The Revival of Rhomaion: An Age of Miracles

During the Avar siege of Constantinople in 626, when there was a lull in the fighting, residents of the cities would pick vegetables from the gardens between the walls of Constantine and Theodosius (Gilbert Dagon, “The Urban Economy, Seventh-Twelfth Centuries,” in The Economic History of Byzantium, 448-49.
1552: Timur II’s crossing of the Zagros Mountains receives less attention in Constantinople than three other events. First is the birth of twins, a boy and girl, to Theodora and Alexandros in January. The healthy infants are named Anastasios and Anastasia respectively.

Two months later the Empress Helena gives birth to a son, Andreas. The birthing is extremely difficult and painful, with the Empress in labor for a day and a night. Andreas though is healthy, the midwives marveling at his size; according to Theodora at birth he weighed twelve and a half pounds.

The other is the coronation in Kiev of Dmitri I, Great King of the Rus and Grand Prince of Lithuania. Twenty four years old, he is well aware of his purple blood, as he is the great-grandson of Andreas Niketas and Princess Kristina of Novgorod, via their daughter Helena. Prone to sudden mood swings, he is quite vocal about the fact that by blood claim he has a much better right to the throne of Rhomania than its current occupant.

However he, or more properly his advisors, are not crass enough to claim that said throne belongs to Dmitri. The ponderous speed and extreme casualties taken by the Army of the North during the Orthodox War proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that a credible projection of Russian power by land south of the Danube was only possible at an exorbitant price. And at sea, the Roman navy is still almost three times more powerful than the Russian Black Sea, Vlach, and Georgian fleets combined. There is also the matter the Scythia is economically much more inclined to Constantinople than Novgorod, with 2.5 times more exports to Rhomania than to the rest of Russia.

Still, because of his ancestry Dmitri tends to present himself as the leader of Orthodox Christendom, and he toys with the idea of dropping the Roman-bestowed title and crown of Megas Rigas in exchange for a more grandiose title, perhaps ‘Tsar of all the Russias’. But it also difficult for him to break Russian tradition, thus he is unable to commit to either course of action, mainly serving to irritate Constantinople even as in Munich Kaiser Wilhelm solidifies his power by instituting a tour system of his own in Bavaria and Schleswig-Holstein, overseen by Templar administrators.

In Marselha and Avignon on the other hand the main debate is what to do about this new development in Mexico. Although King Basil is irritated that his uncle is insistent on ruling an independent realm he does admit that legally there is no reason for him to expect David to do such a thing. The whole expedition was financed by David personally.

However there is still a way for Basil to benefit from the situation. Emperor David is well aware of the technological backwardness of Mexico compared to the Old World, and equally aware that the few dozen blacksmiths and carpenters in his expedition are nowhere near enough to solve it on their own. His breeding stock for horses is also extremely limited, with inbreeding inevitable considering he only has five healthy stallions.

So the solution is trade. Arles will provide experts and materials, especially swords, armor, cannons, and horses which Mexico cannot make, as well as horses and other livestock (pigs soon become preferred by the Mexicans) in exchange for silver. The bullion mainly comes from the mines of Zacatecas, often worked by captives from the Tarascan war. Although the initial Tarascan invasion was smashed flat in battle by David’s army, he is unable to follow up the advantage due to the diseases ravaging the peoples of Mexico and his need to solidify his hold over his domains.

The Avignon Papacy, under Pope Paul IV, is not nearly so sanguine about the situation, and is disturbed by the lax nature of Mexican Christianity and David’s dilatoriness is fixing the situation. Priests are dispatched across the sea, and while Paul IV does recognize that the true conversion of Mexico will take time, he does expect to see progress to that end. If not, he holds out the possibility of papal approval and support for an Arletian or Portuguese-Castilian expedition. It is a threat David takes very seriously, well aware that there is no rule written that only the first invasion of Mexico can possibly succeed, despite the claims of some of his men who are busily marrying into the Mexican nobility.

In the east, before Sultan-Khan Timur II sweeps south into Mesopotamia, he meets with Princess Theodora on the shores of Lake Van (her two children remain in Constantinople). Their two-week conference is to help set the groundwork for the new order in western Asia. Trade negotiations are formalized and an extradition treaty signed, with both parties swearing eternal friendship. The trade between the two increases, with Timurid horses and astronomy texts flowing west as Timur adds Roman medical treatises to his personal library.

But far more momentous is the Second Treaty of Van. In exchange for an absolutely massive cash payment that wipes out over half of the Roman debt and almost four-fifths of its interest payments (by using the Timurid cash to pay off the higher interest loans early), most of the Roman territory beyond the Euphrates is ceded to the Timurid Empire. At the same time the Anizzah are given autonomous control over much of the remaining Syrian frontier as a Roman vassal (although not as a Despotate), on the grounds that Roman power projection is extremely limited anyway and that it will make the Anizzah defend the area even more fiercely.

Red indicates the land ceded directly to the Timurid Empire. The green is the territory granted to the Anizzah to rule as a vassal-ally of the Empire.

Besides the money, the Treaty pulls the frontier back to a more defensible area in Helena’s eyes. The border is now where it was for most of the fourteenth and fifteenth century, with a much more developed infrastructure and fortress belt, although the latter does need to be modernized. Border defenses can now be more cheaply upgraded by building on the previous Laskarid structures, and better supported thanks to better and more roads and shorter supply lines. Plus it gets rids of another 100,000 Muslims that the Empire doesn’t want, fixing the border amongst more Christian and loyal peoples.

Despite that, the army is utterly outraged by the ceding of a large block of Andreas Niketas’ conquests, and one of the last remaining in Roman hands. Nikolaios Polos, recently promoted to Megas Domestikos, is so livid that after a shouting match with the Empress he storms out of the White Palace. He is gone from the capital for almost four months, coming back only when his wife flat out orders him to return. Also many of the peoples of the east are not happy over the loss of a buffer zone, especially the Edessans, now the terminus for one of the Skopos lines (the one that previously ran to Nisibis; the Palmyra line now ends at Damascus).

As for Timur II, the treaty of Van significantly bolsters his position amongst the inhabitants of Mesopotamia by removing the looming specter of a Roman invasion from them. With a buffer zone between them and the Empire they can sleep easier, and can be expected to be grateful.

Marching south towards Baghdad, he faces little opposition until he actually besieges the Ottoman capital. Sultan Bayezid III has made no attempt to flee, although he has dispatched the treasury and his family to Basra. The defenses of the city have been repaired and improved since Andreas Drakos sacked the metropolis, and the smaller population of forty five thousand is able to defend the city without unduly taxing the stores of supplies.

Thus for three months Bayezid is able to keep Timur out, despite his thirteen batteries of Roman cannon. But on October 11, the city is taken, the Ottoman Sultan killed in battle defending the Topkapi Palace at the head of his few remaining janissaries. Timur keeps the sacking limited to just the eleventh, reproaching a soldier found hacking out pieces of the marble floor of the Topkapi palace, as the buildings belong to him. Entering the Mosque of Osman I, he sprinkles dust on his turban as a gesture of humility, quoting a line from the Iliad:

“The day shall come in which our sacred Troy
And Priam, and the people over whom
Spear-bearing Priam rules, shall perish all.”

In Basra, Bayezid’s eldest child and daughter reacts to the news not with grief but with boldness. In an epic ride across enemy-occupied territory, carrying a fortune in jewels sewn into her and her retainers’ clothing and accoutrements, narrowly avoiding capture on at least three different occasions, she arrives in Sari, the capital of Osman Komnenos. One month to the day after the fall of Baghdad they are wed, her husband formally claiming for the first time the title Shahanshah.

Three days later the Georgian army, under the command of the Grand Domestic Stefanoz Safavi, takes Tabriz, putting every member of the Timurid garrison to the sword.

1553: The sudden and explosive onslaught of the Georgian army comes as a complete surprise to all of its neighbors, including the Romans. Ever since the Orthodox War the Kingdom of Georgia has been a diplomatic non-entity due to its tremendously high losses, and those states bordering it have grown complacent.

It is an understandable mistake, but a bad one, for the force that ushers forth to finally avenge the sack of Baku is the most powerful the Kingdom has put into the field since the days of Thamar the Great three centuries past. The army is a smaller version of the Roman host, but excellently equipped with lamellar armor and gunpowder weapons, although given the terrain of Georgia heavy siege guns are a rarity. Alan light cavalry and Azeri light infantry provide a formidable screen for the heavy troops, of whom pride of place goes to the King’s Immortal Guard.

The areas, besides size, in which the Georgians fall short by Roman standards, is in training and logistics. There is no equivalent to the School of War for officers, although there is an institution for the training of artillerymen and engineers. Nor is there a War Room to organize war plans or march-tables, and Roman quartermasters have little good to say about Georgian logistics (to be fair, that is true for everyone save the Bernese).

Thus Stefanoz Safavi’s sudden riposte that seizes Tabriz stalls after the fall of the city. His ammunition stocks are depleted, rations are short even with Tabriz’s stores, and the winter campaign, although granting the inestimable advantage of surprise, has taken a hard toll in frostbite on men and horses. It is not until May that the army is ready to move again.

The fall of Tabriz severed the main route through which Roman-Timurid trade had been conducted. The Great East Road, linking Chalcedon to Theodosiopolis via Ancyra, plus the Black Sea route to Trebizond (connected via a spur line), had dominated the scene during its brief flowering. Partly that was because of tradition, as when it was established the more southerly routes led to Ottoman territory. But also most of the Roman shipping in the eastern Mediterranean is taking advantage of the oriental routes once again flowing into Egypt, plus the slave trade with Ethiopia.

Still, Timur II already has an impressive stock of Roman armaments to supplement his own manufactures. He marches north, and given the size and skill of his army, there would be every reason to suspect that the Georgians will pay dearly for their audacity.

But Timur II does not face just the Georgians. For Tieh China has once again stirred. Bested in iron, it has turned to gold, and summoned forth a volcano. Ever since its birth, the Kings and later Governors of Urumqi had played a delicate balancing act between the Han and Uyghur elements of the states, with steadily declining success due to Tieh intrigue. In the spring, a full blown Uyghur insurrection erupts, and supported by Chinese gold and arms, obliterates the city of Urumqi, its governor, and his army, ending the two-hundred year old state and replacing it with a Uyghur tribal confederacy under Tieh influence.

With the threat of a two front war against Timurid Samarkand and Urumqi destroyed, the proud Uzbeks, resentful of their long vassalage to the line of Timur, have also begun to move. At their side are the riders of the White Horde, veteran troops bloodied in raids against Russia and the Cossack Host. Together they invade Transoxiana, the heartland of the Timurid Empire. Even the Cossacks join in, although not jointly, supported by a few battalions of Russian regulars shipped down the Volga as Georgian ships basing out of Baku harry the eastern shores of the Caspian.

In the Indian Ocean, the Emirate of Oman has gotten itself into a shooting war with the rising maritime power of the Emirate of Sukkur, which is solidifying its hold over the Punjab and the Rann of Kutch. Already the Kephalate of Surat pays the Emirate a small retainer as protection money. Thus the Omani fleet is unable to stop the counter-attack from Basra which retakes Bahrain, although Hormuz remains firmly in Omani hands.

But the threat of Omani raids is lifted, freeing the garrisons of southern Mesopotamia. They are also reinforced by an influx of Arab riders from the Najd, the losers of a tribal war with the House of Saud, Lords of the Najd and Sharifs of Mecca. No match for the Timurid army in open battles, their pinprick raids are a source of serious annoyance to Timur, disrupting his cultivated persona as protector from the Treaty of Van.

Forced to draw off troops to guard his southern front, contain Osman in Mazandaran, reinforce the defenses of Transoxiana, and guard against a number of Khorasani forays westward, the Georgian and Timurid armies are evenly matched in number when they array for battle at Takab, Stefanoz Safavi placing his command post in the ruins of the ancient fire temple. Timur II is stronger in cavalry, Stefanoz in number of artillery, although the Sultan-Khan has more heavy long-range ordnance.

Going onto the defensive, Stefanoz guards his front with a row of wagons, linked with iron chains which are guarded by cannons and pikes, with gunners firing from behind the barricade. His cavalry is posted in reserve and as flank guards, with a cloud of skirmishers deployed forward. It turns out to be a bit too far forward, as the Timurid horse eviscerate the screen and send it flying back in disarray.

Timur follows up his advantage, charging forward as squadrons curl around the flank as the Georgian ranks are disordered by their backpedaling skirmishers. The center of the Georgian line, held by the King’s Immortal Guard and its fearsome artillery, repels the attack. However the left wing, less stoutly defended and under an attack well supported by Timurid cannonades, is smashed to pieces.

Timur has victory in the palm of his hand, but his troops instead of rolling up the Georgian lines take to plundering his camp. Horse assigned to outflank the Georgians join in the pillaging, freeing three droungoi of Immortal cavalry which Stefanoz personally leads in a counter-charge.

Now it is the Timurids flying back in disarray as all along the line the Georgians counter-attack. Timur commits his reserve, but is struck by a fragment of Georgian shell. Knocked unconscious, he is carried from the field along with his army, which retreats but in good order.

Both sides suffer nearly thirty percent casualties, with historians to this date debating whether it constitutes a Georgian victory or a draw, as the Georgian offensive collapses. But Timur is unable to try for a rematch as rumors of his death encourage the Turks and Arabs of Basra to march north, placing Baghdad under siege.

Timur returns to the city, mauling the Turco-Arab army, and then wheels east to thrash a Khorasani army that had penetrated into the Iranian plateau. Yet though everywhere save Takab he is victorious, everywhere his lieutenants suffer defeat. Osman Komnenos routs the Timurid army facing him, killing its commander, and forges an alliance with the Khorasani with a marriage between the Emir and his second daughter by his first wife (Aisha is his third in number, although first in rank and favor) and payment of subsidies.

With his new allies, Osman seizes the city of Gorgan, on the southeast corner of the Caspian Sea, and shortly afterward establishes control over the ancient Great Wall of Gorgan. Timur is cut off from Transoxiana where the viceroy of Samarkand had nearly won a victory over the Uzbeks, before the tide was turned by the Khan’s bravery, the battle ending in a smashing Timurid defeat.

Retiring westward, Timur knows he must smash at least one of the foes facing him. If he can do that, it will give him the breathing room to turn around and crush the others. In the words of Nikolaios Polos, the Sultan-Khan is ‘a bear beset by a pack of dogs’. Crushing a Georgian contingent near Hamadan, the victory is more than nullified by the news that his rearguard has been cut to pieces by Osman and that Baghdad has fallen by treachery. Shortly afterwards Osman links up with the Turks and Arabs of southern Mesopotamia who pledge loyalty to him as Shahanshah, while he in turn promises to hold true to the traditions and customs of his Ottoman ‘forefathers’.

Timur’s army, worn out by constant battles and marching, is forced to retreat even further west, Osman in pursuit with an army now outnumbering his foe five to two. Still the heir of Timur the Great and Shah Rukh must be feared, as a tremendous backhand blow administered on Osman’s vanguard seriously bloodies it. The pursuit is soon resumed, but it is delayed for a crucial few days. On October 14, Osman appears in full battle array near the ruins of Rakka, known as Kallinikos to the Greeks. On the other side of the Euphrates, guarding the ford, is Nikolaios Polos and the Roman Army of the East. The Shah is six hours late; Timur II and his army have been granted sanctuary in the Roman Empire. All that remains is to cross the river.

Western Bank of the Euphrates, Near Rakka, October 14, 1553:

The sounds of cannon fire was rolling off from the horizon. It was a sound with which Nikolaios Polos was quite familiar. In fact, it was a sound he longed for. He was a soldier; war was what he knew, what he was good at. Peace was not for him. Especially not this peace, he snarled.

Etching of the Imperial Consort of Empress Helena I Drakina (by Avitus)
The Sultan-Khan had been granted sanctuary in the Roman Empire, but he had been forbidden to cross the river, to enter foreign lands. Foreign! That land is Roman, won by Andreas Niketas himself! It had been sold to Timur like a cobbler sold a pair of shoes, but his wife insisted that even though Timur could not hold those lands, they would not be reclaimed. Instead Osman would be allowed to move in without comment.

Helena had had a crush on him since she was fourteen. Nikolaios had never, even when she flowered into womanhood, reciprocated those feelings. But never had he expected that he would come to hate the eldest daughter of the man he regarded as a second father, a man who had treated him like a son.

There was a very good reason why he had not entered the list of suitors vying for the Empress’ hand; he was already engaged at the time.

Lady Anna Palaiologina, onetime fiancée to Nikolaios Polos and fifth cousin to Osman Komnenos
But Helena had wanted him as her husband, and she always got what she wanted. Not even Andreas Drakos had been able to say no to her. The engagement had been hurriedly broken off by Anna’s father, terrified of impeding the Empress’ desire, whilst grief-stricken Anna had become a nun at a cloister on the outskirts of Nicaea.

So he had married Helena Drakina, the most powerful, wealthiest, and acclaimed by many men to be the most beautiful woman in the world. He loathed it. He wasn’t her husband, he was her consort, her breeding stud. He was pretty sure she had listened to him once, on what kind of soup to have with dinner.

Well, that wasn’t true. She listened to him and followed his advice regularly, except that was solely in matters when he was acting as a strategos and she as an Empress. He had no problem with that, but I could have done that and had Anna as well. Bitch.

A spout of water gushed up from the eastern bank of the Euphrates. Timur II was retiring in good order, but he was hounded by Osman’s forces, and a retreat across a narrow ford whilst under attack would be an exceedingly difficult maneuver even for the best of troops. And he was forbidden to engage Osman.

Three more waterspouts leapt up. Save to defend yourself and the Empire. That was his escape clause. He had read the treaty of Van, before using it as toilet paper. The texture had been wrong, but he had still enjoyed it. And the treaty had never specified who owned the Euphrates where it acted as the frontier, so as far as he was concerned Osman was shelling Roman territory.

“Droungarios Michael,” Nikolaios said. “Light the rockets.”

“Yes, sir,” the Cilician Armenian said with a huge grin. Clad in the light gray uniform that was now standard for the Roman army, worn under a burnished steel cuirass, the tall officer bore a large and vicious scar across his left cheek, courtesy of a Turkish scimitar during the siege of Antioch.

He nodded to the Castilian who stood next to the signal rocket batteries. To fill the ranks, foreigners, even Latin ones, had been recruited, provided they learned Greek and followed Roman military discipline. The man took the torch and lit the fuse of a rocket which screamed skyward. The second lit, but sputtered and blew out its bottom, falling to the ground as a tetrachos threw a bucket of water on it. “Misfire,” Michael said.


Again a rocket shot up into the sky, exploding at about a thousand feet. The second followed this time, and moments later a third joined it.

* * *
Timur wiped sweat from his brow. “Order the Bukharans to abandon their heavy guns. They’re just slowing our march down. Deploy the Samarkand and Bukhara light guns here and here.” He pointed to the map pinned to his two foot by two foot board strapped to the back of his horse’s neck. “Their fire will mask our retreat. Keshiks and Samarkand troops will deploy as rearguard, spiking the guns before retiring.”

“My Sultan!” one of his Keshiks shouted, pointing to the Roman lines. Timur wasn’t sure of what he felt looking at that array. It claimed to be sanctuary, but he had not forgotten that it had been Roman armies that had been the greatest challengers to Shah Rukh and his great namesake.

A white streak of a rocket blazed up and then exploded. Nothing happened. “What does it mean?” one of his officers asked.

Then one after another, three more arced up, shooting toward the sun. “It’s some kind of signal,” Timur said. But what kind? All the rockets were coming from a small promontory on the left bank of the river, one which gave an excellent view of the battlefield and thus a first-rate position for a command post.

For a few seconds nothing happened, and then as one the entire Roman line belched fire, the roar of cannonballs and screams of rockets flying eastward. Is this how it ends? Timur thought. At least it is a mighty end. The terrible projectiles flew, and flew, and flew, and slammed straight into Osman’s left wing. He could hear the screams, even as another fifty rockets leapt out from the Roman lines. Or perhaps not.

* * *
Nikolaios grinned as the cannons and fire lances poured their salvos into Osman’s lines. “Order all batteries to commence battle fire, full speed until their ammunition is expended or otherwise ordered.”

“The batteries will run hot,” Michael said, following his part of the script perfectly.

“Deploy men to ferry water from the rivers.”

“They’ll be exposed to enemy fire.”

“You’re quite right,” Nikolaios replied, scribbling on several pieces of paper. “We will need to guard them. Order the following tourmai to deploy across the river at all speed.”

He handed the forms to Michael. “Yes, sir!” he shouted, whooping as he galloped off to the knot of couriers and scribes deployed a bit to the rear.

It was only ten minutes or so before Nikolaios saw the boats crossing the river as engineers began throwing pontoon bridges together. The equipment had already been positioned for this moment; Nikolaios had no intention of deploying through the ford, not while Timur was attempting to cross it. Battle was no place for a traffic jam.

A few minutes later Michael galloped up. “Droungarios Alexandros, 3rd Syrian, begs to report that the eagle has landed!”

Nikolaios laughed. “Well done, well done.” The gray uniforms had not been the only innovation taken from the Antiochenes, but also the return of the Imperial eagle standards, one for every tourma. He could hear the crackle of arquebus fire as the mauroi let loose on their foes.

He smiled. He had defied the bitch. And perhaps…Nicaea is on the way back to Constantinople…he would do it again.

* * *
Timur again wiped sweat and dirt from his brow, blood coming with it from a head wound. It had been a hard day, a tiring day, but he had successfully extricated his army and all but six heavy guns from the hands of Osman Komnenos. The Romans had been invaluable, and they had paid for their aid heavily. The troops ferried across in small boats or marched across the light, hastily-built pontoon bridges had by necessity all been light infantry.

For the most part they defended themselves well with arquebus volleys and artillery support from across the Euphrates. Helping them had been some braces of rockets they took with them, and light, pre-made field works and caltrops to cover their position. But even so, Osman’s cavalry charges heavily cut up some formations which had fired too early and been overrun before they could reload. Others had been rescued only by Timurid lancers forming on their flanks in support.

Both owed the other much this day, and had fought side by side as the enraged Osmanli forces stormed across the ford, the Roman bridges blown as the mauroi retired. Timurid and Roman cannons had poured enfilading fire onto the assault columns, a mass charge of Roman kataphraktoi and Timurid lancers sweeping the survivors into the river. The Euphrates, red with blood, was coated in Osmanli dead.

And now it was time to meet his ally, the Megas Domestikos of the Roman Empire, who was waiting for him at his command tent. Timur II smiled as he heard the sounds coming from the Roman camp and sentries, shouting back across the Euphrates. For he spoke Greek, and he clearly recognized the song Do you hear the people sing?

He rode into the Roman camp, flanked by his dirty keshiks, their arms stained by Osmanli blood. The Roman soldiers, similarly stained, looked at him as the Megas Domestikos rode forward, and then took up a new call.


The Megas Domestikos dismounted in front of him and smiled. “Welcome, my lord,” he said. “To Rhomania.”

* * *
1554: The Euphrates ‘Incident’, as it is called, has a combined total of almost ten thousand casualties from all sides. Osman Komnenos cuts his losses, whilst the Georgian government files a token protest. Helena ignores it, but has a furious row with her husband when he returns to Constantinople (after a brief detour to Nicaea). Cheered by the eastern provinces and the army, the Empress does nothing to him, but refuses his request to grant Alexandros Rados, the first eagle-bearer to cross the Euphrates, the Order of the Iron Gates.

Osman manages to solidify his hold over much of the old Ottoman Empire, but breaking his oath to the peoples of Basra he moves his capital to the more central location of Hamadan, signifying that the Second Ottoman Empire (as historians call it) will be much more Persian than Turkish. But he must acquiesce in the Omani control of Hormuz, the loss of the eastern provinces to Khorasan, and substantial territorial concessions to Georgia as payment for their aid. Meanwhile the Uzbeks overrun all of Transoxiana, ending the Timurid Empire.

West Asia in 1554
1) Roman Empire
2) Despotate of Egypt
3) Kingdom of Serbia
4) Empire of Hungary
5) Kingdom of Vlachia
6) Kingdom of Poland
7) Great Kingdom of the Rus
8) Kingdom of Georgia, 8B-Georgian territorial gains
9) Cossack Host
10) White Horde
11) Uzbek Khanate
12) Second Ottoman Empire
13) Emirate of Khorasan
14) Punjabi States
15) Emirate of Sukkur
16) Emirate of Oman
17) The Hedjaz
18) Anizzah Confederation

In Rhomania, Timur II finds himself an honored guest, but a caged one. His army is lured from his services by Roman gold and girls, their expertise in horse archery highly valued by Roman officers and the War Room. Timur himself is given a gorgeous Roman lady, Maria Laskarina, to wed as a consolation prize for the loss of his power. Still he is a dangerous guest to have, even when he is toothless. On April 10, he dies, although whether by natural causes or by poison is never determined.

But in September, two important births take place in Constantinople. On September 4, the Empress Helena gives birth to a daughter, Christina. Whether the Imperial children are the result of some lingering affection between the couple, Helena’s orders, or simple hate sex is unknown but heavily debated by historians. Two weeks later, Maria Laskarina delivers of a healthy son, Theodoros. For a family name he is given ‘Sideros’, Greek for iron.
1555: The Empire is quiet, much to the relief of its inhabitants, save for the birth of another baby girl to the Imperial couple, although she only lives for sixteen days. During that time, neither mother nor daughter lay eyes on Nikolaios, who is out in the provinces and makes no move to return to the capital at this time.

* * *
Convent of Saint Christina of Acre, three miles east of Nicaea, September 11, 1555:

“Are we there yet?” Andreas asked as Nikolaios led him into the priory library.

“Yes,” he replied, shifting a bit so the sun wasn’t shining through the large, clear, glass window right into his left eye. Surprisingly he did not see any dust motes. The nunnery, named after a martyr killed for sheltering Roman prisoners escaping from Mameluke captivity during the war with Anna I Laskarina, was young, only eighty years old, but obviously that still gave a lot of time for dust to gather. The library was apparently well maintained, and well used too.

Andreas looked around at the shelves of books and the reading chairs and desks. “This is boring. Can we go now?”

“First, there’s someone I’d like to me.”

“Was it the abbess?” Andreas scrunched his face. “She was ugly.”

Nikolaios snorted; his son was right. As owner of the pasture lands where the priory’s flocks of sheep grazed, the abbess couldn’t afford to offend him and thus didn’t prevent his occasional visits to see one of her nuns, but that did not mean she liked them. “No, someone else, someone much prettier.”

“Oh, are they here yet?”

The door opened and she walked in. Her long, elegant hair was gone, her body shrouded in her nun’s habit, but she was still beautiful, far more beautiful than that bitch in all her finery. “Anna,” he said, smiling.

“My tourmarch,” she said, her cheeks dimpling. That was what she had started calling him shortly after they met, in a hospital in Kotyaion just after that battle. She was tending the wounded, a horribly burned eikosarchos to be exact. The man, delirious with pain, thought she was his mother, and to comfort him for the last few minutes of his life, she had been.

“It has been a long time,” he said. Andreas tugged on his coat.

“Five months.” Tug, tug.

Nikolaios looked down. “What?”

Andreas stared at him, eyes wide. “You’re supposed to be paying attention to me.”

“This must be your son,” Anna said, walking forward and squatting down in front of him. “I’ve heard so many things about you, most of them good.” She glanced at Nikolaios, her eyes twinkling and her lip curling up a bit on the right. “Surprising considering your father. You look much like him.” That was certainly true; physically Andreas took entirely after Nikolaios’ side of the family. Just like Nikolaios’ father, Andreas at age three was the height of boys twice his age. The only sign of his Drakid heritage was his slight double chin, a feature not of his mother, but of his grandfather Andreas II Drakos.

