    In three months, the Romans have managed to transfer 200000 men from the eastern borders of their Empire to their western themes. Supplying these hosts is incredibly laborious, the huge depot at Abydos proving absolutely crucial; without the preexisting stockpiles built up over the last eighteen months this host could not have been maintained. Yet it still needed to be supplemented by a massive flock of grain haulers from Egypt and Scythia, and the diversion of supply meant the death of thousands of Thessaloniki evacuees.

    There are further costs as well. Tax exemptions to compensate for more expensive foodstuffs sound nice, but they do nothing to help the unskilled laborer who has to buy food now but pays taxes after harvest time. Plus his poverty means his tax burden was lower anyway, so the exemption carries less heft. The setup is more beneficial to the mesoi and dynatoi, who are less injured by the price hikes anyway. This also impacts said laborer’s family. The number of poor Roman children who die that year (as a pre-industrial society, this is appallingly high by modern standards already) is higher than usual, due to poorer and less nutrition. Plus less births because of underfed would-be mothers. It is not possible to have a specific number of the losses, but it’s undoubtedly in the thousands too.

    There are disturbances in several cities and towns, including Constantinople, some of which develop into food riots (although not in the capital). These are all quickly put down by authorities, but Demetrios’ pro-poor tarnish is wearing rather thin at the moment. The distribution of free produce from the Sweet Waters and forced economies in the White Palace kitchens help a little, but only a small fraction.

    The mass transfer is also only possible because the Aegean is well developed, with multiple wharves at multiple sites equipped for moving bulk goods, infrastructure largely built up during the Flowering, and the advantage of moving said bulk goods by sea. These armies, in their current size, absolutely cannot be supplied more than a day’s march from the sea.

    Fortunately for the Romans, the Allied army is not more than a day’s march from the sea. On September 18 it numbers about 61,000 strong.

    * * *

    IRV Andreas Niketas, off the coast of Macedonia, September 16, 1634:

    Odysseus Sideros entered the great stern cabin of the mighty battle-line ship, one of the most powerful warships in the world, followed by Strategos Thomas Amirales, Strategos Manuel Philanthropenos, Strategos Demetros Abate of the Ethiopian tagma of Axum, Strategos Tawadros Tmoni of the Egyptian army, and their various chiefs of staff.

    Even though this was the great cabin, the chamber was still crowded, and at the center of the room were Domestikos Theodoros Laskaris and Strategos Iason Tornikes. The Domestikos’ sharp triangular face was covered in a short-trimmed white-gray beard, reviewing the large map spread across the table. Figurines were everywhere, representing the known location of all Roman and enemy forces.

    Laskaris looked up. “Ah, welcome gentlemen, your highness,” he said, nodding his head at Odysseus. He nodded back as the other high-ranking officers head-bowed to him. “We have work to do.”

    Odysseus looked at the map himself. He knew all the information, but it was helpful to see it all laid out. A large army coming up from the southwest, an absolutely huge one coming from the east, partisans, irregulars, and light forces scattered to the north with Mauromanikos off the edge, and the Latin host right in the center.

    Some had argued that a battle was unnecessary. That had been one of the arguments against Demetrios III signing that truce with Ibrahim. Except he had, and now the Romans had a force assembled that made that at Nineveh look like a pile of olives.

    And Odysseus wanted to use it. They all wanted to use it. And there were good reasons for using it. As his father said, “style matters if you’re dealing with people who are style over substance”, and Latins were all about style. The optics of assembling such a huge force, and then being apparently afraid to use it, would hardly do a good job of breaking the cycle. Completely shattering this Latin army on the other hand, that would do nicely. And it would be satisfying.

    They wouldn’t charge in madly or stupidly, but they would attack, smartly, wisely, and with overwhelming force, the best aspects of Roman and Latin warfare merged into one juggernaut. There was his father’s special friend to consider, who would make things complicated, but it was largely due to him they had such accurate intelligence of the enemy’s battle line, so it was a price worth paying, especially if his father’s relationship plans worked out as he hoped.

