The Revival of Rhomaion: An Age of Miracles

Part 12.3

Empire of Blood and Gold

1536: Theodoros does not actually leave Constantinople until the spring, when he departs with his menagerie. He retires to his sprawling animal park near Aleppo, breeding rhinoceroses and elephants in captivity at a rate unmatched until the twentieth century. Contrary to some laymen’s belief, this does not help the Imperial exchequer. All of Theodoros’ animal-related endeavors he funded himself, largely from the revenues from land grants bequeathed by Andreas Niketas, Demetrios, and Herakleios.

On the other side of Asia, a peasant revolt sparked by poor harvests is put down with terrifying speed by provincial Wei troops and the Eleventh Banner Army. The Tieh dynasty is only a hundred years old, and is clearly nowhere near its expiration date.

The devastation of Constantinople completely ruins the Imperial treasury. Rebuilding efforts force further austerities, and the eastern fortress program again receives further cuts. The Herakleian Walls are undamaged, but deaths to work details necessarily slows construction. However not all programs are a loss. One that is cut is the program known in the present as the ‘rocket trooper’ program. It was an attempt to use rockets to fly soldiers over walls into fortresses, but was abandoned given a complete inability to steer or brake the projectiles, which were tested with pigs.

The fire also destroys Andreas Angelos’ plan for reviving the Imperial Navy. Ships were lost, but also naval supplies and skilled workmen from the half-wrecked Arsenal. Reluctantly he reports that until 1545 at the earliest, due to the lack of skilled artisans, sailors, and marines, he cannot guarantee that the Imperial Fleet can defend trans-Cretan (waters outside the Aegean, Marmara, or Black Seas) territories against a hostile fleet.

It soon becomes apparent that some fanatical Muslims are responsible for starting the fire. In the Fourth Nullification Act, all Muslims are expelled from Constantinople with all their properties confiscated, and all their mosques shut down. They are also barred from Trebizond, Smyrna, Antioch, and Alexandria (a clause supported by many Alexandrians, who approve the removal of economic competition). Also all Imperial Muslims save those of recognized frontier tribes are barred from owning horses, more than two hundred cattle, five hundred sheep and/or goats, or three hundred donkeys, camels and/or mules.

All surplus has to be sold to the government at set prices significantly below market value, and the government then turns around and sells them at a significant profit (some to the Spanish Alliance as food-stocks for the Oran expedition). The funds go toward restoring Constantinople. Some Muslims in protest slaughter their animals instead, and have all their goods confiscated as punishment.

The figures for allowed Muslim livestock are double that of the original draft. Their raise is owed to Andronikos of Chalkis, who has been growing increasingly close to the Empress. That relationship brings up the issue of Alexeia’s lack of a husband or heir, which has been a concern ever since her accession, but a topic everyone has quickly learned not to broach unsolicited with the Empress.

The most frequently mentioned suitors are Demetrios Komnenos, the sixteen-year-old son of Andreas of Egypt, Isaakios Angelos, Giorgios Laskaris, and Michael Doukas, the first cousin and closest living male relative to Stefanos Doukas. Alexeia does not want any of them as husband. There is also the fact that each represent a powerful faction in the Empire, and she is not inclined to strengthen any of them.

So she chooses a nobody, and on October 15, she marries Andronikos of Chalkis, who bears the very fresh titles of Komes (Count) and Tribounos (Tribune), both of which are purely honorary titles. It is a brilliant, lavish, and expensive ceremony, with the popular historical view that she is compensating for the low-born nature of her consort. Still the spectacle is not enough for some to not notice that the Empress seems a little fuller in the belly come the ceremony.

Despite the new titles, Andronikos is merely titled ‘the Imperial Consort’. In processions he does not sit beside his wife, but is behind all Komnenoi, the Megas Domestikos, Megas Doux, and any Patriarchs, but prior to all other military, administrative, and clerical officials. He also has no claim to any imperial estates or property. Even so, the marriage is ill-viewed by many of Constantinople’s dynatoi, who forget (or ignore) their mostly-plebeian origins in their disapproval.

Eleven days later, Prince Bayezid in Hormuz signs a secret accord with two Jewish envoys from Milan. In it, he pledges that once he is sultan, a secret offensive alliance will be in effect between the Ottoman Empire and Milan.

On December 20, Sultan Suleiman “the Magnificent”, Conqueror of Persia, Builder of a Thousand Mosques, the Lawgiver, breathes his last in the Topkapi Palace of Baghdad.

1537: The death of his father could not come at a more propitious moment for Bayezid. He is at Hormuz, and thanks to the galleys docked along the quays of the third city of the Ottoman Empire, his travel time to Baghdad is half that of Konstantinos and Osman Komnenos, both of whom are in the provincial capital of Mazandaran, Sari. It is a city of 12,000 souls, known for its fine gardens and orchards, a famous madrasa, and several tombs of Sufi saints.

Sari has well recovered from its destruction at the hands of Timur, but the main architect of its revival, Konstantinos, is in poor shape. Two weeks before the death of his best friend and Sultan, he collapsed during a troop review. Although he is on the mend, he is still weak and bed-ridden, clearly in no position to command armies.

That would not be such a big deal, if Osman wasn’t quarantined at the Komnenid Caspian seaside villa with the Black Death. According to the physicians it is unlikely he will live. With Konstantinos’ growing age, many of his allies and subordinates have with Konstantinos’ approval been looking more and more to Osman for leadership.

Short, with a tendency to chubbiness and a broken nose from a skirmish with Cossack sea raiders when he was twenty, Osman whilst healthy is not much to look at. An indifferent archer and swordsman, he is however a skilled rider with an eye for artillery, as demonstrated at Tarain. He is a devout Sunni Muslim, but with a strong inclination towards Sufism, of which he is a great patron.

He is also, despite his name, thoroughly Persian. Persian is his first tongue, and by far his favorite, in which he has written several pieces of (bad) poetry. He can also speak and write Turkish, but his spoken Greek is atrociously bad and he is illiterate in that language. His wife is also Persian, from Khuzestan, and his two daughters have Persian names. Still despite his Persian-ness Osman is fiercely committed to his family name ‘Komnenos’, and is quite proud of being the great-grandson of a Kaisar-i-Rum and having Andreas Niketas as a great uncle. That said, he has no interest in fighting for his ‘rights’ in Rhomania, which is a land he has never even seen.

But his purple blood serves him little in the spring. With his hold on life tenuous, his supporters abandon him to support Bayezid. With little fuss, Bayezid is proclaimed Sultan of E-raq and E-ran. His first act is to try and cut the Komnenoi down to size in their current weakness, distributing offices, bribes, and marriages to wean away supporters.

He also relies heavily on his new connections amongst the tribes of the eastern territories. With the corps of janissaries and sipahis behind him, plus the Mesopotamian and Hormuz urban azabs and a vast host of tribal cavalry, Sultan Bayezid is clearly more than a match for the Komnenid forces of Persian armored lancers and Mazandari urban azabs.

Bayezid’s tactics are a clear success, and by the time both Konstantinos and Osman make full recoveries, it is too late. The Sultan does not attempt to destroy them however. Firstly, he prefers to humiliate them instead, and also the forces they can still muster, although not a match for his troops, still are strong enough to command respect. Thus Bayezid contents himself with their public submission in Baghdad, where he formally invests them as joint governors of Mazandaran and only Mazandaran.

But one of his first official acts is to send a gift to Constantinople, the remains of Basil Palaiologos/Komnenos’ family, who were executed on Bayezid’s order. Per the Ottoman envoy’s request (Bayezid’s orders), Basil was present when they were delivered to the White Palace. It took three guards to tear the old man away from the envoy, who had his nose, three fingers, and a rib broken.

Bayezid, per his agreement, formalizes the Baghdad-Milan alliance, and begins making preparations. The first priority is to withdraw troops from the east. By significant concessions to tribal autonomy, Bayezid is able to withdraw substantial garrisons from the region, for instance only maintaining forces in Ghazni and Kabul in the northeast regions. He is also able, through outlays of gold and marriage alliances with chieftains, to draw thousands of tribal cavalry to his banners.

The lands along the Indus cannot be so lightly fortified though, but even these provinces do not require too heavy of a hand. Their immediate neighbors to the east are petty micro-states left over from the collapse of the Delhi Sultanate. Beyond them lie the far more formidable powers of Bihar and Vijayanagar, but neither are capable of projecting serious power beyond the Doab and the Narmada river respectively. Bayezid judges six thousand men and eighteen galleys enough to defend the region, given that Kashmir’s reigning monarch is eighty two and near death.

He is completely unaware that a new player has arrived in the region, as four Portuguese vessels sail into Kozhikode harbor. Some of them meet with Deva Raya II in great Vijayanagar, now the second-largest city in the world, resoundingly impressed by the vast metropolis and its seven walls. The audience goes well, as the Emperor would like a counter to the Romans and Ethiopians, and the Portuguese are allowed to establish a quarter in Kozhikode with their own church, bakery, and well.

As forces are gathered, Bayezid also begins extending feelers into Rhomania. He has already been contacted by Muslim dissidents from within the Empire, including some in the pay of the Abbasid Caliph. But the Sultan is not satisfied with the level of Muslim dismay at Constantinople, and so seeks to increase it in the most decisive manner, by triggering a Roman crackdown on its Muslim population.

The first few months of Alexeia’s marriage are a quiet time. For the first time since the days of Demetrios Megas, the ‘base’ taxes of the Empire, the land, head, and property taxes are raised (Theodoros IV raised income, but by inventing new taxes, streamlining tax collection, and developing industry and trade) by 10%. Although it affects all Imperial subjects, it vexes the Muslims as it is another tax hike.

One method proposed at the time to raise more income is to institute tax brackets, whereby those with a higher level of income are taxed at a higher rate. When Alexeia broaches the suggestion with the School of Law at the University of Constantinople, the professors resoundingly denounce the idea. It is considered contrary to the principle that all men are equal under the law. The idea is dropped.

One idea that is not dropped thanks to Andronikos is the rescinding of the Nikephorean decree that non-Orthodox religious structures cannot be repaired. Whilst the construction of new ones is still outlawed, already existing ones can be refurbished, redecorated, and enlarged, provided their height does not exceed that of the tallest church. Providing a boost to the construction industry, it applies to Catholics, Armenians, Copts, Jews, and Muslims, although the height restrictions of the Third Nullification Act still apply to mosques.

Also at the same time the rights of the Jews are confirmed. They are allowed to remain in ghettos, as the Jews request, since they view the segregation as a good defense against conversion efforts, in which they are allowed the full exercise of their religion. Jews may partake in any trade or craft they desire, are not required to wear any distinguishing clothing or markings, and are to be subject to no extra taxes beyond that of Orthodox followers save the synagogue tax. At the same time, Jews are offered for the first time the option of spreading out the tax for an entire tax period, rather than having to pay the whole lump sum every five years.

An offer to similarly delineate the rights of the Armenians (in this context, Armenian is a religious, NOT an ethnic label) is rejected, as it is rightly believed that it would end up decreasing their privileges. Armenians suffer no de facto persecution, and are even allowed to build new churches. The only real restriction is a glass ceiling preventing them from rising above mid-level bureaucratic or military ranks.

Even so, many get past the stricture by being Orthodox in public and Armenian in private. Strategos Mikayel Apkarian, commander of the Optimatic tagma, put it this way. “The Strategos is Orthodox. Mikayel is Armenian.” This practice is well-known but ignored by Orthodox officials, and the result is that the Armenian race (now in an ethnic sense), though it makes up only about 8% of the Empire’s population, fills almost 40% of the Empire’s secular high offices. The Empire is clearly a good place to be an Armenian, a fact they will not forget.

Andronikos of Chalkis meanwhile creates the musical piece that becomes the theme music for the Vigla, the Watch, or more commonly known as the Imperial Guard. Named ‘the Imperial March’, it has gone through some renditions, but the modern version used today (not always in the original context) remains little changed from the original.

Unfortunately that is his only major creation. When spring comes, smallpox accompanies it. The epidemic ‘only’ kills twenty four thousand, but one of them is Andronikos who dies on the morning April 14. Alexeia changes into mourning garb, and is barely dressed before tragedy strikes again. In the afternoon, she miscarries, losing her and Andronikos’ son.

It is too much. She locks herself away in her apartments, and the only one she sees is Fyodor of Yaitsk. After two weeks she emerges, but with Andronikos gone there is no one to counter Fyodor’s influence over the Empress. Andreas Angelos had been on a naval training exercise when a storm dismasted his vessel, breaking his leg in four places. Whilst all this is going on, he is laid up in Attaleia, where he along with his son Isaakios both contract smallpox.

The current situation is regarded as absolutely intolerable by Alexeia’s court. There has been growing discontent over the growing harshness of the Nullification Acts. No one had expected things to have gone this far, and many are worried that continued repression will drive the Muslims into Ottoman arms. Even Constantinople Patriarch Isidore II does not like the level of soft power Fyodor has, as he considers the Russian monk an illiterate boor and while he agrees with the aim of ‘purifying’ the Empire, he thinks the current method ham-fisted at best.

On May 9, the Megas Domestikos Konstantinos Gabras and Patriarch Isidore II present Alexeia with a proposal on how to deal with the Roman Muslims. In it, they suggest abolishing the Second and Third Acts, whereby Muslims were outlawed from money-lending to Christians and from having mosques more than half the height of churches, as pointlessly antagonistic. The First Act is to be rewritten, with the Muslim tax hikes halved; the Fourth, regulating Muslim ownership of livestock, is left intact.

Fyodor stoutly contests the proposal, and is currently drafting a Fifth Nullification Act. But one advantage Konstantinos and Isidore have is that before his death they had enlisted Andronikos’ help. They have a preliminary draft with the musician’s comments on it, which they present to the Empress (although not before Konstantinos remarks that Andronikos seemed most adept in economics for a musician).

One part of the proposal does go through without trouble. In August Crown Prince Timur arrives in Samarkand from Urumqi, where he had heavily defeated the Tieh Third Banner Army. His tactics hinged on cavalry ‘fire teams’ consisting of supporting horse archers and black horses, armed with firearms made by the foundries of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Merv. There he finds several newly arrived Roman technicians in Timurid pay, who are teaching the gunsmiths how to manufacture kyzikoi. Timur immediately takes to the weapon, outfitting his heavy shock cavalry with them.

For several weeks though the rest of the proposal is fiercely debated, a time during which Ioannes Komnenos, youngest son of Theodoros, arrives in the Queen of Cities. His father remains in Aleppo. On June 1, an assassin in the pay of Bayezid guns down Fyodor just outside the White Palace compound, shouting “Allahu ackbar!”

Bayezid gets exactly what he wants. On June 9, the Fifth Nullification Act is passed. Under it, by pain of death, the Muslim faith is hereby outlawed in the Roman Empire.
The Boy Emperor

Part 8.1


"And on such small shoulders does such a great and mighty Empire fall,"-Matthaios Melissenos, History of the Wars of God and Rhomania.

Aghia Sophia, September 2, 1458:

Andreas stared out at the group in front of him, generals, courtiers, officials, the beating heart of the Roman Empire. If his reign was to last more than a minute, he would need their support, or their silence.

He stilled his fingers which wanted to twitch really, really badly. The great robes of state, his father’s robes, hung over him, the heavy crown squatting on his head. It had already been placed there by the shaking hands of old Patriarch Adem as the group had been admitted. They had seen the crowning, had witnessed it, but had not given time to protest, yet.

“By will of my father, may he rest in peace, Theodoros, fourth of that name, Laskaris Komnenos, Emperor of the Romans, Vicegerent of God on Earth, I am his successor to Rhomania and all her domains. Does anyone challenge this most lawful and righteous claim?” In the corner of his eye, he saw Manuel tighten his grip on his blade. He had his orders; Andreas currently only had six guards, but they were ones he could trust implicitly. No one, no matter their rank or station, despite the fact they were in this most holy place, would be allowed to live if they said ‘yes’.

Gustav Olafsson, strategos of the Varangian Guard, stepped forward. He had been summoned straight from the training yard, and so was kitted out in full armor, his great sword and two black maces hanging from his belt. Manuel tensed.

Gustav stared into Andreas’ eyes. Seconds passed, and then the old Varangian smiled. “I swore an oath.” He turned around, now his hand around his sword. “Emperor Andreas, first of that name, demands your obedience. I suggest you give it.”

Blachernae Palace, September 16, 1458:

“That goddamn son of a bitch! I am going to kill him myself! That worthless, miscreant, fucking piece of shit!”

“Milady, what is wrong?” Manuel asked.

Alexeia whirled around, the snarl of an enraged lioness on her lips. “That hell-spawn, whore-sprung Vlad Dracula is what’s wrong! I manage to convince Andreas to accept him as regent, which I was only able to do when I pointed out he’d still be able to marry Kristina, and then he pulls this!” She grabbed the letter, shaking the crumpled ball for a second and then hurling it on the floor.

“He’ll accept the position,” she continued, her nostrils flaring. “But only if Andreas marries his daughter Maria!”

“And if the Emperor says no now,” Manuel added. “He turns Dracula into an enemy, something he can’t afford since Anastasia and Petros managed to escape arrest, and Alexios in Thessalonika.”


“Does the Emperor know?”

Alexeia stared into the corner, not looking at Manuel. “Yes, he knows.”

* * *

“You don’t have to do this,” Kristina whispered.

Andreas poked at his lunch. “Do what?”

“Rule alone. Break the marriage. You know, everything.”

“Yes, I do.”

Kristina exploded. “But why?! God’s wounds, Andreas! You’re only thirteen! No one expects you to rule by yourself! Take a regent!”

“You’re only thirteen too.”

She crossed her arms, glowering at him. “That’s not the point. I’m not trying to rule an empire by myself. Why won’t you take a regent?”

Andreas slammed his fork down. It bounced off the plate, clattering on the floor. “Because there is no one!” He took a deep breath. “Petros or Anastasia would both have me killed within a month. No one would accept Alexeia, a bastard, as the head of government.”

“There’s Vlad.” Silence. “What’s wrong?”

Andreas glared down at the plate. “He took the position,” he growled.


“Vlad agreed to be regent until my sixteenth birthday.”

“But, that’s good, isn’t it?”

The plate crashed against the wall, the lunch splattering against the stone or falling on the ground. The two guards stuck their heads into the room. Andreas snarled at them. They left. “I have to marry his daughter.”


“I have to marry Maria. That’s his condition. And I can’t insult him. Alexios Palaiologos is Anastasia’s father-in-law. I can’t hope to fight both him and Vlad.”

He looked up at her. His eyes were cold, dead. “He’ll arrive in a week or so with Maria. As soon as she arrives, we’re to be wed. You may keep your quarters until spring, when it will be safe for you to return to Novgorod.”

“So I’m to remain her and watch as you marry that, that, whore?”

He stared at the wall. “Blame God for the Russian winter, not me.”

Kristina sighed. Andreas exuded coldness, the blankness of his eyes showing a blankness of his soul. She knew that look; she had seen it before, after one of his nightmares. She needed to get him out of it. She had studied history, and she was certain that another man, another ruler of a great empire, had held the same look in his own eye. His name had been Timur.

“How long do you think it will take before you get tired of her?”

He looked at her again, at the spark in her eyes, her slightly crooked lip, and his own eyes began to shine a bit. “About two minutes, maybe three.” His own lip began to curve up into a little smile. He and Kristina had already done it twice in secret.

But memory faded, and reality resumed. Andreas was again staring off into the corner. “So it’s over,” Kristina said.

Andreas’ head snapped back to her. His eyes blazed. “No. I will find a way. We will be together. And may God damn anyone who gets in the way.”

* * *


Image taken from Ep. 7, The Old Lion, of the award-winning show The Komnenoi

Alexios Palaiologos, the Victor of Ain Sijni, the Lion of Syria. Although his seventy eight years are finally beginning to catch up with him, his name still inspires respect and fear amongst all the armies of Rhomania. Father-in-law of Anastasia Komnena Palaiologa, eldest daughter of Theodoros IV, he is the teeth of Anastasia's threat to Andreas.​

Duty to his family. Duty to the Empire. Those are his choices. Depending on what he does in the coming weeks, the Empire may once again be in a civil war, an ironic outcome, since he is the last to have seen the War of the Five Emperors.​

Cappadocian Caesarea, January 12, 1412:

Alexios chewed furiously on the strip of bacon, spitting out a piece into the crackling fire. Around him were the campfires of ten thousand men, the Coloneian tagma in all its glory, once again on this bloody battlefield, where this had all began.

Manuel Doukas, Emperor of Trebizond, looked up at him. “You don’t like this, do you, tourmarch?”

“With all due respect, your majesty, I don’t.”

“And why not?”

“It’s not right. You’re the rightful emperor. You’ve done all you can to fight the Timurids, not fellow Romans. Why should you be the one to step down, to become junior? It should be him!” Alexios stabbed his finger out to the west, where the campfires of the Thracesian tagma, the tagma of Demetrios Komnenos the usurper, were located.

Manuel looked back towards them and then at Alexios. “Perhaps you’re right. But it does not matter.”

“What do you mean, it doesn’t matter? Isn’t that what we’ve been fighting for the last eight years?”

The Emperor sighed. “If we are to survive Timur, we must be strong, we must be united. And I will not let my epitaph be that I was the one who brought civil war and death to this empire.”

Alexios opened his mouth. Manuel stepped over, wrapping a hand around his shoulder. “My duty is to the empire. So is yours. Never forget that.”


Alexios’ eyes shot open, the light flooding into them. He blinked. The canvas of the tent stared back down at him, the smell of an army camp of forty thousand men seeping into his nostrils. Petros was staring at him. “What is it?” Alexios asked.

“The usurper has arrived.”
* * *

1458 continued:
The day after Vlad arrives in Constantinople, Andreas and Maria are wed with a great deal of pomp, ceremony, and a lack of joy in the new couple. Shortly afterwards the Optimatic, Opsician, and Thracesian tagmata begin filing into the City. They are none too soon.

Somehow Anastasia and Petros Palaiologos were able to evade the guards sent to arrest them, sneaking out of Constantinople onto a monore (light courier/scout ship) and then to Thessalonika, where the just retired Alexios has his estates. Quickly enlisting his service, they travel north to Kosovo where with the support of Alexios and arguments to the effect that the Empire cannot survive a child ruler after what it has been through in the last decade, they gain support of the army there, forty one thousand strong.

At the same time a battered, defeated Venice abandons all of the terra firma to the Milanese and Hungarians who divide it according to their previous agreement. All that remains to the Serene Republic, after the fall of Candia and now this, is the lagoon itself. Yet the Lion still has teeth. The one hundred and forty ships of the armada are still intact, and the Republic has enough manpower to man half of them once the Venetians exchange prisoners. Although that means the Romans have a slight numerical advantage now, it ensures that any Roman attack on Venice would be long, expensive, and bloody, especially since there are forty two hundred Mamelukes guarding the new forts rising on the Lido.

The use of Mameluke soldiery actually draws little condemnation from the crowns of Europe. That is because the Mamelukes, unlike the Marinids, have posed no threat to the sovereigns’ interest. The one ruler most likely to protest, given his role as Defender of Christendom, the Holy Roman Emperor, does not mind as anything that kills Hungarians is good in his book. There is also the fact that Hungarian expansion over the past forty years has alarmed most of eastern and central Europe, while the west is too far distant to really care.

The one major area to be affected by this is the Duchy of Milan itself. Already distancing itself from the Papacy because of Julius’ increasing ties to Florence, the use of Muslim troops against them by a papal ally is too much. While Milan remains Roman Catholic, the obedience of the Milanese people and clergy to papal orders is increasingly suspect. The biggest example occurs in December when Matteo mobilizes elements of his household cavalry to drive off inquisitors harassing a Hussite settlement on the outskirts of Pavia.

The Hussites, a small but growing movement that follows the teachings of their since-dead leader Jan Hus, are present mostly in Bohemia itself, along with northern Germany and now Milan. Their main beliefs are the participation of the laity in communion, the use of the bible alone as the basis for religious beliefs and acts, and the rejection of transubstantiation, the monastic institution, and the office of pope. The latter ensures that Avignon as well as Rome hates them.

The Romans do not care about such theological developments, or even about the condition of Venice at this time. They are fixated on each other. Even as Hungarian troops overrun Bosnia, facing scarcely any resistance, Alexios wheels around to march on Constantinople in the hope of knocking his opponent out quickly. Vlad and Andreas sally out to meet him; the people of Constantinople are in no mood to endure another siege. With the three tagmata, reinforced by the Varangoi and Athanatoi, they have thirty three thousand men.

* * *

The town of Drama, Western Thrace, October 10, 1458:

Andreas stilled his fingers, which desperately wanted to twitch. His horse snorted, shuffling a step. He tightened the grip on the reins. Alexios, Petros, and Anastasia, along with one other rider he did not recognize, rode up, the banner of truce flying over their heads. It was identical to the one next to Andreas, who was accompanied by Manuel, Gustav, and Vlad. The eight riders were in the middle of a field, directly in between the two Roman armies. He could hear the sound of shovels all around him, troops preparing fieldworks for the battle, the inevitable battle, unless it was resolved here, now. A blackbird cawed overhead, a black dot in a gray sky.

“Sister,” Andreas said, staring at Anastasia.

“Usurper,” she replied.

“Father would disagree.”

“Father was a fool who got himself killed. And what happened the last time an emperor died on the field and left an underage heir?” She stared at Alexios. “Do any of us want that to happen again?” Alexios shook his head no.

Andreas’ hands tightened on the reins. He had to turn Alexios. If he didn’t, civil war was inevitable, something the Empire likely could not afford, not after the past decade. But the more Anastasia spoke, the more Andreas knew Alexios would not turn. There were too many parallels between this and the opening act of the War of the Five Emperors. There is another way, he thought.

I’d be dead if I do.

The thought ended, sounding in the halls of his mind, and then he was there again, Smyrna, the Black Day. But not at the courtyard. He was in the basement of a home, lit only by the flickering of a candle. Nazim looked at him, his black, bushy eyebrows staring out. “For are we not all children of God?”

Yes, we are. And better that only one should die, rather than thousands. His hands started reaching up towards the diadem atop his head, his robes crinkling.

If you do this, you’re dead.

Too much Roman blood has already been spilled. It is time for this to end.

This is your end!

So be it.

Anastasia was done talking about the threat of civil war if a boy was on the throne. “Now, look here, milady-” Vlad said.

“I will abdicate,” Andreas said. Everyone stared at him, Gustav furrowing his brow, Vlad opening his mouth in dismay, and Manuel looking as if he were in pain. Petros grinned. “I will abdicate.” With trembling, shaking hands he took off the crown. His sister sneered. You are dead now, you know that. He held it out to Anastasia. “Take it; it’s yours.”

“Why?” Alexios asked.

Andreas looked at the old, wrinkled general. He had a far-off look in his eyes, as if he were not really there. “I will not have my epitaph be that I brought civil war and ruin to the Roman Empire.” Anastasia smiled, flashing her teeth.

Alexios nudged his horse, trotting forward so that he was next to Andreas, to his right. “Take it,” the prince said, holding it out to the general.

Alexios reached out. But his hand did not touch the crown; instead they wrapped around Andreas’ trembling arm, stilling it. “That will not be necessary, Basileus.” He let go, wheeling his horse around.

Anastasia and Petros gaped at him. The other rider, after a nod from Alexios, charged back towards the camp. “For God!” he yelled. “For God and Emperor Andreas!”

“What have you done?” Anastasia asked, glaring at her father-in-law. “Why? We have superior numbers; we can win this.”

Alexios stared back. “I have a friend, who deserves to not have had all his life’s work be in vain.”


“Nobody you know.”

“We can win this.”

“That does not matter. Even if you had all of Timur’s hosts, it would not matter. I will stand by those who honor my friend’s name, come what may.” She opened her mouth again. “It’s over, Anastasia.”

Behind her, her army, what had been her army, took up the call of the officer. “For God! For God and Emperor Andreas!”

Constantinople, October 23, 1458:

“How do I look?” Andreas asked, spreading his arms. The large silken robes of his father were draped over him, a foot of the purple cloth lying on the floor around the boy.

“I can’t tell,” his older sister Zoe said. A second later the eighteen year old chuckled. “I know you want to.”

Andreas smiled. He spun around really fast, the hem of the robe flying around him. He stopped, staggering a bit, causing the diadem atop his head to flop down on the left side.

Zoe laughed. “Come here,” she said, tugging on his right arm and pulling him until he was standing right in front of the chair. She straightened the crown. “There, much better. You look very regal.” Her hand brushed some of his bare skin. “You’re cold.”

“I’m nervous.”


“Look at me. I look like a boy playing at being an emperor. Which is what most of the people think of me already.”

“You could wait-”

“No. I can’t. It would take too long to make a properly tailored emperor’s robe, and cutting up father’s would not be a good start to my reign. I have to appear before the people as Emperor now. The longer people whisper and wonder about whether or not I can rule, the greater the chance I end up with a knife in my ribs.”

“Well, if you want to look more like an emperor, you might want to take off that.” She pointed at the drab brown belt wrapped around Andreas’ waist. Strapped to it was an equally dull scabbard holding a dirk, its plain steel pommel sticking out of the sheath. It was the kind of blade that would be worn by an ordinary skutatos.

“I need this to protect myself.”

“Why? You’re the Emperor. You’ll have Manuel, and bodyguards.”

“Bodyguards didn’t help father.” The siblings’ eyes met, and unspoken words flashed between them. Or mother.

Maria entered the room, a scowl on her face. Andreas held out his arm for her to take. “It’s time,” he said. Maria took the limb.

“Could you look a little less disgusted?” Zoe asked.

Maria’s eyes swept over the princess. “Could you shut up…” Her eyes fixed on the area where Zoe’s womanhood was covered with fine red silk. “…whore?” Zoe flinched as if she had been slapped. She looked back at the Imperial couple, the shame and pain in her eyes clearly visible.

Maria then flinched as Andreas’ blade pricked at her throat. “Listen, bitch,” he hissed. “If you ever, ever call her that again, I will kill you myself. I don’t care if you’re my…wife…” he spat the last word. “…or who your father is. If you do, I will kill you. Is that clear?”

“Yes,” she whispered.

“Good,” Andreas muttered, his sword disappearing. “Now time to go. Guards!” A moment later half a dozen filed into the room. Forward they went down the passageway, the dark path that led from the Bucoleon to the Hippodrome. And then they entered the light, the sun beating down from the clear sky, perfect weather. The sound of one hundred thousand people rolled over them. The Hippodrome, restored just before the War for Asia, was filled to capacity.

And the people spoke. It did not matter that Andreas was still a boy, that his robes did not fit, that his wife was scowling at them. He had fought beside them during the siege, been wounded beside them, and now the rumors said that he had been willing to give away the throne, the crown, his life, so that they would be spared the horrors of another siege, of civil war.

And one hundred thousand voices yelled as one:


Draculan Estates, outskirts of Chalcedon, March 10, 1459:

Vlad’s fist slammed down on the table. “What are you doing, woman?”

Maria glared. “What you should’ve known was going to happen!”

“What is your problem?”

“He’s a boy.”

“He’s the Emperor of the Romans, for God’s sake. There is no better match.”

“Ha! You call this better. He’s a boy! I want a man.”


“Aaargh! You men are all the same. Do you think women don’t have the same kind of needs men do? Would you be satisfied with a girl for a wife? I think not.”

“There are bigger things at stake than your personal pleasure. And these continual attacks on the Emperor’s sister are only making things worse.”

“Why should I stop? The whore deserves it.”

“What did she do?”

“I decided to have a little fun with a man because I didn’t get one for a husband. She found out and had the audacity to lecture me about sexual impropriety. The whore, can you believe it? The one who’s done it with at least half a dozen, and especially after what she’s doing now.”

“And what is she doing now?”

“She’s sleeping with Andreas, that’s what. Ever since his little Russian bitch left for Draconovsk last month.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Maria, these slanders are going to get you killed someday.”

“Andreas wouldn’t dare. He may threaten but he wouldn’t dare.”

“If you push him enough, he might not care anymore, and he will kill you.”

Maria flashed her teeth. “Not if I kill him first.”


Maria Draka Komnena, Empress of the Romans. Her hatred of Zoe Komnena stemmed from an early incident. Less than three weeks after the marriage of Andreas and Maria, Zoe discovered the Empress cavorting with one of the palace guards. The next day the guard was found dead in an alley in one of Constantinople's seedier districts, apparently the victim of a bar fight turned lethal. Image taken from the show The Komnenoi, Ep. 13 Peace


Zoe Komnena, known as the 'Virgin Princess', although no one dares call her that to her face or that of her brother's. Her refusal to marry after the Black Day has been the subject of much gossip in Constantinople, and her close, some would say too close, relationship with her brother has resulted in fertile ground for the Empress' slanders. Image taken from The Komnenoi, Ep 14 The Russian Envoy

1459: The new year opens with a flurry of diplomatic activity. Anastasia and Petros are both placed under house arrest at an estate on an island in the middle of the Aegean, a far lighter punishment than Andreas wants, but he dare not do more for fear of Alexios’ response. However the Emperor has no plans to be so lenient once Alexios passes. He is now seventy nine, and is likely soon to die of old age. And if he should be so inconsiderate to not, certain things can be arranged and in this case there would be little suspicion of foul play.

In an effort to improve Vlad’s disposition, despite the poor (at best) Imperial marriage, Andreas arranges a special honor for the strategos. In view of his service to the state, as well as his father before him, Vlad and his house are bestowed the patronym Drakos, the Family of the Dragon, replacing their old Vlach family name.
* * *

Novgorod, April 22, 1459:

“That stinking, rotten, little bastard twerp,” Alexei I, Megas Rigas, of the Rus growled. “I should invade the Crimea for this.”

“You can’t do that, father, and you know it,” Kristina said.

Alexei snarled, several courtiers in the back of the room cringing. Kristina stayed where she was, looking at her father as he sat atop his throne. She was right, and Alexei knew that. The veche would never countenance a war, not over this, not when several of the leading members had made huge amounts of money with the sugar trade. And the Ukraine’s continued growth and prosperity depended on the grain exports to Constantinople. Alexei Shuisky had been insulted, Lord Novgorod the Great had not.

The king still had the snarl on his face, but his shoulders slumped. “We’ll just have to find another way. But first we must look to your future. The King of Denmark’s third son is available. He would make a good husband, strong, handsome, and unlike a certain Roman Emperor, trustworthy.”


A couple of courtiers goggled at her. Alexei’s eyes narrowed. “What did you say?”

“I said no.”

“Why not?” he growled.

Kristina squared her shoulders, taking a deep breath. “I am not a virgin.” A glass shattered on the floor, red wine splattering the stone and the pants of the courier who had dropped it. Nobody in the room noticed; they were too busy staring at the princess, waiting for the coming eruption.”


“I am not a virgin.”

Alexei shot to his feet, his hand grabbing his sword. “THAT RAT BASTARD! I WILL KILL HIM! NOT ONLY DOES HE BREAK HIS WORD, BUT HE STEALS YOUR VIRGINITY!”

“He did not steal my virginity.” Alexei’s head snapped around to look at her. “I stole his.” The king blinked twice. “Father, there is still a way. I will be Empress of the Romans someday, and you will have a grandson as Emperor of the Romans, not some petty Danish count.”

Her father sat down, laying his hand on the armrest. “Tell me.”

* * *

In the spring Vlad Dracula-Drakos renews the attack on Serbia, although with only half of the combined army that met and nearly fought at Drama (the remainder were demobilized), but he faces little opposition in the post-Kosovo chaos. The Serbian nobility, which had been largely cowed by the royal Brankovics but are now eagerly asserting their power, are quick to fall into line when they realize that the Empire is only interested in vassalization, not conquest. That is far more preferable than the Hungarians, who are establishing direct royal control in Bosnia and who are heretics as well. By September, they have all submitted to Imperial authority.

In order to ensure that the Serbians will not be a threat, the old kingdom is divided into a total of eight principalities, not including the piece extending up to and including Naissus (Nis) which is incorporated into the theme of Bulgaria, the one area imposed under Constantinople’s control. The eight principalities are Zeta, Belgrade, Raska, Srem, Toplica, Macva, Pec, and Backa.

As Vlad organizes Serbia, peace is signed between the Empire and Venice. Venice formally signs over Crete, with both sides having to ransom prisoners, but remains alive. It is a treaty that Andreas signs with great reluctance, taking a great deal of persuasion by Alexeia, and after seeing the reports from the east. The Turk is on the move.

Agents tell an ominous tale, of supply depots constructed in Mosul, of janissaries and sipahis drilling on the banks of the northern Tigris, and of a visit by Bayezid himself to the fortress of Harran, the key Ottoman citadel near the Roman border. The Ottomans are by no means recovered from the War for Asia, but given the exhausted state of the Roman army and state (it is estimated that Roman casualties since the intervention in E-raq are over a third more than Caesarea, the War of the Five Emperors, and Manzikert combined), if the Ottomans attack while the Empire is occupied in the west, the consequences could well be catastrophic.

A few weeks later, peace is also made with the Papacy and Naples, both of whom are unaware of the Turkish threat. Here Rhomania takes another loss, Naples and Constantinople restoring the border of 1392. Once again Apulia is in Roman hands, but all of the conquests of Demetrios Megas are signed away. Andreas too signs this treaty, muttering all the way.

And so the Smyrnan War ends with little fanfare, with no great battles or councils, far different from its beginning. But though the war is finished, neither side is. Both Julius and Andreas hunger for revenge, the treaties only fanning the flames of their desires. For them this is not peace; it is a truce.

Now though they have other concerns. The first is mutual. For on July 28, King Istvan of Hungary takes two new titles, granted by Pope Gregory XII to secure Hungarian goodwill for the coming council, and also to allay complaints that the Avignon Papacy only cares for the Arletians and Iberians. The call from Buda goes out: ‘Hail, Istvan, first of that name, by the grace of God, King of Austria, Bosnia, and Croatia, and Emperor of the Hungarians’.

All Rome and Constantinople can do is grumble; neither can afford a conflict with Buda. Julius is busy engaged in damage control, while in Constantinople preparations are underway for the extermination of the Apulian peasantry, who are still in revolt, continuing the siege of Bari even after the withdrawal of the Neapolitan and Papal troops.

* * *

Blachernae Palace, Constantinople, September 4, 1459:

“You’re happy,” Manuel said.

Alexeia turned around, cocking her eyebrow. “Is there anything wrong with that?”

“No. It’s just that when Vlad’s in the room…” He nodded to where the strategos was standing on the opposite side of the audience hall, just a little over half the distance between the great doors and the pair of thrones, on which were seated the Emperor and Empress. The latter had her usual scowl on.

“Oh, this is a special occasion. I want to see his face.”

Manuel cocked an eyebrow. “You know something.”

“Of course.”

“Are you going to tell me?”

She grinned. “Nope.”

Manuel glowered at her for a moment, and then his eyes darted down. Alexeia’s belly was just beginning to swell; they hadn’t been careful enough. She placed a hand over it. “We can’t keep doing this,” she whispered.

“I know. We could get married…”

Alexeia shook her head. “Not now. The dynasty’s shaky enough already. To have a Komnena, even a bastard, wed a guardsman, won’t help.”

“Andreas has promised to make me a comes.”

“And he can’t do that until Vlad steps down as regent.”

“So we’re stuck.”

“I’m afraid so.”

The doors opened and a tall Russian with a great brown beard, clad in furs and silks, strode in. In the antechamber Manuel could see several more. “From his majesty, Megas Rigas Alexei, first of that name, to his Imperial majesty Andreas, first of that name, Emperor of the Romans, greetings.”

“We are honored to accept these greetings,” Andreas intoned. “And are ready to welcome the new ambassador that my good cousin sends, so that goodwill and peace may continue between our great nations.”

“The Megas Rigas desires that those should continue. They have been somewhat strained of late due to unfortunate circumstances, and it is to repair that, to ensure the continued prosperity and glory of our two realms, and the security of the one true Orthodox faith, that we have sent our new envoy.” He gestured at the Russian delegation, some of them shifting to allow a person to pass through. “The new envoy of the Rus to the Roman court…”

He stepped aside, revealing the person to the Emperor. “Lady Kristina Shuisky!”

Manuel looked at Vlad. His face was twisted, red, glaring at the Russian speaker who stared back and blinked. Maria’s visage was even more unpleasant, but directed solely at Kristina. The Russian princess ignored the Empress; her eyes locked with Andreas. A moment later she remembered her manners, bowing her head and curtsying.

“We are honored to accept the new envoy, and we send our thanks to our good cousin,” Andreas said, looking at the Russian speaker. "His efforts to maintain peace between our two great empires will not be forgotten.” His eyes once again locked on Kristina. “They most certainly will not be.”

* * *

As October comes, Andreas heads east to the eastern themes to tour the frontier defenses, and to present a show of forces to help discourage Bayezid. At the same time, a very prominent delegation arrives in Fars, bearing gifts of goodwill from the Romans to the Shahanshah of the Persians. In their still weakened states, the Ottomans cannot afford a two-front war, so Bayezid backs down.

Thus the 1450s, the decade that saw the War for Asia, the fall of Alexandria, the Black Day, a death of an Empress and Emperor, and a siege of Constantinople comes to an end. It is a quiet end, much to the relief of the people of the Empire. All that remains now is Apulia.


The Central and Eastern Mediterranean, 1459. Note that Apulia outside of Bari is not at this time under Roman control.
Thanks to ElSho for all his help.​

1) The Republic of Florence
2) Duchy of Milan
3) The Romagna
4) Duchy of Urbino
5) Duchy of Ancona​

Siege Lines at Bari, March 24, 1460:

Alfredo stared at the Roman envoy, a squat, hairy droungarios with a big nose. “Can you repeat that?” he asked. As the emissary cleared his throat, Alfredo nonchalantly stretched his right arm, placing his hand on a helm that used to belong to a skythikos. He started lightly tapping out a beat.

Despite his age of twenty four, Alfredo was the ‘commander’ of the Apulian ‘army’, the contingent of men the province had provided the allied cause after most of the peasantry had returned to the fields. Four thousand strong, they had all, Alfredo included, started out as peasant farmers, but now they were veteran soldiers, armed with a mix of captured Roman and abandoned/borrowed Papal and Neapolitan equipment.

Though they had been abandoned by their allies, by their rightful sovereign the King of Naples, they remained in the field even though by themselves the garrison at Bari outnumbered Alfredo’s force almost two to one. The Barians had already attempted to disperse them, but the stout redoubts of the siege lines, defended by culverins the Apulians knew how to use, had thrown the sally back. Still even with the support of the Apulian peasantry, who despite their participation in the initial revolt were nothing more than eager farmers, their chances of survival against the Roman counter-offensive were virtually nonexistent, and Alfredo knew it. They were all still here.

“Your men are being given the opportunity to surrender. Anyone who stands down and hands over his weapons will be allowed to return to their pre-rebellion property unharmed.”

“And what of the officers, the ringleaders?”

“On that the Emperor is adamant. They will suffer the fate of all rebels and traitors.” The Roman smiled thinly. “You understand, of course, that rebellions such as these cannot go unpunished.”

Alfredo smiled back with an equally thin smile. “The Emperor is most generous.” He knew what the Romans were attempting, divide and conquer. If the officers tried to fight since they had nothing to lose, the men, being offered an unexpected pardon instead of suicide, might turn on their leaders, either abandoning them or even better from the Roman point of view, handing them over in the hope of currying favor.

Alfredo’s eyes swept over the inhabitants of the blockhouse. Many were officers, elected to their positions by the men, but there were common soldiers too. They gazed back, their eyes grim but defiant. They would not yield. They had risked death to escape their former lives; they would not go back to escape it. Alfredo smiled. “No.”

The envoy blinked. “What did you say?”


“Do you really think that you can stand against the son of the Dragon and all the hosts of the Empire?”

“I did not say that. I only said that we would not surrender.”

“You’re mad!”

“No, we’re not. It is better to die like men than live like dogs. You offer us the latter; we prefer the former.”

The droungarios looked around the chamber, waving his arms. “If you do this, you will never return to your homes, your families again. The only place you will go is hell.”

Alfredo laughed, causing the man’s head to jerk back at him. “That will not work, Roman. We are here for one reason.”

“And that reason is?”

Alfredo leaned forward. “Hell is preferable to Roman rule.”

1460: As soon as March dawns, twenty thousand men land in Apulia, two thousand reinforcing the garrison at Bari while the remainder seize Taras in a surprise attack. Vlad is in command of the main force, since although he is still regent he has found soldiering to be far more enjoyable. The force he commands is smaller than he is used to, but his foe, though brave and numerous, are of poor quality, with the exception of Alfredo of Lecce’s army at Bari.

As a result, Alfredo is Vlad’s first target. He marches north, leaving a trail of burned villages and villagers in his wake, but before he is able to get very far he receives news that Andreas has landed in Taras. The strategos slows his advance, allowing the Imperial caravan to overtake his army at a village near Bari.

* * *

Corato, Apulia, April 7, 1460:

Manuel sniffed, the harsh and all too familiar stench of cooked human flesh thrusting its way into his nostrils. He glanced over to his right, where two eikosarchoi on their horses were gingerly picking their way through the carnage. Squoosh-fphbttt. One mount put their hoof down into the bloated meat-sack that had once been an eight year old boy.

The two riders, both eighteen years old, looked queasily at Manuel. Both were recent graduates from the School of War, who due to their high marks had been assigned to the Athanatoi, to the droungos under Manuel’s command; he had been promoted to droungarios just five months earlier, a few weeks after Alexeia had departed for Coloneia. The first, taller one, with a thin black moustache, was Andronikos Angelos. The second, a descendent of Florentine refugees, was Lorenzo de Medici.

Manuel looked behind them, where Andreas was guiding his horse through the corpses. The fifteen-year-old had sprouted in the almost-two years since his father’s death. Still skinny, the boy was now tall and lanky, his smooth face now maintained against a light brown scruff by shaving rather than youth. Kristina was at his side, mounted on another horse. She had come to Apulia because of ‘the need to maintain good relations between Russia and Rhomania given the recent strain placed on such ties’.

Both were clad in leather and wool, not silk. Andreas had refused any luxuries not afforded to the men as well; he dressed as they did, ate as they did, slept as they did. The only exception was the presence of Kristina, something the soldiers actually liked. Boys did not keep mistresses; men did. And Kristina had followed and supported him all the way.

Manuel’s and Kristina’s eyes met. He could see the horror in her eyes. But then they darted over to glance at Andreas’ dead eyes. She looked back at Manuel, worry now intermingled with horror. She knew what her lover was capable of, how he had killed for the first time when he was only ten. She had come into the village, into this hellhole, even though she could have gone around, so that Andreas would have no excuse except to come as well. Perhaps if he saw, with his own eyes, he might stem the slaughter wreaked by his armies. Already at least nine thousand had been slain.

Andreas froze. His gaze was locked on one corpse. It had been that of a young woman. There were several slashes in her belly, her nose and left breast had been cut off, and her inner thighs were a mass of bruises. She had been raped, repeatedly, before the end. As Manuel stared, he realized that the woman had the same hair and build as Helena. He looked at Andreas.

The Emperor was trembling, his hands shaking. His eyes were no longer dead, but filled with horror. “What, what have I done?” he whispered, his voice quavering. Then his gaze lost focus, staring through Manuel. He was there again, the Black Day. His eyes rolled back into his head.

“Andreas!” Kristina shrieked, grabbing his body as it started to topple off his horse.

* * *

Vlad stepped into the tent, staring at Manuel. “How is he?” His gaze locked on Kristina, who was bent over the cot on which Andreas was lying, wiping a wet cloth across his forehead. Vlad’s face twisted. “What is she doing here? Send her back to Constantinople.”

“Haven’t you done enough?” Kristina said, still stroking Andreas’ forehead.


Kristina’s head jerked around to glare at Vlad, pain and anger stabbing out of her eyes. “I said, haven’t you done enough?”

“What I have done has all been for the good of the Empire.”

“And what about Andreas?” Still unconscious, he twitched and moaned. A tear trickled down Kristina’s cheek. “He needs me. Do you think Maria would do this?” Vlad’s face hardened. “Get out,” she snarled. Two seconds. “I said, GET OUT!”

Lorenzo stepped forward. “Sir, the lady asked you to leave.” Vlad looked at him. The Medici was an Athanatos, the Emperor’s guard regiment, Andreas’ guard regiment. And they knew where his allegiance lay.

Vlad took a step out, but then turned to look at Kristina. “Andreas is Emperor. As royalty, he must learn to live without love. That is the way of things.” He left the tent.

Manuel heard her mutter “That doesn’t make it right.”

Andreas moaned again, and then lay still. She looked up, more tears streaking down her face. “I don’t know what else to do. He won’t wake up. I’ve never seen him this bad.”

“Kiss him,” Lorenzo said.

Both Kristina and Manuel looked at him. “What?” the Russian said.

“Kiss him. It works in the stories.” Kristina blinked, and then bent forward and gently kissed Andreas on the cheek. Nothing happened. Lorenzo rolled his eyes. “What, you’re being chaste now? You want to wake him up, you’re going to need to do more than that.”

Kristina looked at Manuel, who shrugged. “Couldn’t hurt.”

She leaned over, this time pressing her lips to Andreas’. For a second nothing happened, and then the Emperor began to move, his arms wrapping around Kristina. His eyes opened, five seconds later the couple breaking their embrace. They were silent, Andreas looking at Manuel, a smile on his face. “See, I told you.” Lorenzo said.

Manuel opened the tent flap. “That you did. And now, I think they’d like to be left alone.”

* * *

Near Bari, April 11, 1460:

Andreas stared at his enemy counterpart, Alfredo of Lecce. A skinny man, but far taller than Andreas, with a heavily freckled face and reddish hair. German ancestor, most likely, not surprising considering the name. Alfredo’s horse snorted as a fly flew into his nose, the Apulian calming the mare with a few strokes on the neck and a whisper. He looked up, staring directly at Andreas. “So why are we here? Have you come to tell me whether I’m to be drawn and quartered, or boiled in oil?”

Vlad glanced over at the Emperor. Andreas knew his father-in-law, bleh, was wondering why they were here as well. The Roman army, when combined with the Bari garrison, outnumbered Alfredo’s force over six to one. Even in their entrenchments, equipped with their culverins, they stood little chance, not with Roman hundred pounders in Andreas’ artillery trains. So it had come as a surprise to everyone on both sides when he had insisted on parleying with the Apulian commander.

“I would speak with you,” Andreas said.

Alfredo snorted. “I’m here.”

“Alone.” The Apulian jerked in surprise.

“Your majesty, is that wise?” Manuel asked.

“I must protest this, sir,” Andronikos added.

“I agree,” Lorenzo said.

Andreas’ head snapped around to stare at the three officers, his guardsmen. “I am your Emperor. Obey me.”

“Demetrios Megas,” Vlad whispered.

Andreas ignored that, but gestured toward a small hillock, looking at Alfredo. “After you, strategos.” Alfredo cocked an eyebrow at the use of that title, but trotted over. A second later Andreas followed, leaving the four Romans and two Apulians that had accompanied Alfredo behind.

The two rode in silence until they reached the hill. “I could kill you now,” Alfredo said.

“Yes, you could. But you won’t.”

“How do you know that?”

“Would my death save your people?”


“That is why you won’t do it. All of this…” Andreas gestured toward Bari. “You’re doing for your people, not for simple revenge.” He smiled wistfully. “Which makes you a better person than me.”

Andreas gazed out, toward the west, where the sun was lighting up the clouds as it began its descent. “Lovely land.”

“That it is.”

The Emperor nodded. “A fine land, a fertile land. More than enough for both of us.” Alfredo scrunched his face in confusion as Andreas turned to look at him. “You said you would rather die like men than live like dogs.”

“That is correct. And we have not changed our minds.”

“I did not think so. But I must ask you, would you rather die like men, or live like men?”

“I don’t understand.”

“I’m offering you another choice. What would you say to becoming members of the Apulian tagma?” Alfredo blinked in confusion. “You and your men are brave, veteran soldiers. Rhomania could use men like that.”

“What, why would we consent to becoming your subjects, after all you Romans have done?”

“You do not understand. You would be tagma soldiers. Your biggest complaint has been that you were reduced to marginal lands and your children, while the best estates went to tagma soldiers. Well now you would have those estates, and you would keep your children.”

“But what about the tagma soldiers already here? They would never give up their lands or work beside us.”

Andreas smiled. “As it so happens, I have a new theme that needs soldiers. They will be reassigned to Bulgaria.”

Alfredo’s eyes narrowed. “But I only have four thousand. A tagma has ten thousand. Where would the rest come from?”

“I’m sure there are six thousand other Apulian men who would be interested in my offer.”

“That is all very nice, but we will never consent to giving up the faith of our fathers.”

“You will not be forced to.”


“A man once asked me, ‘Are we not all children of God?’ There will be no more persecution of Catholics. You shall be treated as any other of the noble heresies. But there is one condition I must insist on.”


“That you recognize Gregory XII in Avignon as Pope, not Julius I. Will that be a problem?”

“Julius abandoned us here to die. We have no loyalty to him. But won’t doing all this make you look weak?”

“Probably. But mercy is not weakness. My grandfather understood that; if others don’t…” Andreas shrugged. “They will have to be taught.”

“You would do all this, even after the Black Day?”

“I do this so there will be no more Black Days, for your people or mine. There is only one people who deserve a Black Day, and they are not Apulians.” Andreas straightened in his saddle. “So, what say you?”

“How do I know this is not some sort of trick? Why should I trust you? After all, you have already slaughtered the inhabitants of at least a dozen villages.”

Andreas grimaced. “I cannot change what has already been done. I can only do what I can to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. I swear, on my mother’s grave, that I am telling you the truth and that I will do all that I have promised.” The Emperor stared as Alfredo chewed his lip for several seconds. “Well?”

“In that case, Basileus, we have an agreement.”

1460 continued: Andreas’ plan to reintegrate Apulia into the Empire meets with sizeable opposition, particularly amongst the clergy, but it is overcome when Vlad throws his support behind the endeavor. He does this both to warm relations between himself and the Emperor, but also because it helps allow him to conduct an army reform, one he believes will not only improve military efficiency but also help secure its loyalty to him and not Andreas.

The main feature of Vlad’s reform is the elimination of most of the cleisurai districts. While these had proved very useful during the War of the Five Emperors, allowing the claimants to maximize their manpower resources, since then the multiplicity of tiny provinces has proven to be an administrative headache. Along with the old Italian tagma, the Italian cleisurai are transferred to Bulgaria to fill the empty tagma of Bulgaria. Because he failed to hold southern Italy, Nikolaios Laskaris, who owed his position as Italian strategos to Theodoros IV, is cashiered and a personal friend of Vlad placed in command of the Bulgarians.

Meanwhile the Balkan and Anatolian cleisurai are condensed to form the tagma of a new theme, Cilicia-Phoenicia, carved out of the Syrian theme, which even with the recent losses to the Mamelukes has still grown significantly since its creation. The last element of his army redistricting is comparatively minor, the transfer of the Crimean archontate to Thessaloniki where it can help keep an eye on the Serbs. As a result, of the old twenty one cleisurai only seven remain, three in Armenia and four in Crimea.


The various Imperial themes, numbering fourteen strong. Those marked with a (V) have strategoi loyal to Vlad. The numbers next to Armenia and Crimea denote the number of cleisurai there. The southern coast of Anatolia and the island maintain the navy and remain outside the tagma-theme system. As for professional units, there are archontates (1000 strong) at Constantinople, Antioch, and Thessaloniki. The Athanatoi and Varangoi (5000 strong each) are in Constantinople, while the Scholai (2200 strong) are at Aleppo.​

But that is not all Vlad does. He also conducts a thorough vetting of the tagmata strategoi, retiring the oldest ones, and replacing them with younger men. When he is through, six of the fourteen strategoi are friends of his, and that does not include the Thracesian tagma, over which Vlad is still strategos.

In April Alexeia gives birth to a bastard son at her estates in Coloneia, who is given the name Demetrios. Just a few weeks later her rival Anastasia Palaiologina gives birth to twin sons during her house arrest, choosing names that make it clear she has not abandoned her imperial aspirations. Her sons are named Basileios and Konstantinos. Two months later, after Andreas has returned to Constantinople but before Alexeia has, news arrives from Avignon. Patriarch Adem is dead.

The Council of Avignon had not gone well, almost immediately dissolving into a theological argument, occasionally descending into fisticuffs, between the Rome and Constantinople delegations. For over a month this unhappy state continued, the council accomplishing absolutely nothing towards its goal until finally news of what has happened in Apulia causes Julius to storm out. He is immediately followed by all of the delegates from the Roman Catholic kingdoms, most of whom are beholden to Julius for their high clerical positions.

The only good to come out of the council is at the end. Just four days after Julius leaves, Adem’s health begins to fail rapidly; three days after that he is dead. Gregory XII pays all the expenses for his funeral, and for the construction of the new chapel where his body is interned. It is to be an Orthodox church, for the use of Roman merchants and diplomats. And on the front is engraved in both Latin and Greek Gregory’s answer to the question ‘Why?’, an answer he had heard in the news from Apulia. On the façade is writ ‘For are we not all children of God?’

But in Constantinople, Adem’s death gives Vlad an opening. Because of the clergy’s disgust of Andreas, Vlad is able to get his own candidate elected, Maximus III of Amaseia. With the patriarch securely in his pocket, Vlad is finally able to issue a declaration. ‘Due to these unsettled times, and the current straits of the Empire’ Vlad pushes back the date of Andreas’ accession to the throne and the end of Vlad’s regency to Andreas’ eighteenth, not his sixteenth birthday.

Andreas immediately protests, but he is without allies. Adem is dead, while Alexeia is in the east. Vlad has the patriarch and half of the strategoi beholden to him, while the other half (except for Alfredo himself) are annoyed over the pro-Catholic Apulian policy. Even the Coloneian and Syrian strategoi, from regions with large Muslim populations, are angry, as they fear that increased ties to Catholicism might lead the Empire to start persecuting Muslims.

Faced by such a front, Andreas is forced to back down; the support of the Athanatoi and Varangoi are not enough. However he does demand two concessions out of Vlad, remarking that ‘Maria does seem to be accident-prone, and it would be a shame if I was so distraught that I might not be able to protect her’. First, Vlad must honor the promises Andreas made to the Apulians. And second, Manuel must be promoted to comes. Vlad accepts, not willing to risk the life of his daughter, and he knows that especially after what he does next, he cannot afford to push Andreas too far. While the provinces are overwhelmingly his, Constantinople itself, her troops and citizens, acknowledge only one master, Andreas himself.

On September 4, Manuel and Alexeia are wed in Aghia Sophia. It is a happy day for the couple, as well as for Andreas, her sister Zoe, and her new friend, none other than Alexios Palaiologos himself. The old man and the virgin princess have become quite close, jokingly referring to each other as grandfather and granddaughter. And it is a victory for Andreas, but it is shortly followed by a major defeat.


Andreas Doukas Laskaris Komnenos (left), Alexios Palaiologos (center), and Zoe Komnena (right), at the wedding of Manuel of Kyzikos and Alexeia Komnena. Andreas famously refused to dress splendidly for the wedding, claiming that at such a ceremony 'the groom is the emperor'. As for Alexios, now eighty years old, his health is poor. The main reason the old strategos still lives without an 'arranged' death is his new but deep friendship with Zoe, as Andreas refuses to do anything that would hurt her. Image taken from Episode 15, The Triumph of Vlad Dracula

During the summer, a plague epidemic swept through Buda, killing Istvan and his two sons. In August, Istvan’s younger brother takes the throne of Hungary as Emperor Ladislaus I. His wife too perished in the outbreak, and despite his infatuation with his lowborn Croatian mistress, the nobility insist that he remarry, preferably with the Russians to maintain the anti-Polish alliance.

Vlad sees an opportunity in this to get rid of Kristina, but Alexei apparently prefers a grandson as Emperor of the Romans rather than Emperor of Hungary. It is a more prestigious title, belonging to a more powerful state, and one which is more strongly tied with the Great Kingdom of the Rus. So the Megas Rigas makes no move to arrange a marriage between Ladislaus and Kristina.

On September 1, Alexei I is killed in a boating accident. His eldest son Nikolai takes the throne of Russia, being crowned in Kiev like his father, and almost immediately afterwards Kristina is recalled from Constantinople. After arriving at Kiev, she has a long and loud argument with her brother. When Kristina points out she is not a virgin, and that the Hungarians know that, Nikolai responds that the Hungarians and Ladislaus don’t care; they are adamant about the anti-Polish alliance, especially since Krakow has been strengthening ties with both Bohemia and Bavaria. When Kristina protests that Ladislaus is three times her age, Nikolai says ‘You are royalty. Duty to the state must take priority over love’.

On Christmas Day, Kristina marries Ladislaus and is crowned Empress of Hungary.


Kristina Shuisky Arpad, Empress of Hungary, and her husband Ladislaus I. Image taken from Episode 16, Christmas in Buda

* * *

Blachernae Palace, Constantinople, December 16, 1460:

Maria grunted as her husband pushed himself into her. She didn’t watch, staring up at the red silk canopy covering her bed. A moment later her eyes flickered down over the Emperor Andreas’ lean body on top of her, and then up to his face. Blank face. He thrust, one, two, three. Maria looked again at the canopy.

Another thrust, one, two, three. He sighed, stopping for a moment. “This doesn’t help. Might as well be using a corpse.”

Maria’s head snapped down to glare at her husband, her lips curling into a snarl. “I might actually conceive a son if you weren’t too busy sticking yourself into your Russian whore. Oh, wait, you lost her, ha.”

Andreas snarled and then grunted as he resumed. “Want…more…of this?”

“No,” she sighed. “Just hurry up and finish.” Another heave. “Are you sure you want me to have a son?”


“Are you sure you want me to have a son?”

“Yes. Empire…needs…heir. Why…not?”

“Once I have a son, I no longer have any use for you.” With her hand she caressed the great scar at the bottom of Andreas’ right ribcage, the legacy of a Bulgarian blade in the siege of Constantinople.

Andreas looked at it too, faltering a bit, then thrust again; Maria jolted. “Last Maria…regent…did not…end well.”

Maria shrugged. “My position would be shaky at first, but I am not Maria of Barcelona. I would manage.”



Andreas halted. “Once you have a son, I no longer have any use for you either.”

She sneered. “Is that so? You’re still a boy of fifteen. How will you fare without the support of my father?” Andreas shoved himself into her, hard. Maria bit her lip, a few drops of blood trickling down her chin. “I am going to kill you,” she growled.

He didn’t respond, thrusting rapidly three times. Maria could feel him quivering inside her. It actually feels good, she thought. She snarled at herself inside her head, her tongue licking the blood on her lip, rolling the salty flavor in her mouth. She looked at Andreas, aquiver. He wasn’t paying attention.

He came. As he did, Maria stared up at the canopy, not thinking of the man, the boy, inside her. She was the daughter of one of the Empire’s greatest living generals, nineteen years of age. She could have married into the upper ranks of society, and she had. The most powerful ‘man’ in the known world was atop her. And now all she wished was for it to be Thomas there instead.

In her mind’s eye she smiled at the remembrance of the Albanian guardsman, son of a pig farmer, his rough, callused hands, the smell of sweat and leather that clung to him, his trimmed black beard, not the fuzzy brown scruff of her husband. And then she frowned. Thomas knew what she wanted, that she wanted him, but he did not dare reciprocate, not while the thing atop her could have him killed with one word.

Andreas sighed and pulled out, flopping onto the bed next to her. “It’s over,” he said.

“Finally.” She tilted her head to look at him. “I’m still going to kill you.”

Andreas stared at her and then sat up, his right hand tracing his scar. A faint smile flickered on his face. “Perhaps.” He got up out of the bed, putting on his clothing. Maria kept staring at the ceiling as the Emperor rustled in the corner. He was finished. “Till tomorrow.”

Maria sighed. “Till tomorrow.”

Two weeks later the Empress missed her period.
Last edited:
The Lion in Winter

Part 11


"Andreas I Komnenos had 8 sons, and 150,000."-A History of the Rhomanian Army (note that Roman historians do not consider Andrew of Hungary a son of Andreas Komnenos)​


Religious Map Legend

Brown- 80+% Orthodox
Green- 80+% Muslim
Tan- 80+% Noble Heresy
Yellow- 50 to 75% Orthodox
Orange- 33 to 49% Orthodox
Red- 21 to 32% Orthodox

Note that the dominant religion in Cilicia is the Armenian Church, and in the Nile Delta is the Coptic faith. In Italy, the two major centers of Roman culture are Bari, Venetia, and Syracuse. Venetia is too small to appear on the map, but would be brown. The red in the Crimea is the former Genoese colony of Vospoda, and Tana (off map) would be red as well. The Serbian vassals are overwhelmingly Orthodox, Al-Andalus is overwhelmingly Muslim, and the Italian vassals are overwhelmingly Catholic. But the Italian ducal families are all Orthodox, and the creed is starting to trickle down amongst the major landowners and merchants, but the farmers and artisans remain completely untouched.​

1502: The sack of Cairo sends ripples throughout the Muslim world. Everywhere there are at least some rumblings, but the main explosions come from opposite ends of the House of Islam. In India, it helps trigger a mass Muslim revolt against the Vijayanagar Empire in the coastal cities of Gujarat and Maharashtra. There has already been much dissent against the oppressive and discriminatory Hindu rule (for starters, Muslims are not allowed to own horses or buildings with more than one story, and are taxed three times more heavily than Hindus). Vijayanagar’s collaboration with Ethiopia in the Meccan campaign is also remembered, and not forgiven.