“Dad is right,” Andreas said. “You are pretty, like mother.” Nikolaios frowned, she should be your mother.

Anna may have sensed that, may have thought the same thing. “Well, thank you,” she said. She stood up, pulling a small packet from a pocket. Do nuns’ clothes normally have pockets? Nikolaios thought. Well, a lot of them have shifts as shepherdesses. “I have a little treat for you,” she continued, unwrapping the contents to reveal a light brown bar.

“What is it?” Nikolaios asked.

“It’s a new thing, made from Cyprus sugar and a plant from the New World. It’s called chocolate.”

* * *
1556: As Alexeia gives birth to a son, her first living child (she had a stillborn eighteen months earlier), her half-sister Theodora is in Sicily, the first stop in her grand diplomatic tour of Europe to improve Rhomania’s relations with the western powers. There she makes history as the first woman to attend the Despot of Sicily, her distant cousin, at the Commemoration of the Martyrs in Senise.

Her Serene Highness, Theodora Laskarina Komnena Drakina. Viewed by many, both contemporaries and future generations, as the smartest and most learned of the Triumvirate, Theodora is also distinguished by having the most stable and loving family life. In the opinion of Professor Kalekas, foremost expert on the early Fifth Empire, it is the best in all-around Imperial familial relations since the days of Theodoros IV and Helena Doukina.
Image taken from The Fifth Empire, Ep. 4 ‘Peace in the West’

The Commemoration, begun a year after the end of the Great War, has become a central focus of the Sicilians. At Senise, the sacred, holy fire is kept constantly burning, attended by three men, a Catholic, an Orthodox, and a Jew. Every year, on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Senise, the Despot and twelve attendants feed 1,739 logs into the fire, the accepted number of those who killed themselves on that day.

The symbolism of the Holy Fire is everywhere apparent in Sicily, deliberately encouraged by the House di Lecce-Komnenos to unite their young realm into a cohesive, distinct whole. The banner of the despotate shows a phoenix arising from a bonfire, clutching three swords in its talons. The Holy Fire at Senise is always to be lit, save for the time of war, at which time it is to be doused ‘so that the spirit of the Holy Fire may go out into the peoples of Sicily, so that through them and by them fire will purify.’

Next Theodora travels to Carthage where she spends the winter, giving birth to twins, a boy and girl. The main topic of discussion between the Empire and its most independent despotate are the Barbary corsairs, which continue to be a major problem. There have been the occasional raid against Sicilian shores, and joint operations between Carthaginian, Sicilian, and Roman vessels on the open seas have proven ineffective. The corsairs merely stay in port until the squadrons leave the area.

To help in the effort, logistical arrangements are made for Carthage to support twelve Roman monores, light oared warships armed with a few guns. Also the city is to provide grain, wine, and oranges to feed the Maltese squadron which is being reinforced, including the new sixty-seven gun great dromon Alexios Komnenos. At the same time, to further Carthaginian diplomatic endeavors, Theodora personally invests several of the most prominent local sheiks allied with Carthage with silken robes and golden chains.

The Kingdom of Aragon takes a more drastic measure to bolster its security. In exchange for a yearly tribute of a hunting falcon, an Arab stallion, and thirty five pounds of pepper, the island of Minorca is ceded to the Knights Hospitaler on condition they help safeguard the Mediterranean against the ‘African heathen’ (note the use of the term African, which deliberately excludes the Andalusi, Aragonese allies in the war against the corsairs).

With numerous estates and revenues from the lands that follow the Avignon Papacy, plus moneys paid to them by the Roman government for their function in policing Syria and keeping the Muslims in line, the Order is quite wealthy. Seeing a way to expand Roman influence into the western Mediterranean on the coattails of the Knights, Helena provides masons, carpenters, and blacksmiths, plus building materials to help construct the Hospitaler fortresses on Minorca.

1557: The expansion of Roman influence in the east is far less subtle, for a variety of reasons. While peace is desired above all else in the Imperial heartland, in the east can be heard the constant sound of Roman cannon fire. One explanation is that while constant drill is good for improving soldiery, nothing can compare to the support of veteran cadres.

Thus there is the constant dispatching of several droungoi every year to the eastern provinces to gain combat experience. Fighting on the coast, in towns or villages, or at sea, these types of battle favor either light infantry or dismounted cavalry as opposed to the sarissophoroi which are kept home, a move that further lessens their prestige. The idea is that a few droungoi from every light infantry or cavalry tourmai will spend three or four years in the east, returning home to serve as a veteran cadre for their unseasoned-by-battle compatriots.

Coupled with the maturation of the Roman shipyards in Taprobane and the factories in Pahang, this majorly boosts the military power available to Rhomania in the east. That said, more important for Roman success in Indonesia (where much of the aggression is spent) is the recent collapse of Majapahit power due to internal court intrigues and vassal breakaways. There is no significant power able to keep the Romans out, although the Sultanate of Brunei is a serious annoyance.

Both Tidore and Ternate are ‘convinced’ to become Roman trading partners, trading cloves for Roman textiles, metalware, and pocket watches (a new export). However there is a considerable push to remain on good terms with the locals, so the trade deals are arranged to be profitable for both sides, even if it is more profitable for the Romans. No garrisons are posted on the islands, nor any attempt made to interfere in local affairs. The Romans are interested in anchorages and cloves, nothing more.

Although dramatic, the raids on Halmahera, in retaliation for the head-hunting cannibalistic natives’ attacks on grounded ships, are of little historical significance save for keeping the inhabitants of neighboring Tidore and Ternate honest. Far different is the conquest of Ambon. With a magnificent deep-water harbor, the island immediately becomes the base of Roman operations in the Moluccas, the town of New Constantinople getting a bishop just a year after its founding.

The Greek Orthodox Church in the east is under the control of the Metropolitan of Colombo, who reports directly to the Patriarch of Constantinople (Alexandria originally had claim to the sees, but forfeited them in Roman eyes by the Egyptians’ revolt). Under him are the Bishops of Surat, Jaffna, and the Moluccas, with an array of parish priests scattered from Zanzibar to Nan ministering to Roman merchants.

Patriarch Matthaios II is extremely interested in proselytizing in the east, both for religious purposes, but also as a way to invigorate and strengthen the Empire, ‘the ship which carries the faithful’. Besides the monetary gains (the Patriarch plus a dozen metropolitans and bishops are shareholders in three merchant companies operating in the Indian Ocean), Matthaios envisages the creation of a vast Orthodox host in the east, perfect for waging a second front against the Persians. Also to that end he heavily favors an Ethiopian alliance.

Two of those merchant companies operate in Tondo, rapidly developing into a thriving port frequented by Romans, Ethiopians, Japanese, and Wu, all waxing rich from a single thing, piracy. Week after week, wokou descend onto the shores of China, drawn from all four peoples. Here is where most of the eastern droungoi gain their battle scars, leaping onto beaches from Liaodong to Hainan with kyzikos and saber.

At first glance it seems odd that Rhomania would fear the power of Brunei but scorn that of China. But Rhomania in the East is a sea power, and Tieh China has long since lost its sea legs, delegating its naval defense to its vassals Korea and Champa, both of which are rather apathetic about the duty. Champa in fact is becoming quite cozy with the Romans and Ethiopians due to Vijaya’s intense rivalry, bubbling into open war as the year ends, with Ayutthaya, Portugal’s primary ally in the east.

Regardless of what one thinks of their morality, no one can question the bravery and stamina of the ‘thieves and beggars’, as the Tieh court disdainfully call the various foreign wokou. Last year, a joint Japanese-Roman squadron took the city of Shanghai, taking away loot valued at almost three fifths the annual revenue of the Kingdom of England.

Demetrios Angelos, illegitimate and eldest son of Isaakios III Angelos. Captain of the Mars, his ship was the first to run the guns of the fort guarding Shanghai, landing a party of Roman dismounted kataphraktoi and samurai which spearheaded the assault to take the city.
Image taken from The Fifth Empire, Ep.5, “War in the East”
This year the prize is even greater, as an immense host drawn from the eastern Romans, a handful of Ethiopian vessels, four of the black ships of Wu, and the assembled armada of Satsuma capture Hangzhou, the third largest city in all the Tieh domain. There is no way the city can be held for long, although the first Wei troops to arrive on the scene are quickly routed, but the plunder is equivalent to the annual revenues of the Holy Roman Empire, France, and Castile combined.

More importantly for the future though is that on December 1, in the Pagoda of the Six Harmonies, rechristened as Aghia Sophia, Shimazu Tadatsune, head of the Shimazu clan, daimyo of Satsuma, Osumi, and Hyuga, suzerain of the vassal Ryukyu kingdom, converts to Greek Orthodoxy.
1558: Theodora has continued on her diplomatic tour, accompanied by her two youngest children and her husband. Stopping in Al-Andalus, Castile, and Arles, the once again pregnant princess arrives at King’s Harbor, personally welcomed to the city by King Arthur himself.

The fifty-two year old monarch is in good health considering his age, which is not that surprising in light of a constant regimen of hunting combined with a moderate (by European nobility’s standards) diet. Although de jure the three kingdoms of the Triple Monarchy remain linked only in his person, his long reign since the end of the Thirty Years’ War has seen a considerable growth in trade and intermarriage between the components of the Triple Monarchy.

The development of New England has increased steadily, with Isanguard (the etymological ancestor of Isengard) appearing in ships’ logs stored in Portsmouth and King’s Harbor. Somewhat successful attempts have been made to reduce tensions with the locals, but it is clear that the colonists utterly despise the ‘red-skinned heathen rabble’. As the population of northern France rebounds, the supply of settlers is steadily growing.

The naval supplies from the New World, given the difficulties of acquiring Scandinavian stores, are a crucial part in maintaining the Royal Navy, arguably the most powerful naval force on the planet. That is encouraging some of the younger nobility to argue for a more proactive use of the fleet, primarily directed against the Dutch, Scandinavians, and Arletians (in that order), as economic competition adds to historical grievances. Chief among them is Crown Prince Henry, twenty five years old, who has been steadily accumulating powers and responsibilities.

One of their main proposals is for King Arthur to take the title ‘Sovereign of the Seas’ and start charging a Channel toll in the style of the Baltic Sound Toll. It is an idea that Arthur is adamantly against. Besides the difficulty of imposing such a toll given the Lotharingian control of Calais (a ‘cartographical error’ that Henry immensely desires to correct) Arthur well remembers the dark days of the Thirty Years’ War, where his father had been brought low by his subjects’ naval belligerence.

The diplomatic negotiations between Theodora and Arthur are nothing dramatic, regarding trade agreements and living quarters for Roman merchants, plus the still extant loans Arthur owes to various Roman merchants such as the Plethon-Medici firm (who are willing to lower interest rates on their loans to the Roman government in exchange for diplomatic pressure in support of their much larger loans to the Plantagenets). However they do make it clear that Rhomania, considering the respectable and growing amount of trade it has with the Dutch (engraved gold and silver wares, jewelry, high-grade silks), will not be amused by the imposition of a Channel toll.

Although she gets along well enough with King Arthur (despite the difficulties he makes about repayments) and with Armand Jean du Plessis who comes out of retirement briefly to pay his respects, she has little good to say about the younger generation of the Triple Monarchy. She describes them as ‘belligerent and arrogant, certain in their superiority over all others, that the laws of men do not apply to them and that they can do what they will to others, whilst the slightest grievance against them must be answered by total destruction. The natives of Massachusetts are the first, but I fear will not be the last to suffer from such Gallic hubris.’

Responsible for giving her the antipathy her future writings display toward the Triple Monarchy (although the incident where her son Alexandros nearly fell down a drain with potential fatal consequences due to the inattention of a hired French maid certainly didn’t help), historians believe the Thirty Years War is responsible for the ‘messianic complex’. The narrative goes that the Triple Monarchy came back from terrible odds and by the hand of God crushed its enemies (conveniently ignoring the fact that such long odds had been brought about by their own stupidity and belligerence). The association with King Arthur and Camelot do not help matters, giving the state a mythical aura.

Religious differences also help to accentuate the Triunes’ (as the inhabitants of the Triple Monarchy are starting to be called in Germany) sense of distinction. Bohmanism, sponsored by the Arthurian court and fueled by the great printing houses of King’s Harbor, London, and Paris and the many universities of the realm, has made great strides. Viewing themselves as the beacons of religious purity in a sinful world (Lombardy, though Bohmanist as well, is viewed as a quasi-papist state), much of their rhetoric relating to foreign policy has tinges of crusades, which naturally repulses Theodora.

The next stop on her itinerary is Antwerp. She is given a massive welcome by the burghers of the city, her party loaded down with bales of gold brocade. Besides more trade negotiations which net Romans a larger trade quarter and reduced tariffs and the ‘twerps’ (an uncomplimentary nickname coined by the rival merchants of Bremen) larger quarters in Constantinople and Antioch, plus ones in Thessalonica and Surat. The latter is supposed to be for traders who follow the traditional Red Sea route, as the Romans are unaware that Dutch captains have successfully passed the Cape of Storms, although none have made it to India, yet.

Following Antwerp is Malmo, where Theodora gives birth to her fifth child, a baby girl named Anna after Empress Catherine’s granddaughter, who celebrated her second birthday on the day Theodora sailed into the harbor. There is little of historical interest that takes place in the city, although the Norse merchants do gain some expanding trading quarters in Thessalonica and Trebizond. Like the expanding Dutch districts, the locales had been requested by the merchants of the Triple Monarchy, but denied due to their arrears in repayment.

Quite the opposite is Theodora’s visit to Novgorod. If the rest of the Grand Tour had been a flop, the stay in the Great Kingdom would have made the trip worth it. Speaking fluent Russian in a Novgorodian accent, she captivates the city. For all the mutterings about a Third Rome amongst the court, in the streets the Empire is still viewed with awe and respect as the cultural and religious mother of Russia, the land of silk and sugar.

One item significantly helping in Theodora’s favor is that she is the great-granddaughter of Princess Kristina of Novgorod, and her Russian inheritance shines through. By Roman standards, Theodora is attractive, but the acclaim goes to her step-sisters. But here in the north, her cousin Megas Rigas Dmitri speaks for all when he proclaims her ‘the fairest of the fair sex, Aphrodite reborn. If Pygmalion were to carve his statue today, he would not name it Galatea but Theodora’.

It is soon apparent that the Megas Rigas is infatuated with his cousin, two years his junior, a sharp contrast from his plain, shy, musically inclined Lithuanian wife. Theodora, recognizing the benefits that could accrue in the negotiations, does nothing to discourage said feelings. To support his wife, Alexandros, in a gesture of trust and respect completely absent from the marriage of Helena and Nikolaios, goes on an extended hunting tour with Dmitri’s uncles.

In another respect Theodora is the ideal ambassador to Russia, as her blood claim to the throne of Andreas Niketas is comparable to that of Dmitri. Both are great-grandchildren of the Good Emperor, but while Dmitri is male he is descended from a younger daughter. This does much to smooth the feathers of Dmitri’s advisors and the members of the Novgorodian veche, to whom their monarch’s superior (in relation to Helena Drakina) descent has been a source of pride.

Another Roman who charms the city is Alexios Laskaris, son of Giorgios, who has been raised at the White Palace. Visiting his aunt, the thirteen year old has inherited his father’s charm and mischievous ways. It is difficult for his tutors to scold him, as they are having difficulties not laughing at his antics. He too makes a good impression in Novgorod, both at the court for his good humor and at the veche for his frugal manner.

A steady and prompt schedule for the repayment of Roman debts to Russian agents is set up, and in return Novgorod agrees not to hamper Roman recruitment drives to replenish their population, save for the lands beyond the Volga due to their light population. It is estimated that approximately eighty thousand Russians emigrate to the Empire prior to the Great Northern War. For the most part they are young men, second and third sons with little prospect of advancement or wealth, but the gender imbalance caused by the Time of Troubles in the Empire means they have little trouble finding Greek wives and making Greek babies.

Also the Russian government decides to allow the importation of a set amount of Roman wine annually, which previously had been banned to preserve the government’s monopoly of liquor. A restriction ignored most of the time (35% of Roman wine exports go to Russia), despite the protests of the Megas Rigas for whom the liquor monopoly is a major source of revenue under his control, the members of the veche see an opportunity for profit and act accordingly.

Besides the various trade related negotiations arrangements are also made to make it easier for Russian students to apply to Roman universities, and Russian traders are allowed access to the Roman eastern territories.

A further example of cultural cooperation taking place at this time has nothing to do with the court. Aided by Timurid texts, the University of Trebizond, the Royal University of Tbilisi, and the University of Draconovsk, with attached observatories, have been coordinating their astronomical studies. In August, they issue a joint statement repudiating Ptolemy and arguing for a Menshikovian (sun-centered, named after Pavlov Menshikov, chair of the School of Astronomy at Draconovsk) system.

Theodora is much impressed by Novgorod, finding ‘the inhabitants to be well learned and an astounding number to be literate. The members of the Novgorodian veche far exceed the members of the English Parliament in wisdom and clear-sightedness.’ One reason for that statement is they for the most part (a loud minority excepted), unlike the English, are not so enamored at the prospect of beating up their neighbors. Plus at least that minority does not couch it in self-righteous religiosity, but in legal (citing Lithuanian claims to Polish districts) and materialistic (Polish grain supplies for Novgorod, forcing open markets in northeast Germany) that Theodora can stomach even if she doesn’t agree.

Alexandros’ letters paint a different picture, of rural Russia far from the big cities, where illiterate, conservative peasantry is the norm. But there are growing iron foundries in the Olonets region, and more appearing in the Ural Mountains every year. Mostly exported to Rhomania, it could be used to fuel a still extant armament industry, albeit one far declined from its state a hundred years earlier.

1559: Theodora spends the winter in Novgorod, but come summer she is on her way to Munich. Her stay there is short, but the possible of a future marriage alliance between the two empires is broached. She also attempts to buy back the head of John the Baptist, which is in the possession of the Mainz Papacy but was taken by the crusaders in 1204. The conference in Buda is somewhat more substantial, mainly for mundane matters such as terms for the exports of Hungarian timber, copper, and grain to Rhomania in exchange for silks and spices. She returns to Constantinople having been gone slightly over three years.

For the most part the negotiations, primarily over trade, seem far beneath the stepsister of the Roman Empress and great-granddaughter of Andreas Niketas. But the Grand Tour was not just, or even mostly, about those negotiations. The point was to reintegrate the Roman Empire solidly back into the ‘Concert of Europe’ (the term is anachronistic, not being coined until the founding of the Emperors’ League, but apt). It has succeeded brilliantly.

Since the marriage of Ioannes III Doukas Vatatzes to a daughter of Frederick II Hohenstaufen ‘Stupor Mundi’, the Roman Imperial family had only once married outside the Orthodox world. The result was Maria of Barcelona. Rhomania’s diplomatic isolation had helped cause the Last Crusade. And while Andreas Niketas and Demetrios Megas and the Drakids had intrigued Europe, they also frightened it. Theodora, beautiful, charming, intelligent, had done no such thing. In her travels she gave the Empire a new face in Europe.

Theodora is glad to be home and with all five of her children now. The White Palace is filled with the sound of children playing as all three members of the Triumvirate are providing a solid exemplar to the women of the Empire in reviving the Roman population (Helena has six children-plus two lost in infancy, Theodora five-plus one lost, and Alexeia three-plus one lost). Helena, Theodora, and Alexeia have all given birth to twins, which is not surprising considering that the census is reporting an usually high number of twins and triplets (birth records show similar occurrences both in northern France and Germany after their harsh wars, nature’s way of compensating for the suffering).

* * *
The White Palace, November 5, 1559:

“Hello,” Theodora said to Helena as she entered the room. Alexeia burped, a long, drawn out belch that lasted at least ten seconds.

The Empress glowered at her younger sister. “You’re just jealous,” Alexeia said in response.

“Yeah, no,” she replied, grabbing the tongs set by the fireplace. She reached over with them, grasping the pot of kaffos set on a metal plate placed over the fire to keep it warm. She poured herself a cup, Theodora noting in approval that she wasn’t adding a ‘sweetener’ to it. No, she’s made of stronger stuff than that.

She had been concerned about Helena and Nikolaios. Though she hid it well, Theodora knew her elder sister had been hurt by Nikolaios’ disdain for her. She had adored Nikolaios since she was fourteen, and to have the object of her affections hate her in return had not been easy. Helena had tried to win his love with gifts of titles and lands, which Nikolaios had taken, but with no success.

Helena caressed her belly, a sad look in her eyes. There’s probably a baby there now. Nikolaios only slept with her once a year now, on the anniversary of her coronation, which was a week ago, but almost every year the Empress had become pregnant, although only one boy so far.

“So, anything interesting happen today?” Alexeia asked, slurping her kaffos-chocolate concoction.

“Nikolaios proposed an alliance with the Triple Monarchy.”

Theodora sputtered into her wine. “Uh, why?”

“They’d make a good ally against the Germans.”

“And we want to antagonize them why?”

“I don’t know.”

Theodora sighed. Nikolaios made a superior cavalry tourmarch and strategos; that was why father had favored him so much. But he had never, to her knowledge, ever considered him as a marriage match for his eldest daughter. And she knew why; despite Helena’s continued love for him, for her toleration of his mistress in Constantinople (plus regular one-night stands) and his visits to his former fiancée, a nun in Nicaea, they just didn’t fit together.

Nikolaios was a soldier, a commander, good at both, but that was all. His current position was far above his competence, but he did not seem to realize that. He wanted to give orders, to command, but in the arena of politics and diplomacy he would have been an unmitigated disaster.

As for the personal sphere, there he wanted to be on top, and her sister, descendant of Andreas Drakos and Andreas Niketas, was not inclined to be on the bottom. And even if she had, she couldn’t. The three had joked about that courtier’s statement that a woman couldn’t be on top of the Empire because she couldn’t be on top even in her own bedroom. But there was an element to that comment that all three of them took very seriously.

They were women in the world of men. They were not barred from ruling, at least here, but there was much less tolerance for mistakes. Alexandros understood that, as did Alexeia’s husband Andreas, but Nikolaios either couldn’t or wouldn’t. And while Helena would have liked to listen to Nikolaios’ advice, the fact was that in areas that were not solely of a military competence it was stupid, like now.

“So Nikolaios would have us alienate the entire Mediterranean, including Sicily and Carthage?” It was now common knowledge that the Triple Monarchy was a major trade partner with the Marinids and their corsair subjects/allies, supplying many of their armaments and naval supplies in exchange for saltpeter and the fine damasks of Sijilmasa, plus gold, ivory, and slaves caravanned across the Sahara. And that many veterans of the Royal Navy found their way into corsair service, not just sailors but captains, ships, and whole crews. Supposedly they were free agents outside of Arthur’s control, but they looked like the free companies of the Ninety Years’ War so Theodora was highly skeptical of that claim.

“He says that an alliance would allow us to overawe Germany, coerce Sicily and Carthage to become proper vassals rather than despotates, and possibly convert Arles, Aragon, and al-Andalus into vassals as well.”

“He’s ambitious,” Alexeia said, munching on her ‘salad’. Theodora thought she saw a speck of green under the cheese.

“And insane,” Theodora added. “What did you say?”

“I explained,” Helena answered, “firstly that if I wanted to control the Mediterranean, Arles would be the ideal ally as it would neutralize Lombardy, something a Plantagenet alliance would not do in the slightest, and more importantly, vast conquests are a waste of time, gold, and blood if they cannot be held.”

It’s a good answer, but I think at this point he stops listening as soon as he hears the word ‘no’.

* * *
1560: Aside from the dark cloud that is Helena and Nikolaios’ marriage, life in the White Palace is overall joyous. If one comes at the right time, one can see the members of the Triumvirate playing polo as a relaxation. Originally some of the officials and courtiers had bet on the outcome, but Theodora has long since been the undisputed champion (even when Alexandros and Andreas/Abbar join the lists), although her sisters never tire of challenging her, and they are teaching their children, daughters included, how to play.

By this point the general guidelines of the ‘Third Triumvirate’ have been set up. Helena is obviously the Empress, but she often defers to the advice of her stepsister. Technically her Serene Highness Princess Theodora is merely the court historian, but she is recognized by all as being highly learned and intelligent, even earning the grudging respect of Nikolaios Polos. As a result she holds a great deal of unofficial power, although depicting her as the power-behind-the-throne is going too far. In essence Helena and Theodora share power, although only one wears the purple slippers.

‘Little’ sister Alexeia is the junior member of the trio, and students of history can be forgiven for thinking her main purpose is to distract scandal-mongers from her two sisters. If that is so, she does an admirable job. Rambunctious, mischievous, and favoring the outdoors, one of her favorite outfits is made from a bearskin pelt, taken from an animal she killed with a javelin thrust out hunting. She is also known for being unusually strong, embarrassing the Hungarian ambassador by lifting one-handed a mace he couldn’t budge at all.

Another element of her eccentricity is her personal guard droungarios, recruited after a bet with Helena. Alexeia had claimed that at six-foot seven-inches she was the tallest person in Constantinople. Helena managed to find a man half an inch taller. He became the first member of Alexeia’s new model guard, for which one has to be at least six-foot two-inches to apply. Composed both of Romans and foreign giants, Alexeia also arranges for tall brides for the soldiers to increase the chances of more tall offspring.

Her biggest scandal is caused by the time when she attends a court party disguised as a young man. Since everyone (even Helena and Theodora) ‘knew’ she was on a trip to her estates near Abydos save the guards she paid to let her in and keep her secret, her height did not give her away (by this point her guard of giants was established). The young ‘man’ was apparently doing a very good job charming the ladies, until he got the hiccups. When Alexeia hiccupped, it sounds more like a squeak than a normal hiccup, which gave away her disguise (While there have been claims of such, save for this incident there is no evidence Alexeia is bisexual).

Another eccentricity of Alexeia, who is said to have looked like a taller version of the Empress, was dressing in ‘Damascene’ fashion. This, unlike the cross-dressing, became a fad among the ladies of Constantinople after the War of the Rivers.
More seriously, she is also the director of the Empire’s Eyes. While the Office of Barbarians is responsible for diplomatic affairs and foreign intelligence, the Eyes are the secret police and counter-intelligence branch of the government. Unlike the earlier models, which were Emperor’s or Empress’ Eyes, the Empire’s Eyes are not retainers attached to the individual who also happens to be sovereign, but a legitimate government branch maintained via tax revenue, staffed with government employees, and audited by Imperial inspectors.

As she finishes breaking up a Plantagenet spy ring in Smyrna, her sister Helena gives birth on June 21 in the Purple Room of the White Palace, a copy of the original in the Great Palace. According to the ancient head midwife, who had first assisted at the birth of Herakleios II Komnenos, the birth of Helena’s first son Andreas had been the most difficult she had ever seen. The birth of her second son Demetrios is the easiest.

Nikolaios is off in Thracesia, with Andreas, the apple of his eye. And therein presents another problem certain to further embitter Nikolaios. For there is now another male heir for the throne of Rhomania, and all three members of the Triumvirate agree that unless something changes Andreas is unfit to sit on that throne. Though he is now over eight, he cannot read as he reverses the order of the letters in his head.
1561: Constantinople is, at 280,481 souls (according to last year’s census), the third largest city in the world after Beijing (650,000) and Vijayanagara (365,000). But it is far declined from its status at the death of Andreas Niketas, when it could muster 490,000. Do note that both figures do not include either Galata or Chalcedon.

However to Helena this presents an opportunity. Much of the population in 1520 had lived in large slums that were not exactly the most hygienic or sturdy, which is why the epidemics and the Great Fire of the last decades took such a huge toll. So what is enacted this year but which will continue for many more is often described as Constantinople’s ‘facelift’ by modern historians.