    Finally, teasing his little sister about how he rode in and rescued her would never get old.

    “Thomas, your objective will be here…” Theodoros pointed at the map.
     
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    1634: Brave Men, Loyal Men
  • “When Wei and Wu together strove
    For the mastery,
    In the Red Cliffs fight the tall ships
    Vanished from the sea,
    For there the fierce flames, leaping high.
    Burned them utterly.
    So Zhou Yu for his liege lord
    Got the victory.”
    -Romance of the Three Kingdoms
    1634 continued: It is a stalemate in the lands of Italy. Nikephoros Mytaras, commander of the Army of Sicily, lays siege to Pisa. By itself, the once mighty city is no longer a significant prize, but its huge garrison is too large a threat to be ignored if he wishes to advance from Livorno to threaten the real jewel, Firenze.

    If it were just the matter of the large Pisan garrison, the delay would be irritating but not potentially harmful. But there is also Niccolo Farnese, the Duke of Parma, who is shaping to become even more difficult than he was last year. (Mytaras was reportedly amused and a little flattered when he heard of the Three Johns Meeting, given the concerns of a Roman takeover of northern Italy, considering he is still stuck in Tuscany for the foreseeable future.)

    Parma has a slight numerical advantage (41,000 vs 46,000-these numbers are for field armies, not garrisons, which widens the Lombard lead) come May, but that is par for the course, and unsurprising considering that there are close to 3 Lombards for every 1 Sicilian. But the Lombard troops that come rolling out the gates of Firenze that May are more in line to those of Theodoros Doukas’s, who brought close to 2/3rds of Italy under his sway in the early 1600s, than the mediocre ranks that have comprised the bulk of Lombard forces in the war so far.

    Parma could’ve had an even larger army, but he choose to focus on quality (and lessening supply problems while he was at it). While there is some emphasis on drill, the main increase in capability is due to a much better supported supply train and regular pay. Their pay is still in arrears, but the amount is steadily decreasing, which makes the troops happy and helps the Duke enforce proper discipline.

    To do so though, the Duke is having to alienate prominent grandees in the region, forcing them to provide ‘subscriptions’ of material and money. They provide what is demanded, given the squadrons of musketeers accompanying said demands, but they are not happy and they complain loudly to the Lombard court.

    The Kingdom of Lombardy is large and powerful on a map, but its current iteration is both new and patchwork, the product of a mix of conquest and compromise scattered across decades and even centuries once one gets north of the Po valley. Regional lords and powerful communes, in order to conciliate them to Milanese/Lombard rule, have varying degrees of autonomy and special rights and privileges in their particular regions.

    A good comparison is that of the Kingdom of France in the High Middle Ages, with a central monarchy presiding over many powerful nobles of varying standing, the individual personality of the King counting for much in terms of how much direct control over the entire realm could be levied. Cesare’s father Theodoros was a strong king, able to keep the grandees in line, disciplined, and supporting his goals. But with Cesare’s far less firm hand on the helm, things are fracturing.

    The most significant grandees are, in no particular order, the Commune of Genoa, the Commune of Bologna, the Duke of Urbino (currently in Milan after the Sicilian conquest last year), the Duke of Ferrara, the Duke of Verona, the Duke of Mantua, and the Duke of Parma. There are smaller players in the Communes of Padua, Pavia, and Brescia, plus the Count of Savoy (who only controls Turin and its environs, not to be confused with the Duke of Savoy, an Arletian vassal who controls the actual region of Savoy), not significant on their own but they can add weight to the more powerful grandees.

    One advantage the Lombard grandees have is a finely honed sense of their self-interest vis-à-vis the Milanese Dukes/Lombard kings. While they have their differences, they make sure to back each other against the Duke/King if he pushes against one of them too hard. They don’t want to set any precedents that can be used against them down the line.