The Sultanate of Delhi invades to support its co-religionists, making as far as Pune before it is met by the assembled might of the Vijayanagar Empire, forty thousand infantry, sixteen thousand cavalry, and two hundred and ninety armored war elephants. The trumpeting behemoths are decisive in the smashing victory, coupled with the mercenary Timurid gunners in their howdahs.

But four days later the Muslim fleet annihilates the Vijayanagara navy off Kozhikode with the first known use of bomb ships outside of the Mediterranean. Without naval support, the Vijayanagara army is unable to reduce the coastal cities as Ottoman and Omani vessels make huge profits ferrying in food and armaments.

In North Africa, something too is stirring. Ali al-Mandari, one of the leading men of Tetouan, who had been ruined by Roman merchants in Al-Andalus and moved to Africa to rebuild, takes five galleys out into the Mediterranean to wage the jihad fil-bahr, the Holy War at Sea. In six weeks, he takes one Roman transport, laden with silk and sugar, and two Aragonese galleys. His example is immediately followed by sailors and tribesmen from Safi to Bizerte.

The overlord of all these jihadists, the Marinid Sultan in Marrakesh, does nothing to curb these raids, but instead encourages and shelters the raiders in exchange for a cut of the profits. With peace in Egypt, Carthage’s brief ascendancy as the premier supplier of plantation slaves for Rhomania is over, so he has little incentive to not harass Roman traders. These raids also serve to bolster his prestige as well as his coffers. The effective loss of al-Andalus without a fight is extremely embarrassing, and enforcing payments from the corsairs is a good way of reasserting his authority.

The rhetoric is couched in that of holy war, and for most of the participants, it is a holy war. But the jihadists soon begin attacking Andalusi vessels as well, viewing them as traitors to Islam. For they willfully exchanged a Muslim for a Christian ruler, and not only that, they chose the one responsible for the conquest of Jerusalem and the destruction of Cairo (in the Maghreb Andreas is viewed as the destroyer of Cairo due to ignorance about the Ethiopians). As such, they are treated as Christians; captives are impressed as galley slaves.

The Andalusi do not take kindly to being on the receiving end of a jihad. When two corsair ships are captured off Almeria in September, the crews are slapped into chains and then thrown into the sea.

In Constantinople, on April 19, Herakleios is crowned as junior Co-Emperor of the Romans, with the imperial mint issuing new coins showing both Andreas and Herakleios. Present are his two older sisters, Helena and Basileia, Crown Princesses of Russia and Georgia respectively. Almost immediately Andreas turns over much of the Imperial administration into his son’s hands.

There is relatively little dissent. Few of Vlad’s appointees remain after all this time, and the few that do are part of the army and have long since come over to Andreas’ side. The clergy mutter, but for the most part are appeased by the Cairo Proclamation’s restriction on Catholics or Muslims in the tagmata. Also smoothing their feathers are several grants of land in the Holy Land to the church, including the Biblical towns of Hebron, Jericho, and Nazareth. All of them are placed under the authority of the church, providing taxes after a four-year remittance period are paid.

There is also the fact that there is no clear better choice. Some prominent priests, including the bishops of Adrianople, Dyrrachium, and Larissa, believe Demetrios to be a closet Copt. Others suggest Theodoros, and while Andreas has done much to support his son’s menagerie, he states that anyone placing Theodoros on the throne of Rhomania will do so over his dead body. A rumor spreads that the bishop of Adramyttion remarked that the suggestion wasn’t so bad. The next day a mob wrecks his house in Constantinople.

Andreas is not in the Queen of Cities when that happens. He spends most of the year back in Syria, overseeing the first major training exercises of the south Syrian tagma. His primary mission now is to get them and both Egyptian tagmata into fighting shape as soon as possible, as he is alarmed by the rapid increase in Ottoman domains. He also finds the warmer climate of Syria and Egypt to be much pleasant than Constantinople.

In Persia the formal investment of Fars begins in May, Konstantinos Komnenos again commanding, as Andrew of Hungary drives the last of the demoralized German forces out of his domains. The new twenty-two year old Holy Roman Emperor Manfred I Wittelsbach has managed to rally his Bavarian troops, but is having more difficulties in keeping the other German princes in line, particularly after his loyal ally and vassal Archduke Antoine, Lord of the Westmarch, is resoundingly defeated by a relief Dutch army at the siege of Rotterdam.

But it is in southern France that sees the most action of the year. The armies of France-England move rapidly, even as Louis I moves equally as fast to marshal the Arletian lances. The French-English offensive is focused on the west, both to avoid the war in Lotharingia and to forestall a rumored Arletian plot to seize the main convoy bearing Bordeaux wine to England with the help of the Castilian navy. Their primary target is Toulouse.

Louis’ son and heir, Prince Charles, commands the main Arletian army, seventeen thousand strong accompanied by thirty Bernese battle cohorts, three thousand men. Leo Komnenos, commanding another three thousand men, has orders first to spoil a large raiding party rampaging along the Rhone before meeting with the main body. This he does quickly, smashing the two thousand French-English at Valence and inflicting quintuple the number of casualties he receives. Marching hard, he has almost joined Charles at the town of Merles when thirty thousand French-English assault Charles.

The heavily outnumbered Arletians and Bernese are quickly thrown on the defensive, even though three sharp ripostes from the cohorts stagger the Plantaganet right. The roar of the battle comes as a surprise to several of Leo’s officers, as it is coming east of the expected rendezvous point. When they ask Leo what to do, he replies in words forever remembered by the Arletian people. “We march to the sound of the guns.”

Ninety minutes into the fray, Prince Charles has been outflanked and the Bernese are on the verge of being surrounded, though they bitterly contest every inch of ground. The French-English commander, the Duke of Berry, has every expectation of victory when the west explodes with a mass crescendo of hellfire. Three arquebus volleys blast the Plantaganet right flank at point-blank range, trumpets screaming as Leo charges at the head of twelve hundred heavy Arletian lancers.


A modern rendition of Leo Komnenos at the Battle of Merles, for the game Century of Blood

The French-English line does not waver, bend, crack, break, crumple, or shatter. Instead it ceases to exist. As Leo rolls up the Plantaganets, Charles and the Bernese immediately counterattack, the onslaught of the Habsburg knights killing the Duke of Berry as he desperately tries to restore order. When he dies, all hope of saving the army dies with him. Between the battle and the five-hour pursuit until sunset that follows, the French-English host is effectively destroyed as a fighting force.

Still the Arletians and Bernese suffered heavily, over twenty five hundred casualties. One of those is a man whose arm was broken by Leo for looting. His crime was not the looting itself, but that he had dismounted whilst the enemy was still on the field to do so. Once they have been cleared though, Leo has no problems with his men pillaging the enemy camp and raping the camp followers.

Though somewhat disgusted by Leo’s post-battle activities, Charles does concede that the Roman prince turned certain defeat into a smashing victory. And the Bernese League also remembers its sons who were saved, including no less than nineteen scions of the Habsburg family. So two months after the battle, Maximilian von Habsburg, Count of Breisgau, Zurichgau, Thurgau, and Aargau, formally legitimizes Leo’s wife Klara.


Basileios von Habsburg-Komnenos, son of Leo Komnenos and Klara.​

1503: The defeat at Merles is a harsh blow to Plantagenet hopes of an early victory, but it is by no means a fatal blow to the war effort. As spring dawns, levies are gathered across southern England and northern France. The quick start to last year’s campaign comes as a hidden blessing, as the majority of the formidable artillery train and the bulk of the French aristocracy had not been assembled and committed.

As Arletian forces move up the Garonne, the Plantagenet counterstrike gathers in Normandy when two balingers put into Calais with news from the north. Northumberland is burning.

A Scottish army has crossed the frontier burning and pillaging, the shires mustering in response, only to be caught completely flatfooted when a Norwegian fleet of nine thousand men and a hundred and twenty ships falls upon the coast. Caught between two fires, the men of Northumberland are engaged at Flodden Field and utterly annihilated. The combined Norwegian-Scottish army flies south, the Norwegian navy joined by fifteen Scottish vessels including two small purxiphoi, harrying the coast as far as Kent.


Scots warship in action off East Anglia​

Newcastle-upon-Tyne defies the invaders, hurling back one attempted assault with hastily fabricated catapults made from the timber of torn-down houses. But everything else north of the River Tees is at the mercy of the Norwegian-Scottish army. Haakon VIII, King of Norway and Scotland, had skillfully exploited the marriage ties forged by his father Haakon VII with his twelve daughters to gather artisans and soldiers from across all of Europe. The result is that the Norwegian artillery train, though comparatively small, is one of the finest in all of Europe.

As Scots and Norwegian warships prowl the North Sea and even raid into the Channel, mopping up every English or French vessel they can find, Alexander MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, chief vassal of the King of Scotland, puts out to sea with his own armada. Almost immediately he turns the Irish Sea into his private lake, his galleys raiding the coasts of Ireland, Wales, and Cornwall.

King Edward VII, faced with the alarming possibility of losing control of the sea, authorizes the sailors of England and France to wage war by privateer (some had already started). The men of the West Country, the Cinque Ports, and London respond vigorously. The ships from London, large and well-armed (many with royal armaments illegally purchased from corrupt Tower officials), prove particularly dangerous. However the privateers have a tendency to turn pirate, and Danish and Hansa merchant ships soon become a preferred target. More alarming though is three attacks by men from Portsmouth and Plymouth on Castilian carracks bearing cargoes of wool for Antwerp.

The inhabitants of the Low Countries are also annoyed by the transformation of the Channel and surrounding seas into a war zone. In the first six months after Edward authorizes privateering, thirteen Dutch vessels are taken. This is somewhat compensated by the fact that Scots and Norwegian vessels typically sell their prizes and cargo in Dutch ports rather than take them all the way home.

Almost all of the French-English naval effort is waged by private citizens. The embarrassing fact is that the royal navy is extremely under-strength. Most of the funds have gone into the army, in particular to restoring the artillery lost at Cannae. Half of the king’s ships are leaky, and all are undermanned. On paper they are at full-strength, but the ships’ masters have been skimping on their crews and pocketing the extra wages.

There is similar corruption amongst the quartermasters. Provisions are universally late, often too small, and frequently corrupt. Provided with rotten meat, moldy bread, their pay at least six months in arrears, and forced to run a ship that needs a hundred men with seventy, it is little surprise when most of the crews mutiny. Five ships do sail, but turn pirate when they spot a small convoy carrying pay for the army in France. The chests of gold and silver, containing 60,000 pounds sterling, over an annual year’s revenue for the Kingdom of England, is stolen.

France-England is not the only one suffering, as Andrew of Hungary launches his invasion of the Holy Roman Empire. Sharply defeated at Linz and Passau, Emperor Manfred is swiftly losing control over his realm. An epidemic of dysentery that cripples his army forces him to abandon Munich without a fight. Andrew seizes the city, but then drives west instead of north after the fugitive Kaiser. His rationale soon becomes clear. On September 12, Mainz surrenders to the Hungarian armies, Pope Martin V of Mainz fleeing north to join Manfred in Schleswig.

Two days later, a papal legate from Avignon formally crowns Andrew in the cathedral of Saint Martin. He is now, by the Grace of God, Imperator Romanus Sacer, Apostolic (added at this time) Emperor of Hungary, King of Italy, Croatia, Dalmatia, Austria, and Bosnia, Grand Prince of Transylvania. The fact that none of the electors support this coronation is ignored.

It is the fulfillment of a century-old dream of the Arpad kings, who have been fighting for the Imperial Eagle since the War of the Five Emperors. But Andrew, his appetite whetted, is looking for more. In Mainz, he tells his heir Stephen the truth of his parentage, telling him “I have won the Roman Empire in the west. It will fall to you, as firstborn son of the firstborn son of Andreas Komnenos, to win it in the east, to restore the one, indivisible Empire of the Romans.”

1504: The Holy War at Sea continues in the waters of the western Mediterranean, the African corsairs striking at any ships that come within reach. In July the first purxiphos constructed in North Africa joins the fray, participating in a combined operation with twenty other ships. The expedition captures a Genoese convoy loaded with naval stores (for the Castilians), seizes three textile-laden barques out of Antwerp and eight other vessels, including an armed (five guns) Roman carrack, and raids the coast of Menorca, carrying over fifteen hundred inhabitants into slavery.

The only significant success against the jihadists scored that year is by the smallest of their victims, Carthage. The city-state maintains a total of fourteen galleys, although only seven are ever mobilized at once for financial reasons. On September 3, five of those galleys meet seven corsair ships off Cape Bon who immediately attack.

The Carthaginians accept the challenge, charging into battle. Just before both sides smash together to board, they fire…with Roman-army-grade Vlach shot. The charges, packed with hundreds of arquebus balls, scythe down the Muslim boarders in bloody swathes. The complements of two of the corsair ships are virtually annihilated. In the end three corsairs escape, another sinks, and the other three are towed back in triumph, to the cheers of Carthage’s people. Outsiders though have some difficulty in understanding the chorus, as the Italian of the Genoese is being steadily Berberized, along with some Greek influence.

In Persia, Fars at last falls to Konstantinos Komnenos. Although the Shah escaped before the end, and is organizing resistance in a new capital at Damghan, it is a tremendous victory. Not even Osman II made it this far. But it is soon marred. An Ottoman army marching on Damghan is ambushed and destroyed, not by a Persian force, but by a Timurid column that had swooped down from the north. The captured cannons and crews are carried back to Samarkand, where the Khan Ulugh Beg puts them to work creating his own gun foundries.

Although the nomadic tribes of Central Asia make up an important part of his powerbase, Ulugh Beg is no warlord in the vein of Genghis Khan or Timur. His capital of Samarkand is a thriving, bustling city of 120,000, with famous madrasas and one of the finest observatories in the world. There subsidized scholars write treatises on both trigonometry and spherical geometry. In 1495, Ulugh Beg had suggested an exchange of astronomers with the Roman Empire (specifically the University of Smyrna) to foster study, but the envoy had arrived during the confusion after Empress Kristina’s death and eventually returned to Samarkand empty-handed.

Construction on the first foundry has just begun when two children are born. The first is far to the northwest, and unknown to the Timurids. And even if they did, they would not care. For what does it matter that King Charles Bonde of Sweden has a daughter named Catherine? She will never amount to anything. Their new prince, on the other hand, is a different story. For he has been given the name, the name that has been silent for a hundred years, a name to make all the nations tremble. Once again, there is a Timur in Samarkand.

1505: In April, four ships offload their cargo into warehouses along the Golden Horn. It is three hundred tons of kaffos, by itself the equal of all the kaffos shipped into the Empire in the sixty years before the fall of Egypt. It is expected that a similar amount will be offloaded in other Imperial ports throughout the year. Ethiopia also provides ivory and slaves (taken from raids against pagans in the interior), but kaffos makes up four-fifths of the value of all Ethiopian exports to Rhomania.

The importance of this trade to both empires cannot be understated. Although still unknown in the rest of Christendom, Rhomania has known about kaffos for sixty years and it already has gained a market, limited only by the exceedingly high costs of the drink. In the four years since the fall of Egypt, the price of kaffos has dropped to a tenth of its former amount, placing it at a level that even carpenters or blacksmiths can afford the occasional drink. In that time the number of kaffos oikoi (coffee houses) in Constantinople has jumped from three to forty eight, serving the hot beverage in winter and iced kaffos in summer.

Besides providing Herakleios with a host of new establishments and imports that can be taxed, the kaffos oikoi will play an important role in Roman culture. Heavily frequented by students and scholars, the oikoi are important in fostering new developments in science and philosophy by providing a common and popular place for people to meet. They also prove to be a veritable fount of information, one that the Spider Prince quickly and effectively taps, although it is by no means his only or primary source.

The university kaffos oikoi (by this point all of them have at least one) are the first to introduce the newsletter. A sheet of paper, or on prominent occasions a pamphlet, the newsletters contain information about important university events and also news from throughout the Empire.

For all the future significance of the trade, which will eventually lead to the modern stereotype of the kaffos-chugging Roman, the greatest impact is on Ethiopia. It has been argued by some scholars that it made the modern Ethiopian Empire possible. Seeing how much kaffos is being exported, Kwestantinos slaps a huge export duty on it, but even that does little to stop the flow. He also legalizes its secular consumption in Ethiopia proper; previously the Ethiopian church had frowned on it due to its role in pre-Christian religious ceremonies.

Meanwhile money flows into Gonder’s coffers. The negusa nagast puts the money to good work, financing the construction of roads, bridges, towers, and ports designed to speed communications and transportation throughout his vast realm. After negotiations are completed with Katepano Demetrios, construction begins on a grand Roman highway from Alexandria to Gonder.

The owners of kaffos plantations find themselves making tremendous amounts of money, and immediately begin looking for how to make more. They quickly discover that it is faster and more cost-effective to transport the kaffos to the coast and then by ship to Suez. To that end, they foster the construction of ports, warehouses, and ships, creating the Ethiopian merchant marine virtually singlehandedly. For crews they turn to the numerous decommissioned sailors from the downsizing of the Ethiopian fleet.

With newfound wealth comes newfound taste. Having numerous contacts with Rhomania gives them an appetite for Roman goods, in particularly silk textiles, jewelry, and sugar. In particular, low-quality Roman silks are extremely popular, despite their comparative expense (on average, a Roman textile costs three to five times more than it would in Constantinople) beyond the class of kaffos merchants. The combined result is that already Ethiopia is Rhomania’s third most important trading partner, after Arles (number 2) and Russia (number 1, whose trade is worth is more than Arles’ and Ethiopia’s combined).

1506: The North African corsairs expand their range of operations, raiding the island of Elba, although an attempt to harry the coast of Provence is literally blown out of the water by the Arletian fleet. The Aragonese fleet, which is the premier power in the western Mediterranean, has like the French-English been suffering from a wave of graft and corruption, as King Jaime VII’s failing health makes it difficult at best for him to keep an eye on his officials.

Yet there is little response to the pirates from the east. In March, Herakleios issues orders for ten monores to reinforce the naval squadrons at Palermo and Malta, while four more plus a dromon are assigned to Valencia. Andreas does not intervene in the arrangements; he is in Jaffa with Empress Veronica and Prince David, commanding joint exercises of the south Syrian, Egyptian (more properly West Egypt), and Augoustamnikai (East Egypt) tagmata.

The reason is that the vast majority of the funds for the navy are being poured into a new project. A primary fleet base has been established at Suez, along with a support base at Aqaba, as well as a forward anchorage for lighter warships at Marsa Alam. The importance of these bases to Herakleios is clearly shown by the fact that the second full-fledged naval dry dock to be built is at Suez (the first is of course at Constantinople, receiving its first ship in 1501).

Besides building and paying for the necessary docks, warehouses, workshops, and barracks for the new bases, it is also quite expensive getting ships from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. The rehabilitation of the Pharaoh’s Canal begins as well, an expensive, labor-intensive operation. Although it will take many years before it is ready, and be far too small to accommodate even the smaller warships, it can be used by flat-bottom cargo barges. To supplement it, the canal is flanked by a series of roads.

An unwelcome side effect is the boon the whole project is to Cairo’s revival, since the crippling of a Muslim metropolis that could rival the Queen of Cities was a welcome side effect of the Sack of Cairo. The importance of cities in Hellenizing the countryside, by drawing in young men and women searching for work and study, is evidenced by the fact that the region of Orthodox Antioch is also majority Orthodox, while the area surrounding Muslim majority Aleppo is also mostly Muslim.

A few light vessels are constructed at Suez, but all the heavier warships are made at the Arsenals. The galleys, with their prefabricated components, are relatively easy to dismantle, portage, and reassemble at Suez. To support this operation, a road network springs up linking the two Red Sea ports and the Mediterranean coast. The much larger purxiphoi, some of which like the Justinian weigh 1200 tons, are significantly more difficult.

To help solve the issue, Herakleios turns to a promising young shipwright and sailor named Kastor Diogenes, who had sailed on Genoese carracks on three Antwerp runs, Portuguese caravels on two visits to Madeira, and on a Norwegian barque that was part of the annual Greenland convoy. Admittedly that is not what caught the Emperor’s eye; it was his jibes that the only god he worshipped was Poseidon, which had earned the ire of the Arsenal priests.

Despite his unorthodox religious beliefs, when it comes to building ships those priests cannot deny that Kastor knows what he is doing. In 1500, his rebuilding of the old purxiphos Autokrator took only forty five instead of the projected fifty five days, with a corresponding decrease in cost. When Herakleios gives him this new assignment in 1504, it is a chance for him to put the lessons he learned in the Atlantic to practice.

The result, which first slides into the Golden Horn in August 1505, is confusingly for naval historians called a dromon (a shortened form of Kastor’s original term ‘great dromon’), the same as the oared battleships that make up the bulk of the Roman fleet. They are skinnier and longer than purxiphoi, which makes them better sea handlers but also enables them to sail further up the Nile than purxiphoi, reducing portage costs.

To decrease weight, the aft castle is shortened, while the forecastle almost completely disappears. Portuguese vessels have been moving steadily in that direction for forty years, finding the less top-heavy vessels more seaworthy. The reason that the forecastle shrinks much more than the aft castle is that it is common practice in all European navies to place some of the heaviest guns as bow chasers.

Before that was done, it was found that galleys, which mounted their biggest cannons in the prow because of the oars, had the advantage in the initial approach to battle, which could be decisive. With the emphasis on reducing top-heaviness, it is natural that the forecastle with its heavy weapons shrinks more than the stern castle laden with smaller guns. This also gives the bow a more galley-like look, which is why the new design is called a great dromon.


The Fleet at Suez by Andronikos of Kotyaion, 1511

1507: The reason for all the naval buildup and innovations is not a pressing need for Roman sea power in the Red Sea. With the Ethiopian fleet very friendly and the Omani one moderately so (both because of Ethiopian intermediation and Omani desire for Rhomania to act as a counterweight to the Ottomans), the ships of the Hedjazi and Yemeni are no threat. It is not the Red Sea or Arabia that draws Herakleios’ interest, but India itself.

The wealth pouring in from the kaffos trade has opened Herakleios’ eyes to the possibility of a similar onrush of even more valuable and exotic goods, spices and pepper. These commodities have been a significant part of Roman trade for centuries, and the prospect of controlling the source, or at least cutting out some of the middlemen, is extremely tempting. Using Indian and Arab merchantmen as sources of information, it becomes plain that the time to strike is now.

India has never been united, ever. A vast, diverse region, even its great empires have been decentralized states, prone to fracture into smaller, more cohesive components. Though just a few years earlier, India only mustered three states, they seem to be in the process of fracturing. The Muslim ports of Gujarat and Maharashtra are all independent city-states, squabbling with each other as long as Vijayanagar is not immediately breathing down their neck. Bihar is troubled with revolts in Bengal and Assam.

Meanwhile long-suffering Delhi has not had its fortunes improved by its Timurid Sultans. Facing powerful, hostile neighbors and entrenched corruption and nepotism in the administration, plus a falling-out with their Timurid cousins in Khorasan over Vijayanagara hires of Khorasani mercenaries, the Sultans have been hard pressed at best.

Currently the Sultanate is in an unwanted, unplanned border war. With the news of the Sack of Cairo, several bands of ghazis had decided to strike back for the House of Islam, and picked the nearest target, Swati Kashmir. The Kashmiri were not amused. The retaliation spurred more raids, which spurred more retaliatory strikes, and now not a month goes by without some skirmish in the Punjab.

To help finance the operation, Herakleios arranges for other financial backers to contribute, in exchange for a prearranged percentage of the profits. The Argyropouloi and Eparchoi families, some of the wealthiest jewelry and silk merchants respectively in the Empire provide some of their wares as trading goods. The Rhosoi of Trebizond, major shipwrights, equip two ships in the Red Sea at their own expense.

There are some issues on the part of the private backers in transferring money for their workers in the Sinai. To alleviate the risk and difficulty involved in shipping large amounts of bullion, Herakleios allows them to deposit their coinage at the Imperial Mint in Constantinople. The clientele are then given a certificate, which can be used to redeem the same amount of currency at the Alexandrian mint. This service comes at the cost of a holding fee, but soon takes off in popularity with numerous merchants using the mints and certificates to transfer capital throughout the Empire.

The result of all this nautical and financial engineering comes to fruition at the end of the year, and is known to all Roman schoolchildren as the Pepper Fleet.

Sebastokrator: A purxiphos of eight hundred tons, forty guns.
Aghios Nikolaios: A great dromon of four hundred tons, twenty five guns.
Aghios Giorgios: A great dromon of four hundred tons, twenty five guns.
Aghios Loukas: A great dromon of three hundred sixty tons, twenty two guns.
Nike: A great dromon of three hundred sixty tons, twenty two guns.
Anna: A carrack (similar to a purxiphos but intended as a cargo, not combat vessel, although capable of being armed) of two hundred forty tons, ten guns.
Petros: A carrack of three hundred thirty tons, fifteen guns.
Helena: A carrack of six hundred tons, eighteen guns.

1508: The Pepper Fleet, riding the monsoon winds, departs in the spring, joined by the Ethiopian purxiphos Solomon off Zeila. Their port of landfall in India is Surat, one of the largest and most powerful Gujarati city-states. Despite the heavy armament of the fleet, the focus is on trade, not conquest. Using the Plethon-Medici agent (the ludicrously rich family has agents as far away as Antwerp and Malacca as part of their mercantile network) already in port as an intermediary, the traders set up shop to sell their wares and purchase local goods, primarily pepper.

But things very quickly get out of hand. The Muslim merchants are not enamored of this new, strange competition. One or two Roman agents was acceptable and unthreatening, but this heavily-armed squadron is another matter. When a few Ottoman merchants spread a few words about exactly whose these newcomers are and what their countrymen were doing in Egypt a few years earlier, the tense situation immediately explodes.

A riot overruns some of the Roman stalls but is quickly dispersed by a few volleys of gunfire into the crowd. The westerners retreat to their ships, but negotiations with the Emir of Surat go nowhere. On May 1, a few dozen bravos try to light the Pepper Fleet on fire during the night, a brave but futile attempt. Those who are unfortunate enough to be captured by the enraged sailors are weighed down and thrown into the harbor. That morning, the fleet sets sail but not before shelling the waterfront.

As the monsoon winds are still against them, and their cargo holds largely bereft of pepper, the Fleet sails south. Similarly hostile receptions come from the other free city-states, who dislike the combination of religious and economic competition. Off Kozhikode a small squall temporarily scatters the ships, and the Aghios Loukas is beset by a squadron from that port. Although outnumbering the Roman warship nine to one, the Kozhikodan paraus, comparable in size and capability to a cannon-less monore, have absolutely no answer to her thunderous broadsides. Two of the paraus are roughly handled, at which point the squadron withdraws.

Finally the Pepper Fleet arrives at Alappuzha. A picturesque port crisscrossed by canals, it is called by some of the Venetian sailors the ‘Venetia of the East’. More importantly, the Vijayanagara Emperor Deva Raya II is there. His agents among the free cities have given him some word of the Pepper Fleet’s action, and he is eager to see this new force for himself.

He is delighted by what he finds. The massive size of the warships, dwarfing anything seen in India, and their gleaming arrays of cannons, are very appealing. Although India is no stranger to gunpowder or cannons, the Roman and Ethiopian pieces hold sizeable advantages in range and hitting power. He immediately begins negotiating with the Roman commander, Iason Laskaris.

As the admiral and Emperor talk, the merchants get to work. Roman jewelry sells rather well, but the silk textiles face stiff competition from native manufactures and do not fetch nearly as much of a profit as expected, but the lower-quality garments which are specifically designed to be affordable for the lower classes make some headway (the high-quality items are fighting against upper-tier Indian and Chinese silk and thus seriously disadvantaged). Also Ethiopian ivory and kaffos prove to be quite successful, so steadily the holds of the Pepper Fleet are filled with cloves, nutmeg, and pepper.

As the monsoon winds begin to shift, an agreement is made. The Romans are to be granted trading quarters in Alappuzha and Pondicherry, with their own church, well, and bakery, to be administered by their own laws, weights, and measures amongst themselves, in exchange for an annual payment. But that is not the most important part of the agreement, although it is something Iason had no authority to negotiate.

In exchange for Roman military aid in conquering the free cities of the west coast, they are also to be granted quarters in Mumbai, and the cities of Surat and Kozhikode in full, with complete sovereignty to be vested in Constantinople. It is an extremely, dangerously in the eyes of some courtiers, generous offer, but it is mitigated by the proviso that the transfer will only take place when the whole coast between Surat and Alappuzha is once more in Vijayanagara hands. Deva Raya II’s generosity is due to the fact that he has no chance of regaining those lands without a powerful fleet, which he no longer has.

With the monsoon now with them, the fleet departs for home, leaving behind four merchants and fifty soldiers in Alappuzha, along with a pile of trading goods. It is the merchants’ responsibilities to sell those goods for spices, storing them until they can be picked up by ships from the west.

After being gone for eight months, the Pepper Fleet sails into Suez. The cargoes are sold on the market, and the Empire goes wild. Even with the silks’ mediocre performance, the venture has garnered a sixteen hundred percent profit. Herakleios publicly censures Iason for exceeding his authority, but then appoints him commander of the Second Pepper Fleet and doubles his salary.

Although it will take a few years before it is ready, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that it will not be a fearsome force. The number of private backers for the Second Fleet is quadruple that of the First Fleet, the Rhosoi alone agreeing to pay for four carracks. And for every hyperpyra the merchants pledge, Herakleios matches.

1509: War continues in the west, poorly for France-England. A smallpox outbreak cripples the first Plantagenet army assembled after Merles, giving the Arletians a critical few years where they are not faced by any serious opposition in the field. The main thrust is concentrated on the Garonne, with the goal of securing all of Aquitaine. Of particular concern to Edward VII is the number of Gascon fortresses that capitulate without a fight. As fellow inhabitants of the lands of the langue d’oc, in contrast to the lands of the langue d’oeil, the Provencals and Gascons have much in common, and King Louis I has been skillfully exploiting the fact.

But in Calais, the only explanation can be treason, plus an angry God. So in April Edward VII decides to kill two birds with one stone, and orders the formal expulsion of all Jews in his domain. The Provencal coast is home to a sizeable Jewish population, and there are rumors that the French and English Jews are Arletian agents in disguise.

With Germany in chaos, most of the refugees flee to Iberia, as the way to Arles is blocked by the reforming Plantagenet armies. Neither Castile or Portugal give them a warm welcome. Al-Andalus is another matter, but when four hundred Jews are captured by African corsairs just eight miles from Cartagena, the ardor of the refugees for this new land is significantly weakened.

The blatant seizure so close to a major Andalusi naval base is a testament to the amazing growth in power of the corsairs. Their ranks swelled by renegades from Europe, the pirates have been steadily expanding their pillaging. Settlements on the Canary Islands have been sacked, and steady sweeps of the powerful Portuguese fleets have proven to be of little use.

Mighty squadrons can temporarily clear an area of pirates, but as soon as they depart the raiders return. The only way to stop them is to ruin their harbors and smoke out their bases of operation. But the African coast is dotted with small harbors and the interior filled with thousands of tribesmen just waiting to fall on any European army. The Aragonese attack on Oran, one of the most prominent corsair ports, last year was an unmitigated disaster. The fleet was smashed to pieces by an autumn storm, while the army wasted away under the triple assault of dysentery, smallpox, and Algerians. The loss of over thirty ships and twelve thousand men (at least half of which now swell the ranks of African galley slaves) make it the greatest military disaster in Aragonese history since Selinus.

So the Jews look further afield, to Rhomania. Despite the dangers, at least one hundred thousand over the next decade will emigrate to the Empire from France-England via Al-Andalus, nearly all of them settling in Calabria. Due to overzealous transfers of Orthodox Calabrians to Syria, the region is somewhat depopulated and is therefore an ideal place in Herakleios’ eyes to settle the newcomers. Thus begins the famous Calabrian Jewry, of such profound importance to the history of Italy.

At least six thousand are taken captive by the Barbary pirates en route. But although Roman naval efforts are focused on the exceedingly expensive (and equally profitable) Indian ventures, Constantinople is not completely blind to what is going on in these waters. Improvements in Roman blast furnaces have raised production of cast iron, and Herakleios has funded much research into the development of cast iron cannons.

Although heavier, and prone to much more catastrophic failure, cast iron cannons cost a mere fraction of bronze weaponry, hence Herakleios’ interest. When he begins issuing orders for the outfitting of the Second Pepper Fleet, Herakleios also arranges for greater production of cast iron cannons, with the view of having iron mikropurs and culverins, and bronze great guns.

However he also makes the iron guns available for sale, and sells the designs to several gunsmiths who begin producing for the open market. The much cheaper weapons, combined with a fifteen percent cut in the cannon tax, mean that Roman ship-owners can afford much heavier armaments for their vessels.

In Germany the situation is confused, as usual. Even though Emperor Andrew is obviously in the ascendant, his flagrant disregard of the rights of the electors has alienated most of any potential princely support he could have gained in Germany. Southern and central Germany are muttering, yet under his control, but northern Germany is effectively independent of either Emperor. The other Holy Roman Emperor, Manfred, is holed up in Schleswig, clearly the leader of a doomed cause. In March Denmark invades his domains.

By mid-May Manfred is billeting his troops in the houses of Aarhus. As soon as Danish troops had rolled across the border, he had fallen on and scattered them with an army of his own, three times larger than anyone expected he had, including twenty five hundred Russian archontes, the dowry of his Russian bride. Supplementing the finest cavalry in the world were hosts of mercenaries, paid for by Roman subsidies.

Herakleios was seriously annoyed by Andrew’s self-elevation, and the chancery of Constantinople addresses him merely as the Emperor of the Germans and Hungarians. Buda’s protests have been answered by a joint exercise of the Epirote, Macedonian, and Bulgarian tagmata in Serbia (also has the benefit of cowing the Serbian princes), and the betrothal of the Vlach Crown Prince Mircea (age five) with Princess Theodora (age two), the daughter of Emperor Andreas and Empress Veronica.

Roman marriage alliances mean little in the Baltic, but Manfred’s lightning campaign shakes Scandinavia, for one of those slain was the King of Denmark himself. His successor is King Christopher III, a boy of four. The situation for the kingdom is grave; Andrew has his hands full dealing with rebellious Bohemia and a recalcitrant Saxony, so he is no help, while the fleets of the Hansa, loyal to Manfred, are beginning to lick their lips. So the Danes turn to the mightiest Catholic power in the region, Sweden.

King Charles II (note that the OTL instance of creating fictional King Charles of Sweden has not occurred) has made great steps in centralizing his northern kingdom. His own succession was a significant victory for the hereditary monarchial principle, and he has skillfully used his estates in Finland to fund schools for scribes to administer the state. The remainder of his profits have been devoted to troops modeled after Roman akrites, quite adept at fighting in woods and crushing peasant tax revolts.

He is quite happy to intervene, but not without being paid a steep price. His initial demand is angrily rejected, but two weeks later news arrives that Russian warships are assembling at Riga. No one can forget that the Emperor in the North is the son-in-law of Megas Rigas Nikolai, who can add another fifteen thousand archontes to the twenty five hundred already in Manfred’s armies.

So Denmark accepts Charles’ demand. King Christopher is to betrothed to Princess Catherine of Sweden, to be wed when Christopher turns fifteen. At the same time, Charles is appointed head of the regency council to ‘ensure the safety of his new son’. Manfred, who has no desire for war with Sweden, withdraws from Denmark after the accord, laden with spoils and significantly more prestigious than before.

* * *

The White Palace, Constantinople, April 13, 1510:

Venera walked into the bath room, the steam immediately dampening her thin silken shift. Flicking off her sandals, she pattered across the stone floor towards the hot tub, heated by stones taken from the nearby bakery ovens. Herakleios was already in there.

She was not surprised by that. Her husband, junior Emperor of the Romans, was extremely fond of the hot tubs. When he was ill, it was almost impossible for him to stay warm, save in the tubs.

His eyes had been closed, but they flicked open as she approached. He had been doing better though these past couple of weeks, as spring blossomed. He’d eaten twice a day the past three days in a row, much improved from that worrisome spell in January where he ate a mere three times in ten days.

“Are the servants gone?” she asked innocently as Herakleios stared at her hungrily, her thin shift clinging tightly to her body. The look in his eye answered the question. “Good.” Slowly, ever so slowly, she began to strip, peeling the silk from her thighs. A giggle caught in her throat as she saw the boyish grin on her husband’s face.

This is ridiculous; we’re both adults, a part of her thought as she gently starting peeling the garment from her shoulders, going teasingly slow. That’s true, another part thought, and I don’t care. In between their responsibilities as Emperor and Empress, and the strain of Herakleios’ disease, they had to be so serious, so often. Her hand started trembling in rage as she remembered having to listen to the Bishop of Nicomedia prattle on about Herakleios’ habit of skipping services. That’s because he’s too busy bleeding out the ass! If God wanted him to go to church, maybe he should fix that first!

“Is something wrong?” Herakleios.

“No…I don’t think so,” Venera replied, revealing her naked breasts. “Do you?” she cooed. Herakleios shook his head no hurriedly. This is our time, and if we want to be silly, so be it.

“So did you hear what Andreas Angelos did?” she asked, shrugging off the shift. Again Herakleios shook his head no. His bastard half-brother was in Syria, fighting some Arab tribe that had pillaged the frontier. “He stole his commander’s underwear…” she pulled her own off… “…attached it to a kite and flew it toward the enemy’s camp.” She tossed it aside.

Sliding into the tub opposite from Herakleios, she continued. “Three days later the tribe surrendered to him, not his commander. Andreas contends the events are related.”

Herakleios nodded. “He’s probably right,” he said, his eyes following Venera’s hand as she dappled some water on her cleavage.

“He’s quite a character, don’t you think?” she asked, stretching her legs so that her toe traced his calf. “He still calls the Empress Veronica ‘that tavern wench’, except when she has that crossbow handy, of course.”

“Mm, hmm,” Herakleios grunted.

Venera smiled; she loved playing this game, seeing how long her husband could hold out with her teasing him. “Surrender already?” she asked, arching her eyebrows.

For a second, Herakleios was silent, but then his will to resist crumbled. “Oh, yes.”

Venera grinned, sliding over towards him. “That was easy,” she said, settling onto his lap. “I don’t think you’re putting up much of a fight.”

“You don’t fight fair.”

“And you like it that way,” she replied, kissing him. “Now what do I want, now that I’ve won? Hmmm…” She thought, scratching her chin and sliding forward. Herakleios was relatively tall, but Venera was even taller, more than even most men, so her breasts were right up in his face. “Hmmm, I just can’t decide.”

“Women,” Herakleios muttered.

She put a hand under his chin and tilted it upward so their eyes met. “What was that, honey?” she asked, coyly.

“Oh, nothing.”

Venera nodded, kissing him on the forehead. “Now, where was I? Ah, I was deciding what I wanted. I just…” She nipped at his ear. “can’t…” Nip. “decide.” Nip. “Ah, the hell with that, I’ll just take you.”

“Finally,” Herakleios muttered, sighing in relief.

Venera burst into laughter, her body shaking. “Worried that I’d keep that up for, oh, twenty minutes?” she teased, caressing his cheek. He nodded, exasperated. “Oh, you’re too easy.” A pause. “You’re also cold.” The water was cooling, since with the servants gone there was no one to add hot stones to replace the cool ones. “But don’t worry, I’ll keep you warm.”

They kept each other very warm.


Venera of Abkhazia, Empress of the Romans, from The Komnenoi, Episode 103, "The Twins"

* * *

1510: The court at Constantinople does not pay much attention to the developments in the north. For in late April, Prince Konstantinos, son of Herakleios and Venera, catches tuberculosis. For a while, it looks like he might live, but on May 3, the end comes swiftly. At the hour of Vespers, the prince dies in his mother’s arms.

* * *

Constantinople, May 7, 1510:

Nikephoros was happy. Konstantinos was dead, killed by poison in his medicine. Without an heir, Herakleios looked less useful as an Emperor. And now it was time to celebrate.

He rounded the corner, and there it was, The Captain’s Daughter, one of Herakleios’ brothels. Nikephoros would give that to his uncle, he knew how to make money. The Emperor owned over two hundred brothels across the Empire; most were in the old Mameluke Sultanate, taking advantage of the fact that they were filled with young, bored garrison soldiers far from home. But there were some in the Imperial heartland, and no less than four in Constantinople. But this one was Nikephoros’ favorite.

He opened the door, but then his eyes darted over to a nearby dentist’s shop. He felt like he was being watched. There was no one there, but a man blandly glanced at him, then continued on his way. He looked familiar. Do I know him? The squeal of a girl inside distracted him. Nah. He entered.

Immediately Fatima, an old Arab battle-axe, a former prostitute and head of the establishment, looked at him. He held up a finger and she nodded him toward the room. She knew what he wanted. Fatima had a wide variety, which is why Nikephoros liked the place, including two girls from the Zanj and one from far Cathay, whom he’d all tried. But he had one particular woman that was his favorite.

He opened the door and sat on the bead, seeing the shape of Natasha’s voluptuous body behind a silk curtain. She came out, absolutely nothing on, but she’d carefully arranged her long raven hair so that it covered her breasts. “Milord wants me tonight?” she purred, sitting on his lap. Even though his silk pants, he could feel her body heat.

“Yes. You have done very well.” She’d successfully completed her third assignment, stealing the land deeds of the Macedonian tax prefect, proof of the official’s illegal purchases of estates outside the capital. Her next would be an assassination. If she was as skilled with the knife as she was in bed, he would have much use for it. He squeezed her breasts, the Russian moaning. “Oh, yes. Very well indeed.”

* * *

But whatever joy the Prince of Spiders feels at the death of Prince Konstantinos soon dissipated. For at the beginning of the next year, two women give birth. The first is the wife of Andreas Angelos. The jokester has a son, who is given the name Isaakios. The second woman is Empress Venera herself. On January 17, 1511, she gives birth to twins, the oldest a girl and the youngest a boy. They are Alexeia and Alexios.

1511: The fortunes of war continue to blow against the Plantagenets. Fate seems to smile on them when Leo Komnenos is ambushed near Bordeaux, and then frowns again when Leo proceeds to hack his way out. Despite the heavy losses to Leo’s column, it serves to bolster the Prince’s prestige as he demonstrated impeccable bravery in the melee. Six days later the garrison of Bordeaux surrenders to the Arletians after news arrives of the bungled ambush. To honor Leo, the new King of Arles, Charles II (his father died a year earlier), makes Leo’s eleven-year-old son Basileios one of his squires.

In the north, the situation is little better. Newcastle-upon-Tyne has fallen, and although logistics have stopped the Norwegian-Scottish advance short of York, their raids are ravaging northern England. Privateers are both sides continue to turn the Channel, Irish, and North Sea into a war zone, attacking each other and anyone else within reach. Five more Castilian carracks have been attacked, along with twenty Dutch vessels. Pride of place goes to the privateers operating out of Yarmouth, patronized by the Duke of Norfolk, which have, in addition to the usual Iberian, Italian, Hansa, and Scandinavian targets, seized three Roman carracks laden with silk, jewelry, and sugar. The hauls are enough to pay for the squadron’s expense for the next decade.

But Rhomania has not been entirely (admittedly mostly) blind to the piracy in the west. On May 4, four Barbary galleys attack a Roman vessel off Sardinia, surrounding her and closing to board. They are almost in range when her gun ports slam open and she delivers a double-shot broadside at point-blank range. One galley is literally blown out of the water, while the second is stormed by waves of marines wielding a new and deadly invention. It is called kyzikoi, matchlock handguns small enough to be held in one hand and named after Kyzikos, their city of origin (largely deserted in earlier years, it was reestablished by European refugees from the Smyrna War). The corsair ship is overwhelmed, the other two fleeing.

The ship is called the Moldy Wreck, named by its commander, Andreas Angelos. Rather discontented with playing second fiddle on the eastern frontier (hence his underwear prank), he had asked his father for a more independent assignment. Given a new, unnamed great dromon, fresh from the Imperial Arsenal, four hundred tons and twenty seven guns, his mission is to ply the trade routes from Sicily to Antwerp, killing any pirates of any nationality he finds.

Andreas Jr. faithfully carries out his orders, sinking another Barbary galley off Gibraltar, and forcing an English barque to cast off her two prizes (one Portuguese, one Castilian) near Galicia. But it is off Flanders when his most famous action occurs, the rescuing of a to-be princess.

Her name is Mary of Antwerp, the fifteen-year-old daughter of Reynaerd van Afsnee, the richest non-royal man in Christendom after Andronikos Plethon. Besides being the only child of such wealth, she is also considered one of the most beautiful women in Christendom. After months of negotiations, she is to be married to Crown Prince Arthur, the five-year-old eldest son of King Edward VII.

Reynaerd van Afsnee and his family have based their wealth for over a hundred and twenty years on trading contacts with Rhomania. Long-time trading partners of the Plethon family since before the War of the Five Emperors, that has enabled them to have first access to all high-quality Roman silk exported outside of the Mediterranean. That has not only made them supremely wealthy, but also done much to spur the rise of Antwerp, the silks’ port of disembarkation. By this point the van Afsnees have their fingers and agents in everything from the Neva to the Senegal. So at one stroke, Edward VII can get the greatest of the Dutch ports on his side, and draw on an absolutely huge financial network (the van Afsnee and Plethon-Medici commercial empires) for loans.

It is that wealth that compensates for her lack of nobility. The bullion content initially comes off as insulting, 100,000 florins of gold and sixty thousand of silver. But they are accompanied by 460,000 florins-worth of high-grade Roman silk and 70,000 florins-worth of Chinese. To that is added 80,000 florins-worth of Imperial silk, the finest quality of Roman silk, of the level worn by the Emperors themselves, forbidden by law to be exported outside of the Empire, on the grounds that the barbarians are not worthy of it. The final sweetener are the offer of six carracks plus ten thousand florins each for their outfitting as warships, to be delivered after the wedding.

Yet it is the loan offers that finally convince Edward. An immediate loan of 250,000 florins, with interest at half the current market rate, is provided in the dowry. Reynaerd’s Plethon friends, interested in marrying up possibly through the French-English royal family, offer a sweetener loan of another 75,000 florins in the dowry. Plus Reynaerd holds out the possibility of another loan of equal magnitude from himself, plus another 350,000 from the Antwerp burghers once the wedding occurs. Again the Plethon intervene, and based on their projections on the gathering Second Pepper Fleet (in which they are the second largest shareholders), offer an absolutely immense loan, one million florins, over fifteen times Edward’s revenues as King of England.

But an event of this magnitude cannot be hidden, and the value of the prize is immense. Off of the Flemish coast Mary’s transport is attacked by three English privateers.

The ship is well armed and manned, but the English know what and who is on board, and are willing to fight hard to get it. The tide is turning against the Dutch when a ship appears on the horizon, a full spread of sail out, bearing down on them at an unbelievable speed. The second volley from her great bow chasers dismast one of the English vessels. The Brabantines, holding out in the aft castle, launch a counterattack as the Moldy Wreck grapples the second English ship, the marines storming across with the cry of “For God and Emperor Andreas!”

Although Andreas Angelos is wounded in the left eye, the Englishmen take flight. The badly damaged carrack is escorted back to Antwerp, during which Andreas loses the eye, and torture of the prisoners reveals that the pirates were in the pay of the Duke of Norfolk, the most preeminent of the English grandees.

When they sail into Antwerp, the Romans are treated to a massive triumphal procession. The tale of the battle is immediately turned into a ballad, called Perseus of Rhomania, where Andreas is turned into a modern-day Perseus, Mary playing the role of Andromeda, today one of the most famous pieces of Dutch literature. Reynaerd, grateful for the rescue of his only child, gives the gold of the dowry to Andreas Angelos personally and divides the silver amongst his crew.


Andreas Angelos. Unique among the children of Andreas Komnenos, he is making quite a name for himself for his exploits at sea.

The engagement to Arthur is cut off, as Reynaerd is enraged over the assault on his daughter’s life by no one less than an English grandee and instead Mary marries recently-widowed King Charles I of Lotharingia for the same dowry, for which he had been negotiating. Three weeks after the marriage, it bears fruit when a combined Lotharingian-Dutch army annihilates Archduke Antoine at Utrecht. Participating in the battle are three companies of Hungarian hussars, part of an alliance arrangement between Charles and Andrew. The Emperor in the South (as he is known to distinguish him from Manfred) agrees to recognize full Lotharingian sovereignty in its pre-Cannae borders, in exchange for a twelve-year payment of tribute (used to pay for Hungarian garrisons in Bavaria).


Mary of Antwerp, Queen of Lotharingia, 1519. It is her life that is the origin of the phrase "Hell hath no fury like a woman betrayed".

1512: The situation for the Emperor in the North is improving, despite the defeat of his preeminent vassal in the west. The birth of a son by his Russian bride significantly strengthens the alliance with the Great Kingdom, as old Megas Rigas Nikolai quite likes the idea of a grandson as Holy Roman Emperor, to go with his nephew as Roman Emperor. To pave the way for any necessary intervention, a treaty is arranged with Vlachia whereby Russian troops will be allowed to march through Vlach territory, provided they respect all local laws and pay for all supplies.

One immediate benefit is that Sweden-Denmark dares not move against Manfred, now that he has withdrawn completely from Danish territory. King Charles II of Sweden is uncomfortable aware of how vulnerable his Finnish estates are to Russian incursions. And unlike a war with Rhomania, Lord Novgorod the Great would savor a conflict with Sweden. But Nikolai will not act without provocation, as his attention is fixed to the trans-Volga, where the Cossacks have been trouncing the Khanates of Sibir and the White Horde.

Andrew too is slowing down. With Germany muttering at best, he has had to rely greatly on Magyar troops and officials to keep his German territories in line, which only serves to further aggravate the princes. Manfred has been waging, thanks to the great print shops of Lubeck, a continuous propaganda war, harkening back to the days of the Ottonian Emperors and their war against the Magyar menace, exhorting ‘the German people to stand united behind their true Emperor, so that a new Lechfeld can be won, and Germania made safe, free and prosperous.’ Obviously something is working, for in August, an assassin makes an attempt on Andrew’s life, wounding although not killing him.

In these troubled times, it is hardly surprising that thoughts of the afterlife are never far from people’s mind. Saxony has been an oasis of calm for the past few years; the most powerful of the German states after Bavaria, its strength means both Manfred and Andrew must treat it with respect, even though it has been following a policy of de facto independence from either Emperor.

All that changes on September 14. On that day, Heinrich Bohm, a doctor of theology from the University of Prague, nails a list on the door of the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary (in OTL, the site of the Dresden Frauenkirche). It is a list of criticisms of Catholic theology and practice, strongly influenced by Hussite beliefs. An usual method to start an academic debate, what is special is that Bohm posts a copy in German next to the Latin original. He wants a bigger audience for the debate, as there is a vacancy on the Dresden university faculty, and Bohm wants the position.

The reaction is not exactly what Bohm expected. By September 17, there are at least two thousand copies of the 75 Criticisms circulating in the city. By the end of the month, they are in Bohemia and Bavaria. Heinrich is summoned to the court of the Saxon Duke Johannes V, but not for a condemnation; he wants to hear more. He is particularly interested in the arguments about how the secular power should be wielded only by secular rulers, namely the princes, and that in the secular sphere good Christians owe the same devotion and loyalty to their prince as would be due to the Pope in religious affairs.

The Saxon court on the other hand is horrified. Bohm’s criticisms in many cases flirt with heresy at best, but when the word ‘heresy’ is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is Avignon. There is fear that this is the vanguard of a heretical attack, with Hungary constituting the main wave. Their concerns are not helped when several squadrons of hussars skirt the Bohemian border, enforcing tax payments from the villages. At the same time, the Elbe, swelled by autumn rains, overflows its banks and floods several villages, along with a part of Dresden itself. Many think it is a sign from an angry God.

So on November 12, the conspirators, a mix of clergy, pious nobles, and Johannes’ sister Amalie strike. Duke Johannes V is seized in the coup, but Heinrich Bohm manages to flee the city, eventually making his way to Gdansk. From there he takes a ship to Antwerp, and from there on to England. Although the troublesome scholar is gone, none of the conspirators are quite sure what to do next. Andrew is clearly massing on the border, thinking that with Saxony in an uproar, now is the time to strike. Then on December 1, Johannes dies under mysterious circumstances (many believe poisoned by Amalie).

Without even a puppet duke, only a council of confused old men and a women to lead a duchy filled with agitated people, Saxony seems right for the picking. So the council of Saxony turns to the one leader who has stood against heresy and won, his most Catholic Majesty, Emperor Manfred. On Christmas Day, at the very cathedral where Bohm nailed his criticisms, he is crowned Duke of Saxony. Although he appoints Amalie as his viceroy, and pledges to respect the rights and privileges of the Saxon nobility, the importance of the coronation for the history of Germany cannot be understated. For in Manfred are legally united the domains of Bavaria, Tyrol, Schleswig, Holstein, Brandenburg, and Saxony (although the first two are currently in Hungarian hands).

The Saxons do what they do not for the benefit of Saxony, or Germany, but for the beleaguered Catholic faith. They have no doubt that they have done for the right thing, for on December 31 the news arrives. Andrew of Hungary is dead, slain by infection from his assassination wound. But to the Saxons, the answer is that God has smiled on them for the faith, and delivered them from their enemy.

The Hungarians mourn their fallen Emperor. All of Buda goes into mourning, for his concern for the poor and his military victories abroad ensure that he is loved by all of Magyar society. Fifty thousand attend the procession as his body is carried into Buda, to be buried in a mausoleum next to that of Andrew the Warrior King. His son Stephen ascends the throne without any difficulty, pledging to finish the work his father has left undone. There is no doubt that Stephen will have the wholehearted support of the Hungarian people in that task, for he is the firstborn son of the most beloved of the Arpad kings.

1513: In Buda Stephen is crowned Holy Roman Emperor, in flagrant disregard of all the customs of the Reich, and without the approval of any of the Electors. His first action is to the north, where the fervor of fanatical Catholics has turned into violence against the Hussites of Bohemia, Saxony, and Pomerania. The hard-pressed heretics turn in desperation to Stephen, who responds vigorously and dispels the attacks.

However the whole operation does much to solidify the strengthening view in northern Germany that the war against the Magyar Emperors is a war against heresy. The new Pope in Hamburg (the place of exile after the fall of Mainz) Leo X fully supports the view, allowing Manfred to tax a fifth of clerical income in his domains, and ordering sees from outside Germany to commit to the fund. This causes an immediate spat with Edward VII, who is also fighting heretics but was never granted a similar privilege, because ‘my heretics are not threatening the person of the Holy Father’.

His position in northern France seems to be stabilizing, despite the failure of the Antwerp betrothal. The Arletian offensive, after the fall of Aquitaine, managed a lightning rush that moved the border to the Loire valley, but has slowed down significantly due in large part to the stout resistance of Tours and Orleans. In the lands of the langue d’oeil the Arletians can count on far less turncoats. Most of the fighting is concentrated in the Loire valley, and although the semi-professional Arletian lances give better then they get, sheer attrition is starting to show in France-England’s favor.

This is helped somewhat by Leo’s conduct. After the Bordeaux ambush, he has commanded seven different engagements and won them all, but through courage and ferocity rather than skill, piling up a horrendous Plantagenet body count, but also quite a high Arletian one. Plus his refusal to rein in his troops post-battle ‘antics’ is further complicating Arletian efforts to win over the region. Reminders that King Charles of Arles is a direct male descendant of Francis ‘the Butcher’ whisper in the wind.

That said, Arletian policy in the lands of the langue d’oeil is not the most conducive to earning the love of the French people. That Arles has been heavily influenced by Rhomania, there can be no doubt. At any given day, there are at least a thousand Roman merchants in the harbors of Provence. The centralized administration of Arles’ largest trading partner is the envy of the court in Marseille, and Charles is attempting to establish it in his new conquests. Provencal is to be the language of the courts and laws, which are to be organized on Provencal custom, instead of local tradition. The exception to this rule is Aquitaine, for Gascon custom is viewed as ‘close enough’ to Provencal to pass muster.

The taille is levied on all Frenchmen, including the local nobility and clergy, and breaking with French tradition, Charles sets the taille at a standard and very high rate and then leaves it there, without the usual annual adjustment. Naturally this imposition of an extraordinary tax now being treated like a regular occurrence angers many, particularly the nobility of France (Charles is intent on making France pay for the war, with the Arletian and Gascon tailles set at two-thirds the French rate). The war in Germany also exerts some influence on the war in France, as the clergy emphasize the heretical nature of the Arletians, plus the influence of the heretic Romans on Arletian policy, with some radical peasants and townsmen taking up the cry ‘taxation is heresy’.

Although the French are finding Marseille more burdensome than Calais, that does little to help Edward VII. In July the hammer blow falls. Lotharingia declares war on the third day of the month. Although the actions of Mary of Antwerp play a significant role (supposedly she refused to make love with her husband the king until he made war on England) it is also an easy way to gain the support of the long-suffering Dutch. Nine days later Castile declares war as well, contributing ten thousand men and thirty ships.

In the Mediterranean, Andreas Angelos is at it again. Off the African coast, he spots a Barbary galley bearing down on a Roman carrack. Chasing it off, he pursues, grappling and boarding the corsair within range of the port batteries of Algiers itself, the greatest of the Barbary cities. Two more galleys sally to support their Muslim brothers; the first is blown apart by the Moldy Wreck’s bow chasers, at which point the second withdraws.

Nonetheless, his would-be triumphal return to Constantinople is marred. The day before he arrives, his uncle Andronikos Angelos, dies of old age. Emperor Andreas returns to the capital for the funeral, for despite the row over Andreas Angelos’ parentage, the Master of Sieges has nonetheless been Andreas’ bodyguard, companion, and friend for sixty years.

While the west is at war, Russia is calm and peaceful, save for the low-level rumble along the eastern frontier. In May, an university is founded at Draconovsk, the largest city in Scythia (OTL Ukraine) with twenty thousand inhabitants. It is the second in Russia, and like the one at Novgorod it is a near copy of a Roman institution. But of the faculty, a quarter are Romans, another quarter Russians educated in the Empire, and half from the University of Novgorod.

Although the importance and number of Russian intellectuals are rising, Roman scholars still retain much importance in the Great Kingdom, particularly in the Novgorodian sphere (due to the division of Russia into Novgorod, Lithuania, Pronsk, and Scythia all of which have significant local autonomy, the Great Kingdom of the Rus is often classified as a ‘federal empire’). Many Roman university students are hired as tutors for Russian upper-class children, since speaking Greek is considered a sign of high culture.

At the same time, the intellectual current generated by the two universities is challenged by a new movements, the Monks-Beyond-The-Volga. As peasant emigration is concentrated south towards Scythia, the Orthodox church has taken the lead in developing the trans-Volga, where on paper Russia rules, but reality is a different story. It is a harsh, wild existence, living on the fringes of the known world, carving a place in the wilderness, both physically and spiritually. The monks are mostly Russian, although about 10% are Greeks, followers of a strong mystical Orthodox tradition heavily influenced by hesychasm and extremely popular amongst their Cossack neighbors.

Many of the monks also accompany the Cossacks on their raids against the Tatars to the east and south. Sibir, the Timurid Empire, and the White Horde all suffer from the attacks of the disciplined Cossack hosts, divided into polki (regiments) five hundred strong, each one with at least one battery of artillery. The White Horde suffers the most from the annual incursions, as it lacks the strength of the Timurid Empire or the distance of Sibir.

1514: Deva Raya II has been quite annoyed at the delay in the Second Pepper Fleet. Every year since the First Pepper Fleet, a few Roman vessels, along with a couple of Ethiopians, have ridden the monsoon winds, but these are traders, interested in spices, not warfare. His mood substantially improves when the Second Pepper Fleet sails in Alappuzha.

It is twenty two ships strong, including thirteen great dromons and two purxiphoi, along with fifteen hundred Roman soldiers. The largest of the great dromons, a five hundred tonner with thirty two guns, is the Hikanatos, commanded by Andreas Angelos. His father had had him transferred to the Indian Ocean during the winter, while his old ship continued its anti-piracy patrol in the west.

India as well as Rhomania is astir at the news from Persia. Aside from a handful of raids that have since died down, the Ottomans and Timurids are not fighting each other, allowing the Turks to concentrate their energies on the Shah, who is no more. With the fall of Damghan all of the former realms of the Shahanshah are either in Ottoman hands, or that of the Emirs of Yazd or Tabas. Their combined armies are resoundingly defeated at Meybod, although that victory is somewhat marred by a smaller defeat at Khorasani hands near Bafq. But the battle of Bafq does not stop the massive ceremony staged in Baghdad.

Suleiman is officially proclaimed Shahanshah, Sultan of E-raq and E-ran, and Caliph. The last title is taken on the grounds that the Ottoman Empire, as the most powerful Muslim state in the world, bears the responsibility for defending the Muslim faith against her enemies. This is especially important as in Baghdad’s eyes, the Hedjaz is a Roman vassal. Legally it is not, as Sharif Ali ibn Saud has no treaty obligations with Constantinople but as a gesture of goodwill sends a biannual shipment of three Arabian stallions to the Roman capital.

Suleiman is willing to practice what he preaches, and to aid the Muslims of Gujarat and Maharashtra he dispatches thirty galleys, virtually the entirely of the Ottoman fleet, to Surat to reinforce the gathering Muslim armada. Andreas Angelos had been dispatched to Kolkata, where he successfully negotiated with the Bihari king for a trade quarter in Kolkata with similar rights to the ones held by Romans in Vijayanagar. But he returns in time for the planned offensive, the Roman fleet providing naval support for the Vijayanagara army.

The Hindu Emperor can muster over fifty thousand men, forty cannon (although of a very poor quality compared to Roman artillery), and three hundred elephants, but without a fleet he stands little chance of seizing the port cities. Everyone involves knows that the contest will be decided at sea. On August 1, the fleets meet at Ratnagiri.

The Romans muster fifteen warships, joined by three Ethiopian vessels. The government in Gonder has negotiated successfully for trading quarters in Alappuzha, and made an arrangement with Rhomania that in exchange for military support in India they shall receive quarters in Surat and Kozhikode once they are Roman. Just before the battle, the Romans and Ethiopians are joined by an unexpected defector, the commander of the Ottoman contingent.

He is Basileios Komnenos, son of Anastasia Komnena and twin brother to Konstantinos Komnenos (both take their far more prestigious maternal family name). His time in Ottoman service has not been nearly as beneficial as his brother’s. Largely ostracized from the Ottoman court due to his refusal to convert to Islam (there were rumors in Constantinople that he had converted, but they were false), he also expected to be appointed governor of Hormuz. He only had commanded the fleet that starved the great port into submission, but the city had been given to an Arab from Basra. The fact that his star has risen this far is Sultan Suleiman’s desire to keep his best friend Konstantinos happy.

But Basileios has had enough of E-raq and E-ran. In exchange for asylum in Rhomania, he provides a complete order of battle for the Muslim fleet. They number a hundred and forty strong.

The battle begins at dawn, and is a slaughter. Only the Ottoman galleys can match the Roman and Ethiopian artillery in quality, and the two purxiphoi alone mount as many pieces as all thirty galleys combined. Most of the Indian attacks are blown out of the water before they can press home their attacks, although the sheer number of vessels mean the less maneuverable Roman and Ethiopian purxiphoi are grappled and boarded. But even there the odds are against them, for their Orthodox opponents are far taller than them.

The battle lasts all day and ends in a crushing Roman-Ethiopian victory. Both Basileios Komnenos and Andreas Angelos are the heroes of the day. The former identifies the flagship of the Ottoman contingent and leads the boarding party that seizes it, personally cutting down the ship’s pilot. Andreas Angelos meanwhile tracks down the ship carrying the fleet’s pay and takes it and its cargo.

The battle is nothing less than a disaster for the Muslims of India. With the sea in Orthodox hands, their re-conquest by Vijayanagar is only a matter of time and Deva Raya II sets to it with a vengeance. At the same time he dispatches waves of Rajput cavalry, descendents of emigrants, north of the Narmada river to pillage the Delhi Sultanate so there will be no aid from that quarter.

It is also a significant blow to the Ottomans, who have lost the bulk of their naval strength, just after news arrives that Khorasan and the Timurid Empire have signed a defensive anti-Ottoman alliance. The defection of Basileios Komnenos is a major surprise as well, since the Roman was very good at hiding his dissatisfaction. Some of Konstantinos’ political enemies use the opportunity to move against him, the new governor of Damghan accusing him of complicity in his brother’s treason. A few days an assassin tries and fails to kill the Roman prince.

Konstantinos’ enraged Persian soldiers immediately put the assassin to the rack, who finally shrieks out his master’s name in exchange for a quick death. It is the governor of Damghan. The troops without delay storm his villa, killing his attendants and presenting the governor’s head to Konstantinos. Quite pleased with the demonstration of his soldiers’ loyalty, the Roman sends the pickled remains to Baghdad.