Another thirty thousand of the city’s inhabitants are relocated, divided between Nicaea, Thessalonica, Dyrrachium, and Trebizond, to further clear up room, bringing Constantinople down to a rough quarter million. Slums are cleared and rebuilt with more and better drains, sewers, and water supplies. An ordinance against overly large balconies is strictly enforced to increase the amount of sunlight reaching the street. In some places, balconies starting from houses on opposite sides of the street had nearly touched in the middle.

Besides housing developments, there has been and is continued construction of new schools, hospitals, aqueducts, and bathhouses. Besides the governmental-subsidized construction, merchants put up new townhouses, covered marketplaces, and wharfs, whilst the faithful raise sumptuous churches and monasteries. Though there are not nearly as many people in the Queen of Cities compared to fifty years earlier, on average they live much better. The construction mania is sometimes attributed as a strong reaction to the destructive Time of Troubles (a term beginning to enter common parlance).

Also growing in size is Constantinople’s already considerable red-light district. Possibly encouraged by the estimated forty thousand copies of the Kama Sutra floating around the Empire, the area is of great concern to the Imperial government, but not for puritanical reasons. It brings a great deal of money to the city, and the prostitutes’ children are a source of more Roman taxpayers and soldiers, raised in the Imperial orphanages, whose large size is a legacy of the Saint/Empress Helena the Kind (mother of Andreas Niketas). The Guild of Prostitutes is recognized as an official city guild, and only registered prostitutes are allowed to operate, subject to taxation and biannual health inspections conducted by female doctors.

The law code at this time is also undergoing a substantial reversion. The Andronikan code, as it is called after the professor of law and head of the committee Andronikos Kananos, is most noted for its abolition of torture save in cases of espionage and treason. The death penalty for many offences is removed from the books, and most that remain are restricted to death by long knife. For offenders under sixteen no death sentence can be proscribed.

Mutilations too are withdrawn as possible punishments for many crimes. For most crimes, fines are usual, although stocks, whippings, and forced labor duties are also common. Prison sentences, unless one counts forced tonsuring, are not popular because of the expense, usually given to offenders incapable of fulfilling a labor equivalent.

Another, rather unorthodox punishment is the use of excrement. Besides the duties of placing and cleaning up the carcass fields used to stiffen soldiers’ stomachs, which are often highly laced with cow and human manure to ‘ripen’ the smell, there are the manure vats, a punishment well suited to terrify cleanliness-minded Romans. Offenders are placed in a cage that has a bench on which they sit, the cage being too short to stand in.

The cage and inmate are then lowered in the manure vat, so that it comes up to the person’s mouth. They are then left there for a set period of time, ranging from a few minutes to several days. Long sentences have brief spells to allow the inmate to eat, at which time fresh manure is also added. Commonly imposed on teenage males, it is said that for every day in the vats it takes a fortnight for the smell to wear off, during which time women are naturally repulsed by them.

In the Andronikan law code, abortion and homosexuality are major crimes as they prevent the state’s population growth. For the former the punishment is six years of forced labor for the mother, abortionist, and father, although the mother is excused if it turns out she was forced into it by the father, in which he suffers his ordinary sentence plus hers. For homosexuality the punishment is castration for males, while the existence of lesbianism is ignored.

Patriarch Matthaios II has not been idle during all this. Recognizing that an attempt to proscribe brothels would be doomed to failure, he does not even try. However he does recognize that many prostitutes are so not because they are loose women (male prostitution is banned) but because they are poor and have nothing to sell but their bodies. To provide them with more respectable occupations, he sponsors work programs.

The jobs are nothing glamorous, street cleaners, washerwomen, fruit pickers. But many end up working in the church’s textile workshops. Textiles are the most important industry in the Empire, providing almost 60% of Roman exports and 80% of those Roman wares used in the markets of India and the Moluccas. Woolens and silks are the most common, plus Syrian linen, but cotton is rapidly growing. Aside from Egyptian sources, there are successful plantations in Syria and Thracesia.

Due to growing competition from Flemish woolens and Lucca silks, plus Indian and Chinese garments in the east, there is strong incentive to produce in bulk cheaply to beat the market opposition. To reduce shipping costs and improve speed of production, factories are springing up, mostly in Constantinople, Corinth, Smyrna, and Antioch. The spinning and weaving, although conducted on the same looms and spinning wheels as before, are consolidated under a single roof, the complex often including dying and embroidering as well.

Although significant, the importance of this faint glimmer of industrialization can be easily overstated. Although the factory attached to the White Palace has over 4000 employees, the Patriarchal one almost 1500 and the Plethon-Medici Constantinople firm 700, the average factory has twelve to twenty workers. The factory mode of production at this time is solely for the textile industry, and geared almost wholly for foreign export. For other industries either the traditional guild system or the putting-out system (widespread in the firearm and furniture businesses) are the mode of production.

At the same time coke is beginning to be used in Roman blast furnaces to produce cast iron goods such as pots and cannon balls. Although the Empire is by no means short of timber, the combination of its use in the construction and shipbuilding industries, plus exports to Egypt, mean that alternative means of fuel are desirable. Again the effects here are easy to overstate. Charcoal is still far more common, and items that require high-quality iron such as weaponry and bridge girders use charcoal-fueled furnaces as it imparts less impurities to the metal.

1562: In the White Palace, chocolate milk and chocolate kaffos have been added to the items of the Imperial kitchens. Despite that, the Roman Imperial diet is far superior to its western equivalents, going a long way to explaining the generally superior health of the Roman ruling houses to the Latin monarchs. Consuming far less red meat (poultry and fish are the usual sources of protein), with fruit juice a common beverage, vegetables are also not disdained as peasant fare. Salads are a typical meal course.

Physical health is not an issue; mental health is another matter. Andreas Drakos, although now ten years old, still can barely read. Being outperformed by Theodoros Sideros, one year his junior, is bad enough, but to be beaten in reading exercises by both of his seven-year-old twin sisters Eudoxia and Aikaterine is even worse. The humiliation and bitterness helps to estrange him from his family. There is one exception to that, his father Nikolaios Polos, who has a furious row with the Empress when she refuses to christen Andreas as Kaisar.

Visiting the city at the time although fortunately not witnessing the argument is an emissary from the ‘Dux Shimazu’, as Shimazu Tadatsune is known at the White Palace. It is his third son Yoshihiro accompanied by a large retinue. His father in absentia is bestowed the title of Senator and Sebastokrator, both in this case drawing a large stipend, plus thirty lesser titles with attached stipends that he can distribute to his followers as desired. Also at this time, eighty artisans, soldiers, and priests are dispatched to Japan to help instruct the Shimazu in the Orthodox faith and Roman weaponry-making. Two forty-gun warships ordered from the Taprobane yards will follow when complete.

Afterwards Yoshihiro joins the University of Constantinople as a philosophy student, during which time he is given ample opportunity to witness the Kavalikeuma, the weekly Friday ride Helena takes from the White Palace to the Church of the Blachernae during which anyone may approach and petition her. Although bearing obvious similarities to the circuit of Andreas Niketas, it is in fact a close copy of the custom of the ninth-century emperor Theophilus.

It is not the only old custom to come to light at this time. With a second son born to Helena, the ugly specter of the Time of Troubles raises its head. There is now the possibility of a succession crisis, something the Triumvirate absolutely will not tolerate. There is no clear cut law of succession; a law of primogeniture, though obvious and often followed in practice, is far too Latin to be adopted explicitly, nor does it do a good job of guaranteeing a good ruler.

However in the Andronikan code it is explicitly spelled out that an imperial candidature can only be made valid by law, not by the mere acclaim of the army. Admittedly it is at this point legalistic quibbling that could be ignored provided one had the acclaim of the army. But to strengthen the argument, the Triumvirate emphasizes the doctrine of the epanagoge, writ by Patriarch Photius over half a millennia earlier. He had said that although the Emperor is the one that makes the law, he is still subject to it. He is God’s representative on Earth, and just as God cannot break his own law, so the Emperor cannot break his. It is the start of the concept of Sub-Legal Absolutism.

1563: Off of Sardinia, the Hospitaliers soon prove their worth by winning a major sea battle against the Barbary corsairs, sinking eight ships and capturing another three for the loss of three of their own. In the east they are also active, serving to maintain the pilgrimage routes to Jerusalem, as well as helping fend off the occasional tribal raid from the Najd, operations in which they often work side by side with the Anizzah. Although irritating, such harassment is tolerated by Constantinople both because it is a way to drill troops and also because the only way to end the attacks would be to physically occupy the Najd, a logistical nightmare.

The raids though are most certainly not sponsored by the Empire’s main eastern neighbor. As far as Osman Komnenos (or Khomeini as his family name is evidently rendered in Persia) is concerned, his state is a continuation of the old Ottoman Empire. Realistically it is a legal fiction to keep his Turkish subjects happy; in actuality it is a Persian state. Osman speaks flawless Persian, but his Turkish is poor and heavily accented.

The Persian-ness of the state is clearly made manifest by the relocation of the capital from Baghdad to Rayy. Osman never cared for Baghdad, and now that his position is secure he moves with almost indecent haste. His original power base was in Mazandaran; Rayy is close but somewhat more centrally located. Besides placing the court and government solidly in the Persian cultural sphere, it also firmly places the Second Ottoman Empire on an eastern orientation.

One of the main problems of the First Ottoman Empire was its inability to focus either east or west. It invaded Persia multiple times, but also fought the First (1382-84), Second (1401-more a series of border skirmishes to be fair), and Third (1422) Armenian Wars, the Edessan War (1482) and the Long War with the Empire in between Persian bouts. This is, of course, not considering the original expulsion from Anatolia. As a result it was never able to consolidate its gain, which is why it kept losing them. While the Second Ottoman Empire will not turn an entirely blind eye to the west, it will demonstrate significantly greater powers of concentration.

1564: In Texcoco a formal treaty is signed in which the Empire of Mexico recognizes the Tarascan state. Although David has won virtually every single battle of the war attempts to exploit the victories have been difficult as waves of epidemics tear through his native troops. Also efforts to modernize his army are proving difficult since the reports of mass death scare away many of the European artisans he is trying to import. The meddling of the Avignon Papacy, Arles, and Portugal, all of which have an interest in Mexico not getting too powerful, don’t help. As a result he has an extremely limited teaching pool to instruct Mexican craftsmen, thus rather than making modern weapons and machinery as he would prefer it is easier to just buy from Arles with Zacatecas silver.

David is aware of the danger of becoming economically dependent on Arles, but he cannot afford to slow down the spigot of modern weaponry to allow time for Mexican workshops to get up and running. In the past three years there have been three marriages between the ruling houses of Castile and Portugal, and the appearance of Triune warships off the coast doesn’t help allay his concerns.

It is those concerns that are the drivers for the Mayan expedition which David directs eastward. The first one does little but enforce a one-time minor tribute from some of the Mayan states along the coast, but then its purposes is more to warn off the Portuguese and redirect them somewhere else. In that regard it is a success as Lisbon turns its eyes towards the Isthmus of Panama and beyond, where the scent of Incan wealth catches the nostrils.

The expedition owes much of its success to the fledging Mexican navy. Due to his contacts from the original expedition, David has had a much easier time recruiting sailors and shipwrights than other craftsmen. Although the pride of the fleet, the Quetzalcoatl and St. Michael, forty eight and thirty eight gun galleons respectively, were built in the Marselha yards, several of the supporting pinnaces and flyboats were constructed in Vera Cruz, although none displace more than 60 tons (in contrast the Portsmouth yard built the 1100 ton Dreadnought that year). Here natives are rapidly learning and working their way up the command structure. Although all of the captains are European, a fifth of the first mates and half of the second mates are natives.

1565: Although the Romans are taking an interest in chocolate, the power dynamics of the Caribbean are of little concern in the White Palace, although thoughts there turn to the sea. In Kozhikode Dutch ships sit at anchor, and the Office of Barbarians reports both German and Triune vessels in the Wilayah of Mogadishu. More disconcerting is that the Portuguese, in a classic case of ‘third time’s the charm’, have successfully captured Malacca, following up their victory by smashing an Acehnese armada sent in support.

A hundred and eighty Ethiopians had been killed defending Malacca, and relations between Gonder and Lisbon are strained at the best of times. Ethiopia lacks the reserves of money, manpower, and textiles that help underpin the Roman Empire in the east, and thus they are much more sensitive to competition.

There is one semi-exception to that rule, the Kongo. While the Portuguese and Ethiopians battle over first access to the slave emporiums of Mbanza Kongo, here they are both increasingly challenged by both Dutch and Triune merchants. In general the Kongolese are not too fond of the newcomers. Both Dutch and Triunes drive hard bargains, viewing negotiations as a battle, trying to squeeze every last copper from the transaction.

In contrast the Ethiopians and Portuguese bargain more leisurely, often over a light meal or some pastries. As one Ethiopian historian put it, ‘the northern peoples came to make money, the southern people came to make money and friends’. Part of that likely comes from the fact that the Dutch and Triune ventures are wholly private-owned, unlike the Portuguese or Ethiopian companies.

Both the Dutch and the Triunes compensate with a large supply of capital and firepower, and Kongolese slaves join those of Mali in the marts of London and King’s Harbor. Triune-style slavery is one of the reasons for Theodora’s antipathy towards the Triple Monarchy, which at first glance seems odd since the markets of Limassol process three times more slaves than King’s Harbor annually.

Firstly, the sanitary conditions of the King’s Harbor slave market would give a Roman health inspector apoplexy, and the fact that children can be found there makes it even worse. In Rhomania, child slavery has been banned for over a century due to the influence of Helena the Kind, influence enforced by some of the most blood-curdling threats ever issued by her son Andreas Niketas.

Theodora was also repulsed by the treatment of slaves on the block, the examination of teeth and buttocks as if the man was a heifer. Roman plantation slavery is undoubtedly a tough existence doing unpleasant work, but the slaves are viewed as unpaid laborers locked into a backbreaking toil, a miserable lot but at the same time still guaranteed certain rights and dignities under the law. Triune slaves, although far less numerous than Roman ones, are held as little more than chattel.

To be fair, the lot of Triune slaves is little different from Arletian or Portuguese or Dutch slaves working on Caribbean plantations (all have some, although Arletian subjects at the moment controls 85% of them). Plus a large reason for the kinder treatment of Roman slaves is that shipping costs are much lower, meaning much less incentive to squeeze every last bit of labor out of a slave. Hence why the laws enforcing freeing of slaves after twenty two years of servitude were not contested by plantation owners.

In the east, the harrying of the China coast is getting more difficult as local militias are popping up despite the disapproval of the Celestial Emperor who views them as a challenge to his authority. The peoples of the coast complain justly that Beijing ignores their plight, but the Tieh court has its eyes fixed to the steppe. The Uyghurs are having difficulty behaving as proper clients, and the threat of the Northern Yuan remain ever high, a large horde raiding within twenty miles of Beijing.

Beaten back from an assault on Shanghai, Demetrios Angelos returns to Tondo in a rather foul mood, only to find a flotilla from Brunei investing the city. Sending a fast pinnace to New Constantinople, he harries the enemy, whose headquarters is in the town of Maynila, long enough that a Roman squadron plus two Ethiopian vessels arrive on the scene. Tondo is a major trade center for the China Sea, a key distribution for trade with Japan and the site where most Chinese booty is sold, hence the major Roman interest.

The combined forces launch a day-long battle in which the Brunei fleet is utterly destroyed. The Lakan (King) of Tondo in gratitude doubles the Roman trading quarter in Tondo and waives the associated fees, but is disconcerted when subtle requests for the Romans to vacate Maynila (seized in the aftermath) are ignored. Legally he has no authority over Maynila nor does he have the military might to vacate them.

The First Battle of Maynila Bay, although not as famous as the Second and far smaller and shorter, is of greater historical importance as it established the first direct Roman possession in the China Sea and the second of the three focii of the Roman Empire in the Far East.
Note on the Portuguese flag: The Portuguese claim that three of their ships participated in the battle; the Romans admit to three Portuguese mercenaries.

The Romans, seeing the frailty of their enclave in Tondo, decide to build up Maynila instead as a direct Roman possession on the model of New Constantinople. Although originally still called Maynila, before the decade is out it will be known as Pyrgos (tower), after the tower built in the immediate aftermath to help defend the outpost.

In the west there are more Roman ships on the move as three squadrons of the Imperial fleet, a total of fifty six warships escorting transports for ten thousand soldiers of the Macedonian and Opsikian tagmata, put out to sea. Their original target is Algiers, but when they reach Malta the armada is ordered (the command was conveyed by the chain of fast monores set up to link the Imperial provinces and the despotates) to turn north instead of continuing westward.

Its target is the port city of Nice, a minor county whose ruling family the Piccolomini (an exiled branch from Siena) has not been distinguished for either its intelligence or pleasantness. The unsavory combination ended in the inevitable result in April, when a coup overthrew the count and replacing it with a bourgeois republic. Normally Rhomania would not care about the internal politics of a fourth-rate power that has little interaction with the Empire.

That is until the Office of Barbarians report through its Lombard department that the fifteen and thirteen year old daughters of the count, Catherine and Alfonsina respectively, had been handed over to the republican soldiery to satisfy their sexual lusts. The report turns out to be false; it had been merely suggested that the girls be handed over rather than actually carried out (same as the experience of Catherine de Medici IOTL). However the mood in the White Palace and the Empire as a whole is utterly enraged, given the long shadow cast by the Black Day. That said, there is some question among historians if the attack on Nice would have been launched if a Roman striking force had not already been deployed to the central Mediterranean.

Besides pointlessly infuriating the Romans, the actions of the Nice republicans have earned the ire of both the Kingdom of Lombardy and the Kingdom of Arles, and the concern of the Saluzzese. If either one of their powerful neighbors annexes Nice, they are fearful that the other will take Saluzzo. So the army of the Count of Saluzzo musters and marches on Nice.

It does so with the full consent of both Milan and Marselha, neither of whom want to get involved in the thorny question of Nice, especially since it is a member of the Holy Roman Empire. Wilhelm, who has been studying maps of Prussia, Estonia, and Livonia, does not want to get involved, but the territorial aggrandizement of either Arles or Lombardy would not amuse him.

The republican army of Nice sallies out, confident in their four-to-three numerical superiority, but the elected officers can barely control their men even when they are not arguing with each other. The Saluzzese army, drilled by Bernese sergeants, smashes it aside, although it is unable to take the city.

It is at that point the Roman fleet arrives, blockading the city and joining with the Saluzzese, much to the discomfiture of the Lombards. Silvio Passerini, doge of the Nice republic, threatens to kill Catherine and Alfonsina and hang their naked corpses from the battlements if the Romans will not withdraw (another threat directed against Catherine de Medici IOTL). Nikolaios Polos, who has direct command of the tagmatic troops, replies that if he does so, Nikolaios will kill everything in the city down to the last rat, burn it down, and salt the earth. Silvio desists, but manages to hold the city for thirty one days.

Nice is brutally sacked, Silvio stripped naked and thrown from the battlements by Nikolaios himself. What is left of the city is handed over to the Count of Saluzzo, Ludovico del Vasto, who assigns it as a fief to his younger brother Antonio since save for the two girls the house of Piccolomini in Nice is dead. Catherine and Alfonsina, who watched their father and brothers killed by Silvio’s men, are sent to Constantinople to be raised as wards of the Drakoi as nobody is quite sure what else to do with them.

The fleet sets sail from the smoldering ruins of Nice bound for its original target of Algiers. But the diversion has seriously delayed the expedition which only arrives on October 15. At first the attack on the city goes well, but four days later a great storm swells up, driving eight ships ashore and scattering the fleet. Emboldened, the Algerians attack the thoroughly dispirited Romans, whose ability to fight back is seriously limited with most of their gunpowder drenched.

Most of the fleet reassembles at Cape Matifu, five miles east of Algiers, but critical supplies have been lost, including three quarters of the siege artillery. The attack cannot be continued so Nikolaios orders a withdrawal, closely hounded by the Algerians. The retreat nearly turns into a rout, with the Second and Fourth Macedonian and Sixth Opsikian tourmai abandoning their eagles and weapons in their panic. What remains of the army comes within a hairsbreadth of collapse, till the Fifth Opsikian and Eighth Macedonian wheel about and maul their pursuers. Both tourmai take heavy casualties, but give the expedition enough time to disembark.

Their brave conduct prevents the expedition from turning into a complete debacle, but it is still a disaster. A quarter of the men, material, and ships dedicated to the operation were lost, and both Nikolaios Polos and Andreas Drakos, who accompanied the expedition as a thirteen-year-old School of War cadet, were injured. When they return to Constantinople, the Empress Helena insists on tending them personally.

1566: Although severe, the loss in manpower and material is not as serious as the loss of prestige. The corsairs of Algiers are understandably not cowed, their ships harrying the coasts of Sicily and Sardinia with abandon. A brief engagement with the squadron out of Malta that leaves one corsair ship badly shot up barely slows them down.

Construction of new warships begins immediately, including the leviathans, 1400 tons each, the Andreas Niketas and the Andreas Drakos (in the White Palace, he is rarely referred to as Pistotatos as the Triumvirate, for the sake of their authority, prefer to stress their connection with him). Each one will mount ninety heavy guns, giving them more firepower than any other warship on the planet.

It is however recognized that to truly eradicate the corsairs the conquest or at minimum neutralization of their land bases must be effected. A Carthaginian proposal to annex the ruins of Bizerte and settle them with colonists is rejected as Helena and Theodora do not want to siphon away the Empire’s population on what is considered a secondary front.

But in a bid to regain face, for the first time Constantinople begins to pay attention to Libya, a field heretofore exploited by Egypt and Carthage without interference. The corsairs of Tripoli are a minuscule fraction of the pirates of Algiers or Oran or Ifni, but there are some. Also by intervening in this area, the Empire can help curb the aggrandizement of its most powerful (Egypt) and independent (Carthage) despotates. A naval squadron after a three hour bombardment compels the Emir to pay tribute and accept the installation of a small garrison, but Roman control over the surrounding countryside is at this point nil. At the same time it is calculated that the Emir’s tribute will pay off the expedition by 1600 at the earliest.

In the Queen of Cities, both Nikolaios and Andreas make complete recoveries. The latter bears some battle scars, and is well liked by the troops for the courage and steadfastness he showed under fire despite his youth. At first Nikolaios seems to have been chastened by the inexperienced phenomenon of defeat (his combat record is almost wholly a list of the engagements of Andreas Drakos) but he is not pleased when he learns that while he was gone Helena had ‘convinced’ his two Constantinopolitan mistresses to move away.

In addition to dampening Nikolaios’ extra-marital love life, the Algiers fiasco leads to some seemingly minor army reforms. Up to this point, the only medal of distinction granted to soldiers (as distinct from the traditional titles and bonuses) was the Order of the Iron Gates, created by Nikephoros “the Spider” Komnenos. To congratulate the officers and men that distinguished themselves, Helena creates a new medal, the Order of the Dragon, a medallion made of silver and cast in the form of a dragon.

There are three grades, in order from lowest to highest the spear, mace, and sword, with the dragon holding the appropriate weapon. A similar innovation with the Order of the Iron Gates takes place during the War of the Rivers. In what at first glance seems to be counter-intuitive, the common soldiery as opposed to the officers are favored for the higher grades. The argument is that officers, due to the greater pay, honor, and other perks of their rank, are expected to show greater courage and ingenuity under fire even without additional incentive. Thus it is far more commendable when a regular soldier goes ‘above and beyond the call of duty’.

More important than that is the creation of guard tourmai. There are already the permanent guard units of the Athanatoi, Varangoi, and Skolai, but these are different. For exceptional valor in battle, tourmai can be granted guard status. For a period of four years, all members of the tourmai have their base pay upped by a third, and receive a new uniform with gold lace as a mark of their increased status. The first to enjoy such largesse are the Fifth Opsikian and the Eighth Macedonian.

Granted as a unit citation, the guard designation helps to develop esprit de corps and the time limit on it helps to prevent a tourma that has made it for becoming complacent. At the same time a guard tourma is treated like an officer, granted more but also expected to act better. The guard status can be revoked for misconduct, but can also be extended for new exemplary feats. But at the same time, guard status can only be granted for actions in battle, and since the skirmishes in the east focus on the droungoi formations, there is now another incentive for the army to incite battle.

As for the tourmai who broke and ran, their fate is far different. Their lost eagles are replaced, but then promptly smashed to bits in front of the men in review, the powder mixed into the men’s drinks as a punishment. Afterwards their real replacement eagles arrive, but they are cast as pigeons, not eagles, marking them out for shame and ridicule until such time as they can redeem their honor.

As Rhomania licks its wound, Italy is stirring. The Republic of Siena has had difficulties in keeping the Florentines subservient, and in a bid to improve their status the Council of Thirteen (increased from the original nine in the mid 1300s, the Council is the head of the Commune) asks the city of Ravenna, ruled by a Lombard governor, to return the body of Dante Alighieri to Florence. The governor refuses, on the grounds that since Florence rejected him in life, they shall not receive him in death, a response greeted with applause by the Ravenna populace.

The Council is rather irked by this, as they view this as the latest of a number of incidents whereby the Kingdom of Lombardy shows its disdain for the Republic. Officially the Republic is an ally of Lombardy, but the Council feels that the Visconti view Siena as a vassal. The Dantean affair is the last straw.

The Kingdom of Lombardy controls virtually the entirety of northern Italy, but central Italy is divided into the Sienese territories, the Duchy of Latium ruled by the House of Colonna, and the Duchy of the March ruled by the House of Malatesta. The latter two are clearly vassals of Lombardy, but both are finding the relationship dissatisfactory. Secretly they meet, along with representatives from Piedmont and Genoa who are also interested in an end to Lombard rule, plus delegates from Siena.

King Andrea I Visconti has not been idle, and his agents have gleaned enough information that he knows something is afoot, although he is completely unaware of the extent. Thus when the Marche, Latium, Genoa, and Piedmont rise in coordinated revolt, joined by the armies of Siena, it is a surprise but not a complete one. The League of Arezzo, named after the city where the formal alliance is signed amongst the belligerents, is a formidable foe, with almost three million subjects and a powerful financial backer in the Bank of St. George, based in Genoa.

But the Kingdom of Lombardy still has its strengths. The plains of Lombardy are fertile, populous and wealthy and Milan is the center of an impressive armaments industry, and the bulk of northern Italy remains at its command. Yields from farms and workshops provide security for loans from the banks of Germany, loans which help pay for Castilian mercenaries and Bernese cohorts, arrangements which had already been in the works when the Dantean War, as it is known, began.

Andrea also has the support of several members of the House of Doukas, the foremost of which is Andronikos Doukas, a skilled captain and veteran of the Time of Troubles before he left the Empire in protest over the forced renaming of his family. He proves his worth right from the beginning when he ambushes a contingent of Piedmontese militia and chopping them to bit despite being outnumbered three to one and without a significant advantage in troop quality.

As Lombardy prepares for a fight for its life, China begins striking back. Against the nomadic tribes its efforts are thus far unsuccessful, but a wokou squadron including two Roman vessels with a droungos of mauroi is heavily trounced near Fuzhou. More important in Beijing’s eye is the sizeable drubbing of one of the Tibetan armies harrying Sichuan. Although nowhere near serious enough to break the power of the Kingdom of Tibet, the next victim of Tibetan aggression is instead the Kingdom of Bihar, with Ghurka vassals of Tibet raiding down from the Chumpi pass to hit the adjacent districts.

Neither Chinese or Tibetan or Bihari take a notice of the new Roman settlement, slowly rising from the island of Singapura. Sold by the local and unpopular emir, a small Roman colony is placed there to contest the Straits of Malacca in support of Pahang with the Portuguese to the north. With emigration to New Constantinople and Pyrgos taking priority, the growth is slow, with Malays making up 85% of the population.