    But Parma is an exception to that rule, as he is a parvenu to this system. The Farnese family only came into prominence after one of her sons became the Pope in the late 1500s, successfully leveraging that position into concessions for the family in Italy. The chief prize had been the city and title of Parma, granted to Niccolo’s father Alessandro. Alessandro Farnese had made a name for himself serving in the Scholai guard tagma during the 1590s, earning significant plaudits in fighting the Great Uprising and in the early stages of the Eternal War. That said, there was still a sizeable element of ‘conciliating the Pope’ in his elevation just prior to the start of King Theodoros’ bid to conquer north and central Italy. (Which hadn’t even worked as the Farnese Pope died to be replaced by a quite anti-Farnese Pontiff, who didn’t need the extra encouragement to hate the Lombard King.)

    The grandee most opposed to the Duke of Parma is the Duke of Verona, Mastino IV della Scala, the latest in a line of rulers who’ve ruled over Verona since the 1250s. To him, practically everyone save for the d’Estes are parvenus, but Parma is the worst. Also opposed to Parma is Mastino’s brother-in-law the Duke of Mantua, Ludovico II Sforza, who has more personal reasons for disliking the Parmesan Duke.

    The foundation that supports the House of Sforza as one of the great families of Italy is built from Roman skulls. It was Sforza captains who led many of the Milanese forces against the Romans during the Time of Troubles, their success catapulting them to such heights that Ludovico I was regent for young King Andrea Visconti in the 1540s. Since then they have been stoutly anti-Roman.

    Ludovico II had been the loudest pro-war voice in the Lombard court, hoping to emulate his illustrious ancestors of a century before. Farnese’s counterarguments had been most unwelcome. Then he’d been the supreme commander of the Lombard armies during the mortifying 1632 campaign, his plans for a reprise of the Time of Troubles falling flat, his humiliation compounded by Farnese being proved correct and then taking his post as commander. He would dearly love for the Parmesan Duke to somehow end up missing certain vital organs.

    So both Ludovico and Mastino are quick to take up the cause of those notables complaining about Farnese’s ‘forced subscriptions’. King Cesare, for his part, is resistant. He’s noticed the far more effective performance of the Lombard army since Farnese took command and he rather likes the idea of the notables of the realm being forced to contribute more towards the war effort. After all, the war had been their idea, not his.

    Parma is aware of Verona’s and Mantua’s activities; they’ve been sniping at him ever since he took command, but there is little he can do about that at the moment.

    His goal is still to delay the Roman/Sicilian advance as much as possible, to make the war too expensive to seem worth continuing in Constantinople/Messina. He is not impressed by the apparent Accord solicitude for Lombardy; he views it as an opening maneuver for the Accord powers to get a cut of the Lombard pie courtesy of the Romans. But if he can keep the foe at bay long enough, barred from northern Italy and the powerhouse of Lombardy, particularly with the Allies currently breaking into Macedonia, it may be enough.

    Mytaras starts laying siege with a powerful artillery train, including a Hospitaler battery loaned to the general by the Order (although Sicily had to provide the crews). But Pisa, like Firenze, is bisected by the Arno River, forcing Mytaras to divide his forces. It is not as bad as Firenze would be given Pisa’s smaller size, but it doesn’t help the Sicilian war effort.

    Parma shows up with his army a few days later, breathing down Mytaras’ neck. He doesn’t want to force a battle, at least right away, but wants to steadily scrape down the Sicilian sword between the anvil of Pisa and the hammer of the Lombard army. He launches repeated raids at the Sicilian camp, snapping at foragers and outposts, attempting to coordinate with the Pisan garrison via messages conveyed via divers in the Arno. Success there is mixed.

    Because of the constant pressure from Parma, Mytaras is having difficulty putting pressure on Pisa. The Duke and Pisa’s large garrison and supply stores help to make up for Pisa’s second-class fortifications.