Suleiman immediately presents the head to the court, publicly supporting Konstantinos and warning that any attempts on the prince’s life will be regarded as an attack on the sultan’s own. As for the possessions of both Basileios Komnenos and the governor of Damghan, all are given to Konstantinos Komnenos, who turns it all over to his Persian troops for pension funds. The only item he keeps is the governor’s fine sword, as a birthday gift for his eight-year-old son.


Osman Komnenos (named after his maternal grandfather), first of the Eastern Komnenoi.

1515: The year is relatively quiet. In Germany the fighting has settled down due to mutual exhaustion, although in France the combined Arletian-Castilian-Lotharingian armies are overrunning the countryside. Edward VII returns to England to put at least that kingdom in order, where some progress is being made. In April, a Scottish raid in Yorkshire is cut to pieces by Henry Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, who follows up the victory by trailing the survivors to an anchored Norwegian squadron, which he burns.

Three months later Prince Arthur is betrothed to Margaret, daughter of Grace O’Malley, the Sea Queen of Connaught. Her dowry is her mother’s fleet, plus significantly more enthusiastic support from the Irish. The Connaught squadrons promptly make the Irish Sea much more hazardous for the squadrons of the MacDonald Lords of the Isles, and the Irish troops help Edward VII nip a Welsh revolt in the bud.

In Smyrna, Princess Zoe, elder sister of Andreas, dies in her brother’s arms. At her insistence, just before the end, she is taken to the courtyard where Helena was murdered. There she perishes. According to Eudoxia, who was there, her final moments were as follows:

The Princess Zoe lay on the ground, and she asked her brother, the Basileus Andreas “Isn’t, isn’t she beautiful?” And the Basileus asked, “Who, sister, who?” The Princess then spoke one word. “Mom.” And so passed Zoe Komnena, daughter of Basileus ton Basileon Theodoros IV Komnenos and Helena Doukina.

To the west, the Barbary corsairs grow more bold, particularly when the Moldy Wreck is sunk by four galliots off Sardinia, even though Andreas Angelos is still in India participating in the siege of Mumbai. Late in the year they do something they have never done before, establishing a land blockade of Carthage and striking Roman territory itself. Twenty six ships from Bizerte strike Sicily, pillaging several villages and carting over four thousand Sicilians into slavery.

In March of 1516 the Roman riposte comes. The panicked cry goes out that sixty thousand Romans have landed at Carthage. Shortly afterwards a revised report comes in; it is only ten thousand Romans, commanded by Emperor Andreas himself. The Emir of Tlemcen, regarding the revision, speaks for many when he
responds, “Same thing.”


Emperor Andreas I Komnenos, followed by Emperor Herakleios II Komnenos. Although the people of Constantinople are overjoyed to have their Emperor back, many in the Imperial court are concerned over Andreas' decision to personally command the African expedition. His health has been slowly but surely declining since the Egyptian campaign, and a long sea voyage and stint in Africa are unlikely to help matters.

Andreas himself ignores such concerns.



1516: The Second Pepper Fleet returns victorious, riding the autumn monsoon winds. All of the rebel cities have capitulated, and Deva Raya II has been true to his promises. Both Surat and Kozhikode are Roman cities, garrisoned by six hundred men and a great dromon each. Despite the grounding of one vessel off Socotra (which has become an Ethiopian province that spring, the first overseas Ethiopian province), breaking its back in the process, the flotilla wields a seventeen fold profit. There are no more plans for great fleets in the near future, but the number of ships making the India run are steadily rising.

Andreas Angelos and Basileios Komnenos return to a shaken Constantinople. The two are received by Emperor Herakleios, not Emperor Andreas as expected. Basileios’ request for asylum is granted, and he is bequeathed an estate (and staff who are clearly in Herakleios’ pay) in Paphlagonia for his upkeep, on condition that he use his paternal, not maternal, family name, Palaiologos. Basil accepts. Then the two learn what has transpired in Africa and at home.

Despite the fact that he cannot mount or dismount without assistance, or walk without a cane in each hand, Andreas insists on campaigning as he as always done, as plainly as the lowest soldier. His personal physician, his lieutenants, and even many of the rank and file protest his actions, but Andreas is adamant.

The army moves along the coast, accompanied by the Imperial fleet while powerful battle squadrons sweep the Mediterranean. Very few corsair ships are actually sunk, but they do remain in port. There is little support from the Iberians. Firstly it is because the speed of the Roman response meant there was no time to coordinate activities. Plus Aragon is still licking its wounds from the Oran debacle, Castile is raiding Cornwall (although a Cornish-Irish fleet does maul a squadron off Brittany), and Al-Andalus and Portugal are engaged in saber rattling.

Portugal’s African expeditions are gaining unexpected fruit. First, contact has been made with a large and powerful African state, the Kingdom of Kongo, a hub of a bustling slave trade that is quite eager to do business with Portugal. Lisbon provides guns, horses, and armor in exchange for ivory and slaves, the latter extremely useful on the new Portuguese sugar plantations in the Canary Islands and Madeira. Also three ships have blundered into a large and apparently virgin landmass to the west. One of the vessels though was captured by Andalusi warships on the European side of the line (so claim the Portuguese; the Andalusi claim it was beyond the line).

Andreas does not really need their help. A Berber army from the local tribes, numbering twenty thousand, shadows the Roman army. At Sidi Thabet, Andreas steals a night march on them and falls on their camp at dawn. The ensuing battle is little more than a slaughter, the survivors chased into the desert, where most perish from lack of provisions. After that, the Romans face no opposition until the siege of Bizerte begins.

Bizerte is a thriving metropolis, one of the greatest cities of north Africa, and a major rival of Carthage. It is also a thriving corsair port. It has a population of twenty nine thousand, plus nine thousand Christian slaves taken in the plundering expeditions. About half of that number are Romans, mostly Sicilians taken in the raid that sparked Andreas’ intervention.

It is a well armed, well fortified city, and the Roman army and fleet settle down for the siege. The corsairs, heavily outnumbered, are unable to contest the Roman control of the seas so supplies are no difficulty. Nevertheless it is clear that the strain is taking its toll on Andreas, who for the first time in his life has difficulty staying awake in strategy meetings, and many days he has to forgo his daily inspection of the camp and siege works.

Slowly but surely the siege continues. On the fifteenth day, the Christian slaves rise up, attempting to throw open the gates of the cities in conjunction with a Roman assault on the walls. Just barely, the men of Bizerte stop the double-pronged assault. And then Sinan Pasha, titled thus for his command of a pirate fleet, Emir of Bizerte, makes a terrible mistake. The next day, the heads of all the slaves, women and children included, are catapulted into the Roman encampment.

Andreas responds by tying all his prisoners to the embankments protecting his artillery, so the Bizertians’ fire will kill them. Eleven days later, a special shipment from Sicily arrives. Two days later, the city falls, and Andreas gives the order.

Bizerte is to be annihilated, its people slaughtered, its buildings torn down, its fields sown with salt, its existence completely effaced from the earth. The special shipment is the salt. To this day, nothing lives where Bizerte once stood. Ironically Sinan Pasha is one of the handful of Bizertians to survive, running the blockade in a galliot.

* * *

Roman Camp outside Bizerte, May 18, 1516:

Andreas groaned, leaning back in his chair. Outside the tent he could hear the death screams of Bizerte. He had heard those screams, o so many times. He looked at the man sitting across from him, sharpening his sword on a whetstone. “It never ends,” Andreas whispered.

Manuel of Kyzikos stopped and set down the whetstone, examining the blade. “No, no it doesn’t. The blade is sharpened, is used, then needs to be sharpened again. It never ends.”

Andreas rubbed his forehead. “Empire are the same way. One enemy falls, and another rises to take its place. It never ends, and I am tired. Tired of war, tired of rule, tired of life.”

Manuel, still looking at the sword, shrugged, slid the blade into his scabbard, and stood up. “Then rest.” He walked out of the tent.

“I cannot.”

“Why not?” Alexeia asked, seated where Manuel had just been.

“You look well, sis.”

“You’re still a bad liar. Why can’t you rest?”

“The Empire needs me. There is too much work to be done.”

Alexeia shook her head sadly, rising to her feet. “Let someone else do it. You have done enough.” She strode out.

“No, it needs to be me.”

“Why does it have to be you?”

Andreas looked at the person now seated in that chair, and his heart skipped a beat. It was Kristina, his Kristina. Crow’s feet nestled against her eyes, and only a strand or two of brown stood out in a sea of cascading gray hair. “You look beautiful.”

“You look wrinkly.” Andreas stared for a moment, and then chuckled, wagging his finger at her. Kristina grinned, but then her face grew serious. “Why does it have to be you?”

“Our son needs me. He would make a good ruler, but his body is weak. Once I am gone, his enemies will come out looking for blood.”

“Then kill them now.”

“I cannot. They hide in the shadows. That was your area of expertise. I’m a soldier, not a spymaster. I cannot-” Tears clouded his vision. “God’s wounds, Kristina,” he rasped, clenching his fists. “I miss you. You were my better half. Apulia loves me, but it was you, you who taught me mercy. By God, I miss you.”

She was close to him now, crouched down, but just out of reach. “I know, my love. I know. But soon, soon we will be together again.” Outside Bizerte shrieked; Kristina shuddered. “In a place where no demons lie.”

“And once I am dead, my enemies will reveal themselves,” he moaned. He stopped. “Once I’m dead, my enemies will reveal themselves,” he repeated. Kristina was biting her lip, an impish gleam in her eyes, the kind she always got when she had thought of a new scheme.

Andreas Komnenos laughed.

* * *

The campaign ends after the annihilation of Bizerte, Andreas returning to Constantinople. It is clear that his health has declined even further, to the point that he has to ride a litter back to the White Palace, an unheard of event. On June 30, he announces that he is retiring to the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, near Philippopolis.

On July 27, the news arrives in Constantinople. Andreas Komnenos, Emperor of the Romans, is dead. Per his final request, he is to be buried in an unmarked tomb, in a nearby graveyard where soldiers slain during the Smyrna war lay buried.

The next day, Herakleios II Komnenos is proclaimed sole Emperor. Overall he is accepted, but the reclusive Herakleios is not loved like Andreas. He does not conduct the circuits as his father did, and the army views him as a weak leader, poorly suited to command. The support of Megas Domestikos Zeno does however do much to allay the strategoi’s concerns.

But it not enough. On September 13, Leo Komnenos lands in Epirus after traveling via Hungary. News of his victories in France have proceeded him, and many in the European tagmata view him as an ideal leader for future campaigns against the Catholics. The Epirus and Helladic tagmata go over to him immediately, granting him control over all of Greece west and south of Thessaloniki.

Immediately Zeno prepares to march west, gathering the Athanatoi, Varangoi, and the Bulgarian, Macedonian, and Thracian tagmata. On September 24, in Buda, Emperor Stephen formally announces the truth about his parentage, and that he is marching to claim his birthright, the crown of Rhomania. The Hungarian people are shocked, but it is pointed out that Stephen is still just as much an Arpad as he is a Komnenos, and a successful campaign against the Empire will be quite lucrative.

Herakleios is torn. Leo is the closer threat, but Stephen is the most dangerous. His situation grows even more grave on October 1. Zeno is dead, killed by an assassin with a kyzikos bullet to the heart. He blames Leo, but many point out that assassination is not Leo’s style, and a rumor sweeps Constantinople that Herakleios had murdered his half-brother, out of fear that Zeno would use his position in the army to usurp Herakleios.

The Macedonian tagma immediately defects to Leo. On October 10, when the Bulgarian tagma tries to do the same, the Athanatoi, Varangoi, Thracians, and the Constantinople archontate fall on them just ten miles from the Queen of Cities, and maul the Bulgarians. A total of thirty five hundred Romans are killed or wounded in the battle.

On October 14, the Hungarian armies ford the Danube, invading Serbia. The princes of Raska, Srem, Macva, and Backa join them.

The Time of Troubles has begun.


This painting, by Pavlos of Avlona, is considered by art historians to be one of the pinnacles of sixteenth century Roman art. The battle it depicts, an action between Roman great dromons and Barbary galleys, never occurred. Instead it is a representation of the Empire in the Time of Troubles, for it was painted at the beginning of the final stage.

Overall the painting is grim, but there is hope. The two great dromons, representing the duo of generals that it was hoped would restore the Empire of Andreas, sail under a darkened sky, but the sun is rising. This sense of hope, even in the midst of civil war and invasion, can be most clearly seen in its name:

Rhomania Endures.


Kristina of the Rus, the Empress of Blackbirds. Like her husband, she would cast a long shadow over the Empire in the Time of Troubles.

Although Stephen is clearly rushing things, hoping that the Leo-Herakleios rivalry will cripple the European tagmata, he has not left his flanks completely unsecure. Three thousand men are left guarding the Transylvanian march. They are not enough to stop the whole Vlach army, but with the fortifications in the region, the Vlachs will have a hard time advancing. At the same time, thousands of Magyar cavalry roll north, savaging the domains of Manfred to keep him off balance.

Most importantly, the Milanese are fully on his side, as Stephen promises that any conquests in Italy will be theirs to keep. Milan particularly desires the Romagna, ruled by the d’Estes, hated rivals of the Visconti.

But Roman Italy is not such an easy target. A Milanese attempt to cross the Po is thrown back, although with heavy Romagnan casualties, while Florence makes it quite clear that any Milanese soldier entering the Republic’s territory will be killed on sight. In the Adriatic, the Serene Republic may have entered the pages of history, but that sea still has her queen. On November 20, the Venetian fleet sacks Pola.

The defection of the Macedonian tagma and the crippling of the Bulgarian places Herakleios in a tight spot, a situation not helped by his poor health. The season is unusually cold, and his bowels have been very bloody of late. Eating at most every other day, if that, it is difficult for him to combat the rumor that he arranged Zeno’s assassination.

While the Imperial presses are working overtime reminding people that Leo is a bigamist, a rapist, and a possible Catholic, all the Constantinople mob can think of is the fact that under Andreas, justice was brought to them. In contrast, audiences with Herakleios have to be gained at the White Palace, and oftentimes he is indisposed. Leo too is known for his victories in France and the fact that he grants himself no more privileges than that given to the lowliest of his men, just like Andreas.

Herakleios can depend on the merchants though, who view Leo as bad for business, and, thanks to his half-brother Andreas Angelos, the support of the navy. Neither though is of much use at the moment; Herakleios needs the army, the area precisely where he is weakest. Thus when the Opsician and Optimatic tagmata arrive, he announces that he will accompany the army on its march to challenge Leo.

* * *

The White Palace, Constantinople, November 1, 1516:

It was snowing. She could feel the flakes landing in her hair, on her cheeks. She could feel them melting, the moisture trickling down her face, indistinguishable from her tears. She looked out, her hands resting on the balcony railing, staring at the cloudy haze enveloping Constantinople and the Sea of Marmara.

“Venera?” It was Herakleios. “Venera?” he asked again. No. No, I cannot look back.

Snow crunched behind her, and then a hand was on her shoulder, turning her towards him. A part of her cursed herself, for forcing her husband out into the cold. Another part, a much louder part, was not so apologetic. Why? Why should I be sorry? If he’s going to be traipsing around Serbia, he can damn well come out on the balcony!

“Venera, why will you not talk to me?”

Crack! Her hand stung from the slap she had just given him “Why?” she snarled. “Why are you doing this?!” He did not answer. “Why?!” she cried. Crack! He could have stopped that blow. He hadn’t. Her hands bunched into fists. “Why! Why! Why!” she screamed, pounding his chest with every word, wanting him to say something, to show that he hurt as much as she did. But he just stood there, taking every blow silently, making no move to defend himself as she hit him.

The world was a blur now. “You’re going to die!” she sobbed, collapsing. And then Herakleios’ strong arms were around her, holding her up with that inner strength that no one but her knew he had, the strength that kept him sane amidst the pain. “You’re going to die,” she moaned, her eyes squeezed as she cried into his chest. His health was poor even in the White Palace. An army campaign in this winter, could be, would be fatal with his condition. “Why?” she whispered.

“I have to. I do not fear my death. Death and I are old companions. But I do fear your death, and the death of the children. If I don’t go, you will die, and Alexeia and Alexios will die.”

She wanted to hit him again, to scream at him that he was wrong, but she couldn’t. Instead she clenched her eyes more tightly, trying unsuccessfully to stop the tears, gripping his jacket in her hands. He is right. There is no other way.

Herakleios did not have the loyalty of the Roman army. He was too much unlike his father, and Leo was too much like his father, at least in the areas that counted in the soldiers’ eyes. Damn them. Damn all those idiots to hell. The only armies that Herakleios could count on were those of his and her relatives, the Russian and maybe the Georgian. But they could not come; the Kalmyk horde, displaced by Timurid activities, had crossed the Ural mountains and was moving on the lower Volga. Until that vast Buddhist army was dispersed, neither Georgia or Russia could move on Rhomania.

So Herakleios had to go with the army. If he stayed in Constantinople, there was a very good chance the remaining tagmata would defect to Leo, and then they would be doomed. At least if he went, there was a chance for Venera and the children, if Leo was defeated. But none for him.

She stood up. “No, no. There must be, there has to be another way.”

Herakleios shook his head. “There isn’t.” He pried her fingers loose, cupping them in his own hands. “I’ve made arrangements for you to go home if the worst should fall.” With Hellas in Leo’s hands, the route to Egypt was too dangerous. Demetrios had little love for his little brother; he had already guaranteed Empress Veronica and Prince David’s safety as news as Leo’s landing had reached him. “But if you have to promise me.”

“No, I can’t.” The tears were coming again.

“Promise me,” he hissed.

“Herakleios, you’re hurting me.” You’re stalling.

“Promise me. Promise me you will not wait to flee if I am dead before Leo is.”

“I…I promise.” Damn you. No, damn me.

“Thank you.” Herakleios let her hands go. “I am so sorry.”

“Sorry? For what?”

“You deserved so much better, better than this, better than me. A whole man.”

She saw the regret flash in his eyes, and knew what the regret said. If you were a whole man, none of this would be happening. You could go on campaign just like Leo, just like Zeno, just like Andreas. Then no one would challenge your right to rule, and you wouldn’t need to abandon your wife and children to go on a suicide mission in the small hope that you can save them before you die.

She would not have those words. Not now, not ever. “I have a whole man, for a husband and for an Emperor. And if these…people…” She spat the word. “…are too stupid to realize that, then damn them for being fools.”

Herakleios smiled, a small one, but a real one. “Thank you. Goodbye, my love.” They kissed, a long, lingering kiss, the snow falling on them, chilling them, but it did not matter. Venera never wanted it to end, but it did. And then he was gone.

She did not know how long she stood there, silent, as the snow gathered in her hair. He will return. He must return. If there is any justice in this world, he will return. And if he doesn’t…God, you had better start hiding, for I will tear you down from your throne and damn you to hell as well.


Venera of Abkhazia, Empress of the Romans. Often the strong one of the family due to her husband's physical weakness, she is fiercely protective of her family and what is rightfully theirs.

The White Palace, Constantinople, November 2, 1516:

Herakleios had left the city. Nikephoros would have smiled, if it weren’t for the oncoming headache he could feel gathering. He sighed, setting down the book to glare at the source of said headache, his wife.

God, I hate that woman, he thought as he took a drink of hot kaffos. She wasn’t an ugly woman; he’d concede that much. She might have done decently well at a mid-level whorehouse catering to lower-grade artisans and the like. But in a lineup at Fatima’s, she stood absolutely no chance.

She was still nattering at him, about how he should get off his fat ass and kill Herakleios already. That was her worst trait; she was an idiot, an ambitious, blatant, bland idiot. She reminded Nikephoros of his aunt Irene…I still don’t know who killed her. She hadn’t always been this brazen though, thankfully. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that he hadn’t touched her since their wedding night, and that the bodies of her three lovers had never been found.

But it was so frustrating. He couldn’t divorce her without risking the ire of Emperor Andreas who arranged the match, and he couldn’t let her hang herself with her own rope. Having his wife accused of high treason would lead to too much unwanted attention.

She was still going on about killing Herakleios and taking over Constantinople. Have you forgotten the last phase of this plan, woman? The part where Leo tears me from limb to limb for being between him and the throne?

He’d thought about killing his uncle, but ironically Herakleios’ poor health made it harder, not easier to kill him. Like all offspring of the Empress of Blackbirds, Herakleios had been given small doses of poison in his childhood meals to build up an immunity. The regime had been slower on account of his health, but no less effective. Even in his current state, it would take a dose of poison strong enough to kill a healthy man twice his size to put Herakleios down.

Obviously such a large dose would be difficult to disguise, and because of his sensitive stomach, Herakleios went easy on the flavoring of his dishes. There were no spices or strong sauces to hide the scent of toxin, and there was no poison known to man that could kill a son of the Empress of Blackbirds in just a few bites. Of course, the same can be said about me. Grandmother was very thorough.

His wife may have ‘ideas’ of her own, but he had his own plan, which he’d already begun. The death of Zeno crippled Herakleios, making his military defeat at Leo’s hand virtually inevitable. If Herakleios called the Russians in against the Hungarians, it still wouldn’t help him against his half-brother, and if he called in the Russians against Leo, his life expediency would be measured in minutes. An Emperor that used barbarians against his own people was no Emperor at all. That the Russians couldn’t move even if Herakleios asked was just sugar on the pastry.

And Leo would be much easier to deal with than Herakleios, provided Nikephoros made a sufficient show of loyalty at the start to throw him off guard. Give Leo a year or two on the throne, and he would alienate all his supporters, making it ludicrously easy for Nikephoros to swoop in and displace him.


"Any idiot with a strong sword arm can seize power. It is holding power that is the difficult part. And the manner in which one seizes power can determine whether or not one holds it."-Nikephoros "the Spider" Komnenos

At least that had been the plan, but then had come the newest report from one of his best spies. There was another player in the game. If Nikephoros revealed himself as a contestant, with this new opponent in the field, he risked everything. No, it was time to withdraw, to watch and wait. Time was on his side, and he had backup plans. They would take longer, but he could afford to wait.

She was still talking. Nikephoros rubbed his forehead. The roar of Theodoros’ trained bear Ares outside wasn’t helping. Willow bark tea. And Fatima’s tonight. Definitely Fatima’s.

Edessa, Macedonia, November 13, 1516:

Stefanos Doukas, Strategos of the Epirote tagma, Megas Domestikos to his Imperial Majesty, Emperor Leo VI Komnenos, entered the chamber. Leo was in the center, unarmed, faced by five recruits armed with blunted blades. Stefanos strolled over to the bench next to the roaring fire, pouring himself a cup of hot kaffos.

Although winter had come early and cold, causing demand and the price of kaffos to shoot upward, Leo’s men did not lack for the brew. The Emperor had lost little time in levying the Emperor’s Cup, a tax paid in kind with the best kaffos, on the territories under his control. Leo had then promptly turned around and distributed it to the men. Stefanos took a sip, savoring the warmth.

By that point it was over. All five recruits were on the ground, Leo standing over them with a practice blade in each hand. “Bah,” he muttered, tossing the weapons aside and walking over to Stefanos. His newest attendant, the strategos thought it was Leo’s fourth, or maybe fifth, handed the Emperor a wine skin.

“What is this?” Leo asked pleasantly. Stefanos braced himself.

“Hot spiced wine, your majesty,” the trembling lad said. “Your favorite.”

“And what is the wine ration for the men right now?”

“One a day, your majesty.”

“THEN WHY ARE YOU GIVING ME ANOTHER SKIN TODAY?!” Leo bellowed. “GET OUT OF HERE, YOU IDIOT! AND LEAVE THAT WITH THE GUARDS ON YOUR WAY OUT!” He slammed the wine skin into the lad’s chest, nearly knocking him over. Leo must be in a good mood. He didn’t break the boy’s nose, unlike the last two. Or was it three? No, the first had had his wrist broken instead.

“Good day, your Imperial majesty,” Stefanos said.

“Eh, is it?” Leo glowered at the moaning recruits picking themselves off the floor. “Worthless wretches. Basileios could take them all with one arm tied behind his back.”

Leo’s son by his Habsburg wife had remained with his mother in Arles, where he still served in the Arletian army, to whom he’d already given good service by capturing two knights banneret and an English earl before his sixteenth birthday. Other than guaranteeing the safety and security of his family and possessions, Arles was not aiding Leo, which he had wanted. If he came in with Arletian backing, it would be too easier to tar him as a foreign invader, not a son of Andreas and a Roman prince coming to claim his birthright.

Leo walked over to the massive oak table that was set up in the left of the hall. It was covered with maps, the nearest that of Roman Europe. “The Kastrioti have joined your cause, Majesty.”

That caused Leo to smile. “Most excellent.” As soon as Leo had heard that the Hungarians had crossed the Danube, three hundred light cavalry had been sent to harry their march and report their movements. At the same time, envoys had gone to the Albanian chieftains to ask for their support (although nominally under Roman rule, one did not order the independent-minded Albanian lords around if one wanted compliance). The aid of the Kastrioti, the greatest of them, would be of great help in slowing the Hungarian advance. “Any news from the east?” Leo asked.

“The usurper has left Constantinople.”

“Herakleios is coming out of his hot tub? Perhaps he did get some of father’s blood after all.” Stefanos nodded. Several of the Serbian princes had gambled that since Herakleios couldn’t stomach food much of the time, he couldn’t stomach the killing of their children being ‘educated’ in Constantinople. It had taken the Sick Man of Europe less than twenty minutes to prove them wrong.

“Still, his advance is extremely slow, less than twelve miles a day.”

Leo snorted. “That’s it? Good. It’ll look really good when he finally arrives in Thessaloniki, only to see me with that Magyar bastard’s head atop my lance.” Leo clenched his hairy fists, shaking in rage. “Those…creatures never would have dared tried this while my father was still alive. He isn’t, but I will still send them screaming into hell for sullying my father’s name.” Even after all this time, he still worships Andreas.

But then, there wasn’t a soldier in the Roman tagmata that did not. He had always been their commander, their leader, their father. A man who had always shared their pain, their hunger, their trials, never sparing himself from the lot of his basest recruit. And he had always given them victory. In those regard, Leo was his father’s son.

Stefanos’ eyes brushed the other maps, Tuscany, northern Italy, Iberia, the Maghreb. He knew the plan, Leo’s grand design once he was on the throne, and the reason Stefanos supported him. First Tuscany, weak, divided, and in the way. Then the north. The lush fields of Lombardy and the great foundries of Milan would be a useful boon to the Empire, and a perfect support base for an invasion of Iberia.

Aragon was weak, Castile distracted, Al-Andalus a vassal, and Portugal was formidable at sea but negligible on land. Once the peninsula was secure, to secure the Iberians’ loyalty, the Barbary pirates would be annihilated and the Marinids crushed. The end result would be Mare Nostrum restored, save for Arles, a close Roman trading partner.


Leo Komnenos reviewing members of the Dyrrachium garrison. His vision is to build on the conquests of his father, to restore all the lands of the Mediterranean to the rule of Constantinople.

And while Leo is off conquering those western lands, he will need to keep a trusted advisor and soldier at home, to keep an eyes on things. And when the time comes…

The door opened, and a guard stepped in and bowed. “Your Majesty, the delegation from Thessaloniki is here.”

“Send them in at once,” Leo ordered. Control of that great metropolis would help secure their supply lines and their right flank against Herakleios, giving them time to crush the Hungarians.

Stefanos smiled pleasantly. It wouldn’t do to be rude to the delegates. It wasn’t fake though, for he finished his earlier thought.

House Doukas will rise again.

* * *

Andreas Angelos slowly stepped into the room, making sure that the hooded old man clinging to his left arm didn’t stumble. The man’s rough wooden cane tapped on the stone floor as the five Thessalonians followed.

He had been sent to Thessaloniki to try and make sure that city, the third city of the Empire, did not defect to Leo. The carrack he had rescued off Algiers had been Thessalonican, the ship and cargo paid for by a consortium of prominent merchants. Herakleios hoped that would give him some leverage.

“Welcome, gentlemen,” a smiling, well-trimmed man said. “If you would come this way…” he gestured to where several seats had been set up near the fire. “We have kaffos and hot spiced wine.” He looked at the old man. “And who is this?”

“He speaks for us,” Andreas Angelos said. “If you would be so kind.” He nodded at the nearest chair. Stefanos Doukas nodded and pulled the chair out, helping the man sit down. He rattled a sigh of relief.

“And who are you?” Stefanos repeated.

Instead the man pointed a trembling hand at the kaffos. “A cup please.” Andreas started to get one. Then the elder pulled down the hood.

Leo’s cup shattered on the floor. “Father?”

“Hello, son,” Andreas Doukas Laskaris Komnenos said. “I’ve come to give you this.” Slowly he pulled out a dagger and dropped it on the table with a clunk. He nudged it in Leo’s direction.

“What for?” Leo asked cautiously, his hand gripping the pommel of his sword. The guards’ eyes were darting back and forth between Andreas and Leo, the recruits in back holding their tourney blades.

“It’s simple. It’s for killing me.”

“Wha?” Leo said. Andreas Angelos’ eyes widened. What the hell is he doing? Just arrest and kill him, and be done with it.

“You have no problem with invading my Empire when I am dead. What difference does it make that I’m only mostly dead?” The end of the last sentence came out in a rasp, and Andreas Komnenos collapsed into a series of hacking coughs, shaking his whole body.

“Well, go on. Do it,” Andreas continued. “I’m not wearing armor under the coat. I can’t bear the weight anymore.”

Leo slowly picked up the dagger, hefting it in his hand. Andreas Angelos tightened his hold on his own sword. Looking around the room, he could see that all of Leo’s men in the room were watching their leader, including the Doukid strategos. All of them, except for Stefanos, were ready to draw their blades, even the recruit with a black eye and a broken nose.

If Leo attacked Andreas, he would die shortly afterwards, killed by his own men for daring to attack the Little Megas. He has to know that. He has to. But Leo had never been the most stable individual. And if he did attack…Leo was still considered one of the best melee fighters the Roman army had ever seen, and Father had not been lying about the armor.

Leo glanced at the dagger, then at his father as he lifted a shaking cup of kaffos to his lips. A look of horror flashed onto his face and he hurled the weapon into the stone wall, sparks flying. “I can’t.”

Angelos resisted the urge to smile. We’ve won. Although I don’t know why we didn’t just show up and arrest him. He’d met his father, accompanied by a retinue of monks, just short of Thessaloniki. The archimandrite at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity had sent in false reports of Andreas’ death and burial on the Emperor’s order. The Thessalonicans had immediately pledged their loyalty to Emperor Andreas, who had insisted on coming west even though the hard ride from the monastery to Thessaloniki had badly worn him out.

Andreas Komnenos looked at the dagger, then pulled the map of Serbia towards him. “I knew that I had hidden enemies, but I never suspected this, that the Hungarians would resort to these…” His hands clenched, his gaze fixed on Serbia, ignoring everything else in the chamber. “Perverse lies. I should, I should…” Angelos thought he could see the glean of madness in his father’s eyes. Andreas punched himself, whispering silently. He thought he could hear the word ‘Kristina’.

“Strategos!” Emperor Andreas snapped, suddenly his voice sharp and clear. Everyone stiffened. “I want a status report on the army, and the current disposition of all our forces within the hour. Go.” Stefanos Doukas almost ran from the room. Silently, his head down, Leo turned to follow. “Leo.” Angelos stiffened. Now. Now we arrest him. Leo stopped. “I am an old man, and it is hard for an old man to change his ways. I am accustomed to having a son accompany me in battle. I already have one…” He nodded in Angelos’ direction. “But two is better than one.” He, he can’t be doing this. Andreas pointed at a chair. “Sit.”

Edessa, Macedonia, November 14, 1516:

Zoe sprawled over the chair, juice dribbling down her chin. She wiped it up with a finger before it splattered her purple silk dress. You’d think she’d be cold in that, Andreas thought. He was covered in furs, and even that didn’t seem to be enough. His kaffos ration was small and he’d already used it up today. “You let him live,” Zoe said.

“I did.”


“He’s my son.”

Zoe rolled her eyes. “Wrong answer, little brother. You can’t lie to me…” She paused. “Or Alexeia for that matter, or Kristina,” she continued, grinning. Then she stopped. “So why?”

“I told you, he’s my son.”

“God’s wounds, Andreas!” Zoe shot up, pacing back and forth angrily. “He raped his own sister-in-law!” She stopped, facing Andreas and pointing out at the courtyard. “Why are the crows not eating his eyeballs right now?! The very first man Leo killed was a condemned rapist. Why are you not doing the same here? Where is your justice?”

“I can’t kill him.”

“And why not?”

“Because if I kill him, then there is no hope for him.”


Andreas looked away, sighing. “And if there is no hope for him, there is no hope for me.”

“What? I don’t understand.”

“A commander is responsible for the crimes of his men…and a father is responsible for the sins of his son.”

“What? No…” Zoe was down on her knees, holding his hand. Her warmth was welcome. “Andreas, don’t do this to yourself.”

“It’s my fault,” he said, ignoring her. The memories flashed in front of him. Andronikos’ horse stepping in the bloated body of a murdered eight-year-old Apulian boy, the shrieks of what was left of a Lotharingian king, the screams of Bizerte. And a bellowing young man, clad in plate, in the square and basilica of Saint Mark, killing, killing, killing, so much killing. “I have done things far more terrible than Leo. So there has to be hope for him, for if there isn’t, there is none for me.”

“What you did you did for the Empire. Leo just did it for himself.”

“You’re right. But that does not change the fact that my crimes are far greater than his.” He shrugged, wincing. “Perhaps we are both damned. We probably are. But I have to try.”

Belgrade, November 15, 1516:

They were watching him. They were always watching him. The most familiar was Andrew the Warrior King, the supposed namesake of his father. The hand-held portrait, an expected accompaniment of all Hungarian generals on campaign, stared at him. The looks were relatively easy to ignore. Not so the whispers.

Not worthy.

That was what the whispers said, over and over, and they could not be ignored. The Arpad dynasty had existed since the birth of the Magyar kingdom itself. Not any more.

Yes, it does!

Prove it.

Stephen sighed. He was just as much an Arpad as a Komnenos. Not really. He was Arpad, but by his mother, and she from a cadet branch. The imperial branch had died out, slain by an embittered Russian princess torn from her lover’s side.

Revenge. That was why he moved so fast. To conquer the city that Kristina of Novgorod had desired so much, and to wipe out the legacy of her lover. I am Stephen, of House Arpad. I will restore its honor and its pride. And forever blot out the shame at being usurped by House Komnenos.

Prove it.

And maybe then the whispers would stop.

Xanthi, November 26, 1516:

Herakleios sighed, settling in his chair. The warmth thrown off by the roaring fire felt good, although he was still clad in his furs. This is the first time I’ve felt warm since I left Venera. The march here had been bitterly cold and he had eaten at most every third day. So thankfully his bowels were mostly still, although even now he could feel a dull, constant ache.

He wasn’t sure what to expect from this meeting. Leo had raced east from his base at Edessa, and Herakleios had heard that supposedly his half-brother wasn’t in command, that the real leader was Emperor Andreas, returned from the grave. Probably some old man dressed up to gather support from idiots. Although that would be unusually clever for Leo. Perhaps Stefanos Doukas?

Herakleios glanced over at Petros Doukas, Stefanos’ younger brother and senior tourmarch of the Thracian tagma. He was just one of the forty men in the room, Herakleios’ strategoi and senior tourmarches, along with his new Megas Domestikos, Demetrios of Kyzikos, son of Manuel of Kyzikos and her Serene Highness Alexeia Komnena, the slayer of Galdan of Merv and Emperor Andreas’ half-sister.


Demetrios of Kyzikos. According to Andreas Komnenos, "once he fixes his line, not even Genghis Khan could move him." His popularity amongst the eastern Anatolian tagmata helps boost Herakleios' position in the army, and his skill at defense makes him a perfect counter to Leo's ferocious frontal attacks.

He could feel his eyes drooping, so he jabbed the tip of his sheathed dagger into his inner thigh to try and wake himself. He was tired, so tired. But he couldn’t sleep now; there was too much to do. Even with Demetrios helping him, he had to stay with the army to ensure their loyalty. These were European and west Anatolian tagmata; Demetrios was from the east.

First I have to deal with Leo. If it was a choice between Herakleios and the Hungarians, the tagmata would choose Herakleios. There was no doubt of that; the cavalry contingents Herakleios had dispatched north to slow Stephen were openly cooperating with Leo’s same soldiers against the Magyars, temporarily shelving the civil war until the barbarians were dealt with. Unfortunately though he could not do the same with Leo’s main force. I have to break him first, keep him away from Venera. Then I can go home…if I’m not dead yet.

It had been four days since his last meal, and he still wasn’t hungry. His physician said that he could last at most a month under his current conditions, if that. If he increased his firewood ration though, so he could have a steady supply of hot soup and warmth, the archiatros said he could last three, more than enough to deal with Leo. But if I do, I may lose the army. I must be a son of Andreas, even if it kills me.

Venera’s words flashed through his mind. “I have a whole man, for a husband and an Emperor.” This will kill me, but so be it. So long as she lives, then this will have been worth it, all this struggle and pain. That was why he had fought for the throne, that was the reason for his ambition. If he could, he would have loved nothing more than to retreat to the library, just as Theodoros did with his parks. But he couldn’t, not if he cared for Venera. As Emperor, he could keep her safe. If he wasn’t and a succession crisis wracked the Empire, she would be at the top of the list of rivals to be eliminated, particularly if Leo was the usurper.

The guards pushed the door open, nodding at Herakleios. They seems agitated. It was time. He didn’t want to move, but he had to. For her, he thought and stood.

Then he gasped. “Father?”

“Hello, son,” Andreas Komnenos said. He had been the first to enter, leaning heavily on Andreas Angelos. If it weren’t for him, he probably couldn’t walk. His father had lost weight, a lot of it, along with most of his hair. His wrinkles had grown deeper and more numerous. If one didn’t know Andreas well, they might think this was a different person. But one did not forget the eyes of Andreas Komnenos, and these were the same. The body may be broken, but the will, the iron will that had broken Venice, the Last Crusade, the Mamelukes, was still there. “Please sit. And could somebody get me a chair?”

The question was a whisper, but every man save Andreas Angelos, Herakleios, and Leo, who was off in the corner, rushed to obey. I will never have that. A moment later both Andreas and Herakleios were seated. “You are all soldiers,” Andreas said. “You know the feeling, that of a blade just out of sight, waiting to strike.” Men were nodding. “I have had that feeling for quite some time. That is why I faked my death, in the hope that my enemies would reveal themselves. They have, and they are the Hungarians.”

Herakleios opened his mouth. What about Leo? He closed it when his father’s gaze fell on him, and then on Leo. “We are all Romans. We do not serve a man, we serve the Empire.” He tugged on Angelos’ sleeve, who helped him up. Herakleios stood. “So let all those who would serve the Empire follow me.”

Herakleios knelt down on one knee. “What would you have me do, your majesty?”

Andreas looked at him. “Rise.” Herakleios did, and Andreas embraced him, Angelos supporting his back. Andreas Komnenos stepped back. “I would have you go home, love your wife, raise your children, rule justly, and give the Empire peace. As for me, I shall lead the army against Stefan.” A murmur of surprise swept through the room. “But first…I should have done this a long time ago.”

Andreas drew his sword. The blade sung, the steel shimmering in the air, almost as if it were alive. It was David, the sword he had always carried to war since Venice. None could fail to see the change. Before Andreas’ arms had shaken, but now with the blade, they were firm, strong, as if they were a part of each other, the sword and Andreas. “Your mother gave me this as a late wedding present. I have taken it on every campaign since. But all things must come to an end. David is yours, your majesty.” He handed the blade to Herakleios.

Herakleios held it, his eyes widening. It was one of the very last things Andreas had of Kristina. He did not think Andreas would have ever given it up. There was a tear in his father’s eye, and Herakleios knew that this was one of the hardest things Andreas had ever done.

Andreas whispered something in Angelos’ ear. Angelos’ eye widened, looking over at Herakleios and then back at Andreas. Andreas nodded. And then Andreas Komnenos “the Undefeated” did something he had never done before.

He knelt.

Central Serbia, December 17, 1516:

Andreas Drakos was cold. The icy wind from the north was certainly not helpful. At least it’s stopped snowing for now.

His best friend Giorgios Laskaris scratched furiously at his face. “Ugh, my snot has frozen.”

“Save it for later,” Andreas Angelos said, riding next to his father just behind them. Both Andreas Drakos and Giorgios were eikosarchoi, members of the Emperor’s Guard.


Giorgios Laskaris (left) and Andreas Drakos (right).

“Why?” Giorgios asked.

“Because then you can use it to thicken your soup.”

Giorgios shuddered as Drakos smirked. “You cannot be serious!”

“Yes, I can,” Angelos replied. “I just choose not to be.”

“Just ignore him, Giorgios,” Drakos said. He was right though, it was bloody cold.

The Hungarians had kept coming, even though they had to have heard the news about Andreas’ return. Maybe they don’t believe it. That must be the reason. Now the Romans and Hungarians were dancing around each other, snipping and snarling, Stefan trying to force an engagement, but never quite succeeding. He had forty thousand men.

The Roman army numbered thirty two thousand; although Andreas had more available, the logistics in this winter would’ve made supplying more extremely difficult. Even at the current numbers, supplies were scarce, with a cup of kaffos per man per week, and the personal firewood ration meant only one hot meal a day. The Emperor, as usual, had refused to grant himself more.

It was clear that the cold was very hard on the Emperor. He was covered in so many furs that he looked almost like a furry ball. Drakos had tried to sneak a few logs of his own ration into the Emperor’s a few days ago, but Andreas had caught him. The Emperor returned the logs, and then gave his own firewood as well to Drakos.

Andreas sighed atop his mount, and toppled over. “Father!” Angelos yelled, jumping off his horse and catching the Emperor before he hit the ground. Snow crunched as both Giorgios and Drakos leapt from their mount. “He’s freezing,” Angelos said.

“Cold, so cold,” Drakos could hear the Emperor moan.

Angelos was clutching his father, trying to warm his body with his own. “Get the tents up! Get a fire going! And where’s the archiatros?!”

“We’re still four hours from sunset!” A man shouted.

“We camp here!” Angelos shouted. And then to his father, he whispered, “Live, damn it. Live.”

* * *

Andreas Drakos entered the Emperor’s tent along with Giorgios Laskaris, relieving the other two guards. The Emperor was awake, although still pale, covered in blankets and seated next to a fire. That should be larger, much larger. It was little more than a campfire, and it was clear that only one man’s ration of firewood had gone into making it. Andreas’.

“Your Majesty, if you keep this up, you will not live much longer. You must have more hot food to keep you warm,” his archiatros, Andronikos Lukaris, said. “And more wood, so you can have a bigger fire and to heat the hot water bottles to keep you warm.”

“I cannot squeeze anymore out off my ration,” Andreas said.

“Then increase your ration.”

“No. I will not take from my men.”

“Perhaps we should find you a pretty maiden to keep you warm at nights. I can ask around the villages,” Angelos said. Drakos was pretty sure Angelos was, in fact, being serious, but he wasn’t sure.

Andreas smiled. “I like that idea. But no, another mouth to feed.”

“Uncle,” Demetrios of Kyzikos said. “This weather is not good for you. Return to Constantinople. Let us deal with the Hungarians.”

“No,” Andreas repeated. “I will not leave my men in the field while I sit in the White Palace.”

“Then at least let us attack the Hungarians. We can take them. Let’s end this campaign quickly, so there is no need to be in the field.”

“No. We are having supply difficulties, but the Hungarians have it worse. Let them starve some more before we give battle.”

“We are losing men from frostbite,” Angelos pointed out.

“And for every man we lose, the Hungarians lose four. For every week we delay the battle, four hundred Romans that would die in that battle live instead.”

“If we delay three weeks, you will not be one of those living!” Andronikos blurted.

Andreas fixed the archiatros with his stare. His body may be failing, but the will endured. “So be it.”

* * *

Andreas Drakos entered the tent. “The Emperor has refused our offer of firewood rations,” a Opsician tourmarch said. There were over sixty officers clustered in the tent, a small fire crackling in the center, but in the corners every breath could be seen. Giorgios and himself were the two lowest rankers, but they were both members of the Imperial bodyguard, reserved for the finest graduates of the School of War. And Andreas had his family name, Drakos, the House of the Dragon, his great-grandfather.

“He’s going to get himself killed!” a Macedonian droungarios shouted.

“He refuses to take from the general reserve,” Stefanos Doukas said. The Emperor Andreas had taken him along to keep an eye on him, and the strategos was an excellent battlefield commander.

“The fact of the matter is that if the campaign continues, Emperor Andreas will die,” Petros Doukas continued. “For real this time. Which means that this campaign must end, soon.”

“And how do you propose to do that? Surrender?” a Thracian tourmarch jeered.

“No, I say we attack,” Demetrios of Kyzikos said.

“Against orders?” the tourmarch asked. “The Hungarians are growing weaker. The longer the campaign lasts, the easier finishing them off will be.” There was a rumble of assent.

“The longer we delay, the greater the likelihood the Emperor will not live to see it.”

“It is his choice.”

“He is willing to die for you!” Andreas Drakos blurted. All eyes fixed on him, and he realized that he now had the attention of a lot of officers, all of whom outranked him, one of them the Megas Domestikos and Emperor’s nephew. He gulped, and then began to speak. “He is willing to die for you, for all of us. He has every right to be in Constantinople right now, with his wife and family, warm and safe. But he isn’t. He is here, freezing his ass off in Serbia like all of us. He doesn’t have to, but he is.

“He has never asked anything from us that he wouldn’t ask of himself. For fifty years he has starved, and froze, and bled with us and for us. And this is how we repay him?” Some of the men hung their heads in shame. “No, I say we smash these Magyar bastards to powder, and give the Emperor what he has always tried to give us, a chance to die in bed, old and full of years, surrounded by his loved ones.” His eyes were fixed on the Thracian tourmarch. For a moment, there was silence, and then he nodded.

“Then it is decided,” Demetrios said. “We attack.”

The White Palace, Constantinople, December 14, 1516:

Nikephoros settled under the sheets, the light of the fire flickering off the ceiling. Herakleios had returned. Minor setback, but nothing I cannot handle. Plan Beta is slower, but no less sure.

There was the hope that plan beta might not even be necessary, but Nikephoros was not so stupid to not prepare for it anyway. Still…

Herakleios had returned to the White Palace with as little fanfare as possible, only coming out of his litter to meet Venera privately. Nikephoros had been watching, of course.

His uncle looked horrible. His skin had been incredibly pale, the gray in his hair must have doubled in size, and it was clear he was too weak to mount a horse. Venera in her excitement at seeing him alive had nearly knocked him over. Fortunately for him, his wife had little trouble catching him before he fell, for in the last six weeks Herakleios must have lost at least twenty pounds. Herakleios was a tall man, five feet, nine inches, but coming out of that litter Nikephoros would’ve been surprised if he weighed more than a hundred and fifteen pounds. A lot of that he would regain come spring, but not all. And his uncle could expect to lose more before this winter was out.

So maybe he’ll die without me having to do a thing. Nah, not likely. Too convenient. The covers shifted. I’ll have to work for the throne. Natasha slid next to him, her large breasts just under his chin. “Is it done?” Nikephoros asked.

Her hand reached down as she smiled. “Yes.” Her latest mission had been the assassination of the eleven-year-old son of a wealthy grain merchant. The boy had done nothing to Nikephoros, but his father, who was one of the largest traders in the Scythian cereal market (and thus indispensable for maintaining Constantinople’s grain reserves), had required more money to stay bought. Nikephoros did not like to renegotiate, and he made a habit of securing clients with children. Parents were more vulnerable to threats.

Nikephoros arched his back as Natasha’s hand found its target. “Oh, oh.” She let up and Nikephoros grinned. She’s her best just after a kill.

Nantes, Brittany, December 22, 1516:

“Sebastien! Sebastien!” the men shouted, crashing their spears against their shields. The man they cheered raised his forty pound mace one-handed and roared. Sebastien leered at the Arletian-Castilian army. He was known as the Goliath of Brittany, standing eight feet, eight inches tall.

“So where is your champion?!” he roared. “Or is he afraid to face me?” The Arletians didn’t answer. “Then he is a wise one. No one can stand against me!”

Still silent, the Arletians opened their ranks, and Sebastien saw their ‘champion’. He spat. “This, this is your hero?! This is the best you have? A boy? Why, he stopped sucking his mother’s teats just a few weeks ago.” The Bretons jeered. The boy ignored them, throwing off his fur cloak to free his arms. Sebastien did the same, although his garment must have weighed more than the ‘man’ in front of him.

“So what is your name, boy? Tell me, so when I screw your mother I can tell her how I killed you.”

The boy snarled at him, and answered.


"My name is Basileios, son of Leo, grandson of Emperor Andreas, the Shatterer of Armies, and I am the last thing that you will ever see on this earth."

* * *

The steady trend of the Roman maneuvers have been to cut off Stephen from his lines of supply with Hungary. Originally the Hungarian Emperor had intended to supply his troops via river barges down the Danube, but the winter has turned so bitterly cold that even the mighty Danube itself has frozen.

The cold takes a terrible toll on Emperor Andreas. On December 19, he cannot mount a horse even with help. Finally at Andreas Angelos’ suggestion, he agrees to ride in a litter where at least he will be out of the wind, but only when his son orders a guardsman to attend Andreas in the litter at all times to keep him warm. Getting out of the elements helps, but is counterbalanced by Andreas’ actions on December 21, when he orders his wood ration distributed to the guardsmen, on the grounds that with the litter he no longer needs them.

Two days later Andronikos Lukaris tells Andreas Angelos, Leo Komnenos, and Demetrios of Kyzikos that the Emperor will likely not live to see next month, and that if there is any chance of him dying in Constantinople, the campaign must end now. They cannot wait any longer.

So on Christmas day, advance tourmai of the Opsician and Epirote tagmata engage the Hungarian vanguard. The battlefield is near the Serbian village of Golubac, but it is not the village that gives the battle its name. That honor instead is instead given to a range of gorges that begin just downstream on the frozen Danube.


The Iron Gates in summer.
The initial attack is poorly coordinated due to the lack of a clear chain of command, and soon thrown back in disarray when the Hungarian reserves are committed. But before the Hungarian counterattack strikes, Andreas is up. In fact, he is up before news arrives that the battle has begun.

The Hungarians are not much slower. Hard on the heels of the retreating Opsicians and Epirotes come the Magyars. Their morale is extremely good. Although Stephen and the Hungarian officers have ridiculed the notion of Andreas’ return, the rumors had nevertheless discouraged the men. The poor performance of the initial attack though makes for a very potent argument that ‘the Shatterer of Armies’ is not present.

So the Hungarians come, their blood up and their spirits high, and then they run into something hard. Demetrios of Kyzikos only has time to bring up the initial reserve, six hundred men, but for thirty minutes they hold off nine thousand Magyars. They lose half of their number, but they hold. By that point the Opsicians and Epirotes are back into action, with the Roman battle line secure, cavalry charges and horse archers flying forward to harry the Magyar lines, and the Varangoi curling round the Hungarian flank.

For it is as if the Andreas of old is back. No longer a broken old man, he is everywhere on the battlefield atop his warhorse, pulling out the fatigued and committing reserves to replace them, orchestrating charges and volleys to distract and harass the Hungarians. Leo’s initial attempt to take the flank is thwarted by the hard-bitten men of the Black Army of Hungary, who crack but do not break under the ferocious onslaught. But even so light cavalry and skirmishers advance to cover the withdrawal immediately, bleeding the Black Army and pinning them in place.

The Romans are not the only ones to note the difference. The Hungarians can see that the coordination of the Roman army is now pristine, the blows fierce and perfectly timed and supported. Men report seeing an old man on a horse, and so the Hungarians begin to wonder ‘Has the Scourge of the Latins return?’ Their line begins to waver.

But it is not the only thing. For though the will against which a continent contended in vain may still be strong, the flesh is not. After all that has happened, the body of Andreas Komnenos cannot take the strain. As Stephen commits his reserve in an all-out offensive, it breaks.

* * *

The Iron Gates, December 25, 1516:

“Steady, steady.” Andreas Drakos said, both to reassure the men near him, and himself. A volley of gunfire snapped out at the incoming Hungarian vanguard, a flight of arrows streaking out above them. Crossbows and arquebuses vomited back. He squinted. Croat axemen in the front. Good infantry, there’ll be knights coming up next to exploit the gaps.

Booms echoed across the valley, a series of immense whistles shrieking above his head. “Incoming rounds!” someone bellowed as the Hungarian artillery plastered their position. Men and horses went down screaming.

As Andreas jumped off his mount, he heard, he saw, the bullet slam into Giorgios’ plate cuirass. His friend toppled over into the snow. Andreas scurried over as the Croat axes began to hack at the spears of the skutatoi. “Giorgios, Giorgios!” he screamed. Not like this, not like this.

They’d known each other since they were thirteen, when they become roommates at the School of War. Now three years, on their very first campaign, to end like this. “Ow,” Giorgios moaned. “I feel like I’ve been kicked by a mule.”

“Are you, are you, alright?”

Giorgios whipped out his kyzikos and fired, the bullet blowing off half the head of a blood-drenched Croat. That was the end of the attack, which apparently had not been pressed. “Uh, I’m fine. Help me up.” Andreas did, Giorgios wincing in pain. “Armor deflected it. God, that hurts.” He looked at Andreas. “You look terrible.”

He started to reply when a man screamed. “THE EMPEROR’S DOWN!” The Emperor was now on the ground, cradled in Andreas Angelos’ arms. He was shouting for the archiatros, who was racing across the field, leaping over a man on a stretcher, bag in hand. Drakos and Giorgios skidded to a halt next to Angelos. The Emperor was breathing, just barely.

There’s no blood. It wasn’t an arrow or bullet that felled him. The news was spreading up and down the line. He could hear the whispers of consternation, and beyond the Hungarians readying for a more serious assault. This was a crucial moment. “Sorcery, it has to be sorcery.”

Angelos looked at him. “Yes, sorcery. That will solve two problems in one.” He wasn’t sure what the son of Andreas meant by that. Angelos looked up at the crowd of men staring anxiously at the body of their sovereign. Andronikos Lukaris bent over, taking his pulse. Angelos stood, Andronikos taking the body, and he began to speak. “The Emperor has fallen. The Hungarians could not take him in battle, so they have resorted to the black arts. This is the work of sorcery!” Murmurs swept the men, murmurs of anger. “Spread the word! This is what kind of men the Magyars are! Spread the word, and tell them, tell them no mercy for the Magyar dogs!”

* * *

The news of Andreas’ collapse spreads rapidly, and how. Fear quickly fades, to be replaced by anger. The Hungarian attack barely gets any momentum, dissolving into savage hand-to-hand combat with no quarter asked or given. Meanwhile horse archers and mauroi swirl around the periphery, pouring arrows and bullets into the fray. Some of the newer companies, desperate to get away from the maelstrom, start falling back. The resulting gaps are immediately exploited by crack Varangian brazoi who wade in with handgun and axe alongside dismounted kataphraktoi.

Hell then crashes into the Hungarian right flank. It is Leo. Never a calm man, his earlier explosions are like candles compared to the supernova that now erupts. His cavalry charge meets a squadron of Hungarian knights head-on, and flattens them. Leo’s first blow, clearly seen by both armies, decapitates the head of a huge fourteen-hand destrier in one stroke.

Then it is again the turn of the Black Army. The professional mercenaries kill the prince’s mount, only to have Leo single-handedly cut a path through them on foot. According to one account, Leo is shot at point-blank range in the chest. He then proceeds to beat the arquebusier to death with his own weapon.

When the reserves are committed, it is too much, and the Black Army begins to break, fleeing towards the frozen Danube. Leo ignores them, grabbing a riderless horse and chasing after his original target, Emperor Stephen.

* * *

Three Magyars were coming at him. Leo snarled, slamming his horse to the left at the last second as he plunged his lance through a chink in the armor protecting the neck of the horse. The animal collapsed as he dropped his broken lance, Leo braining the rider with his mace as he swept past. The other two swirled around, chasing after him.

Leo was racing ahead, where the great silken banners of the false emperor were flying. Time to pay, bastard. “NO MERCY!” There would be two emperors dying on this battlefield.

He was alone. What was left of his cavalry was regrouping or pursuing the Hungarian army, which was beginning to fold, flying to the Danube. At least a dozen crossbow bolts were embedded in his armor, and the rest was covered in dents from mace blows and glancing bullet strikes. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered now, not the battle, not his life, nothing at all. Nothing except the kill.

Another Magyar fell, then a second, a third. He lost his first mace. Out came a throwing axe, shattering the face of a fourth Hungarian. The snap of bone, the scream of man, as Leo’s second mace found a ribcage. Blows were falling on him; he could feel them strike, but he felt no pain, even as a crossbow bolt mangled his left shoulder. My right is my sword arm anyway.

And then there he was, Stephen himself. The first blow splintered the false emperor’s shield; the second disintegrated it. Leo raised his arm for a third, and then his horse screamed. The animal toppled, a bullet in its brains. Both of Leo’s legs snapped.

He blinked, staring up at the sky, flat on his back. Struggling to rise, his right hand reached for a dirk. A shadow fell over him. “You’re dead, Greek,” the Magyar sneered.

Leo shot up, the dagger stabbing upward under the cuirass into the man’s bowels. He twisted. “So are you,” he growled. He never saw the blow that took off his head.

* * *

Although Leo fails in his quest to kill the Hungarian Emperor, the Hungarian army is collapsing. With the Black Army itself routing, there is nothing Stephen can do to stop it. Most of the fugitives choose the quickest apparent route to safety, across the Danube. And then the Roman artillery finally roars into action.

Not a single Magyar soldier is killed or wounded by that volley. Then the ice breaks. The heavily armored Magyar cavalry suffer the most, but even for the more lightly-clad infantry who escape drowning, the shock of the freezing cold water or the resulting frostbite and hypothermia in many cases prove fatal.

The Battle of the Iron Gates is, regarding the percentage of participants, one of the bloodiest in Roman history. Out of thirty two thousand Romans, over seven thousand are casualties. But for the Hungarians the situation is far worse. Out of their forty thousand, only twenty five thousand return to Hungary (over half of the lost drown in the Danube). To this day the Iron Gates are known in Hungary as the Graveyard.

Although Stephen escapes, albeit with a shield arm broken in five places, Hungary is effectively out of the war. The day before, the Venetian fleet sacked Zadar, and Leo had already drafted orders for the Apulian tagma to cross the Adriatic and besiege Ragusa. They had not been issued, but all they require is Andreas’ seal.

That however could be a problem. Andreas was not felled by sorcery, but by a massive stroke. His left side is paralyzed, and although he wakes shortly after the battle, he soon slips back into unconsciousness. While the army goes into winter quarters watching the Danube (after replacing several Serbian princes), Andreas is rushed back to Constantinople.

During the journey the Emperor slips in and out of consciousness, and is clearly delirious. He talks with individuals from Vlad Dracula to Pope Julius II (the latter is more yelling than talking). It is surprising that he even makes it back to the Queen of Cities. On examination, it is the learned opinion of the School of Medicine of the University of Constantinople that Andreas Komnenos will at most live three more days.

For ten weeks Andreas holds the dread foe at bay, and it seems that not even death himself can conquer Andreas Komnenos. But eventually even he must yield.

The White Palace, Constantinople, March 7, 1517:

“Father?” Eudoxia whispered, stroking his hand. “Father?” Andreas Komnenos moaned softly under the pile of blankets covering him, but he did not answer. For Andreas Komnenos dreamed.

“Ow!” he yelped, dropping his wooden sword. Andreas looked down on the red spot covering most of his eight-year-old hand where Manuel had whacked it. That would leave a bruise.

Manuel of Kyzikos lowered his own practice sword. “I think that’s enough for today.”

Andreas was about to nod, but instead he opened his mouth. “No.” He picked up his weapon and pointed it at Manuel. “No,” he commanded. “Continue.”

Why this memory?

Again there was a blade in Manuel’s hand. But this was not wooden, but steel, and it flashed, it sung. Blood flew as Venetian after Venetian fell from those strikes, but still they kept coming, too many. One got through.

He came at him and Zoe, screaming, his sword raised high as a cursing Manuel ripped his weapon out of a ribcage. Then Andreas moved, shoving his dirk into the Venetian’s belly. He stopped, his hot blood flowing, sticking, to Andreas’ trembling hands, the air ripe with the stench of loosened bowels, his fading eyes locking onto Andreas’, his killer’s, face as if it were an anchor holding him to life.

Why this memory?

Crusader cannonballs screamed down all around him. Wagons shattered, guns burst, and men died. The lethal rain continued, but he remained atop his horse, watching, waiting.

A crouching skutatos came to him. “Basileus, please come down. We cannot spare you.”

Andreas looked out as another ten bursts of flame leapt out from the crusader lines, and down at the soldier. “There are times when an emperor’s life does not count.”

Why this memory?

The memories came, sixty years of memories, memories of war. Smyrna, Constantinople, Sicily, Apulia, Venice, Cannae, Rome, Edessa, Mesopotamia, Mount Tabor, Cairo, Bizerte, the Iron Gates. So much war, so much death, so much loss. The faces of the lost floated before him, his mother, his father, Manuel, Alexeia, Kristina, Alfredo, Andronikos, Zoe, Zeno. Again Smyrna.

This time there was only one word.


He remembered his sister Zoe screaming in the night. He remembered holding her desperately, trying to calm her down, telling her she was safe. And he remembered screaming in the night, and Zoe holding him desperately, trying to calm him down, telling him he was safe.


He remembered the courtyard in Smyrna. The look on the man’s eyes as he rutted inside Zoe, the stench of the sergeant’s breath, the blood on his mother’s dress.


Andreas Komnenos dreamed.

He saw himself reading a book in the library, a boy on the cusp of manhood. It was him, but not. He seemed different somehow, softer. A woman came into the room. She kissed the boy-that-was-not-quite-him on the cheek, took his hand, and led him away.

He saw children. Some looked like his own. Some did not. They laughed and played, with the man-that-was-not-quite-him and the unknown woman.

He saw the man-that-was-not-quite-him grow old and full of years. This man looked a lot more like him, but Andreas could see the difference between himself and this man. It was the hands; his hands had never held a sword. And then the man-that-was-not-quite-him died, the unknown woman at his side and his children, all of his children, surrounding him.

Tears clouded Andreas’ eyes. Why? Why couldn’t that have been me instead?

He smelled the answer before he saw it. It was a smell he knew all too well, that of fire.

Constantinople was burning. The Queen of Cities was screaming as the flames clawed at her, dancing their macabre dance of death. They lapped around the Aghia Sophia, darting up her walls, rising higher, higher, ever higher, until they towered over the dome itself. NO! The cupola collapsed, a rain of stones falling down as the flames danced ever higher, fanned by the breeze. He could hear words on the breeze. He could not make them out, but he knew the tongues, the tongues of those he had vanquished. They were many, they were vast and diverse, but here they were one. They were cheering.

He was in a blacksmith’s forge. The man beat on a red-hot blade, striking it with his hammer over and over. Andreas started. That’s my sword! It was not his famous bastard sword, his wedding gift from Kristina, adorned with gold and jewels. No, this blade was as plain as any sword could be, a common dirk. Andreas had taken it from a slain Roman soldier in Smyrna, on the Black Day.

A plain sword, an ordinary sword. He saw a little boy, held in his mother’s arm, sniffling as his father departed for a war. A plain boy, an ordinary boy. Me.

The blacksmith kept pounding on the dirk, and it changed. It grew, snaking outward, its contours shifting as the blows fell on it. It was David, his gleaming bastard sword. The blacksmith stopped, looked up at Andreas, and nodded.

Andreas did not even have to pick it up; David flew into his hand. He could smell the fires again, so he turned around and raised the sword. The wind was still blowing, and Andreas could hear the tongues on the breeze, still one. They were screaming.

“Now you know why.” Andreas spun around. The sword was gone, but he did not need it. The speaker was Nazim of Smyrna. But that was to be expected; they were in his house.

Andreas Komnenos remembered.

It was a cool, brisk day, near the outskirts of Drama. His eldest sister Anastasia sat atop her horse glaring at him. At her side were Petros and Alexios Palaiologos. The next few minutes could plunge the Empire into civil war.

Better that only one should die, rather than thousands. The boy Andreas took the diadem in his small hands and held it out to Anastasia. “Take it,” he said. “It’s yours.”

“You gave up the crown,” Nazim said. “Why?”

“It was the only way to avoid civil war.”

“You were willing to die for the Empire. Instead you were required to live for it. A far more burdensome task, I will admit, but also far more noble.” He looked at Andreas. “You disagree?”

“I feel that I could’ve done more, done better.”

Nazim nodded. “Yes. You could have. But you could have done far worse.” Constantinople burned. “In the end, you did the best you could. No one can ask for more. But now it is time to rest.” He stood up, opening the door. “Come.”

Andreas rose. He felt different somehow, lighter. The pain from his old, worn body was falling off of him like a tattered coat as he walked out.

He had been here before, a thousand, ten thousand times. It was the courtyard in Smyrna. The Venetians were raping his mother and sister. He walked, looking at the scene he had seen so many times. He felt different though. There was no anger, no rage, simply sadness, regret. He kept walking, Nazim alongside him.

The gate to the garden opened. Andreas paused, uncertain for a second, and looked back. The Venetians were still at it.