Even Constantinople pays little attention, as the north demands all of its focus. Nikolai has been growing more and more concerned over reports that Wilhelm is marshalling a grand alliance of the Holy Roman Empire, Poland, Hungary, and the Empire of All the North against him. While it is true that Wilhelm has been working steadily towards such an array, Nikolai believes him far more successful in that regard than he is in actuality.

Such a host would be most difficult to counter, so Nikolai elects on a preemptive strike. There have been several recent incidents along the Polish borders. Boundary disputes caused by ancient legal claims and the poor cartography of the area are numerous, and on four occasions Polish squadrons have crossed into Lithuanian territory in pursuit of brigands (which the Poles claim are Russian sponsored). Twice they have been engaged by the border guards.

Poland is the linchpin of the supposed grand alliance. If Poland is removed from the coalition, the only land frontier Russia would share with it would be the border along Finland, and Catherine is far too savvy to challenge the Great Kingdom without German armies attacking along another front. The only other option would be to open another front by seizing Moldavia from the Kingdom of Vlachia, a move certain to earn the ire of the Roman Empire as an intolerable threat to Constantinople.

The Russian army of thirty thousand men erupts suddenly across the Polish frontier, without any formal declaration of war. Considering the forces he believes marshaling against him, Nikolai believes surprise is his only option. The Polish troops on the frontier are caught completely off guard and swept aside as the army heads straight for Krakow, hoping to knock Poland out with one swift blow upon the head.

Yet surprise is bought at the cost of poor preparations, and the logistics for the campaign are in poor array, with extremely limited supply wagons available. Also most of the thirty thousand are second-tier militia troops. Although there are twelve thousand men in the ranks of the archontes, the fearsome, well-drilled heavy horse archers of the Russian army, a mere four hundred and fifty are present in Poland. Polish attacks on what supply lines exist and on foragers plus a scorched-earth policy are intermittent at best, but they are more straws on the camel’s back.

At Kielce the Russian army at last runs into serious opposition, a hastily scrapped together Polish force of some twenty thousand commanded by Stanislaw Zadzik. But in addition to hunger, the Russians are suffering heavily from disease, with their commander Konstantin Romanov struck with dysentery so badly that the bottom of his trousers have to be cut away to keep from fouling the garment.

A serious cannonade erupts between the two armies. Although the Polish guns are outnumbered almost three to two, they have a four to one advantage in ammunition. As a result the barrage is heavily in the Poles’ favor. Konstantin, already discouraged by his wretched health, soon withdraws, although not before one Polish shell detonates one of his few magazines, and the one closest to where his few archontes are arrayed.

The ‘battle’ of Kielce only had less than four hundred combined casualties, making it one of the least bloody decisive battles in history.

The cannonade at Kielce ends Nikolai’s dream of knocking Poland out of the war quickly, and by his actions has brought into being the very alliance he had feared. Hungary marshals its forces in support of its ally, and although Poland has regained its honor, lost during the Last Crusade, it is well aware that Russia’s strength is still far beyond its own, so it looks west.

At Danzig on September 15, the Grand Alliance between the Holy Roman Empire, the Kingdom of Poland, the Kingdom of Hungary, and the Empire of All the North is signed. A cursing Nikolai gathers his remaining armies, but a request for Roman military aid is denied. However three low-interest loans are provided, as well as a few dozen military ‘observers’.
1567: A new player arrives in Japan as two Portuguese galleons drop anchor at Kochi. The prosperous port is ruled by the powerful Chosokabe clan who are paramount in Shikoku, major players amongst the wokou, and bitter rivals of the Shimazu. As a result they seriously dislike the Shimazu clan’s new white friends, a fact the Portuguese notice very quickly.

The Portuguese are breaking new frontiers on the other side of the Pacific, as explorers cross the isthmus of Panama. The journey is difficult and plagued with tropical diseases and is not followed up for some time. But it does spark the second Mayan expedition, which unlike the first sees some significant combat when the Mexican fleet destroys the Mayan settlement at Nito as punishment for provisioning the Portuguese.

The month of April sees a profound shift in the situation in France, as on April 4 King Arthur dies in King’s Harbor at the age of sixty one. He had been quite hearty until a year earlier when he caught pneumonia after falling into the cold Thames. His son Henry succeeds him without contestation, but not without some titular revisions. Following in the tradition of Catherine (who is still going strong as the matriarch of Scandinavia) he christens himself Emperor of the United Kingdoms. There are now five Imperial titles in Europe, that of Rhomania, the Holy Roman Empire, Hungary, Scandinavia, and the Triple Monarchy, and not including Russia.

He also takes the title ‘Sovereign of the Seas’, which is far more contentious. Kaiser Wilhelm in a fit of pique refers to Henry as the ‘Squid King, limp and stupid.’ Henry also demands that all vessels plying the Channel salute the Triune flag on any ships they pass as well as pay a Channel toll. King Albrecht (note the Dutch name) of Lotharingia orders the Calais garrison to fire on any Triune warships enforcing the toll, while in La Coruna an irate mob trashes the Triune quarter.

Rhomania on the other hand accepts the declaration, ordering its merchants to follow the directive. Henry’s pleasure at this quickly ends when in October the Roman ambassador presents him with a bill equivalent to two thirds the annual revenue of the Triple Monarchy for damages caused to Roman ships by storms and pirates. The grounds are that as ‘Sovereign of the Seas’ he is responsible for damages accrued on the water. Naturally he refuses, and at the same time rebuffs attempts from Rhomania to get outstanding debts repaid.

Chief of them are the Plethon-Medici family firm, to whom the Triple Monarchy is three and a half million hyperpyra in arrears, some of it from debts fifty years old. They have now lost all patience and are determined to make an example out of him, informing all the crowned heads of Europe that any entity loaning money to the Plantagenets will be barred from receiving any Plethon-Medici loans in the future.

Part of the reason for his obstructionism in loan repayments is that there is a new source of expenses, paying for the bait used in fishing the troubled Arletian waters. Just three weeks after the death of King Arthur, King Basil Komnenos passes away in Marselha. His heir is his eighteen-year-old grandson Leo who at the time is in Bern visiting his Habsburg in-laws.

Here the succession does not go smoothly. Basil had come to power against a wave of resentment at his Greek and German heritage, and his habit of employing citizens of the Bernese League and the Roman Empire (on grounds of competence) have not made said resentment go away. It has crystallized around Rene du Maine, Count of Aix, who can claim descent both from the House of Berenguer and Valois-Anjou (the family had been ruled by the Arletian version of Manuel IV Klados when Basil made his bid for the throne and thus was irrelevant during that struggle).

The four hundred years of ancestors who ruled over this land in the past help, but in the event proximity is more important. He is at Aix when Basil dies rather suddenly and rushes to Marselha where his supporters rally. He is crowned King before Leo even is aware of his grandfather’s death.

Despite the surprise and his youth Leo reacts fast. Agents are dispatched to Aquitaine where the memory of his grandfather is revered to rouse the land, which they do with great success, while he attempts to do the same with the League. In that he is less successful, as the League has no official opinion on the matter. But the House of Habsburg is quite proud of having one of its members as a King, and they are not inclined to give that up.

In Russia the war begins slowly. A cautious Scandinavian probe towards Novgorod is easily smacked aside, but the beginnings of a Russian invasion of Finland is curtailed as a German host storms into Prussia. The fortresses of the region are well built and stocked, but the Alliance has complete command of the sea and tremendous stores of artillery. Wilhelm, taking command of the main force, slowly but surely reduces the citadels in his path.

Although there is considerable wastage from disease, desertion and starvation, plus combat casualties, there is not as much as the Russians hoped. Wilhelm has made intensive studies of Roman medicinal and logistical arrangements, and though the organization is still behind that of Constantinople he has succeeded in significantly closing the gap. Many of the still-extant shortcomings are not his fault but due to the execrable conditions of the Prussian dirt tracks that masquerade as roads, and thus the naval support of the Hanseatic League is crucial for provisions.

In Italy the Dantean War heats up considerably more rapidly as a Sienese army besieges Pisa while a joint Colonna-Malatesta force storms into the Romagna. They face only token opposition and holding actions as Andrea concentrates all of his attention on Piedmont. The threat of Genoese troops reinforcing either Piedmont or Siena is skillfully foiled by Andronikos Doukas who by a series of ambuscades and forced marches bamboozles the Genoese commanders and drives them back into Liguria after their attempted march on Milan.

From Messina, the new Despot Demetrio di Lecce-Komnenos is watching the situation with great interest, although any idea of dousing the Holy Fire of Senise is muted. The Sicilians hate everyone north of them on the Italian peninsula save those of Venetia. Rhomania too has no interest in intervening. Aside from the duels with the corsairs, the White Palace is also fishing in Arletian waters in support of Leo and is not inclined to take up another line.

1568: Crows wax fat on the fields outside of Memel, gorging themselves on Russian flesh. Nikolai had marched his army to the relief of the citadel, under siege by the main Imperial army, but his foot soldiers had been unable to withstand the storm of shell the German artillery had poured down upon them and been routed with heavy slaughter. The archontes had reaped a terrible harvest of their own on the German and Polish horse, but not enough to avert the disaster.

Memel capitulates immediately afterward, giving Wilhelm an excellent port that helps to significantly alleviate his supply problems. He continues north into Livonia while a Polish army under the command of the ‘Hero of Kielce’ drives for the Lithuanian capital albeit under incessant harassment by Lipka Tatars. In Finland the crushing victory at Memel has also emboldened Catherine, who enjoins her armies to go onto the offensive. Vyborg is seized after some of the garrison is bribed to open the gates (the city had been lost to the then Kingdom of Novgorod in 1404) and a small detachment forces the Sami of the Kola Peninsula to submit to Scandinavian suzerainty.

In China too there is trouble from the north as a Northern Yuan army ravages the environs of Beijing, decorating the suburbs with the heads of twenty thousand Tieh soldiers killed in the attempt to stop them. In such circumstances, it is understandable that the Tieh government has little time to spend on the matter of the wokou, or the ‘thieves and beggars’ as they are disdainfully called. What coastal defenses exist are due to the local militias, who vary in quality from the rather competent (Fujian) to the utterly inept (Hainan).

1569: In both Italy and Arles, the wars are slow affairs, siege warfare abounding, with five times more men dying from dysentery than combat. The Romagna is now in the hands of the League of Arezzo, but all attempts to cross into Lombardy proper have failed miserably, with the one major field battle against the Sienese a miserable debacle for the League. The forces of Genoa have been rolled back and Liguria retaken, but the city itself shows no sign of buckling under the siege as its ships have uncontested command of the sea.

In Arles, the main point of contention at the moment is Toulouse, but both sides have been heavily ridden by disease so fighting is minimal. Leo has command of the city as well as the whole of Aquitaine (each claimant controls about half of Basil’s kingdom), but Rene has asserted his control over the Rhone river valley, severing Leo’s link with his Habsburg relatives. But via Bordeio he has access to loans of money and material from his Roman relations

The year starts off well for Nikolai. The spring rasputitsa is especially bad, fouling Wilhelm’s wagon trains while storms batter his fleets, and the Megas Rigas is able to take the initiative at the start of the summer campaigning. Vilnius, which had fallen to Polish troops last year, is retaken from its badly supplied garrison, and a German army is roughly handled at Skriveri. With the pressure somewhat relieved, he feels secure enough to detach a thousand men to go east to guard against the White Horde raids.

He quickly regrets that decision as smallpox and dysentery halve his army strength in a matter of weeks as he besieges Talsi in western Latvia. Recognizing the importance of seaports in Wilhelm’s strategy, he prioritizes their recapture. Talsi is not one of them, but Nikolai cannot securely advance on the ports of the western coast of the Gulf of Riga with the Talsi garrison in his rear.

Wilhelm retakes the offensive, obliging Nikolai to lift the siege as the Russian fleet is badly trounced by the ships of the Hanseatic League at Osel. Vilnius with its ruined fortifications is easily retaken by the Polish army, and a new thrust spearheaded by Hungarian soldiers towards Kiev is planned for the following year.

1570: Though there is much going on in the world, the eyes of the Empire are turned instead upon the White Palace. Somewhat unusually, the Empress Helena and Patriarch Matthaios have been arguing. In a further effort to increase taxes and stimulate population growth, the Triumvirate has been encroaching on the monasteries, and while Matthaios has been understanding of their efforts thus far, there is a line which he will not cross.

Over the centuries monasteries and dioceses have gradually built up a series of tax exemptions, and rather than raise taxes again (there have been at least half a dozen minor tax revolts across the Empire in the last decade) the Triumvirate would rather get rid of the remaining loopholes. Teams of lawyers examine each exemption, and there are many that can be thrown out as fabrications, but there are also many that are legitimate grants.

This is having a significant effect on the Patriarchal exchequer, as the fruits of Venera of Abkhazia ripen. In exchange for Russian support during the Orthodox War, all the stavropegic monasteries in Russia had been transferred from the control of the Patriarch of Constantinople to the Metropolitan of Russia. The Patriarch’s coffers had survived that heavy blow, but now with the increased pressure from the White Palace he is unable to maintain his work programs, missionary efforts in the east, and the dignity of his office.

Helena also wishes to put into place laws barring the bequest of lands to monasteries and individuals entering them as monks or nuns before reaching the age of fifty. Their vows of celibacy do not help rebuilding the Empire’s population.

Matthaios rises to the challenge, using his formidable oratory to rally public opinion to his side, and using skilled monks to do the same across the Empire. Pamphlets from the Imperial press arguing for the reforms are met with counter-pamphlets from the patriarchal press. He is a fervent supporter of the doctrine of the two swords, the one temporal (the Monarchy) and the spiritual (the Patriarchy), but he will not have the hand wielding the spiritual to be starved of nutrients.

Into this argument the Ottomans figuratively explode, as Osman Komnenos launches an offensive across the breadth of Persia against the Khorasani in cooperation with the Emirate of Sukkur. The impressive performance of the Ottoman armies and the rapid recovery of the most powerful of the Muslim states is alarming to the Patriarch who well remembers the terrible days when the Sultan’s guns pounded the walls of Trebizond.

The end result is a compromise, but one favoring the Patriarchy. The fraudulent exemptions are revoked, and all legitimate ones issued after the death of Empress Anna I Laskaris are removed from the books as well. There are a sizeable cluster numbering from the reigns of Herakleios II and Nikephoros IV, the former from a failed attempt to make the clergy support him and the latter from payment for support.

It is a small success, but the outcome is far short of what the Triumvirate wished. Instead of before where the Church paid about half of what it would have owed if it were laity, now it is at around seventy percent. And part of that was bought by the concession that the payment of fines for public blasphemy, minor counts of heresy, failure to attend mass, and Islamic proselytizing are to be paid to the church, not the state, although the administering and enforcing of those laws remains a temporal prerogative. On all other issues the Triumvirate gives way entirely.

Nikolaios Polos has paid little attention to this, spending his time drafting an elaborate battle plan for dealing with the Ottoman Empire once and for all, and he believes the moment is propitious. With their armies tied down fighting the Khorasani, he envisions a three-pronged offensive, one aimed down the Tigris, another down the Euphrates, and a smaller one skirting the desert frontier with the support of the Anizzah.

His ambitions tempered by Algiers, the goal is not to conquer Persia but to break away Mesopotamia from the Turk and set it up as a client state. Georgia is to be subsidized to attack Mazandaran as a distraction and to enlarge the buffer it would provide, with the Omani, Khorasani, and Uzbeks are also to be paid to engage the Turks on other fronts. The end goal is a Persia broken up between the rump Turk state, the Uzbeks, Khorasani, and Omani, with a large Georgian ally and a client Mesopotamia in between them and the Empire proper.

The plan is well organized, showing every chance of success. Reports from the Office of Barbarians indicate that all of the foreign allies would be receptive to such advances, and the army is at full strength and its armament reform complete. There is also the possibility that Ethiopia too could be convinced to provide ships and troops in support in exchange for concessions in the Moluccas and India.

That said, the plan would also be incredibly expensive. Subsidizing up to five foreign allies, plus the cost of fielding the Roman forces (Nikolaios’ plan lays out eight tagmata), adds up to a staggering fortune. Unfortunately for Nikolaios, he presents the plan just as Helena is losing her battle over church taxes and while the Arletian Civil War and the Great Northern War are going in the wrong way from her perspective. She is willing to pay a small stipend to the Khorasani to bolster their resistance, but no more.

Nikolaios takes the rejection with ill grace, but it is the events of the following month that truly stagger him. On June 16, he receives word that Anna Palaiologina is dead from fever at her nunnery near Nicaea. Five days later it becomes apparent why Helena was willing to give up so much ground to Matthaios; she needed his support on another matter. On June 21, his tenth birthday, Demetrios Drakos is proclaimed Kaisar.

The White Palace, June 25, 1570:

Nikolaios swallowed the last of the wine in his cup. “BELCH!” Ah, that feels better, he thought, setting the cup down on the table. Pouring himself another cup, he stared into the fire. He didn’t see the fire in the fireplace; it was other fires that burned in his mind. The curtain of flame leaping forward from the mauroi at Kotyaion, the blast of the cannons at Baghdad, the shriek of the rockets at Raqqa.

He stared at the liquid in his cup, and then dashed it onto the flames. They sputtered for a bit, and then resumed their full strength. He sniffed the pitcher he has just used. Water! Ugh. This is her doing.

She opened the door, looking at him. This was all her doing, why he could not get outrageously drunk, so that he could forgot for a moment that the fire lived and she did not, even though it should have been the other way around.

“You’re drunk,” she said.

“You’re ugly,” he replied. “And I’ll be sober in the morning.”

“I doubt that.”

“Is that a reproach?”

“Yes, yes, it is.”

“Oh, in that case, I don’t care.” He lifted the water to his mouth, lowered it, sneered and set it down. He started to get up.

“Where are you going?”

“Vomit,” he replied, standing.

“You should go to bed.”

“Why? I’m not going to met anyone I like there.” She flinched like she had been slapped. Good.

“And then?”

“I don’t know, maybe drink some more. It’s not like I have anything else to do.” He turned towards the door.

“Nikolaios,” she said, grasping his arm. “It was a good plan. But the Empire can’t afford it.”

“Yes, it can. Andreas Niketas’ wars against Venice and the Mamelukes cost a similar amount, and they were worth it. He cut down giants, so that all we would have to face were pygmies. Well, he forgot one. I have a chance to cut it down.”

“And then what? Another will rise up to take its place. He destroyed Venice, and now the Lombards are the menace.”

“No they’re not. It’s the Turks that are the threat. In a hundred years, two hundred thousand men will wish you’d listened to me. But even that I might be able to forgive, since I won’t be around to see it. But I can’t forgive what you did to Andreas.” He picked up the glass again. Damn, still water.

“I’m doing him a favor. He will make a brilliant strategos someday, I am certain. But not everyone is-”

“Cut out for this?” Nikolaios gestured at the walls.

“Yes, exactly.”

“And so am I,” Nikolaios growled, thumping the water down on the table. Some splashed his hand. “I wish you had figured that out twenty years ago. And now if you’ll excuse me, your majesty, I really do need to vomit.”

Aleppo, July 20, 1570:

“Belch!” Nikolaios said. He reached for another sack of wine, but a dusky smooth hand snatched it away. He looked up at his son Andreas, eighteen years of age. He was tall, but a bit on the chubby side, with a faint lining of peach fuzz. He had yet to grow a beard, but his naturally curly brown hair seemed to make the girls go wild. “Give that back.”

“You’re drunk.”

“You’re ugly. And I’ll be sober in the morning.” That was more clever the first time around.

“It is morning.”

“Fine, tomorrow morning.”

“Father, this can’t go on forever.”

“That’s because you have the wine.”

“I meant this.” He gestured at the tent they were in. From outside came the sounds, and the smells, of the Syrian tagma.

“I know. Eventually I’ll have to go back to Constantinople, and that bitch.” He spat. Only with Andreas was he so open with his feelings. That was because he was their son, he and Anna. She had been more of a mother to him than Helena. Demetrios and the others, those were her children, but Andreas was his.

“Actually, it was that I wanted to talk to you about.”

* * *
On the Feast Day of the Holy and Glorious Apostle Andreas, to the acclaim of the Army of the East, the Patriarch of Antioch crowns Prince Andreas Drakos as Andreas III Drakos, Vicegerent of God on Earth, the Emperor of the Romans.

1571: The Empress Helena has no intention of backing down, even when an offer is made that she merely recognize her eldest son as co-emperor. She knows that refusal means civil war, but the Triumvirate is determined to smash the argument that merely the army’s acclaim is what makes Emperors. This is to be the trial by fire of the Andronikan Code, of the epanogoge. If it fails now, it is doomed.

Andreas Drakos and Nikolaios Polos begin with the clear allegiance of the four tagmata of the Army of the East and the eastern provinces, where fear and hatred of the Turks/Persians remain high. The Metropolitan of Edessa is particularly vocal in his support, reflecting the views of his see’s inhabitants who are not enamored on being on the frontier after the Treaty of Van.

Another serious strength is Andreas Drakos’ name, for the namesake of Andreas Pistotatos cannot by definition be taken lightly. It conjures to mind Kotyaion and Antioch and Baghdad and Yarmuk, and it cannot be forgotten that Nikolaios Polos fought bravely and brilliantly in all those battles. People like legends and heroes, and the father-son combination bears far too many connections to the great captain of the Time of Troubles for the Triumvirate’s comfort.

So the first action of the Triumvirate is to bring up new connections and new heroes in their place. For the first time in over a decade Helena, Theodora, and Alexeia appear in their Peacock dresses, the jewels taken from that splendid throne dazzling in the sunlight. They present themselves thus in the Imperial box at the Hippodrome, a clear reminder that they are daughters of Andreas Drakos.

On one side of them is Demetrios Drakos, above whom is a banner on which is writ Δράμα. It was at the town of Drama that Anastasia Komnena Palaiologina, the eldest child of Theodoros IV, and Andreas Komnenos, the youngest, had met. Everyone knew how those lines had turned out; the youngest had become Andreas, the Bane of All Rhomania’s Foes, and the eldest was the grandmother of the Shahanshah.

On another banner is writ Θεοδοσιούπολις, the name of Theodosiopolis, the great fortress that had stymied the armies of the Great Turk for a year, but had fallen because Manuel of Amaseia had taken the armies of the east westward to contest the Throne of Caesar. And there is a third banner, one held by Demetrios Drakos himself, which says Καισάρειατης Καππαδοκίας, with the background the emblems of the Thracesian and the old Koloneian tagmata. It references not the disastrous battle against Timur, but the famous conference and subsequent alliance between Manuel Doukas and Demetrios Komnenos Megas.

The intent to is align Andreas Drakos the Younger and Nikolaios Polos in Roman minds with the eastern menace, not as the shield they present themselves as. The first banner reminds that it was a first child that birthed the current Ottoman Sultan’s line. The second reminds that it was a similar action that opened the door to the Turkish onslaught in the last war. And the third reminds that the Kaisar is named after the grandfather of Andreas Niketas, the man who defeated the greatest of the eastern warlords, Timur the Great himself.

On the other side of the three daughters of Andreas Drakos is Alexios the Hunchback, the last living grandson of Andreas Niketas in the Old World. Seventy four years old, he was in Constantinople gathering funds to establish a new animal park on the model of his father, Prince Theodoros the Zookeeper. Having mellowed from his earlier tendencies to put laxatives in clerics’ food (he hated the group ever since one told him that his deformed body was beautifully and wonderfully made), he is the symbol of a past age and a powerful conferrer of legitimacy.

Counter-intuitively, the Triumvirate’s first actions are not military but matrimonial. Demetrios Drakos is betrothed to Venera Bagrationi, the four-year-old daughter of the King of Georgia, ensuring that the armies of Tbilisi will not join in the war on Andreas’ side. Later in the week, there is a double wedding as Alexios Laskaris and Theodoros Sideros marry Eudoxia and Aikaterine Drakina respectively, twin sisters (fourteen years old-Aikaterine is the elder by five minutes) and daughters of the Empress Helena. Alexios helps bring the support of many of the European dynatoi who supported his father, while Ioannes secures the loyalty of the former Timurid soldiery scattered throughout the army who still hold affection for the son of their former sovereign.

Even that is overshadowed though by the wedding of the century held in Munich. Arrangements had been made four years earlier and the Empress Helena is not allowing either the Great Northern War or the revolt of her husband and eldest son to deter her. There her eldest daughter Kristina and Friedrich, King of the Romans, son of Kaiser Wilhelm and heir to the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, are united in holy matrimony.

The people of Constantinople respond wholeheartedly to the display, cheering their Empress. Another pillar of support is the church and especially the Patriarch. Matthaios has been the closest thing to a father figure Prince Demetrios has had and the two are quite close. Unlike his lineage Demetrios has displayed little inclination for the martial or historical arts, but finds his greatest joy in painting and music. He does some landscapes, but under Matthaios he is growing adept at icon painting, as well as dabbling in hymns.

The Skopoi flash their signals, marshalling the armies of the west as the Army of the Center concentrates for battle. In troops, Helena has a slightly over two-to-one advantage, and in ships a ridiculous eight-to-one advantage, the navy solidly siding with her. Financially, with the merchants of the City and of lush Thracesia backing her, she can outspend her husband and son close to five-to-one, not including her far greater access to loans and much better credit.

* * *
North-central Anatolian plateau, March 11, 1571:

Andreas Drakos, third of his name, Vicegerent of God, the Equal of the Apostles, Lord of Space and Time, by the grace of God Emperor of the Romans, stuck his head in the tent and immediately regretted it. “Did something die in here?”

“No,” Ioannes said. “Alexios is just cooking dinner.”

“With what, his socks? And is that an eyeball in there?”

“No,” Alexios said. The burly Cilician stirred the pot, chunks of something rising to the surface of the mud-brown broth. Both he and Ioannes were members of his guard detail, currently off-duty. “I only eat eyeballs for breakfast. It’s bad luck to have them after noon.” Andreas thought he was joking, but he wasn’t entirely sure either. Alexios scooped up a chunk in his wooden ladle. “Want some?”

“I’ll pass. But make sure to save some. I think it will melt the Herakleian Walls.”

He stepped out, taking a deep breath. The wind was blowing from the latrines, set away from the camp and opposite from the cook tents and surgical wards, but it was nectar compared to whatever was in there. He started walking to his tent, his four on-duty bodyguards flanking him. “Hektor, chocolate.” The dekarchos handed him a bar which Andreas immediately started eating. It was his seventh this day; he ate chocolate when he was stressed, which was why despite all the hard riding his paunch was starting to grow.

They were significantly outnumbered and vastly inferior in moneys and ships. But I have the Empire on my side, the real Empire. It was soldiers that built Rhomania, that sustained it. Basil the Bulgar-Slayer had been a soldier, laying waste the Bulgars and cowing the Arabs. His reign had marked the glorious apogee of the Second Empire.

But after him had come a reign of women and courtiers and peace-minded fools. Aunt Theodora said ‘History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.’ He saw it rhyming now. His grandfather, his namesake, had crushed the Empire’s enemies, but his daughter was squandering his legacy, and to make it even worse was going to hand it to his feckless younger brother. He doubted whether Demetrios could tell a mace from a halberd, and he knew he only rode the most docile mares. He was already betrothed to a Princess of Georgia, while Helena had not lifted a finger towards arranging a marriage for her eldest son.

To be fair, Demetrios would make a good monk, but like his mother he lacked the iron will needed to govern a vast and mighty Empire. But he had the will, the strength. But his mother, instead of recognizing and rewarding that, was repelled by it. Such was to be expected from her sex, but the frailties of women could not be allowed to destroy the Empire.