    In early June, as Vauban is setting up his first parallels around Thessaloniki, Mytaras breaks camp, leaving a token force to keep the Pisan garrison in check, and marches east toward Firenze south of the Arno River. The Lombard raiders give way, offering little resistance until the main Lombard army appears at the small village of San Miniato Basso. The Lombards have entrenched positions on hills commanding the road, meaning the Sicilians cannot advance further without dislodging them. If Mytaras tries to move around them, there is a risk Parma could blast his way down the road and maul the force besieging Pisa. A brief artillery duel starts, with the Lombard guns winning before Mytaras retires just beyond their range.

    For ten days the two sides spar with each other. Mytaras sends cavalry raiding behind Parma’s lines, hoping to force him off of his chosen field. Parma does the same, hoping to damage Mytaras’ supplies enough that the Sicilians will have to attack Parma on his chosen field if they wish to advance. Parma has the better of the exchange; he has more cavalry overall and he doesn’t have a good chunk of his rear forces tied down to one particular locale.

    On the eleventh day, Mytaras pushes forward some of his guns and starts a second artillery duel. Given the long range, little damage is suffered by either side but it is quickly clear the Lombard batteries again have the advantage and after an hour Mytaras pulls his force back. He then starts breaking camp; he is not attacking an enemy army that outnumbers him by more than ten thousand after the performance of his probes.

    The withdrawal is done in good order, with no serious loss of baggage or artillery. Parma attempts a running battle to take advantage of the retreat, but Lombard horse are roundly punished by the Sicilian rearguard and soon forced to back off. Two days later, the armies are in the same positions they were as if the last fortnight had never happened.

    Mytaras is caught in a conundrum. He doesn’t have the manpower to take on Parma’s army without the troops besieging Pisa, but he also can’t take Pisa without first taking out Parma’s army.

    Parma isn’t excited about the situation though. San Miniato Basso is a victory, which is something the Lombards need, but it isn’t an impressive victory. And he is not enamored of attacking the Sicilian camp directly. It is spread out because of the nature of the siege, but it is very well fortified. He could probably take the camp, but he’d pay a butcher’s bill for it. And he would like to keep this army, made up of men who are loyal to him for ensuring their supply and pay, intact, because Mastino and Ludovico are besmirching his conduct. They point out the failure of the pursuit, the continuing siege of Pisa, and start throwing around claims of cowardice as well for his failure to attack the Sicilian camp.

    The Duke of Parma would very likely understand how the Army of the Danube currently feels. The difference here though is that the forces besmirching him have political teeth, unlike the Constantinople newspapers.

    Mastino and Ludovico are getting more powerful as the summer passes. Originally the Podesta of Treviso, Marco Mocenigo (descended from members of a wealthy Venetian family that escaped prior to the fall of the Serene Republic), had been in charge of guarding against raids from Venetia. That was one of the responsibilities of the post, and one in which he has clearly failed miserably. After Andreas d’Este’s prominent victory against odds, he was removed from his post and replaced by Enrico Mussato, a Padua native who happens to be a client of Mastino. Meanwhile Lord della Scala was given command of the forces guarding against raids north of the Po Delta, giving him good reason to recruits lots of men under his banner.

    Concurrently in command of forces in the Romagna is the Duke of Ferrara, Tiziano Vecelli. His family had been mine owners and notaries in the 1400s, but through military skills shown both before and during the Time of Troubles, gained the possession of Ferrara much as the Sforza gained Mantua. As such he is also strongly anti-Roman and especially not a fan of the d’Estes who ruled Ferrara before his great-grandfather helped expel them from Italy.

    As all this is going on in Tuscany and eastern Italy, Genoa is cracking under the pressure of the blockade. It has been two years since Roman warships started prowling the approaches to Liguria, and it has been devastating for the city whose lifeblood is her trade.

    There have been some holes in the blockade. During the winter it loosens because of fewer ships on duty, but that is because of the worse weather which makes it more dangerous for Genoese trading ships as well. Blockade runners can slip through on dark nights, the successful ones making huge profits with just a single voyage, but there aren’t nearly enough of those to make up for the loss of regular trade. Small coasters can sneak past by sticking to the shallows where Roman brigs can’t sail, but their cargoes are small and range limited.