A cool hand touched his forearm, and Andreas looked to see the warm, kind face of his mother. There were tears in her eyes. “Welcome home, son.” The gate closed behind them, and together they went into the garden, not looking back, never looking back. But it would not have mattered, for there was nothing to see.

The courtyard was empty.

The demons of Andreas Komnenos were finally at rest.

From Empire of Blood and Gold: A History of the Second Komnenid Dynasty

Even after death, Andreas I was extraordinary. He was not buried in a grand tomb amongst the Emperors of old, or even in the environs of the White Palace. Instead he was buried, per his orders, in a more run-down district of Constantinople, in a common graveyard. But that graveyard was for those who had died in the siege of Constantinople in 1455-56. So it was with those with whom Andreas had first fought and bled that he chose to rest for all eternity. His mausoleum is still there.

He is one of the most contentious Roman Emperors, as can be reflected by the multitude of epithets he possesses. The original was the Little Megas, but he was also known as “the Vanquisher of all Rhomania’s Foes”, “the Scourge of the Latins”, “the Undefeated”, and most popular in his final days, “the Shatterer of Armies”.

It is unsurprising that modern historiography has often continued the trend to emphasize Andreas’ military exploits. For the most part, the contemporary terms have remained in use although varying in popularity. However by most historians he is known as Andreas Niketas, Andreas Victor.

Of course, when one turns away from Andreas the strategos, the names vary considerably. To the Lotharingian school, he is Andreas the Mad, a barely sane ruler kept only in check by those of his brilliant advisors, of whom pride of place goes to Alexeia Komnena. The Lombard school continues this trend, and it is altogether ironic, considering the actions of his progeny, that it emphasizes the contribution of Alfredo di Lecce. Professor Silvio Berlusconi even goes so far as to credit Strategos Alfredo with planning the Venetian, Cannae, and Egyptian campaigns.

In feminist literature, on the other hand, Andreas is known as Andreas the Wise. Some schools of thought in this field view Andreas as a sort of male proto-visionary for the rights of women. That is due to the importance he placed on women in his administration, namely his wife Kristina, his sisters Alexeia and Zoe, and his daughter Eudoxia, and his consistent anti-rape efforts throughout his entire reign.

The truth likely contains bits of all the names. No epithet can fully encompass a man, much less a man like Andreas Komnenos.

One of his most famous, arguably the most famous, of his exploits is his supposed return from the grave and the Iron Gates campaign. But for all the drama of that act, one thing is clear. Andreas Komnenos failed.

It is true that his return derailed the first round of the Time of Troubles. In all, five thousand casualties were inflicted what could have been a far more serious war. And while it ended the threat Leo posed and ensured the Hungarians would never have the strength to intervene later, it did not avert the coming disaster.

Even the brief winter campaign crippled Herakleios’ already poor health, to the point that most scholars agree that during his reign, it was Empress Venera who in fact ruled the Empire. But more importantly, neither Leo or the Hungarians were the hidden enemy Andreas had tried to lure into the open by his fake demise. The architects of the Time of Troubles still remained, delayed, but not defeated.

But Andreas also did not fail. It is true that the man Andreas by his actions and inactions helped cause the Time of Troubles. But it is equally true that the legend of Andreas would be crucial to seeing the Empire through to the other side.

There is one name of Andreas that has remained constant throughout the centuries, immune to the vicissitudes of scholars and historians. It is the name given to him by the Roman people themselves. To them, Andreas was their Emperor, a man who walked among them, fought beside them, bled for them, shared their pain and sorrow. They remembered an Emperor who had offered to give up his crown, his life, to spare them civil war, an Emperor who would charge into battle and sacrifice himself so that their sons might live, an Emperor who would stand in the freezing rain to see that even the lowliest crone could get justice.

The Roman people remember that, and so their name for Andreas has remained constant. To this day, they do not call him by name. Instead they simply call him “The Good Emperor."
Last edited:
The Time of Troubles

Part 13.1, 1537-1543

The White Palace, June 15, 1537:

Alexeia closed her eyes, listening to the slow, sad call of the notes. Long, slow, sad. She opened them again, glaring at Andronikos. “Can’t you play something happy?”

Her lover was sitting with his legs crossed on the opposite side of the carpet laid down in the meadow. Above them an awning shaded them from the midday sun, whilst Andreas Drakos and Giorgios Laskaris stood next to their tethered horses a short ways away. Next to Alexeia’ thigh was their picnic basket.

“Sure,” he said. He plunked a string with a long ‘twang’, puckered his mouth and sang. “Oooooo, I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts, diddely-di, there they are standing in a row, big ones, small ones, some as big as your-ow!”

Alexeia giggled, throwing another grape at Andronikos. He dove to the side, so this one didn’t hit him squarely in the forehead like the first one. “Ack, art critic, art critic!”

“Oh, don’t be such a baby,” Alexeia teased, nibbling on a third grape. As he got up, she finished that piece of fruit and picked up another. Donk! It hit Andronikos squarely on the nose.

And exploded. Andronikos’ head disappeared into a ball of flame, and then his body toppled over, his blackened, charred head falling into her lap. She shrieked, pushing the corpse away, pieces of seared flesh coming off onto her skin, and she ran.

She ran, the segments of Andronikos’ hot flesh falling off her fingers. She did not know how far she ran, or where, only that she tripped over a log and fell face first into mud.

“Are you a bunch of old women?” She heard a voice call, that of a girl. Alexeia picked herself up and gasped. She was atop a hill staring down at a river. She saw herself, thirteen years of age, clad in riding gear, wet from her budding breasts down, tying the reins of her horse to a tree. Her younger self was the one who had spoken, and she was calling out to Alexios and Zviad, who were on the opposite bank. They looked so young, so innocent.

So alive.

The two muttered to each other and then started across, dismounting and leading their horses. “Who are you calling an old woman?” Alexios shouted at her younger self about halfway across.

“You, you stupid old woman!” Young Alexeia shouted back, sticking her tongue out at her twin brother.

Alexios got out, tying up his horse along the bank and hopped back into the river. Zviad’s mount was acting a bit fidgety. “I’m going to get you for that,” he said to his sister.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” young Alexeia taunted.

“Right…now!” Alexios shouted, splashing Alexeia with a great clap of water.

“Why…why…youuuu,” young Alexeia glowered, her locks dripping as Alexios and Zviad laughed. She hopped back into the river. “Take this!” Splash! “And this!” Splash! “And this!” Splash!

Alexios and Zviad staggered at the third splash, great, bleeding wounds blossoming on their bodies like sick flowers. “NO!” Alexeia, the woman, not the girl, screamed.

Now she was in the river, alone, save for the bodies, drifting down the river toward her, the corpses of her family. A vulture cawed, stabbing its beak into her mother’s left eye. “No, get away!” she shouted at the bird. It flapped up a bit, landed on her father’s body, and skewered his right eye. ‘Caw.’

The river was red now. The river was blood now. “No,” she whispered. “Please, make it stop.” Thunder rolled over, and clouds let forth their rain. Alexeia closed her eyes, lifting her head skyward, hoping, praying, that the cool raindrops would wash away the blood. But they didn’t. The drops were hot, sticky. She opened her eyes; the rain was red, the rain was blood. Everything was blood.

Blood was everywhere, soaking into her clothes, seeping into her skin. She was coated in it, smothered in it, drowning in it. It saturated her hair, dripping down her forehead, pooling in her ears, rolling off her eyelids. She screamed, and the tide of blood rushed into and over her.

* * *
In less than two seconds after the scream began, Andreas Drakos and Giorgios Laskaris burst into the Empress’ bedchamber, swords drawn. The Empress was in her bed, her eyes closed, screaming madly, flailing wildly. She was tearing her blankets to shreds with frantic strength, clawing at herself. “MAKE IT STOP! MAKE IT STOP!” Her right hand flashed out, grabbing a letter opener at random.

“No!” Andreas shouted, dropping his sword and lunging forward. He wrenched it from the Empress’ grasp, cutting himself in the process. “Your Majesty! WAKE UP!”

The Empress’ eyes opened. “Andreas?” she whispered, confused. He let go of her hands. “Yes, your majesty.” She lunged forward.

It wasn’t an attack. She hugged him, clinging desperately to him, like a drowning swimmer to a lifeline. She sobbed into his shoulder. “Dead, dead,” she repeated in whispers between the tears.

For a moment he wasn’t sure what to do, but then he did. “Shhh, shhh,” he whispered, wrapping his left arm around her while his right stroked her hair, just like he did for his two daughters, Helena and Alexeia, when they had had nightmares.

His eyes darted over to Giorgios, whose face for once was deathly serious. Andreas did not need to speak, not with Giorgios. The Laskarid turned and walked out, closing the door. The fewer people that saw the Empress like this, the better.

“They’re dead, all of them,” the Empress whispered, still crying into his shoulder. Andreas shifted a bit, causing her to cling even more tightly to him. “Don’t leave me, please.”

“I won’t leave you, your majesty.”


“I promise.”

* * *
1537 continued: In the west the Spanish Armada falls upon Oran. A prosperous city of fourteen thousand, it successfully beats off the initial attack, forcing the Spaniards into a siege. A relief army from the interior is met in battle, and the ensuing all-day brawl is a bloody draw. But two days later, a joint night action between Castilian and Andalusi troops set the Marinid camp afire and rout the African army in the ensuing panic.

Two weeks later Oran surrenders, and then the cracks in the Alliance of All Spain begin to appear. Aragon would like to garrison the city, as it used to be an Aragonese possession, but none of the other Iberian states are interested in footing the bill, whilst Aragon lacks the ability. The decision is made to destroy the city.

Then the Armada breaks up, each contingent returning to its respective country as no one can agree on a new target. Aragon favors Algiers, Al-Andalus Ceuta, Portugal Agadir (the former fishermen love to harry ships in the Canary Islands), and Castile Anfa (Casablanca). It is a short life and an anti-climatic end to such a grandiose beginning, but the Alliance will have great importance in the future as a precedent.

In Constantinople, the Fifth Nullification Act comes as a complete surprise to pretty much everyone. Not even the most pessimistic or fanatical Roman Muslim, nor even Bayezid himself, had expected such a savage reaction. The day after the edict reaches Alexandria, the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mustanjid sneaks out of Alexandria. Three days later he arrives in Cairo, proclaiming the restoration of the Abbasid Caliphate and calling on all the faithful to rise up and fight against their oppressors.

Muslim Egypt and Syria explode. Utterly enraged, the Muslims tear at anything and everything representing the Roman government, including the local Christians in their midst. There is an economic motive for the atrocities; the Christians have been steadily taking wealth and jobs from the Muslims, and while the Nullification Acts push the Muslims down, the Christians prosper.

In the interior things go entirely the Muslims’ way due to vast numerical superiority, although in Aleppo over 20,000 Christians manage to flee to Antiocheia province. The South Syrian tagma whilst assembling is relentlessly harried, so it withdraws to the province of Phoenicia. This region, covering the coastal strip from Leucas (Baniyas) to Tyre, has a very narrow Orthodox plurality due to the immigration of Greek and Armenian traders and craftsmen. The inhabitants, with the support of the South Syrian tagma, expel the large Muslim minority.

In Egypt, the state of affairs is just as bloody. The Muslims turn with full fury upon the Copts, who are viewed, rightly or wrongly, as Roman collaborators. Here too the economic motives apply. Losses on both sides are high. The Copts have the advantage of superior troops, with the Egyptian tagmata and their well-armed militias, but the Abbasid Caliphate has a local numerical advantage of over 7 to 2.

Andreas of Egypt tries to nix the Caliphate in the bud with a lightning descent on Cairo, but is forced to pull back to avoid being swamped. Enraged with Constantinople’s recent actions, he dispatches a letter to the Queen of Cities aboard his fastest ship.

The last few weeks have been anything but easy for the Empress Alexeia. Not a night goes by when she does not wake up screaming, and it seems only Andreas Drakos can calm her down. False rumors that they are having an affair begin to buzz around the court, which are not helped when Alexeia promotes both Andreas Drakos and Giorgios Laskaris to the rank of tourmarch.

The rumors also seriously jeopardize Andreas’ marriage to Elisa da Montefeltro, great-granddaughter of Andreas Niketas through his bastard daughter Simonis. Unsure of the capital’s mood, Andreas wants his wife and two daughters to relocate to his estates near Nicaea, a desire Elisa interprets as a move to push her aside. It is Giorgios who saves the situation for his best friend, personally interceding for Andreas and explaining his innocence.

In response to the Muslim revolt, Alexeia orders into motion the largest military offensive since Andreas Niketas warred with the Mamelukes. On August 16, the Athanatoi and Varangoi leave Constantinople en route for Antioch. Every Anatolian tagmata, sixty two thousand men, are already on their way.

Only then does Ioannes Komnenos strike. He has the support of the Patriarch and the Megas Domestikos, plus much of the Imperial bureaucracy. Although still prone to drunkenness, he is not as alcoholic as in his youth. When sober, he shows no signs of brilliancy, but does not appear to be a fool either, which along with his name is enough to win him support amongst those who want change.

He proposes that the earlier recommended protocol, whereby the Nullification Acts would be restricted or removed, be offered to the Abbasid Caliph as a compromise. Reports from the provinces are confused, so the extent of the fighting is unknown in Constantinople. Alexeia flatly rejects any thought of negotiations, arguing that it would only be a show of weakness that would embolden the rebels; the best way ahead is to utterly and decisively crush the insurrection. ‘The carrot has been burned. Sifting through the ashes will only get our fingers singed.’

Andreas Angelos agrees. From the recovery ward of Attaleia Hospital (both he and Isaakios are on the mend) he has already issued orders for the Imperial Fleet anchored in Attaleia to commence combat operations against the Palestinian coast.

Ioannes’ support is lacking in two major areas, the War Room and the Vigla. Without the War Room, the loyalty of the provincial armies to his cause can be considered spotty, even with Megas Domestikos Gabras. Without the Vigla he cannot secure Alexeia’s person without a fight. But he does have control over the Thracian tagma, the Teicheiotai, and the Constantinople archontate. On August 29, they move on the White Palace and are met with gunfire from the Imperial Guard.

* * *
The White Palace, Constantinople, August 29, 1537:

Alexeia hefted the kyzikos, supporting the base with one hand while she held it with the other. She placed it down on the rack she had set up on her nightstand, where five more kyzikoi were placed, all loaded. Next to them a candle flickered; when the time came she would light the cords, the matches that ignited the gunpowder in the weapon’s pan.

The gunfire was dying down, but the few shots were getting closer. She had already dismissed her servants, ordering them to get out of the way of the fighting. Hefting a dirk, she honed the edge on a whetstone; she was alone.

But not quite. Giorgios Laskaris and Andreas Drakos burst through the door, their beards drenched in sweat, their cuirasses covered in the drying blood of foes, her foes. She wasn’t sure what to think when she looked at Andreas. For the blood of the dragon, he was a quiet sort, not flashy or rambunctious like Giorgios. His arms and hands were rough and worn, unlike Zviad’s or Andronikos’, but in his embrace she felt…safe. She had not felt that way in a long time.

“We can’t hold them, your majesty,” Andreas said. “They’ve already taken the third courtyard. They’ll be here in minutes. If we are going to get you out of here, we need to go now.”

“I am not going,” Alexeia said, running the dirk over the whetstone again. “Alexios died for this throne. I will not abandon it.”

“Your maj-” Andreas started to say.

“Why did you stay?” she asked, interrupting him. “Ioannes has twenty thousand men. I have four hundred.”

“I swore an oath.”


“No. More than words. Anything can be taken from a man, his title, his lands, his possessions, his family, even his life, save one thing. His honor. That can only be given away. I chose not to do so.”

Alexeia turned to Giorgios. “Why did you stay?”

“Someone has to keep this guy out of trouble.” He jabbed a finger at Andreas. If he stays, he will die. He will die before you, just like everyone else.

No. No more, I say. This ends now.

“I do not want you to stay. You are to leave Constantinople, now.”

“Your majesty,” Andreas said. “Our orders are to guard you, to the death if necessary.”

“I do not want your death.” I cannot bear your death. Let someone I love live just this once. She straightened her back, speaking in her most regal voice. “I, Alexeia Komnena, Empress of the Romans by the Grace of God, hereby declare my uncle Andreas Angelos Kaisar of Rhomania, to take my place upon the throne of Byzantion upon my death.” She looked at Andreas and Giorgios. “That is my wish. See that it is done.”

For a moment it looked like Andreas was going to argue, but then as one both he and Giorgios bowed. “It will be done, your majesty.” She nodded, and then they turned and left.

She was alone now. But just for a little while, and for the last time. She barred the door, pushing a dresser in front of it. Once that was done she sat down next to her rack of kyzikoi and began reading her father’s compilation of Theodoros IV’s notes.

Andreas and Giorgios had been gone for about twenty minutes or so when someone tried to force their way into the room. “Lady Alexeia,” a voice shouted as she lit the matches. “You have been summoned by Emperor Ioannes.”

She stood up, picking one of her weapons. “I am Alexeia, Empress of the Romans!” she shouted back. “Sister of Alexios VI, Emperor of the Romans. Daughter of Herakleios II and the Lady Venera, Emperor and Empress of the Romans. Granddaughter of Andreas Niketas. Great-granddaughter of Theodoros IV and Saint Helena. Great-great-granddaughter of Demetrios Megas and Zoe Laskarina, of the line of Theodoros Megas.

“Only God can summon me.”

For a moment there was silence, and then axes began pounding on the door. She hefted the kyzikos, pointing it at the door. Soon now. Soon she would no longer be alone, Zviad, Father, Mother, Andronikos, Alexios, soon she would see them again. Time to end this.

The door crashed open, the boom of Alexeia’s weapon deafening her as the first face appeared. She dropped it, picking up another. She got off three shots before the end.

* * *

Afterwards, Ioannes is immediately crowned in Hagia Sophia as Emperor Ioannes VI Komnenos. His reign is difficult from the beginning, as the storming of the White Palace and the death of his cousin Alexeia reflect badly on him. Then when he tries to pay a visit to the mausoleum of Andreas Niketas, his horse stumbles and breaks a leg, with him narrowly escaping injury himself. It is a bad omen.

Thus Ioannes is in a very foul mood when Andreas of Egypt’s letter arrives. After a long period of berating those in Constantinople, many of whom now rank as Ioannes’ chief supporters, Andreas then demands twenty five thousand soldiers to assist in destroying the Abbasids. Deciding that his Egyptian cousin is forgetting his place and that such inflammatory talk will jeopardize negotiations with the Caliph, Ioannes deposes Andreas from the governorship of Egypt and summons him to Constantinople.

The Copts are utterly enraged by Ioannes’ decision. Demetrios and Andreas have been good to them, and they have repaid that with utter loyalty. And now with fighting all along the Nile Delta, with significant loss of Copt life, fighting caused by Constantinople’s incompetence, the Queen of Cities tries to remove their beloved Katepano. Their response is impossible to misunderstand. On October 8, Andreas is proclaimed by the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria as Basileus of Egypt.

The Egyptian rebellion, as well as the Muslim one, is the least of Ioannes’ concern. Andreas Drakos and Giorgios Laskaris successfully make it to Attaleia, and the next day Andreas and Isaakios Angelos (the latter as Andreas’ condition to becoming Emperor) are proclaimed as Emperors of the Romans by the sailors of the Imperial fleet. The contacts of the two guard tourmarches also give the Angeloi the loyalty of the Thracesian and Opsician tagmata.

However that is not enough, so Andreas makes contact with Stefanos Doukas, promising to make him Megas Domestikos in exchange for his full support. Stefanos agrees, but with the Helladic, Macedonian, Bulgarian, and Thracian tagmata supporting Ioannes, Stefanos calls in some markers from the Orthodox war. Soon the Sicilian and Apulian tagmata (many ferried by Venetian ships, as the city declares for Andreas) join him in Epirus for a land offensive against Constantinople.

Also Prince Vukasin of Raska is making trouble. A column of his troops seize the rich silver mines of Novo Brdo in early September, and the metal is used to mint coins in which Vukasin styles him ‘Basileus of the Serbs’. It is also clear that he has at least some level of contact with Milan.

An unexpected development in eastern Anatolia upsets and threatens both Ioannes and Andreas. Manuel of Amaseia, grandson of Alexeia, slayer of Galdan of Merv, and Manuel of Kyzikos, declares himself Emperor. Extremely charismatic to the point that bartenders give him free drinks since he is so good for business, he woos the Chaldean, Anatolic, Coloneian, and Syrian tagmata into supporting him.

Still his extremely poor legitimacy, plus his distance from the Queen of Cities, prompts him to act fast and he marches west with all the forces he can muster, leaving the eastern frontier denuded of troops. The one exception is Theodosiopolis, Timur’s Bane, the Door to Anatolia, held by Manuel’s old but hearty and cantankerous father, Demetrios of Kyzikos, son of Alexeia Komnena. Whether or not he supports his son’s ambitions is unknown to historians.

As Ioannes, Andreas, and Manuel hurtle towards each other, another pair of great blows fall upon the Empire. In the west, Duke Tommaso has assembled the most powerful native Italian force seen since the days of the legions, and it is supplemented by battle-hardened, well-disciplined Castilian, German, and Hungarian mercenaries. With the Italian tagmata gone, he unleashes it with a three-ponged offensive along the entire width of the peninsula.

And in the east, the Ottoman hosts pour across the frontier. Sultan Bayezid had been somewhat miffed by the proclamation of an independent Abbasid Caliphate, but he is willing to work with the Caliph. His armies there easily lap up the threadbare Roman fortress network, helped by demoralization amongst the garrisons. Bayezid makes sure to scrupulously adhere to surrender agreements and treats his Roman prisoners well, facilitating surrenders.

One column of his troops, after breaking through the frontier, attacks Prince Theodoros’ estate near Aleppo. A group of Muslims had already attempted a similar move, but were attacked by great flights of birds, and gave up the attempt. The Ottoman soldiers attack anyway, finding an estate devoid of human life, but are charged en masse by the inhabitants of Theodoros’ menagerie. Especially terrifying are the ‘rhinoceros phalanx’, as described by one soldier, since the animals weigh more than six times that of a galloping war horse, but over short distances are just as fast. It is not until two Turkish batteries are brought into action that the estate is secured.

It is found that Prince Theodoros had died before they even arrived. When Bayezid receives the news, he orders that Theodoros be given a burial befitting his royal station, as ‘a man who could inspire such loyalty and devotion amongst beasts was surely a great man’.

The main Ottoman thrust though is directed into eastern Anatolia. Bayezid recognizes that Anatolia is the backbone of the Roman Empire and that it must be broken if he is to ensure no Roman counter-offensive. Roman Armenia, lightly populated, falls with scarcely a fight, but Theodosiopolis is another matter. Demetrios’ response to the demand to surrender involves a goat, a halberd, and Bayezid’s mother. Bayezid is naturally enraged by the answer, but at the same time also gives a grudging respect to his adversary as he settles down for a siege with Konstantinos and Osman forcibly in tow.

Ioannes, to his credit, recognizes Bayezid as the greatest threat overall even though for now he is not threatening Roman territories that directly answer to Ioannes. Until the war of secession is decided though, Ioannes can do little to combat the Sultan. But he does send instructions to the east. In November Timur II takes power as Sultan of Samarkand. At that time, acting on Ioannes’ orders, the Roman ambassador addresses Timur as ‘Lord of Asia’.

Meanwhile, the provinces of Cilicia, Antiocheia, and Phoenicia, largely cut off by the succession war and ignored, face the might of the Abbasid and Ottoman offensives. The opening of the Red Sea trade route has halted Antioch’s growth, but it is still a major regional port, an university city, and a major nexus for the textile and metalworking industries, the latter fueled by Cilician mines in the Taurus mountains which produce tin, copper, lead, iron, silver, and gold. Thus it can still muster 150,000 souls.

Antioch is the only great city in the three provinces, but the area with 750,000 inhabitants is covered with large and prosperous towns, particularly Cilicia. Many are large enough to merit schools, and the general prosperity of the miners, farmers, artisans, and merchants means the area can boast a stunning literacy rate of 55% of adult males, and 30% of females. Printing is highly developed in Antioch, and from the city issue newsletters and journals on a variety of subjects, which have a high readership. Even the illiterate take part as the manuscripts are often read aloud.

The inhabitants of the region, particularly the ‘stout yeomanry of Armenia’, as Armand Jean du Plessis describes them, definitely do not like the way things are going. Childhood tales told at bed and around the campfires abound on the harshness of Muslim dominance in this land once ruled by them. For the Cilician Armenians, it is especially strong. Originally driven from their homeland by Muslims, stories are told of the savagery and destruction wreaked upon them by the Mamelukes, which is what led Cilicia into joining Rhomania for protection. Although often (but not always) embellished, gruesome details being added on over the centuries, it has instilled in its listeners the strong attitude of ‘never again’.

The attitude is not helped as the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mustanjid begins making arrangements for his new state. Recognizing that the atrocities are counterproductive, he seeks to curb them by establishing the ground rules for the Christian millet. Although for the most part he is guided by Islamic custom, the inhabitants of Christian Syria find them unacceptable.

They are to no longer be able to build new churches, their right to repair old ones sharply curtailed. Christians are also no longer to own horses (a significant blow both to mining and agriculture) or arms, cannot lend money to Muslims or have Muslim servants, and must pay the jizya. To avoid tax evasion, Christians will be required to wear distinctive marks on their clothing. Antiochene merchants have extensive contacts with the Jews of Sicily and Calabria, displaced from France and England, and so naturally the Christians view this as a threat to reduce them to a status identical to that of Jews in the Latin West.

Al-Mustanjid also recognizes the power of the printed word, and outlaws Christians from owning or operating printing presses. It is feared that the Caliph does not intend to stop there, but that he will also confiscate the most lucrative mines, textile shops, foundries, and landed estates, reducing Christians to a poor and heavily taxed underclass.

The suspected confiscations also include the vast sugar plantations of Cyprus, immediately earning the Caliph the enmity of the great slave-owners there, with their sizeable wealth and their numerous ships. To ensure their continued dominance of the sugar industry, they will think nothing of liberating their slaves in exchange for their service in battle, as their grandfathers did during the Smyrnan War. One can always buy more slaves later, they say. But one must keep the opportunity to do so at all costs.

But due to the war of succession, the three provinces are alone, and the two tagmata they have are not enough. On December 1, Andronikos Diogenes, Kephale of Antiocheia Province, and the main driving force for the edict, issues the Emergency Degree for the Defense of the Provinces in the Current Crisis. It begins as follows (note that Arab is used in a religious-Muslim-sense, not ethnic):

From this moment until such time as its enemies shall be driven from the soil of the Empire, all Romans are in permanent requisition for the services of the armies. The young men shall fight; the married men shall forge arms and transport provisions; the women shall make tents and clothes and shall serve in the hospitals; the children shall turn old lint into linen; the old men shall betake themselves to the public squares in order to arouse the courage of the warriors and preach hatred of Arabs and the unity of the Empire.

The name of the emergency tactic is known to the world by the name Armand Jean du Plessis gives it, the levée en masse.

* * *
The War Room, Constantinople, April 1, 1538:

Ioannes stared out at the immense display of the Empire, festooned with figurines and banners, outlining the known positions and strengths of all forces involved in this, this…mess. God, I want a drink.

His fingers twitched, gripping an imaginary goblet. No. An aide handed him a piece of paper. Ioannes read it, snarling. The Angeloi had taken Chalkis, and with it any chances of him shipping men and material from the Peloponnesus by sea. It would have to go overland, where it would almost definitely be mauled by Stefanos Doukas’ drive on Thessaloniki. Despite numerical inferiority, he had already bested troops sent against him on two occasions.

Ioannes could take some small comfort in that fact that Stefanos’ Italian troops, if they weren’t already, would be giving him trouble about the Milanese advance southward. But crossing back to Italy would be difficult; the Venetians had taken heavy losses trying to hold the Po River in the face of Milanese artillery and needed all the hulls they could muster to hold down the northern Adriatic. And even if they somehow crossed, Ioannes doubted very much that two tagmata would stand up well to the Milanese tidal wave. Either way, he lost.

He looked down at the piece of paper he was writing on, frowned, scratched out a number, and doubled it.

Ioannes VI Komnenos, Emperor of the Romans. Much of the present knowledge of his reign comes from the history written by his daughter Theodora (who is the first to refer to this period as the Time of Troubles), who continues the proud and venerable tradition of female Roman historians.

He had a great many enemies, and the thought of besting them all was, well…enough to make him want to chug ouzo. So he was going to fight them the same way he controlled his alcoholism. He didn’t try not to drink for the rest of his life; that thought also made him want to chug ouzo. No, each day he said to himself ‘today no alcohol’. So the same strategy to his enemies, one at a time.

His weakest was ‘King’ Vukasin, a royal pain in the ass as far as Ioannes was concerned, but regal in no other way. But he was just a pain in the ass, not an existential threat. Ioannes’ best target was Manuel of Amaseia. Everyone knew his legitimacy was laughable at best. If he did not make gains fast to bolster his support, Manuel would start to shed supporters, and he knew it. If Ioannes could stall him long enough, he might convince Manuel to abandon the whole Imperial endeavor and defect to him along with his supporters in exchange for lands and titles.

With Manuel’s four tagmata added to his five, plus the guard formations, Ioannes hoped he could also convince Andreas Angelos to stand down without a fight. If so, he was willing to even keep him as Megas Doux. His naval expertise would be most useful against the Milanese, and having Stefanos Doukas on his side would be a nice bonus.

Provided he could gather such an array of forces, Ioannes was fairly confident he could get his uncle to back down provided he was fair and reasonable. Killing Alexeia was a mistake. Damnit, I just wanted to send her to a nunnery! If she’d just been willing to go quietly... His uncle did not strike him as the Emperor-type. Andreas was a sailor, possibly even a bit of a pirate if the stories of him waylaying Chinese vessels in the Moluccas were true…He did come back approximately a hundred times richer than when he left. According to reports, he was delegating most Imperial duties to his co-ruler and son Isaakios.

His cousin Isaakios would be more difficult. Almost twenty-seven, to Ioannes’ forty-one, he was still unmarried, with at least two known bastards, with probably a few more in eastern lands. Although he took after his father in having salt water and mischief in his veins, Isaakios seemed decidedly more ambitious. Apparently he’d been quite aggravated over Alexeia’s decision to marry Andronikos; it had ruined his chances of becoming Imperial Consort. Hopefully he could be bought off by becoming Katepano of Egypt, although not before Ioannes sat down and specifically delineated the powers of said office.

Isaakios Angelos. For one who desires ultimate power in Constantinople, his family name is a curse. Yet surprisingly Isaakios has made no moves to change it. Instead he hopes to redeem the honor of House Angelos, which can only be done in the same place where it was lost, the Imperial Throne of Constantinople.

Provided he could end the war of succession, Ioannes felt reasonably well about his chances. Although it’d be nice if Timur would get off his fat ass and kill something! His daughter Theodora, eight years old, would make a good bride for Manfred’s unattached second son. Good for the Empire at least. He also needs to be good for Theodora. And even if the marriage proposal fell through, he was certain he could still get the Holy Roman Empire to move. The Duchies of Romagna and Latium, including the Eternal City, in exchange for the German nation flattening Milan.

And hopefully once the Germans were doing all sorts of un-pleasantries to Tommaso, Ioannes could turn around and clobber Bayezid. Reports from Theodosiopolis, although scattered and vague, were promising. The citadel was immense and Demetrios of Kyzikos famed for his ability to hold a position against immense odds. News from Syria was even more terse; Ioannes didn’t have a clue what was going on there save that Tyre was currently besieged by the ‘Abbasids’ and putting up a hell of a fight.

Another aide handed him a piece of paper, and Ioannes lost it. “WILL EVERYBODY STOP BREAKING THE EMPIRE?!!!” Many of the officers and aides were staring at him. A snarl sent them back to work.

Manuel had taken Amastris by bribery. Ioannes had hoped to use the town, which imitated ancient Tyre in defensibility, as a base for raiding parties to slow Manuel’s advance. The only thing keeping Manuel out of rich and fertile Bithynia now was the massively outnumbered Optimatic tagma, short two tourmai sent to Macedonia to try and hold off Stefanos, which also had to fend off Andreas’ troops in Asia.

“Feeling better?” Michael Doukas asked. Although the first cousin of Stefanos, the young man had shown no signs of disloyalty to Ioannes and multiple signs of being very, very good at getting money.

“Not really,” Ioannes snarled, shoving the piece of paper into Michael’s hands. “Get this taken care of.”

Michael skimmed it. “How are they supposed to kill Duke Tommaso or Sultan Bayezid and deliver their heads to you?”

“I’m offering a million for the Duke, two and a half for the Sultan. I expect them to figure something out.” Michael nodded, but Ioannes was already turning away.

The Emperor looked at the commander of the Teicheiotai, Constantinople’s civic militia. “I want your best third fully mustered and armed to be deployed in Bithynia now.” Although Constantinople’s recent disasters had done a serious number on the city’s manpower, the militia could still muster over thirty five thousand men.

The man started to open his mouth, but Ioannes was already turning to a random War Room officer. “What’s the garrison at Tenedos?” Need to keep Andreas away while I deal, somehow, with Manuel.

“A hundred and fifty men, three guns.”

“Make it a thousand men and twelve guns, now.”

Tenedos, Sentinel of the Hellespont. With the isle in one's possession, one can deny all traffic between the Hellespont and the Aegean Sea, and it makes a perfect forward base for an assault on the straits themselves.

“But your majesty, we can’t! We can’t reinforce Tenedos and ship the Teicheiotai to Bithynia at the same time. We don’t have the hulls or the provisions.”


Ioannes had stood up from his earlier outburst, but now he slumped back into his chair, rubbing his temples. He could feel a hell of a headache coming on. When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. That’s what old Veronica of Chonae had said, and since the old crone was ancient enough to remember Demetrios Megas, the saying seemed wise.

Stupid bitch. When you play the game of thrones, you rewrite the rule book. That’s what he needed to do, rewrite the rules of this current fiasco. If he could stall Andreas, if he could turn Manuel, if he could get the Timurids and Germans to move, if, if, if. Now if only something could go his way for once.

An aide handed him a piece of paper. Ioannes read it and began hurling curses. What followed was a long string of profanities in at least thirteen different languages, including Chinese and Ethiopian; Ioannes was certain the couple of drill dekarchoi were taking notes.

The Milanese had taken Rome.

“You!” Ioannes shouted, pointing at another random aide. His head was throbbing madly. “Get me a skin of wine, now.”

* * *
1538: The Milanese face little opposition in their advance. Roman security in Italy has always been based on the two tagmata stationed there, with the vassal states ‘encouraged’ to maintain only token forces. Constantinople fears that if the duchies were to amass more professional troops, they might be inclined to break away from the Empire. While it has curbed any rebellious tendencies, it also means the Italian vassals are virtually incapable of defending themselves. The most powerful, the thirty-four year old Dux of Abruzzi Matteo di Lecce-Komnenos, has a guard of thirty five hundred men.

Romagna is overrun in less than two months, the House of Este fleeing from their capital at Ravenna to Venetia. There they join in the fight, participating in the raids on the Veneto. Although largely successful, there is great concern in the city over the war, which is cutting off their normal supplies of foodstuffs from the mainland. Using the sizeable population of Croat emigrants in the city, which make up over a fifth of the populace, negotiations are underway to establish grain shipments from Croatia.

Central Italy does not put up much of a better fight, as the Milanese have an overwhelming superiority in heavy troops and gunpowder armaments. Tommaso’s ‘love artisans’ have done good service in Latium, and the resistance of the Colonna family borders on the treasonously incompetent. Rome submits after a siege of a mere four days, although contrary to Catholic expectations, no clergymen miraculously reappear in the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

The siege of Urbino is much more respectable, lasting twenty nine days, not including the three day truce in the middle. The Dux of Urbino had protested that Milanese cannon fire was endangering his library, the second largest in the world after that of the White Palace. Tommaso graciously allowed the truce in order to spirit the contents away to safety, even providing carts and a ship for transport.

Ancona proves to be a thornier nut to crack as it is a seaport, and the initial naval blockade is run at will by ships from Venetia and the Roman vassal states of Ragusa and Split. Cannonades at Venetia itself from the mainland, plus a crash construction program of galleys on the Po Delta eventually manage to solve the problem and the city capitulates in early September.

The bulk of the Milanese fleet is operating in the west of Italy, raiding the coasts of Campania and Sicily, actions which earn the enmity of Carthage since they interrupt food shipments to the city. The Duchy of Carthage is an increasingly dangerous enemy, as the Spanish Alliance’s destruction of Oran makes untouched Carthage an increasingly respectable and powerful ally to the tribes of Ifriqiya.

Tommaso slows his advance, which has brought him to the frontiers of the old Kingdom of Naples, come the advent of winter. While he gathers more forces and supplies to push onward, he is especially interested in securing more Croat stradioti and Hungarian hussars to screen his advance. Matteo di Lecce, following in the footsteps of his grandfather Alfredo, has provided his guard with horses and used them skillfully as mounted infantry, harassing Milanese forces. Although not enough to stop him, it has been a major irritant.

Events in Italy have been very closely watched by both Emperor Manfred and Pope Victor, even before Ioannes Komnenos’ offer arrives. The Kaiser is not interested; he is hip deep in his own reformation of Germany. The Reichskammergericht, the Imperial Chamber Court, is a direct descendant of the court founded to view cases on the return of stolen Hungarian loot. Manfred has slowly but steadily using the court to try and develop a common judicial framework for the whole of Germany.

His current project now is the Zollverein, ratified on the same day Rome falls. Its laymen view as a customs union is not wholly accurate. The Zollverein does not create a giant free-trade zone across the Holy Roman Empire as Theodoros IV had done in Rhomania, but it is still a significant boon to trade and German unity. Approximately three-fifths of the tolls across the Empire are outlawed, with the remainder clearly delineated.

One of the duties of the Emperor, as upholder of Imperial law, is to enforce the provisions of the Zollverein, which give Manfred an excuse to interfere in the economies of the German states. At the same time it does lead to tensions with Lotharingia, since some of the Rhine principalities are inclined to keep their tolls and then hide behind Lotharingian protection, which is provided in retaliation for the supposed Imperial protection provided to the Bernese League.

Neither Duke Tommaso nor Emperor Manfred want Pope Victor back in Rome. Tommaso does not want to deal with the chief Pontiff as a neighbor, and it is arguably that it is to keep the Pope away that the Duke continues to patronize the Colonna family, even though it has been heavily involved in the fall of Rome both to him and to Andreas Niketas in the last century. The Colonna may be untrustworthy, but they never failed to vex the Pope when he lived in Rome.

Manfred likes having the Pope close to him as it helps keep the church ‘respectful’ of his needs, and that respect might not be forthcoming if the papal residence wasn’t within a week of some of his garrisons. Now while Ioannes’ offer would cede Romagna and Latium to Manfred, not the Papacy, he is cognizant enough of his administration’s weakness that he would be unable to effectively command in both Germany and Italy. And unlike many other monarchs and commanders, Manfred is wise enough to ‘quit while he is ahead’, a phrase he is believed to have coined.

Pope Victor is, on the other hand, rather interested to move back to Rome as he believes it will help restore freedom of action. He is finding the growth of Imperial power a bit disturbing, although Manfred has been exceedingly scrupulous in observing church privileges. The Zollverein, for instance, does not touch any of the tolls levied by the German clerical states.

Both Tommaso and Manfred throw up roadblocks to any papal relocation. Tommaso repeatedly stresses that central Italy is not secure, exaggerating the effects of Matteo’s harassment. Meanwhile Manfred dangles the prospect of France-England returning to the Catholic fold via the negotiations for a marriage alliance he is currently conducting with King Arthur.

But Manfred is playing a double game. As far as he is concerned, he would prefer the ‘Emperor of the Greeks’ to control Rome, rather than either the Pope or the Duke of Milan. Although Tommaso may hold the Iron Crown of Lombardy as has been Imperial tradition, the associated title ‘King of Italy’ belongs to Manfred. He has no interest in exerting any real power connected to that title, but he is also keenly aware of the prestige attached to it, and the loss of prestige that would be associated with the loss of that title.

To avoid any such eventualities, Manfred begins funneling a small amount of money and armaments to the Roman Italians, primarily through connections with the Sicilian mafia. The mafia families, born in the crucible of the Sicilian Vespers, are heavily involved in smuggling Roman goods, including Imperial silk (primarily to the Van Afsnees), outside of the Empire. He has had dealings with them going back all the way to when he was merely Duke of Schleswig-Holstein.

Fighting also covers the breadth of the Empire. Stefanos Doukas presses inexorably on towards Thessaloniki but is unable to capture the city due to fierce raids both from the south and east. Taking advantage of the distraction of the Romans, who have not challenged his seizure of Novo Brdo, King Vukasin begins a general offensive to bring the remainder of the Serbian principalities under his control. An early victim is Ragusa, which capitulates upon promises of autonomy, trade concessions in Vukasin’s kingdom, and free grain.

In western Asia Minor, Ioannes is unable to reinforce Bithynia in time as he places the bolstering of Tenedos at a higher priority. Most of the Optimatic tagma manages to withdraw to Europe to avoid being crushed between Manuel and the Angeloi, but the theme and its two million inhabitants are lost to Manuel.

Manuel lacks the naval strength to invade Europe, so instead he turns on Andreas Angelos instead, battling him for control of the Opsician and Thracesian themes. Both themes also muster around two million inhabitants each and are rich prizes. With all of Anatolia under his control even without European resources, Manuel would have sixty five percent of the wealth and industry and slightly less than half the population (excluding vassal states) of the Empire of Andreas Niketas. That would be a force strong enough for Manuel to effectively combat the Turkish advance.

But Andreas holds his own in the fighting, and attempts at a negotiated settlement go nowhere since a precondition of any agreement is that one side must abandon all claim to the throne. Neither party is willing to do that.

But while there is copious bloodletting in the west, the greatest fighting, and savagery on both sides lie in the east. In Egypt, there are no great battles, but countless minor frays that do little save feed the carrion birds. Another Copt attempt on Cairo is thwarted through vastly superior Abbasid manpower reserves, which are supplemented by a small but steady trickle of ghazis from the Hedjaz and Yemen, although from Oman comes only a sullen silence.

Andreas of Egypt attempts to draw Gonder into the fray, but Ethiopia is currently occupied. Revolts in the Ogaden, tribal incursions into the Sennar, a couple of spats with the Portuguese who are growing alarmingly numerous, and diplomatic intrigues in the court of Kongo have the Ethiopian government disinterested in foreign adventures.

Gonder is however still maintaining close links with the Roman territories in the east, finding them useful allies against not only the Portuguese, but also Vijayanagar and Majapahit. Both Hindu states have been viewing with disquiet the growing western presence in their trade routes, particularly their tendency to monopolize the local carrying trade (a feat which sustains the economy of ‘Rhomania in the East’). A third western arrival only makes the situation more volatile.

The east is quiet; Syria is another matter. The main Abbasid counteroffensive seeks to roll up the Christian territories, starting from the south. Their first target is Tyre. Its walls are medieval, not designed to stand against cannon, and fall easily. The city is another matter. The Abbasid vanguard is composed of the Muslim Tyrians who were expelled from the city, and thus the remaining people of Tyre expect little mercy.

From the point when the walls are taken, eight days pass before the city is secured. The Tyrians defend their city fanatically, street by street, house by house. From houses and workshops, they snipe at the Abbasids with fowling pieces, in the streets they construct makeshift barricades from rubble and furniture. Each one has to be taken with a high price in blood, and they number in the hundreds. In the quarters of the butchers and tanners, artillery is needed to take the ramparts.

Both sides do themselves proud with displays of valor. The Abbasid soldier who though disemboweled carries his unconscious friend to safety; the baker’s wife who cuts down five soldiers in defense of her home; the blacksmith who blows a barricade with himself on it rather than see it fall into enemy hands. There are undoubtedly many more lost to history.

Some of the Tyrians manage to escape to Antioch via ships, carrying their tales with them. There, in the second city of the Empire, they are the inspiration for the famous song ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’ It will be sung by the soldiers of Antioch before the year is out.

All across Antiocheia and Cilicia the war effort is working at full speed. The foundries make arms, armor and ammunition, the carpentries wagons, barrels, and wheels, the textile shops tents, banners, and the new gray uniforms provided to the soldiers to instill discipline and an esprit de corps. It is these uniforms that give birth to the stereotypical image of the Roman greycoat.

Drilled both by dekarchoi from the South Syrian and Cilician-Phoenician tagmata, and by retirees brought back into active service, the greycoats get their first baptism of fire at Artah, roughly halfway between Aleppo and Antioch. The Abbasid army, corseted by twelve thousand Turkish troops, had been advancing from Aleppo on Antioch itself. Dismayed by the size of the Antiochene army, the battle consists mainly of artillery barrages. Despite their greenness, the recruits hold up well under the accurate fire of the Ottoman batteries. Eventually the Muslim forces tire of the exchange and withdraw.

Also participating in the fight against the Muslims are the Knights Hospitaliers. Basing from their hospital complex, plus their citadel at Krak, flying columns are sent forth to harry the lands of the Abbasids with fire and sword. The Knights have kept abreast of the latest developments, not only in medicine but also in military technology. The columns are composed of a mix of heavy and light cavalry, supported by black horses.

Yet despite the heroism of Tyre and Artah, they cannot compare to the deeds done at the siege of Timur’s Bane. The great citadel of Theodosiopolis, which saw off the Lord of Asia himself, absolutely must be neutralized if Bayezid’s thrust into Anatolia is to be successful. To neutralize it, the Sultan brings to bay the largest artillery train in Ottoman history, one hundred and ninety nine guns.

Yet even that vast array of firepower is to little avail. Breaches hammered into the walls are filled with rubble and earth, and bastions must be painstakingly reduced lest their enfilading fire cut assault columns to ribbons. Attack after attack is thrown back, Demetrios using every available weapon at his disposal and vigorously sallying at every opportunity.

To supplement his cannons, trebuchets are made from the timber of torn-down houses. Hurling bombs set, after much trial and error, with fuses that make them (preferably, although accuracy is questionable at best) detonate about three feet off the ground, they are filled with shards of glass and random bits of metal (nails are a favorite). Another unorthodox choice is the use of sand heated in Theodosiopolis’ furnaces thrown down on soldiers like oil, which proves extremely effective at finding chinks in armor.

The unexpected duration of the siege leads to difficulties in provisioning the Turkish host. To help solve the shortfall, flying columns are dispatching into Coloneia to round up victuals. Despite its vastness, the theme only has a population of 350,000, a third that of Chaldea or a seventh of any one of the western Anatolian themes. It is a harsh, poor land and its people are the same.

The locals who are fast enough retreat into small hilltop forts, harrying the invaders plundering their livelihood. Those who are not fast enough are not usually killed by the Turkish soldiery unless they resist, but starvation is their almost inevitable fate. The theme still has a small Muslim population, living in scattered villages who ignore and for the most part are ignored by the Roman authorities.

Tough and poor, following a folk version of Islam not much different from the folk Christianity of their neighbors, they too suffer the theft of their livestock and crops, and they are not amused. The supplies, plus well-organized wagon trains from Mesopotamia, keep the Turkish army fed and fighting, but at the expense of alienating the people of Coloneia.

But despite his skill in defense, Demetrios cannot keep out the inexorable Turkish pressure forever. When the garrison is reduced to its last two hundred effectives, a great feast is held. And when dawn comes, Demetrios, though he is seventy eight years old, leads what is left of his men on a great sally aimed straight at the Sultan’s tent.

It is a doomed charge, and the garrison is cut to pieces within minutes. The jubilant Turkish soldiers pour into the empty fortress. Legend says that it was a miller’s daughter who lights the match. Half an hour after sunrise, the magazines of Theodosiopolis detonate in the largest explosion in history prior to the nineteenth century. Over twenty five hundred Turks are killed in the blast, which hurls cow-sized stones as far as four miles. It is heard in Antioch.

The hard-fought siege of Theodosiopolis was a costly victory for the Turks, inflicting heavy casualties and tying up the main Ottoman army for the entirety of the 1538 campaigning season. But with its fall, the gates of Anatolia were now open.
1539: The fall of Theodosiopolis and the death of his father is a serious blow to Manuel’s aspirations, but he pushes on. The only way for him is forward. He does not have the strength to challenge the Turks alone, and he is unwilling to kneel before the Angeloi, even though he is offered a sizeable retirement pension. He is however open to accepting a ‘demotion’ to future Imperial Consort. In early February he proposes a marriage alliance between himself and Ioannes, with Manuel marrying Ioannes’ daughter and heir Theodora.

Ioannes contemptuously rejects the proposal. Supported by the Patriarch on the grounds of consanguinity, the Emperor is adamantly against having his daughter wed a man five times her age, viewing such unions as ‘repulsive, vulgar and harmful to the participants’. Perturbed, Manuel thrusts into the Opsician theme, trouncing two Angelid detachments (wounding Andreas Drakos in the second fray), although to head off murmurings of discontent he is forced to dispatch the bulk of the Coloneian tagma back home to harry the Turks.

Theodora Komnena, Kaisarissa of Rhomania, crowned by her own father on her ninth birthday. A voracious reader and also a skilled polo player for her age, she takes after her mother who died when she was five. Her father, who in his wife's memory refuses to remarry, is fiercely protective of her. The German marriage offer was only made after a careful vetting of the potential bridegroom's character, and full of pre-conditions, including that the German prince be raised in Constantinople for the four years prior to the ceremony. It was these conditions that Manfred used to justify his refusal.

Despite the fall of Timur’s Bane, the resumption of the Ottoman offensive proves to be more difficult than expected. The ruined wreck of Theodosiopolis proves to be a poor supply base, since most of the cisterns and granaries were destroyed in the titanic explosion. Moving forward across the rough terrain of Koloneia, which has been stripped bare by the local populace who even without military support harry the Turkish flanks, is logistically almost impossible.

Bringing supplies by road from Mesopotamia is, since local foraging is scarce and dangerous, the only option, but a painfully slow one. To try and speed up the transit time, plus to begin naval preparations for the eventual assault on Constantinople, Bayezid wants a seaport. There is only one real option: Trebizond.

Thus the advance into Anatolia is temporarily halted while forces are brought to bear on Chaldea. Although the theme has not declared a levee en masse, it is a rich and well populated province, thus capable of fielding a well armed militia with a large proportion of firearms. Another significant help is the admirable defensive barrier of the Pontic Mountains. The Sultan has Afghan troops who are quite at home in the terrain but even with their support the advance is slow.

In the lands of Samarkand, Timur II still makes no move to harry the Ottomans. His domains are classed by historians as a ‘peripheral empire’, much like the early Ottoman empire. The great cities of Transoxiana provide infantry, arms, armor, and their products and womenfolk are used to bind the rural tribes with their fearsome cavalry to the Imperial Timurid structure. Even so, the Sultan-Khan is not keen to advance until the Ottoman armies are even more bogged down.

In the interim, continuing his father’s work of developing Samarkand as a center of culture and learning, he commissions the Great History. It is a tome on the early Timurid Empire, and until recently has been the primary western source on that topic. Now though East Asian scholars are questioning the details, although the final verdict cannot be questioned.

To the south the bloodshed continues, with relatively little change in the front lines. The one exception is the slow but steady Abbasid advance rolling up Christian Syria from the south. Rallied by a propaganda machine unmatched since the days of the Tenth Crusade, and bolstered by an economy geared totally (as much as is possible given the technology of the day) for war, the Phoenicians put up tremendous resistance, with even women and children defending their embattled homes.

One significant issue for the Antiochene (given the prominence both of the city of Antioch and the province, ‘Antiochene’ is the preferred historical label for the Syrian/Cilician Christians during the Time of Troubles) war effort is that the large influx of manpower into the war effort hampers food production. What saves them is Coptic Egypt.

In Egypt, the Copts have learned that independence from the Empire has come at a very hefty price, namely the almost complete collapse of their export sector. Pre-independence, seventy percent of their exports went to other parts of the Roman Empire, and those ties have been cut. Ioannes, Manuel, and Andreas all view Copt actions as illegitimate and have blacklisted Egyptian merchants and wares, whilst at the same time agreeing, much like the contestants in the War of the Five Emperors, that grain shipments from Scythia are not to be interrupted under any circumstances.

Although Scythia is trying to fill a foodstuff gap normally covered both by Scythia and Egypt, the recent losses in the Roman population, particularly the decline of Constantinople, mean that except for areas specifically affected by the fighting food shortages are not a significant issue. Western Anatolia, Thessaly, and Bulgaria are all breadbaskets of respectable size, although they serve local needs rather than participating in the grain export trade.

But while Scythia grows rich off trade with Rhomania and reaffirming Roman-Russian links in the process, Coptic Egypt is getting poorer. Trade with the non-Roman west is still ongoing, and grain is being poured into Antioch (both to help make up the shortfall and to bolster an enemy of their common Abbasid foe), but even after a hefty increase still the harbor dues from Alexandria and Damietta are about 45-50% what they were earlier in the decade.

Particularly ruined is the kaffos trade, down 90% from its 1530 level, which is a serious cause for strife with Ethiopia. In Gonder, there is a significant lobby of merchants and cultivators calling for Ethiopian intervention in Egypt, not to secure Coptic independence, but to restore Egypt to Roman rule. An independent Egypt would triple the trade barriers between the kaffos plantations and their markets. Andreas of Egypt fears that Ethiopian intervention is thus far being withheld only because of the confusion over who will rule Rhomania.

For Ethiopia is disentangling itself from its previous commitments. Strong defensive arrangements, including joint convoy systems, with the Roman colonies in the east and the Emirate of Oman, help secure lines of defense against the encroaching Portuguese. Naval-wise the Omani are a growing aid, as they have been slowly building up trading posts and vassal states along the Swahili coast, in conjunction with Ethiopia. While the largest and richest of the Omani vassal states is still the Vilayet of Mogadishu, fielding fifteen galleys, it is by no means the only one. By this point, approximately 40% of the east African coast between Cape Correntes and the Horn are under some form of Omani or Ethiopian jurisdiction.

On the other side of the Cape of Storms, Ethiopian intrigue has scored a spectacular success. The Kingdom of Kongo is a prosperous and centralized African kingdom, with half a million souls, eighty thousand of which reside in the capital city of Mbanza Kongo, making it the largest city on the African continent. A major source of slaves, both Lisbon and Gonder are extremely interested in the state and determined to keep the other out. Gonder wins the struggle, for in June the king converts to Coptic Christianity, taking the name King Brehan (the masculine of Brihan) I.

Meanwhile in Europe, Pope Victor has not yet made any moves to return to Rome due to Manfred’s and Tommaso’s intrigues. But he is not entirely idle, inventing the modern confessional box which significantly increases the popularity of the sacrament. At the same time, Duke Tommaso crosses from the old vassal states into the lands of Roman Italy proper.

In the vassal states of Rhomania, despite a surface veneer of hellenization and Orthodoxy amongst the ruling classes, the local populace are still overwhelming Catholic and Italian in culture and language. Abruzzi is a bit of an exception, with its closer proximity to Bari, its extensive trade ties with Greek Venetia, and the composition of its ruling house. Although the rural populace and urban commoners speak the local dialect, there Greek is the language of the court and commerce.

Roman Italy proper has diverged from northern lands in the over three generations of Roman rule. The ingrowths of hellenization and Orthodoxy, which completely dominate the cities, the courts, and commerce, have resulted in an extremely large minority (which includes virtually the entirety of the upper, middle, and learned classes) that is much more culturally akin to Constantinople than Milan.

But even those territories that have not ‘gone Roman’ have been changed by their presence. Faith, of whatever creed, be it Catholicism, Orthodoxy, or Judaism, in these lands, tends towards the mystical, completely counterpoised to the more rationalistic Catholicism of northern Italy dispensed by the universities. The result is that even the Catholics and Jews of the Duchy view their southern co-religionists with suspicion.

However these cultural barriers do not seriously impede Tommaso’s march. Keeping his troops in hand and respecting local sensibilities, much to the disgruntlement of his Lombard officials who are keen to dip their fingers into the Roman Italian pie, he is able to takes Naples after a mere sixteen day siege. At the same time, the Milanese fleet manages in a brilliant coup to seize Palermo in a dawn attack. A forced march of dispatched soldiers supported by the fleet also takes Messina, but attempts to secure more than the northern littoral are halted by the harassing tactics of Sicilian militia led by the Kephale of Syracuse, Tancredo Mazzini.

The citadel at Bari, heavily fortified with its armament including a couple of Thomas I’s heavy guns, puts up a much stouter fight. Milanese gunfire and mining are skillfully countered, with fishing boats repeatedly running the makeshift naval blockade. Finally after one hundred and twelve days, Milanese artillery smashes four breaches in the curtain wall, the supporting bastions already been reduced to rubble. To avoid a sack, the city capitulates, although Tommaso’s terms for Bari’s indemnity are almost as harsh.

The rough countryside of Calabria presents an almost as challenging foe, with supplies difficult to come by. Ships basing from Syracuse are poaching on the seaboard Milanese supply lines, so the Milanese resort to forced requisition, much of the time without paying anywhere near market value. Despite the Duchy’s wealth, the expenses of the campaign have seriously drained Tommaso’s coffers, another reason for his intense squeezing of Bari. One of the Calabrians who is blatantly swindled is Hayyim ben Joseph, a prominent Jewish mystic, one of the refugees from the Plantagenet domain.

On the other side of the Empire, on the very last day of the year, Basil Palaiologos is presented to Sultan Bayezid. Leader of one of the light cavalry banda that had been harassing his supply lines, including a raid that destroyed an Ottoman siege battery, his capture is a significant blow to the Pontic defenders. He is sentenced to death by impaling, and his brother Konstantinos and nephew Osman are forced to watch. But where most men would be screaming from the pain, Basil’s rage against the man who murdered his family overrides the agony. His last breaths on this earth are spent hurling down the most terrible curses upon the house of Osman. It is a sight his brother and nephew do not forget, nor forgive.

* * *
The White Palace, Constantinople, January 5, 1540:

Michael Doukas heard them coming before he saw them, which was fortunate because otherwise they might have run him over. He darted out of the way just as the Emperor of the Romans crashed through the door, the Kaisarissa of the Romans hot on his heels. “I’m going to get you,” Theodora giggled as her father swung around the table in the center of the room.

“No, you’re not,” Ioannes retorted. The two were on opposite sides of the table, eyeing each other warily, completely ignoring his presence.

Michael wasn’t so sure; the Emperor was breathing heavily, sweat beading on his brow. A glance toward Michael acknowledged his existence, but Ioannes didn’t change his stance. His daughter came before dignity. A poor Emperor, but a good father.

Michael had no children, not yet anyways. Perhaps, when I am Emperor. It was a position in high demand these days, and he was well placed to take it. But what good is being Emperor without an Empire? That was something these current flock of idiots, including his uncle whom he knew was merely biding his time, did not seem to understand. Especially my uncle. By now his patience must be wearing spectacularly thin. So he was forced to try and clean up their mess, rather then aim for his goal. Someday though, I will be Emperor, of a great Empire. Assuming these morons don’t break it.

But that was in the future. Right now Ioannes made his move, feinting to the left and bolting towards the door on his right. He was a bit too slow; Theodora slapped him in the ribs and darted out of reach. “Ha! You’re it!”

“I’m going to get you,” Ioannes growled.

“No, you’re no-AHH!”

Ioannes lunged forward, grabbing his daughter around the waist with both hands. He picked her up, lifting her above his head and spinning around. “Mwahaha! I’ve got you!” Theodora squealed in delight.

A moment later he set her down, wincing a bit. “I’m getting too old for this.”

“No you’re not.”

“Yes, I am.”

Theodora straightened. “I am Kaisarissa of the Romans. I command it. You’re not getting too old for this.”

Ioannes grinned, reaching over and ruffling her hair. “As you wish.”
* * *
1540: Yet despite the costs, Duke Tommaso Laskaris-Visconti is now master of virtually all of Italy, save the insignificant County of Saluzzo, Venetia, and the southern half of Sicily. The former can be ignored as irrelevant, but the others are not so accommodating. The Venetian fleet, although confined to the upper Adriatic due to the need to guard the lagoon and grain shipments from Zadar, is still a serious threat to Tommaso’s future plans.

Sicily, despite its greater size, is not such an impediment even though Matteo di Lecce and what is left of his raiders have fled there. Tommaso controls the Straits of Messina, which is what he needs. He would prefer control of the entire island, but provided Sicilian forces can be kept at bay, he does not want to commit his forces to an extended campaign there, especially as an assault on Syracuse would seriously anger the Carthaginians who ship much of their grain from there.

Many amateurs criticize Duke Tommaso for what he plans next, the invasion of Hellas. Nevertheless he has very good rationales for his actions, for the shadow of Andreas Niketas looms particularly large over both the Milanese and Ottoman offensives. The Laskarid policy had been to cover all their territories with themes so that any enemy offensive would find it difficult to gain ground. Andreas Niketas changed that.

Trying to cover Roman Italy, Syria, and Egypt with a Laskarid theme system would have been prohibitively expensive. So Andreas instead put down a few, centrally located themes. These were never considered sufficient strength to defend their regions all by themselves against a serious assault. Instead they were to maintain provincial order and harry any incursions as much as possible. The true defense of the outlying territories instead rested on an utterly overwhelming and massive counterattack from the Imperial heartland.

Duke Tommaso knows this, believing that his hold over Italy cannot be secure if the Imperial heartland is allowed to rebuild and counter-attack at its leisure. He has no desire to imitate the Kingdom of Naples, which succeeded in wresting Campania and Calabria from the Empire during the Smyrnan War, only to be flattened by Andreas Niketas later.

It is the same for Sultan Bayezid, and in his case the historical arguments are even more compelling. For every Turkish child is told the tale of The Battle, the great struggle against the uncounted multitudes of Shah Rukh. And in every telling, mention is made of the vast host that ushered forth from the land of the Romans. That land, the Sultan knows, did not include at that time the lands of the current Abbasid Caliphate. So any conquests of only those territories draws the risk that in the future another equally vast host will usher forth from Anatolia.

Despite his attention to his Laskarid heritage, Duke Tommaso does not retain any serious thought to holding both Italy and territories across the Adriatic. Instead he envisages his second son Giovanni becoming ‘King of Hellas’ (Taking the title ‘Emperor of the Romans’ would not amuse either the Serbs or the Turks). To prepare for his crossing, Milanese ‘love artisans’ are hard at work amongst the Albanian clan chieftains, and a formal alliance is being negotiated with King Vukasin.

Vukasin has by this point established control over all of old Serbia, but he is aware that his position is also shaky unless Constantinople can be crippled. He is willing to aid Tommaso, in exchange for receiving the theme of Bulgaria. Although not as wealthy or populous as the themes to the south, it would not be a barrier between Tommaso’s Italian kingdom and Giovanni’s envisioned Greek one. Vukasin has no desire to face an Italian-Hellas alliance down the road. To secure his rear, he marries his eldest daughter to the third son of the Hungarian Emperor.

In Egypt, the battle lines remain along the borders of the Nile Delta, with Copt qualitative superiority unable to best Abbasid quantitative superiority. The Caliph has a handful of Ottoman janissaries, both as trainers and as elite soldiers to corset his weaker units. They excel in both roles, but also serve as a conduit for Bayezid to influence the Abbasid court.

In northern Syria, Abbasid soldiers, also corseted by Turkish troops, continue to grind down the Antiochenes. A significant thorn in the Muslim side are ships and troops from Cyprus, for the most part slaves promised freedom in exchange for fighting. The plantation owners, already alarmed by the Abbasid restriction on Christian economics, are increasingly disturbed by the growing Turkish presence. The Ottoman sugar plantations of southern Mesopotamia are a major commercial rival, their owners very influential in the Ottoman court because of their deep moneybags, and they are not inclined to be gentle with their Christian competitors if given the chance.

The Antiochenes are not gentle either. With virtually no strategic depth and long borders, their territories are extremely difficult to defend even with the resources provided by the levee en masse. As a forward defense, flying columns are dispatched to the surrounding Muslim territories; their orders: kill everything. It is a scorched earth strategy, but by scorching the earth of the enemy. And the ‘best’, and often easiest, way to ruin a pre-industrial region is not by burning the crops and villages, but by murdering the inhabitants, down to the last child. So that is what the columns do.

While the doctrine of total war reaches its logical conclusion, Roman music is ironically flourishing. Many of the army songs still used today date from this period. Already extant are religious hymns, mainly to the Virgin Mary, and a few secular works. One of the most popular older works dates from the War of the Five Emperors, The Road to Manzikert, but it was Andreas Niketas’ favorite piece and because of that is more commonly known as The Shatterer of Armies. An adaptation of it is used in The Komnenoi as Emperor Andreas’ theme.

Created at this time are some of the classics of Roman secular music. They range from the stately Shall We watch over the Empire?, the saucy A Good Time in Attaleia, the rustic I like Onions Fried in Oil, the romantic A Girl Worth Fighting For, and the extremely popular, both amongst soldiers and students, Let’s Jab Them in the Ass.

The last song is sung quite heavily by Manuel’s triumphant troops. At Nicaea, in the largest pitched battle in the war of succession to date, twenty five thousand troops under Manuel’s command trounce an equivalent number under Andreas Angelos. Early in the battle Andreas was unhorsed, creating a false rumor of his death, which coupled with a well-coordinated artillery barrage (which was as close as possible given the technology of the day to a creeping barrage) and an infantry assault, broke his left wing.