And if the odds seemed long…I am Andreas the Third. I am descended from them both. And we have a long habit of beating the odds.

* * *

But as Andreas Niketas would say, ‘the morale is to the material as three to one’. Nikolaios Polos, acting as Megas Domestikos for his son, marches hard for the west gathering the eastern tagmata with impressive speed. His forced marches, aided by the fact that the rebellion managed to delay word of its outbreak by usurping the skopoi network, catch the Army of the Center not fully concentrated or reinforced.

At the village of Germia, posting his headquarters near the shrine of St. Michael, Nikolaios with twenty four thousand men meets the Optimatic and Opsikian tagmata, supported by the Third and Eighth Thracesian Tourmai, twenty one thousand strong. He has a slight advantage in manpower, but Nikolaios’ artillery has not done as well keeping up. His counterpart, Andronikos Chrysokompas, ensconced in a strong defensive position with a five to three advantage in cannon, is not concerned.

For two days both armies maneuver, Nikolaios shuffling westward trying to get astride Andronikos’ lines of communications to Bithynia and Andronikos parrying the moves. But in the process his line is extended and he is forced to abandon his excellent position, although the terrain still favors him. On March 20, battle commences.

Per normal Roman doctrine, Andronikos’ cannon are dispersed in small batteries to support the battle lines for counter-battery work, while a couple of large (six to eight gun) sections are maintained as a reserve to support attacks. In the opening artillery duel, Andronikos soon gains the advantage although it is largely nullified as Nikolaios uses the reverse slope to shelter his troops.

Nikolaios attacks on his right, hitting the enemy with a couple of rapid volleys and then charging into melee. Historically, Roman doctrine has always emphasized missile over shock action, a trend that has continued as the arquebus has largely replaced the bow. Considering the disadvantages the former has in combat capabilities compared to the latter, Nikolaios considers the emphasis misplaced in the current context, the debacle at Algiers reinforcing his opinion.

As a result, Nikolaios has decreased the number of arquebuses among his troops, replacing them with sarissophoroi and skutatoi to make the battle lines less brittle. He had every intention of implementing these reforms throughout the whole Roman army, but he began with the eastern tagmata both because he considered their reform the most urgent considering the Ottoman proximity, and also because it gave him a good excuse to be far away from Constantinople.

Preceded by a thick cloud of skirmishers, the melee attack succeeds in staving in Andronikos’ left wing as more troops curl around it. However it only bends, not break, and the strategos quickly stiffens it with reserve troops and pulls it back in good order to refuse his flank. A counterattack drives back the eastern soldiery, who then regroup and counterattack. The action seesaws back and forth for about forty five minutes, settling into thick skirmish lines blasting away at each other from a couple of ranch bunkhouses and stockades that happen to be part of the battlefield, too exhausted to resume the melee.

As the action on Nikolaios’ right stalemates, he deploys four tourmai forward in the center which soon come under heavy artillery fire. Promptly they shake down into skirmish lines and advance, seriously discomfiting Andronikos’ center. Lookouts report the movement of tourmatic eagles behind the skirmishers. Andronikos concludes that the center is now the decisive theater, the movement on the left merely a feint. He commits some of his reserve to stiffen his center as he musters skirmishers of his own.

Then Nikolaios unleashes his counterstroke, a grand battery of forty four guns clobbering Andronikos’ right wing, heralded a mass charge. That wing is thrashed, but there are still enough reserve cavalry squadrons to stem the tide for a moment. But then the Chaldean Fourth and Tenth barrel forward, heavy lancers who break three times their number of enemy horse. Hit from both flanks, Andronikos’ army breaks.

Pursuit is hampered though as Nikolaios’ cavalry took heavy losses (Andreas III is unharmed but had a horse killed and another wounded under him). Unfortunately for him, both Thracesian tourmai in action had large number of bow-armed recruits from Philadelphia, a city renowned for the archery skills of its people. Still the casualty ratios are heavily in his favor.

For thirty five hundred casualties, he inflicted close to five thousand (the ratio is even more lopsided as Andronikos is forced to abandon most of his wounded while many of Nikolaios’ losses soon heal and return to duty) and took another four thousand prisoners, many of which are soon convinced to join him, making good his losses.

To his surprise, Andronikos retreats not west, but northeast. Moving west would bring him closer to his base, but Andronikos saw that the heavy cavalry charge that broke his army came from the west, meaning that most likely there are swarms of light horse in that direction. So instead he takes what is left of his army, closely pursued by Nikolaios to the best of his abilities, in the opposite direction. The series of well-fought rear guard actions coupled with his comparatively minor losses in cavalry manage to keep Nikolaios at bay, but by the time Andronikos arrives in Sinope he is down to eight thousand effectives.

The battle of Germia and the retreat to Sinope is viewed with dismay in Constantinople. The Army of the Center has been crippled at the first stroke with only the Thracesian tagma in any semblance of fighting order. However Andronikos’ continued presence at Sinope is a blessing in disguise. There is virtually no chance of him being destroyed there. Nikolaios cannot blockade supplies and he has no siege artillery to blast Sinope’s fortifications which were modernized during the Time of Troubles and saw off an Ottoman siege detachment.

The Army of the West deploys into western Anatolia to reinforce the Thracesians, dividing into two sections to improve logistics. The southern force is called the Army of the Meander, the northern one the Army of the Sangarius, taking their names from the major rivers in their theater. Andronikos’ force in Sinope is rechristened the Army of the Halys. It is these names that lead to the war to be known as the War of the Rivers.

The point of the armies is not to fight Nikolaios; Germia was enough. They are to contain him. Individually each army is no match for Nikolaios, who has been reinforced with the bulk of the Syrian tagma which had not been able to join the initial offensive. However the theory is if Nikolaios menaces either the Sangarius or Meander armies, the other is in a position to support the other or threaten Nikolaios’ rear, while Andronikos in Sinope is a thorn that cannot be ignored as he restores order to his battered formations.

Thus far it has just been the provincial tagmata that have moved. The guard tagmata have not marched into Asia. Instead the Imperial fleet splits, two squadrons carrying the Skolai into the Black Sea while the other four beat their way south along the Aegean coast with the Athanatoi and Varangoi.

The inhabitants of Cyprus are disconcerted when a massive fleet drops anchor in Akrotiri Bay, the imperial tetragram flying from the masts. However the demand that the grandees of the island make their submission to Empress Helena within a week is met with no opposition and quickly obeyed. The plantation owners, slave traders, and wine merchants that dominate Cypriote life know that their prosperity rests with the side that controls the sea lanes and the Aegean basin, the home of their biggest customers.

After resupplying the fleet sets sail and soon anchors off Alexandretta, which rejects a similar demand. Landing south of the city and easily brushing aside an attempt by militia to contest the landing, the Athanatoi and Varangoi march on Fort Saint Barbara, which guards the approach to the city. A modern citadel whose thick earthen ramparts and long-range culverins had seen off an Abbasid siege, with a full and stout garrison it could hold off the guard tagmata for six months at least.

But its garrison is a quarter of its recommended size and composed entirely of militia, a fact the Imperial commander, Andreas al-Anizzy, husband to Princess Alexeia Drakina, knows. Nikolaios has taken all his field troops with him, while the kastron troops garrisoning the border forts have refused to leave their posts and leave the frontier unguarded against the Turkish menace.

For two days the Roman battleships shell the fortress with the largest naval bombardment in history up to that point, a quarter million pounds of ordnance. In comparison the salvos that covered the final attack on the Lido in 1469 discharged around eighty thousand. The citadel loses only two guns and sixteen men as casualties, compared to the fifty three suffered by the fleet.

However the garrison’s morale is shattered and a frontal assault, after an initially fierce but very short resistance succeeds in capturing the fort. The loss of the ‘Key of the Orontes’ after a mere two days is extremely disconcerting to Nikolaios’ and Andreas’ partisans. Alexandretta capitulates immediately, while Antioch and its 90,000 inhabitants submit after a mere demonstration in front of the walls that defied the full fury of the Abbasid Empire.

In the north, Trebizond is a different matter. Although devastated by the Turks the city has rebounded nicely, helped significantly by both the Empress Helena and the Patriarch. Its university has been restored and print shops and shipyards line the shore again, providing employment for 37,000 people. Given the growing prominence of the Indian Ocean-Red Sea trade route and the decline of the Silk Road after the fall of the Timurid Empire, the importance of the city as a trading center has declined but it still remains one of the chief metropolises of the Empire.

The loyalty of the city is torn, since while many fear the Turk and thus favor Andreas and Nikolaios, many also remember Helena’s patronage of the city. A preliminary assault is beaten back but loss of life on both sides is minimal as the attack was not heavily supported or sustained. In the meantime the Strategos of the Skolai, Alexios Laskaris, makes contact with notables of the city. Eleven days and 200,000 hyperpyra in bribes after the initial landing Trebizond opens its gates.

In Antioch Andreas al-Anizzy is quickly met by Anizzah riders bearing alarming news from the south. Unsurprisingly, his father has elected to stay with the family that has elevated him to the upper echelons of Roman society and immensely enriched him. Shortly after Andreas Drakos and Nikolaos Polos entered central Anatolia, the Muslim populations of Damascus, Homs, and Jerusalem rose up in revolt, slaughtering the Christian and Jewish inhabitants.

They had also sent messengers to the Hedjaz and to the Ottomans requesting assistance. Despite the official neutrality policy of the Saudi sharifs of Mecca, they did nothing to prevent their efforts to promote local ghazi forces. The initial results, an army of three thousand, was closely observed by the Christian Bedouin tribes of Haddad and Owais as they entered the Ajloun region. With their support the Anizzah fell on and obliterated the ghazis at the battle of Tell Mar Eilas, despite a numerical disadvantage of almost five hundred.

The response of the Shahanshah Osman Khomeini was much colder. Despite the impressive successes of his armies, the Khorasani are regrouping and fighting hard, the Omani are rattling their sabers, and an Uzbek host eager to take advantage of the chaos has invaded Persia. No help can be expected from the Sindh where the Emirate of Sukkur is fully embroiled in a war with the Vijayanagara, whose armies are well supplied with Roman munitions sold (contrary to Roman law) to them by the merchants of Surat. He has nothing to give.

Andreas al-Anizzy’s orders had been to secure northern Syria and block the flow of supplies to Nikolaios. However with news of the rebellion he garrisons Antioch and Alexandretta with a token force and marches south. Reinforced by Christian Bedouin horsemen, the Christians of the coast and Aleppo rally to his banner, granting him a large supply of auxiliary forces and rather easily restoring Imperial control over much of the region.

Homs surrenders without a struggle. Damascus is however too large to besiege with the forces currently available to him so he bypasses it to invest Jerusalem. The Anizzah, Haddad, and Owais are given complete license to pillage and harry the environs of Damascus. Many of the inhabitants captured by the Bedouins will end up being sold to Portuguese slave traders in Gaza and worked to death on the Madeira sugar plantations.

Despite the dire news from the north, the inhabitants of Jerusalem refuse to surrender, barring the gates and firing on Andreas’ messengers sent under flag of truce, killing one. Unfortunately for them their bravery is not matched by any particular skill in the art of siege warfare; it takes only eight days before a pair of breaches have been made in the walls and trenches dug close enough to support an assault. The attack succeeds in carrying the city ramparts but the Muslims continue to fight in a horrific house-to-house struggle. Only after six days and the almost complete obliteration of the city is the last resistance quelled.

The casualties from the siege of Jerusalem have temporarily crippled Andreas al-Anizzy’s army as an offensive force but the damage to Andreas Drakos’ and Nikolaios Polos’ cause has been done. Provisions and pay from Syria have fallen to a trickle and with the fall of Trebizond even less can be expected from Chaldea. Nikolaios’ troops are growing hungry and angry, a bad combination.

It is considerations of supply that dictate Nikolaios’ next move, a lunge southwest to the lands of Thracesia. It is farther away from Constantinople, but its fertile and populous valleys can more than adequately feed and pay his troops, and the Army of the Meander is the loyalist force best positioned for being destroyed in isolation. Nikolaios moves rapidly, breaking off contact with the Army of the Sangarius.

It is three days before the Megas Domestikos of the West, Theodoros Gabras, commander of the Army of the Sangarius, realizes what is happening. Nikolaios had steadily pushed him back, but without achieving a battle of annihilation such as Germia. As he fell back to Constantinople, he had been progressively reinforced by the stouter European militia, swelling his army to 35,000, a potent match for Nikolaios in short defensive operations but an unwieldy opponent in cross-country maneuvers. Nikolaios counted on that when he lunged towards Thracesia.

The initial skirmishes with the Army of the Meander go well for Nikolaios, but not as well as he had hoped. The Thracesian tagma has numerous bowmen from Philadelphia, capable of firing seven shots to every one of a Syrian arquebusier, with double the accurate range. Many are mounted on nags, using the low-quality horses for mobility while dismounting to fight. Their actions are a significant impediment to Nikolaios’ vanguard.

Nevertheless in a week of running battles Nikolaios inflicts close to seven hundred casualties whilst taking four hundred and fifty. But news has reached him that the Army of the Sangarius is on the move, maneuvering to catch him in the rear. Nikolaios needs another Germia and he needs it now.

On October 11, Nikolaios’ vanguard, under the command of Andronikos Blemmydes, reaches the upper Meander near the town of Soublaion. Located there is what is known to the locals as the Miller’s Ford, named after the large watermill just down the river. Approaching from the southwest, Andronikos sees the Army of the Meander crossing its namesake to the northern bank. Most has already crossed, but two tourmai, the 2nd and 9th Macedonian, and at least twenty five guns have yet to cross, trapped between him, the river, and a thick wood to the east which spreads south skirting the road.

Bagging two tourmai is hardly another Germia, but it is a far better fruit than has been available in recent days. Time is short though so Andronikos immediately attacks. His four tourmai, the 1st and 6th Syrian and the 3rd and 6th Chaldean, advance in perfect order, hard and fast. They are almost upon the Macedonians when a curtain of fire crashes from the wood directly into his right flank.

The Syrians and Chaldeans are well drilled; they immediately wheel right and attack. But they are four tourmai against a full tagma, commanded by Manuel Prodotes, a tough one-eared veteran of the Long War (his left ear had been shot off by a Milanese arquebusier near Monastir). The attack is smashed almost immediately, the survivors fleeing although in relative good order.

The Army of the Meander is able to ford the river after that with no other harassment than that provided by two batteries of artillery that lob in some poorly aimed shells from extreme range. Considering its brevity (less than an hour), the Battle of Miller’s Ford is quite bloody, although one side did virtually all the bleeding. Of the 9600 soldiers engaged (the 2nd and 9th Macedonian were never involved in the action), the Army of the Meander took 319 casualties, 3.3% of those involved.

For the Army of the East, 3700 soldiers were involved, and 1322 were casualties, 35.7% of those in action. The 6th Chaldean, which was on the far right of the line, is the worst hit, reduced from a roll of 856 to 385. Five of its ten droungarioi and 28 of its 45 eikosarchoi are included in the losses.

The mood of Nikolaios’ troops in camp that night is foul. They have heard of the Muslim rebellion in Syria; many have lost family or friends and others are concerned for theirs. The inclusion of the captives from Germia also prove to be a mistake, the Opsikians and Optimatics stirring the pot of dissent. In addition Helena has agents distributing word of her promise that those who return to Imperial service promptly will be treated as if this whole affair never happened.

The only exception is for the tourmarches and strategoi, but the only punishment they will suffer is forced early retirement with a honorable discharge and access to the pension appropriate to their rank as of September 1, 1570 (Dekarchoi and above are entitled to retirement pensions that increase with rank; those below dekarchos in rank receive a discharge bonus equivalent to three months’ pay). For obvious reasons Helena does not recognize Nikolaios’ promotions as valid.

On the morning of October 12, a group of droungarioi and eikosarchoi arrive at Nikolaios’ tent to arrest him. Recognizing why they are there, Nikolaios asks for five minutes to collect his effects, which is granted. Before his time is up, a single kyzikos shot is heard from inside the tent. Nikolaios is found inside dead, a bullet in his brain. Although a suicide and therefore invalid for a Christian burial, his soldiers take his body and bury him in a nearby cemetery whose occupants were soldiers killed defeating a Turkish raiding party during the Long War.

Forewarned, Andreas Drakos flees the encampment, racing east. He is captured by light cavalry from the 7th Helladic who bring him to their strategos Manuel Prodotes. For that and his service at Miller’s Ford, Empress Helena grants him the Order of the Dragon with Sword and retracts her father’s decree concerning his family name from him and his relations up to that of fifth cousin, provided they have remained in the Empire. Manuel Doukas values that above all else.

After that ceremony comes the matter of what do with Andreas Drakos. When queried on what is to be done with her son Andreas, she replies ‘I have no son Andreas. But as for the traitor Andreas, let him suffer the fate the law demands.’ On November 3, he is executed by long knife.
1572: The lands and armies that swore allegiance to Andreas III submit to Helena’s authority without contestation, the only exception the city of Damascus whose Muslim populace is still defiant. Andreas al-Anizzy lacks the forces to fully invest the city in a siege, so after setting up a base in Homs he covers the hinterland with roving cavalry patrols. Much of the countryside has already been picked clean by the Anizzah, Haddad, and Owais, and the Damascenes are growing hungry.

In Gaza, the price of slaves has dropped to that of three pairs of shoes. According to Roman law, only pagans can be slaves in the Empire, but there is no legal resistance to selling Muslims to foreigners. The first three hundred miles of the highway between Gonder and Alexandria had been financed entirely by the sale of Somali and Yemeni slaves captured in the days of Brihan by the Ethiopians to Portuguese, Arletian, and Italian merchants in the marts of Alexandria.

The pressure on Shah Osman has declined slightly after a series of victories over the Khorasani near Yazd, but he still has little inclination to antagonize the Romans. As part of the ritual of receiving new foreign ambassadors to the Ottoman court, the ambassadors are given a set number of kaftans, the number and quality determined by how much the Ottomans fear and respect the power in question. When the new ambassador from Rhomania arrived three years ago, he was given 100 of a grade comparably to that worn by the Shah’s immediate family. In comparison the representatives of the King of Georgia, the Emperor of Vijayanagar, and the Khan of the Uzbeks received 25, 40 and 60 respectively.

Given that besides the Khorasani, there are twenty five thousand of the Khan’s riders harrowing northern Persia, it is not surprising that there are still no Ottoman troops in Damascus. There are however about two dozen ‘private’ ‘advisors’, who help the Damascenes improve their defenses and teach them how to use the artillery they have captured and made.

When the eastern tagmata return, they are immediately assigned to Andreas who now has enough troops to fully invest Damascus. He has 46,000 men and ninety eight cannons (27 of which are twenty-five pounders or larger), facing a city with a population of the same size and twenty three cannons. All demands to surrender are rejected, although here the Damascenes do not fire on messengers under flag of truce, unlike at Jerusalem last year.

The effects of the Ottoman advisors soon make themselves felt. The earthen ramparts of Damascus are far more resistant to Roman cannonades than Jerusalem’s medieval masonry, and three separate Roman mining efforts are foiled by Damascene counter-mining. To counter, Andreas uses his superiority in artillery and ammunition to full advantage. As parallels creep up on the Damascene walls, the siege guns endlessly hammer the defenses, the light guns sweeping the targeted sectors to hamper repair works.

After forty days Andreas orders an assault against two of the breaches. But the Damascenes have dug trenches behind the breaches, using the dirt to make another earthen wall. As the Roman soldiers struggle up the unexpected barrier, the defenders lob grenades into the massed ranks jammed into the trenches. The assault fails, with almost 1400 Roman casualties, 500 of them prisoners, compared to less than 300 for the garrison.

Due to the shortage of food, the prisoners are executed the next day, their bodies hung from the city walls. Andreas retaliates by executing all of his prisoners. He then returns to slowly creeping his trenches forward under fire. By the time the sixtieth day arrives, morale in the city is low. Casualties among the leaders have been horrendous, courtesy of the over two hundred Roman snipers. The cats have long since been eaten, and only the swiftest rats remain. In the Roman trenches, some of which are within fifty feet of what’s left of the walls, the soldiers loudly dine on pork.

On day 63, Andreas issues one last call for surrender. The city elders ask for twenty four hours to consider, a request Andreas grants. Six hours later another assault is made and this time the walls are carried. The half-starved garrison and populace, virtually out of ammunition and weaponry, is incapable of resisting. The city is taken sixteen and a half hours short of the deadline. When criticized by an imam for the perfidious assault, Andreas points out that he had merely given them a day to consider his offer; he had not tendered a truce.

The Damascene captives are handed over to the Bedouin auxiliaries, who to avoid further glutting the market in Gaza end up selling them to the Georgians for work in the mines and brothels of the kingdom. It is Kaisar Demetrios who personally decorates those are granted rewards for valor during the siege, including five Bedouin (not counting his uncle Andreas). As for Damascus and Jerusalem, Helena hereby bans all Muslims (this includes the Anatolian Muslims) from entering either of the cities. If they must do business there, they can do it outside the city walls, but they cannot go through the gates. Settlers from Thracesia and the Peloponnesus are brought in to repopulate the area.

In Italy the Dantean War remains a stalemate. Piedmont has been subdued, but all attempts by the Lombards to either reduce Genoa or break into Tuscany have been miserable failures. The death of Andronikos Doukas from infection from an injury received at Forli further dampens the Lombard cause. Neither the Lombards nor the League have the ability to force the other to the table, a situation which is of immense interest to both Munich and Buda.

That is despite the advances made into Russia. Megas Rigas Dmitri’s health has been poor since the siege of Talsi, and since the death of Catherine the Great the Scandinavians in Finland have become substantially more aggressive. Her grandson and successor Peter Laskaris is viewed as soft in comparison to his iron grandmother, a rumor he counters by commanding the Scandinavian army in person, with the goal nothing less than the capture of Novgorod itself. To that end, he has established a new fort at the mouth of the Neva river known as St. Petersburg which has repelled all Russian attempts to crush it.

1573: Dark have been the last few years for Russia, but the news that comes in June shakes the whole of the Great Kingdom. Holy Kiev has fallen to the Poles and Hungarians. Though the coronation regalia was evacuated in time, the loss is a tremendous psychological blow to the Russian people, conjuring up memories of the Mongol apocalypse.

Communications between Novgorod and Scythia are extremely hampered now, and the latter is practically defenseless. Hungarian and Polish cavalry sweep south, burning and looting as they go. Refugees flee either south or east, closely pursued. The hussars are only brought up short when they arrive at Kherson, the great Russian port at the mouth of the Dnieper river, and find a dozen Roman warships anchored in the harbor to ‘protect Roman interests’.

Empress Helena from Constantinople issues the Black Sea Decree, announcing that any non-Orthodox military presence on the Black Sea will be considered an act of war. At the same time, her stepsister Theodora is in Kaffa negotiating with representatives from Russia and Georgia. There have always been tensions between the two over the Volga trade dues, which have been increasing as the route has declined in value with the rise of the Red sea route and the fall of the Timurid Empire. There is less to share, thus there is less inclination to share.

The last thing Rhomania wants is for Georgia to pitch into Russia given the situation on its western frontier. A strong Russia useful as a counter to the Holy Roman Empire and Hungary is very desirable to the Triumvirate, while Russia naturally does not want another enemy and also needs money, whilst Helena is interested in regaining the port of Tana, given to the Russians by Venera of Abkhazia in exchange for military support during the Orthodox War.

The Tana Accords, the Treaty of Kaffa, and the Black Sea Decree all emanate from the Summit of Kaffa, from July 1 to August 10. For an initial payment of two million hyperpyra, plus four hundred thousand annually for the next twelve years, the city of Tana is ceded with full sovereignty thereof to the Roman Empire. It is a transfer heartily cheered by the inhabitants, whose Greco-Italian character had never meshed well with the Russo-Tatars of the region. In separate agreements, the Russians also contract 1.2 million hyperpyra in loans from various Roman sources.

In the Treaty of Kaffa, the trade dues between Georgia, Russia, and Rhomania (once again a player with Tana in its possession) are laid out as follows. All produce proceeding through the mouth of the Volga shall be subject to a custom due levied and collected by Georgian authorities. All goods proceeding through Draconovsk (through which pass 85%+ of all transfers between the lower Volga and Don) will be subject to Russian duties, and those in Tana to Roman duties. Any commercial disputes between parties that are not of the same nationality in the Don-Volga area (another subject of contention) shall be referred to a commercial court in Draconovsk and run by a Russian, Georgian, and Roman judge.

The Black Sea Decree, besides warning off non-Orthodox powers, also proclaim that Rhomania will take the responsibility of policing the Sea outside of coastal waters. This is not as generous as it seems. For while Vlach, Russian, and Georgian commercial traffic is unimpeded, there is now no reason for them to maintain a significant naval presence, assuring Roman dominance of the Black Sea.

While the summit is a great success, its work is soon in jeopardy as the terrible news from the north has arrived. On August 19, Dmitri died in Novgorod, his successor a sickly, eight-year old son Ivan, the last scion of the House of Shuisky. Four days later the Germans and Scandinavians launch coordinated autumn offensives. On October 1, Novgorod falls to Peter. Five days later on the road to Vladimir, Ivan Shuisky dies.

* * *

Kostroma, November 3, 1573:

Boris nibbled on his stick of chocolate, then washed it down with a shot of vodka. He looked up as Konstantin stumbled over. “Come to bring me more news about how utterly ruined we are?”

The wooden lodge they were in was a far cry from their palaces in Novgorod. Both of them had been members of the veche, tourmarches of the archontes, three months and another lifetime ago. They were in a corner of the lodge, far from the roaring fireplace. It was cold here, but also quiet, and Boris very much wanted to be left alone.

“Actually there is a man who would like to see you.”

“Go away, and tell him to go away too.”

“I don’t think that’ll work.”

“Fine, whatever.”

A second later, soundlessly, a man appeared in front of Boris. He was of average height, clothed in furs, with the face of a Tatar but a thick mustache that turned upward at both ends. His eyes were dark and piercing, but that was to expected of a Tatar prince, a tsarevich, descended from Timur himself. Boris didn’t rise though; he didn’t care anymore. “Boris Tolstoy, I’ve heard much about you,” he said, pulling out a wooden chair which scrapped along the floor and sitting down.

“Josef Stalin, likewise.” He downed another shot of vodka.

Josef smiled. “Good. Now, we have much to talk about.”

* * *
On November 8, the call goes out to all of the Great Kingdom. At Vladimir a zemsky sobor, an assembly of the land, shall be held, for the ‘preservation and future governance of the realm’.

“I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks. Methinks I see her as an eagle mewing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full midday beam.”

1574: Over twelve hundred delegates congregate at Vladimir at the beginning of May, Novgorodian fur traders, Ural mining magnates, Lithuanian grandees, Scythian landowners, bishops, monks, soldiers, the Kalmar and Tatar tsarevichs, and Cossacks, covering the whole gamut of the Russian middle and upper classes.

The Poles send a small cavalry force to try and wreck the zemsky sobor, but their mounts are in poor shape without spring grazing, Josef Stalin mauling them at Borodino and sending them scurrying back to the frontier. The German and Scandinavian armies were blown out by the Novgorod campaign last year and the Hungarians are rapidly losing interest in the whole affair. There will be no outside interference.

The main focus of the assembly is on government. The current structure is completely headless with the extinction of the line of Shuisky. The obvious and easiest solution is to just select a new Megas Rigas and continue with a new dynasty, a suggestion which is posited but quickly shot down. There are two reasons for that.