    This has been devastating for much of the city. The traders don’t have inventory, the ships stand idle, leaving the sailors and shipyard workers with no work, the craftsmen have no customers, and the inns have no visitors. And while all this is happening, food is getting more expensive. Genoa’s foodstuffs mostly came in by sea; Liguria is far from a breadbasket. Obviously the grain haulers from the Baltic or Scythia aren’t arriving, and food and transport that could move said food from overland are being sucked up by the Lombard armies.

    There is one big hole in the blockade, aside for the smaller ones just mentioned, and the hole is specifically for the Bank of St George. The Bank is heavily invested in the Spanish war with Al-Andalus and the Marinids, both providing loans and helping to facilitate material shipments through Genoa to Spanish ports. Demetrios III, who doesn’t want to alienate King Ferdinand, allows these shipments to go through the blockade (after an inspection by the blockaders). The Bank has also invested in the various Roman loans and purchased war popes (although the Genoese bankers much prefer to call them bonds). So the Bank is, unlike everyone else in Genoa, still able to do some business.

    The Commune of Genoa, as a collective, is one of the grandees of the Lombard Kingdom, but it is not a single individual like the various dukes. The Commune is a tightly-knit oligarchy of rich Genoese families who monopolize the political offices of the city, and also control much of the economic levers as well, including the Bank of St George. So because of their banking connections, the Oligarchs are able to tread water while everyone else is drowning. And those drowning have noticed.

    This is a recipe for a popular explosion and the members of the Genoese commune know it. The current situation cannot be continued. There seems little chance of a peace, especially a peace that comes soon enough. The 1634 harvest will help some once it arrives, but it won’t last the winter.

    One possibility would be to try and cut a separate deal with Rhomania, essentially becoming a second Livorno. Many Genoese are envious of that port and its war-time prosperity, such a contrast to their own straits. But there are Carthaginian fregatai watching the harbor, and the smallest of the Despotates is still ruled by a scion of the House of Alessi, once near-hereditary lords of the proud Republic. To the great families who now lord over Genoa, letting an Alessi back into the city is absolutely not an option.

    So that leaves the final course, breaking the Roman blockade. The bulk of the Lombard battle-line is anchored in the port, currently doing nothing. The odds too are better than they’ve been since the start of the war. Much of the Roman navy is now occupied in ferrying, or guarding the ships ferrying, troops from the east to Hellas or Bulgaria. Malaria, from onshore encampments, have crippled the huge crews of some of the largest Roman warships.

    All that means is that now the odds are really bad, as opposed to suicidal. The admiral of the fleet, a son of Genoa, Cristòffa Cómbo, is well aware of that. His family is part of the ‘lower upper’ class, prominent merchants not quite big enough to break into the Oligarchy, but important enough the Oligarchs have to respect them. It is doubtful that a popular revolt against the Oligarchs will respect the political nuances of his family.

    So he is, if not happy, willing to undertake this mission despite the odds. Perhaps he can break the blockade, relieving the pressure for a popular uprising. Or more cynically, a failed breakout will kill a lot of sailors who very likely would join said uprising, and bring a lot of guns with them. The Oligarchs share such cynicism to an even greater extent, some almost seeming to prefer the effort to fail as it will ‘cleanse the rabble’, while the Admiral for his part would definitely prefer to win.

    But regardless of the outcome, Cristòffa’s family will benefit. Promises and payments and offices are transferred, and the House of Cómbo joins the ranks of the Oligarchs. Meanwhile the Admiral readies the fleet, most of which is crewed by Ligurians. On August 10 the winds bless the enterprise, forcing the blockading squadron off station while giving the fleet a clear shot out of the harbor. It is a magnificent sight as it passes the great lighthouse, twenty three battle-line ships with more than 1300 guns between them, plus nineteen smaller warships with another 500 cannons. It is sent out with the prayers of the faithful of Genoa “in confident hope of a miracle”.