Manuel came close to bagging the whole army as some of the greener reserve units began to rout as well. But Andreas Drakos and Giorgios Laskaris rally three of the kentarchiai and lead them forward into the teeth of the Manuelian assault. The bristling advancing array of pikes, heralded by the crackling gunfire of the mauroi, and followed by the crashing drums and trumpets of The Shatterer of Armies, is a grim, inspiring sight. Although subjected to fierce artillery fire, the display along with reinforcements including some of the returned deserters managed to stall Manuel long enough for Andreas to withdraw westward.

It is still a bloody defeat, Andreas suffering forty five hundred casualties for only twenty eight hundred for Manuel, who also gains Nicaea in the aftermath. Besides helping to bolster his fraying prestige, Nicaea’s dynatoi ‘contribute’ a sizeable payment in gold which Manuel distributes to his troops to solidify their loyalty.

To the east, Bayezid has finally managed after a laborious effort to invest the city of Trebizond, hauling his siege guns over the Pontic mountains. While not defended with the skill displayed at Theodosiopolis, the garrison and inhabitants nevertheless put up a stout fight, helped by complete command of the sea so starvation is not a danger. The clergy play a significant part, the Bishop who has a doctorate in mathematics organizing the repair and expansion of the fortifications.

Also aiding the fight are waves of volunteers. The Orthodox Alliance may be dead in government circles, but the nations of Orthodoxy are still closely linked by ties of culture, religion, and commerce. Men from Vlachia and Georgia join in the fight, some from the latter tagma soldiers “on extended leave”, but their numbers are far out-shadowed by the Russian contingents. One of the Russian leaders, Konstantin of Moskva, is hit in the face by a (nearly spent) Turkish bullet. He spits it out along with four teeth, roaring that Turkish dentists are lousy at extractions.

Also there are a small group of Germans; Emperor Manfred is encouraging some of the more belligerent German nobility to take their aggression out via crusading (typically against the Barbary corsairs which can at times be a lucrative business), and in an ironic twist some are doing so by defending Trebizond from the infidel. Although small in number, the Germans distinguish themselves with valor. Count Adolf of Nassau-Idstein, who soon becomes good friends with Konstantin, leads several vigorous sallies. On one occasion, his party is enveloped by sipahis. Wrenching a heavy lance from one of the Turkish horsemen, he begins clobbering the foe with it as if it were a club, smashing the way clear for himself and his compatriots, a mixed Greek-Russian-German party.

But the crusaders are not the only Germans on the move as Duke Tommaso receives the most unwelcome news that Pope Victor IV is on his way south to take up residence in Rome. Tommaso decidedly does not want papal interference in his domains, nor is he inclined to give Rome (and it is expected that Victor will want all of the old Donation of Constantine back) up. Plus the Colonna family, which has quite enjoyed the freedom of action granted to them by papal absence, have made it abundantly clear that their continued loyalty to the Milanese cause is dependent on the maintenance of that absence.

But there is little that Tommaso can do to stop the papal approach, yet desperate times call for desperate measures. In mid-June he converts to Bohmanism. On the local level, absolutely nothing changes, so there is little difficulty there. The Lombard aristocracy and clergy, who have been offended by Victor’s Germanizing trends, are willing to accept and support such a move, for a price. That price is Roman Italy.

Mass requisitions sweep the region as Tommaso acquiesces. As a fuming Victor retires northward, demanding Manfred do something (he severs trade ties, but does not assemble a ‘mighty Christian host’ as Victor demands), the Lombard and Tuscan upper class descend on the southern third of the peninsula. Gobbling up the richest pasturelands, farms, vineyards, salt pans, forests, workshops, forges, and mines, little escapes their avaricious grasp. Public bathhouses suffer a new change of owners; considered a public service, these establishments are non-profit (although owners and operators receive tax concessions) and the admission fee is a token charge to cover expenses. Under Lombard management, the fees are quintupled or more.

Obviously this offends the locals, who have just seen their livelihood taken away, and even Catholics are not safe as Milan is now a Bohmanist state. Matters are not improved by subsequent Bohmanist actions. Churches, monasteries, and synagogues, as some of the wealthier landowners, suffer particularly heavily. Orthodox establishments are hit especially hard as icons and religious vestments are stripped of their valuables, Bohmanist theology used as justification.

The use of Bohmanism as justification for the attacks on their livelihood, their culture, and their faith worries the locals of southern Italy, regardless of ethnicity or creed. Little is known of this new denomination, but its emphasis on sola scriptura and its negative stance on mysticism and saints (trends admittedly not well followed by the Lombard version) offends the followers of Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Judaism.

For now, the locals submit grudgingly, fearful of the military might of Milan and hopeful that Duke Tommaso might be convinced to change his mind. But not all are so willing. A few small bands of dispossessed young men take to the hills, harassing Milanese detachments and supplied by sympathetic villagers, many of whom have had common village lands confiscated to make enclosures for Lombard nobles. And at the same time, the sayings of the mystics, be they Catholic, Orthodox, or Jewish, get more apocalyptic. On October 9, Hayyim ben Joseph says for the first time those famous, terrible words, “Fire will purify.”

1541: The new year bodes ill for Rhomania, for despite the tremendous exertions of its defenders, Trebizond is taken by assault on February 9. Per Islamic tradition, the city is given over to a three day sack, although historians still debate whether the shipyards were fired by out-of-control Turkish troops or by withdrawing defenders fleeing on ships. Included in the exodus are the astronomical and mathematical texts of the university, which make their way to Russia. The result is another poisoned victory for Bayezid, as his new supply base is like Theodosiopolis heavily damaged, albeit not to the same extent, and his army heavily bloodied.

Still it is a step forward, and freed from screening duties Turkish light cavalry flood into the central Anatolian plateau. Harassed to some extent by the locals, Bayezid receives an unexpected boon when what is left of the rural dynatoi after the Night of the Long Knives defect to him. Many convert to Islam once they receive promises that their possessions, specifically their vast herds and ranches, will not be harmed. Even those that are not willing to convert still side with the Sultan. Although Bayezid does levy ‘contributions’ on the herds to feed his troops, the dynatoi rightly believe that a sovereign in far-off Baghdad will be more ‘respectful’ of their privileges than one in nearby Constantinople.

Supported by the dynatoi’s retainers (which are respectable in number although poor in quality) Bayezid is able to establish a tenuous control over much of the central Anatolian plateau, with the exception of the major settlements, chief of which are Ikonion and Ancyra. Major trade arteries situated on the intersections of the key roads, control of them is vital for the further Turkish advance. But their small population, landlocked position, limited food production abilities, and antiquated fortifications means their ability to resist is far inferior to that of Theodosiopolis and Trebizond.

Manuel of Amaseia has continually remained fixed on defeating the Angeloi, on the grounds that they are an opponent he can beat in his current state. Fighting has been constant and fierce, Manuel winning several, albeit indecisive engagements in addition to Nicaea, but has been unable to make a killing blow. However they have been enough, coupled with the (previously) slow Turkish advance, to keep his forces loyal despite Angelid propaganda efforts.

Both Giorgios Laskaris and Andreas Drakos also have several victories each to their credit, many against odds, although also with indecisive strategic results. Neither comes out unscathed, Giorgios having been wounded in battle three times and Andreas, through worse luck, nine times. None incapacitate the redoubtable tourmarches, but both walk with a pronounced limp with their left leg, since they received near identical wounds albeit on different battlefields.

Even leaving aside the battle scars, it is a hard time for Andreas Drakos. In April his wife Elisa da Montefeltro dies in Smyrna. A month later he receives a letter of condolence from none other than Emperor Ioannes VI. Although the two men had never been close, Ioannes too knows the pain of losing his wife, and for a time during the Empress Alexeia’s reign Theodora and Andreas’ daughters Helena and Alexeia (all of which are within three years of age) were playmates in Constantinople.

After his eighteenth war injury (his first two were earned at the Iron Gates) he spends some time convalescing in Smyrna with his children. He is not the only Angelid officer to have placed his family in that great city, with all its memories of the War of the Five Emperors and the birth of mighty dynasties. There his eldest, Helena (almost 12 years old), had become a de facto leader in the war games played by the officers’ children, although her persona was not that of an officer, but that of a drill dekarchos. Her father notes that she possesses the ‘voice of command’.

In northwest Anatolia the trend of events is slowly, grudgingly, moving in Manuel’s favor. In May he besieges Thyatira. Whilst inspecting the artillery, a salvo of fire lances is fired at a section of wall to hamper repair parties. One rocket bounces off the ramparts, flies back, and lands in a reserve cache of rockets. Eight men are killed, another twenty six injured, including Manuel who has third-degree burns on over seventy five percent of his body. Not even a combined poppy-cannabis concoction is enough to ease his passing, which lasts a torturous three days. En masse, Manuel’s chastened troops, viewing his death and its horrific manner as the angry judgment of God, defect to Andreas Angelos.

This is extremely unwelcome news to Ioannes, who has just been informed that valiant Thessaloniki, which has managed to fend off Stefanos Doukas for two years, is on the verge of collapse. The Angelid terms for his surrender demand that he be tonsured and retire to a monastery of his choice on Mount Athos, and that his daughter and heir Theodora marry Isaakios Angelos. Ioannes is willing to accept the first clause, but will not under any circumstances consider the second, because of the blood relation and age differences between the prospective spouses.

Neither Andreas nor Isaakios will budge on that condition either. A marriage tie with a legitimate line of Andreas Niketas would do much to shore up their shaky prestige, and also provide a good parallel with Demetrios Megas, who based his claim to the throne on his wife’s bloodline. The inevitable result of such stubbornness is that negotiations break down.

There is surprisingly little anger in Constantinople against Ioannes for his intransigence. For the Lord of the Queen of Cities has the vast printing houses of the metropolis at his command, and a highly literate and educated (for the time period) audience. Because of the Black Day and the deeds of Andreas Niketas, the history of the Fourth Crusade is very well known, and which Roman family’s stupidity and greed had made it possible.

The propaganda though does not help the Emperor militarily. Ioannes, seeing his opportunities dwindling, decides to stake everything on one all-out attack. Assembling a great army, a mix of tagmata and militia of varying quality, he bull-rushes the heavily outnumbered Stefanos Doukas. The campaign does not begin propitiously, as the size of the host and raids by Stefanos’ light troops makes provisioning it difficult. Lack of supplies quickly makes itself felt by poor morale amongst the greener militia, which suffer badly from desertion.

Still Ioannes is able to bring a vast host to bear on Stefanos, and the militia are corseted by the Athanatoi and Varangoi, which have left Constantinople for the first time during the civil war. Until now, the Emperor had kept those elite contingents, which have remained solidly loyal to the Lord of Constantinople, in reserve to secure the capital.

The battle of Thessaloniki is a bloody, brutal fray, beginning just after dawn. The sheer weight of numbers initially drives Stefanos back, but he launches vigorous counterattacks, slamming kataphraktoi wedges in between the militia and regular troops. Some of the former break, exposing their comrades’ flanks and crippling their morale. More and more of the militia rout, taking some of the regulars with them. Within a hour of the first fracture, the bulk of Ioannes’ army is in flight.

To buy time and to deter a pursuit, which would be crippling in the five remaining hours of daylight, Ioannes orders the Varangoi forward. At midday they number five thousand strong; by sunset their ranks hold twenty one hundred, but for those five hours they keep the army of Stefanos Doukas at bay. The tattered remnants of the formation break off at the coming of night and retreat.

Still it is a devastating blow for Ioannes, whose army has been gutted. The Varangoi have been ruined as a fighting force, most of the militia are dead or deserted, and the remaining thematic troops have been badly shot up. His offensive ability has effectively been reduced to zero.

The day after the battle, the city of Thessaloniki with its three-fourths wrecked fortifications capitulates to Stefanos. But he too has suffered extreme losses, and Ioannes’ remaining forces coupled with Constantinople’s defenses make for an extremely formidable nut to crack. To reduce them, Stefanos will require the entirety of his weakened forces. The march on Constantinople begins, the defense of Epirus and Macedonia left to token third-tier forces.

Just in time for the Milanese offensive. While there is still the occasional skirmish in Sicily, Venetia has bowed out of the war. Although independent from Milan and still claiming subservience to ‘the rightful Emperor of the Romans’ (whose name is studiously not mentioned), wracked by food shortages and an outbreak of malaria, the city cannot keep up the fight.

Corfu is taken by treachery, the bribed garrison commander handing over the keys to the citadel. Dyrrachium is felled by trickery; Albanian clan chiefs who have joined Tommaso’s cause (either through bribery or the blandishments of the love artisans) sneak soldiers in the city in the guise of herders and merchants. In a coordinated attack with the Milanese vanguard, the city is taken. Milan has a foothold and a superb base on the Haemic Peninsula.

There is no troop movement west to counter the Milanese attack. Although Andreas and Isaakios Angelos have both criticized Manuel for concentrating on the civil war over foreign invasion, they are guilty of the same sin, and for the same reasons. If Ioannes can be taken out quickly, and his resources joined to their own, their chances against both the Milanese and the Ottomans will improve significantly.

At the same time, negotiations begin again with Ioannes to end the conflict, but again stall on the question of Theodora. If she is not to wed Isaakios, she presents a clear dynastic threat to the Angeloi. Andreas and Isaakios offer to allow her to retire to a nunnery of Ioannes’ choice, provided it is inside the Empire. Ioannes, fearful for his daughter’s life with an Angelos on the throne, wants her out of the country. After the Battle of Thessaloniki, he tries to send her away, but Stefanos cuts the land routes to Vlachia, whilst Andreas Angelos controls both the Aegean and Black Seas.

But for Ioannes to fall quickly, Constantinople’s morale must be weakened and a combined land-sea assault launched on the city. For the former, Andreas cuts off the grain shipments from Scythia using his ships on the Black Sea. It is a dangerous move, angering Russia and weakening support for the Angelid cause in the city, but the resulting hunger does not help Ioannes’ support.

Andreas cannot bring his Black Sea forces into the Marmara, as he is unable to secure the European side of the Bosporus. Trying to run the guns of the forts there would most likely end in disaster. But the bulk of his fleet is in the Aegean, and with his forces securing Opsikia and Stefanos controlling Gallipoli, both Rumeli and Anadolu Hisari have capitulated, granting him control of the Hellespont.

Or they would, if it weren’t for Ioannes’ continued control of Tenedos, which has already seen off two attempted attacks. Well fortified, supplied, and garrisoned, including some of the best gun crews of Rhomania, it is a formidable target. But its strategic location right at the mouth of the Hellespont, astride the communication lines between Europe and Asia, means it cannot be ignored. On June 9, the full force of the Angelid armada attacks.

* * *
Just off Tenedos, June 9, 1541:

The Aghios Nikolaios staggered as another shot plowed into her. Some of the gunners at Tenedos were very good at their job, and the extremely large banner of the tetragram made it obvious which ship was the Imperial flagship. Andreas Angelos had insisted on it, arguing that if he drew fire, it would lessen the fusillade raining down on those actually fighting.

Andreas Drakos nibbled at his piece of cheese, ignoring the new growth. Giorgios Laskaris’ hairy hand plucked out the three inch long wedge of wood that had impaled his snack. “Don’t eat that,” he said. “It’s bad for you.”

“Never would’ve guessed,” Andreas muttered.

A cannonball whistled past their heads, neither tourmarch ducking. They were officers, given titles and honor and higher pay. In return, they were required to be a brave example for their men, who were crouching down behind railings while the ship’s guns roared back at the stubborn island.

The sounds of gunfire were getting louder. At least twenty five hundred troops had landed, but the garrison’s volleys had pinned down the first and second waves. The fleet was forced to go in and provide offshore fire support, and get blasted full of holes for its pains.

“Oh, Andreas, by the way,” Giorgios said, munching on an orange. “I’ve got a birthday present for Helena. When the battle’s over, remind me to get it.” Andreas nodded; his eldest daughter would turn twelve in six weeks. May she celebrate it in Constantinople, and peace.

One of his nineteen war wounds winced, making him grimace. The former might happen, but not the latter. The civil war might be waning, but the rebellions to the south, the invasions to the east and west…there would be many more battles to fight.

Another pair of shots staggered the ship. “You know, I get the feeling they don’t like us very much,” Giorgios continued.

“No, they like us,” Andreas replied. Giorgios blinked in confusion. “It’s you they want dead,” he continued, smiling. His friend glowered back.

“THE EMPEROR’S DOWN!!!” a voice cried in dismay. Both Giorgios and Andreas wheeled around to see Andreas Angelos, son of Andreas Niketas, sprawled around the ground. Everything from his shoulders down was covered in blood.

“Help, help me up,” he croaked. A sailor moved him into a sitting position. “My son, Isaakios,” he rasped.

Isaakios, Co-Emperor of the Romans, grandson of Andreas Niketas, skidded to a halt. Crouching down, facing his father, he said, “I’m here, father. I’m here.”

Andreas’ bloody left arm shot out, grabbing his son by the collar. Hot red blood dripped down the black silk and silver cuirass. “Tell them, tell them I said something.” Isaakios blinked, a second passed, and then Andreas chuckled. Isaakios chuckled too, and soon both of them were laughing, tears running down Isaakios’ face.

Andreas laughed one more time, gasped, and then his breath rattled out of him. Andreas Drakos had heard that sound many, many times. Giorgios Laskaris bent down and closed Andreas Angelos’ eyes. “He is dead.”

“What now, your majesty?” the ship’s captain asked as the priest arrived and began administering last rites. Another ball smashed its way into the bow. “We should retreat. We’re taking heavy-”

“No,” Isaakios said. “We advance.”

“But the guns-”

“I DON’T CARE!” he roared, turning to face the island, wreathed in powder smoke and crowned by black sheets of arrows. Andreas noted that their troops seem to have advanced inland a bit, although the fire from the citadel was still fierce. “Signal the fleet to move in closer.”

“But the guns-” the man repeated.

Isaakios wheeled on him and roared, spittle flying. “DAMN THE GUNS! AND FULL SPEED AHEAD!”

* * *
The island falls, but at a heavy cost in men and damaged ships. Andreas Angelos’ body is preserved for burial in the Queen of Cities, and his men proclaim their loyalty to Isaakios as sole Emperor of the Romans. When he receives the news, Stefanos Doukas does the same. On June 17, the Princes’ Island, within eyesight of Constantinople in the Sea of Marmara, is seized as a forward naval base. Two days later, as the Milanese surge eastward against token opposition, the siege of Constantinople begins.

Given the limited food stores in the city, Constantinople cannot hold out long against starvation, but Isaakios wants the civil war over as soon as possible so he can concentrate on the invaders. Trying to take the Herakleian Walls by storm, which are about seventy percent complete, would be prohibitively expensive in manpower and the success of such an attack is dubious at best anyway.

So negotiations begin again, and once again stall on the question of Theodora. Ioannes absolutely will not have her wed a man three times her age, one who moreover is reputed to have at least half a dozen bastards. Ioannes knows for certain that one of Isaakios’ bastards is a girl a year older than Theodora. The Patriarch, remembering Andreas Angelos’ opposition to him over the Kama Sutra affair, and cognizant of the consanguinity issues, backs Ioannes to the hilt.

But without a marriage, Isaakios will not provide a good enough guarantee for Theodora’s safety to Ioannes’ satisfaction. Seclusion to a nunnery is not good enough; Ioannes wants her out of the Empire. But Isaakios does not want to take the risk of her taking a foreign husband who will come and try to seize his wife’s claim by force.

The impasse is broken in mid-July by newly promoted Strategos Andreas Drakos (Giorgios Laskaris was promoted in the same ceremony on the Princes’ Island). He offers to adopt Theodora as his own daughter, and to guarantee her safety personally. Ioannes accepts these terms. In a public ceremony conducted just outside the Herakleian Walls, in full view of the army, and presided over and guaranteed by the Patriarch of Constantinople, the prior of the Great Lavra on the Holy Mountain, plus sixteen metropolitans and bishops including those of Chalcedon, Ohrid, Thessaloniki, and Nicaea, Andreas Drakos adopts Theodora Komnena.

She is allowed to keep her family name, and is now known as Theodora Komnena Drakina. As part of the ceremony, Andreas pledges to treat her as one of his own daughters, and that if Isaakios attempts to harm her in any way (the contract explicitly lists marriage to Isaakios as a form of harm), he will rebel and wage war on Isaakios with all his might. Isaakios is enraged over this clause, but keeps his mouth shut. Once the adoption is complete, Ioannes formally abdicates, handing over power to now Emperor Isaakios III Angelos. Then he is tonsured, becoming brother Kyril of the Great Lavra on Mount Athos.

And so ends the Second Komnenid Dynasty. It had lasted for one hundred and twenty seven years, from June 1, 1414, when Demetrios was crowned Emperor of the Romans in Hagia Sophia. Seven Emperors and one Empress, their reigns had been full of shame and glory, blood and gold. Alongside the Black Day stood the Day of Victories, Demetrios Megas beside the Mad Empress. It remains to this day the most contentious of all dynasties to sit upon the throne of Rhomania, not surprising considering its ranks include Theodoros the Miser, Andreas Niketas, Herakleios the Apostate, the Bloody Emperor, and the Mad Empress.

Isaakios has little time to get comfortable in Constantinople. The people are not enthused by the change of leadership, resentful of the grain shortages engineered by Isaakios’ fleet. Even with the shipments resumed, their anger does not fade, and amongst the educated his inauspicious family name does not help his popularity.

Meanwhile his father is buried inside the Imperial Arsenal, in a small tomb that is almost identical to that of his father. Roman sailors owe him a great debt, for it was he who during his time as Megas Doux he not only strived to restore the Empire’s naval might, but to improve the pay, rations, and treatment of the sailors. Just one of many examples is his introduction of hammocks to replace the straw pallets previously used for bedding. And they repay him. For to this day, no captain of the Imperial Navy, when about to put out to sea from the Queen of Cities, fails to pay his respects at the tomb of ‘the Salty Prince’.

But that is in the future. Right now, his son’s reign immediately begins in crisis. Thessaloniki, its granaries empty and its defenses in ruins from its long stand against Stefanos (who has been formally invested as Megas Domestikos), has fallen to the Milanese. The third city of the Empire now lies in foreign hands, and there is fear amongst the populace that the first city will be next.

Realistically there is no reason to fear. The push to take Thessaloniki had stretched Milanese logistics to the limits, and the passage of Tommaso’s fleet into the Aegean had been vigorously contested by privateers from Modon, Coron, and Monemvasia. In that sea the Imperial fleet joins the battle (after escorting Brother Kyril to Mount Athos), never closing for a major engagement, but snipping at the Milanese flanks, moping up stragglers and scouts.

Still the Milanese presence is extremely damaging to Isaakios’ credibility. Fortunately for him on August 10 a Milanese reconnaissance-in-force is engaged just west of Adrianople and cut to pieces. Isaakios plays it up as a major victory, and it does help his situation a little as the Milanese advance has halted (albeit because of lack of supplies, including pay arrears, not the defeat).

Isaakios readies his troops, but he leads them into Asia, not Europe. Ikonion has fallen to the Turks, and Ancyra’s defenses are on the verge of collapse. With them gone there will be nothing between Bayezid and the rich lands of western Anatolia, which even with the damage caused by the earlier fighting against Manuel still have over six and a half million inhabitants.

Emperor Isaakios III marches with Stefanos Doukas at his side, along with fifty five thousand men, but that total does not include Andreas Drakos and Giorgios Laskaris. After Andreas’ oaths regarding Theodora, Isaakios no longer trusts the two strategoi. Giving them a token force, mostly militia rounded up from Ioannes’ Thessalonian venture, they are tasked with harrying the Milanese.

Bayezid is eager for a major battle. So far his entire campaign has consisted of difficult sieges, torturous logistics, and a vast multitude of raids, skirmishes, and ambuscades. Kurdish irregulars, although not particularly Romanized (although the Anatolian ones are mostly Orthodox), have been quite adept in these frays. Angry for earlier Turkish ‘requisitions’ they are now taking the opportunity to rustle cattle and sheep from the Ottoman supply caravans.

The prelude to battle is filled with a number of light cavalry actions, the honors about even with neither side gaining a clear advantage. On October 9, the two armies nearly equal in strength meet on the banks of the Sangarius River near the town of Gordion, home of the famed Gordian knot. Stefanos Doukas commands the left wing, comprised of troops that have served under him for years, a veteran force quite fond of their ‘Young Dragon’ commander. Isaakios takes personal charge of the right, its flank anchored by the Sangarius.

The battle begins around 10 AM, and for four hours neither side can gain a clear advantage although at one point the Athanatoi do pry open a small wedge between some of the azab ranks, but janissary reserves throw them back. Then at around 2:30 PM, during a lull in the action along the left wing (which has been decidedly more quiet than on the right), Stefanos Doukas withdraws taking half the army with him.

Bayezid immediately envelops the remaining forces under Isaakios’ command, and although it takes the rest of the day, utterly destroys them. Isaakios is killed, sword in hand, around 4:00 PM, reportedly laughing that ‘people worried his reign would be a repetition of Isaakios II, when really it mirrored Romanos IV’. Once the battle is done, Bayezid retires back to Ancyra which capitulates upon receiving news of the disaster.

Besides the horrendous loss of soldiers, Andreas Niketas’ sword David is captured and presented to Sultan Bayezid. Greatly impressed by the weapon, he keeps it as a personal blade. A significant boon to Turkish morale, arguably the blade’s loss is more devastating to Roman spirits than the actual defeat. That said, monks and village priests throughout western Anatolia, Thrace, and Hellas can be heard comforting their parishioners. ‘For will not Andreas Niketas come to reclaim what is rightfully his? He shall, and that day will forever be known as the graveyard of the Turkish nation’.

Stefanos encamps most of his force at Modrene to guard the Optimatic theme against Ottoman raiders. Although he pre-arranged his treachery with the Sultan, now that the Angeloi are gone neither the strategos nor the sultan harbor any illusions that the other is now an enemy. However Stefanos rides on with his most veteran and loyal troops. In Constantinople he declares that Isaakios’ tactical bumbling had caused the defeat, Stefanos saving as many soldiers as he could from the debacle.

Although there are reservations about Stefanos’ narrative of events, with the Milanese in Thessaloniki and the Turks at the gates of western Anatolia, few are inclined to contest the point. Thus with little difficulty, on October 23, Stefanos Doukas is crowned ‘Emperor of the Romans’ in Hagia Sophia. One rival, Kyril/Ioannes, has been tonsured and thus theoretically ineligible, and besides he is clearly not a great captain. The best possible contenders in that regard are Giorgios Laskaris and Andreas Drakos, who are fully occupied in becoming the ‘night terrors’ of the Milanese. Plus Andreas’ family, including his adopted daughter Theodora, are in Constantinople and closely watched.

But it turns out there is another challenger to Stefanos’ authority, one whom he did not expect. After falling off the face of the known world for the last decade, on December 7 David Komnenos, the lastborn and last-living son of Andreas Niketas, rides into Vidin.

1542: As the Roman Empire in the west tears itself apart with help, life in the Roman Empire in the east continues on much as it had before with relatively little change. Great merchant ships still dock in Surat and Colombo, carrying cargoes of cloves, nutmegs, pepper, musk, cinnamon, cotton and silk textiles, precious stones and sandalwood. Merchants still haggle with their local equivalents in the great marts of Kozhikode, Kolkata, and Malacca, whilst from over three dozen trading posts from Mogadishu in the west to Nan in the east can be heard the steady sounds of Roman priests, bakers, and blacksmiths.

The Roman Empire in the East, both those territories under direct Roman control (Surat, the western half of Taprobane, and Pahang) and the various trading posts, is rapidly forging a new identity, a hybrid between the transplanted Roman and the local. A large factor is the swiftly growing number of mixed-race offspring as the number of Roman women in the area is extremely limited. A perfect example of this budding synthesis is the Katepano of Colombo and his wife.

His wife is a native of Kotte, who though converted to Orthodoxy still wears the sari (and often goes topless per native practice), whilst at the same time speaking near-perfect Greek. Her husband, the Nicaea-born Katepano, wears a lungi, but both garments, though Indian in origin, are embroidered with Greek patterns. Both wear the rakhi, a Hindu protection charm. The couple are orthodox, but like many Christians in these parts they ‘share’ sacred sites with the Buddhists, much as Christians and Muslims do in the Ottoman Empire (some of the bodhisattvas are appropriated as local saints, along with the grave of Saint Thomas).

For dining, rice and curry dishes are the usual, accompanied with much fruit, washed down with lime juice, arrack (a local alcoholic beverage), or wine. They are by no means the only family in the Roman east to display such a synthesis, merely the highest placed. But most importantly, though this new community’s clothing and cuisine is Indian, its language is Greek, and it identifies as Roman.

Although Surat is the largest and wealthiest Roman city in the east, Colombo is more secure and the capital, with the Katepano outranking and commanding the Kephales of Surat and Pahang. Although originally the latter when conquered by Andreas Angelos only transferred mine ownership to the Romans (with clearly delineated Ethiopian and Wu shares), subsequent intrigues by the Sultan resulted in his overthrow by a Roman squadron in 1534.

Out of twelve captains and fifteen hundred men in said squadron, one captain and three hundred and fifty men were eastern-born. That trend of incorporating locals into the power structure has only been accelerating by the lack of emigrants from the heartland. By this point, over a sixth of Roman captains are eastern-born, with some venerating the Virgin Mary in public and Shiva in private. Also locals are starting to fill in positions in the local bureaucracy, mostly low-level clerking positions but the chief tax collector of Kotte is a Gujarati from Surat.

The only real bar to advancement is knowledge of Greek, both speaking, reading, and writing. Neither Hinduism nor Buddhism disqualifies anyone, provided it is practiced in private with Orthodoxy given public lip service. Buddhism though is generally more acceptable in public, since its tenets are more reconcilable with Orthodoxy. The exception to this tolerance is Nestorian Christianity, whose ancient heresy is beyond the pale. Its followers are not welcome in eastern Rhomania (save as Kashmiri merchants), and their churches are appropriated for Orthodox use.

The Roman Empire in the East is also surprisingly prosperous, even with the chaos in its western markets. The tin of Pahang, plus copper and iron traded from Wu in exchange for textiles, feeds a blossoming gun-founding industry maintained in Colombo. It compliments a budding shipbuilding industry also arising in the city. Rather than constructing warships in Rhomania and having to brave the treacherous Red Sea, the idea is to build Roman-style vessels directly in India, with an unintended benefit that the Indian-made vessels constructed out of teak hold up significantly better against the nibbling of tropical marine flora and fauna. It has already produced five vessels displacing four hundred tons or more.

But the main source of profit is the local carrying trade, whereby the Roman vessels ply the eastern seas carrying goods from one port to another. The trade in spices was the original lure in these waters, but the inhabitants of the vast eastern archipelagos depend heavily on merchant vessels for more mundane fare such as crockery and medicines.

With their larger hulls and superior armaments, Roman merchantmen are edging out the bulk of the Arabs and Chinese who formally dominated the trade, although they often hire native ships and sailors to supplement their efforts. Particularly strong inroads have been made in the seas around Halmahera and Celebes, where the pirates of the Sulu Sultanate have learned to fear their cannonades and where Majapahit authority is weak at best.

Still there is no desire for independence amongst the eastern Romans. The carrying trade and local industry sustain them and make them respectably comfortable, but only combined with the spice trade will it make them wealthy. Politically their existence is precarious, as the example of Kozhikode attests.

But local powers are not the only threats, for the growth of eastern Rhomania pales in comparison to that of the Portuguese Indies. Less than fifteen years after their first arrival in India, Diu, the Maldives, Myeik, and Aceh are all Portuguese territories (although the hold on the latter is tenuous given Acehnese resistance aided by the occasional intrigue from Pahang), with another twenty trading posts stretching as far east as Ternate. For the annual India Armada, fifteen vessels is already on the small side. In East Africa, Sofala and Malindi are Portuguese vassals, to the significant annoyance of the Ethiopians and Omani.

Although the Portuguese have succeeding in outflanking the traditional east-west trade route, thus far they have not undermined it significantly. The Cape route takes a heavy toll on ships and especially on men, and in terms of time for every case of spices shipped via the Cape route, two can be shipped via the Red Sea, with except for the Red Sea leg, significantly less wear and tear on ships and men.

That said, the traditional route has its own disadvantages even in times of peace, which is decidedly not the case currently. From the Moluccas to the Bab el-Mandeb, the great Roman vessels are ideal, but they are very poorly suited for the Red Sea with its treacherous currents and rocks. The Roman vessels constructed at Suez vacate the Red Sea as soon as possible, and assuming they make it out, never return. The losses in the inland sea is one of the main factors driving Roman shipbuilding industry in Taprobane.

Typically the great ships stop at Zeila (Ethiopian) or Aden (Yemeni), where the goods are transferred to small Arab dhows for the passage to Suez. The Pharaoh’s Canal can only admit the smallest of these, so the wares change to barges for the leg to Alexandria. Once at the great Egyptian port, they are offloaded and placed on the carracks, galleons, and galleys of the Mediterranean, where they are shipped to their destinations.

Much faster than the Cape Route, the number of transfers and middlemen nevertheless jack the price up, and the Roman and Ethiopian merchants are aware of this weakness compared to the Cape Route. The Ethiopians because of the expense and a pessimistic appraisal of the rewards at the end of the line have abandoned their westward plans, contenting themselves with the Kongolese conversion. With only a handful of import duties on the route, as it was done when Rhomania controlled Egypt, however there is still the chance for it to remain competitive. But an independent Egypt with its additional tolls would change that.

Thus not only the kaffos but also the spice trade agitate for a Roman Egypt. Even the Muslim Arabs of the Ethiopian coast who run most of the dhows on the Red Sea leg favor Ethiopian intervention. But not in support of their fellow Muslims the Abbasids, but for the Romans, fearing that an Abbasid or Copt Egypt will raise the prices of spices and allow the Portuguese Cape route to take over, ruining them economically.

This is much to the chagrin of the Copts who have militarily begun to gain the upper hand, especially as they are much more aware of what is transpiring to the south. With the fall of the Faiyum Oasis, caravans to Nubia are possible so regular diplomatic contact has been established between Alexandria and Gonder. Andreas of Egypt offers to place minimal duties on kaffos to keep the price down and ensure a steady flow to Rhomania, but Negusa Nagast Kwestantinos II (named after his father) is not satisfied.

Kaffos is a major portion of Ethiopian trade, but the shipment of eastern goods via Zeila is also a significant contributor to the Ethiopian exchequer, and he is very thoroughly aware of the danger the Portuguese portend to that flow. Also the use of Arab and Somali sailors in this trade, mostly Muslim, has been of significant use in integrating these large minorities into the Ethiopian state by making them valued and appreciated members of the community. Kwestantinos, for the continued viability of the Ethiopian Empire, would like to keep it that way.

Meanwhile in Germany, on January 16, Pope Victor IV dies in Mainz. Although hated by non-Germans, inside Germany it is clear he did good by the church. Arranging for better education for priests, fighting constantly against corruption, particularly nepotism, simony, and vacant sees, and his invention of the modern confessional box have done much to revitalize and popularize the church in Germany, the Low Countries, and Poland. However his rhetoric as well as his blatant favoritism of Germans and Poles (the latter was not the case in his early years, but the number of high-ranking Poles has increased 70% in the last decade) alienated the Mediterranean peoples.

He is also responsible for the creation of the new Templar Order, highly disciplined clerics held to strict monastic rules, the ideological shock troops of the Catholic Church. For now their missionary efforts, often done through their schools and education programs, are concentrated in Europe. But already some have sailed on Portuguese ships to West Africa (where the vast tide of Islam and animism makes the Avignon-Mainz gulf disappear) to spread Christianity. In the process their writings on the peoples and customs they encounter (done to determine how much of the local culture is compatible with the Faith) are the beginnings of modern cultural anthropology alongside Roman cultural studies made to optimize war strategies against various peoples.

He is succeeded by Pope Pius II, whose very first act is to send a delegation to Milan in an attempt to negotiate Milan’s return to the Catholic fold. However his second is to send another delegation to Constantinople. In the event the negotiations with Milan fail, he is willing to subsidize a Roman counter-offensive in Italy, provided the Papacy receive central Italy and the Romagna back, which the Papacy would rule as a vassal state of Rhomania except for the city of Rome itself which would be recognized as free and independent.

In that he is encouraged by the members of the House of Este who have fled to Germany to try and raise the Holy Roman Empire against their despised hereditary enemies the Visconti. Although most by now have made their way to Sicily to join the forces of Tancredo Mazzini and Matteo di Lecce-Komnenos, a few remain. They point out that provided the required tribute is on time, Constantinople does not interfere in internal affairs.

Paradoxically Pius also views vassalage to the Roman Empire as an opportunity to make the church more independent. By putting the terms of the vassalage down on paper, the threat to church independence would be much clearer than the nebulous but heavy Imperial ‘influence’ Manfred has over the Papacy. And geographically it would be distant from both Munich and Constantinople, allowing the Pope more freedom of action.

Just a few months later, Emperor Manfred dies in Munich. The election of his forty-two year old son as Emperor Wilhelm is never in doubt. Although half-Russian and first cousin of current Megas Rigas Mikhail IV who took the throne in 1538, he is nonetheless quite suspicious of the designs of Novgorod. Manfred never forgot the crucial aid his Russian in-laws had provided during the dark days when his domain was merely Schleswig-Holstein, and thus been willing to ignore the occasional Russian pressure on Finland or Poland.

Wilhelm is certainly not going to let that policy continue, as he views the Great Kingdom of the Rus, not the Roman Empire or the Empire of Hungary or Arthur’s Triple Monarchy as the greatest threat to Germany. Russian influence in Presporok is to be countered by all means short of war, whilst relations with Catherine’s realm are to be improved. At the same time regular contact with Georgia via Vlachia are to be established.

In Constantinople Stefanos’ plans to go on the offensive against the Turks have to be shelved whilst he confronts David. David’s presence also shelves his plans for naming a heir, since he does not want to add another political question into a highly charged atmosphere. That is especially considering his preferred heir, his nephew Michael, is a nonentity with the army and associated with the lackluster military performance of Ioannes. Although David has a better blood claim than anyone to the throne since the days of Herakleios II, Stefanos has the presses of Constantinople and thus a huge advantage in the propaganda war which he wages relentlessly.

And Stefanos has multiple opportunities. David is practically a foreigner, spending most of his life in the former Mameluke lands, or in Arles, or in unknown lands. Plus David speaks with an extremely strong provincial twang in Greek, his voice extremely grating on Constantinopolitans’ ears, although those versed in such things note that David’s twang sounds more Bulgarian than the expected Syrian. Stefanos also unearths Nikephoros’ Hippodrome Speech, pointing out that David is Andreas’ heir by blood, but by his actions clearly not his heir in spirit. In addition, Stefanos’ battle record is much more impressive and far better known than David’s.

To further bolster his reputation and his status as a ‘son’ of Andreas Niketas, Stefanos begins wearing Andreas’ other sword, not the lost David. It is a plain dirk, the sword he used at Smyrna on the Black Day, not the blade of an emperor, but the weapon of a soldier. And that is exactly what Stefanos is, and how Andreas is remembered by the soldiers of the Roman army.

At the same time, the sword David is shipped back to Baghdad by a reluctant Bayezid. He was pressured into doing it by a cabal of older officers, men who had served under his father and fought against Andreas Niketas. It is clear that shimmering blade makes them extremely nervous.

Thus David is only able to raise Bulgaria in support of his cause. The rest of the Empire is either in rebellion, under foreign occupation, or in the path of Milanese or Turkish offensives and thus disinclined to sheer away from a renowned strategos. Giorgios Laskaris and Andreas Drakos are too busy annihilating Milanese supply columns to weigh in on the debate, their silence taken as support of Stefanos.

Andreas also leads a devastating flying column into Epirus where he raises some of the Albanian clans against the Milanese whilst inflicting utterly savage reprisals against some of those chieftains who have been Tommaso’s greatest supporters. During the raid, Nikolaios Polos (a descendant of one Marco Polo, a Venetian merchant who settled in Constantinople and went native in the late 1200s) distinguishes himself for courage and skill under fire.

Recognizing that Bayezid is the greatest threat, Stefanos Doukas personally takes the field against the Sultan. Leaving Andreas and Giorgios to terrorize the Milanese (to this day they are still used by parents as bogeymen to get their children to behave), more forces, mostly half-trained militia are sent against Bulgaria. They are seriously harried by Bulgarians making hit-and-run attacks and make little progress, but they do tie up David’s attempts to launch an offensive of his own.

Stefanos is doing the same to Bayezid. Aware that the losses at Gordion make a pitched battle against the Ottomans suicidal, his cavalry, heavily supported by mounted infantry, skirmish with the foe. The good news is that Bayezid is beginning to run low on manpower, particularly good light cavalry. The Afghan tribesmen on whom he has been relying have been heavily whittled down by earlier campaigns, recruitment in the east is dropping both from growing indifference and Timurid raids, and those remaining are getting increasingly frustrated and belligerent.

As Timur II starts to flex his muscles, so too does another state. On December 18, Ethiopia does not declare war on the Abbasid Caliphate as Andreas of Egypt had requested. By declaring war on the Abbasids, he would be recognizing them as a legitimate state, and since it was born in rebellion against Rhomania it would imply recognition of the Coptic Kingdom of Egypt as well. Instead Kwestantinos states ‘although political confusions in Constantinople have prevented us from doing so earlier, it is time for Ethiopia to honor her promises. On this day, we stand by the pact signed with our brothers. May all our enemies tremble at our combined might’.

As the new year dawns, nineteen thousand Ethiopian troops, including one thousand mounted gunners and thirty five hundred foot gunners, cross the Egyptian frontier. On that same day, Ethiopia and Oman declare war on the Ottoman Empire.

1543: It is a busy year for the eastern Romans. For the first time, one of their vessels make landfall in the Ryukyu islands. Having been forced to jettison the bulk of their trade goods in a storm, they still retain most of their cannons, powder, and shot and end up joining a wokou squadron for some pillaging of the Chinese coast. This is by no means the first time the Romans have raided Chinese coastal waters (that ‘honor’ goes to Andreas Angelos), but it is the first significant contact between Romans and Japanese. Communications between the two are conducted by interpreters from Tondo.

As evidenced by the raid, Roman-Chinese relations have yet to improve from their bad start. Chinese merchants and junks are the most tenacious local rivals of Roman merchants, and their high-quality silks are the fiercest competitor of the preferred Roman trade good, their own silk textiles. In Malacca, the added element of the occasional Wu ship has led to the occasional incident.

Another element that makes Malacca a sore spot is the Portuguese. Two years earlier they made an attempt on the city, and were heavily supported by Chinese junks whose captains had quarreled with the Sultan. The Romans and Ethiopians, who resent the Chinese and Portuguese presence, sided with the Malays in driving off the attack. As payment the Sultan allowed the Romans and Ethiopians to loot the Chinese quarter, netting them a substantial haul of silks, tea (some of which was transplanted to Taprobane), and porcelain.

To the west, seven Roman vessels (one captain is Gujarati, another Taprobani) participate in a joint Ethiopian-Omani attack on Hormuz. The assault is foiled by contrary winds, but does bottle up the Ottoman galley squadron stationed there so that some lighter vessels can launch raids on the Gulf coastline. The Omani participate strongly in these attacks, well aware of the designs Baghdad has on them. At the same time a second group harries the Ottoman Indus but damage is minimal.

But it is Egypt where the hammer blow falls hardest. With the bulk of their forces in the north, the Abbasids can do little to stem the Ethiopian advance. The slowness of their inexorable advance is due solely to the rigors of climate and logistics. But the Caliph knows that they can only delay, not stop the Ethiopian offensive, so per his request, forty five hundred Turkish troops arrive in Cairo to bolster his lines.

Bit by bit, the Abbasid Caliphate is becoming an Ottoman satellite but at a heavy price. In northern Syria, the battle lines have finally ground their way into Antiocheia province itself, but over a pile of bodies. The Hospitalier fortress at Krak has fallen in the Abbasid advance, but the Order has reestablished itself around its hospital in Antioch and is participating with full fury in the defense. Through their offices in Europe, there is a small but steady trickle of crusaders (mostly Germans via Arles) into the area, including some veterans of Trebizond.

The fighting is getting ever more savage on both sides. Scalping is a common practice, and the regular accusation (made by both sides) of boiling babies occasionally is a true one. Due to the intercession of the church, the Antiochene raids have when possible captured Muslim children and babies rather than killing them per the usual practice. They are to be baptized and raised as Christian.

One such ‘crop’, just baptized, is captured during the fall of Apamea. Some of the Abbasid soldiery, heavily influenced by the fanatic, puritanical Hayyatist brand of Islam common to North Africa (many Hayyatists serve in the Caliph’s army as ghazis), restrain the priests and force them to watch as the infants’ heads are dashed against walls.

Rhomania is, in effect, fighting four wars, the civil war between Stefanos and David, and the wars with the Abbasids, Milanese, and Ottomans (in Anatolia). Of the foreign wars, the Roman-Ottoman War is by far the cleanest and paradoxically the only one without a serious religious element (Trebizond is the exception, solidifying the Sultan’s desire to keep it that way). Bayezid’s motives are strongly influenced by his Muslim piety, but he views this war primarily as a great power struggle and acts accordingly.

Atrocities have undoubtedly been committed, but by Abbasid standards are quite tame and largely an unfortunate side effect of supply difficulties. The imposition of jizya and other restrictions inherent to membership in the Christian millet per Islamic law have been done, but quietly and with little ostentation. Framed not as religious directive, but as bureaucratic edicts (with whom the Roman people are quite familiar), they are mostly accepted especially as Bayezid does not force any conversions, although voluntary ones are eagerly awarded.

Given his trouble with raiders, Bayezid is concerned to avoid having the same problem in western Anatolia, so he scrupulously keeps his forces in check, but paying for supplies is a significant problem as the extended war effort strains his exchequer. That helps slow his advance into Bithynia. Another factor delaying him is the drain of manpower to Syria and Egypt. Especially harmful is the former, as raids into Cilicia to hold down enemy troops have proven to be an effective tactic, but one demanding lots of light cavalry. Thus Bayezid’s screen suffers disproportionate losses from transfers.

At Sofia in Bulgaria, Stefanos finally succeeds in cornering David and the bulk of his army. The battle is fierce, David’s Bulgarians putting up stout and tenacious resistance against Stefanos’ coordinated attacks of gun infantry and heavy cavalry. But in the end he wins, routing David’s forces and capturing the corpse of his enemy.

There he makes a discovery both welcome and disconcerting. His now vanquished rival is not David Komnenos. A record written by Andreas Niketas himself, stored in the White Palace archives which Stefanos thoroughly studied for any clues on David’s character, states categorically that during sword training the then-eleven year old prince lost three teeth on his upper left jaw. Bulgarian ‘David’s’ teeth on that side are all natural. Stefanos is not the slayer of Andreas’ last son, but that means that the real Prince David is still out there somewhere.

In Macedonia, Tommaso’s health is taking a turn for the worse as the strain of the campaign bears down on him. Giorgios and Andreas are still killing his armies with a thousand cuts; the refrain ‘for the night is dark and full of terrors’ originates from a Milanese prayer to God for protection against the duo, although it is soon discontinued as it is ineffective. Plus his finances are in tatters. Giorgios particularly has a knack for sniffing out and capturing Milanese pay chests, only exacerbating his monetary problems. Many of his troops’ pay are in arrears, and his local allies are growing restive.

Angry over the lack of pay and good supplies, some of Tommaso’s troops take matters into their own hands, attacking a place certain to have valuable loot and weak defenses. On June 6, Mount Athos, the Holy Mountain of Orthodoxy, is sacked. Over six hundred monks are killed on that dark day, almost a fifth of the Mountain’s inhabitants, including Brother Kyril of the Great Lavra, formerly Emperor Ioannes VI Komnenos.

Many of the monks are slain after being tortured to find out where their most precious possessions are hidden. Others are gutted in the belief that they swallowed gold coins; Brother Kyril is murdered in this manner. At the same time, according to the Greek chronicler, just like in the Fourth Crusade, a camp whore sung lewd songs in the Great Lavra, as was done in Hagia Sophia in 1204. The loot though is considerable.

As is the reaction from the enraged Orthodox world, for there is not a single people of that faith who did not have a monastery on that mountain. Tommaso’s relations with his Serbian and Albanian allies immediately turn ugly, whilst Georgia expels all Milanese from its borders. From Russia there is no official response from Novgorod, but all across that vast kingdom with its rapidly expanding population men begin to trickle down the rivers toward the Queen of Cities.

Even Vlachia sends an abusive letter to Duke Tommaso, which considering its current position is impressive. With Emperor Wilhelm’s focus on Russia as the main threat, not Hungary, German contacts with Targoviste have waned. He has also given his approval to Polish ambitions to retake Galicia (especially with the proximity of the border to Krakow), lost to the Vlachs during the Tenth Crusade, and their formation of an alliance with Hungary who desires to retake Transylvania.

A Hungarian-Polish alliance is a formidable barrier to Russia, and with suitable marriage ties to both Buda and Krakow, Wilhelm does not feel threatened. Currently that alliance is engaged in hostilities with Vlachia, and despite a well-conducted defense with scorched earth tactics, the allies are winning. Russian intervention is forestalled by a Tatar revolt in the Volga region, plus raids from a White Horde under a vigorous Khan.

Stefanos is able to brilliantly utilize the sack of Mount Athos. With the death of the false David, his movement has collapsed and Stefanos now has to deal with Bulgaria. Tough and proud but poor, the Bulgarian people have little but their honor and their faith. Stefanos grants full amnesty to David’s partisans, provided they join him in fighting the ‘vile Lombard heretics’.

Twenty seven Bulgarian monks were killed at Mount Athos, nineteen after being tortured. In contrast, during the fourteenth and fifteenth century the Romans have not touched the Bulgarian monasteries on the Holy Mountains. Their blood is up and running hot as this terrible insult to their people and faith. And Stefanos offers more than just revenge; the Bulgarian people are to be given the ‘Apulian’ treatment. There are numerous holes in the tagmata, and the Bulgarians will be used to fill those holes. Thus Stefanos offers them revenge, land, and gold. In a week Stefanos’ army grows by fifteen thousand.

The Bulgarians join though to fight the Milanese, so Stefanos stays with them to keep an eye on them. Using them to continue their guerilla tactics (the word is coined by Castilian mercenaries in Milanese pay), the Emperor begins bolstering his army, training troops and gathering equipment. The influx of Russian volunteers helps considerably, and he begins negotiating with Novgorod for more.

Meanwhile his nephew Michael is demonstrating his prodigious skill at raising money, helped considerably by the sturdy Roman bureaucracy. Staying out of the political infighting, it has steadily and faithfully run the Empire to the best of its ability. The hands-off management style of Herakleios, Nikephoros, and Alexeia have helped to prepare them for this moment. The taxes come in, the contracts, pay, and equipment go out. They may be interrupted by war and invasion, but not by confusion at the center.

Both to strengthen the Anatolian forces, and to weaken the serious political threat potentially realized by the Giorgios-Andreas duo, Andreas Drakos is transferred to Thracesia. He has his work cut out for him molding the local levies into soldiers capable of taking on janissaries. For example, at his first inspection, the green recruits forget to remove their ramrods before firing. The volley is a fearsome sight, the ramrods hurled like small ballista bolts with lethal force, but reloading is an impossibility.

Andreas sets to work with a vengeance, corseting levies with what veterans he has, and leading them in constant skirmishes against Ottoman forces to bloody them. Bayezid’s weaker screen helps a great deal in these frays. At the same time, the forges of Opsikia and Thracesia are working at full speed producing firearms. The Roman army still relies heavily on well-drilled composite bowmen, but heavy losses amongst them and the length of time needed to train more mean that the handgun is fast eclipsing the composite bow as the primary missile weapon (mirroring trends in Antioch).

Andreas also organizes and drill his troops in new methods based on his and Giorgios’ experiences combating the Milanese. Commanding small forces in short, sharp actions, Andreas arranges his men in 400-500 strong formations, centered on a contingent of skutatoi or sarissophoroi, flanked and screened by missile troops. The gunners are trained to fire simultaneously in three ranks, delivering a heavy, sudden blast as opposed to the continuous fire of earlier Roman firearm doctrine, itself a poor reflection (due to vastly inferior reload times) of composite bow doctrine which emphasized rapidity of fire.

Meanwhile the Roman artillery arm is greatly revamped, this development not unique to Andreas’ theater. A new model of light mikropur, firing a three-pound shot and with a lighter barrel and carriage, is developed and beginning production. Weighing ‘only’ eight hundred and sixty five pounds, it can be moved easily by a four-horse team and allowing for some degree of battlefield mobility. Equipped with pre-prepared powder and shot in wooden cases (a development credited to an Armenian gun master, a ‘people most proficient in such things’ according to Armand Jean du Plessis), the light cannons can fire faster than mauroi.

Although horse archers retain more importance in Roman tactics, gunpowder too is infiltrating that branch. Besides the ubiquitous and highly valued black horses, regular firearms to be discharged from horseback are growing in number. Due to the impossibility of reloading a matchlock and riding at the same time, long pieces are still rare but a brace of kyzikoi is becoming a common part of kataphraktoi armament. However their numbers are limited by the difficulty in manufacturing the complex and easily damaged wheel-lock firing mechanism.

Yet the inability to reload, the pitiful range of the weapon, and the laughable accuracy means Andreas has absolutely no desire to turn his heavy cavalry into missile troops. In western Europe, pistol-armed cavalry are training to ride around an enemy troop, delivering a continuous wave of fire. Noticing the difficulty considering the weapons’ ability to inflict decisive results, Andreas trains his kataphraktoi to charge at the gallop, firing kyzikoi at point blank range, then plowing into the melee with mace and saber.

Lances are discontinued for the most part (some kataphraktoi remain as lancers, with a preferred ratio of one lancer droungos to two ‘black’ droungoi to provide mutual support), which has the keen benefit of making heavy cavalry ambushes easier without having to deal with the unwieldy weapons. Harkening back to the days of the first Komnenid dynasty, some of the elite black kataphraktoi formations are styled archontopouloi.

Reenactors of the Sarmatian Guard, a cavalry unit composed of Russian horsemen and Roman officers that served with distinction in Andreas Drakos' campaigns.

So the tide begins to turn. Both Bayezid and Tommaso are suffering from overextension, whilst Rhomania is unclouded by civil war. Roman troops are drilling and arming under skilled and bloodied captains, and despite the shrunken tax base, Constantinople’s finances are in far better shape than either Milan or Baghdad. Stefanos is negotiating with Russia and Georgia for men, and he also dispatches envoys to Carthage. That city, although de facto independent, has never formally broken from the Empire, and well remembers the trade and wealth that came from its inclusion in the Roman Empire.

But fate is fickle and cruel. On December 1, whilst overseeing troops in eastern Macedonia against the Milanese, Emperor Stefanos Doukas is caught in a landslide. His wounds are light, but pneumonia sets in. On December 23, he breathes his last. In his short reign, he did much to revitalize the army (although much of the damage had been inflicted by his path to the throne) but he failed in a major task. He dies without naming a heir. Michael Doukas is an obvious choice, but his skills are that of gold, and the Empire clearly needs those of iron.

In Hellas, it is the element of earth that makes the days dark. In Italy, it is the element of fire. Financial difficulties also plague the Milanese here, exacerbated by raids from the hills and a reviving Syracuse. Venetia too is growing restless, with grain, timber, and men arriving regularly from Croatia. The activities of Carthage and Arles too are cause for concern as news of Stefanos’ activities spread.

In the village of Senise in southern Basilicata, near the borders of Calabria, many locals displaced by Milanese confiscations have settled, a mix of Orthodox, Catholic, and Jews. Rubbing elbows as they try to build a new life in a corner of the peninsula ignored by their Lombard/Tuscan masters, they share a common hatred and a common determination not to lose their lands and homes a second (for the Jews, a third) time. Worshipping at common sites due to lack of building material, they embrace an apocalyptic mysticism.

But news come that a Milanese column is on its way to the village, believing that rich stores of gold, jewels, silks, and spices are stored there. The inhabitants know that is not the case. All they possess are their lives and their faith, and they are resolved not to give them up to the despised Milanese.

As the column approaches on September 8, great bonfires are lit, fueled by the pieces of their homes, and around them the inhabitants of Senise, Orthodox, Catholic, and Jew, together dance and sing. Around the flames they twirl and leap, singing a common hymn ‘Holy Fire’. Their voices fly to heaven, carried on the winds to the Milanese, and again and again the chorus is repeated.

“Holy Fire, cleanse this place, purify this land of sin and strife. Claim your children, gird them tight, and summon them to paradise.”

And with each chorus, the groups nearest to the pyres leap into the flames. Again and again the song is sung, and again and again the people of Senise immolate themselves. The Milanese can not, will not, have their lives and faith. Those belong to the Senisi alone. And so they sing and dance and leap.

Seventeen hundred immolate themselves that day. Four hundred Jews, seven hundred Orthodox, and six hundred Catholics. When the Milanese arrive the morning after, nothing is standing save a sign on which is writ, “Fire will purify.”
The Time of Troubles

Part 13.2, 1544-1546

1544: In Constantinople there is utter confusion. Michael Doukas slips out of the city as soon as he hears word of his uncle’s death. He wants the throne, but he suspects with good reason that in the current situation his life expectancy on it would be very short. The city prefect is left in charge of Constantinople, but the Senate given its dynatoi membership and militia commands exerts considerable influence.

He reappears in Kavala, current headquarters of Giorgios Laskaris. The Milanese are on the move again, Tommaso determined to end it. His health is steadily getting worse, and both his Albanian chiefs and King Vukasin are positioning themselves to drop the Milanese. The promised wealth of Constantinople keeps them loyal, for now, but it is clear to everyone involved that the Milanese war effort is on thin ice.

In southern Italy it is melting. The ‘martyrdom of Senise’ enrages and inspires the local populace, who are already on edge because while at the same time they have gotten poorer because of the confiscations, prices for goods have been skyrocketing because of the severing of trade ties with the Roman Empire. So besides being harangued for their faith, they are hungry and dirty. Bathhouse prices have gone up tenfold since the Milanese occupation, as they are now operating on a for-profit basis rather than a public service, and the fuel stores of Epirote and Dalmatian timber and Bulgarian coal are no longer available.

In an attempt to allay protests, for fuel the bathhouses begin burning animal manure. For obvious reasons it fails to help matters. At the same time a much-celebrated shipment of kaffos, a rare and expensive treat nowadays, sinks in a squall off of Corfu. The suspicious locals however do not believe that tale, suspecting that it is a lie to just another hike in kaffos prices, which are 50 times what they were a decade ago.

The only thing keeping southern Italy from exploding (as opposed to the current ‘steadily growing slow burn’) in the Milanese’ faces is Duke Tommaso, who is believed to be the best defense against his rapacious underlings, and the fact that the Duchy still looks to be winning the war. But even so, the number of guerrilla bands is growing daily, and in Sicily Tancredo Mazzini and Matteo di Lecce-Komnenos go on the offensive, seizing Trapani in May, the troops storming the walls with the battle cry ‘Fire will purify!’. Meanwhile more and more loads of timber, grain, and men from Croatia are offloading in Venetia.

In Anatolia Andreas Drakos is busily expanding his armies, and his methods offend the church. Invading monasteries and conscripting the healthiest members, he also puts nunneries to work fashioning clothing, tents, sacks and other needed items for outfitting an army. For the most part he concentrates his effort in Thracesia and Opsikia which Bayezid has left alone while he reduces Bithynia (Konstantinos Komnenos dies at this time).

The initial plan is to summon Giorgios Laskaris back to the capital and crown him Emperor. He is a skilled strategos, popular with the men, has an illustrious family name (albeit one distantly removed from the Imperial Laskarid line), and is still unmarried, meaning that a lucky dynatos could become the Imperial father-in-law. However the new Patriarch, Matthaios II, nixes the plan as Giorgios as Emperor would inevitably mean his brother-in-all-but-name Andreas Drakos (Andreas’ daughters refer to Giorgios as ‘uncle’) as Megas Domestikos.

Instead the Patriarch and Senate elect Alexios Papagos as Emperor, styling him Alexios VII. Fifty eight years old, he is a moderately wealthy jewelry merchant, with substantial contacts amongst the gold and silversmiths, and a Tourmarch of the Teicheiotai (the Walls-Constantinople’s massive militia, with a much higher prestige and quality than the provincial allagions) much like many other members of the city’s elite. However unlike most of them he does have some prior military experience, fighting on the Bulgarian front during the Orthodox War, wounded three times, and is the twenty-sixth recipient of the Order of the Iron Gates (Giorgios Laskaris and Andreas Drakos are the first and second respectively).

He immediately gets to work, continuing Stefanos’ initiatives. Massive work gangs make dirt fly outside the city as the Herakleian Walls are edged ever closer to completion. Countless armies have broken themselves against the Theodosian Walls; hopefully the tradition will be continued in the new defenses. In the Golden Horn, carracks tie up and disgorge their cargoes of Russian iron cannons and Georgian lamellar cuirasses. The Hippodrome is transformed into a massive drill ground, with awards granted to those with the most rapid rate of fire, the contests almost as well attended as the still maintained horse races to keep up the people’s morale.

One major item hampering Alexios VII is rampant rumors in the city regarding developments in the north. A Hungarian-Polish host is besieging Targoviste, and there are fears that the allies intend to cross the Danube and join forces with the Milanese once they finish with Vlachia. Refugees from Vlachia are crossing the river to get out of the reach of hussar squadrons, and Alexios dispatches dekarchoi to pick out the fittest men for conscription. At the same time to allay concern he does dispatch a gunboat squadron to the Danube, but deliberately outfits it with third-rate crews and weapons.

But his reign lasts a mere five weeks. During a service in Hagia Sophia, the Emperor suffers a massive stroke which leaves him crippled. He lingers for another week and a half, dying on February 14. Again the question of succession rears its ugly head, as his children have all pre-deceased him.

Patriarch Matthaios again blocks the plan to summon Giorgios, who is currently fighting for his life in eastern Macedonia. Kavala has fallen, whilst the Roman troops in the area are suffering from substandard rations that have spawned a number of digestive complaints. Highly outnumbered by Tommaso’s forces, he dares not commit to a frontal engagement. With that constraint, he can only slow, not stop, the Milanese grind toward the Queen of Cities.

Much to future historians’ surprise, neither Giorgios nor Andreas take this golden opportunity to try and claim the throne. But both are rather apolitical figures, soldiers, not statesmen, and men who literally grew up in the shadow of Andreas Niketas. To squabble over his throne whilst foreigners invade his empire would be profane in their minds. In fact, when Giorgios receives news of the confusion in Constantinople, he sends a message whereby he states that the rightful ruler is Theodora Komnena Drakina, great-granddaughter of the Little Megas (no one has dared move against her for fear of provoking her adoptive father, precisely as her real father had hoped).

However a fourteen-year-old girl is not exactly the kind of ruler the Empire needs at the moment, and the Patriarch is not inclined to see Andreas’ adoptive daughter on the throne either. But the next figure to sit on the throne of Caesars is not the kind of ruler the Empire needs either.

Manuel IV Klados is one of the wealthiest individuals in the Empire, as well as one known for a streak of stubbornness that would put a mule to shame. Inheriting his forefathers’ investments in pepper, kaffos, silk, and soap, he owns seven palaces throughout the Empire, plus two more on the Georgian Black Sea coast, their combined value comparable to two and a half White Palaces. With his moneybags, he bribes his way to the top of the Empire. However once he plops his rather corpulent behind on the throne (flanked on each side with at least a half dozen cannabis ‘tracer’ candles), he clearly has no clue what to do.

But while he has a lot of fat, drugs, and money, he does not have much a spine, an unfortunate trait for a week after he takes the throne, a column of sipahi raids his Chalcedon estate. Two weeks after that, as news arrive that the Milanese vanguard is at Adrianople’s suburbs, the entire Asian shore of the Bosporus is covered in Turkish campfires. Bayezid’s grand army numbers seventy thousand strong.

They cannot cross; in the only significant military action of Alexios VII’s reign the ramshackle Turkish navy was blown to bits off Sinope in a rather one-sided engagement, but the terrifying sight of tens of thousands of campfires scares Manuel out of his wits. He attempts to slip out of Constantinople with over a million hyperpyra in tow, but Helena Drakina, the fifteen-year-old eldest daughter of Andreas Drakos, orders out her retainers which bring the Emperor back. The whole affair is done quietly, but still word leaks out, making its way to Bayezid. Demonstrating heavily on the Asian side, his musicians play as loud as they can, the wind carrying the songs to the Queen of Cities.


The army that Sultan Bayezid encamped along the Bosporus was the greatest ever mustered by the Ottoman Empire to date.

Emperor Manuel decides to negotiate, attempting to bribe Bayezid into going away. But the Sultan is not inclined to go cheaply, nor does he. After several rounds of bargaining, Bayezid agrees to withdraw from Bithynia in exchange for an annual tribute of 500,000 hyperpyra for thirty years, plus the Anatolic, Chaldean, Syrian, and Coloneian themes. In Anatolia the Empire would be reduced to its mid-twelfth century status, minus the northeast coast. Manuel thinks he has struck a bargain, since he has gotten back the Optimatic theme, plus spared Opsikia and Thracesia, but like in the 1100s these lush provinces are significantly less valuable without the Anatolian plateau as a buffer zone.