Firstly, the preeminent choice, Josef Stalin, of noble blood (by this point, at least amongst the Orthodox Christians, being descended from Timur is a mark of distinction) and a skilled war captain, does not want the job. One reason is that he is at home in the vast steppes of the Ukraine and the Cossack lands, caring little for the forested lands where he would have to spend most of his time.

Secondly, the monarchy is blamed for the disastrous conduct of the war, although the justice of the charge is debated to this day. There had always been tensions in Novgorod between the monarchial structure and the old republican institutions, and there are many in the veche who view the present as a time to clip the monarchy’s wings (that is the main reason Stalin does not want the position; he would have much greater freedom of action as a power behind the throne). However it has sunk in deep enough roots that only a fringe support its abolition. Boris Tolstoy’s influence is crucial in gaining its silence.

There is also concern that eliminating the title of Megas Rigas, created by Demetrios Megas and Theodoros IV, would offend the Romans. In actuality there are no grounds for such fears but the Russians are in no position to risk the ire of the Empire.

So it is decided to keep the monarchy, but to trim its wings by strengthening the power of the veche. Although Novgorodians are the most numerous, there are sizeable contingents from Lithuania, Great Pronsk (the name given to the Pronsky domains as of the War of the Orthodox Alliance) and Scythia, with the result that the Russian ‘constitution’ developed becomes the archetype for the federal empire.

The domains of Novgorod, Lithuania, Great Pronsk, and Scythia are each to be governed by a regional veche, with election law and internal administration to be conducted according to regional law and tradition. By more clearly outlining the regional prerogatives the zemsky sobor clears up one of the greatest issues of Rigan-Russian government.

For example Novgorod’s law emphasizes wealth as qualification for office while Lithuanian statues focus on nobility. In all cases the electorate is highly restricted and cannot by any stretch be considered democratic, with Novgorod’s, the most expansive, granting voting rights to 6% of the population administered by the Novgorodian veche.

Each veche is also to vote for twelve delegates to attend a zemsky sobor, which is to meet annually in Vladimir. The city, though rich in historical significance, has no strong regional connotations which is the main deciding factor. The zemsky sobor is vested with conducting foreign affairs and overseeing the army, as well as adjudicating any trans-regional issues.

To pay for that and its upkeep, the principalities (as they are styled) are to remit 25% of their revenues to the zemsky sobor with the possibility of extra funds in times of war or crisis. By comparison two thirds of the Roman budget is dedicated for maintenance of the military.

That leaves the question of what is the monarch to do. For starters, he is still the Great Kingdom’s largest landowner, with the old royal estates scattered across Russia. Efforts to sequester them are squashed by the Pronsky boyars, who want no precedent for the veches or zemsky sobor to confiscate private lands. He is allowed to appoint without any consultation twelve delegates to each of the regional veches and twenty five to the zemsky sobor, a third of its membership.

He is also to be the representative of Russia to the outside world as well as commander of the army, but every appointment he makes must be approved by the zemsky sobor. It can also assign ambassadors and generals, but in those cases the monarch must also approve. Control of the purse strings for the army, navy, and foreign office are very strictly held by the zemsky sobor, but the hetman of the Cossacks swears allegiance to the Megas Rigas.

For the upkeep of the monarch, he has his estates but also the payments from the taxes on gold mines and discovered treasure troves, plus the ‘royal twelfth’ levied on imports of horses, pepper (but not nutmeg or cloves), Chinese (not Roman) silk, and porcelain. However, rather significantly for the future of Russia, the Trans-Volga is under the purview of the Megas Rigas, meaning all revenues derived from Siberia fall to the monarchial, not the Novgorod or Lithuanian, exchequer.

These financial powers, plus the power to appoint delegates (in earlier drafts, the Mega Rigas could only select three zemsky sobor delegates), are to sweeten the pot, since the Russians want a Roman prince both for prestige and to increase access to Roman loans and possibly military interventions. But the members of the Imperial family, raised in an autocratic milieu, are not interested in being merely a ‘phantom king’.

Approaches are made to members of the House of Doukas, as well as a branch of the Kantakuzenoi with blood ties to the Imperial Laskarids. Helena quickly squashes them; she does not want a family of the dynatoi becoming monarchs of Russia. But eventually a member accepts. On September 29, Ioannes Laskaris, son of Giorgios Laskaris, nephew of Princess Theodora, accepts the offer of the Russian crown.

By that point events in the west are starting to merge with the Great Northern War. With Leo Komnenos on the verge of defeat in Aquitaine, Emperor/King Henry of France, England, and Ireland considers the Arletian War of Succession a done deal in his favor, no longer needing his attention. He can now turn his eye to other matters.

The peoples of Burgundy, the Franche-Comte, and Lorraine are tired of their Dutchified king Albrecht, with many of the nobility seeking Henry’s support who is happy to give it. Expanding France to its natural borders (the Pyrenees and the Rhine) is a major goal of him and his court. In a secret clause, King Rene of Arles has pledged his son’s hand in marriage to one of Henry’s daughters and that in the absence of any male issue the Kingdom of Arles will revert to Plantagenet rule.

However a large portion of Lotharingia is part of the Holy Roman Empire. With the Imperial armies in Russia, Wilhelm should not be a problem, with one large exception. Russian agents have been active in Pomerania, heavily damaging the Hanseatic fleet with sabotage. The League, at the instigation of Wilhelm, is assembling a new armada at Bremerhaven to make up for the losses. The fleet is ideally positioned to support the Dutch.

On August 10, a Triune fleet sails into the mouth of the Weser and without any declaration of war falls on the German ships. The Germans had started preparing for battle as soon as they saw the Triune armada, but it is not enough. Over eighty German vessels are burned, sunk, or captured, with over five thousand casualties, in exchange for one Triune ship and two hundred wounded or killed.

It is a smashing victory, and after the battle the Triune Admiral, Howard Clinton, demands that Bremerhaven hand over two millions florins in either money or goods for ‘damages’ caused to his ships from guns fired from the city. The offer is refused, until Howard has a squadron shell the town, killing and wounding over a hundred, primarily fishermen and their families. Though Howard then doubles his demands, the city pays the four million before he consents to leave.

The ‘Glorious Tenth of August’ is celebrated with parades and hymns in much of the Triple Monarchy. In Munich, it is only through the intercession of the Roman and Castilian ambassadors that Friedrich, King of the Romans, does not personally hurl the Triune ambassador out a window. Shortly after the news of Bremerhaven comes further news. Two Triune armies have crossed the frontiers of Lotharingia, one investing Calais while the other, commanded by King Henry himself, crosses into Burgundy.

It is quite understandable that the inhabitants of the Holy Roman Empire completely miss the diplomatic coup of beleaguered Leo Komnenos. In exchange for the lands of the defunct Kingdom of Navarre north of the Pyrenees that had been sequestered by the Kingdom of France in the early 1300s, plus Arletian support for her claims to the expected-to-be-soon-vacant throne of Portugal, Castile will provide an army of eighteen thousand men starting in the spring of next year.

1575: The progress of the Triune armies is staggering. By the end of 1574, virtually all of Burgundy, the Franche-Comte, and Lorraine is in Henry’s hands. The fortress belt guarding the Dutch lands is in pieces after the capitulations of Calais, Arras, and Lens, and a major victory has been won at Douvrin, leaving almost a thousand Lotharingian dead on the field. One of those left on the field for dead is Captain Wilhelm Sebastian von Blucher, a nobleman from Mecklenburg-Schwerin, but he is discovered by a cavalry patrol and lives.

There are a great many Germans serving in the Lotharingian armies, and it is clear that the war in the west is of far greater import to them than the war in the east. Henry is not just attacking Lotharingian territories; his troops have sequestered the sovereign bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun as well. Troops belonging to the Archbishop of Cologne have exchanged fire with Triune columns.

In response, Friedrich, King of the Romans, has marshaled seven thousand Bavarians and Tyrolese in the Lower Palatine while a Reichsarmee twice that size mustered from the Westphalian and Lower Saxon Reichskreise is coalescing at Mainz. It tastes blood soon, for the Duke of Cleves has chosen to side with Emperor/King Henry in exchange for supporting his dynastic claims to Julich and Berg.

Placed under the Imperial ban, the Reichsarmee, commanded by Landgrave Johann of Hesse-Kassel, overruns the territory of Cleves and sends the Duke fleeing westward. Ambushed and killed by Utrecht militia, the Duchy passes into the hands of his three-year-old son.

The destruction of the Duke is pleasing to Emperor Wilhelm, since Cleves was one of the more prominent non-electoral Imperial princes and a political opponent. But the manner is not nearly as palatable. The swift, victorious campaign has brought a great deal of prestige to the Landgrave, head of the ancient, venerable House of Guelph, the family with the greatest chance of wresting the imperial diadem from the Wittelsbachs.

The other ingredient in the sour taste in Wilhelm’s mouth is caused by a far greater Imperial Prince, Pope Alexander VI, formerly Manfred von Hohenzollern. When the Papacy had originally relocated to Mainz during the reign of Emperor Frederick III, the Imperial line had viewed it as an opportunity to place the popes in their pocket.

That was a hundred years ago. For the first half of that century, the plan unfolded more or less as the Holy Roman Emperors desired. The besieged Papacy provided powerful financial, moral, and administrative support in the Imperial cause in exchange for continued protection. The new Knights Templars had been valued servants of the Emperors in their diverse realms, helping the House of Wittelsbach to become absolute rulers in Bavaria, Schleswig-Holstein, and their minor territories (the large exception is Saxony and Brandenburg, where Wittelsbach absolutism is impeded by the terms of the Act of Transference).

However now the Papacy is acting like an Imperial Prince, and given its unique position it is well suited to lead the princes in opposition to Imperial programs. The numerous minor ecclesiastical states follow the Pope’s leadership largely without question, although the Archbishops of Trier, almost a dynastic possession of the House of Habsburg, and those of Cologne are not always cooperative.

With the money and prestige at his disposal, the lay realms are also inclined to listen to the Pope. The assembly of the Reichsarmee at Alexander VI’s Mainz, plus the twelve hundred men and three months’ worth of supply and pay he provides for the entire army, give him an exceedingly unwelcome influence over the currently most powerful army in Germany.

In the east, the war is getting more difficult. Logistics in the interior of Russia are a flat impossibility; the Kiev and Novgorod offensives had blown out the armies despite their tremendous success. The Zemsky Sobor in Vladimir is out of range of the allied armies, but still capable of mustering the manpower of Great Pronsk and the Tatar and Kalmyk peoples of the Volga basin. By this point too interest payments on his war debts are consuming close to a quarter of his yearly income. With a tidal wave of low-interest Roman loans flowing north, the Russian exchequer is in better shape than his own.

Although Ioannes Laskaris brought with him several military advisors, mostly the cashiered tourmarches and strategoi of the eastern tagmata, Josef Stalin is unquestioned commander of the Russian armies. During the war, he had in the east, despite having only a miniscule fraction of the Russian regular forces available, crippled the resurgent power of the White Horde with the help of Uzbek allies. In the cavalry war waged after the fall of Novgorod, he has by far had the better of the exchange.

As a result the loss of the Hungarian hussars is especially painful, as Buda withdraws from the war. Apostolic Emperor Andrew VI Hunyadi would much rather march his troops into the rich lands of northern Italy, continuing an old Arpad tradition, than duel over the vast stretches of Scythia that he has little chance of holding. After the success of the first offensive, his heart had never been into the war; not one man of the Black Army, the elite corps of the Hungarian military that is the equal of any Roman tagma, has left the frontiers of the Hungarian Empire.

Italy, ravaged after nine years, is a juicy target. King Andrea Visconti, giving up on restoring all his lost territories, has decided to cut his losses. The Republic of Genoa regains its independence, including the ownership of Corsica, although its Ligurian hinterland is truncated. It is the first serious crack in the League of Arezzo (the Piedmontese rebels had never counted for much) but not enough to lever the advantage to the side of the exhausted Lombards.

Nevertheless the Commune of Siena, originally the heart of the League, is seriously strained. The rigors of war have weakened the city’s control of the Tuscan plain, particularly boisterous Firenze (Florence). The chief mainstay of the League now is the Duchy of Latium, the Colonna Dukes leveraging their control of the alum mines of Tolfa into serious economic and military power. Twenty two hundred Castilian mercenaries form the disciplined core of their army.

Meanwhile nine times that number have crossed the Pyrenees, the first significant Castilian foreign initiative since Andreas the Little Megas annihilated their army at Selinus in 1462, unless one counts the brief sputter that was the Grand Alliance of All Spain. But the kings of that land have not been idle over that last century. The development of Castilian industry has enriched the country, although it as best should be described as not-poor. The regiments of Castilian manhood that have fought in all the major and most of the minor wars of the west have kept Castilian military thought and armament fully up to date.

The Kings have also substantially consolidated their control over the land, curbing their over-mighty nobles both with their gunpowder armaments and enforcing their attendance of the monarchs at the El Escorial. The petermen organized to oversee saltpeter production during the Gunpowder Crusade have developed into a class of royal officials educated at the University of Toledo, implementing a tax system that weighs heavily on the peasantry but does not leave the nobility or clergy untouched.

The Palace of the Escorial, seat of the Kings of Castile. The grandees of the realm were required to spend at least 6 months of each year here, and noble children 9 months.

The taxes and customs receipts finance a small regular army backed by a formidable artillery train, which is supported by the Santa Hermandad. Meaning Holy Brotherhood, it is a direct derivative of the medieval institution and functions both as a police force answerable only to the crown and a reserve force for the army. Drilled by army officers and kept to the same standard of discipline, they are a powerful force.

The army, under the command of Francisco de Toledo, Duke of Merida, rendezvouses with King Leo Komnenos and his fourteen thousand men. Marching east the joint armies confront King Rene and his twenty six thousand troops at the village of Auvillar, on the pilgrim road to Compostela. Merida sets up his command post in a pilgrim hostel.

May 31 is a clear, sunny day, the light breeze carrying the roll of the cannon far and wide. The Castilian artillery, outnumbering Rene’s almost five to three, has adopted the Roman method of carrying prepackaged containers of powder and shot, enabling them to maintain a rate of fire faster than their arquebusiers.

Still the onslaught of Rene’s Provencal knighthood routs the bulk of Leo’s troops, save for two thousand that stand firm around his person. Vexed but unconcerned, Merida orders the Hermandad contingents to refuse their line. Commanded by the young Duke of Alba, they hold their ranks against almost double their number of Provencal horse and foot, pulverizing their columns with precise volleys of fire. On the right the Castilian artillery breaks up Rene’s flank, through which Merida sends two thousand heavy cavalry spearheaded by the Knights of Santiago. The Provencals shatter; the contingent which had been pursuing Leo’s Gascons returns in time to be annihilated.

The battle, commencing at 10 in the morning, is effectively over by three in the afternoon. Rene’s household troops retire in good order, but he has lost half his artillery and a third of his baggage, plus five thousand casualties (3500 are prisoners taken in the rout). Merida and Leo took eleven hundred, two third of those Leo’s.

Auvillar has exceedingly bad timing in Emperor Henry’s point of view. The brilliant successes of the past year have stalled in the Flemish countryside, whose peasantry are annoyingly well-armed. To the south, Friedrich has been raiding into Franche-Comte with some success with support from the Swiss cantons, and the Bernese League is demanding an indemnity for its neutrality.

At sea the picture is also getting worse. Earlier the Royal Navy had scored victories over the Lotharingian fleets at Wissant and Blankenberge, but that has been repaid at Briel. Fifteen ships out of sixty two were sunk or captured, with over three thousand casualties. The Dutch took half of that. Meanwhile from Dunkirk pours forth waves of privateers, taking prizes all along the shores of the Triple Monarchy (helped in the Irish Sea by the Lord of the Isles and their large galley fleet).

The Battle of Briel. Despite a slight disadvantage in hulls and an almost three to two disadvantage in heavy guns (the shallow Dutch coasts hampers the building of large warships) the skilled maneuvering of the Dutch fleet enabled them to fall on the isolated Triune rearguard and largely obliterate it.

Counter-waves of privateers usher forth, mostly from the West Country and the Cinque Ports, and true to the traditions of their ancestors they are not particular about the rights of neutrals, despite attempts by Henry to restrict their activities. The Royal Navy is powerful, but their support is still needed.

On August 10, eight Roman merchantmen are passing Guernsey loaded with cargoes of Roman silk, jewelry, and spices. Bound for Denmark for Baltic naval stores (Rhomania gets most of what she needs from internal sources, but Baltic timber is preferred for the masts of the great ships). A large English privateer squadron, twenty hulls strong, attacks them.

Unfortunately for them, the large Roman armaments industry and its cheap cannons makes it easy for Roman merchantmen to run heavily armed, and three of the ships are classed as ‘merchant reserve’ by the Roman government. Ship and cannon taxes are waived and customs dues lowered, and in exchange the crews are required to maintain a certain level of armament and proficiency in their use and can be called up as naval auxiliaries when needed by the Imperial fleet.

One of those ships is the Minotaur, one of the largest ships in the known world, displacing 1550 tons. The other merchantmen, ranging from 300 to 700 tons, look like ducklings to her mother duck, and they flock to the protective frown of her thirty heavy and seventy small guns. Her first broadside, double-shot and delivered at sixty yards, dismasts the 450 ton Pelican from Bristol and leaves her sinking from half a dozen forty and thirty-two pounder shots in her waterline (three of Minotaur’s four gun masters are Roman naval veterans).

That brings the pirates up short for a moment, but they know that Roman ships heading east in this part of the world means rich cargoes so they keep up the attack. The terrible cannonades of the Minotaur keep them at bay for the rest of the day, although the other ships help. The wreck of the Courtesan from Cherbourg falls away from the action over a quarter of her crew as casualties from snipers posted in the rigging of the Hermes.

However by three in the afternoon the Roman powder is almost expended. A brief reprieve is granted when three Hansa ships blunder into the fight, two of which are captured. At 3:45 the Minotaur’s mizzenmast falls, damaged by shots from the Courtesan. The captain, acting as admiral of the squadron, tells the other ships to scatter.

The Minotaur attempts to distract the Triune ships, but with only 10% of its powder remaining and practically immobile, the efforts are ineffective. By morning five of the eight Roman ships have been captured, including the Minotaur. The sixth is taken by a Dunkirk privateer off Ushant. The other two make it back to the Mediterranean, although one of them is taken by a pair of Algerian corsairs (incidentally commanded by a French and English renegade). The value of the captured cargo is equivalent to a sixth of London’s custom receipts for 1574.
1576: Rhomania’s response to the battle of Guernsey is muted. There is little the Empire can do to retaliate; maintaining a fleet so far from home would be prohibitively expensive and there are few Triune merchants in the waters of the eastern Mediterranean. However when local officials proceed to make life uncomfortable for those few, the Imperial government turns a blind eye.

Its eye is not blind though to the events of the east. The Kingdom of Bihar, which has been in decline for a hundred years, is well and truly collapsing. The Portuguese, who are the strongest western presence in the area, have established a base in the village of Sutanuti, on the Hooghly River near the village of Kolikata. At the same time in Taprobane, King Kirti Sri Rajasinha has died, and in his will he bequeaths his realm to the Roman Empire. Focused on the coastal areas and the cinnamon plantations, the Romans leave the interior under native rule as a Roman protectorate.

To the northwest, the Ottoman Empire has finished the conquest of Khorasan, immensely increasing the realms of the Khomeini Shahs. Except for a small coastal strip ruled by the Wilayah of Hormuz, an Omani vassal, the writ of Rayy extends from Mosul to Baluchistan. Its ally, the Emirate of Sukkur, has succeeded in beating back the Vijayanagara Emperors, but begins sending out diplomatic feelers to its former enemy the ‘Master of the Eastern and Western Seas, Protector of Cows and Brahmins, Upholder of the Hindu faith’ and the Katepano of Taprobane, ‘Viceroy of the Mighty Chakravartin’, as insurance against their uncomfortably large and close fellow Muslims.

While the writ of Rhomania remains powerful in India and Indonesia, in the China Sea it is decreasing. The halcyon days of raiding the Chinese coast with virtual impunity are gone, although the drastic increase in the effectiveness and scope of the coastal defenses is entirely due to local forces, much to the annoyance of the Tieh government in Beijing.

In its defense the threat from the steppe is still severe. The collapse of the Kingdom of Urumqi briefly resulted in the creation of a Uyghur confederation under Chinese influence. But the tribes are falling under the sway of Mohammed Amin, the dynamic Khan of the Uzbeks. Together with the Cossack Host and Josef Stalin, they had crippled the White Horde, the last direct descendant of the vast Gengisid Empire. With his marriage ties to the Northern Yuan, there is the very real prospect of an Uzbek realm embracing the totality of the Asian steppe.

But as Roman piracy declines, it is replaced by smuggling. In exchange for silver, weaponry, and opium (acquired in Surat from Sindh traders) provincial magnates sell porcelain, tea, and silk. From Beijing’s perspective this is even worse as its Han subjects are getting richer and better armed. The Muslim Hui form the bulk of the Tieh army, and their proportion of gunpowder weapons has doubled in the last twenty years, but even so, a mass peasant revolt in Sichuan armed partially with Roman arquebuses takes 18 months to put down with over 400,000 dead on both sides. Another Roman import is Sicilians, preaching a doctrine of Jesus Christ and a Holy Fire.

Another cause of fires in the south of China is the ancient Kingdom of Champa, now at the peak of its prosperity bestriding Southeast Asia as a colossus. Angkor was sacked in 1567, breaking forever the power of the Khmer Kingdom, and both the petty sultanates of the Malay Peninsula and the Kingdom of Ayutthaya have suffered reverses at the hands of Cham armies. In the Cham capital of Vijaya there is a small but thriving Roman merchant quarter with its own well and bakery, primarily selling armaments and textiles.

By Roman law it is illegal to sell Roman armaments to non-Christian peoples, which is everybody in East Asia save the Shimazu. But Imperial authority out here in the ‘wild east’ is much weaker than in the Imperial heartland. In theory the Roman West Indies are governed by the Katepano of Colombo, with a subordinate kephale in Surat, six more in Taprobane, and two more with jurisdiction over the merchant communities in India. The East Indies are commanded by the Katepano of New Constantinople, with subordinate kephales in Singapore, Pyrgos, Pahang, plus ones over the merchant quarters in Japan, the Moluccas, and Java.

However true power rests amongst the ‘ship lords’. In the Roman East, the command of ships is what confers power, with the Roman government officials at best merely a first among equals amongst the ship lords. The ship lords vary from captains with a single ship to magnates with fleets of up to a hundred vessels, a mix of Roman design (usually constructed in Taprobane or Surat) and native junks.

Many Malays and Taprobani rank among the ship lords, although the more powerful ones are usually (but not always) either Greek or Digenoi, the term used to describe the mixed offspring of Greek and native parents. Many of the great ship lords are so because they are the representatives of the joint-stock companies that finance many of the commercial ventures in the east. Although racial and cultural barriers do play a part, access to the capital of the Imperial heartland is also a key component to social primacy amongst the ship lords.

For the most part the interests of the ship lords and the Imperial government mesh. Chinese competition is not to be tolerated, and while Roman piracy can no longer harry China with impunity, it has annihilated any semblance of a Chinese blue-water navy. The Shimazu, Cham, and Wu are to be courted as allies, both for sources of manpower and customers. Yet in the restrictions on weapon sales they diverge, and here the government must give way.

The Wu too are getting Roman cannons for their few but huge black ships, often cast iron guns forged from Wu metal exports and fashioned in the smithies of Pahang. A few of those pieces are filtering into Korean arsenals as well. Considering that the Romans have the annoying habit of arming their enemies and recalcitrant subjects on both their seaward and landward frontiers (Beijing is aware of Roman diplomatic ties with the Uzbeks, although in that case the initiatives are anti-Ottoman), it is not surprising that Roman efforts to open up China to official trade fail miserably.

As ingredients are added to the simmering pot of Southern China, the Arletian stew is finally finished. At the town of Arles (ironically a settlement of little account in the Kingdom) the Castilian army inflicts a very one-sided and decisive defeat upon King Rene. Two weeks later King Leo Komnenos rides unopposed into Marselha, finally claiming his grandfather’s kingdom.

He was won, but at a heavy price. Arles has been crippled by a decade of civil war, and although the empty farms and hearths are eventually made full, the Kingdom never regains the glory, majesty, and respect it held in Basil’s day.

On the other side of Europe, the Imperial army finally resumes the offensive although Kaiser Wilhelm has no expectation of a knockout blow. Given his increasing financial and logistical difficulties, he had hoped that the joint Novgorod and Kiev offensives would destabilize Russia, something that is clearly not going to happen. The attack is merely a demonstration of strength to secure his ascendant bargaining position at the peace talks.

He is challenged by the Russian army at Smolensk, but aside from several cavalry skirmishes and a two-hour artillery duel there is no combat, the battle ironically mirroring Kielce. A two month truce is established to open peace negotiations at the town of Pskov, currently under German occupation but fiercely loyal to the Russian state and close to the Scandinavian-controlled zone.

The truce ends up having to be extended, but on October 4, the treaty of Pskov is signed and the Great Northern War, lasting ten years since the Cannonade at Kielce, comes to an end. Russia has clearly come out the loser, but that was expected by all parties. The only question was by how much.

Though he gives up Novgorod, Emperor of All the North Peter Laskaris comes out as quite the winner, significantly bolstering his position in Malmo against his restive cousins and siblings. Estonia is ceded to him, along with all Russian territory north of a line drawn between St. Peter’s Fort and Archangelsk, gaining both points as well. Russia is thereby effectively barred from the White Sea, although Russian fur traders transiting through Archangelsk to their trapping grounds along the Ob River are supposed to be allowed to pass through with only half the normal import-export dues.

Even taking out the lands ceded to the Scandinavians, there is a large belt of Russian allied-occupied territory stretching from the Baltic to almost the Black Sea (the gap is the range of Roman naval artillery). There are several reasons for why the focus is on the territories in the north. The Russians place a great deal of importance on regaining Kiev, since although it is only the third city of the Great Kingdom in size, it is full of religious, cultural, and historical significance. Plus it is a major thoroughfare for trade between Russia and Rhomania, with a large trade fair that sees merchants from Lubeck to Bukhara.

The Scythian and Kievan lands are occupied by Polish troops, and Wilhelm’s relations with Krakow are increasingly bad. The Piasts are over 750,000 ducats in debt to him and showing little signs of ever repaying. There have also been several incidents between Polish and Imperial troops over shortages in fodder and provisions. Plus there are some diplomatic connections between Krakow and King’s Harbor, with the end result that Wilhelm is decidedly not inclined to support Polish advances.

Also an attendee at the peace talks is Princess Theodora Komnena Drakina, to ensure that the Empire’s interests are not infringed. Regarding lands north of Kiev, the White Palace has no official opinion, but she does make it crystal clear that any infringements on the Principality of Scythia would earn the Empire’s displeasure.

Roman concern for Scythia is not surprising. After the Egyptian revolt at the beginning of the Time of Troubles Scythian grain had made up the shortfall, and had continued feeding Constantinople and the Aegean basin afterwards. Ironically Egypt is one of the winners of the Great Northern War as Polish disruption of Scythian farms forced Roman quartermasters to once again turn to the lands of the Nile.

Initially Wilhelm was quite displeased at the presence of Theodora, who is the aunt of Megas Rigas Ioannes I Laskaris. However the two end up becoming good friends, reportedly after Wilhelm referenced a line from Herodotus, saying that he had not stopped because of Russian might but because he had been opposed by the two greatest powers on earth. Theodora was the only one to understand, explaining that those two powers were the land and the sea.

After that, Wilhelm does not mind her presence, even after she wins over 1500 ducats from him in a game of cards. Attempts to make up the losses only result in Theodora gaining almost another 900. Theodora credits the wins to advice gleaned from Theodoros IV’s writings. He had reportedly been a skilled card player.