    Cristòffa, for his part, has a plan to maximize chances of said miracle. The Roman fleet in these waters has three primary bases, Livorno which is the main, Elba, and then a squadron stationed down at Civitavecchia. If he can catch them in isolation, perhaps he can defeat them in detail. Fleets can’t easily reinforce each other if the winds don’t cooperate.

    His first target, after breaking the immediate blockade, is the stretch of coast between Livorno and Pisa. To secure Mytaras’ supply lines, supplies are shipped up from Livorno and deposited at a fortified depot at the Arno delta, then carried overland to the siege of Pisa. The shorter land haul is more easily guarded against Parma’s raiders.

    The Duke of Parma is skeptical of the feasibility, but willing to support if it can work. Assuming the Lombards can sever the Livorno-Pisa line, Mytaras will be forced to fall back to his base, giving Parma the opportunity to bottle him up in Livorno. He can also provide troops to support an attack on Elba, ferried by the Lombard fleet.

    The first task of the Lombard fleet is easily completed. Warned that the entire fleet is coming out by the Carthaginian fregata Hamilcar, the outgunned blockade squadron falls back per planned doctrine, sending a sloop flying down to Livorno to alert Doux Gabriel Papagos. Immediately the word goes out to gather the fleet.

    The Genoa blockading squadron was itself scattered by the winds that allowed the Lombards to leave port, so by the time they combine the Lombards are close on their heels. There is a constant on-again off-again long-range duel between the two forces, the Lombards unable to close the range any further. The forty-gunner Volos loses her mizzenmast and gives way, striking her colors at noon on August 11.

    Meanwhile the Roman and Sicilian warships from their various stations are combining. Given the concentrated strength of the fleet in Genoa, it was never feasible to constantly keep a fleet on station outside strong enough by itself to take on said Lombard fleet. Aside from the logistics, it would’ve eaten up so much naval strength that the rest of the blockade would’ve leaked like a sieve. The plan had always been to keep an eye on Genoa and combine as soon as practicably possible; the losses taken in the interim simply have to be endured.

    On August 13 the players all hove to near the island of Palmaria, which lies on the western entrance to the Gulf of La Spezia, the blockade squadron there reinforcing the Genoa blockaders. Meanwhile coming up from the south is the main Roman fleet. Combined, the Romans have forty four battle-line ships mounting 2700 guns, supported by thirty two lighter warships with another 800.

    Cristòffa recognizes that the odds are impossible, and he is not so cynical now to order his men into suicide. He at least has gotten them out of Genoa so they can’t cause trouble there. His goal now is the safety of La Spezia. It is up to the Genoa and La Spezia squadrons, commanded by Navarchos [Byzantine Greek term, means Vice Admiral at this point ITTL] Andronikos Panaretos with fourteen battle-line and fourteen light ships, to hold them up long enough for the main fleet to come up and destroy the Lombard force.

    From the towers of La Spezia, the townspeople watch the battle, the roar of hundreds of guns flying on the sea breeze. Panaretos’ line is quickly broken but the Roman warships turn and grapple with their Lombard assailants, snarling them up. They stall the Lombards, but at terrible costs to themselves.

    Panaretos’ flagship, the 60-gun Ikarios, grapples with the Lombard fleet flag, the 74-gunner La Superba. With the muzzles of their broadside guns literally inches from each other, the two flagships slam cannonballs into their foe’s hull, wreaking carnage particularly on the smaller Roman warship. Panaretos is shot just ten minutes into the engagement, the musket ball punching clean through his chest. Unable to stand but unwilling to go down into the hold for medical care while the battle is ongoing, he has himself tied to the mainmast while continuing to direct the engagement as best he can.

    And then the main Roman fleet comes piling into the melee, spearheaded by the 92-gun Theodoros Megas, Papagos’ flag. Her first broadside into the body of the 48-gun Scorpione staves in the Lombard ship’s hull and she immediately strikes. The rest of the Lombard fleet puts up a harder fight, but they can’t withstand such firepower and eventually start surrendering as well. Panaretos, still on deck, lives just long enough to see La Superba strike her colors.