Now the Sultan is in an apparently conciliatory mood. The Milanese are still breathing down Manuel’s neck, but Bayezid is willing to help alleviate that threat. He has little love for those western Christians with their annoying crusading habits, so he offers the services of his troops in exchange for money. Manuel, who is almost as terrified of the Milanese as he is of the Turks, agrees. In exchange for an increase of the yearly tribute to 725,000 hyperpyra, the Roman navy will ferry twenty eight thousand Turkish soldiers into Europe.

Again Manuel thinks he has a deal, since it will allow the Milanese and Turks to kill each other off. But everyone else is aghast at the arrangement, since the opportunities for Turkish treachery are legion and if successful, potentially fatal to the Empire. The opposition only encourages Manuel on his course, as he is insecure about his position especially after the farce of his attempted flight and being effectively overruled by a fifteen-year-old girl. Turkish troops will be an additional buffer for him, not just against the Milanese, but also against said girl’s father and ‘uncle’.

However Manuel has also spent the time greasing palms, and now has a sizeable portion of the Teicheiotai in his pocket, as well as the guilds of the blacksmiths, tanners, and butchers, who proved quite adept in street battles during the Patriarch Incident in the War of the Five Emperors and the Venetian-Serbian-Bulgarian siege. With such a massive bodyguard, deposing him is not an easy option. He also has enough ship captains in his pay that the Ottoman-ferry operation can be done even with the opposition to his reign.

* * *

Central Serbia, December 16, 1516:

The one log burned. The other sat next to the fire cooking his soup, staring at him. It wasn’t supposed to be there.

Nor was the one burning.

It had been a gift, something to warm an old man far too frail to be out in wild Serbia in this most wretched winter. But he had refused, returning it along with his own firewood ration for the day. Why?

The ground crunched behind him, and Andreas Drakos turned away from stirring his soup, expecting Giorgios or his other tent-mates returning from the latrines. He was wrong. “Your majesty,” he said, kneeling before Andreas Niketas, Emperor of the Romans, the Shatterer of Armies, the Bane of all Rhomania’s foes.

“Rise, eikosarchos.” Andreas Drakos did. The Emperor seemed different somehow, younger, stronger, but who else could he be but Andreas Niketas? “Your dinner smells terrible,” the Emperor chuckled.

“Droungarios Argyros says if the Fourth Droungos ever gets a 5 or less on the monthly review, I become the unit cook for a month.”

“So that’s how he does it. I’ll have to remember that.” The Emperor pointed at his second log. “Saving that for your breakfast?”

“Yes, your majesty.”

“Good, good. But as my father said, nothing comes free. The day will come when you must repay your debt.”

“Have no fear, your majesty, I will repay you.”

“No, not me. Soon I will be beyond such things. No, I would have you honor my name and my legacy.”

“Of course, your majesty.”

Andreas Niketas pursed his lips. “Of course. It seems so simple, so easy. But what is a man’s legacy? Is it really so clear? And what of an emperor’s?” Andreas Drakos opened his mouth and then closed it. “I have known many men in my time, eikosarchos, the greatest of the great and the lowest of the low. I sense that you have it in you to be the former, perhaps, if you are wise. The time will come when you will have to repay your debts, eikosarchos. I believe you will know how when it does.”

Strategos Andreas Drakos awoke. He was not in a Serbian winter, but in an Anatolian spring, in a bed in an inn at Thyatira. Why this memory?

The Empire teetered on the precipice, its enemies at the gates of Constantinople, its leadership craven and stupid, obsessed over fighting each other rather than the Empire’s foes. He had honored Andreas Niketas’ name. Though the opportunities had been there, he had fought the real enemies, not fellow Romans. But had it been enough? The hippopotamus on the throne of Caesars was craven and stupid, but the last thing the Roman Empire needed was another civil war.


Although Domestikos tou Dutikou (Domestic of the West) Giorgios Laskaris still looks, and often acts, like a man in his twenties, years of battle, the loss of his wife Elisa, and no less than twenty war wounds have aged Domestikos tou Anatolikou (Domestic of the East) Andreas Drakos considerably.

True, but to restore the rightful ruler…He knew who the rightful ruler was. Theodora Komnena, daughter of Ioannes VI, great-granddaughter of Andreas Niketas. She is the rightful ruler, but is she the right ruler? No. A fourteen-year-old girl could not lead the Empire in these straits. He could be her regent certainly, but that wasn’t good enough. In this time of troubles, the people, the armies, needed to be inspired, to be fired up. For that, Rhomania needed a Basileus.

You? a voice whispered.

He swung his feet over the side, sitting up. Behind him the bed was empty. The place where Elisa would have laid, tickling his ribs, was silent and cold. He looked down at his second scar, his largest, which arced up from his waistline over his left ribcage to just short of his breast, a long but thankfully shallow cut. Another memory, from when he was just twenty, came to him.

Elisa’s long, hot fingers traced over the scar as she sat naked, like him, atop his lap. “You’re awfully cold for a dragon,” she teased.

“You’re the real dragon,” he teased back, in between planting kisses down her neck. Her body always seemed to be running hot.

“No,” she replied, squirming a bit and arcing her back as he moved down. “You’ve the blood of the dragon.”

Kiss. “That…” Kiss. “was…” Kiss. “a long time ago.”

“No.” She gently grasped his chin and turned his head up towards hers. “Now.” She smiled. “You’re my dragon.”

You’re my dragon. He smiled at the memory. That line meant more to him than the Order of the Iron Gates. The blood of the dragon.

No, it was not to him to be Emperor. It should be Theodora. His adopted daughter, paradoxically, was the one that most reminded him of Elisa. The rightful ruler, but not the right ruler. But not him either. His was the blood of the Dragon, the blood of a strategos, not a Basileus. The closest to royalty his blood came was that of the Nasrids of Granada, provincial Andalusi nobility, from his Andalusi grandmother.

“Honor my name and my legacy,” the memory of Andreas Niketas said. Theodora was his name, his blood, his legacy. He could not take away what was rightfully hers. But at the same time, he had not exactly rushed to secure it for her either. Why?

The war. The war takes priority.


The Empire. The Empire does not need civil war.

But the Empire also needed good leadership. Civil war was bad, but quite arguably Manuel IV Klados was worse. The good of the Empire demanded it.

The good of the Empire demanded it.

“But what is a man’s legacy? Is it really so clear? And what of an emperor’s?” An Emperor’s legacy…is his Empire. Andreas Niketas had left his empire vast and mighty and rich. Now? Not so much. “Honor my name and my legacy.” That was his legacy, the legacy of Andreas Niketas, the Good Emperor. But to do that…he would have to make war against fellow Romans, and deprive Theodora of her birthright. It was wrong, and yet…

“Honor my name and my legacy.”

Manuel had to be stopped. The medicine may be bitter, but the disease was worse. And as for Theodora…she is of the line of Andreas Niketas; his blood flows through her veins. She will understand.

As did he, finally. He had thought honoring Andreas Niketas’ name had meant to stay out of politics, and to simply fight. But that had not been enough. Honoring his name meant more than that, it meant serving the Empire, and not just on the battlefield.

“The time will come when you will have to repay your debts, eikosarchos. I believe you will know how when it does,” the memory said.

He did. Strategos Andreas Drakos, great-grandson of the Dragon, the mightiest of Demetrios Megas’ generals, reached for his quill. It was time to pay his debt.

* * *

The sun rises gently over the eastern horizon, its rays scattering the morning mists. In Constantinople, the roaring crash of gunfire sweeps the streets. Near Kotyaion, the last Roman army in Anatolia advances into battle. At Smyrna, the church bells begin their long toll.

It is April 10, the eighty-ninth anniversary of the Black Day.

"I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no ones knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron scepter." He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

-Revelation 19:11-16

"And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, 'Come, gather together for the great feast of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great."-Revelation 19:17-18

"Raise the war cry, you nations, and be shattered! Listen, all you distant lands. Prepare for battle, and be shattered!"-Isaiah 8:9

Kotyaion is the main supply depot for the Ottoman army, its warehouses filled with hundreds of thousands of rations, its stockades teeming with thousands of sheep, goats, and cows taken from the central Anatolian herds. In its armories are dozen of extra cannons, alongside thousands of powder barrels, cases of cannon and arquebus shot, boxes of fuses (the match part of matchlock), and racks of swords, bows, arrows, and maces.

Bayezid’s swift march to the shores of the Bosporus was done to psychologically frighten the Romans into submission; his spies have kept him well aware of the characters sitting on the throne of the Caesars and their rapid turnover. However that haste means he has not established forward support depots, and given the lean pickings of the countryside at the end of a particularly long and hard winter, if Kotyaion is lost Bayezid has to either withdraw to Ancyra, possibly losing as much as a third of his army to starvation, or stay along the Bosporus and lose three-fourths of it to the same.

Per its importance it is well guarded, with a garrison of ten thousand men, but Andreas has spies who have infiltrated the town. To try and draw the troops out into the open, Andreas organizes a raid on the settlement which is easily repulsed and retires in disorder. Incessantly stung and aggravated by countless Roman raids, the Turkish soldiers and commander are eager for blood, and also a bit contemptuous of facing their Roman foe in open battle, factors of which he is aware. They sally out in all their strength.

Andreas, pleased with the turn of events, brings forward his army, only to have his advance screen staved in by an Ottoman vanguard four times larger than expected. The strategos brought twenty three thousand men to the field, and is facing thirty thousand Ottoman soldiery, including seven thousand Janissaries. The twenty thousand unexpected troops are reinforcements from Mesopotamia arrived just the day before, a mixed force of new levies and reactivated veterans, but their presence is highly disconcerting.

Andreas begins preparing to withdraw, but the Ottoman army barrels into him. He must fight or he must die; retreat is not an option. Cannons roar in action, arquebuses snarl at the foe, hurling their terrible three-ranked volleys as above flight after flight of whistling death rain down. Both sides have skilled missile troops, and both sides use them to the uttermost.

Skutatoi and azabs hack and smash at each other. At one point, janissaries hurl themselves forward with a cry of “Allah, allahu ackbar!”, blasting with their guns and charging with their scimitars and maces, carrying a small knoll that had been a makeshift redoubt as its former defenders flee in terror. At another, kataphraktoi lumber up, spur their mounts, shouting “Saint Theodoros!” as they discharge their kyzikoi. Bullets smash through lamellar, shatter bones, and are joined by the punishment of four and six-flanged maces. The sipahi squadron breaks.

As both sides’ footmen slug it ago, missile troops and artillery adding their sting of blood and pain to the fray, cavalry swirl and shoot and slay and most of all, sniff. They sniff for a gap, a chink between formations, an exposed flank, the smallest mistake, the greatest of weaknesses. The cry goes out, the orders are issued, rank after rank of gleaming, splendid kataphraktoi, both black and lancer, heralded by the archontopouloi, the orphaned sons of fallen soldiers. Around them koursores, fleet turkopouloi, and black horses, faces grim with their powder-burned foreheads.

A small mistake, a great weakness. The Turkish left flank is in the air. But the Ottoman horse is also on the move, swirling, shooting, slaying, and sniffing. They spy the threat and alert their superiors. The banners snap, the drums roll, and formations turn. The flank is refused. And more orders go out, not to wheel around, but to advance, to go forward. No longer a battle, it is a race. A race between the Romans turning the flank and the Ottomans breaking the center.

The Ottoman attack is a magnificent sight, their bands playing as the soldiers cry again and again, “Allah, allahu ackbar!” The wind blows, clearing the powder smoke so all can see the horsetail and silken banners, adorned with calligraphy writ in gold, flapping in the breeze above the tall white turbans. Again the cry to God, again the scream of the cannons, the roar of the arquebuses, and then the sheer fury of steel on steel.

For some it is too much. Many of the Roman soldiers have been bloodied, but in short, sharp raids and ambuscades. For many this is their first field battle, in all its gory glory, and it is too much. The body cannot withstand the pain, the mind cannot withstand the fear. The screams of dying men, crying for their mothers, the hot brains and blood flying everywhere amid the universal stench of voided bowels. They cannot withstand it, so they run.

Not all, but some. A chink appears, one here, another there. A small mistake, a great weakness. The Turks surge forward, their blood running hot; victory is near. They can taste it. But the tongue plays a major part in tasting, and tongues lie.

The Romans counterattack. The assault seems the same, save for one both small and big difference. The skirmishers advance, a hail of bullets sweeping forward as behind them the line infantry halt, present arms, and fire their three-ranked volleys. The shot roars forth down the line, the far right droungos shooting, then the one next to it, then the one next to it, and so on all down the ranks till the end, and the curtain of fire begins again. And the skutatoi march forward, banging their spears against their shields, shouting a cry both new and old, a cry that has not been heard for a generation, a cry against which no army on earth has been able to stand.

“For God! For God and Emperor Andreas!”

Why? No one knows. Historians have debated and argued over that since that day until now, and likely will until the end of time. Whether some strange apparition was seen by a dekarchos, or a quick thinking eikosarchos took up the call to inspire his men, no one knows. But of this, all men are certain. Soon ten thousand men are shouting it as shirkers and stragglers return to the battle. There are no chinks now. There was not enough time for the Turks to use them, to break the Roman lines, before the cries stopped them, before he stopped them.

“For God! For God and Emperor Andreas!”

In the Turkish ranks, confusion. Why are they shouting that? There is no Emperor Andreas. He has been dead and buried for twenty five years. He is no more. Or is he? They all have heard the tales, the whispers around the campfires and beds as candles flick and go out, leaving all in darkness.

And then there is more than just that shout. With that battle cry, all is mystery. But here, this is history. An age for the Roman Empire draws near its end, an age begun by the sons of Venice. It is thus altogether fitting that a son of Venice be here to forge its final and finest hour. Nikolaios Polos, of the line of Marco Polo, issues an order, not to cannons or cavalry, to skutatoi or mauroi, but to musicians. And they play. All know the song, both Roman and Turkish. It is The Shatterer of Armies.

In the Turkish ranks, hesitation. It is his song, his battle cry. Can it be? Can the tales of the holy men of the Christians be true? Has he come to retake what is his? Many of the Turkish soldiers are hardy, bloodied veterans, but few can deny the fluttering in their stomachs as they wonder. But for the new recruits, fresh from Mesopotamia, the last crop of manhood that land can sustain, there is more than just fluttering. Some lines begin to fall back, just a bit, but their comrades stand firm. A chink, a small mistake, a great weakness.

It is enough. Nikolaios Polos sees it, and issues more orders. Black horses fly forward, dismounting and laying down another curtain of fire as behind them the reserve squadrons canter up. The line infantry blast away as their officers screech over the din. “Battle fire!” Fire at will. The chink is widened with the wedge of lead and iron balls, flanked by bloody mists. The cavalry advance, kyzikoi and lances at the ready, infantry behind. The wedge of lead and iron is joined by the wedge of steel men.

“For God! For God and Emperor Andreas!” Men scream.

Dragon fire, the Timurids called it on the field of Taji, a hundred years ago. Well, the dragons have grown and multiplied in that time. Twenty dragons roar down upon the Turks.

A small mistake, a great weakness. In their rush to open the battle, the Turks have left most of their artillery behind. Their few batteries are outnumbered, outgunned, and slower to fire. The combined genius of Hephaestus and Athena crash down on them, as repositioned guns enfilade them with solid shot bouncing across the field. Here, a dozen men fall as one, hewn off at the knee. There, a squadron collapsed, the men’s flesh hanging off in bloody strips, torn by Vlach shot.

Thirty dragons.

In the Turkish ranks, fear. Some of the officers have seen such a sight before, that battle cry, that symphony of cannons and cymbals, and the onslaught of an army that seems to move and think as one. They have seen such a sight, once, in northern Mesopotamia long, long ago, an army under his command.

Forty dragons.

Gunfire erupts on the flank. The race has been lost; the flank has been turned. More and more Roman batteries brought forward snort and snarl, shooting Vlach shot into the ranks of foot soldiers. Snipers pick off their crews as counter-sniper arrows stab back, but not fast enough. Just like the reserves, not fast enough. Deploying forward to reinforce the front lines, their sides are flayed by arrow and shot, and then torn apart by mace and saber.

Sixty dragons.

In the Turkish ranks, terror.

The Turkish army breaks, fleeing back to Kotyaion save for a few stubborn knots of janissaries. Andreas Drakos ignores them for the most part, holding them in place with token forces until mikropurs firing Vlach shot blast them into smithereens or surrender. Instead he focuses on chasing the bulk of the Ottoman forces, and hard on their heels and helped a bit by the local inhabitants the gates are not closed in time.

The Turkish army has been destroyed, but more importantly their supply depot and all its vast stores are now in Roman hands. Compared to that, the forty five hundred Roman casualties are a small price. Bayezid is in a bind; he can march back and try to retake Kotyaion, but the success of the siege would be doubtful considering that most of his rations and ammunition are inside the city. So to the relief of Constantinople, the campfires on the Marmara go on as the Ottomans begin the torturous march to Ancyra.

Light cavalry and infantry fan out in search of scanty forage. Bithynia is wealthy and fertile, but it has been a rough winter and most of the reserves had already been eaten by the Ottoman host or stored in Kotyaion for safekeeping. Still the foragers fan out far and wide and meet with some success, but are heavily engaged by Roman flying columns which curtail their operations and kill many of them, although they do not go down alone.

But it is hunger, followed by diseases attacking malnourished frames, that is the real slayer of the Turks. Andreas does not commit to another major battle, instead licking his wounds and harrying the Turks to the utmost, concentrating his efforts on disrupting wagon trains dispatched from Ancyra to moderate effect. Bayezid began his ride to Constantinople with seventy thousand men; he returns to Ancyra with forty eight thousand.

He has managed to save the bulk of his men, but at a grievous price. Seventy percent of the horses are gone, starved to death from lack of fodder, their carcasses stripped by the famished soldiery. His cavalry, including his screeners, is crippled, the artillery arm’s mobility cut to a fraction of its former value. He still has a large army, but a slow and ill-balanced one.

At the beginning of the year, Ottoman forces numbered 140,000. Half with Bayezid’s main army, thirty five thousand rear-echelon and reinforcement troops (virtually all of which were destroyed at Kotyaion; that Turkish army was annihilated as a fighting force, the survivors fleeing into the countryside mostly to be killed by enraged peasants), and thirty five thousand Abbasid advisors. In June, they now number 88,000, a loss of almost forty percent.

* * *

Outskirts of Nicaea, June 4, 1544:

Andreas Drakos stepped down from his horse, handing his reins to twenty-year-old Nikolaios Polos as Giorgios Laskaris galloped up. His mount slid to a stop, sending dirt flying as his guards rode up. “Hail, victorious strategos!” Giorgios shouted, climbing down.

“Hail, Basileus!” Andreas shouted back. His best friend still looked like a strategos, but he wore a cloak of purple Imperial silk, held tight by a small golden clasp about the size of a hyperpyron of a double-headed eagle with ruby eyes. But he was Giorgios I Laskaris, first Emperor of the Second Laskarid dynasty. He strode up to Andreas. “How do I look?” he preened.


For a second his best friend glowered at him, grinned, and then enveloped him in a hug. Then gripping his shoulders, he beamed. “We did it.”

Andreas smiled. “Yes, we did.”

While he had attacked the Ottomans at Kotyaion, Giorgios moved to overthrow Manuel. Surrounded by a large array of men loyal to his gold, Manuel proved to be his usual stubborn self and a street battle erupted between his retainers and the army units loyal to Giorgios. The fighting was short-lived but intense, mostly centered around the archontate barracks. Once Manuel’s forces there were broken though, the remainder were quickly routed. By now Manuel, minus his manhood and his nose, would be well on his way to a monastery in Theodoro.

Giorgios let him go. “So aren’t you going to bow to your Emperor?” he asked as Michael Doukas dismounted behind the Imperial guards.



“You would know,” Andreas said smirking.

Giorgios grinned back at him. “Just for that I won’t tell you what your daughters have been up to.” Andreas’ eyes narrowed. “Oh, relax. But first, come, walk with me.”

Giorgios turned, starting to walk by the gurgling stream that paralleled the road. “Helena told me to tell you that you’re to be in Constantinople for Christmas. She’s making you a present.”

Andreas raised his eyebrows as a rock he kicked skittered down the path. “She’s ordering the Emperor of the Romans around?”

Giorgios nodded, and then winced. He stopped for a second, placing a hand on his right ribcage, an old war wound acting up again. “You know, when I took this job I thought I’d get more respect.”

“Aren’t you?”

“Oh from most people. But from your daughters, it’s ‘Uncle Giorgios, your signature is so messy I could forge it’ That was probably Alexeia or ‘Uncle Giorgios, you look stupid in that cape’ That was probably Helena.

Giorgios and Andreas started walking again. “See, they are showing you more respect.”

“How so?”

“Otherwise they just would’ve said, ‘Uncle Giorgios, you look stupid’.”

The Emperor of the Romans glowered at him; Andreas stared back nonplussed. “Now I know where they get it from?”

“Their mother?”

“Ha, ha, very funny.”

His daughters, all three of them, although only two call me Dad, did seem to be taking after Elisa, oddly though Theodora is the one that most looks like her. They’d been at the archontate barracks during the coup, placed for safekeeping in what had instead been the hottest zone of the city. They’d helped in the defense, bringing water and ammunition to the defenders, caring for the wounding, reloading pieces (Helena and Alexeia had been in enough army camps to learn that), and Helena had shot an enemy soldier, just wounding him though.

“Don’t worry, I’ve been keeping an eye on Isaakios.”


“The skutatos Helena saved at the barracks. He seems to be quite smitten.”

“Good. Now that reminds me, you’re Emperor now.” Giorgios rolled his eyes. “And do you know what that means?”

“I better learn to like purple?”

“No, it means…” He gripped Giorgios’ left shoulder comfortingly. “…that you are going to have to get married.”

Giorgios’ face fell. “God’s wounds, you’re right.” He started unclasping his purple cape. “Here, take this, you be Emperor.”

“You’d give up being Emperor just to avoid getting married? But you like women.”

“Of course I like women. But there’s a big difference between women and a…” Shudder. “Wife. You know how it’ll go. ‘Giorgios,’” he said in a high-pitched voice. “’You’re tracking mud onto the carpet’ and ‘Giorgios, you’re not using the right fork’ or ‘Giorgios, can I have more money for clothes even though I have fourteen million outfits?’. And then, and then, do you know what she’ll do with each and every one of those fourteen million outfits? She’ll ask that dreaded question ‘Giorgios, does this make me look fat?’”

Andreas had to stop, his sides were shaking so hard from containing his laughter. “You can’t win,” Giorgios continued. “If you say yes, she gets mad because you called her fat. If you say no, she gets mad because you’re lying to her. And naturally, none of them are see-through or even suggestive, so that’s no fun. Marriage, blech.”

“Do you want my advice?”

“Not really.”

“When it comes time to do your duty, just close your eyes and think of England.”

“Why England?”

“Because it could be worse. Your wife could be English.”

“Oh, God. Ooog,” he growled. “Ooog make babies.”

“Your voice isn’t deep enough, and you need to grow your beard out another two weeks.” They were mocking the wife of the current Plantagenet ambassador; Andreas was certain the marriage was to take time off of Purgatory.

“Thanks. So do you have any other suggestions?”

“Well, Maria is out. A doctor’s daughter is hardly fit for an Emperor.”

“Pity. She was such a good ‘doctor’, and imaginative too. Helena said it’d be a good idea to keep this local, take a Roman wife rather than a foreigner. Theodora and Alexeia concur.”

Andreas smiled. “Then that settles it; you’re marrying locally.”

“Michael Doukas suggested I marry her.”


“Helena, or Theodora, one of the two.”

Andreas stiffened. “What did you say?”

“I told him there is no way I’m marrying someone who is, for all intents and purposes, my niece. And besides, Helena bites.” He squinted. “Did she get that from you or from Elisa?”

“Uh, Elisa.”

Giorgios grinned. “I knew it.” His face grew serious. “So are you thinking of getting married again?”

“I don’t know, maybe. Haven’t found anyone.”

“Probably should. After all, they say a Megas Domestikos should be married. Don’t ask me why?”

“Megas Domestikos?”

“Yeah. Although you’re badly dressed, impertinent, make lousy poetry…”

“You should talk. A flatulent cow could make better poetry than you.”

“Uncouth too. But you’re good at beating up the enemy, so I figured why not.”

“Thank you.”

Giorgios clapped his hands. “Good, and now on to the important stuff.”


“First, we go find a pair of saucy wenches. Shouldn’t be too hard; power is such an aphrodisiac. And then, and then we end this.”


“Simple. I’ll take the high road, and you take the low road.”

* * *

Where are they?

Where are the Kings of the Goths?

Where are the Khans of the Huns, the Khagans of the Avars?

Where are the Lords of the Bulgars, the Chiefs of the Cumans?

Where are the Caliphs of Baghdad, the Shahs of the Persians?

Where are the Doges of Venice, the Sultans of Konya?

So answer me, where are they?

They are gone.

They have had their hour of glory, their time in the sun.

Their banners have flown, their tents pitched, their armies covering the countryside.

But now?

They are gone. Their banners have burned, their tents crumpled, the bones of their armies littering the countryside.

They have had their time, and now it is done.

But what of us?

What of us?

We are Romans.

We are not Goths or Huns or Avars.

We are not Bulgars or Cumans or Venetians.

We are Romans.

A century for you is a great expanse of time. For us a short chapter in our history.

A thousand years ago, before you knew letters or God, we were already old.

Before you were even born, we were already here.

And we shall be here long after you are gone.

* * *

House Laskaris once again sits on the throne of Rhomania, and the line of the Dragon once again holds the exalted rank of Megas Domestikos, supreme commander of all the armies of the Empire. The news spreads, and from Ireland to the Indus it sets hearts a-racing, some from joy, some from excitement, and some from terror.

First the joy. The mood of the Roman people is ecstatic. Volunteers flock to the standards of the tagmata, whilst in the occupied territories it is estimated the number of guerrilla bands quadruple in the first ten weeks after Giorgios’ accession. Patriarch Matthaios, keeping his opinions discreetly to himself, leads service after service of thanksgiving and celebration in Hagia Sophia, each one with the great church packed with the faithful.

The blood of Theodoros Megas, the restorer of Constantinople, is once again on the throne, trained by Andreas Niketas. And at his side is the blood of the Dragon and Vlad Dracula, who was wed to a descendent of Andreas Niketas. Great deeds surely await.

Next the excitement. The Time of Troubles has been carefully followed, to the extent of their abilities, by the peoples of Christendom. And none fail to be stirred by what they see now. Participants of Trebizond and the Hospitaler network, seconded by Emperor Wilhelm’s continued desire to export troublemakers and Mediterranean fears of a second Barbary coast, have made the struggle the topic of conversation in European halls.

There is also the matter of the economic depression hitting Europe as Roman trade has dwindled to virtually nothing over the last decade. The Portuguese are not able to fill the demand for silks, spices, and sugar. Ironically most of the economic ire over that is directed mostly at the Milanese, not the Ottomans who are more frankly responsible. That is because most western merchants have not dealt with the Ottomans, but do have substantial contacts with southern Italy (most eastern and Roman goods transfer to the west via Venetia, Bari, Messina, Syracuse, or Carthage) who have been continually grousing about Milanese ham-handedness and plain thievery.

At the same time, the pamphlet The Lombard Nation is flying hot off the presses of Hungary, Germany, France, and England. Written by Theodora Komnena Drakina, it is her first, lacking the polish of her later works. But what she lacks in smoothness she makes up for in passion, and there are few who cannot be moved by the words of a daughter mourning her beloved father, murdered by ‘those wretched Lombards, who in their greed and lust do not hesitate to trample over all the laws of God and man.’ Pope Pius and Emperor Wilhelm are the two most important readers, as the Pope does not like the precedent of torturing monks and Wilhelm does not like the idea of murdering royalty.

The result is a wave of foreign volunteers to serve in the armies of Rhomania, primarily Germans and Russians, who for the most part are not picky about which of the Empire’s foes they fight. Giorgios is quite happy about the trend, but does insist on maintaining Roman control over the various army units. It does discourage many, primarily the Germans, especially when added to the insistence that Greek is the language of command. However most of those end up continuing on to less picky Antioch to bolster its defenses.

The Germans are the second-largest group of foreign volunteers (technically third if one includes the Vlach refugees), but their numbers pale in comparison to those of the Russians. For comparison, the Germans in the Imperial and Antiochene armies number about 2500 by Christmas 1544. The Russians number about nineteen thousand, with several tourmai, the most famous of which is the Sarmatian Guard, composed entirely of Russians save for some of the officers.

Russia’s population is booming, its lands untouched by war save for the Kalmyk invasion twenty five years earlier. In the past fifty years, its population has been growing at a rate of close to a million a decade, and as it stands now the Great King of the Rus has 14.2 million subjects, almost two and a half million more than the Holy Roman Emperor. However that means the best land plots in Scythia are drying up, especially when coupled with the growth of great landowners in the region, leaving a large group of young men with little hope of advancement. Given the choice of Siberia or Rhomania, most choose the latter.

Finally the fear. Andreas Komnenos of Egypt is exceedingly dismayed by the news, as he also knows of the exceedingly harsh fates meted out to some of the Albanian traitors by Andreas Drakos’ earlier raid. His preliminary operations in central Anatolia show that the new Megas Domestikos’ actions in Epirus are not a fluke.

At the same time Copt and Ethiopian forces meet for the first time outside the walls of Cairo. The Ethiopian march north has been long and hard, with only one fifth of their casualties caused by enemy action. Together they lay siege to the city, but the question remains what will happen afterwards once the Abbasids are gone. During the siege, possibly (although the accusation is never proven) through connivance with Andreas Komnenos, the Abbasid Caliph escapes, arriving in Damascus after a hard ride and proclaiming it his new capital.

Bayezid in Ancyra is thoroughly unnerved by the political change, following right after the military debacle of the spring. He needs reinforcements, but Mesopotamia and Persia are spent, with what little forces remaining there needed to counterattack the small but countless Timurid, Ethiopian, Omani, and the occasional Cossack raid (via the Caspian). The only place he can pull them from is Syria (most of the Turkish ‘advisors’ in Egypt have been killed by the Ethiopians or Copts in the Cairo preliminaries). The only ray of light is that Timur II is distracted by a Tieh offensive against his eastern domains.

Unfortunately the situation in Syria is not conducive to such actions. The Antiochenes have been pushed back to the outer defenses of Antioch herself, the string of new suburb towns surrounding the city, chief of which is Daphne-on-the-Orontes, but the reduction of the great metropolis will require an enormous amount of time and manpower, especially when combined with the raids into Cilicia to tie down troops there. Slowing the tempo of operations is not an option however, as only the fierce Abbasid attacks keep the Antiochene forces at bay. If they are allowed to catch their breath, they have the manpower and supplies to launch a counterattack.

For Duke Tommaso, the news of Giorgios Laskaris’ accession to the throne is nothing less than a disaster. His forces’ morale was already low when he began the new offensive, made only worse by the continued raids, whose effectiveness grows as elements of his Albanian light cavalry are defecting, first in smaller numbers. But when news arrives that Emperor Giorgios is marching out of Constantinople in mid-June (for his first two months he has concentrated on clearing out the last Turkish pockets in Bithynia with Andreas Drakos), the trickle becomes a wave.

With his screen turning into a farce, Tommaso can advance no further; the high water mark is three miles east of Adrianople. He retreats, mercenary companies and Albanian clans falling away. As a general rule, Giorgios disbands the mercenary companies as he doesn’t trust them (and having the pillagers of Mt. Athos in his army would not go over well with his other troops), but integrates the Albanians into his army.

One of their leaders is Alexandros Kastrioti, who although he is only nineteen has already proven himself a skilled light cavalry commander in action against Giorgios’ raiders. Giorgios does not hold that against him, but instead soon has him leading some of his own light cavalry against his former paymaster. Shortly thereafter Giorgios weds Alexandros’ older sister Aferdita, which brings the powerful Kastrioti family solidly back into the Roman sphere and does much to allay Albanian concerns about returning to Imperial allegiance

At the same time King Vukasin withdraws from Tommaso’s camp, mustering his army at Ohrid and sending out peace feelers to Giorgios. He insists on control of all of the old Kingdom of Serbia, including the silver mines of Novo Brdo, and recognition as Basileus of the Serbs. However he is willing to return control of Roman Dalmatia, and provide grain and timber to the Dalmatian cities in bulk at fixed prices, which had been part of the old Serbian principalities’ tribute (minus the fixed prices of course).

Tommaso still has his Milanese troops, so he hunkers down in Thessaloniki, securing the road to Dyrrachium and abandoning all other conquests. His goal is to dig in and to bleed the Romans as much as possible in an attempt to wring good peace terms from Giorgios. He believes if he is stubborn enough, in light of the heavy losses already suffered by Rhomania and the war against the Ottomans, he can convince Giorgios to cede him at least some of his conquests.

So he too dispatches peace feelers to Giorgios, but their timing is bad. During a heavy skirmish, Giorgios’ mount had its front legs blown off by a cannonball, and the Emperor was badly injured with four broken ribs. He also has at least three pieces of shrapnel in him that cannot be removed given the surgical techniques of the time, including one near the groin. Even with a combined opium-cannabis prescription from his physician, he is in a lot of pain, especially when added to that of his older wounds.

The Milanese envoys also make the mistake of misjudging the Emperor. Vukasin’s dealings have met with much success, as Giorgios appreciates the Serbian monarch’s frankness. However the Milanese propose that Giorgios cede all of Italy, Sicily, Corfu, Epirus, and Macedonia west of the Vardar; they do not consider this as a serious offer, but merely a starting position to be bargained down. Giorgios angrily counters with the demand that Milan return all Roman territories, plus Tuscany and Liguria to boot, and then has them thrown out. He then proceeds to begin reducing the Milanese outposts guarding the approach to Thessaloniki, a slow and tedious business, but one that Tommaso can only delay, not halt.

The tepid progress in the west is in contrast to that of the east. After Bithynia is clear, Andreas Drakos dashes into central Anatolia, the people flocking to his standards. On July 4, he posts a list of those dynatoi who have betrayed the Roman Empire and announces that anyone who steals from or kills anyone on that list will not be punished, and allowed to keep any of their property they can lay their hands on.

Waves of raiders swept down upon those on the lists, mostly from eastern Anatolia. The inhabitants of Koloneia have had most of their herds confiscated by the Ottomans, and here is the opportunity to make good the losses. The dynatoi that escape the clutches of the irregulars soon fall into the hands of Andreas Drakos instead, which are no more merciful. Three Long Knives accompany Andreas, and they are kept busy chopping dynatoi heads.

But only the dynatoi. Their retainers, employees, and tenants are treated well provided they return to Roman service, which most do with alacrity so they can participate in the carving up of their masters’ estates.

The morale in the Ottoman army is quite low, and with many muttering behind his back, Bayezid is edgy, more concerned about his officers than the Romans. He does advance against Andreas Drakos who retreats for a brief while, but then snaps back with a hard-hitting ambush that leaves four thousand Turks as casualties.

At the same time, the news from Syria is not good; Daphne-on-the-Orontes has fallen, severing the link between Antioch and the port of St. Symeon. Now the only connection between Antioch the Great and the Mediterranean Sea is Alexandretta, which is being kept open only by desperate effort.

With the fall of Daphne, the siege of Antioch proper can begin. Even by the standards of earlier sieges of the Antiochene War, this will be a hard and torturous affair, with Antioch’s massive circuit of walls, tens of thousands of defenders, and over two hundred cannons of varying calibers. From the start, Abbasid-Ottoman casualties are high.


Peripheral cavalry operations against the Abbasids, many conducted by Hospitalers and attached German crusaders, were crucial to stiffening Antioch's defense against the great Abbasid siege.

Particularly amongst the officers, as Antioch’s defenders include a sizeable number of skilled snipers. One of the most dangerous with eventually fifty four confirmed kills is Abbar ibn Abdullah al-Anizzy, a sixteen-year-old Arab Muslim, the second son of the Emir of the powerful Bedouin Anazzah tribe.

The pastoralist Bedouin tribes along the periphery of the Empire, on the fringes of the desert, have not joined in the general Muslim revolt. Exempted from the Nullification Acts on account of their importance in border security, they not only had a lucrative business providing scouts and supplies for Roman army units, but also were one of the major recipients of livestock confiscated from their fellow Muslims by the Fourth Nullification Act. As a result, their feelings are not so cold towards the Romans, and are rather lukewarm toward their fellow Muslims who are agitating for their possessions back.

However al-Anizzy is not the highest scoring Antiochene sniper, whose tally comes finally to seventy one. Approximately one in six of the Antiochene snipers are women, and the honor of being the best sharpshooter goes to Anastasia Laskarina, known for her habit of whispering the Lord’s Prayer just before each kill. Not only does she eventually become the patron saint of snipers, she is the protagonist in the Roman film Enemy at the Gates, and also appears as a ghost to famed German sniper Erwin Model in the German film of the same name.

Women and Muslims participate in the defense of Antioch, and their actions are not limited to Syria. In Mylasa, one of the most prominent inhabitants is Xene of Smyrna, the only living descendant of Nazim of Smyrna, the man who briefly sheltered Prince Andreas during the Black Day (though famous, the family has been astonishingly infertile). Although named for a local Christian saint, she still practices the Muslim faith in a small mosque located on the outskirts of town used by the Muslim community, mostly former inhabitants like herself expelled from Smyrna. The Fifth Nullification Act which ordered the conversion, expulsion, or death of all Muslims in the Empire has, due to the political confusion after its issue, never been enforced.

Overall the Anatolian Muslims have been significantly less restive than the Syrian and Egyptian Muslims under the Nullification Acts. The First Act which raised their taxes hurt significantly, as well as the Fourth which expelled them from Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Smyrna, and Trebizond although in that case most got away with simply moving to the suburban towns. However the Second, Third, and the part of the Fourth dealing with Muslims and animal husbandry have had virtually no effect.

There were few Muslim moneylenders in Anatolia, their mosques were below the new draconian height restrictions, and their herds below the size limitations. Primarily they are artisans, physicians, merchants, ship-owners, and sailors whose activities have been unregulated. Also by being more economically and socially integrated into the community (for 95%+ Greek is their first language), they have been often shielded by kind-hearted officials from the worst excesses.

For example, the Kephale of Caria province, the capital of which is Mylasa, ‘converted’ the Muslims of his province by simply having them read a statement out loud in front of some officials that ‘Jesus was a man who spoke the Word of God’. It is a statement any orthodox Muslim can agree with, since they recognize Jesus as a prophet, but the Kephale argues that it is an implicit admission that Jesus is both God and man, a solidly Christian concept, and therefore acceptable as proof of conversion. The converts even get their taxes lowered as a result, their Christian neighbors going along with the farce since it gives them a chance to snigger at the tax collectors.

A capable dentist like her grandmother (who is credited with the pioneering of horse-bristle toothbrushes in the west), between Xene, some Muslim physicians, goldsmiths, and a slave trader pool their resources to help fund a Muslim newsletter. From their roots at the universities, the number of newsletters with at least a monthly issue number around 200 at this point, a sixth of them in Constantinople, some general covering news stories like the modern newspaper and others following a line more akin to specialist magazines.

The point of their newsletter is revealed in their title The Roman Muslim (by this point even Imperial officials are ignoring the existence of the Fifth Nullification Act). It is designed to help showcase that Muslims can still be good neighbors, business partners, and Imperial citizens. Its main feature are vignettes of Muslims in Imperial service, primarily soldiers who served in the campaigns of Andreas Niketas, and in the very first issue the vignette is on Nazim himself. Given her family connections, Xene is able to get her hands on some of Andreas Niketas’ own writings about Muslims he has known, and they are liberally quoted in the newsletter.

At the same time, it does not show solidarity with the Abbasids, which are vilified as wretched, bloodthirsty traitors. The mindset of the Anatolian Muslims (around 10% of the Imperial total) is best summed up by a work penned by Xene herself:

“It is only naturally for a people persecuted to want to end their suffering. It can be ended with either the pen or the sword. The Muslims of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt have chosen the sword without making any recourse to the pen whatsoever. It is unforgiveable, barbaric. But though we follow the faith of Mohammed, we are Romans. We have been persecuted, but to right this wrong we first take recourse to the pen, trusting that the good hearts and sound minds of our brothers and sisters will see that justice be done. But as those of whatever faith who deal in the sword and savagery, who follow not the ways of Romans but the old Venetians, may they suffer the same just and righteous fate as their exemplars.”

1545: Duke Tommaso Laskaris-Visconti is dead. Pneumonia is what administers the final blow, but it was Giorgios Laskaris who felled him. On March 16 Thessaloniki is abandoned, the battered remnants of the Milanese army falling back to Dyrrachium, which along with Corfu now stand as the lone conquests east of the Adriatic. Everywhere else the tide flows with Rhomania.

A fortnight before Roman troops move into Thessaloniki, peace is signed between the Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Serbia, the former recognizing the latter as a free and independent state (At the same time Aferdita delivers a healthy son, Alexios, conceived before Giorgios’ groin injury). Resident ambassadors are immediately exchanged between Constantinople and Ras, the Serbian capital, while merchants work out an exchange rate between Roman coinage and the silver Serbian perper (the name is a development from hyperpyron). Some of the disbanded Serbian troops end up taking service in Giorgios’ armies, primarily as heavy cavalry.

Meanwhile the bulk of the Albanians return to Roman allegiance, the allure of the Milanese ‘love artisans’ no longer quite so compelling under the ring of Roman steel and the pall of Roman powder smoke. For the most part, they are not punished for their treason, but the ones who were overly enthusiastic to Milanese lordship receive a very public death, mostly decapitation by Long Knife.

Dyrrachium though stands firm for now against Giorgios. The Roman navy, already weakened before the start of the Long War (the contemporary name given to the fighting), has suffered heavily both in battle and storm, although giving as well as it got. As a result, Giorgios is unable to impose a naval blockade on the city. Construction works at a frantic pace in the Imperial Arsenal, but the lack of skilled sailors is not so easily solved, especially when a plague outbreak temporarily cripples Venetia, poised to reenter the war before the Black Death carried off a tenth of its population.

When news arrives in Milan of Duke Tommaso’s death, it hits a court already in disarray over the report that Palermo has fallen to the Sicilians. Although Tancredo Mazzini died of malaria during the siege, Matteo di Lecce-Komnenos has easily assumed full command of Sicilian forces. By May, the entire island save besieged Messina is under his control, the siege supported by ships from the Roman provincial squadron at Malta.

On the mainland, southern Italy is in chaos. Guerrilla bands roam the countryside, and outside Naples, Salerno, Reggio di Calabria, Bari, and Taras/Taranto, only Milanese parties at least five hundred strong are guaranteed a modicum of safety. However sometimes even that is not enough; on June 12, a column nine hundred strong is cut to pieces by the raiders just fifteen miles north of Napoli.

Both in Sicily and southern Italy, the resistance to the Milanese is heralded by the battle cry “Fire will purify!” But those are not just words, for the bands fan northward into Umbria and Latium, purifying the land with fire. At Sora in Lazio the local militias turn out in force, but are scattered in a short battle by a band commanded by a Jew with a smoking beard (he placed slow-burning candles there to make him appear more fearsome). Again the prayer goes up, “The night is dark and full of terrors,” but the light of the fire only reveals the terrors more clearly, and again the prayer goes unanswered.

Lucrezia Borgia, the widow of Duke Tommaso, knows her position to be exceedingly shaky, with her eldest son Andrea only thirteen. Something must be done to stem the chaos; In Firenze on June 30, the city is coated with ash, carried by winds from Lazio. So she arranges a meeting with Matteo di Lecce-Komnenos.

It takes place in a monastery near Messina, the two meeting alone, and to this no one can agree on what transpired there. What is known is this. Lady Lucrezia Borgia, Duchess of Milan, proposes to Matteo, Dux of Abruzzi and descendant of Zoe Komnena, beloved sister of Andreas Niketas, that they wed and become King and Queen of Italy. It is after that point that accounts differ.

Matteo is already married to a Calabrian noblewoman with two children by her, plus another two bastards. Lucrezia has three children, Andrea, Giovanni, and Francesca. Supposedly Lucrezia insisted that all their prior children be disinherited, and that only children by this union inherit their new royal status.

Matteo refuses the offer; there are a variety of potential reasons. Besides repudiating a (admittedly loveless) marriage, there are serious questions whether or not he would last long at the Milanese court. That is also ignoring the risk that his enraged followers turn around and purify him with fire. And furthermore, there is the matter of the eventual Roman counterattack.

Venetia’s re-entry into the war is certain when the plague abates, and it is highly likely that Qarth (as Carthage is known to its inhabitations, an adaptation of Qart al-Hadasht; Carthaginian self-image is heavily based on the classical city, to the point that the Ducal family has taken the family name Barca, their sigil an elephant) will join on the Roman side as well. Plus assuming the title ‘King of Italy’ would also bring the danger of the Holy Roman Empire being added to the list of enemies.

Supposedly Lucrezia then attempts to seduce him on the spot in order to get him to change his mind. Either Matteo plays along and has sex with her, then leaves her in the lurch (the Milanese version) or he bluntly replies that such a tactic would have worked a lot better ten years earlier (the Sicilian version).

Her mission a failure, Lucrezia returns to Milan with her position further damaged. News of her proposal has gotten out, and only a substantial bribe to Emperor Wilhelm prevents him from placing Milan under the Imperial Ban, which surely would have been a prelude to a German invasion. She is soon deposed as regent and carted off to a convent, arriving there the same day as Messina falls.

In Malmo, Scania, Catherine’s capital, she is crowned ‘Empress of all the North’ on June 26. At her side is her new husband Michael Laskaris and their nine-year old son Hans, who is publicly legitimized as Catherine’s successor (her son Christian, also by Michael but supposedly by King Christopher of Denmark, had died from smallpox in 1539). It is a substantial testament to her political authority, effectively subsuming the Bonde and Estridsen dynasties and the various kingdoms into an Imperial framework (note that the titles ‘King/Queen of Denmark, Sweden etc.’ are not abolished, merely superseded). ‘Such purple blood deserves an Empire’, she quips referring to the Laskarid heritage of her son, and the prestige accrued to the Laskarid name by Giorgios’ accession make the moment auspicious.

Catherine has been preparing for this for twenty years, gathering supporters and developing arguments as she strengthens her authority over her disparate realms. A Laskarid royal dynasty has the advantage of not unduly elevating one kingdom above the others due to national descent. Also it has the potential to create a Laskarid Family Pact with the Roman Empire, a substantial sword of Damocles to hold over Russia, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Triple Monarchy.

In the lands of the Triple Monarchy, King Arthur takes no such extreme measures as the creation of a new, imperial title, at least not yet. But he has constructed a new capital to symbolize the unity of the three kingdoms on the Channel coast, near the site where he landed to begin the liberation of France from Arletian/Lotharingian rule. It is located on the right bank of the mouth of the Seine (OTL Le Havre), its growth rapid due not only to political but economic importance as it provides a welcome alternative to Harfleur’s silt-prone harbor. Multiple names are debated for the new city, but the one used by the commoners wins out: King’s Landing.

Far to the south, the Dragon Throne yields to the allied armies. Galicia returns to Polish dominion and Transylvania to Hungary. The war is a serious blow to the Kingdom of Vlachia, which has nearly half of its territory wrested away and much of the remainder devastated, although the stout resistance of Targoviste prevents the capital from suffering the same.

Many of the Vlach people have fled to the Roman Empire, Giorgios settling them in Macedonia, Thrace, and Bithynia to restore fallow fields and vacant villages. Now that the fighting in Rhomania is moving away from their new lands, much more fertile than the old, few are inclined to return. It is estimated that over 130,000 Vlachs, nearly a tenth of Vlachia’s population, end up settling in the Empire during the 1540s.

Far to the east, the great might of China meets the assembled host of the steppe, and is utterly shattered. Two of the eleven banner armies are almost completely wiped out in the debacle, freeing Timur from any threat from the Tieh, but at the same time Beijing retains enough strength to clearly not be a pushover.

And meanwhile to the southwest, numerous countless small battles dot the landscape of central Anatolia as bit by bit the last strongholds held by Turks and traitors are destroyed. Bayezid cannot do much as his army is still hamstrung by a lack of horses; three thousand replacement mounts are waylaid by Kurdish bushwhackers just west of Lake Van, with some help by the Armenian Catholicos from his seat on Akhtamar Island. Still, the number of petty hill forts that must be eliminated, plus the strain of logistics and Andreas’ need to integrate green and foreign troops into his army means that the Sultan only retires to Amaseia in late October.

Andreas Drakos does not pursue; after receiving War Room Operation H2, he races south, sweeping through Cilicia scattering raiders. As he marches on, the ecstatic locals flock to his banner, swelling his army. At first sight of his host, the armored horse, the rank upon rank of heavy infantry and stout mauroi, flanked and heralded by array after array of light cavalry and battery of cannon, they call upon him as Basileus. It takes some convincing before they realize he is merely the Megas Domestikos, as him and his army looks exactly for what they have been hoping and praying for for years. Every town he passes through makes the same mistake.

As Andreas enters Antiocheia province, Al-Mustanjid, Caliph of the Faithful, descendent of Al-Abbas, arrives at the siege lines of Antioch. Unfortunately for him, the Copts and Ethiopians have not come to blows after his expulsion from Egypt. Though relations are tense between the two, they are mustering their strength to invade Palestine, although a serious lack of timber hampers their efforts. Given his now much constricted resource base, and no help forthcoming from Bayezid (whose is still in Amaseia attempting to rebuild his army with limited stocks of men and horses, surrounding by mutterings steadily getting louder), a two-front war is an effort he cannot sustain. One must be knocked out, and immediately.

The fate of Cairo is grim and terrible, the metropolis swelled with refugees to a population of 120,000 falling two weeks after the Caliph’s departure. It is every bit as terrible as the sack of 1501, as Copt and Ethiopian soldiery tear through the streets pillaging, raping, and murdering. Around a fourth of the population are killed, the remaining 90,000 (give or take a few thousand) are sold into slavery. As a gesture of good will and to help mollify the Ethiopians, he gives them all the slaves and also makes no protest over the Ethiopian deportation of rural Egyptians. At least 150,000 (although some historians argue for a figure double that) make it to the slave markets of Gonder where the glut causes a price crash, a young girl going for the price of a pair of good sandals.

The Ethiopians get the inhabitants, the Copts get the city who immediately begin remodeling. Andreas brings in six thousand Copt settlers (he originally hoped for three times that, but in the last decade 30% of the Coptic population has been killed) to inhabit the city while explosives are planted. The Citadel of Cairo (which falls four days after the city itself), the Al-Hakim Mosque, the Aqmar Mosque, the Mosque and Madrasa of Sarghatmish, the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, the Mosque and Madrasa of Sultan Hassan, the Qalawun complex, and the Tomb of Salar and Sangar-al-Gawli are all blown to bits.

So the Caliph prepares for battle, calling in raiders and reinforcements, stripping the garrisons of northern Syria, congregating them at Antioch. He is able to summon an armament sixty three thousand strong, a formidable array albeit one he cannot keep concentrated for long. But he does not need to; on the morning of December 10, the people of Antioch awake to the opening refrain of The Shatterer of Armies as the Imperial banners crest the horizon. The great guns of Antioch roar out in joy from the citadel as the bells ring and the people sing. O, how they sing, the trumpets and drums of the army joining the lyrics of Do you hear the people sing? from the city.

Andreas too wants the campaign to be quick. He knows that Antioch, despite its fearsome resistance, is in dire straights, and he also does not want to leave Bayezid unmolested any longer than he has to. His army has grown greatly since Kotyaion, swelled by Russians and Vlachs, along with a sprinkling of Germans and Hungarians, Poles and Scandinavians, Kalmyks and Tatars from the lands beyond the Volga. They number forty four thousand, and ninety eight guns. The Abbasids can muster thirty five cannon.

The Roman troops are outnumbered, but that does not matter. When could such numbers best him? He had already led them to victory before; he shall do it again. So they advance into battle, singing his song, shouting out that terrible battle cry. “For God! For God and Emperor Andreas!” The Abbasids have heard the stories of old, and the stories of new, of the man at the Iron Gates and at Kotyaion, and they tremble.

The cannons roar, their shot fast and precise. The infantry sweep forward, their guns blazing, cutting paths for the heavy infantry and the cavalry. That beautiful, deadly dance once again is danced. For the important thing to remember is that it is not superstition and faith that says he is there. He had eight sons, and one hundred and fifty thousand. The shadow of Andreas Niketas looms tall, over the Empire he built, the men he trained. His literal sons began the Time of Troubles, but now his figurative sons begin to end it.

By midday the power of the Abbasid Caliphate has been broken, al-Mustanjid fleeing back to Damascus with the tattered shreds of his host, harried by Roman light cavalry. Andreas does not follow up beyond that. The earlier forced marches has tired his troops and his supplies are diminished. And al-Mustanjid is not his primary target.

As he regroups his forces and stores, the men of Antioch flocking to his banners as well, often calling him Basileus as well, many of the Bedouin tribes gather to pledge their allegiance, chief among them the powerful Anazzah tribe. Abbar ibn Abdullah al-Anizzy is granted the Order of the Iron Gates by Andreas personally, along with Anastasia Laskarina, the first woman to receive the honor.

There he inspects the snaphance musket (invented in either Antwerp or Ghent in the 1530s) she used to make three of her kills, although most were with a crossbow or an early model ‘rifle’ (it possessed the rifling grooves, but was extremely laborious to make and load-Antioch’s garrison had a total of six, the same number as it had of fifty-pounder cannons). All three weapons are in the Blachernae today, along with two of the other five rifles; the remaining three were subsequently lost.

The last two years has been a brilliant success for Andreas Drakos, the victory at Kotyaion, the crippling of the Ottoman host and its expulsion from central Anatolia, the smashing of traitors, and now the glorious spectacle of Antioch. It is a far contrast from Giorgios’ experience, who is still mired before stubborn Dyrrachium, rarely free from pain. For him there has only been foes who crumbled at a mere touch, save for a wretched siege, and an independent Serbia. It is undoubtedly good for the Empire, but it is not glorious.

But as opium smoke wafts over the headquarters tent at Dyrrachium, fireworks explode in the skies above Mylasa. All of the Nullification Acts, as well as the institution of the Muslim polis, have themselves been nullified. In new legislation ‘all followers of the Prophet Mohammed who have not engaged in rebellion against the Empire of the Romans’ are subject only to the following restrictions above and beyond that of other Imperial citizens.

The Muslims may reclaim their old mosques, repair and renovate them, and build new ones, provided they are not more than three-quarters the height of the tallest church in the settlement. Of all the mosques in Roman Europe and Anatolia, only two fail to pass. The Muslims are also required to pay a hajj tax, an additional 7.5% surcharge to their regular taxes, ostensibly to compensate the Empire for the loss of their labor during their pilgrimage to Mecca. They are also barred from proselytizing.

But in exchange they are not barred from any economic activity, universities, or any governmental or military office. To regain their old mosques, the ‘Christians’ re-register as Muslims in the tax records (they are given a significant grace period to change their status, and owe no back taxes, but woe to the one who tries to cheat on his tax status). The Muslims, ecstatic over the possibility both to practice their religion openly and still participate fully in the economic and intellectual life of the Empire, pay fulsome tribute to the one responsible: Michael Doukas, Megas Sakellarios (Chief Finance Minister), Logothetes tou Dromou (combination of Foreign Minister and Postmaster General), and Protasekretis (Head of the Imperial Chancery), the true ruler of the Empire in everything save the military.

1546: With blaring trumpets and a brilliant display of silken banners (Venetians, both old and new, have an intense love of pageantry and parties), the Venetian armada beats its way out of the lagoon, heralded by the great dromon Andreas Niketas, the largest vessel constructed in the Venetian arsenal. It is flanked by the monores of the Roman provincial squadron that have remained stationed there all throughout the Long War.

Venetia, much like Antiocheia/Cilicia, has solidly remained loyal to Rhomania, acting as an independent state by necessity but not by choice. The deliberate order of the progression of warships past the Lido is designed to show that now the city returns to the Roman Empire. It is an argument given even more solid form as the fleet holds a straight and steady course for Corfu, which falls after a siege of a fortnight.

The fall of Corfu makes the position of the Dyrrachium garrison unsustainable by cutting resupply from Apulia and it capitulates eight days later, marching out of the city with banners flying. Their stores of food, clothing, and ammunition are still well stocked, meaning the Milanese can still hold out for a long time, the cause of their good capitulation terms. Although they must leave all gunpowder weapons behind, they may retain all other arms, including horses, and are allowed to take ship to Italy without being imprisoned.

Nearly all do, even though the situation in the peninsula is highly unstable at best. The people of central Italy, although much more tolerant of Milanese rule, have not been enthusiastic supporters of it either. But the indiscriminate destruction caused by the purifying fire of the south has roused them to righteous fury, so the people of Latium, Umbria, Romagna, and the Marche strike back and strike back hard. Joining them are the men of Siena, which is an independent commune and ally of Milan.

The defeat at Sora is presently avenged tenfold, and soon the ‘Italian’ armies are sweeping back into Campania, pacifying the countryside in the most thorough method possible, depopulation, sometimes by relocation, sometimes by extermination. It is the Tenth Crusade all over again, a fact that is not forgotten as Matteo di Lecce-Komnenos lands in Calabria. Reggio di Calabria falls after a token siege, Calabria and Basilicata submitting to him almost immediately. However the stoutly garrisoned citadels of Salerno, Bari, and Taranto defy him, although by early June he is supported by ships from Rhomania freed by the surrender of Dyrrachium.

In the east, Andreas Drakos sets out with his forces, investing Aleppo while cavalry squadrons fan out southward to keep the Abbasids off balance. The defenses of Aleppo are weak, but the garrison refuses to surrender. A direct assault could very likely carry the day, but Andreas has his eyes set on another target. Leaving a screening force to blockade the city, he sets out with his eighteen thousand best troops; in their number is Abbar ibn Abdullah al-Anizzy.


The Army of the East investing Aleppo. Image taken from The House of Traitors, the sequel to The Komnenoi

Bayezid is aware of this movement, so he begins to pull the bulk of his forces out of eastern Anatolia in order to defend Mesopotamia. Considering his lack of animal transport and continued raids on his flanks, he manages to make respectable time, reaching Melitene in time to receive the news. Baghdad has fallen.

* * *

Baghdad, May 17, 1546:

“How many…?” Strategos Nikolaios Polos muttered, looking at the Peacock Throne of the Ottoman sultan.

“One hundred rubies, a hundred diamonds, a hundred emeralds,” Andreas Drakos said. “At least, that’s what they claim. We’ll count.” If that’s wrong, it’s because the number is too small. The peacock throne was made of solid gold, over two thousand pounds of it, the gems adding another four or five hundred pounds. The throne was named for the peacock figures which flanked the seat, their jewel-studded tails fanning together to form the back. And the whole thing was covered by a canopy of, I think that’s Thracesian silk, I’ll have to ask Manuel, supported by twelve thin marble columns, each with at least twenty pearls. Made from the looted wealth of Persia and northern India, it made the throne of the Roman Emperors seem positively spartan.

“That’s going to be a bitch to move,” Nikolaios said.

“Don’t worry about it. We’re breaking it up. Each tourmarch gets a jewel, their pick, in order of seniority. Emir al-Anizzy will get the pillars and pearls. And the gold will be melted down and evenly distributed to the men.”

It only came to a bit less than two ounces of gold per man, but the loot was not limited to the Peacock throne. Gold, silver, jewels, silks, spices, the booty was staggering; even the lowliest mauros would be able to retire a rich man, and he was certain that most of his droungarioi would be dynatoi now in their home towns. He estimated that the share going to the Anizzah alone for their logistical support would be enough to buy half the camels in Arabia. It was only appropriate though, since their mule and camel trains had been vital to feeding and watering the army as it skirted the desert. The baggage handlers had groused a lot on the way here; he doubted they would do the same on the way back.

The war plan devised by Herakleios II, son and successor of Andreas Niketas, had been vital to this operation. His work included detailed logistical arrangements, the number of camels needed to support his columns, locations of the best watering holes, and maps, including two plates so he could print some of them. He had been able to provide them to every droungarios. One of them had even recorded elevations.

“What about the canopy?” Nikolaios asked.

“That’s going to my daughters. It’ll make some nice dresses once it’s re-cut.” It was big enough.

“Aren’t you going to take anything?”

“No…” He stepped forward, pulling a dagger out. “Wait.” He put one foot on the seat of the Peacock throne, smearing the silk cushion with mud from his boot as he started prying out a massive ruby. It plopped out into his hand.

“Is that what I think it is?” Nikolaios asked.

“It is,” Andreas replied, staring at the inscription, the name of the first two owners of the 365-carat ruby. Timur. Shah Rukh. Somehow it had fallen into Persian, and then into Ottoman hands. Looking around he found what he was looking for, and he pried out the Koh-i-Noor and Darya-ye Noor diamonds, both 185-carat, the second one pale pink, a rare find even without the size. He turned around, holding the three massive jewels. “Also for my daughters.” Nikolaios smiled as Andreas slipped them into a pouch.

“Megas Domestikos!” an eikosarchos shouted, pounding into the room, a sheathed sword in his hand.

“What’s wrong?” Andreas asked. Baghdad, with its utterly pitiful garrison and its obsolete fortifications had fallen in a matter of hours, but the city had over a hundred and thirty thousand inhabitants, well over six times the size of his army. They could cause trouble, which is why he had light cavalry columns out ‘convincing’ local grandees to ransom his prisoners.

“Nothing, Megas Domestikos,” the young man said. “Look,” he said, holding out the sword with trembling hands. Nikolaios gasped.

Andreas stepped forward, gingerly taking the blade. David. “The sword of Andreas Niketas,” he whispered. It’s so light. He held the hilt in his hand; it almost seemed to flow into his palm. To a good swordsman, a blade wasn’t a tool in his hand, it was part of his hand. It was a hard thing to achieve, but with this, it seemed almost natural. He unfurled it, the steel gleaming in the light of the sun streaming through the glass windows, the blade singing. “Thank you, eikosarchos. Return to your duties.” Reluctantly the man left.

Andreas held it up in a guard position. “Do you think that was really why he did it?” He asked Nikolaios while staring at the steel.


“Andreas Niketas.” He flicked the blade, the steel swishing through the air. “Many great heroes end with the promise that in a time of need, they will come back. King Arthur, the Mahdi. But he did not promise; he did come back.”

“To fight the Hungarians.”

“Yes, but was that the point? You saw at Kotyaion, the way men came flocking back to the standards, how they charged and fought with that battle cry. I’ve been fighting since the Iron Gates, and if I live to be a thousand I will never be able to inspire men like that. He was able to turn the tide of a battle after being dead twenty five years. So maybe that’s why he did it, not specifically to fight the Hungarians, but because the empire needed a legend.”

“I don’t know, but that sounds like him.”

Andreas nodded. “It’s a beautiful thing, his blade.”

“Yours now.”

Mine. It could be mine. He’d taken it by right of conquest. He looked back, the Peacock Throne staring back at him. That’s the second throne I’ve taken. This one was deserved, but the first…

He sheathed the sword. “No, I’m not keeping it.”

“You’re giving it to the Emperor?”

“No, he’s not the rightful owner of this sword.” This sword was Andreas Niketas’; it belongs to his blood. “This is going to Theodora.”

* * *

The Sultan, upon news of the catastrophe, drives hard, reaching Mosul at record speed, but at the cost of thousands of stragglers, many of which are cut down by raiders from Anatolia following in the army’s wake. Three weeks after the fall of Baghdad, he is in position to challenge Andreas’ army, and he has a numerical advantage of over two to one. But he is outmatched three to two in cavalry, three to one in artillery, and his troops are tired, hungry, and in a foul mood. After one engagement where Roman cavalry squadrons, composed of fast and hard-hitting black horses, turkopouloi, and koursores, wheel into an exposed flank whilst kataphraktoi demonstrate at the front and leave three hundred dead or wounded on the field, they refuse to fight anymore.

Bayezid’s position is shaky. Andreas Drakos sits on his capital, the raiders from Anatolia are coalescing into an army in his rear, the Roman forces remaining in Syria stand on his flank, and his own troops are more kin to use their swords on him than the Romans. His capitulation is total. Negotiating entirely with Andreas Drakos, who in the interest of the Empire is keen to wrap the war up quickly to deal with the Abbasids and Milanese, Constantinople has absolutely no import into the Treaty of Baghdad.

All Roman territories and prisoners are to be returned promptly, without payment of ransom. The loot from the extremely thorough and meticulous sack from Baghdad, including the completely dismembered Peacock Throne, remains in Roman hands. Although in exchange, all Ottoman prisoners are returned without any demands from ransom either, the captives from Baghdad having already been redeemed by the sugar magnates of southern Mesopotamia.