Another item that helps is that Wilhelm quickly realizes that Theodora has no interest in the Baltic lands, where he wants no interference. Here he has the greatest legal claim to territories since they used to belong to the Teutonic and Livonian Orders. Also many of his debtors are Lubeck bankers or Hansa merchants, who are willing to forego some of his arrears in exchange for their interests being achieved in the peace treaty.

In the end Russia is to lose everything between Estonia and Ducal Prussia, inland as far as the districts of Pskov and Vilnius which remain in Russian hands. The entire Baltic seaboard, including the rich port of Riga, is lost to the Great Kingdom. It is a heavy blow, but a somewhat expected one. Russia has hereby been removed from the Baltic to the glee of the Hansa and Swedes, and no Russian offensive into Poland is possible without keeping a strong right flank guard against Livonian/Prussian interference. Many of the Pronskivites do not mind the loss; Great Pronsk is unaffected and now Novgorod is near the frontier and clearly unsuited to be the Russian capital. Another unintended but pregnant result is that Russia is now forced to turn towards Siberia and Rhomania.

The question of how much land Russia loses is easily answered in comparison to what should take over the governance of the lost realms. The Piasts are keen to assert their suzerainty over Ducal Prussia, while Wilhelm wants to keep the area intact as an independent state. With the war on the Rhine and in the Low Countries, plus the desire to meddle in Italy, Wilhelm does not consider it viable for him to take over the governance of the Livonian/Prussian lands. An independent state comprising these lands would be strong enough to defend itself and be a deterrent to Russian revanchism.

Under no circumstances will the Russians tolerate the restitution of the Teutonic or Livonian Order, nor are they sanguine about a Polish prince, a sentiment they share with Wilhelm. The Russians will accept a German prince, but there is not a good Wittelsbach prince available, and the Kaiser especially does not want a Guelph prince. Peter Laskaris is approached to see if he will consent to letting one of his cousins or brothers take the throne but he refuses. He is concerned that any relation he picked would use the power base to try and wrest the Seat of Catherine.

At first glance it seems odd to say that there are no Wittelsbach princes available as Wilhelm has three sons, Friedrich (married to Kristina Drakina with a child on the way), Karl, and Ludwig. The explanation can be found in the nature of the Wittelsbach patrimony. In most of their realms, including Bavaria, the Wittelsbachs rule as absolute princes with a centralized bureaucracy on par with Castile and Lombardy.

The two exceptions are Saxony and Brandenburg. Saxony, with its rich iron mines, fertile fields, and 1.2 million inhabitants, is more valuable real estate than Bavaria itself (which has just shy of a million inhabitants). Brandenburg, though with poor soil and few natural resources, still has 350,000 souls, making it more populated than any other Wittelsbach territory other than Saxony and Bavaria itself.

Wilhelm’s aim is to divide his patrimony, with the Imperial title, Bavaria, Schleswig-Holstein, and the minor realms to go to Friedrich, with Karl becoming Duke of Saxony and Ludwig the Margrave of Brandenburg. The idea is that both Karl and Ludwig will be able to devote their entire attention to strengthening Wittelsbach authority in their realms. Therefore it would counterproductive to arrange for one of them to become King of Prussia, plus there is the additional concern that with such power the brother will attempt to wrest the Imperial diadem from Friedrich.

A few alternate ideas are thrown about, including a Castilian grandee, but rejected largely on the grounds of being too random. Also Wilhelm wants a prince closely connected to a great power, to help restrain Russian designs on the new state. The Triple Monarchy would fit that profile, but not even the Russians want a Triune noble as a sovereign ruler on their border. The Russians are irked that the Triunes did not come to their aid except only at the very end, and only indirectly. Also Boris Tolstoy lost 20,000 hyperpyra in investments in the squadron destroyed at Guernsey.

Theodora Drakina enters the list, proposing her eldest son Anastasios Komnenos Drakos. Although he is cousin to Megas Rigas Ioannes, he is also cousin to Wilhelm’s eldest daughter-in-law. He is also the nephew of Empress Helena and cousin to Kaisar Demetrios. His close family connections to three of the greatest powers in Christendom should do much to secure the new state.

He had been a possible candidate for the Russian throne but had been deterred by the constitutional restraints imposed by the zemsky sobor, even in their loosened form. In this new kingdom he would not have absolute power, at least not yet, but he would not have to agree to anything formal. Even so, he is somewhat reluctant to take over a relatively undeveloped and cold corner of Europe, but Empress Helena, seeing an opportunity to expand Roman influence, orders him to take the post.

Anastasios I, the reluctant first King of Prussia (the regal promotion is to forestall any Polish efforts to reassert Prussian vassalage), Duke of Livonia, Courland, and Samogitia
1577: Rene du Maine has lost his kingdom, but he is in no mood to accept his defeat as permanent. While Leo and the Duke of Merida rode into Marselha he fled north, narrowly avoiding squadrons of Castilian jinetes on the prowl for him and his entourage. Supposedly at one point when the Castilian light horse were in hot pursuit he had almost used his daughter as bait to draw them away, although many historians consider the tale to be Leonine propaganda.

He arrives at Orleans, muddy and smelling of horses and cheap inns. While cleaning himself up there to present himself to Emperor Henry, a man fires at him with a pistol (the Triune name for the kyzikos, the one-hand small firearm invented in the Roman city on the south shore of the Marmara). The would-be assassin, a Hessian, is captured and when put to the rack says he was hired by the Habsburgs (Leo Komnenos is Habsburg by his grandmother and is married to another).

Henry is not exactly happy to see him in King’s Harbor, nor inclined to give him an army considering that Wilhelm is free from his Russian entanglements. But Rene argues his case eloquently, using the Hessian assassin as ‘proof’ that Leo and Wilhelm are in cooperation (although they share a common enemy, Leo’s foreign support has solely been from his Habsburg and Komnenid-Drakid cousins plus the Castilians).

In that case, Henry must, for his own safety, knock out Leo, the weaker arm of the pincer, as soon as possible. Henry is drawn by such arguments (his antipathy is more due to doubts of Rene’s abilities) and is still hoping to salvage his plans for Arles as a client state. News of the Carinthian Incident and the Como Accord make clear that Wilhelm will still be occupied far from the Rhine for some time, so Henry agrees to give Rene an army.

Still offensives are planned against the Lotharingians. Albrecht has sued for peace several times, his latest offering to yield up Burgundy, Lorraine, and the Pas de Calais. Henry is tempted, but demands Flanders as well, which he claims as his right as King of France. Albrecht is willing to give up half his kingdom, but not three-quarters. The ‘Three-Penny King’ (as he is styled by Germans and Greeks when they want to denigrate his parvenu Imperial title) is not concerned. Despite Dutch victories at sea, the only hope of victory for the Lotharingians is the much-distracted Holy Roman Emperor.

Said Holy Roman Emperor may have peace with Russia, but that does not mean he is free to fly to the west. He attends the coronation of Anastasios as King of Prussia in Riga as a show of support to the new regime, which immediately needs it as the Poles invade Ducal Prussia. Anastasios assembles a scratch force of Prussian and Livonian levies, which is joined by Wilhelm and a Russian cavalry troop 1500 strong in a surreal combination. The Polish army is trounced at the village of Nibork and retires across the border.

Wilhelm’s concern then turns to another former ally, the Empire of Hungary. Peasant uprisings in Bosnia and Transylvania delayed Buda’s plans for an Italian offensive, but they have been crushed and Apostolic Emperor Andrew V Hunyadi is still keen to follow in the footsteps of Andrew III ‘the Warrior King’. The odds of the faltering Kingdom of Lombardy, stymied by the Duke of Latium and the Commune of Siena in central Italy, repelling a Hungarian offensive, are minimal.

That fact is painfully obvious to exhausted King Andrea Visconti. Attempts to foster a Florentine revolt against Sienese rule are promising but have borne no serious fruit yet, the troops are mutinous over pay arrears, the Po Valley is stricken by the plague, and Barbary corsairs smelling blood have mastery over the coast. They even attempted to conquer Elba but were driven out by the Genoese fleet. That act was for their benefit, not the Lombards. They have no inclination to stop the incessant slave raids.

In his desperation Andrea turns to Wilhelm, who orders his son Friedrich to march his army from its station in the Upper Palatine to Tyrol. The conflagration on the Rhine has quieted some as Henry diverts forces against Arles and Wilhelm senses in the Lombard plight the operation to gain far more fruitful concessions than in a slugging match against the Three-Penny King.

Meeting on the shores of Lake Como, Friedrich on his father’s instructions hammers out a humiliating and one-sided agreement that Andrea swallows with little protest. First the Kingdom of Lombardy is to return to the Catholic fold, rejecting the Bohmanist faith. This is not as hard as it sounds, since Italian Bohmanism is not very popular nor does it differ greatly from Catholicism. Theologically the gap between Mainz and Milan is about the same as between Mainz and Avignon. This is emphatically not the case with Triune Bohmanism.

Historians debate whether that proviso was the product of religious zeal on Wilhelm’s part or simply a preparatory step for the main clause. The Pope is to get the Colonna Duchy of Latium, including the City of Rome, to rule as a sovereign state. Pope Alexander VI is enthralled by the idea, but resists the condition that he must give up Mainz and reinstitute the old archbishopric as its own state under a new archbishop (the Pope has been Archbishops of Mainz in addition to their other titles during the ‘German Chapter’ as the period is called). But given all the papal rhetoric over returning to Rome over the last century, Alexander cannot refuse.

In exchange the Emperor will use all diplomatic and military powers available to him to secure peace for Andrea. From the start it looks that it will be the later that will be used. As reinforcements swell Friedrich’s army there are a couple of incidents with Hungarian border patrols along the frontiers of Carinthia in southern Austria, including one on July 20 that escalates to a pitched battle with almost 800 participants and 30 casualties.

War seems imminent, Europe having no ideas that Wilhelm and Andrew V are holding secret talks in Linz. For all the Hungarian saber-ratting, Andrew is not averse to negotiations as Wilhelm makes it abundantly clear he has no problem with signing away portions of the Lombard kingdom to keep the Hungarians from invading what’s left.

The talks are still ongoing when the fall harvest begins to be gathered and Friedrich marches south. Forli, a castle that had stymied three separate Lombard attempts at capture, falls after a siege of sixteen days. In Ravenna, his next major conquest, he is met by delegates from the Despot of Sicily and the Kephale of Venetia (said official has special authority to negotiate with the Germans in the event of a German invasion of northern Italy) seeking assurances that he will respect their territories. Cheered by the news that his Roman wife has delivered of a healthy son, Manfred, he unhesitatingly agrees.

He is also receiving representatives from the members of the League. They had been hoping that they could carve up the Lombards between themselves and the Hungarians, but now they are trying to exit the war without a German invasion of their lands. Their bargaining position, resting on their solid control of Tuscany and Central Italy from which they can negotiate from a position of some strength, is fatally undermined when Florence erupts into revolt. The beautiful city is heavily gutted by street fighting and artillery from the Sienese fortezza, but after a four-day holocaust the Florentines have successfully expelled their hated rivals.

Friedrich marches in support, scattering a token Anconitan force that stands in his way. An abortive Sienese siege breaks up three days before he even arrives in Florence where he gets news of another insurrection. The city of Pisa, fallen far from its halcyon days of the 12th century, had revolted along with the rest of the League but was recaptured by Andronikos Doukas three years later. Now it has risen up against the Lombard garrison, penning it up in the citadel and requesting aid from Friedrich, citing the historical allegiance Pisa has shown the Holy Roman Emperor.

The King of the Romans immediately recognizes the independence of both the Florentine and Pisan Communes, shrugging off the protests of Andrea. There is another protest as well which cannot be brushed off so easily. Empress Helena has learned of Wilhelm's plan to reinstate the Pope in Rome, and she is angry that such an important political factor in the landscape of Italy is taking place without her consent. Fortunately, Kristina joins her husband in Florence, having recovered from her child-birthing, and writes a letter to the White Palace trying to soothe her mother's ruffled feathers.

The Commune of Siena and the Duke of the Marche come to terms after that. Siena has asserted its independence beyond all doubt, but at the pyrrhic price of losing half its territory. That half goes to the restored Florentine state, where Friedrich imposes a monarchial government under a Wittelsbach Duke, one of his cousins. The half remaining to Siena is wrecked and bankrupt. Although still one on paper, in actuality the Commune’s days as ranking as one of the major powers of the Italian peninsula are over.

The Malatesta Dukes of the Marche come off much less harshly. They gain their independence, which was their main goal, and keep their original territories. Their forces had been largely responsible for taking and holding the Romagna, which is a loss. Unable to find a good justification to not do so, Friedrich agrees to return those lands to Andrea.

The Colonna family, on the other hand, is not going to escape nearly as easily. Abandoned by their allies, their situation is dire, but not completely hopeless. They still have a respectable income from the alum mines of Tolfa and the pilgrim trade to Rome. Though still considerable the latter is far smaller than what it was a century ago; the Papacy took many of the relics to Mainz and Andreas Niketas looted a good portion of what was left in repayment for 1204.

With that money they have a decent corps of mercenaries, including a crack tercio of Castilians. Respectful of the prowess displayed by their countrymen in Arles, Friedrich declines to take them head on. Instead he bribes them (with Italian coin extorted both from the Lombards and the former League members) to defect to him. With that, many of the other mercenaries, mostly Sardinians, Scots, and Vlachs, decide to ‘review their contracts’.

Pope Alexander VI had agreed to abandon Mainz, but his price was that Rome be free of Colonnas. Preferring voluntary banishment to involuntary butchery, they gather up the riches they have accumulated over the past hundred years as Lords of Latium. The ships leave Civitavecchia the same day as the first companies of landsknechtens march into the Eternal City.

That does not mean there is no fighting in Latium. Kristina’s letters have not had their hoped-for effect and a small Sicilian army supported by a Roman naval squadron invades the southern districts of Latium, besieging Terracina which is defended by local militia. A hurriedly-assembled scratch force of more militia corseted by a few hundred mercenaries from Friedrich’s army is trounced when it marches to succor the town.

Friedrich, enraged, prepares to bring down the totality of his armed might upon the Sicilians, in which cases the Sicilians would be outnumbered almost three to two. Kristina calms her husband, and takes it upon herself to get them to withdraw. The bold blood of both her mother and grandfather clearly runs in her veins; on November 6 she rides into their headquarters and browbeats them into withdrawing.

Both Constantinople and Munich pretend the Terracina campaign never took place, fortunately for Italy. The decade has seen one and a half million Italian dead out of an original seven million (both figures exclude Roman and Sicilian Italy).

Across the Adriatic, Vukasin the Great, King of Serbia, has died, succeeded by his eldest grandson Stefan. The new monarch has big shoes to fill, but sees an opportunity in the current tensions between Buda and Munich. Although Friedrich’s offensive into Italy instead of Austria comes as a surprise, Stefan expects Hungarian reprisals against Bavaria in response, a hypothesis that is supported by the trimming of the Transylvanian garrisons and Zadar receiving orders to mobilize its galleys.

The Hungarian Empire has recovered handily from its wars in Germany early in the century but it cannot hope to fight both Serbia and Germany, even with the latter in its current state. So Stefan sends a special envoy to Hungary, demanding the return of Bosnia which ‘belongs by right to the Kingdom of Serbia, which the House of Arpad illegally appropriated in collusion with the Greeks, or face the full force of our righteous arms’.

In a case of exceedingly bad timing, the ultimatum is issued just three days after the secret talks at Linz are concluded. Andrew Hunyadi’s eldest daughter is to marry Wilhelm’s second son Karl, the old Hungarian territories of the Friuli and Veneto are returned to Buda, and Verona and Padua are carved from the Lombards and bestowed as a principality to Andrew’s nephew Matyas, to be ruled as a vassal of Hungary. Andrew gives a payment of three hundred and seventy thousand gold Hungarian ducats as a gratuity for Wilhelm’s efforts for ‘transitioning authority’ in the area in question. The sum is slightly less than Emperor Henry’s annual income from the Kingdom of England, proof of the vibrancy of the Hungarian copper and silver mines.

There is now no chance of a war between Hungary and the Holy Roman Empire. Andrew dismisses the Serb envoy and sends him packing, not commenting on his master’s demand. But Stefan will not get off so easily, for one does not anger a monarch with three times more subjects without impunity. Andrew’s answer is abundantly clear as the totality of the Black Army of Hungary, plus fifteen thousand more troops including several crack formations of Croat veterans of the Great Northern War, storms across the frontier.

But the other monarch who neighbors Serbia has three times the subjects of Hungary, and she is not idle. As soon as word arrives in Constantinople that Hungary has invaded Serbia, Empress Helena orders the Army of the West to mobilize.

1578: Europe’s eye is not fixed on Serbia, but on France. Rene had done no more than some border skirmishing with his army last year, trying to rally fifth column supporters in Arles. His success has been limited since Leo has convinced the Castilian army to remain to help secure his authority. The rather brazen aid Henry is now giving Rene is also proving to be a hindrance to winning support amongst the Arletian nobility, who have not forgotten the lands of their forefathers they lost in the Ninety Years’ War.

Despite attempts by Henry to restrict the piratical attacks of his subjects to Lotharingian ships after the Battle of Guernsey, numerous assaults have been made on the large Portuguese galleons that ply the Bay of Biscay. The fewer attacks on Castilian ships is reflective not on Triune observance of Castilian neutrality but merely the fewer number of targets. Annoyed by the attacks on his subjects and seeing a chance to win the hearts of the Lisbon merchants, whose financial support he will need if he is to be King of Portugal, King Felipe II of Castile declares war on the Triple Monarchy on March 14.

Reinforcements arrive for the Duke of Merida’s army, five hundred Catalan and three hundred Basque mercenaries, plus a thousand from Old Castile. Attached as allies are four thousand Arletians (fifteen hundred of which are Gascons who have been heavily drilled over the winter to bring them up to Castilian standards of discipline) and twelve Bernese cohorts, each a hundred strong. Now that Henry is opening back Rene, Leo’s Habsburg relations have convinced the League to formally ally with Arles. The total strength is 22,700 men and forty three guns.

Leo remains in Provence, reorganizing and reviving the lance system that had been the main underpinning of the Arletian army in Basil’s day but which had been largely wrecked by the war of succession. The Gascons are rewarded handsomely for their loyalty, the nobles gaining numerous positions in both the bureaucracy and army, shouldering aside the Provencal and langue d’oil émigré descendants from northern France that had heretofore dominated Arletian high society.

Rene, reinforced as well over the winter with troops from Flanders plus three thousand Swiss and Austrian mercenaries, has laid siege to Moulins. Marching to the city’s relief, Merida engages and scatters the force, killing or wounded a thousand and taking an equal number of prisoners for only 700 casualties of his own. However Rene was not there; he was killed by an arquebus shot just two days earlier. Surging north at a tremendous pace, the Castilians take Vierzon, a city of only moderate importance except for the sizeable amount of powder and shot stored there, either through the treachery or criminal incompetence of some of its defenders.

The sudden loss is extremely alarming and embarrassing for Henry. Despite the fact that he is on the verge of taking Antwerp, he wheels around with the full force of his army to crush the Iberian interlopers. It is a great relief to the hard-pressed Dutch and their King Albrecht, who had placed his seat in Antwerp. Containing 75,000 inhabitants, Antwerp’s port duties by themselves gives Albrecht an annual income slightly larger than Henry’s average yearly take from the entire Kingdom of England. Equaled only by Venetia, Smyrna, and Alexandria and exceeded only by Constantinople, Antwerp is an irresistible price and its proximity to Triune armies was the key factor in Henry’s prioritizing Arles as a secondary concern.

But the specter of Castilian troops ravaging the Parisian or Orleanais suburbs is intolerable. Swelling from the population boom following the end of the Thirty Years’ War, the former French capital is far and away the largest city in the Triple Monarchy, twice as large as London and three times larger than King’s Harbor. In fact with 180,000 souls it is the second largest city in Christendom and fourth largest in the world after Beijing, Vijayanagara, and Constantinople respectively.

Merida is stalled at Vierzon due to a combination of supply issues and a mutiny over pay arrears. A loan floated through the Plethon agent in Bordeio quiets the soldiers for now, but even with the reinforcement of four more Bernese cohorts and two hundred Hungarians and Vlachs each (posted on opposite ends of the march) the army is down to eighteen thousand due to various wastage, although the train now contains fifty three pieces. In contrast, Henry has a host numbering thirty one thousand strong, also with fifty three guns.

Closely watched by Castilian jinetes and Arletian reiters, the Triune army leaves Paris on July 1. But the hot weather, dusty roads, and the lack of victuals and march discipline (four thousand soldiers stage what in modern times would be called a sit-down strike since they have not been paid in ten months and only get moving after a ‘contribution’ from the city of Paris) soon leave the army badly strung out. Henry originally posts strong flank guards, but the hungry, underpaid soldiers start levying their own ‘contributions’ on every village or farm in their path. With the immense outcry, Henry pulls the flankers close to the line of march where they can be more easily restrained from pillaging.

Merida sees his chance and immediately grabs it. At the village of Adon near Orleans on July 14, the van division of the Triune army, six thousand men composed mostly of soldiers from the Breton and Norman tours, runs head-on into a roadblock guarded by seven Bernese cohorts and six guns. Deploying for battle, it is struck in the flank by almost the entirety of the Castilian army which had sidestepped the road. It immediately crumples and routs. Only four hundred Triunes are killed and wounded compared to six hundred Castilians (mainly among the Santa Hermandad companies from Leon and Galicia that took the brunt of the only coordinated, disciplined Triune arquebus volley), but Merida takes just a hair less than two thousand prisoners.

The only ‘Castilian’ troops not engaged in the fray were thirty five hundred soldiers under the command of the Duke of Alba. As Merida hurtled west to smash the vanguard, he turned north to block the road north of the battle to prevent any interference. For five hours he holds off the disjointed efforts to the main force to succor their vanguard, and is joined in the evening by Merida.

In the morning both sides are arrayed for battle, although the morale in the Triune army is battered by yesterday’s debacle. Henry begins with an artillery barrage, trusting in the traditional English preeminence in that field (two thirds of the Triune gun-masters are English; incidentally Armenians have a similar disproportionate representation in the Roman artillery). That the Triune artillery is skillfully handled cannot be doubted, but the Castilian guns are superbly worked. With pre-prepared powder and shot distributed in wooden cases, somewhat lighter and easier-to-handle pieces, and a small advantage in the lay of the ground, the Castilians slowly gain the upper hand by late morning.

Both sides’ foot are engaged now, but lashed by heavy cannon fire they hunker down into thick skirmish lines blazing away at each other. The yells of their sergeants and officers and their liberal use of the flat sides of the swords are not enough to get them moving. Here the superior coordination between the Castilian artillery and infantry proves decisive. On the left wing Henry has nine hundred longbowmen in action, their deadly shafts terrorizing the enemy in front of them. In danger of collapsing, the local officers use signal flags to request artillery support. Soon thirty three guns are dedicated solely to lashing that section of the line.

It is a terrible punishment; supposedly one cannonball, bouncing along the ground at thigh height, took out eight men as it passed through the ranks, ricocheted off a rock and hit five more on the rebound. Unable to endure such trauma the archers break, leaving a quarter of their number dead or wounded on the field. Relieved, the Castilian pike press forward, breaking that entire wing. Merida commits the bulk of his reserves to exploit the breakthrough. Although they maul the Triune wing and send it flying backward in disarray, Henry is able to bring up his own reserves including half a dozen elite French cuirassier squadrons. Despite being outnumbered locally almost five to three, they stymie the Castilian attack long enough for Henry to withdraw his right and center.

As long as the sun is up, the retreat is somewhat orderly, but a sudden onslaught an hour after dusk by jinetes starts a crazed panic which sees much of the Triune army disintegrate. By sunup Henry only has eleven thousand men, although over the next three days his cavalry scrounge up 1500 fugitives. Merida does not pursue as his own army is heavily damaged. He took close to three thousand casualties, although 1200 prisoners help make up the loss, and he captured twelve standards and eighteen guns.

The burghers of Orleans, Paris and King’s Harbor immediately start panicking, much to Henry’s disgust. Both Orleans and Paris are too large to be invested by Merida’s truncated army (especially Paris) and the Duke cannot hope to march on King’s Harbor with a hostile Paris in his rear. Leaving half his army in Paris and Orleans as garrisons to both protect the cities and shut the merchants up, Henry races northeast with the other half. He has not succeeded in stopping the Castilians, but at least he has given them pause and damaged them.

Paris may be secure but in the absence of strong garrisons the Lotharingians have gone on the offensive, besieging recently captured Brussels. Henry, reinforced by the Kent and East Anglia tours, attacks their siege lines and is initially rebuffed. However then the Dutch relax, thinking they are out of danger, and are routed when he attacks again. Three days later, he receives news that ten days earlier the Royal Navy engaged the Castilians off Beachy Head where they sank two ships, captured another pair, and drove seven more onto the shore where the crews burned them.

Taking advantage of the reprieve given by the victories of Brussels and Beachy Hand, Henry makes peace, exploiting his enemies’ exhaustion. Albrecht gives up Burgundy and the Pas de Calais, keeping Franche-Comte and Lorraine. With those concessions to Imperial security, Wilhelm is easily bought off by the restoration of the bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun. Felipe, short on coin and ships, withdraws his troops after Henry agrees to support his claim to the throne of Portugal. “It is a step back,” Henry admits. “But it was after two steps forwards.”

The Hungarians also stride forward, storming into Serbia and sweeping aside the border guard with contemptuous ease. The Helladic, Macedonian, Bulgarian, and Thracian tagmata mobilized in response. The first two, gathering together as a grand tagma, march into Serbia, but not as allies of the Serbs. Overrunning the surprised and vastly outnumbered defenders of Novo Brdo with ease, the Romans then hunker down and watch as the Hungarians overrun Serbia. The Hungarian artillery train is mediocre by the standards of Romans, Englishmen, or Castilians, but it is more than a match for the mostly-medieval Serbian fortifications and their small number of cannon.

Stefan is caught fleeing from the fall of Ras and is incarcerated in Vienna, in relatively comfortable settings (Serbian chroniclers claim that first though he was forced to eat the scroll containing the original demand for Bosnia, parchment, tassels, and seal) but as far removed as possible from his former kingdom. Andrew’s older sister Margaret is named Ban of Serbia as his replacement, ruling over all of it save for Novo Brdo which becomes a Roman kephalate; Andrew does not contest Helena’s fait accompli. Although there are still lodes of silver there, the mines are not nearly a great a price as they were a century earlier. Intensive mining during the reign of Andreas Niketas exhausted many of the veins.

The fall of the Kingdom of Serbia is commonly used as the historical bookmark ending the ‘Bloody Middle’. That is the popular designation of the span of European history that saw the Great Northern War, the Arletian War of Succession, and the Dantean/League of Arezzo War. Arles, Lotharingia and Lombardy have all been gravely weakened while Castile stages its dramatic debut as a major force in Europe. Amongst the great powers, the rivalry between the Holy Roman Empire and the Triple Monarchy is coalescing as Russia turns toward vast Siberia, paralleling the movement of its older brother to the south.