    CamperdownLoutherb.jpg

    The Battle of Palmaria
    [By Philip James de Loutherbourg - Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Kurpfalzbilder.de using CommonsHelper.(Original text : http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?workid=3722&searchid=22589), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6866711]​

    It is a bloody victory for the Romans. One battle-line ship sinks, another two pounded so badly that they are torn up afterwards rather than repaired, plus no less than six light warships (including the Volos, which was taken back to Genoa by her prize crew). Fregatai had gone toe-to-toe with battle-line ships in order to slow them down and paid dearly for it. Overall there are more than two thousand casualties, with all of the ship losses and four-fifths of the casualties endured by Panaretos’ force. The Ikarios takes thirty percent casualties.

    It is also a near total victory. Out of the twenty three Lombard battle-line ships, only five make it to La Spezia, two of them badly shot up. The lighter ships fare better; out of the nineteen, nine of them make it to harbor, one slipping away to end back up in Genoa. Twelve of the Lombard battle-line ships and eight of the lighter warships are captured in good enough state to be kept as prizes. Lombard casualties (excluding prisoners) are close to fifty seven hundred.

    Admiral Cómbo offers his sword to the Doux, who declines, preferring “to take the hand rather than the sword of a brave man”. [1] The sail to Livorno is a rough one, with one of the Lombard prizes foundering with ninety wounded Lombard crew on deck during a storm during the night. Despite the danger, small boats from surrounding Roman warships rescue seventy of the Lombards, their commanding lieutenant one of the lost as he refused to leave before all of his men had been taken to the boats. [2]

    Despite the valor, it is a devastating blow to the Lombards. For all their cynicism, the Genoese oligarchs hadn’t expected such heavy losses. There are few families in Genoa who are not grieving, and the mourners are asking ugly questions about who is to blame for this.

    It is also a heavy blow to the Duke of Parma. The Commune of Genoa was the grandee most supportive of him, so he has simultaneously lost his best ally and also his chance of breaking this stalemate in Tuscany. Meanwhile Mastino is whispering to people in Milan. Unlike Ferrara or Mantua, he has no personal reason to be anti-Roman, but he does desire power and hates Parma.

    The Duke of Verona has, in Parma’s opinion, too much time on his hands. The same could also be said of the Duke of Ferrara. Naval raids on the coast of Romagna have declined for the same reasons the Lombard fleet faced lesser odds at Palmaria than it would’ve last year. Meanwhile Mastino has recruited all these men under his personal banner but has no Roman raids to combat either. The bulk of the Venetia garrison has marched off into the Alps to raid hairy trans-Alpine barbarians, therefore not Mastino’s problem. So he can use those men for things that actually matter to him.

    On September 10 he makes his move. Having suborned key officials, with the most powerful army in northern Italy at his back, and supported by the Dukes of Mantua and Ferrara, he arrests King Cesare on the grounds of his “incapacity”. The Duke recognizes Cesare’s six-year-old son Andrea as his rightful King, appointing himself the regent “to ensure firm and confident leadership in this time of crisis brought on by bad management”.

    On September 14 the Duke of Parma and his army begin to march north.

    [1] This is from OTL, a near-identical statement said by Admiral Duncan, the victor of the battle of Camperdown, when his defeated opponent, Admiral de Winter, offered his sword.
    [2] More from Camperdown.
     
    Maps-Demetrian Agreement
  • Alright, guys !
    Since the big nice map of Europe is almost complete, here is a teaser with a couple mini-maps showing the impact of the Demetrian Agreement.

    Before :


    After :


    Color scheme used is TACOS, base map is 8K-BAM.
    The uncommonly-colored countries are : Idwaits in Sudanese Brown, Howeitats in Jordanese Pink, Northern Anizzah in Syrian Purple, and Nejd in Daesh Black.
    And of course as the top of the map is Georgia.
     
    Last edited:
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