It is a glorious, tremendous victory, considering that two years earlier Bayezid was encamped along the banks of the Bosporus. Andreas marches triumphantly into Antioch, already planning operations against the Abbasids (Aleppo capitulates when he arrives at the siege lines on his return), while the silk canopy and the great jewels are shipped to his daughters, and David to Theodora. Fireworks explode in the skies of Constantinople, celebratory races are held in the Hippodrome, and crowds fill Haghia Sophia and the mausoleum of Andreas praying prayers of thanksgiving.

But there is little joy in the White Palace. Giorgios, racked with pain and reeking of opium, is busy preparing the campaign in Italy. Already four thousand troops and three squadrons are operating there in support of Matteo, but the battered and burned land of southern Italy is incapable of supplying a respectable Roman host. Supplies must be built up, and the wrecking of a dozen transport ships laden with rations by a squall delays matters.

Continuing the trend from Dyrrachium, Michael has an almost complete monopoly on influence over the Emperor. Giorgios is withdrawn from his wife Aferdita, especially since although he is still technically capable of sexual relations it is far too painful to be a viable activity.

He is also distant from his ‘nieces’. With them he is used to playing the goofy uncle, a part he can no longer play, and he is also reluctant to have them see him in his weakened state. So most of the time Giorgios broods over war plans and Michael’s reports from the east. Were it anybody other than Andreas Drakos, Giorgios would have cause for concern.

The repeated proclamation of Andreas as Basileus, the war cries ‘For God and Emperor Andreas’, his unilateral negotiations with Bayezid, the distribution of Baghdad’s spoils which leave the White Palace empty-handed, and the news that he is communicating with the Ethiopians and Copts, including about the future status of Egypt, would make any Emperor nervous about an over-powerful strategos (especially considering that Andreas of Egypt is Andreas Drakos’ second cousin). That is, if the Emperor wasn’t Giorgios and the strategos Andreas. So Giorgios writes his ‘brother’ so that he can explain his position and allay concerns in Constantinople. Once that non-issue is dealt with, he returns to the logistical arrangements for the Italian offensive.

As opium burns in Rhomania, Mesopotamia burns. A week after the signing of peace between the Ottoman and Roman Empires, Osman Komnenos stages a coup against Bayezid. However the Sultan, gaining access to stores of food and money from his local estates, has somewhat restored his position, so the coup fails, Osman being driven from camp. But he is by no means beaten, rallying a good portion of the army to him, along with the bulk of northern Persia. Mesopotamia, a combination of Turkish and Arabic, is not very fond of the very Sufi and Persian Osman, and stands behind Bayezid.

So after the rigors of a long and bloody war, the Ottoman Empire descends into civil war, and all the while Ethiopian and Omani ships continue harrying the coast. But then comes the news, more terrible to Turkish hearts than Kotyaion, than Baghdad. With all the hosts of his vast domain, missile and melee infantry and cannons from the great cities, heavy cavalry from the agricultural countryside, and light horse from the vast steppes, Timur II, Sultan of Ma wara’un-Nahr (Arabic: the land beyond the river), Khan of the Tatars, Khagan of the Uzbeks and Uyghurs, King of Urumqi, and Lord of Asia, has crossed the Kopet Dag mountains.

But that thunderbolt from the east is soon matched and exceeded by one from the west. Over the past six months, Giorgios has sent nine letters to Andreas, and gotten no responses; Michael has intercepted every one, either outgoing or incoming. Recognizing that he cannot hope to match Giorgios or Andreas in the military sphere, his plan is to get the two to destroy each other, now that they’ve evicted the Ottomans and crippled the Milanese. It is a dangerous game, but he feels it is the only way he can remove the pair from his path to throne.

* * *

The White Palace, Constantinople, October 17, 1546:

Giorgios sighed, inhaling the cannabis smoke deeply, pulling the pipe from his mouth. “Are you mad?!” she yelled. A valid question. Helena Drakina stalked back and forth across the room in front of him like a lioness. No, a dragoness. Is that even a word? Do dragons have sexes? He didn’t know, but she was certainly breathing fire.

There was no one else in the room. No one else to watch as a seventeen-year-old girl cussed out the Emperor of the Romans. She has definitely been spending time with the Russians. Some of these are rather good. “If your mother could hear you now…”

“She’d be saying all this and more, you son of a bitch!” She’s right. Michael wouldn’t approve of this-you know what, I really don’t give a shit.

“I’ve informed you of my decision. You and your sisters’ safety and possessions are guaranteed. You needn’t worry about that, regardless of what your father has done.”

“God’s wounds, Giorgios! Why? He hasn’t done anything.”

“Is that so?” Is that so? He wondered at times. The signs were obvious, and history was clear at what lay down this road. But this was Andreas he was talking about. He couldn’t be. Or could he? The last decade had seen Romans fighting each other like rabid dogs. I cannot take the risk. He sat on the throne of Andreas Niketas, a battered throne, but one that must be preserved. And the best way to do that was to establish that it can’t be just seized by a man with ambition and an army.

“God’s wounds! How can you doubt him? After all you’ve been through.” Two years ago, you would’ve been right. But now…

He stood up, wincing in pain as a white hot lance shot down from his groin to his ankle. He limped over to the fire crackling in the fireplace. Above it was a painting, Rhomania Endures, completed just three months earlier. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Helena eyeing him. Her gaze wasn’t hard and angry though, not anymore. It was one of concern, and sorrow. She’s already lost her mother…

“Power does strange things to a man,” he said, staring at the fire.

“Yes. It’s made you stupid.”

Can’t argue with that. Here he was, condemning his brother from a thousand miles away. Damn it, this is wrong! I can’t do this! He almost turned to look at her, to say she was right, that he would rescind the decree.

You swore an oath. If it were my own life…But it isn’t; it’s Andreas’. No, I can’t do this. He saw a boy taking a log of firewood, taking it into the Imperial tent as snow flurries flew around him. He looked so young. We looked so young, and so foolish. So full of life, and now? I am tired, so very tired.

Again the memory. He saw the Imperial tent; he knew who was inside. He is my brother.

You must.

I can’t. He could feel Helena’s eyes boring into him, a mixture of anger and pleading, the look of a child betrayed. If I look back now, I am lost.

Duty demands it.

To hell with duty. I never should’ve taken this job in the first place.

But you did.


Sigh. Yes, yes I did. God damn it.

He sighed, staring at the fire. “My decision stands.”

Helena snarled. “God damn you to hell, Giorgios Laskaris.”

“He already has, Helena. He already has.”

* * *

On December 27, a proclamation writ by Michael Doukas and affixed with the Imperial seal is announced to the people of Constantinople, the Roman Empire, and Christendom. Giorgios does this with extreme reluctance, but the silence from the Megas Domestikos and the grave risk to the Empire give him no other choice.

Andreas Drakos is hereby pronounced a rebel and a traitor.
The Time of Troubles

13.3, 1547-1548

1547: Giorgios immediately begins marching east, but first there is the matter of Andreas’ daughters. Michael dare not do anything to harm them, and that is something that Giorgios absolutely will not do. Their father may be a traitor, but they have done nothing. A week before he leaves Constantinople, Helena, Theodora, and Alexeia are put on a ship bound for Tana with their servants, supplies, a hefty sum of money, and the titles to some estates near Draconovsk, enough to maintain them comfortably for the rest of their lives. Included among their possessions are the jewels from the Peacock Throne and the dresses made from its silk pavilion, although not the sword of Andreas Niketas. One individual particularly dismayed by this turn of events is Alexandros Kastrioti, Giorgios’ brother-in-law, who has fallen for Theodora and who reciprocates the feelings.

Andreas reacts to the news with initial shock, but soon collects himself. Giorgios is not responsible for this; Andreas knows of his terrible war injuries. He himself suffers from similar afflictions, albeit not quite to the same extent, and he too takes the opium pipe at times to ease the pain of buried, wincing shrapnel. He does not blame his brother.

For he ‘knows’ who is responsible. Documents had been discovered in the Topkapi Palace, and Bayezid confirmed them during the negotiations. He had consorted with Stefanos Doukas. The rumors that Stefanos had done so much to suppress (rather successfully) were indeed true. It was not Isaakios’ ineptness that broke the back of the Roman army at Gordion, the greatest military defeat in Roman annals since Cappadocian Caesarea, it was Stefanos’ treachery. So this is just another act of a house of traitors (it should be noted though that Andreas’ evidence only implicates Stefanos, but not Michael).

Andreas has no intention of turning himself over. The danger to his person is too great, and if he is gone, the safety of his daughters cannot be guaranteed (he is not aware of Giorgios’ sending of them to Russia). So his response to the decree is to act as if it does not exist. Nor does he denounce Michael Doukas either in the hopes of making him complacent, and also because announcing his sources (the Baghdad archives and Sultan Bayezid) would help rub salt into the wound opened by his unilateral negotiations with the Ottomans.

He need not fear for the loyalty of his men, nor of the provinces of Antiocheia, Cilicia, or Cyprus. With their support, along with volunteers from Koloneia, he marches south for Damascus. His plan is to wipe out the Abbasid rebels, thereby showing his loyalty, and to meet Giorgios in person somewhere in Syria. If they can meet face-to-face, Andreas is certain that the situation can be resolved and Michael Doukas exposed.

Michael fears that possibility. Giorgios’ dreadful injuries and his opium consumption led Michael to believe it would be relatively easy, given the ammunition Andreas unwittingly handed him, to turn Giorgios against Andreas. Dismayed by the difficulty of the task and the Emperor’s continued reluctance to this campaign, Michael accompanies the expedition to make sure it does not go ‘off-course’.

Giorgios’ wife Aferdita and son Alexios remain behind in Constantinople. It is quite apparent to the Imperial court that Giorgios will not live to see Alexios grow to manhood; a regency is inevitable. Andreas is the obvious choice for regent, with Michael running second. Michael is not optimistic about his ability to engineer Andreas’ ‘convenient’ death, nor his ability to survive the fallout considering that by the time he would be able to do so, Theodora Drakina Komnena would be of age.

Taking on Andreas on the field of battle would be a disaster for Michael and he knows it; only Giorgios can match him in the art of war. Hence his arrangement of the current state of affairs. If Giorgios destroys Andreas, he will in a few years become regent, and from there it is a short step over a child to the throne, and if Andreas destroys Giorgios his political authority would be severely weakened and therefore more easily usurped (Michael is unaware of Andreas’ discoveries concerning his uncle’s conduct).

In the meantime Andreas heads south, but not before ordering the Cilician Armenians and the Antiochenes not to harass Giorgios’ march, and requests that when he arrives that they provide markets to sell provisions at fair prices. Andreas hopes the display will help prove his innocence, or at the very least avert Imperial wrath from falling on the two provinces.

Giorgios need not fear for the loyalty of his own troops, nor of the people of the European provinces. Though he has no great victories such at Kotyaion or Antioch or Baghdad under his belt, the fields of Macedonia and Thrace wax fruitful, fertilized by Milanese corpses. But vast, mighty Asia is another matter. Though there are no overt signs of disloyalty, the change in mood from joy to sullenness is obvious to everyone, a shift that Michael exploits to the full.

Giorgios finds this particularly grating as he reflects that ten thousand of Andreas’ troops, including the entirety of the Sarmatian Guard, which were the first troops to storm both Ancyra and Ikonion, were troops that he gave him. There is also the matter that he is a Laskaris, the favored (and quite possibly most fertile, at least outside the old Imperial line) sons of Anatolia. But there is little evidence of that historical trend, even from his innumerable cousins.

As the Hospitaliers move back into the fortress of Krak, taken after a three-day siege (its garrison was a sixth of the recommended size to properly defend the citadel), news comes from the south. Gaza has fallen to an army of eleven thousand Copts and nine thousand Ethiopians, Andreas Komnenos of Egypt the overall commander.

The significant delays in Roman offensives in non-Anatolian Asia (the lunge at Baghdad had been Andreas’ only action of note last year due to difficulties procuring supplies and men) has been a strong boon to Andreas of Egypt, as the Ethiopians are growing more blasé about Egyptian independence, provided low duties on kaffos and spices are extant.

A significant factor in that arrangement is Andreas’ ability to wine-and-dine the Ethiopian commanders, and a marriage between his illegitimate daughter and the second son of the Negusa Nagast, which he successfully negotiated after Andreas Drakos made no move south immediately after his return from Baghdad which had significantly annoyed Gonder.

Envoys are sent, arriving at the same time as representatives from Giorgios. Michael cites this as another proof of the Megas Domestikos’ treason (note that the Emperor has yet to name a replacement).

Armies and nations are not only stirring in Syria. The invasion of Timur II bolsters Bayezid III’s position as the Turkish and Arabic peoples of Mesopotamia rally behind him to avoid the specter of Timur’s mighty and terrible ancestors. For now the Sultan plays it coy, negotiating ceasefires with the Omani and the Ethiopians. However he is severely lacking in both funds and manpower, the first caused by the second. Most of his bullion was taken during the sack of Baghdad, which because of the strain caused by the war with the Romans and defending against the Timurid, Ethiopian, and Omani raids had had a garrison so weak that it averaged out to one man per twenty one and a half feet of fortification.

Thus Osman Komnenos is the one to face the wrath of the Lord of Asia. The Sultan of the Land Beyond the River’s forces are not a traditional steppe army, but a formidable combined arms host with disciplined infantry, cavalry of both lance and bow, and a respectable array of cannon. It is only appropriate, for Timur II is not the ruler of a regular steppe empire, but a peripheral state, one which combines the array of cities and agricultural provinces of civilized states with pastoralist tribal networks, much like the Ottoman Empire a hundred years earlier.

In Timur’s army march horse archers that would not seem out of place in Temujin’s host alongside cannon that would fit right in a Roman arsenal. He rides under horsetail banners, but in his suite is a small library written in Persian, Arabic, and Greek, works of astronomy, philosophy, botany, and history.

At Shahrud he thrashes the local Persians mustered against him with little effort. Trained soldiers and money are hard to come by for Osman, but he does manage to defeat a secondary Timurid column at Kordkoy. It does nothing to halt the Timurid drive into central Persia, but it secures his power base in Mazandaran, wealthy, fertile, and with easy sea access via the Caspian to rebuilt Baku with its eleven thousand souls and bitter memories.

In Syria, Andreas Drakos invests Damascus but almost immediately learns that the Caliph al-Mustanjid is not in the city but is instead in Jerusalem marshalling an army. It is a testament to the Caliph’s organizational skills that he is able to muster a force comparable in size to Andreas’, but it is weak in training and discipline and absolutely pathetic in terms of artillery, two measly batteries.

Leaving a blocking force to contain the Damascenes, Andreas marches south to confront the Abbasid Caliph on the banks of the Yarmouk, at the battlefield where nine hundred years earlier the first followers of the Prophet shattered Roman power in the east. Consequently Abbasid morale is high, as due to Andreas’ detachments they have a numerical advantage of 4 to 3.

Just like that battle of old, the Arabs send out a champion to duel their enemy counterparts. Nikolaios Polos accepts the challenge, trotting out on his horse, but instead of dismounting he shoots the champion in the head with a kyzikos. He rides back to the cheers of his compatriots while the Arabs boo the cowardly, treacherous Romans.

That is until the battle begins in earnest and Roman cannonballs and arrows sweep down before them, cutting bloody swathes in the Abbasid ranks. Still they fight with tremendous courage; in one sector their attacks are led by ‘an Arab giantess, with strong arms and legs, who smote eleven of her enemy before she was felled by an arquebus shot’ according to Armand Jean du Plessis who accompanied the army. The Plantagenet consul at Antioch remained at his post, even during the siege, providing his military expertise and helping to organize the Latin residents in defense of the city, for which he is personally thanked by Andreas.

But courage is not enough. Against the silver, powder-burned Roman lines the Abbasid ranks hurl themselves, and are dashed to pieces. As at Kotyaion, the enemy line is flanked from the left by cavalry, pinioned by a surge from the Roman center, and crushed to powder. Three hours after the first cannon shot, the Abbasid army has ceased to exist. In its place is a terrified flood of humanity, desperately seeking safety.

There is none. The main retreat is to the crossing at Ayn al Dhakar, which bridges the Wadi-ur-Raqqad. But just as it was so nine hundred years ago, cavalry squadrons have taken the bridge; the way is shut. There is no escape, only death. Crowded together by Roman cavalry into masses so tight they cannot wield their weapons, the Muslims are flayed by horse archers and Vlach shot, every attempt to surrender answered by more fire.

Perhaps on another battlefield, mercy might have, maybe, been shown, but not here. ‘Repay the Arab in their own coin’, the Roman soldiery say, for on this battlefield nine centuries ago they took no Roman prisoners, and so it is done. Caliph al-Mustanjid is captured at around 2:30 in the afternoon, and the last Caliph of Cairo is given the same fate meted out to his Baghdadi cousins. Forty five minutes later he is rolled into a carpet and trampled to death by the archontopouloi, the orphans.

Abbasid power, what remains of it, evaporates. It is not surprising; in the villages there are around four women to every man or boy, according to the chroniclers (Antiocheia province is in similar shape). Also unnerving is the fact that in many of the villages there is a distinct lack of the noise of children (again similar to Antiocheia).

Galilee capitulates without a struggle, save for a small and very short fray at the Horns of Hattin where a mixed Hospitaler-Roman force crushes the local levies, following it up by toppling Saladin’s memorial to his victory there. The stones are carted away by the Hospitalers to help repair their hospital in Antioch or saved for their promised (by Andreas for their service in the defense of Syria) new complex in Jerusalem.

Damascus surrenders as soon as news of Yarmouk arrives, and Jerusalem when Andreas brings his batteries to bear on the city walls. On May 1 he enters the city; two hours after his arrival (during which time he orders the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock turned into churches) news arrives. The Copts and Ethiopians have taken Jaffa.

And Giorgios has taken Sidon. Marching down the coast, supported by a well-stocked naval supply train and facing token resistance, the various towns of the Syrian and Lebanese coasts have capitulated with almost no contest. Tortosa does not even wait until the main body arrives to yield, surrendering to the forward scouts.

Andreas can delay no longer. He must face Giorgios and hopefully make him see reason, so he marches north along the Jordan. He maintains limited contact but no coordination with the Copt-Ethiopian army marching along the coast (similar to Giorgios’ relations with that army), which likewise faces minimal resistance from the Arabs.

On May 10, the two armies encamp opposite each other, both sides refraining from attacking each other. During the initial exchanges, Andreas attempts to meet with Giorgios on that date but learns that the Emperor is not feeling well, the long and fast march having strained him. But Giorgios via emissaries promises to meet with Andreas at nine the following morning in the expanse between the two camps.

But an hour before sunrise on May 11, the 1,217th birthday of Constantinople, gunfire erupts from several sections of Giorgios’ camp. Elements of the Thracian and Macedonian tagmata claim that they were under attack by raiders from Andreas; a handful of officers, including two cousins of his, were bribed by Michael to feign being under attack; jumpy, green troops took care of the rest. Giorgios, who has spent most of the night in the latrine suffering from an attack of dysentery, thus agrees with Michael when he presents this most blatant proof of treachery. The army is mustered for battle; there will be no negotiations.

Giorgios has twenty five thousand troops under his command, and fifty one guns. Andreas musters twenty seven thousand and fifty five guns (40% of their combined armies are Russians or Vlachs-also note that the combined Roman armies even with them are smaller than the Roman army at Gordion). As both assemble in the morning, dust clouds billow from the horizon as the Copt-Ethiopian army, eighteen thousand strong with twenty guns moves up from the west.


The Valley of the Jezreel, also known as the Valley of Battles, as it is today. Mount Tabor is in the center background.

All three armies are in the valley of the Jezreel. Here Gideon smote the Midianites and Elijah dueled the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. At Mount Tabor Deborah and Barak defeated the army of Sisak, and Andreas Niketas broke the power of the Mamelukes. But the name for the coming battle is not taken from any of these, but from a nearby village that hangs off of Andreas’ left flank, Megiddo. Or as it is known in the Greek: Armageddon.

The Valley of Battles, May 11, 1547:

The air stank of bowels. It reeked of powder and blood too, but bowels most of all. The flies and the vultures were there in full force, feeding off the bloated corpses of men and horses. A high-pitched scream shrieked across the dusty landscape, followed by a gunshot. The murmur of priests, the moaning of injured men, was not interrupted in the slightest. The cries of men for their mothers were not answered, and he was not sure if the prayers were answered either. He coughed. So tired, so very tired.

He winced. “Sorry,” the surgeon said, shifting the forceps probing the wound in his lower thigh. It had been far too hot to be wearing full-kit armor, so he had only worn half-kit instead. He growled. “There. Almost got it.” A second later the surgeon pulled out the metal chunk, about twice the size of his fingernail. About bloody time. The young man began sponging off the blood trickling down his calf.

Blood, blood and death. And for what?

He remembered.

* * *

The air stank of sulfur. Fire lances shrieked skyward, one skittering sideway in midair. Cannons were roaring on all sides; all the world was fire and smoke, hell conjured forth by the savage mind of man.

Arrows stabbed from the murk, silent and black, a far cry from the noisome shot of the cannon and arquebus. But the screams of men and horses, the curdling stench of blood and ruptured bowel, that was the same. It was a stench he knew far, far too well, on battlefields scattered across a thousand miles and thirty years.

But this is different. He was out there somewhere. It was unthinkable, absurd, monstrous. They were meant to stand beside each other, not against each other. It was obscene.

How did it come to this?

He remembered.

* * *

“THIS FORMATION IS TO BE STANDING AT ATTENTION!” the drill dekarchos, an ugly Turk, Maximos, roared. “DOES THIS LOOK LIKE ATTENTION?”

Maximos glowered in his face. “Well, does it?”

“No, sir.”

“Then how do you explain this?”

“No excuse, sir.”

“No excuse, no excuse! You fail miserably and don’t even have the brains to come up with a half-assed excuse.” Maximos turned around, took ten steps, and turned around to face. “You are supposed to be the future of the Roman army! Instead I find cowards and idiots!” He held up a dirk he had taken from one of the recruits. “This is a rusty piece of shit, just like you. I would not take either to war. You, why are you smiling?!”

There’s no point lying. “I thought, we may be rusty pieces of shit, but you are the son of a whore.”

Maximos put his pudgy nose in his face but before he could say anything a man said, “Why do you lie to your dekarchos?”

Everyone, including Maximos, looked at the old man who had descended the battlements into the drill yard. He wore plain and badly scuffed riding boots, which fit well with the rest of his attire, brown woolen leggings, a white silk shirt of poor quality, covered by a woolen vest the same shade as his riding pants, with a cape of darker hue, held together by a tiny silver clasp in the shape of a duck. He leaned heavily on a whittled rough walking stick. The short, wrinkled man looked like a coppersmith or shopkeeper. Everyone kneeled before Andreas I Komnenos, Emperor of the Romans.

“Your Imperial Majesty,” Maximos said, his head bowed. “I was just reviewing the latest batch of trainees.”

“Good. They seem a bit raw,” he said, slowly walking forward, his staff clanking on the cobblestones. “How’s the arm? I know it gets stiff in the cold.” It was covered by his leather armor, but Maximos’ upper left arm bore a six-inch long gash, a gift from a wooden splinter sent flying by an English cannonball.

“It’s well, your majesty.”

Andreas turned away from the dekarchos to look at him. “And now, back to my original question. Why did you lie?” Two seconds. “I’m waiting.”

“It was not me who thought that dekarchos Maximos was the son of a whore.”

“I know that. And Maximos is the son of a whore, quite the street brawler too and murderous with a cleaver. I saw her during the siege. But you did not answer my question; why did you lie?”

“To protect my friend.” He was the one to actually say that and whisper it to him.

“Ah, to protect. Good.” The Emperor took a few steps and turned to look at them. “To protect,” he repeated. “That is why you are here. Not to make bad jokes or find some wenches…” He smiled wryly. “Unfortunately for you, since you’re so good at it.” The smile faded. “You will be soldiers of the Empire, protectors of Rhomania and her people.”

“But what of the Emperor?” one of his fellow trainees asked.

“The Emperor is merely the first of her protectors.”

* * *

“You nervous?” Giorgios asked.

“Why would I be nervous?” Andreas replied.

Giorgios leaned back on the stone pillar, facing him. The two were standing under an archway. In front of them rose the east wing of the White Palace, lined with glass windows. Elisa was behind one of them.

“Well, I’ve heard that some women have teeth lining their vaginas. If you don’t satisfy them, they bite your manhood off.”

“Uh, huh. Do you know this from personal experience?”

Giorgios scowled at him. “No, but it is heard. And Elisa is the kind of woman that would do that.”

“Wouldn’t you need incredible strong muscles down there in order to tear skin, or teeth so sharp that you’d shred your thighs if you weren’t careful?”

“That’s true, but she does ride horses a lot.”

“I am going to shoot you.”

Giorgios grinned. “I’m just looking out for your well being. How about this? I’ll check her out and make sure she’s safe for you. What do you say?”

“You know that urge to shoot you I just had? It’s still there. And now if you’ll excuse me.” He started walking toward the entrance. A light had appeared in the window; she was ready for him.

“Have fun,” Giorgios waved. “Be good. Learn lots. Come back in one piece.”

Andreas glared back at him. “Screw you,” he said grinning.

“You’re not my type. Are you sure you don’t want me to watch, err, keep you safe?”

Goodbye, Giorgios.”

* * *

“Are you causing trouble again?” Giorgios asked, biting into a piece of lemon cake.

“No,” Alexeia Drakina said.

“You’re lying.”

She scrunched her eight-year-old face. “No, I’m not. I’m not causing trouble again. I’m causing trouble still. So there.” She stuck out her tongue, closing her eyes, and yelped as a bit of Giorgios’ cake hit her squarely on the tip of her nose.

Scowling, she catapulted a chunk of her own dessert that bounced off his right shoulder. “Hey.”

“Children, behave,” Helena Drakina, ten years of age and peeling an orange, said as she sat down at the table. The wind gusted momentarily, flapping the silk awning covering them for a second. The verdant fields of Thracesia sprawled out behind her to the north, to where civil war waged. But he was on leave, for the moment.

“No,” Alexeia pouted.

“That’s no fun,” Giorgios replied.

Helena sighed. “Typical. Who started it?” Both Giorgios and Alexeia pointed at each other. “I bet it was Giorgios,” she said, smiling slyly.

Giorgios leaned back, taking a sip of wine. “Of course you would. Even though everyone knows women cause all the trouble.”

“Is that so?” Alexeia said.


“Then how about the time when you replaced the incense in Hagia Sophia with cannabis?” Helena asked. “Or when you switched that doctor of philosophy’s notes with excerpts from the Kama Sutra, or that time when you switched that Teicheiotai tourmarch’s prostitute for a three-hundred pound German man?”

“Actually I only did the first. The second was your father’s doing, and the third was the Emperor’s, well Megas Doux at the time. And how do you know about that last one?” Alexeia grinned evilly. “Mischievous little imp,” he muttered.

“But you see, none of them are women. So we don’t cause all the trouble,” Helena said.

“Stop putting facts in the way of my truth.”

“Having trouble, Giorgios?” Elena asked, walking over. She was clad in blue silk, sipping from a silver and crystal chalice, her brown hair loose, hanging just a few inches short of her waist. Her two daughters looked like smaller versions of herself, but with their father’s big nose and ears.

“You raised your daughters smart. It’s bad luck.” He plopped a grape in his mouth.

“Oh, is that so?” Elisa said, sitting down next to Alexeia and grinning.

Giorgios spat out the seed onto a plate. “Yes. For men.”

* * *

The air stank of blood and bowels still. Nothing more terrible than the sight of a battle lost, then that of a battle won, he thought. The dead covered the ground. He had seen this sight a hundred times. And not since the Iron Gates had he feared it so much as he did on this day. He took another breath, imbibing the opium, and exhaled. It was time, time to see the body, one of ten thousand spread across that foul field with its crop of blood. Time to see the body of his brother.

* * *

He looked…peaceful. His face was calm and composed, the complete opposite of what was the red ruin of his lower body, smeared across the landscape. He had never seen it coming.

The cannonball, or the betrayal, the real betrayal? Andreas Drakos sighed. He had heard the gunfire in the night coming from Giorgios’ camp, and he knew what it meant. So he had made plans.

The battle had been tough, very tough, harder than Antioch or Yarmouk or Kotyaion. Every move had been blocked, although the same could be said for Giorgios as well. They knew each other’s tactics well. After all, most of them were joint creations. It had been a stalemate, a stinking, grinding stalemate.

Until his second cousin had crashed into Giorgios’ flank. The Emperor had tried to guard against such an eventuality, but he had not had the men or the guns. The battle had lasted two and a half hours, a mere forty five minutes after the Africans’ attack. They had turned the tide of the battle, but it had been one of his cannons that killed Giorgios.

And the price for that intervention? He knew Giorgios had offered the Copts the restoration of the pre-war status quo, with full amnesty for their rebellion. So Andreas had bid higher, and forever broken the dream of restoring the Empire of Andreas Niketas.


You meant well.

So? The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and a good bit of stupidity too. My stupidity. I forgot he was an Emperor, my brother, yes, but also my sovereign. Had I remembered…He shuddered. This never would’ve happened.

I would have died for you. He remembered, as if it were just yesterday, the sharp crack that Hungarian bullet made against his brother’s cuirass at the Iron Gates, thirty years and an age ago, and the choking horror he had felt. He felt the same now, horror, but overlaid by an overwhelming tiredness.

“I am sorry, Giorgios.”

He did not respond, of course. The damage was done. He had taken the throne from Theodora, betrayed Andreas Niketas’ memory, and killed his brother. And for what? Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless, says the Teacher.

He sighed; he had work to do. “Droungarios,” he said. “Bring me the Doukid.”

* * *

Michael Doukas would have ruled an Empire and held a crown. He gets both; a golden crown is placed upon his head and then he reviews his subjects, an empire of the dead, the graves for those who fell as the price for his ambition. He is buried alive among them. Nor is that all, for Andreas declares that the House of Doukas shall be destroyed for all time. Under pain of death, its members are ordered to change their name to Prodotes, so that from now until the end of days they shall forever be known as the house of traitors.

As for Coptic Egypt, it does not quite get its independence. Andreas Komnenos drops the title of Basileus, instead taking that of Despot of Egypt. The Despotate of Egypt is technically a vassal of the Roman Empire, paying an annual tribute (some of it payable in grain), but it has full internal autonomy and may conduct an independent foreign policy, save with the Ottoman Empire. Their ambassadors may represent themselves as envoys of the Despot (capital in Alexandria) and their ships may fly their own flag, a Coptic cross flanked by a white lotus flower on each side on a field of blue.

The Roman Empire still maintains direct control of the town of Suez however, so that it may remain connected to its eastern outposts (who are in the process of forging strong alliances with the wokou in joint operations off the China coast). In exchange Egypt becomes part of the Roman tariff zone unlike traditional vassals; goods passing between Rhomania and Egypt are not subject to any duties, a clause that greatly pleases the Ethiopians who are quite eager to begin selling kaffos again.

As Timur II seizes Rey, Andreas Drakos begins his long march back to Constantinople with the body and army of Giorgios Laskaris in tow; he has little difficulty asserting his authority after the execution of Michael Doukas. Many of the troops (primarily Giorgios’) are left behind to garrison Syria and Palestine, while three hundred go with the Copts and Ethiopians to Africa to take up their new station in Suez. The only serious incident on his way back is in Damascus, where the locals regain some of their old spirit when the officials conducting a new tax census go into peoples’ homes, the strange men potentially getting glimpses of unveiled women. The Damascenes riot.

Andreas Drakos is already in an utterly foul mood, and has absolutely no inclination to be merciful. The rebellious districts are shelled for a day and a night, until the city elders come before him begging for mercy. Only then does he desist, and while two thousand bodies are pulled from the rubble and buried, horses are stabled in the Great Mosque of Damascus, which is then cleaned out and converted into the Basilica of St. John the Baptist.

When he does arrive in Constantinople, he does not present himself as a conquering hero or new Emperor, but as a faithful Megas Domestikos returning the body of his Emperor, fallen in battle. Giorgios Laskaris, first of his name, is buried with full Imperial honors. The only thing that brightens his days are the joyous reunion with his daughters who have returned to Tana. The care and respect with which the Russian authorities have treated them will not be forgotten.

He also ‘convinces’ the Patriarch, who he knows is a personal enemy and who he suspects as an accomplice of Michael Doukas, to retire. Taking his place is Patriarch Matthaios II, the former metropolitan of Trebizond. He had served with courage and distinction during the Ottoman siege of his see, losing two fingers to a cannonball, and is considered by some to be a living saint. On another occasion, he held an icon of the Madonna over a section of wall that was being repaired under heavy Turkish fire. Despite considerable danger to his person, he remained there until the repairs were complete, and neither him nor any members of the work detail were injured.

* * *

The White Palace, Constantinople, September 18, 1547:

He looked…old. His face was more furrowed and wrinkled, his hair more white than gray, and he was more stooped over than she remembered. Theodora had not seen her adoptive father in twenty months; in that time Andreas Drakos had aged twenty years.

He put the smoking opium pipe down; he was using that more also, a lot more. “Are you cold?” she asked. He sat next to a crackling fireplace, covered in blankets, a closed leather-bound book on his lap.

“I could get you some kaffos,” she said. She took a sip from her own cup, fresh brewed, with a scoop of sugar and a dash of cinnamon. It was her second this week; she felt positively decadent. With the re-opening of the trade routes to the Ethiopian plantations, the price and availability of kaffos was starting to go down; it was only twenty five times more expensive than its 1535 levels, rather than thirty.

“No thank you,” he said, turning to look at her. “You look well.” He smiled. “I like your necklace.” Theodora glanced down at it; the Koh-i-Noor diamond stared back at her from the center of her golden brooch. The four thumbnail-sized rubies surrounding it seemed positively dull in comparison. “You should wear it, along with your peacock dress.” He was referring to the Thracesian silk dress made from the pavilion of the Peacock Throne.

“For what?” she asked, although she already knew the answer. Her stomach knotted.

“Your coronation. I was thinking October 1 would be a good day; it was Theodoros IV’s birth-”


“Excuse me?”

“I said no.”

“The Emperor…Giorgios, is dead. It is time for you to take his place.”

“I said no.”

“I heard you the first time.”

“Good. Now would you listen?”

“Theodora, the throne is yours. It is your birthright.”

“You didn’t seem to think that three years ago!” she snapped. She knew why he had done it. But it had been Dad’s, and he’d promised…. Andreas looked like she had punched him in the gut. That was the wrong thing to say.

She briskly walked over to him, bending down and placing his rough, cold hands in between her own. “I’m sorry.”

He smiled thinly. “Don’t be. I deserved that. I took what was rightfully yours, and paid a price for it. A terrible, terrible price. But you must be officially crowned.”

“Again, no.”

He slid his hands out. “Why not?”

“It is not me who should be crowned,” she said, standing up. “It is you.”

He stared at her for a second, then jerked his gaze to the fire which was starting to die. “No. Impossible.”

“Why not?”

“It is not my place.”

She rolled her eyes. “The throne is precisely your place.”


“Why can you not see it? Are you blind? Everyone in the east proclaims you as Basileus.”

“They are wrong.”

“Including yourself? You’ve been acting like an Emperor for the last year. You’ve negotiated treaties with the Ottomans, the Ethiopians, the Copts, even the Hospitalers. You’ve outlawed the Doukas name, tried, judged, and executed an Imperial official.”

“That was different.”


“That was to help preserve your Empire.”

“I don’t think so. I think it was because you knew, at least a part of you knew, that you were the right person for the job.”

“You are the rightful ruler. I am not even close.”

“That didn’t stop you before. Yes, I am the rightful ruler, but not the right ruler. That was why you told Uncle Giorgios to take the throne from Manuel.”

“That was a mistake.”

“No, it wasn’t.” She squatted in front of him. “Take the throne. Finish what you and Giorgios started.”

“I cannot.”

She opened her mouth, about to ask ‘Why?’, but then she looked at him, still gazing into the fire. “You’re afraid.”

He turned his head to look at her, arching an eyebrow. “You are accusing me of cowardice? I’ve been in a hundred battles, and been wounded in half of them.”

“For starters, the last bit does not prove you are brave, just unlucky.”

“True.” He smiled, just a fraction of a smile, and just for a fraction of a second, but it was a smile. He looked back again at the fire.

“I do not say you are afraid of battle. That is plainly not true. But you are afraid of the throne, of sitting on it. Is it because it was his?” He didn’t say anything but she knew the answer.

“It is not my place to sit upon it. It is yours. His blood flows through your veins. You are his great-granddaughter.”

“For are we not all children of Andreas?” she asked. “Nikephoros Komnenos said that; you were there when he did. Was he wrong?” Silence. “Was he wrong?” Still he didn’t answer. “Have you read the Andread?” Andreas nodded. “Do you know what the noblest thing Andreas Niketas did was? Not the greatest, but the most noble?”


“When he was my age, at the very beginning of his reign, he offered to give it up if it would spare the Empire civil war. Yes, his blood runs through my veins, and so I’m now doing the same thing. I’m giving it up, to you. The Empire needs you, as its Emperor.”

Still he was silent. “Father, please, take the throne.”

He looked at her, and for the first time since she’d entered the room, really looked at her. His right hand brushed her cheek. “Father,” he said, tears welling in his eyes. “That’s the first time you’ve ever called me that.”

She cupped his right hand in his own. “And that means more to you than being Emperor.”

“Yes, yes it does.”

“And that is precisely why you should be Emperor.”

* * *

On October 1, the Megas Domestikos is crowned in Hagia Sophia as Emperor Andreas II Drakos. As Andreas Angelos was never crowned in Constantinople by the Patriarch, only proclaimed by the army and navy, he is not considered in the official numbering of Emperors. Immediately he turns his gaze to Italy. On December 4, he scores an important victory. Hannibal Barca, the first Despot of Carthage, will stand by the Roman Empire.

1548: From the foothills of the Alps to the shores of Sicily, all of Italy trembles. What actually sails into the harbor of Bari (Matteo has taken Salerno, Taranto, and Bari) comes as a bit of a letdown. Andreas II Drakos comes with only twenty two thousand men, but that is somewhat compensated by the huge array of cannons, one hundred guns exactly, larger than that mustered by Andreas Niketas at Cannae.

Still as the troops disembark to the tune of The Imperial March, Andreas finds there are certain issues when he meets with Matteo di Lecce-Komnenos. Although by Constantinople’s reckoning, his only official standing is as the vassal Dux of Abruzzi, the forty-four year old grand-nephew of Andreas Niketas is the de facto leader of all loyalist forces in the peninsula save those of the Venetians and Maltese.

The loyalists have been extremely irked by the Roman ‘detour’ of the past year. They had expected reinforcements in 1547 which had then been diverted to fight the Battle of Megiddo. Because of their failure to arrive, Matteo’s bid to take Naples quickly failed, with heavy casualties both in the attempt and in ‘Italian’ counterattacks. Because of such incidents, they are not willing to tolerate further neglect.

To secure Carthaginian support for the Italian expedition and the city’s return to the Roman fold, Andreas had transformed Carthage into a Despotate, with similar terms to Egypt. Matteo now wants the same for Italy; Andreas is exceedingly reluctant to acquiesce, since it means a further distancing from the hegemonic days of Andreas Niketas. But he has already crossed that line with Andreas of Egypt, and he has little choice in the matter; he does not have enough men to expel the Milanese without Matteo’s support.

The deliberations between Andreas Drakos, Matteo di Lecce-Komnenos, Kephale Konstantinos Blastares of Venetia, Kephale Manuel Palaiologos of Malta, Despot Hannibal Barca, and the Dukes of Split and Ragusa last ten days. Matteo is recognized as Despot of Sicily, the borders of the Despotate to consist of the island of Sicily and all of the post-war Roman holdings on the Italian peninsula. Its relations with Constantinople are to be similar to that of Carthage and Alexandria, the only significant differences that foreign relations with the Ottoman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire are to be the prerogative of Constantinople alone (both Carthage and Alexandria may negotiate directly with the Holy Roman Empire).

Both Venetia and Malta are to remain under direct Imperial control as Roman provinces; it is interesting to note that these two locales are also the only two Italian regions to receive continuous military aid from Rhomania throughout the Long War via the men and ships of the provincial naval squadrons stationed there.

Split and Ragusa, on the other hand, remain as traditional vassal states, paying tribute and barred from conducting an independent foreign policy of any kind. The Dukes are too weak to demand better conditions, and also desire Imperial aid to maintain their positions against republican inclinations of their populace. As an aside, the brief-lived Republics of Split and Ragusa, which took short-lived command of the cities in coups before their conquest by King Vukasin, will become a powerful evidence against the effectiveness of republics in Roman thoughts. In both cases, the commoners insisted on mass sallies against the Serbs and been utterly smashed, rendering further resistance ineffectual at best. Both lasted at most ten days against Vukasin’s armies, in contrast to the 24 and 27 day resistance put up by the Roman towns of Skopje and Strumica respectively.

The political arrangements in the Roman sphere mean little to Ludovico Sforza, regent for Andrea Visconti after Lucrezia Borgia’s forced retirement. Considering the bloodletting of the past decade, he is able to assemble a rather sizeable force. Central Italy has been badly damaged and south Italy trashed, but northern Italy has been almost entirely untouched. The only prominent exception is the port of Genoa, badly damaged by Sicilian bomb ships (fire ships packed with gunpowder) in March of last year. With the foundries of Lombardy, his troops are well armored and stoutly supported by arquebus and cannon.

He also has the surefire support of the House of Colonna. After what Andreas did to House Doukas, the Dukes of Latium fear for their necks in the event of a Roman re-conquest. The Houses of Este and Montefeltro (former rulers of the Romagna and Urbino respectively) ride with Andreas. But that is to be expected; the d’Estes loath the Visconti while the Montefeltros are Andreas’ in-laws. In either case, neither family was particularly loved by their subjects. That leaves the Malatestas of Ancona and the di-Lecce-Komnenoi of Abruzzi; the former are lukewarm supporters of the Visconti, while the latter are obviously hostile.

Thus by stripping garrisons throughout Italia to the utter bone (for example, forts with a normal garrison of fifty men instead have four) he is able to muster thirty eight thousand men at Naples, in comparison to the thirty five and a half thousand under Emperor Andreas and Despot Matteo. Another, albeit small source of manpower are members of the House of Doukas, fleeing west to avoid the wrath of Andreas and the shame of taking the name Prodotes. It is noted by the Arletian ambassador that many of the troops have ‘seen less than fifteen or more than fifty winters’.

The danger of such action immediately becomes apparent as Hannibal Barca, in his flagship Elephant, sacks Civitavecchia and ravages the outskirts of Rome. However a sudden squall batters his fleet and sinks four transports laden with siege guns, ammunition, and rations, making an attack on Rome impossible. Like his namesake, the Despot must content himself with hurling a javelin over the walls.

It is not only the weather that challenges the Carthaginians. Near Viterbo a flying column is cut to pieces by the handful of troops in the area, despite the Africans’ sizeable numerical advantage. The credit goes to Andronikos Doukas, a former instructor at the School of War and fifth tourmarch of the Macedonian tagma. He had faithfully served under Giorgios Laskaris’ command, before fleeing into exile in disgust at Andreas’ anti-Doukid edict.

To the south, the Italian and Roman-Sicilian armies meet for battle on May 7, but the first day of battle is entirely conducted by the artillery. The Romans, with their light mikropurs and fire lances, have the better of it, but the ‘Italians’ perform with honor and skill. On the morrow, the batteries deploy to have at it again, but instead of the roar and stench of the guns, there is silence. A truce has been signed.

Emperor Wilhelm of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation is on the move. In a winter campaign, he had utterly crushed the Duke of Oldenburg, the ringleader of a small league of German princes (concentrated mostly in the northwest) who had been intriguing against him. After the victory he disbanded most of his army, but as the armies deploy towards Naples, he encamps at Innsbruck, capital of Tyrol, with twelve thousand landsknechts and thirty cannons.

It is a dagger poised over the Italian peninsula, and one viewed with fear and distaste by both Milan and Constantinople. For his part Wilhelm is not interested in the dismemberment of the Milanese state. In fact he wants to keep it intact and specifically in control of Rome; he has gotten wind of papal schemes to reclaim Latium as a Greek vassal and wants them nixed, sooner rather than later. Tensions are getting more high-strung in the east; the Poles have executed several Russian sailors on the charge of espionage, accusing them of taking soundings of Gdansk harbor.

His aim here is merely to frighten the Milanese and Romans into making peace quickly. The current state of affairs in Italy is ideal for his aims: a Milan that controls Rome and strong enough to resist papal attempts to relocate to the Eternal City, but with the Greeks controlling a respectable section so as to keep the Milanese honest and providing Munich with the opportunity to play the two off each other. In that regard, Wilhelm succeeds admirably.

The original plan is to conduct negotiations at Naples, but Emperor Wilhelm demands a seat at a table for his envoys; he will not be left out of the reshaping of Italy. Neither Ludovico nor Andreas want that, but are not in a position to resist. The summit is held at Saluzzo as the most convenient neutral location (the original choice, Nice, is disrupted with internal strife).

King Basil I Komnenos of Arles guarantees the security of the Roman delegation because of concerns over Saluzzese proximity to Milan; if the Milanese attack the Roman envoys, it will be considered an act of war on Arles. Basil does this to improve relations with his ‘cousin’ and Arles’ by far largest trading partner (Marselha’s trade with Aragon, number 2, is 75% of the Roman trade value).

In the end the borders fall quite close to the battle lines as they were arrayed during the cannonade at Naples. Despite a few incidents, mostly caused by the indiscipline of Sicilian irregulars, the truce holds all throughout the summit. Thus the Long War, begun in 1537 with the deposition of Empress Alexeia Komnena, with a great flurry of arms and mighty hosts, which swept through thousands of miles and millions of lives, effectively ends with a day-long artillery duel.

The territories of Roman Italy originally administered by Constantinople prior to the Long War, plus that of the Duchy of Abruzzi, are transferred to Sicilian control. Thus the Despotate of Sicily has virtually the same territory as that of the old Kingdom of Sicily, although its capital is located at Messina. All of the lands of the other former vassal states of the Empire are officially ceded to Milanese control, including the city of Rome.

But a week later it is not the Duchy of Milan that officially controls the bulk of the Italian peninsula. Wilhelm’s price for his continued neutrality is the return of the Iron Crown of Lombardy, which is transferred to Munich. In exchange he agrees to recognize Andrea Visconti (Constantinople’s approval is in exchange for the relinquishing of his Laskarid family claims) as ‘King of Lombardy (it is a distinct title, separate from the Iron Crown and the title ‘King of Italy’, and implicitly inferior, saddled with the caveat that it is only rendered in the Italian Re and never, ever in the Latin Rex), Grand Duke of Romagna, Duke of Liguria, Savoy, Urbino, Veneto, Friuli, and Pisa, Count of Emilia, Lucca, Padua, and Gorizia.’

An attempt to add ‘Grand Duke of Tuscany’ to the roster is nixed by the Republic of Siena, which controls the bulk of said land. It may be in Milan/Lombardy’s shadow, but it is an ally, not a subject. As for the Colonna, they retain the title ‘Duke of Latium’, whilst the Malatestas are now styled ‘Dukes of the Marche’. Both are vassals of the new Kingdom of Lombardy.

Andreas Drakos returns to Constantinople, but ten thousand miles of marches, a hundred battles, and twenty two war wounds, just considering the physical strains placed on him over the past decade, have taken their toll. His health has been steadily declining since the Battle of Megiddo, because of a broken spirit according to the Imperial physicians, and the advent of peace does not help matters. The sea voyage has only exacerbated the situation. By the time he passes through the Iron Gate of the Herakleian Wall, it is clear; he is dying.

* * *

The White Palace, Constantinople, October 15, 1548:

He was forty eight years old. He looked more like seventy eight. In the ten months since she had seen him last, he had aged another ten years. His hair was a brilliant white, without a single trace of gray. His face was not covered in wrinkles, but in crags. His once strong hands trembled, and his once tall body was hunched over. He looked like a tired old man, never mind the fact that he was one score short of the biblical life span of three score years and ten.

Theodora blinked away the tears clouding her eyes. Where was the man who had taken her in, sheltered her when it came time for her first father to become a monk? He was still there of course; she could see it in her eyes, those kind, green eyes. Both the greenness and the kindness were still there, but even those eyes had changed. Now they were mostly tired, and sad, so very sad.

“Hello, my daughters,” he wheezed, his voice barely stronger than a whisper, a frail, pathetic shadow of the voice that had cut through the din of kataphraktoi and cannon.

“Hello, Dad,” all three of them said in unison. Helena and Alexeia, her adoptive sisters, stood next to her. Both towered over her, Helena by three and Alexeia by eight; her ‘little’ sister, still only sixteen, was already on par with the late Empress Venera of Abkhazia in height. Both wore dark green dresses, the same hue as their eyes, whilst Theodora herself wore a light bluish-gray which matched her own eyes. All had their brunette hair down, Helena’s the longest, reaching down just short of her waist.

“Can I get you something to drink?” Helena asked. “Kaffos? You look cold.”

“I’m taking care of that,” Alexeia said. Helena arced an eyebrow as Alexeia sat down on the couch next to her father, pulling the blankets over the two of them. She smiled. “See. Better already.” The top of Andreas’ head was about level with her daughter’s chin.

Her dad noticed that, and a welcome twinkle shone in his eyes. “Ah, Alexeia,” he said, wrapping an arm around her shoulder. “You’re still my little imp.”

“Imps don’t normally hit their heads on archways,” Theodora deadpanned. Alexeia glowered at her. “She’s really the Colossus of Rhodes reborn, tall and clunky.”

“I’m going to clunk you,” she threatened, but the smile took the sting out of the words.

“Speaking of clunky…” Helena said. That was her way of completely changing the subject. “Why did you call us here, father?”

Andreas took a deep breath and let it out. “Because I must make a choice. My time on this earth is drawing short. And that begs the question, who will succeed me?” He looked straight at Theodora. She gulped. “It is a hard decision. A very hard decision. On the one hand is the rightful claimant from the line of Andreas Niketas.” He looked at Helena, who too seemed to wither under that gaze. “And on the other, I have another descended from him, who is also blood of my blood.”


Princess Helena Drakina, eldest daughter of Andreas II Drakos and great-granddaughter of Andreas I Komnenos and Theophano of Messina. 'Our Lady of Constantinople', as she is known for her help in maintaining order during the reign of Manuel IV Klados, is assumed and preferred by most of the dynatoi and army to be Andreas' successor, despite the lack of any official pronouncement.

Theodora drooped a bit. She knew Andreas cared for her, loved her as one of his own daughters, but she wasn’t of his blood. She was of the blood of Andreas Niketas. His duty as a soldier demanded that he name her as successor; his duty as a father demanded that he name Helena as successor. It was a hard choice, a terribly hard choice, and he has had to make far too many of those.

Her father was silent, looking between the two of them, as was Alexeia. She was not in the running, but she knew, and more importantly, accepted that. She thought of her little sister as a mischievous imp who tended to hit her forehead on chandeliers, but there was a nobility and graciousness about her. Do I?

“Helena, Alexeia, may we speak in private?” She asked. They nodded.

“Of course,” Andreas said.

A moment later they were in the adjacent chamber. “The choice is clear, sister,” Helena said.

“I quite agree,” Theodora replied. “You must be his successor.”

Helena staggered as if she’d been slapped. “What? No. It should be you. It’s what is right. You are the great-granddaughter and daughter of Emperors, a direct descendant by a legitimate male line from Andreas Niketas.”

“So?” Theodora asked. Both Helena and Alexeia looked at her quizzically. “Those are claims from another time. If the Empire is to recover from this debacle, and to prevent it from ever happening again, the Empire must start afresh.”

They did not seem convinced. “I want Alexandros Kastrioti, and I will have him.”

“So?” Alexeia asked. “Become Empress and make him your consort.”

“Ah, and then what? We have children, and one of them succeeds me on the throne. Who is their first cousin? Alexios Laskaris, firstborn son of Giorgios Laskaris.” His status was still unclear; her father had been too distracted by foreign affairs, the Italian campaign, and his imminent demise to weigh in on the matter, so thorny on both a political and personal level. “It is the makings of yet another succession crisis. The Empire does not need that. No, Helena, you must take the throne. The line of the dragon will be the fresh start, the beginnings of a new empire, a better empire.”

“You talk as if you know something special,” Alexeia said.

“I have faith in your abilities, sister. If I do, you will soon find out. But we must make something new.” She pointed at the door between them and their father. “Do you know what the greatest tragedy of this is? It is that he thinks he is a failure.”

“What? Why?” Helena asked.

“Because he killed his brother, and to do so he also killed the dream of restoring the Empire of Andreas Niketas.”

“But he crippled the Ottomans, threw back the Milanese.”

Theodora shook her head. “It does not matter. The dream was the Empire of Andreas Niketas and he killed that. It was a glorious dream, but an impossible dream. Andreas Niketas held it together by sheer force of will and legend. It was too much to outlast him. The Empire he built was brilliant, but it depended too much on iron, his iron.” An Empire of Gold and Iron, that is what is needed. She half-smiled, remembering the not-so-gracious words of Theodoros IV.

“So what exactly are you saying?” Helena asked.

“The time of Andreas Niketas is over. It is time for the Empire to move on to something new, something better, a fresh start. And that means you, sister, must be the one to take the throne.”

“Empress of the Romans,” Helena whispered. The line of the dragon she may be, but the oldest of Andreas Drakos’ daughters had only nineteen years. “I don’t know if I have the strength.”

“Oh, you do. I have no doubt of that. And I will be there to help you.”

Alexeia chirped up. “Me too,” she beamed at Helena. “I’ll help you, even if you don’t want it.”

“Great,” Helena muttered, shaking her head, but she was smiling.

Theodora held out her hands, one to each sister. “Come, sisters. Let’s go prove our father wrong.” They took them, and together they walked back into the old room.

* * *

On October 28, Emperor Andreas II Drakos breathes his last. His funeral procession is attended by nearly the entirety of Constantinople’s population, and his final resting place makes it clear what the peoples of the Empire thought of him, even if he did not think so himself. Across the square from the mausoleum of Andreas Niketas, the Victor, is placed that of Andreas Pistotatos, the Most Faithful.

The next day Helena Drakina, flanked by her sisters Theodora and Alexeia, all three wearing their peacock dresses and brooches, is crowned Empress of the Romans. The accession of a nineteen year old woman to the throne of Rhomania would normally be a cause for concern, no matter who her father was, especially considering the decade of civil strife. However Patriarch Matthaios II makes the opinion of the Roman people quite clear in an inverse of the classical Chinese proverb when he proclaims to Helena “May you have a long and boring reign.”

After the coronation, Helena, Theodora, and Alexeia lead a procession to the mausoleum of Andreas Niketas. When there, Helena takes David, the sword of Andreas Niketas, and returns it to its original owner. “Andreas Niketas is dead,” she says. “It is time we let him rest.”

At dusk the three sisters return to the tombs, dressed in black mourning garb, to conduct a night-long vigil, not just for their father, but for all the slain. The people of Constantinople join them, the candle lights and prayers lifting up into the long and seemingly endless night.

But eventually the dawn comes, and it is beautiful. The sun blazes from the eastern horizon, the reflection of the Queen of Cities shimmering on the calm waters of the Marmara as the scent of kaffos and cinnamon wafts its way from the warehouses on the Golden Horn. Dawn shines over Byzantion and her empire, battered, shrunken, but very much alive, and finally at peace.

So ends the Fourth Roman Empire. In Roman historiography the history of the Christian Roman Empire is divided into separate ‘Empires’, each the same but also distinct, like the stages in a person’s life. The pre-Christian Empire is still considered to be the Roman Empire, but is viewed as significantly different, like a person before a life-changing experience, a Saul to Saint Paul.

The First Empire is from the founding of Constantinople to the second Arab siege of Constantinople in 717. The Second Empire is from 717 to the death of Basil II in 1025, the Third from 1025 to the sack of Constantinople in 1204, and the Fourth from 1204 to the accession of Helena Drakina to the throne of Rhomania.

Of the four, by far the most well known and studied are the Third and Fourth Empire, for reasons that are heavily bound up in the Roman view of themselves and their Empire. The Third Empire is often known as the Empire of Gold, a time of great suffering and sorrow, where there was much abundance of gold but too little iron, leading to the sickening conclusion of the Fourth Crusade, where a, by comparison, puny band of Franks and Venetians came within a hairsbreadth of destroying the Empire of the Romans.

The Fourth Empire however is known as the Empire of Iron. It started off glorious, in the Age of Miracles, but then came repeated stumbling. The Black Death, the Laskarid Civil War, the War of the Five Emperors, the Smyrnan War, and the Time of Troubles. Two hundred years separate the first from the last, but the population of the Imperial heartland in 1550 was near the same as it was in 1350.

Why the shift? The Fourth Empire had committed the same sin as the Third, just in the opposite direction. There was too much iron, not enough gold. Theodoros III Laskaris had refused to pay Timur the agreed tribute, and the price of the breach of contract had been the War of the Five Emperors.

Andreas Niketas both disproved and proved the theme. He had fought many wars, but his incredible skill and his ability to make nations tremble with a mere frown meant that overall they had cost the Empire little. He had no need of gold, for his iron was terrible to behold. But in truth, he was steel, forged in hotter furnaces than those of mere iron, and without him to temper the flames, the heat was too much, and the Empire burned.

Moderation, as Aristotle would have said, was the key. The Third Empire had relied too much on gold, and the Fourth Empire too much on iron. The Fifth Empire would be, hopefully, an Empire of Gold and Iron, combining their strengths and forgoing their weaknesses. The same as them, but at the same time also different.

For that was the true strength of Rhomania, for it remained the same even while it changed. For as Helena Drakina revived a ninth century custom of Emperor Theophilus and Theodora read the works of Patriarch Photius I, Roman great dromons sailed into Satsuma harbor and the eateries of Constantinople served their first ‘monems’.

But Empires do not fall in a day, or evenly across a geographical region. The Fourth Empire had produced more than its fair share of characters, mighty heroes and treacherous villains. But while the Fifth Empire began its debut under the aegis of the Third Triumvirate, the Fourth began its final act in the lands of the west. It is altogether fitting that David Komnenos, the last and greatest son of Andreas Niketas, who personified the Fourth Empire for good and ill, would be the one to do so.


Credit goes to Evilprodigy for the map.
Note that Wallachia is the local name of the state, with Vlachia the name by which the rest of the world knows it.

Map Legend

1) Duchy of Ragusa (Roman vassal)
2) Duchy of Split (Roman vassal)
3) Duchy of the Marche (Lombard vassal)
4) Duchy of Latium (Lombard vassal)

The Fifth Empire

1549: The Empire is finally at peace. It is about time, for the damage inflicted on the Empire, although not fatal, has been immense. In 1535, the combined roll of the Athanatoi, Varangoi, and Scholai mustered 14,412; fourteen years later it is 4,198, and only 1,701 appear on both sets. The economic sphere is in similar shape; sugar production is down to a fifth of its level fifteen years earlier.

The exact economic damage to the Roman state and despotates cannot be calculated, but the demographic losses are staggering. The Despotate of Sicily has lost a hair over a third of its pre-war population, its people falling from 3.1 million to 1.9 million. Central Italy is not in much better shape, with its 3.4 million reduced to 2.7. North Italy by comparison is virtually unscathed, with ‘only’ 200,000 dead, most of those Tuscan slain.

The Despotate of Carthage is the outlier to the devastation, the city’s population expanding to 37,000 by the end of the war. There has also been some expansion into the countryside, through the trade, tribute, and marriage ties with the local tribes, although during the stint of Carthage’s independence the trend had slowed significantly. Connections with Constantinople is a major tool for the Carthaginians to control the interior, through the distribution of Roman goods. Another item in the Carthaginian arsenal now are Roman titles; as part of the treaty the Despot is now allowed to grant up to a certain number of certain Roman court titles to local allies and friends.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Despotate of Egypt, which has lost more than 40% of the population. In 1535 the lands along the Nile could muster 4.9 million souls. Now they can only call up 2.8 million, seven hundred thousand of them Copts. Significant stretches of the country, particularly areas of southern Egypt picked clean by hungry and constricted Ethiopian armies, are practically devoid of human life. Alexandria’s population has held steady for the last fifteen years at about 50,000, but only 21,000 of them were born with ten miles of the city.

The Empire too has been badly damaged. In 1510 it had slightly over twenty one million subjects under direct Imperial control, plus another seven and a half million in various vassal states. It now numbers 11.25 million. The southeast is by far the worst area hit, with Roman Asia beyond the Taurus and Anti-Taurus mountains declining from 1.6 million to 750,000. The population losses are concentrated mainly in a belt from Aleppo to Damascus to Jerusalem, which a second devastated zone stretching from Lattakieh to Beirut, although large towns and cities have been universally hard hit.

Damascus, Jerusalem, and Acre all have populations around a quarter of 1535 levels, Beirut, Jaffa, and Homs around 30-35% and Tripoli, Tortosa, and Baalbek around half. Antioch, with a population of 65,000 (compared to a 1535 census of 109,218) is in the best shape overall, but at least half of its population is composed of rural refugees. Cilicia, which began the war with 350,000 people, has suffered comparatively little, with a 1550 population of 275,000, but refugees here also help compensate for the local destruction.

The deaths in Roman Europe, although heavy by most standards, are quite light by Time of Troubles levels. In 1535 it had 3.9 million inhabitants, and fifteen years later it can still muster 3 million. Although nearly all of the Vlach refugees settled in Macedonia and Thrace, Anatolian refugees mostly relocated to other areas of Anatolia and thus cannot be factored into account for the ‘low’ demographic loss.

Unlike Italy, Egypt, and Syria, the devastation is highly differentiated between regions, unlike the near-universal destruction elsewhere. Macedonia and Epirus have been ravaged, with populations at 60 and 65 percent respectively of their 1535 levels. Much of the loss though is in displaced persons rather than deaths. Thrace, though battered, benefitted from the forced population transfers and thus musters five-sixths of the 1535 population. Bulgaria and Thessaly, lightly hit, reach 90% of that threshold, and Attica and the Peloponnesus, both virtually untouched by war, have actually increased in number of inhabitants.

Anatolia is similarly affected as Roman Europe. From a pre-war level of 8.8 million, it has declined to 7.5 million. Fortunately for the region, and the Empire as a whole, the areas hit squarely by the Ottoman offensive were also the least populated (in terms of civilian casualties, the civil war was negligible compared to the foreign attacks). Both the Koloneian and Syrian themes have lost close to half their combined populations, but even such horrendous losses to the regions muster a ‘mere’ 300,000. The losses in Chaldea and Bithynia are more serious, but the moderate population level of Chaldea and the limited combat in Bithynia serve to mitigate the losses.

As a result, unlike Sicily, Egypt, and Syria, not all cities have suffered serious, if any, losses. The population differential between 1535 and 1550 of various cities is a useful guideline to the fortunes of their hinterland. The following list shows the population of various Roman settlements in 1550, with the figure in parenthesis showing the change since 1535:

Constantinople: 270,000 (-62,000)
Thessaloniki: 41,000 (-81,000)
Antioch: 65,000 (-45,000)
Nicaea: 50,000 (-27,000)
Smyrna: 100,000 (+24,000)
Trebizond: 31,000 (-36,000)
Aleppo: 12,000 (-41,000)
Dyrrachium: 25,000 (-24,000)
Attaleia: 47,000 (+5,000)
Nicomedia: 28,000 (-7,000)
Corinth: 41,000 (+13,000)
Ancyra: 6,000 (-8,000)
Caesarea: 4,000 (-6,500)
Nicosia: 22,000 (+3,000)
Monemvasia: 16,500 (+5,000)
Chandax: 15,000 (+4,000)
Ephesos: 16,500 (+4,500)
Abydos: 12,000 (+2,500)
Adramyttium: 11,000 (+3,000)
Mystras: 10,000 (+3,000)
Athens: 11,000 (+3,500)
Mesembria: 8,000 (+2,000)
Patras: 9,000 (+2,000)
Larissa: 9,000 (+1,000)
Demetrias: 8,000 (+1,000)
Chalkis: 7,000 (+1,500)
Myra: 8,000 (+2,000)
Theodosiopolis: In Ruins (-14,000)
Tarsus: 9,000 (same)
Amaseia: 8,000 (-2,000)
Chonae: 12,000 (+2,500)
Rhodes: 6,000 (+1,000)
Sardis: 7,500 (+1,500)
Sinope: 6,000 (+1,500)
Kyzikos: 10,000 (+2,500)
Prousa: 9,000 (+2,000)
Theodoro: 9,000 (+3,000)

Very few cities were wiped off the map with Theodosiopolis the one major exception, but even there a few hundred intrepid souls had already returned within a year of peace. The chief sufferers were the great cities of the Empire, Smyrna the exception to the rule which catapulted it into the rank of second city of the Empire. The main beneficiaries were the small and medium sized towns of the Peloponnesus, Thracesia, and Opsikia.

While the dramatic influx of new arrivals certainly strained the social fabric of these towns, for the most part the refugees were members of the mercantile, learned, or skilled artisanal class, individuals with enough wealth to ransom themselves from captivity if necessary and enough knowledge to provide a useful boon to their new homes. The influx of miners and metalworkers from the Taurus Mountains had already by 1550 to cause the iron, copper, and tin output of Thracesia and Opsikia to grow 5% (relative to population) in the last decade.

Thus overall what remains to the Roman Empire proper resembles in many respects the situation of France after the Thirty Years’ War, which is cause for hope. The geographical region of France had 12.5 million inhabitants twenty years ago, but has already climbed up to 15.1 million. The rates seem quite remarkable, but actually only represent a consistent 1% annual growth rate since 1530 (it should be noted that the rebound is losing momentum).

Rhomania now stands as the least populated, as opposed to the greatest, of the great powers of Europe. Its 11.25 million is barely bested by the 11.5 million of the Triple Monarchy, both of them slightly behind the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation at 12.9 million and the Great Kingdom of the Rus at 14.1 million. But its formidable bureaucracy and army remain intact, albeit shrunken, and even in her current sad state only Beijing and Vijayanagara can dispute Constantinople’s ancient title to the Queen of Cities.

* * *

The White Palace, Constantinople, May 3, 1549:

Alexeia nibbled on a cherry as Theodora put another thread through Alexandros’ shirt, closing up the tear in the white silk shirt. “Did you hear what Hektor Neokastrites said this morning?” Alexeia asked her sister Helena, Empress of the Romans. She was standing at the window, the latticed screen open to allow the breeze in as she nursed some malmsey wine in a silver chalice.

The view was of the Golden Horn, once again teeming with ships. Massive grain haulers from Kherson, small fishing boats that plied the waters of the Marmara, nimble galleys that ferried between Constantinople and Galata and Chalcedon, fat carracks from Genoa and Smyrna, sleek flytes from Antwerp and King’s Harbor, squat galliots from Valencia and Carthage, horse transports from Attaleia and Thessaloniki, long galleons from Trebizond and Antioch; it was virtually impossible to see the water. The smell carried by the breeze was just as diverse, kaffos, sugar, nutmeg, cannabis, cherries, oranges, bread, salt, fish, wine, olive oil, tar, gunpowder, sheep, horses, leather, sweat, urine, dung.

It was the smell of a city and port that waxed prosperous and peaceful. But it’s still awfully ripe, Theodora thought, scrunching her nose. She took her glass of cinnamon-scented kaffos, wafted the smell under her nostrils for a second, and took a drink. The servants were packing up for the move to the villa at the Sweet Waters of Asia, up the Bosporus, tomorrow. The estate had been used by the Aga of the Baghdadi Azabs as a headquarters, but it had since been repaired and mostly refurbished.

“No, I didn’t,” Helena said. “The weekly reports from Munich and Buda arrived today.”

“Anything interesting?” Alexeia asked.

“You tell me. You already know what’s in them.”

Their lanky sister smiled, a long smile and large twinkle of mischief in her eyes. “Of course. Let’s see, the fat Empress has had another fat Hungarian baby…”

“All Hungarian babies are fat,” Theodora interjected. A faint, very faint smile briefly flitted onto Helena’s face. It was hard, very hard for her, Theodora knew. Twenty years old, an orphan, she still wore, as Theodora and Alexeia and the whole court, mourning garb for their father, at the same time as she had to don the purple slippers and rule what was still one of the greatest powers west of Cathay.

“I’m more concerned about those scraps along the Hungarian-Serbian border. Everybody’s map disagrees where Bosnia ends and Serbia begins.”

“I wouldn’t, at least not yet,” Theodora said. “Vukasin is too smart to provoke Hungary without allies, which he doesn’t have. Vlachia and Milan are in no shape for a fight and they know it. Poland is Buda’s ally, and Wilhelm’s too fixated on Russia to care.”

“That alignment will only hold until Wilhelm calms down a bit regarding Russia, which is bound to happen sooner rather than latter, even with the saber rattling.”

“She’s right,” Alexeia said, looking at Theodora. “Russia seems to be getting a bit flabby. The White Horde is causing all kinds of trouble, so Russia can’t concentrate on the west.” The White Horde, under its best Khan in over a century, had battered the Cossack Host and raided as far west as Astrakhan. Plus some of the resettled Kalmyks were getting restive. “Germany has no such problems at the moment, and it has better and more gunpowder weapons.”

The Great Kingdom of the Rus had not fought a serious war, save for its intervention in the Orthodox War (which had been distinguished more by quantity than quality anyway), since the Last Crusade. With its fighting concentrated in the east against steppe horse archers, the Russian army was behind the times in modern weaponry (noticeably unlike Georgia). Novgorod could still field over ten thousand archontes, armored horse archers without equal. These were still extremely formidable troops, but the rest of the Russian army was subpar and poorly balanced, with the logistics system viewed with a look of awed horror by Roman quartermasters.

“Yes, but Wilhelm is rather paranoid about Russia,” Theodora countered. It was understandable; looking at a map the Great Kingdom was an immense titan, as big as the rest of Europe combined.

“But anyway, regardless of when or if Serbia and Hungary came to blows, good relations with the Albanian chiefs are paramount,” she continued. Helena nodded, recognizing the veiled hint. Theodora wanted to marry Alexandros Kastrioti, but her big sister wanted to hold a triple wedding with all three of them. It would be a brilliant spectacle that would boost spirits and their authority and prestige, which they needed. Theodora saw her point, but she was still tired of waiting. The relationship had already been consummated, so it’d be nice to get the ceremonial out of the way.

“Do you like any of the candidates?” Alexeia asked Helena. The three of them were the most eligible bachelorettes in all of Eurasia, but Helena for obvious reasons took the lead.

“You’d think out of all the choices, there’d be at least some who aren’t horrible,” Helena muttered. “Let’s see, on the one hand there’s the teething Count of Nowhere-burg and on the other there’s the toothless gummer Margrave of Worthless-stein. Oooh, so impressive. I’d rather marry my horse; it’d be better in bed at least.”

“That’s what Hektor was talking about,” Alexeia said. Right, that’s how this conversation started, Theodora thought. “He said it was unnatural for a woman to rule the Empire, to be on top, since in the bedroom they’re on bottom.”

“Idiot,” Helena said. “The Empress of the Romans is always on top.” For a second the corner of her mouth twitched upwards mischievously. But then it faded.

Theodora knew why. The list of candidates wasn’t nearly as badly as Helena claimed, filled with young, handsome, rich noblemen and princes. A disturbingly large number of them were descendants of Andreas Niketas; Helena, daughter of Andreas Niketas and Queen of Russia, had died with nineteen grandchildren to her name. The Imperial branches of the Komnenoi had largely exterminated themselves, but the foreign shoots were turning into a veritable forest.

No, Helena’s problem was that the man she wanted wasn’t on the list. Handsome, dashing, and only six years older than Helena, Nikolaios Polos was the adoration of half the women in the Empire. But although he was tremendously popular amongst the tagmata, his family was composed of pig farmers and carpenters and petty merchants, and even worse, descended from a son of old Venice, May that name be damned for all time. Not exactly fit material for the Vicegerent of God on Earth, the Equal of the Apostles, Lord of Space and Time; technically the titles were male, but Helena wore the purple slippers, and thus the titles belonged to her.

Theodora took a drink of wine. Oh, screw fit material. Alexandros wasn’t exactly born in the purple either, the son of an Albanian chieftain, not even close to her own descent from Andreas Niketas and a scion of old Pronsk nobility.

“I think you should marry him,” Theodora said. “Nikolaios will guarantee the loyalty the army.” That was important for obvious reasons; already one conspiracy against a ‘petticoat regime’ had been hatched by Epirote junior officers, although it had been crushed by their own men who were sick of civil war. And he makes you happy, which is more important. She was convinced that the difference between Andreas Niketas and Alexeia the Mad was that the former had had Kristina had his side, while the latter had Fyodor of Yaitsk.

“Are you certain?”

“Yes.” And if anyone has a problem with it, they can choke on their tongues and die.

Helena nodded, but Theodora could see the gratitude in her eyes. In truth, the pros of Nikolaios as consort and perhaps co-Emperor outweighed the cons, but conventional wisdom said love and politically beneficial marriages were incompatible.

The Empress of the Romans turned towards Alexeia. “And who do you want to marry? Shall we contract at least one princely husband?”

“Nah, I was thinking Abbar. He’s got a cute butt.”

“But it’s a Muslim butt,” Helena said.

Alexeia grinned as her older sister started to take a drink. “I’ll be sure to point it towards Mecca then.” Helena sputtered into her cup.

The breeze gusted in through the window, carrying with it not only the smells but also the sounds of the city, the sound of laughter in Constantinople.

* * *

1550: The Sunday before Easter, the social event of the sixteenth century takes place in Constantinople, the triple wedding of Helena Drakina, Theodora Komnena Drakina, and Alexeia Drakina to Nikolaios Polos, Alexandros Kastrioti, and Abbar/Andreas al-Anizzy. It is an utterly dazzling spectacle, the three brides clothed in the finest purple silk, covered with gold thread, jewels blazing in the sun, their Peacock jewels by far and away the most prominent.

Despite the reversal of genders, per tradition Helena Drakina crowns her consort, making it clear that though she is a woman, imperial power resides in her. Many of the ambassadors consider them a beautiful, regal couple, despite Nikolaios’ lowborn origins. In fact, those prove to be a benefit, as his common status ensures that even without the pageantry he cannot wrest imperial power from his wife. Although he has never shown any signs of disloyalty or inappropriate ambition towards the House of Drakos, the members of the Third Triumvirate (as they are sometimes styled) are cautious given the last few years.

Alexandros Kastrioti has at least some noble blood, although the son of an Albanian chief is rather paltry in comparison to the foreign counts and dukes and princes who are in attendance. However he weds Theodora, who is viewed rightly as the brightest and most dangerous of the three, and out of the three theirs is certainly the closest relationship. Although neither Nikolaios or Abbar rejected the marriage suites for obvious reasons, only this one was based on an prior relationship.

Prior to marrying Alexeia, Abbar al-Anizzy converted to Christianity, taking the Christian name of Andreas to the rage of history students. The marriage in fact prevents what could have been a historic occasion, the investment of the first Muslim as a Roman Senator.

Abbar’s father Abdullah is head of the northern branch of the Anazzah tribe, which stretches from the oases of Al Jawf to Deir-ez Zor. They are by far and away the most powerful of the Bedouin tribes inhabiting the fringes between the Roman and Ottoman Empire. Abdullah’s branch had moved north into the power vacuum in Syria created by Timur’s massacres, and of all the tribes had worked with the Romans longest (serving as scouts and herdsmen during the War for Asia), culminating in Abdullah’s support of Andreas Drakos. In recognition of that service, he was to be granted the title of Senator.

However instead Ioannes al-Anizzy accepts the honor. Upon the engagement of his son to the younger sister of the Empress, daughter of the man who had increased his wealth six-fold, the Emir converts to Christianity. Between his personal authority and the immense wealth that has accrued to them during their alliance with Andreas Drakos, he has little trouble converting the northern Anazzah, from Deir-ez Zor to Azraq, to Orthodoxy. The act significantly increases Roman border security to the east, as well as the policing of Muslim Syria.

Muslim Syria is the one exception to the way in which the Time of Troubles has paradoxically strengthened the Empire. The Roman Empire has shrunk immensely, but it is far more homogenous both culturally and religiously; Arab Muslims now make only 4% of the population as opposed to almost a quarter. It is smaller, but leaner, and in a position to be pound-for-pound far stronger than the old Empire, in much the same way as the Roman Empire of Basil II was far more potent per unit than the Roman Empire of Justinian.

The key factor is that economically the Empire is, considering what it has been through, in relatively good shape. Though both the Ottoman Empire and the Duchy of Milan went bankrupt, the Roman government managed to avoid (in large part due to uninterrupted access to Thracesian and Opsikian tax receipts) the same fate. As a result its credit rating remains high, and although the White Palace is heavily in debt, the average interest it pays on its loans is a third that of Milan’s, including the loans from the Bank of St. George based in Genoa which advanced money to both governments.

Other factors supporting Roman economic recovery is that the spoils of Baghdad returned much that was lost during the war. Also most of the Roman debt is owed internally, and many of its earlier debts were due to central Anatolian rural dynatoi, who are all rather conveniently dead. The flight of many of the Doukids also gave the Roman government another excuse to repudiate arrears without impacting its credit score.

Still it is a major cause for concern and the reason for several innovations. The exact proportioning of the credit has never been sufficiently agreed upon by historians, who debate how much goes to Theodora, the various dynatoi and officials she consulted, and Theodoros IV. While sections of his notes had been circulating ever since his death, no one had ever made a comprehensive, systematic, collection of them; Herakleios II had only completed half of the work before his death. Starting in the spring, it is Theodora who will finish this work in 1553.

On April 6, the charter for the Imperial Bank of Constantinople is issued. Backed by the Roman government, it is designed as a giant deposit box for private individuals, providing insurance against fire, robbery, and natural disasters. Deposits made with the bank are charged a management fee, but the offered insurance plus the receipts issued by the bank, recognized by new laws as legal tender throughout the Empire (including the despotates after September as their richer merchants want access and pressure the despots into cooperating), make it a worthwhile investment.

Deposits are on a six-month turn, after which they can be either withdrawn or retained for an additional management fee. If the holder of a deposits needs ready cash between periods, he can always sell his receipt. More importantly from the government’s point of view, the deposit moneys can be used to pay off its higher-interest loans immediately, negotiating low-interest loans (often via the Bank) backed on its improved tax situation compared to when the earlier loans were contracted to maintain deposit levels, and thus securing a net decrease in interest payments.

The bank also issues loans to private individuals, and offers a scale of interest depending on the purpose of the loans. Eager to maintain mining and textile outputs despite a loss of workers, loans for investment in those industries, plus shipbuilding, are granted the lowest interest rates. Agricultural loans are the next tier up, as given the availability of developed but vacant fertile land, agricultural innovations are not nearly as pressing.

Another method for raising money is one of the most obvious, raising taxes. Taxes had remained stable during the long reign of Andreas Niketas, despite the massive new responsibilities he had piled on the administration through his huge conquests. While he was alive, his prestige made up the difference, but the Time of Troubles proved spectacularly the failure of such a policy without his presence.

In 1500, a single urban laborer could expect to pay 27 days’ wages in taxes. By 1555, it will have increased to 44 days, a net increase of over sixty percent. Levied on great and poor alike, the amount of revenue raised is immense, but as the same tax rate is applied on the whole population the increase weighs most heavily on the poor. When the idea of tax brackets is again broached, it is again nullified by the same counter-argument that they are contrary to the idea that all men are equal under the law.

Jews, Greek Muslims, and Arab Muslims all have extra taxes beyond the standard set, while the latter having the most. In the lands that declared for the Abbasid Caliphate voluntarily, Muslims have to pay an extra 50% in taxes, are subject to various sumptuary regulations (examples include but are not limited to no ownership of red or blue silk, jewelry beyond a set amount of precious stones and gold, and limits on livestock size), size and ornamental restrictions on their mosques, and are not allowed to have Christian servants, loan money with interest, or make deposits with the Bank or own associated receipts. The various restrictions are in fact although not in name a (slightly more) moderate version of the Nullification Acts.

Although it plays a very large part, there is more than vindictiveness at work. The Despotate of Egypt is by temperament inclined to be harsh on its own Muslims, and the Roman Empire’s example only encourages the tendency. However in Egypt the Muslims still vastly outnumber the Copts, so fear of Muslim vengeance will help keep the Copts close to Constantinople for protection.

Also the Roman government makes it blatantly obvious that the extra taxes on the Muslim peasantry pay for the allotments to the Bedouin tribes for ‘border security’. Therefore if the former make difficulties, the tribes can be counted upon not to support their fellow Muslims. Nor will the Greek Muslims, who view the Arabs of Syria and Palestine as fanatical provincial rustics, and who are keen to protect their comparatively privileged status.

Of paramount importance is the repopulation of deserted territories, particularly for Sicily and Egypt. For the most part, they concentrate their efforts on encouraging native population growth, but also seek to draw in immigrants from both Germany and Hungary. Both nations are undergoing respectable population booms and thus have people to export.

The Despotate of Sicily also sees a small Castilian influx, but the most notable demographic change is the increase of Sicilian Jewry. It is not surprising, for on August 19 Despot Matteo declares that the practitioners of the three faiths ‘illuminated by the light of the holy fire’ are equal under the law, with no restrictions placed on those persons save those common to all. The three faiths are Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Judaism, the three faiths of the Holy Martyrs of Senise.

The attractions of Sicily to Jews helps compensate for the disadvantage it shares with Egypt, a weak economy compared to the Roman Empire. As a result they are unable to offer the transportation packages and tax concessions that Constantinople are able to make available to prospective immigrants, although the despotates are helped that the Empire mainly focuses on Russia and Georgia. That individuals and families heading for Sicily and Egypt via Venetia ‘inexplicably’ seem to be constantly tied up in red tape doesn’t help matters.

Empress Helena lowers the head tax by a third in May, and three months later sets up a system whereby any family with four children gets its head tax levy halved (even after the across-the-board decrease). In addition, every additional child after that lowers the levy another 10% from the original lot, so any family capable of having and keeping nine children alive in pre-modern conditions does not have to pay any head tax at all. On the other side, single men have to pay an extra fifth on their head tax.

Besides financial, the White Palace also seeks to increase procreation via cultural factors. A new edition of the Kama Sutra appears in Roman bookstores, with low-quality binding to lower its price, the idea being that it will encourage procreation via increased sexual activity (ideally in marriage). But recognizing that such a condition isn’t always feasible, part of the increased taxes go to expanding the Imperial orphanages and encouraging unwanted infants to be left there.

Patriarch Matthaios II remains quiet throughout all this. But the stout priest with the shape and physique of a boxer (including a bent nose which was broken in a bar brawl when he was sixteen) was at the siege of Trebizond, and is well aware that the security of the Orthodox faith depends on the health of the Roman Empire.

Busy reestablishing shaken sees in Syria, he also puts church funds at work establishing schools across the area for the teaching of children, with the Greek language and the Orthodox faith a major part of the curriculum. Other activities include the increase of missionary efforts in the east and successfully convincing the government to explicitly make homosexuality punishable by death. The last is rather easy as it is exceedingly unhelpful in terms of the Empire’s demographic needs.

Besides the twelve to fifteen thousand Russians and Georgians that annually immigrate to the land of silk and sugar for the promise of forty acres, a mule, and three years of no taxes and three of half taxes, Constantinople makes much use of internal population transfers. Top priority are reviving Thessaloniki and Trebizond, both of which are in a sorry state. For that purpose, Constantinople loses another thirty thousand people, split evenly between the two cities.

But that is dwarfed by the 175,000 settlers transferred from Thracesia to the Syrian coast, transforming Tripoli, Sidon, Tyre, Acre, and Jaffa overnight wholly into Greek cities. Great is the lamentations of the new inhabitants of Syria, who resent leaving the fertile, peaceful lands of their birth where their ancestors rest for the dusty, hot stretches of Syria and Palestine. Their sad laments for their homeland will be a major, and one of the greatest, elements of sixteenth and early seventeenth century Roman poetry.

Immigrants are drawn from the Latin world as well. In a bid to bolster the Anti-Taurus region, both economically and defensively, Constantinople tries to encourage Alpine inhabitants to the region to act as miners and militia. It is a slow trickle, mostly coming from Lausanne and the Tyrol, but Helvetian, the amalgam tongue that arises as a result, is still spoken along the mountain range to this day.

Thracesia undergoes a bit of an economic recession upon the coming of peace. During the war its metalworking and textile industries had grown steadily at a rate exceeding population growth, feeding the military needs of the state. However with the army no longer demanding new weapons and uniforms at a frantic pace, demand has fallen substantially and putting the livelihood of many workers in jeopardy.

Determined to keep these industries, vital for Imperial security, in good form, on August 19 Helena issues the Wage Act. Workers in the shipbuilding, mining, metalworking (at least those in copper, bronze, iron, and steel), and textile are to be guaranteed a minimum wage, to vary on the specific job performed and skill required. The minimum wage is not extended to apprentices, since to do so is considered to infringe too heavily on guild prerogatives.

This is done to help secure a steady livelihood for workers in these industries, so that they are not lost to destitution or immigration. It is not nearly as innovative as it seems, as the over six-hundred-year-old (by that point) Prefect’s Code for Constantinople stipulated that contracts that fail to pay construction workers a just wage are invalid. Recognizing that the Act will raise operational costs, many are also put to work on government contracts for the new army reforms being instituted, while the pickup in foreign trade soon halts the slump in the textile industry at least.

Another major customer for Thracesian wares is the Despotate of Egypt, which is having to confront the fact that with its nonexistent supplies of timber, copper, and iron, it is dependent on trade with Rhomania to field a modern army. Although it could get those items elsewhere, the proximity and lack of tariffs make the Empire much cheaper, although the dependence irritates Alexandria. One of the ways in which Egypt pays for these items is shipments of cotton, which are worked by the weavers of Smyrna and then sold in markets from Antwerp to Satsuma.

Another economical sector taking a hit is the alum export trade. Chios still remains a major producer, little damaged by the war, but with Tolfa now in independent Colonna hands, it faces competition in a field it had heretofore dominated through lack of competition.

The Peloponnesus is rising though. Corinth is granted a charter for a university in November, most of the faculty former members of the faculty of the University of Bari. It is not the only new university rising, as the Despotates establish institutions of their own on the Roman model at Bari, Syracuse, Carthage, and Alexandria. Like the initial Russian creations at Novgorod and Draconovsk, at their start the despotic universities draw their professors from the Empire or those locals educated at Imperial universities.

Also increasing are mutton and cheese consumption, due to a new innovation made by the inhabitants of Monemvasia during the war. Desirous of providing a hot meal for lookouts guarding the harbor, but in a manner that would leave a hand free, an enterprising cook had come across the solution of sticking a piece of freshly grilled meat between two pieces of bread.

The version of the ‘monem’ that appears in Constantinople’s cookhouses quickly becomes the classical version. A slice of grilled mutton or chicken, with a dash of lemon juice and pepper if available, wrapped in lettuce, and accompanied by a slice of cheese between two thirds and three fourths the thickness of the meat. The sandwich, what the inhabitants of the Triple Monarchy call it because of its introduction by the Earl of Sandwich, is a pale shadow with its pitifully thin trace of cheese, but such culinary barbarism is only to be expected from Englishmen.

1551: Obviously the primary purpose of the economic developments is to help fund the rebuilding and reformation of the army and navy. Both are in terrible shape at the end of the Long War, with some tourmai mustering less than 15% of their pre-war strength while others have ceased to exist altogether. The organization bequeathed to Empress Helena is exceedingly haphazard and ad-hoc, with some formations being entirely mercenary with no connection to either the old guard tagmata or thematic tagmata (chief of which is the Sarmatian Guard).

This makes it easier to undertake a full-scale renovation of Roman military organization, in order to rectify some glaring flaws in the system bequeathed to the Empire by the Laskarids. Whilst almost every army unit at one point or another had been in rebellion against the reigning Emperor, there were two subsections that had remained stoutly loyal.

The first were the eikosarchoi of the various tagmata. As officers, they had been entirely paid in cash and thus entirely dependent on the Imperial government for their livelihood. As a result they had resisted calls to insurrection. Unfortunately in that fight they faced a two-front war as their superiors had enough wealth to invest in land, so they had an alternate source of income, and it was the same for the landed officers (dekarchoi, pentarchoi, and tetrachoi) and men via their land grants. As a result the eikosarchoi were nearly always pressured into revolt if the rest of the tagma so desired.

The other were the three guard tagmata, the Athanatoi, Varangoi, and Skolai. All of them were full-time soldiers paid in cash, so the loyalty incentives were the same as for the eikosarchoi. However they were in effect for the totality of the units, so they did not waver in their faithfulness. The solution is simple; make all of the tagmata like the guard units.

The new army is to be in its entirety a full-time, professional army paid in cash and only in cash. Those soldiers who still hold land grants as thematic pay under the old system are given the choice of either being soldiers or farmers, but they can no longer be both. As a result the cost of maintaining the army skyrockets, but it is believed that the improvements in efficiency and more importantly loyalty are worth it.

One proposal for strengthening the army is resoundingly rejected, despite a detailed War Room plan for its implementation. It is the levee en masse. Viewing the intensity of the war in Syria, even religious and ethnic hatred do not seem enough to explain it. The levee en masse is blamed for it (because of that it is known even to the Romans by its French name); the Head Chair of Philosophy at the University of Constantinople said that ‘in warfare, it is natural to attack those of the enemy who are war-makers. But the levee makes one’s whole society war-makers, thus it is only natural to act as if the enemy is the same. The levee en masse is to war as democracy is to peace, conjuring the mob for battle, and as such both inevitably beget atrocity.”

Such murderous insanity as was seen in Syria is to be avoided at all cost, adding another impetus for a drilled, professional army. The army is still organized into tagmata attached to various themes, however now those themes merely provide the tax revenues for the soldiers’ upkeep, rather than the land. Even though four themes have been lost (two to Sicily and two to Egypt), the heavy population declines and significant increase in the cost of army upkeep results in the thematic boundaries being redrawn. The Macedonian and Epirote themes are combined into the Macedonian theme, the Crimea is added to the Chaldean theme, the Phoenician and South Syrian themes are merged and renamed the Syrian theme, whilst the old Syrian and Koloneian themes join with Roman Armenia to form the Armeniac theme.

There are a total of eleven thematic tagmata, each organized into one of three armies each commanded by a Domestikos. The Army of the West consists of the Thracian, Macedonian, Helladic, and Bulgarian tagmata. The Army of the East comprises the Armeniac, Chaldean, Anatolic, and Syrian tagmata. Both at full strength should muster forty thousand men for the defense of either the European or Asian frontier respectively.

In recognition that an army of forty thousand can be difficult to support and sometimes excessive to the task at hand, both armies are divided into two ‘great tagmata’ each. These are pairs of tagmata, commanded by a doux (not to be confused with the identical naval title), which drill together regularly in combined operations (the armies also hold combined exercises, but to a lesser extent). The pairings are as follows:


[Author’s note: To put these into OTL terms, a tagma is equivalent to a division, a great tagma to a corps, and an army to a field army.]

In reserve is the Army of the Center, the Thracesian, Opsikian, and Optimatic tagmata, which at full strength should muster thirty thousand men. Given the smaller size of the army and due to its role as a reserve, the Army of the Center does not have any great tagmata or douxes.

Functioning as the army’s elite force and as a second reserve is the Imperial army, to be fifteen thousand strong, the Athanatoi, Varangoi, and Skolai, five thousand strong each. All are stationed in Constantinople, and because of their elite status have a pay fifty percent above and beyond that of the thematic tagmata. However no one (with the later exception of Imperial offspring who become officers) is allowed to directly enter any of the formations, but must be promoted up from the themes. Whilst operating together in the field, they are to be commanded by the Megas Domestikos.


Non-thematic territories support the navy. Aside from the Imperial Fleet stationed in Constantinople, there are provincial squadrons at Chandax, Antioch, Corfu, Venetia, and Malta.

There is also much reformation in the lower tiers of organization. Each tagmata except the Guard is comprised by ten tourmai as before, which were divided into ten droungoi, all of which were combined arms forces. Although admirable in principle, the overextension of the practice meant the fielding of cavalry units too small to be of any utility on the battle.

Each tagmata fields three different types of tourmai, each a thousand strong and given a number, eight of them infantry and two cavalry. Four of the infantry ones are divided into five kentarchiai commanded by a kentarchos. The infantry kentarchiai are 200 strong each, comprised of a brazos (20 men) and two droungoi (90 men each-commanded by a droungarios) which are themselves made up of three brazos (20 men each) plus a great brazos (30 men each). Each brazos is commanded by an eikosarchos, the eikosarchos of the great brazos taking seniority over the others in his kentarchia.

The independent brazos is mounted, a light cavalry squadron to act as scouts and skirmishers in support of the foot. Behind them come the great brazos, light infantry skirmishers armed with either gun or bow. Of the three regular brazoi, two of them are missile line infantry, for the most part equipped with arquebus, although there are a few notable exceptions such as the 3rd Thracesian, which draws much of its manpower from the Philadelphians, renowned for their marksmanship and skill with the bow. The last are comprised of skutatoi.

The other four infantry tourmai are also comprised of five kentarchiai, four of which are entirely made up of sarissophoroi, equipped with 15.5 feet long pikes. Heavy losses from Ottoman and Milanese cavalry charges had finally overcome the Roman officer corps’ almost pathological hatred of pikes, that ‘infernal contraption which turns a good soldier into a half-naked porcupine nailed to a rock’. Even so Roman pikes are shorter than the Swiss or German variety in a bid to make them at least somewhat more maneuverable. Also these four tourmai are looked down upon as the most junior, and given to the younger, less experienced officers as the posts require more pugnacity than brains.

The fifth, and senior, kentarchia is organized like that of the regular infantry tourmai, so that the sarissophoroi have at least some missile and cavalry support. However combat doctrine strongly discourages sarissophoroi tourmai operating alone without support from either the light infantry tourmai or cavalry squadrons. The purpose of sarissophoroi is defensive, designed to act as the anvil or pinning force that holds the enemy in place whilst the light infantry or the cavalry do the actual work of destroying them. This further helps to lessen both their status and their glamour compared to the other troops, whose tactics emphasize fire and maneuver.

The remaining two tourmai are cavalry formations, each one consisting of five kentarchiai two hundred strong, which are further subdivided into five banda forty strong each under the command of a sarantarch. Each bandon is also divided into two brazoi led by eikosarchoi. Two of the five banda are light cavalry, one of black horses, with the other two heavy, preferably with a mix of skythikoi and kataphraktoi, although that is not always the chance given the lack of trained horse archers.

Guard tagmata are arrayed somewhat differently, with only one sarissophoroi tourma, and two ‘line’ tourmai and two cavalry.

In terms of missile weaponry, arquebuses have far surpassed composite bows in frequency of use, although the latter are still much preferred for their far better rate of fire. Foot archers are sought and used when available, but most of the emphasis is placed on the retaining and expansion of horse archery skills amongst the Roman populace, which had taken a heavy toll during the Time of Troubles.

Soldiers are to be well equipped and well armored. Kataphraktoi, skythikoi, and skutatoi all have at least a steel lamellar cuirass and leather lamellar protection for their limbs, plus a helmet. The kataphraktoi and skythikoi of the guard tagmata have plate cuirasses and steel lamellar protection for their extremities, with the skutatoi a complete set of steel lamellar.

Sarissophoroi of the thematic tagmata are protected by leather lamellar and a steel cap, plus a short sword and mace for close combat. Their compatriots of the guard receive a steel lamellar cuirass. However both thematic and guard mauroi (gunners) and toxotai (archers), whether line or skirmishers, are clad in leather lamellar with a steel cap and short sword and mace.

Soldiers when they sign up are supposed to serve for twenty two years, sixteen in the field followed by six in garrison. The pay scale is adjusted according to length of service, with every soldier guaranteed a 10% percent (calculated on their starting pay) raise every year for their first five years, thus a recruit in their sixth year of service will be receiving a salary 1.5 times that when they started. After that, there are 10% increases taking effect at the beginning of service years 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, so in their last year of field duty soldiers make double of what they started, and maintain that for their six years in garrison. A beneficial side effect is that it discouraged soldiers from seeking money from a trade, which would cut into their military effectiveness resulting in army infractions and loss of pay.

Across the Empire’s frontiers in Europe and Asia, there are (or hopefully will be) a string of kastrons or castles, each one commanded by a kastrophylax. There the older soldiers help provide border defense but also remain as a useful veteran cadre to reinforce the field armies in times of need.

Linking the capital and the frontier kastrons at Theodosiopolis, Nisibis, and Palmyra in the east, and Dyrrachium, Serdica, and Durostorum in the west is the skopos, or look-out system, a form of optical telegraph. At first glance, they appear to be a simple network of signal fires and rockets, however the stations are equipped with clocks and can relay up to 48 messages.

The content of the message is dependent on what time it is originally sent, and is marked through the use of various types of rockets (loaded with different compounds to vary the color of the explosions) and certain numbers, to ensure the ‘time code’ is not lost in transmission. Each chain has 2 paths, one for outbound (from Constantinople’s perspective) and one inbound. The system is not original to the Fifth Empire, but a more elaborate version of a network set up during the reign of Emperor Theophilus in the early ninth century.

As the skopos is being set up and organized, the artillery train is being organized and systemized. A mad collection of cannons during the war has left the Roman artillery train a hodgepodge of weapons with widely varying calibers, many of which are sold on the open market to clean out stock and raise money. The artillery of Rhomania is to be composed of six standard calibers, three, six, twelve, twenty two, and fifty. The last, the thirty two pounder, is added to the roster at the insistence of the navy, which wants a weapon with more punch than the twenty-two but more wieldy than the fifty.

Each infantry tourma is to be supported by a battery of three-pounders, with each tagma headquarters to have attached at least three batteries of six-pounders and a battery of twelves. The heavier guns, used by the siege train, are stored in either Constantinople, Thessaloniki, or Antioch. Despite improvements in the area of weight and mobility, the batteries are still far too cumbersome for horse artillery to be a possibility. But the rate of fire of Roman cannons, equipped with pre-packaged and measured powder and shot in wooden cases (for some reason, no one makes the obvious connection to providing pre-made cartridges for the infantry), still makes it a fearsome adversary.

Both the artillery and troop reforms are ongoing processes, and far too elaborate to be completed in a year. The War Room’s goal is to have the new troop formations to be fully filled out by 1556, and all batteries in place two years after that.

Naturally, a great deal of attention is given to training and drilling. Large exercises of the great tagmata and the armies are still major economic events. To stiffen the soldiers’ stomachs, hundreds or thousands of sheep, goats, pigs, and cows will be butchered in a field and the men forced to wade through the gore, and sometimes even sleep on the field. The meat is saved though and either turned into army rations or distributed to the poor. One punishment levied on petty criminals is to either clean up the field or work what are called ‘crap details’, where the contents of local privies are added to make the smell more pungent.

Long marches are extremely common to toughen the troops’ legs; the standard day’s march is eighteen miles a day, six days a week, with cavalry troopers expected to walk their horses at least half of that, both to spare their horses and ready the cavalry troopers to fight dismounted if need be.

Every year the Asian tagmata have to march the breadth of Anatolia from Chalcedon to Antioch (or sometimes from Smyrna to Trebizond). The European soldiery have to march from Constantinople to Dyrrachium, then down to Monemvasia. The invention of the monem proves to be a godsend, as the hot sandwiches make for good light lunches.

The monems are cooked beforehand at a chosen cook site, to be hot off the grill when the men appear. In the War Room, which is expanded in size and budget, the importance of logistics is hammered into officers over and over again. It will not be forgotten that it was logistics, or rather the lack therefore, that broke the back of Bayezid’s immense host.

There are signs everywhere, in the map room, in meeting and study rooms, and even in some of the bathrooms, asking ‘Have you remembered the logistics?’. One officer, who produced a detailed battle plan for an invasion of Hungary, was lambasted as he failed to provide any containers for either wine or kaffos, and as punished was barred from the free kaffos (one of the perks of working in the War Room) for the next year.

Juan Borgia, a Castilian nobleman and soldier who went on tour throughout Europe (one of the first, but by no means the last of the young gentlemen to go on the Tour), kept a detailed journal of his travels, writing much on the armies of the Orthodox nations. Of Russia he said ‘the men are for the most part poorly dressed and armed, but are extraordinarily inured to hardship. Their best troops are good fighters individually and as squadrons, but are exceedingly clumsy in groups over a hundred. Cannons and arquebuses are almost nowhere to be found, with all the good pieces either Greek or German’.

Of the Vlachs he said little, noting ‘in feat of arms, they excel in nothing, either in virtue or in vice. Their wagon trains though would last but half an hour against a pair of stout Castilian or English batteries’. He approved of the Georgians much more, citing ‘splendid cavalry and respectable, if poor-looking and looked down upon, foot. Arquebuses are few, but cannons and good armor are in abundance. Brave, oftentimes to the point of impetuosity, particularly the light cavalry drawn from the Aras valley.’

He spent the most time though focusing on the Roman army. ‘In physical terms, the Greek soldier is undistinguished, in either virtue or vice. He cannot match the bravery of a Scot or the speed of a Catalan or the strength of a German. However they are amply equipped and supplied, smart and well led, capable of fighting in ambuscade or in the open field, on foot or on horse, with sword or with arquebus. Their weakness is that their good provisioning means that they little tolerate its absence in the scant times it does fail, and because of that larger forces are oftentimes slow and ponderous. If this army is to be beaten, it must either be by a titanic and more importantly sustained clash of arms that will be terribly or bloody, or by a devastating opening strike. Respite will only give it momentum.’

The main advantages the reformed army has over its rivals are its logistical arrangements, far superior to anything in the West (although the Plantagenet and Castilians can match the Romans in the artillery sphere) and its size. The Holy Roman Emperors maintain a standing army of twenty five thousand men, while the Triple Monarchy has its tour system. But neither have the tax-gathering apparatus or ability Constantinople can wield, and so cannot afford such a large peacetime army. However both have the material resources to match (or in the Holy Roman Empire’s case, outmatch) the Empire. The advantage Rhomania has is the ability to harness, utilize, and coordinate the resources it has, rather than a quantitative superiority.

Other states such as Castile, Al-Andalus, Milan, and the Empire of All the North, are in a similar organizational situation as the western great powers, but with fewer resources. Milan, the most populous of the second tier powers, can muster only slightly more than half the souls residing in the Roman Empire proper (never mind the Despotate of Sicily).

But at the moment, the focus of the Roman army is not in the west, but in the east. Osman Komnenos has by the skin of his teeth held onto his powerbase in Mazandaran, aided by the good defensive terrain and sizeable loans of Georgian bullion and armaments. In the south, the Omani have returned to the fight with a vengeance, seizing Hormuz and Bahrain from the Ottomans and raiding the Tigris-Euphrates delta. The provinces east of Hormuz are charting their own course now, many consolidating either into the Emirates of Sukkur or Khorasan.

Frustrated by the mountainous terrain of Mazandaran studded with Georgian cannon, Timur II wheels southwest. At the same time a flying column seizes Tabriz, clearing the road linking Timur’s new domains and Roman Armenia. Rhomania responds vigorously.

Almost immediately Timur’s army is reinforced by Roman sutlers, significantly improving his supply situation, harassed by Ottoman light cavalry. Much of the looted wealth of Persia ends up flowing into Roman hands as Timurid soldiers pay for Roman wine and mutton and sugar. Timur’s artillery train is substantially enlarged too by purchases from the Roman artillery’s consolidation, getting them on the cheap thanks to Helena and the army’s utter hatred for Sultan Bayezid. Due to their firepower, Bayezid’s attempt to halt Timur’s inexorable march westward at Sanandaj goes down in miserable, bloody failure.

Once again the Lord of Asia stands on the edge of Mesopotamia.
An Interlude in the West

In the beginning there was fish. If one ignores the short-lived Viking colonies in Vinland in the early 11th century and the natives’ ancient ancestors, the first Old World ‘settlers’ were Norwegian and Basque fishermen trawling the Grand Banks. Setting up drying and cleaning shacks along the rocky shores of Newfoundland, this was the meager beginnings of the conquest of the New World by the Old.

This state of affairs continued for at least a hundred and fifty years, with only a driblet of interaction between the fishermen and the natives. A few Scandinavians settled in the region, but the quality of these immigrants were decidedly low, the area serving as an unofficial penal colony. Supposedly the first settlement was that of a man whose neighbors disapproved of his taste for a second wife, his own daughter.

Then suddenly in the 1530s, everything changed. The Scandinavians had been content to ply the Grand Banks, but the English and Irish privateers found them juicy and vulnerable, if not particularly valuable, targets during the Thirty Years War. During the conflict they reconnoitered some of the vast landmass, particularly the area around the mouth of the St. George River (OTL St. Lawrence).

Returning to their ports, they gave word of endless forests filled with mighty trees, perfect for the masts of great ships. An adequate and secure supply of naval stores was of vital concern to King Arthur once the war concluded. With a united and unfriendly Scandinavia, Baltic sources were not to be counted on, and in the event of war with Malmo, the Triple Monarchy faced the dangerous possibility of not being to maintain its navy.

So timber was the reason for the first ‘major’ settlement, a grand total of seventy three souls, five of them women. It was located in what would become known as Massachusetts, Scandinavian saber-rattling having forced them south. It lasted a year before being obliterated by the natives, who disliked the lumberjacks’ kidnapping and raping of their womenfolk. Alarmed by a trade agreement between Dijon and Malmo which ensured a steady supply of naval stores for the Dutch, King Arthur was not deterred.

The second expedition landed in 1534 and set up camp on a more defensible position south of the original settlement. This time the force numbered slightly less than five hundred and sixty men and ninety women, a third of them wives of settlers and the remainder camp women. Despite this provision, there were again altercations with the natives, and largely for the same reason.

Another serious matter was food, since supply ships were irregular and the local agricultural conditions unfamiliar. Ironically the success of the second Plantagenet venture to the New World owed much to the efforts of a Russian, Ivan Stroganov, an exile from his native land. Captain of the twenty-five strong guard, which was bolstered by a militia compromising most of the men folk, he was reportedly so strong that when his horse broken its leg during an attack by White Horde raiders back in his homeland, he threw the animal at the foe and frightened them off.

He led a series of raids on the nearby villages, capturing many and harrying them with fire and sword. Though substantially outnumbered, he had both steel and more importantly smallpox on his side. Both smallpox and measles were reaping a terrible harvest amongst the native peoples, annihilating entire villages and leaving their resources and land free for the taking.

Most of the captives were used as slave labor for the short time they lived, but they did provide useful information on local agricultural and hunting methods which did much to allay the need for regular supply ships. By the time the settlement was ten years old, it was a prosperous if small lumber town, dispatching prepared mast timbers, as well as rope and pitch, to the homeland.

However the natives were not inclined to stand for this, and in 1545 they attacked the town in seemingly overwhelming force. An initial assault was thrown back, but at the time it seemed that the Plantagenet presence in the New World would be driven into the sea.

Then Ivan Stroganov returned from France with more supplies, manpower, and reinforcements, including five light guns and thirty horses. King Arthur had grave concerns regarding a potential rapprochement between the Holy Roman Empire and the Empire of All the North, and wanted his navy in fighting trim. Disembarking south of the New town (as it was called), he worked up the horses until they had their strength back from the sea voyage, and then attacked with all the ferocity he had demonstrated fighting the White Horde in Russia.

By Old World standards, Ivan’s cavalry charge was extremely feeble, but to the natives, caught in open terrain and completely unaccustomed to such a thing, it was devastating. Even with those disadvantages, Ivan’s forces still could have easily been buried, but in the initial impetus he cut down the leader of the native coalition, so-called ‘King Manasseh’, bisecting him from shoulder to groin in a single blow.

The native coalition was wrecked, and some of the fresh captives were put to work building a wooden citadel (later to be reworked in stone). The fort became known as Ivan’s Guard, which the town is soon called as well. But in the first map of New England, there were a handful of spelling errors, and it is the map’s corruption of that which becomes the name of New England’s first city, Isengard.

To the north, the Scandinavians are taking an interest in the mainland, firstly because of the Plantagenet interest in them. Quickly staking claim to the mouth of the St. George River to foil Arthur’s design, they speedily discover that the land is rich in fur. Despite Arthur’s harboring of Ivan Stroganov, trade between Russia and England via Archangelsk has grown considerably, including a good bit of the new furs coming from the mouth of the Ob River.

This has been a pinch to the Scandinavian economy, affecting both Sweden and Finland, whose traders handle the Baltic fur trade, and Denmark, which sees its Sound Toll diminished. Thus all of them plus Norway, which has not forgotten what the Royal Navy did to Oslo, have a keen interest in developing the region to keep it out of Arthur’s hands. However given the limited population of the homeland, immigration is extremely small, with a handful of fur trappers and traders marking out Catherine’s newest domain of Vinland, which does succeed in having much better relations with the natives than New England.

Far to the south in what they called Brazil, the Portuguese had established a handful of settlements near the mouth of the Rio de Janeiro, chief of which was Sao Sebastiao, the furthest south. The colonists stick to the coast, with little interest and less power in the interior. For now they exist solely to help service and supply the India Armadas, although there is interest in both brazilwood logging and the potential for sugar planting, which has already reaped a bountiful harvest on Madeira.

To the north is Al-Jahmr, the name given by the Andalusi to their new colony, named after the same tree as Brazil. The Andalusi are highly interested in the wood for its use as a dye, which would do much to help boost their textile economy and also provide a valuable commodity for export. Both the Romans and the Dutch would be potential buyers, largely for the same reason the Andalusi wish to acquire the dye.

Concentrated on the main town, Medyenh Alektheban, the City of the Dunes, Al-Jahmr is lightly populated and potentially vulnerable to Portuguese naval attack. Because of the need to maintain a powerful army to prevent Toledo from getting any ideas, Cordoba cannot match Lisbon on the Atlantic. However Portugal is highly distracted by its eastern affairs, where it is engaged in a full-fledged war with the Acehnese, who are heavily and rather brazenly backed by the Sultanate of Brunei.

Portugal cannot afford to both fight in the Far East and Brazil, especially as Cordoba and Marselha are drawing together diplomatically and economically. Thus in the landmark Treaty of Madeira in 1546, Portugal and Al-Andalus clearly delineate their zones of influence in the Atlantic region. Portugal comes away with more, reflecting its superior naval strength, but it does help to secure Al-Jahmr and guarantee the Portuguese a cheap supply of brazilwood and an additional support base for the India Armadas in Medyenh Alektheban. In return for the logistical support two Andalusi vessels are allowed to join the India Armadas.

Besides fostering an Andalusi-Portuguese understanding and cooperation, it also helps to distance Al-Andalus from Arles. There had been tensions between the two over King Basil’s selling of weaponry to the Marinid Sultan, and with the issue of Al-Jahmr settled, there is less need for Cordoba to pursue this diplomatic avenue. This shift caused by the treaty helps reinforce a trend that has been developing, albeit extremely unevenly, since the Grand Alliance of All Spain, the common cooperation of Iberians against outsiders.

The outsider first hurt is the Kingdom of Arles, still ruled by King Basil Komnenos, who while still smart has grown plump as he grows older, with a taste for the two main products of his own New World possessions, sugar and tobacco. Many Arletian collaborators in northern France had flocked south after the Thirty Years War, and between them and Arletians not particularly happy by having a Greek-German King, have provided a large population for colonization.

As a result, Antillia is by far the largest of the European colonies as of 1550, with a population of close to twelve thousand Old World inhabitants, including African slaves. Early development of tobacco and sugar plantations across Greater Antillia (Cuba) and Lesser Antillia (Hispaniola) have made them wealthy overnight, ensuring the continuance of a venture that had begun mainly as an Arletian effort to see what the fuss was about out west.

Chief amongst the men of Antillia is David Komnenos. After the death of his mother the ‘Peasant Empress’ in Bordeu/Bordeaux seven months after the end of the Thirty Years War, there was little to keep him in Arles. Alexeia Komnena was sitting strong on her throne at the time, so there was no incentive for moving east.

So west he went, and there he has prospered. Crushing a Taino rebellion on Lesser Antillia in 1541 which had at one point seemed poised, like at New Town, to drive the Europeans back into the sea. But David possessed the same advantages as Ivan, and used them to full and similar effect. Four years later, he is the second richest man on the island, with vast sugar plantations worked by Taino slaves, which die in droves because of disease, scuttling his attempt to install a Cyprus-style plantation slavery, rather than the Madeira model used by the Portuguese.

But despite his wealth and the fact he is in his mid-forties, David Komnenos, last son of Andreas Niketas, is bored. Most of his childhood was spent amongst the Syrian and Egyptian tagmata, and his youth leading cavalry columns against the Plantagenets. Lording over naked primitives who seem to die if a European sneezes on them does little to occupy him.

Or to assuage his dignity. His nephew sits upon the throne of Arles, yet he is a plantation owner. Only dimly aware of what is occurring in far-off Constantinople, and unwilling to earn the terrible wrath of his father by bringing civil war down upon his Empire, he is not interested in Constantinople. He is also aware that despite his paternal parentage, his maternal parentage, his upbringing in the provinces, and his long absence would be substantial factors against his success.

But what about the mainland? There was been the occasional probe, netting a handful of captives and rumors. They speak of mighty empires, of cities of gold and vast temples where priests perform ghastly heathen rites, ripping the still-beating hearts from the chests of their sacrificial human victims. But are they true? From the St. George to Janeiro, no European has ventured more than 15 miles from the sea. But if they are…

David’s thoughts would only be warmed if he knew the tale of how that mainland got its name. It was in a similar vein to how Isengard was coined. As the court cartographer from King Arthur was approaching Isengard, he heard the captain speaking to his son. He said, “Look, a new land, a place for new men or, new empires.” However the sound of the sea and the mapmaker’s poor hearing caused him to miss part of that, so all he heard was ‘a new land’, and what he presumed was the place’s name. That is what he gives that vast land on his map, and the name by which it becomes known to Europe, a New Land: Numenor.

The White Palace, Constantinople, May 26, 1628:

“Hush,” his mother said, trying to get the eight-year-old boy to stop fidgeting. Alexandros Sideros obeyed, albeit reluctantly. He wanted to be out horseback riding, out hunting with the Kaisar. There was talk of a giant she-boar around Raidestos that he was going after, and that was what he wanted to see, not this play.

“Is it over yet?” he whispered as the actors filed on stage.

“Quiet,” she hissed. “You’ll like it.” I doubt it.

The chorus began to speak. “Oh, for a Muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention, A Kingdom for a stage, princes to act, and monarchs to behold the swelling scene! Can this cockpit hold the vasty fields of Mexico?”

* * *

On the evening of Good Friday, 1547, David Komnenos lands in Vera Cruz. The site had been named by his Castilian lieutenant, Juan Pizarro, who had arrived earlier that day in his ship. Incidentally he is his cousin-in-law, married to his own wife’s first cousin (both of whom are dead). David has under his command eight ships, five hundred and fifty men, sixty horses, and ten light guns.

At his side is an old friend, Michael of Sardis. A retainer of his mother after her marriage to Andreas Niketas, he has been at David’s side since childhood. The one exception to that is the past seven years, which he has spent reconnoitering Mexico and learning the Nahuatl and Mayan languages, in addition to the Greek, Arabic, Coptic and Provencal tongues he already commands.

With at least a limited understanding of the political situation in the interior, David immediately strikes inland. The Aztec Empire still waxes large and powerful, although weak leadership at the center and attacks from the Tarascans to the west are making the edges frayed. Utterly despised by most of their neighbors, the Aztecs’ military might keeps them at bay, even the mighty Tarascans gaining at best limited success.

David is horrified by the news of the vast human sacrifices conducted by the Aztecs, which are utterly barbaric, but at the same time he cannot deny the civilized (in the sense of city-building) nature of their society. Students of history are often confused by the contrast between the Komnenid’s treatment of his Plantagenet enemies in the Thirty Years’ War and that of his Taino serfs in Greater Antillia, especially when his treatment to (most of) the inhabitants of Mexico is added to the paradigm. The differential cannot be explained in Christian-Infidel or Old World-New World dichotomies.

The dichotomy at work is that of civilized-uncivilized. David was born in Constantinople and spent most of his childhood in or near Antioch, Aleppo, Damascus, and Alexandria. Most of his time in Arles was spent at Marselha or Bordeo. ‘God was the Great Creator,’ he said in 1542. ‘It took only one of him to create beauty and wonder and majesty. Man is also a creator, but he does not possess God’s talent. It takes many men to create beauty and wonder and majesty.

‘While there may be only one author to the play or one architect to the church, it takes many to create the paper and scaffolds, to perform the play or build the building. Though he still falls far short, it is in the city where man comes closest to being in the image of God, whilst it is far from the city where men are closest to being in the image of beasts, incapable of creating beauty and wonder and majesty, and thus focused on fulfilling merely their base appetites’.

The most dangerous rival of the Aztecs are the Tarascans, but the most venomous are the Tlaxcallans. Thus David first marches on Tlaxcala hoping to recruit them as local allies, but instead of being welcomed by open arms he is meet with volleys of darts and arrows. Despite the support of five hundred natives, both soldiers and more importantly porters, recruited through Michael’s contacts, and the Roman-style leather and steel lamellar armor with which most of David’s men are equipped (which are designed to protect against far more powerful Turkish bows), the sheer number of missiles and men force David’s force to retire to a nearby hill.

* * *
Michael of Sardis turned and looked at David Komnenos, both clad in gleaming plate. “Gracious Lord, Stand for your own; unwind your bloody flag; Look back into your mighty ancestors: Think, my dread lord, to your great-grand sire, From whom you claim; invoke his warlike spirit, And your great father’s, Andreas the Victor, Who on the Italian ground played a tragedy, Making defeat upon the full power of Europe.

“You are their heir; The blood and courage that renowned them runs in your veins.”

* * *
The Tlaxcallans, forming for an assault are instead smashed flat by a sudden cavalry charge which rips a hole in the lines. Though the small gap is quickly plugged, David retires back up the hill without molestation and a pile of Tlaxcallan dead behind him. Awed by the damage caused by such a small body of men with strange and fearsome beasts, the Tlaxcallans are willing to talk.

Once the negotiations began, an alliance is quickly formed against the hated Aztecs, sealed with exchanges of gifts, including Roman silk shirts for some of the Tlaxcallan nobility. Some of them even ‘convert’ to Catholicism and are baptized, although in actuality they merely add David’s God to their own pantheon. David, content with a token conversion does not object. Chief among them are Xicotencatl, who takes the Christian name Jean and Maxixcatzin who takes the name Gabriel.

Joined by 2500 Tlaxcallan warriors, he marches on Huexotzingo, once a Tlaxcallan ally before it was conquered by an Aztec army ten years earlier in the last period of Mexica military dominance. Just short of the city, he is met by ambassadors from Emperor Tizoc II who is not amused by the situation (In fact, they were sent by Cihuacoatl-“Viceroy” Montezuma). Besides the Tlaxcallans, David has also recruited the Totonacs to his side and it is erroneously believed in Tenochtitlan that he is communicating with the Tarascans.

* * *
The ambassador spoke. “Thus, then, in few.
Your highness, lately sending into Mexico,
Did claim some certain dukedoms.
In answer of which claim, the viceroy our master
Says that you savor too much of your supposed youth,
And bids you be advised there's nought in Mexico
That can be with a nimble galliard won;
You cannot revel into dukedoms there.
He therefore sends you, meeter for your spirit,
This tun of treasure; and, in lieu of this,
Desires you let the dukedoms that you claim
Hear no more of you. This the Viceroy speaks.

“What treasure?” David asked.

“Tennis balls, my liege,” Michael replied.

David spoke. “We are glad the Viceroy is so pleasant with us;
His present and your pains we thank you for:
When we have march'd our rackets to these balls,
We will, in Mexico, by God's grace, play a set
That shall strike his master's crown into the hazard.
Tell him he hath made a match with such a wrangler
That all the courts of Mexico will be disturb'd.

Tell you the Viceroy I am coming on,
To venge me as I may and to put forth
My rightful hand in a well-hallow'd cause.
So get you hence in peace; and tell the Viceroy
His jest will savour but of shallow wit,
When thousands weep more than did laugh at it.
Convey them with safe conduct. Fare you well.

The chastened ambassadors flee the scene. “That was a merry message,” Juan said.

David spoke. “We hope to make the sender blush at it.
Therefore, my lords, omit no happy hour
That may give furtherance to our expedition;
For we have now no thought in us but Mexico,
Save those to God, that run before our business.
Therefore let our proportions for these wars
Be soon collected and all things thought upon
That may with reasonable swiftness add
More feathers to our wings; for, God before,
We'll chide this Viceroy at his master's door.
Therefore let every man now task his thought,
That this fair action may on foot be brought.

* * *
The garrison at Huexotzingo is easily scattered, the populace immediately pledging themselves to David’s cause. It is here that David first develops his rationalization for the human sacrifices. Overall he cares little for the faith of his new allies, provided they make a token conversion and baptism, but human sacrifice he absolutely will not tolerate. However the sacrifices are conducted to supposedly save the world from darkness.

Christianity is built on an identical premise, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, for the salvation of the world. In David’s mind the natives are not wrong in human sacrifices, just out-of-date. The ultimate sacrifice has already been made, that of God, and thus the human sacrifices are not longer needed. So he argues.

Shortly afterwards, David marches on Cholula, but the rapid response of the Aztec army (the Tarascans have been uncharacteristically quiet this year) forces him to withdraw. However in a brief action between Aztec soldiery and his rearguard, four Europeans are killed and four more captured, in addition to over fifty casualties amongst David’s native allies.

It is a minor defeat for David, but one of the captives taken by the Aztecs has smallpox. In the few months while David regroups, recruiting more native forces and gaining two hundred reinforcements from Antillia, the disease devastates the valley of Mexico. Although the Tlaxcallans are similarly afflicted, David elects ‘to strike while the iron is hot’.

Cholula, one of the great cities of the Aztec Empire, capitulates after a brief battle, and as a result the inhabitants are, for the most part, well treated. The chief temple is consecrated as a church and an image of the Madonna placed at the top of the pyramid.

Despite the plague, the Aztecs manage to assemble a great army which challenges David’s force of twelve thousand troops (about 700 of them Europeans) on the plains of Otumba.

* * *
“There’s five to one,” Juan explained. “And besides they are all fresh. O that we now had here but one ten thousand of those men in Arles that do no work to-day!”

David looked at him. “No, my fair cousin:
If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honor.

“This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words,
David, Juan, Michael, Jean, Gabriel,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother.”

“Perish the man whose mind is backward now,” Juan replied.

“Thou dost not wish more help from Arles, cousin?”

God's will! my liege, would you and I alone,
Without more help, could fight this royal battle!

David smiled. “Why, now thou hast unwish'd five thousand men;
Which likes me better than to wish us one.
You know your places: God be with you all!

* * *
Ignorant of the strange metal contraptions, the Aztec army is hammered by enfilade fire from the cannons, and the broad open plain is perfect terrain for cavalry. The horsemen wreak a terrible slaughter, smashing holes in the Aztec lines. Using his Old World troops and weaponry as elite forces, David uses them to create the breaches, and then summons his native allies to exploit the advantage.

By midday the battle is over, the power of the Aztec Empire shattered in a mere three hours. Many of the Aztec nobility has been slain, among them Emperor Tizoc II. Vassals of the Aztecs flock to David’s banner, including Texcoco, a member of the Triple Alliance, swelling his forces into an immense host.

Meanwhile Montezuma’s position in the capital is exceedingly shaky, with Tizoc’s only blood heir his three-year-old son. The support of Tizoc’s daughter Teotlaco is not of much help. Meanwhile measles and bubonic plague have joined as allies of smallpox and David to scourge the Aztecs, and there are reports that an absolutely immense Tarascan host is marshalling in the west. In the interests of saving lives and the magnificent city of Tenochtitlan, he offers to surrender.

* * *
“Alas, our men are brave!” Montezuma exclaimed. “But it seems bravery is not enough in these times. These Arletians did not view my jest in good humor, and are akin to hornets when riled.”

“So, Viceroy,” David said. “These lands are now mine by right of conquest.”

“Just so, my lord, but you must know that iron alone cannot command men’s hearts. If you wish to truly command the fabled cities of Mexico, you must wed to the royal house. I bid you take my late master’s daughter Maria (Teotlalco) to wed, filling the fields of Mexico no more with blood, for never did two such kingdoms contend with such blood, with every drop a woe, giving waste to such brief mortality.”

“Well said,” David replied as Maria entered. “For sooth, a man could not wish for a finer flower.”

“Thank you, my lord,” she replied. “I anticipate with joy our wedding bonds, and the commingling of our great nations.”

Michael spoke. “God, the best maker of all marriages,
Combine your hearts in one, your realms in one!
As man and wife, being two, are one in love,
So be there 'twixt your kingdoms such a spousal,
That never may ill office, or fell jealousy,
Which troubles oft the bed of blessed marriage,
Thrust in between the paction of these kingdoms,
To make divorce of their incorporate league;
That Arletian may as Mexican, Mexican Arletian,
Receive each other. God speak this Amen!

The chorus spoke. “Thus far, with rough and all-unable pen,
Our bending author hath pursued the story,
In little room confining mighty men,
Mangling by starts the full course of their glory.

Of how the Prince David, great heir of the Great Captain,
Gained an Empire for his patrimony.
Forsaking Constantinople for Tenochtitlan, nevertheless he was his father’s son,
Accruing crown and glory to his name.

May the title of ‘Emperor’ never depart this mighty line,
For what once shone in the east now blazes in the west.

All hail, David, first of his name, son of Andreas Niketas,
Emperor of Mexico, Sovereign of Tenochtitlan, and Lord of the Sunset Lands!”
Because of my very slow internet loading this image-heavy page is a hideous gigantic pain. I am bumping this thread in order to get to a new page so that I can upload new posts in a timely manner.
In order to make sure that the bump posts are not boring and pointless each following bump post will come with a random Byzantine factoid (from OTL) and its source. Hopefully this will be a source of education and enlightenment and alerting interested readers to new sources of information of which they may not have been aware.
According to the Byzantine historian George Akropolites the Nicaean Emperor Theodoros I Laskaris killed the Seljuk Sultan Kaykhusraw I in single combat during the battle of Antioch-on-the-Meander. Originally the duel went against Theodoros and the Sultan knocked him to the ground. Getting overconfident Kaykhusraw mocked Theodoros and turned to order his guards to tie up the Nicaean. Theodoros hit the Sultan’s horse on the buttocks with his sword, the mount reared in pain, and Kaykhusraw fell to the ground. A moment later Theodoros killed him. (George Akropolites: the History, translated by Ruth Macrides, unfortunately don’t have access to it now so don’t remember which page)
During the initial schism in 1054 the filioque creed was not an important issue for the Orthodox Church as it had been during the Photian Schism two centuries earlier or as it would be later in the Middle Ages. The main theological issue, going by the writings of the Patriarch of Constantinople Michael Keroularios and the Patriarch of Antioch Peter III was the Catholic use of azymes, wafers without yeast, in communion. It was considered too reminiscent of Jewish practices. This was a sore point as in recent years Byzantine expansion had incorporated a great many Armenians and the Armenian Church followed the practice of using unleavened bread. (Tia M. Kolbaba, “Byzantine Perceptions of Latin Religious “Errors”: Themes and Changes from 850 to 1350,” in The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World, 121)
William of Tyre, the famous historian of the Crusader States, only called the Byzantines heretics on one occasion, when writing about the massacre of the Latins in Constantinople in 1182. (Peter W. Edbury and John Gordon Rowe, William of Tyre: Historian of the Latin East, 146.)
According to Niketas Choniates during the Norman conquest of Thessaloniki in 1185 the Normans urinated on the altars in Orthodox churches and deliberately interrupted Orthodox Church services. (Niketas Choniates, O City of Byzantium: Annals of Niketas Choniates, trans. Harry J. Magoulias, 166, 169-170)
In 1239 Richard of Cornwall (King Henry III’s little brother) was planning a crusade to Outremer. The Pope tried to get him to make a donation to the Latin Empire instead. Richard and the other crusaders swore an oath to only go to the Holy Land lest the Church divert them to fight Christians in Italy or Greece instead. (Jonathan Harris, Byzantium and the Crusades, 171)
When Michael VIII tried to fulfill his obligations at the Council of Lyons and bring the Orthodox Church to submit to the Roman See, one of his biggest opponents of John of Thessaly. John had organized an Orthodox Church council which excommunicated the Pope and all unionists and was encouraging Michael’s subjects to resist his efforts to bring them into obedience to Rome. For support Michael VIII asked the Pope to excommunicate John. The Pope refused as John was an ally of Charles of Anjou. (Joseph Gill, Byzantium and the Papacy 1198-1400, 170)
In 1340 a delegation from the Principality of Achaea which included the Latin Archbishop of Patras and the Bishops of Coron and Olena met with John Kantakuzenos. They offered to join the Byzantine Empire if they could keep the same privileges they had under the Prince of Achaea. The proposal came to nothing as soon afterward Andronikos III died. (Nicholas Cheetham, Medieval Greece, 158-59; Peter Topping, “The Morea, 1311 to 1364,” in The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, vol. 3, A History of the Crusades, ed. Kenneth M. Setton, 128)
Andronikos II Komnenos issued an order that those who pillaged shipwrecks were to either be hanged from the ship’s mast or be impaled on the coast as a public example. This was because rather than rendering aid to the shipwrecked crew and passengers the Byzantines stole everything instead. (Angeliki Laiou, “Byzantine Trade with Christians and Muslims and the Crusades” in The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World, 183)
The Arab Muslims considered the Byzantines to be the foremost people in the world in art, architecture, and craftsmanship. They were also well known for being beautiful people physically. (Nadia Maria El-Cheikh, “Byzantium through the Islamic Prism from the Twelfth to the Thirteenth Century” in The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World, 56-57)
Based on the verdicts of the Archbishop of Ohrid, Demetrios Chomatenos, and Ioannes Apokakous, Metropolitan of Naupaktos, in the early 1200s, Byzantine law in murder and attempted murder cases took into consideration the intent of the victim, the weapon used, and the degree to which it was used when sentencing. (Ruth Macrides, “Killing, Asylum, and the Law in Byzantium, Speculum 63, no. 3, 519-29)
In 704 an Anglo-Saxon delegation to Rome was seriously confused when their Papal counterparts started joking about the matter amongst themselves in Greek. (Michael McCormick, “Western Approaches 700-900” in The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire, 410.