1) Kingdom of Lotharingia
2) Kingdom of Aragon
3) Kingdom of Arles
4) Duchy of Saluzzo
5) Republic of Genoa
6) Kingdom of Lombardy
7) Commune of Pisa (pink in southwest corner) and Duchy of Florence
8) Commune of Siena
9) Papal State
10) Duchy of the Marche
11) Duchies of Ragusa and Split (Roman vassals)
12) Despotate of Sicily
13) Despotate of Carthage
14) Despotate of Egypt
15) Anizzah Tribal Confederation (Roman vassal)
16) Kingdom of Prussia
17) Kingdom of Poland
18) Kingdom of Vlachia
1579: They call it Carthage; it is really Tunis. Historical Carthage is a heap of ruins. Modern Carthage is medieval Tunis with a Genoese facelift and some Greek makeup. Although the ruling ducal family still styles themselves Barcids, the brief attempt to conjure back ancient Carthage has been dropped. There are no Hannibals or Hannos in the street; it was a court phenomenon which has long since become a stale and forgotten fad.
But just like the city of a hundred years ago when the attempt reached its minuscule peak and its ancient namesake, Carthage is a city of trade. With fifty thousand inhabitants it is the sixth largest on the African continent after Alexandria (90,000), Mbanza Kongo (80,000), Marrakesh (65,000), Gonder (60,000), and Algiers (55,000). Exporting dates, rice, olive oil, sponges, coral, fish, oranges, lemons, and limes, the Carthaginians have slowly but steadily used the wealth derived from trade, plus Roman court titles (and associated stipends) to build a series of Berber clients, vassals, and allies. Their patronage network now extends over more than a quarter of the old Muslim province of Ifriqiya.

Although the city is part of the Roman Empire, the roman element is very light on the ground. Both Carthage and Constantinople know that the current arrangement is voluntary, but both find it mutually agreeable. Carthage gets direct and customs-free access to Roman textiles and jewelry, extremely useful for greasing the wheels of their African patronage network, as well as Pontic naval stores crucial for maintaining their merchant and war fleet. Rhomania gets a useful naval base in the central Mediterranean with a couple of galley squadrons, a small yearly tribute, and Carthage provides the provisions for the Malta garrison and provincial squadron save the kaffos and sugar ration.

Unlike both Sicily and Egypt which have strictures, Carthage has a de jure unfettered foreign policy, although in Arles Carthaginians piggyback on the Romans’ most-favored-nation status when it comes to trade. In Al-Andalus on the other hand the trade agreements are distinct between the Romans and Carthaginians. The only Catholic Despotate, Carthage also has a close working relations with the Hospitaliers based in Minorca, who also have a hospital in Carthage.

The decades since the Time of Troubles have been a time of growth for the Despotate of Sicily. Although Naples (100,000) and Palermo (60,000) are the largest cities, the wealth is in Bari, Syracuse (30,000 each), and the capital of Messina (35,000). Those three are oriented east towards the Roman Empire and thus have greater access to Roman capital and exports. Both Messina and Syracuse have sizeable Greek and mixed-blood minorities, while Bari is as Greek as Thessaloniki.

Sicily produces grain, rice, fruit, and some sugar, and the grape and olive are wildly cultivated. Sheep ranching is common, particularly in the Apulian pasture lands. Most exports go to the Romans, who reciprocates with textiles, spices, armaments, and jewelry. There is not much industry outside Messina, Syracuse, and Bari, although the glassworks of the latter are justly famous for the quality of their handworks. When outfitting his royal palace in Riga, Anastasios commissioned the chandeliers from Bari.

Also in Bari is a large meat-packing industry closely linked to the salt pans of Venetia. Although only with 55,000 inhabitants (mostly Greeks, Croats, and Jews), the Queen of the Adriatic justly deserves her title. Spices, silk, and porcelain from or going through the Empire into the vast market of Germany all flows through Venetia, making it one of the greatest ports of the Mediterranean. Salt, fish, and printing are the other mainstays of the Venetian economy. The city’s importance is recognized; the Kephale is ranked fourth only behind the Kephales of Antioch, Smyrna, and Thessaloniki.

Egypt is the largest of the despotates, but even its 3.5 million inhabitants is merely slightly more than quarter the numbers of the Roman Empire proper. Seventy percent of those are Arabs (Muslims), twenty percent Copts, and the remainder a mix mostly of Greeks, Ethiopians, and ‘Nile Germans’. Mostly Franconian and Swabian immigrants attracted by the Komnenid Duxes’ promises of tax-free land grants, they number about 60,000 at the time, concentrated mostly along the Nile just south of where the delta begins.

Alexandria, chief metropolis of Egypt, far outweighs the other cities of the Despotate. Its waterfront is just as busy as Constantinople or Smyrna or Venetia or Antwerp, and virtually every product produced in Eurasia can be found in its shops. But many of those shops and virtually all of the ships are not owned by native Egyptians. A monolingual member of the Alexandrian upper middle or upper class is more likely to just speak Greek rather than Coptic.

The Despotate’s only significant exports are grain and cotton, although it does the former in prodigious quantities. The other cargoes leaving the Alexandrian waterfront for the Mediterranean world are spices, porcelain, ivory, slaves, kaffos, and precious stones, the products of Africa and Asia. The African cargoes are usually in Ethiopian hands, the Asian in Roman ones. The Egyptian involvement is restricted to that of the longshoreman.

A great deal of imports also remain in Egypt, mostly from the Imperial heartland. Although Egypt produces cotton, most of the raw fibers are shipped to Opsikia, spun, woven, and dyed in the workshops of Skammandros and Mysia, and the finished textiles then shipped out to be sold, sometimes back to Egypt. The Despotate also has to import practically all of its timber, iron, bronze, and gunpowder, the necessary accoutrements of a modern military (Unlike the Despotate, the Mamelukes had mercantile contacts throughout the Muslim world and access to Syrian resources, so that even though they had similar problems it was not nearly to the same extent).

As a result, rather than import the raw materials and make the weapons locally, armaments are almost entirely ordered from Roman workshops.
Thus despite its larger size, Egypt is economically and militarily much more dependent on the Imperial heartland then either Carthage or especially Sicily, which has small weapons manufactories and shipyards (including a drydock in Messina) in both eastern Sicily and Calabria. Because of the expense and unwillingness to tap the Arabs for manpower, Alexandria only commands three tagmata. Financed in the late Laskarid model with both land grants and cash payments for both officers and men and concentrated in the Delta, it is the same muster as that of Messina even though the de Lecce-Komnenoi only have 2.5 million subjects, a million less than the Egyptian Komnenoi.

The Egyptian tagmata are stationed in the Delta. In Alexandria two full-time salaried guard tourmai have their barracks, but garrisons in the rest of the country are manned by shifts of the tagmata and militia recruited from the Copts and Nile Germans. By far the largest garrison is that maintained in the citadel of Cairo, four thousand strong and comprised of one thousand tagmatic soldiers and the remainder militia.

Cairo is the second city of Egypt but at twenty six thousand souls (not including the garrison) it is a pathetic shadow of its former glory. Many districts of the city are still in ruins, used as garden plots by the occupants of the cleared district. Theodora Komnena Drakina estimated that aside from the garrison, there were a mere three hundred Christians in Cairo. Most of the Cairenes are laborers working in shipping or canal maintenance as Cairo is the western terminus of ‘Andreas’ Canal’, the most recent variant of the ancient Pharaoh’s Canal.

The eastern terminus is Suez, seventeen thousand inhabitants, which is wholly Greek/Ethiopian dominated. A Roman enclave, the garrison is a thousand soldiers rotated from the Roman tagmata but provisioned by Egyptian foodstuffs. Shipping is also the mainstay of the city but after the establishment of the yards in Taprobane only galleys are constructed here, both to patrol the sea and to ferry goods from Aden and Zeila so that sailing ships do not have to brave the treacherous waters of the Red Sea.

The despotic palace in Alexandria is a fount of patronage for Copt artists, architects, poets, and musicians but the numerous ancient Egyptian monuments and temples are used as quarries, not as artistic inspiration. The seeding interest in Pharaonic Egypt is of wholly Greek origin, mostly inspired by a new edition of Herodotus published in Smyrna. Theodora commissions a translation of the history into German, the first of its kind, specifically to send a sumptuously decorated and bound copy as a gift to Wilhelm, who knew the work only through a mediocre Latin edition commissioned in Venice in the 1460s.

The countryside of the Delta is controlled mostly by small Copt landowners, but south of the Nile German colony, the land is made up of vast estates owned by Coptic landowners and worked by Muslim serfs who provide corvee labor and half of their produce in payment to their masters. The landowners may punish any serf with up to twenty two lashes if male, fourteen if female, although if they want to impose a harsher sentence they must get authorization from the local district judge.

In theory the serfs can appeal against the landowners’ sentences but the magnates are very adept at bribing the judges to throw out the appeals on a convenient technicality. The Duxes are aware of the practice but the landowners are powerful and their grain shipments are the primary commodity with which the Duxes acquire Roman imports. It would not do to anger them.

1580: In his capital of Texcoco, David Komnenos, last son of Andreas Niketas, dies at the age of 78. His eldest Mexican son Michael Adhemar Gabriel Komnenos, by his mother Maria/Teotlalco the grandson of the last Aztec Emperor, takes his throne as Emperor of Mexico but immediately faces a crisis as the Tarascans invade the west and Cholula rises up in revolt. At this time Tizoc, governor of Tenochtitlan and scion of the old Aztec nobility, asks for Michael’s eldest daughter Maria in marriage. In his situation Michael does not want to anger such an important figure and gives him his fourteen-year-old daughter.

But Tizoc is the leader of the Aztec faction of the Mexican Empire, who strongly resent their relegation to a secondary role to the Tlaxcalans and demotion of their city and who fiercely desire the restoration of their old ways, religion, and empire. David’s policy of sending their most boisterous and troublesome members to decorate Tarascan weapons with their guts unsurprisingly did not endear the group to his descendants.

So when Tizoc gets his hands on Maria, he has her heart cut out in an old-style blood sacrifice, then flays off her skin and uses it to decorate a statue of the Virgin Mary in Tenochtitlan as mockery of the Christian faith. Practically all of Tenochtitlan rises in revolt behind Tizoc, acclaiming him Aztec Emperor, whose first official act is cutting out the hearts of those few who did not join in the rebellion.

Michael’s initial response means nothing to the Mexicans, although it strikes a terrifying chord amongst the Europeans in Mexico: “I will be a Timur to the city of Tenochtitlan.” Then he follows up with a statement the Mexicans understand clearly. “I shall turn the city into the outhouse of Mexico.” It is a sentence greeted with acclamations across the breadth of the Empire. The natives have not forgotten the harsh hand of Aztec rule and here, now is their belated chance to make the Aztecs drink every bitter drop of their cup of wrath.

The Tarascans and Cholula will have to wait as Michael brings to bear the entire armed might of Mexico upon the fifth most populated city in the world. Twelve thousand infantry, Europeans, mestizos, and natives (95% are of the latter), are full-time professional troops armed with the latest weaponry, and three thousand cavalry of similar quality support them. There are also the numerous militias, but only those of the Tlaxcalans, Totonacs, and Texcoco have significant quantities of modern arms and cavalry. A Portuguese observer estimated that out of 110,000 men (his number) there were only 4,000 cavalry, 9,000 arquebuses, twenty five thousand steel-bladed weapons, and thirty seven artillery pieces. Except for the cannons the numbers are similar to the standard inventory (including replacements) of a single Roman tagma.

However the Portuguese are there to help, showing up exceedingly quickly to offer their assistance to Michael. In fact Tizoc had been intriguing with the Portuguese and counted on their aid, but they have no qualms in backstabbing him. The Portuguese sell weapons, powder, shot, and horses to Michael who in his present mood is not haggling as his father did under better circumstances. Receiving payment in bars of Zacatecas silver stamped with the Mexican Imperial Eagle (which is identical to the Komnenid family crest) they see a profit of over 40%. Also Michael agrees to recognize their base in Panama, which the small but powerful and modern Mexican navy has the endurance to attack.

With his host Michael blockades Tenochtitlan, the Aztecs cutting the causeways. As both sides skirmish with canoes upon the lake, Michael gathers a more formidable navy. At Veracruz, the Mexican navy’s chief base, sections of brigantines are fabricated, carried overland by work crews, and reassembled on the lake. Within a month, six are in action and eleven more three weeks after that. Armed with 6-14 cannons (mostly recent Portuguese purchases) they sweep the lake clean of the Aztec ‘navy’.

With their naval and gunnery support, the city is taken, each block bloodily contested by the Aztecs. For six weeks the two sides fight, inflicting immense casualties on each other. Those Aztecs who are not killed are taken away as slaves, usually to be worked to death in the Zacatecas silver mines. In the end the Aztecs are wholly ruined; Tizoc is flayed and disemboweled on the summit of the Pyramid of the Sun, the temple and what is left of the city blown apart by gunpowder shortly afterwards. Terrified Cholula submits without a fight, although the Tarascans fight and lose two battles before they withdraw.

Meanwhile, in the Imperial Arsenal, Alexios of Adramyttium pays his respects at the grave of Andreas Angelos, the bastard son of Andreas Niketas traditionally known as the Salty or Pirate (in the east) Prince. It is a tradition amongst squadron and fleet commanders setting out from Constantinople, but there is an extra meaning for Alexios. The Pirate Prince is his grandfather.
He is the illegitimate son of Isaakios Angelos and a tavern owner’s daughter in Adramyttium, half-brother to Demetrios of Smyrna, the ‘Bane of Cathay’ and one of the premier ship lords in the east. Working his way up through the ranks, he commanded the ship that most distinguished itself in the attack on Fort St. Barbara during the War of the Rivers. Alexios now has the rank of Doux, commander of one of the squadrons in the Imperial fleet.

However unlike his eastern sibling, who lives where the social rules are much looser, Alexios desires to remove the illegitimate ‘stain’ on his character and officially take the patronymic Angelos. His first wife, a cloth merchant’s daughter, died in childbirth along with the infant, and his attempts to marry up are still hampered by the nature of his birth, despite the moderately high station to which he has climbed.

He then goes to his flagship, the fifty-gunner Nike. Under his command are a total of twenty four ships, all gun-armed sailing ships. The expedition he commands is a historic one, the first Roman Mediterranean naval expedition in which all the initial warships (the Maltese galleys will join him when he arrives there) are sailing vessels. The warships are a mix of heavy galleons and a new type of ship, the fregata.

Derived (in Roman eyes; copied is a more accurate verb) from Iberian designs, this light warship is faster than older caravels, perfect for use as scouts, couriers, and pirate hunter-killers. Armed with ten to twenty two cannons, they would be hopelessly outmatched against ‘battle-line ships’ (the Roman naval term for the heavy modern warships that have taken over the position of the obsolete purxiphoi), but are capable of running down and destroying Barbary xebecs and barques.


Painting of a Guard-class fregata off the Pontic coast. The Guard class, initially appearing in the middle stages of the First World War, would be one of the most successful ship classes in history. The earliest Roman fregatai of the late 1500s were its direct ancestor.
The expedition’s target is the island of Djerba off the coast of Tunisia to the southwest of Malta, which despite a spirited fight is soon overwhelmed. A small force is left to garrison the island as workers and materials recruited from Sicily are brought in to improve the fortifications, while the main force continues on to the African mainland to invest Mahdia. Alexios only has a handful of marines after garrisoning Djerba, but as planned a Carthaginian squadron and army rendezvous to make up the loss.
After a four-week siege in which most of the attackers’ casualties are caused by bad rations rather than battle the city surrenders. This time it is the Carthaginian flag that is mounted on the ramparts and a Carthaginian garrison placed in the citadel. To help secure the city 1200 settlers are brought in from Calabria, the finale of a textbook operation.

Alexios gets the Order of the Iron Gates and the Angelid patronymic, while the Roman Empire gets the prestige of driving the Barbary corsairs out of the central Mediterranean, the intended goal. However it is in the western Mediterranean and in the Atlantic where most of them operate and the fall of Djerba and Mahdia mean nothing to them. But the former along with Malta are to be used as bases for 6-10 fregatai that are to operate constantly in the west.

Previously Roman tactics against the corsairs had been to conduct massive fleet sweeps through the area; these were expensive, time-consuming, and only caught the stupid and slow pirates. The remainder just stayed in port. The other was direct attacks on pirate ports, which were even more expensive, bloody, and difficult. Against the victory at Byzerte can be weighed the debacle at Algiers. With the fregatai on constant patrol though, the corsairs will be forced to run greater risks on their raids while putting much less of a strain on the Roman exchequer.

The fregatai are also to seek ‘restitution’ for Guernsey. Many of the dynatoi lost money in the destruction of that convoy, including both Theodora and Alexeia. Diplomatic efforts to gain compensation have failed, so the ships are directed to ‘attack and seize all Triune vessels encountered between Gibraltar and Carthage’. Half of the prize money goes to the crew of the fregata, the other half accruing to the crown. Of that half, fifty percent is set aside to reimburse the crown for the expense, with the remaining quarter of the total set aside to compensate the dynatoi. The fregatai are to continue until all the dynatoi have received full value for their losses, plus an extra thirty percent. To help speed up the process, the Hospitalers are subcontracted to also carry out the ‘re-appropriations’.

1581: It is night in southern China. The muffled sound of oars slipping through the water can be heard as a light breeze rustles the reeds. The thin crescent moon peeps through the wisps of clouds as a shutter flaps up and down in front of a lamp. Another one on the shore blinks back. A moment, a sharp voice barks a command. A muffled curse, the rustle of cloth, and then the snaps of four crossbows. Just another night in Guangzhou province.

Smuggling is a constant along the shores of southern China, to the incandescent fury of the Imperial government in Beijing. Threats of severe punishments do not deter the participants, and attempts to stop them founder on the embarrassing fact that many of the heavily-armed Roman smugglers outgun the government patrols sent to apprehend them.

But smugglers need to eat and it is well known that many of the Roman ships take on provisions in Vijaya (Pyrgos is used more for trade with Japan, although many of the goods are Chinese ‘exports’ via smugglers), the Cham capital. So the new Zhengde Emperor delivers a direct command to the King of Champa: expel all Romans and Ethiopians from his lands. The Cham decline to even respond.

This is too much. The Tieh government is well aware that Cham vassalage, dating back to the days of Shah Rukh, is purely a legal construct by this point, with no practical ramifications. But the Zhengde Emperor views this refusal to obey an explicit command (previous Tieh orders had been ignored, but those had been phrased as ‘requests’ and ‘suggestions’) as an act of most heinous rebellion. Well aware that the Tieh hold on its vassals and Han subjects is shaky, he aims to solidify his position with an immense show of force. The Fourth Banner Army crosses the Red River and within the day is being harassed by Cham skirmishers, many of which are armed with Roman weaponry.

Forces are also in motion on the other side of the Pacific. Portuguese Panama is an unhealthy, run-down place, poor and inhabited by ‘dirty cutthroats who have a passing resemblance to members of the human race’. The uncomplimentary description is not of the jungle natives, but the seedy and criminal drifters who comprise this far west outpost of Lisbon’s writ. One wonders why they even bother maintaining it.

The reason is that it is the gateway to far better and richer places. The Portuguese have heard rumors that a great empire resides in a vast mountain range to the south, which owns a vast store of riches the likes of which even Mexico cannot compete. And now at last they have proof.

An earlier expedition to the south along the coast had come to ruin when the crew came down with a mysterious disease that made them break out in black boils. Still a second expedition was sent. Out of eighty men, only thirty nine returned. They had found a great kingdom, ruled by a potentate called an Inca, a ‘pagan who knew not the written word, the horse, or steel, but who commanded an army as vast as that of the King of the Greeks and whose heathen temples are plated in solid gold’. Most of the losses had been caused by disease or accidents, but twelve had been slain or captured in an Incan ambush. Familiar with what the Aztecs did with their captives, the survivors claim that they were sacrificed in the Incan temples.

In the east are far more glorious outposts of the Kingdom of Portugal. In a generation the enterprising subjects of the House of Avis have established holdings from Mozambique to Malacca. The latter is their crown jewel where they are able to siphon off sizeable quantities of the exports from the Moluccas. Although unable to establish a presence in the Spice Islands due to ferocious Roman opposition, the difficulties and expense of shipping around Sumatra instead of through the straits means that the harbor of Lisbon still sees great quantities of nutmeg, cloves, and mace.

Since the loss of Banda Aceh hostilities with the Acehnese have quieted somewhat; neither side goes out of their way to fight, but chance encounters are practically certain to end in pitched battles. Given the proximity of the Sultanate of Aceh and the Viceroyalty of Malacca such encounters are still extremely common. As a counterweight the Portuguese cultivate close relations with the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, much to the annoyance of the Cham.

Except for a few quickly ended attempts by Portugal to secure direct possessions in the Moluccas, the Romans and Portuguese have not come to blows yet. Along the coast of Asia from Madurai to Malacca the Portuguese are the supreme western power. In western India, Taprobane, and Indonesia the Romans hold that appellation.

Africa is a different matter. The Swahili coast is the playground of Ethiopia, Oman, and Portugal, with half controlled directly by one of the three imperial powers and the other half varying shades of clients, from the properly de-jure vassal state the Wilayah of Mogadishu to the theoretically independent Emirs of Kilwa. The latter can do whatever they want, but they suffer mysterious accidents anytime they do something not conducive to Ethiopian interests.

Ethiopia and Oman cooperate both in Africa and in the Persian Gulf and north India, regarding the Portuguese as unwanted interlopers, a feeling the Portuguese reciprocate. There have been a few minor skirmishes directly between the imperial forces, but most of the fighting has been done through Swahili clients, neither side gaining a clear advantage. That is in direct contrast to the other bone of contention between Gonder and Lisbon. The Kingdom of Kongo is now a firm Coptic state, a major provider of pagan slaves from the interior to Ethiopian merchants who sell them to Roman plantation owners.

Japan is another area where the Portuguese have strong interests

but not dominance. The Shimazu, now exceedingly well-armed with Roman weaponry and producing their own arquebuses, cannons, and even galleons (much to the annoyance of Roman arms merchants), have turned away from the China coast and are now directing their gaze towards the rest of Japan, which is finally showing the possibility of uniting again after 150 years.

There is still some way to go towards that. The Shimazu rule Kyushu and
the Chosokabe control Shikoku, with Honshu divided between five daimyo. Compared to the one hundred and fifty that existed half a century earlier, a mere seven Japanese states (excluding the Ainu) is a startling shift. With the raising of the stakes, competition amongst the daimyo is escalating rapidly, especially with the wokou pressure valve fading in usefulness.
The Honshu daimyo still do not have many guns, but the Shimazu grievances are far graver and more recent with the Chosokabe, so it is on Shikoku that the full weight of their armada falls. The Chosokabe are better armed than the Honshu daimyo, but are still heavily outgunned. Nevertheless with their bravery and martial skill they temporarily stymie the Shimazu.

Seeing how the Shimazu have benefited from Roman contact and to get around Portuguese scruples over selling guns to pagans (they exist, but only to the extent of limiting sales rather than forbidding them entirely as the White Palace tried and failed to do), they offer to convert to Catholicism in exchange for direct military and technological aid. The Portuguese, jumping at the chance to serve God and gold simultaneously, immediately send a powerful fleet from Malacca.

First delivering thirty cannons and three thousand arquebuses to Chosokabe arsenals, the combined Portuguese and Chosokabe fleets engage the Shimazu flotilla off eastern Kyushu in sight of the hamlet of Yamage and destroy it in a day-long battle. The death toll on both sides is immense and over a hundred ships are destroyed, the bloodshed significantly dampening the ardor of the Portuguese. A few remain in Shikoku but the bulk return to Malacca. A Roman squadron attempting to intercept them is scattered by a storm off Okinawa but regroups and captures Keelung on Kiponissi (TTL Taiwan, from the Greek for ‘Garden Island’) for use as a base to forestall Portuguese involvement in Japan.
1582: The events at Yamage lead to the first direct armed confrontations between the Romans and Portuguese in the east outside of the Moluccas. But that ‘distinction’ does not take place in the waters of the China Sea or the straits of Malacca but on the quays of Ramanathapuram. Ship Lord Michael Mouzalon, a half-Greek half-Malay Digenos (he claims to be the first), lost five ships, a fifth of his inventory, under Shimazu charter at Yamage and wants revenge.
When a large Portuguese India fleet puts in at the docks to buy pepper, Michael leads his retainers and allies in an attack on the Portuguese fleet and merchant quarter. Bloody street fighting follows, the Portuguese getting the worst of it (excluding of course the hapless natives caught in the middle) before the Nayak brings a mass of Malabar soldiery to restore order. A fuming Michael flees the city, although not before throwing a couple of cannonades into the waterfront.

The Katepano of Taprobane Thomas da Montefeltro privately condemns the action, viewing it as ‘more representative of the conduct of a Gallic pirate lord then a Roman nobleman’. Despite his official rank and sharing a maternal grandfather with Empress Helena and Princess Alexeia, he cannot act upon such sentiment in public. Michael is one of the most powerful of the ship lords and his actions are supported by many others.

Aside from the blatant attack against the Portuguese, their main commercial rivals (after the decline of the Chinese) there have also been growing tensions with the Vijayanagara. The ‘Lord of the Eastern and Western Seas’, Deva Raya III, has repaired the naval impotence that had facilitated the Roman entry into India in the reign of his great-grandfather and namesake. Disturbed by the mercantile and territorial successes of the Romans in what he views as his sphere, he has been placing restrictions and red tape on the Roman merchant quarters, while his dispatch of war fleets to the straits of Malacca has Roman Pahang seriously alarmed.

Even without the antagonism, he cannot tolerate such a blatant flouting of his authority, particularly in southern India so close to his seven-walled capital. Within eight weeks every Roman quarter in southern India has been seized and the merchants, goods, and ships impounded, although both Alappuzha and Kozhikode resist stoutly, a few ships managing to shoot their way out of the harbors to safety.

This only serves to enrage the ship lords even more, especially when the Emperor issues his demands. He will release his prisoners, but only on the conditions that the sequestered goods are forfeit, the payment of a huge fine including one hundred and sixty tons of nutmeg and cloves each, the delivery of Michael Mouzalon, and the abandonment of all Roman quarters save a sharply truncated one at Machilipatnam, a poor, squalid place off the major trade routes that has yet to cover from the wrecking from a failed revolt against the Vijayanagara seventy years earlier.

Although Thomas believes that Deva Raya has legitimate grievances regarding Ramanathapuram, he cannot swallow such terms, and rejects them. The Hindu Emperor, who had expected and indeed been counting on such a response, dispatches a powerful army and fleet to invest Surat by land and sea while smaller naval units harry the coast of Taprobane. The Roman ships in theater retaliate with full force. As the Roman Empire embroils itself in a full-scale war with the Empire of Vijayanagar, more shots are exchanged with Portuguese warships off Riau and Palembang.

1583: It is at this time that elderly Joao III, King of Portugal, dies in his palace in Evora. With his monastic temperament and not so stout constitution he has only fathered two children, a boy and a girl. The son died of smallpox at the age of three, leaving his daughter Isabella as heiress. She is married to Felipe II of Castile.

Felipe has prepared the ground well. Both Arles and the United Kingdoms do not oppose his succession to the throne of Portugal (he styles it as protecting his wife’s prerogatives but everyone can read in between the lines). The only other contender with a trapping of legitimacy is Joao’s grand-nephew Alfonso, the Count of Madeira and a drunken bully whose greatest joy is driving cattle off hills to crash into the sea.

Considering that he prefers using other people’s cattle for his amusements it is unsurprising he has no support outside Madeira, his place of ‘respectable exile’ as imposed by his great-uncle. Still Felipe has been busy gathering support among the Portuguese nobility and merchants, leaving nothing to chance. His willingness to confront the Triune piracy has boosted his prestige (although Beachy Head dented it) and his coffers are plentiful due to the expert administration of his crown lands. Theodora Drakina gives him the compliment of calling him the Ioannes Doukas Vatatzes of her times, referring to the skilled 13th century Emperor who laid the foundations for his son Theodoros Megas.

The Kingdom of Portugal thus submits to Felipe without serious contestation. A farce of resistance is attempted by Alfonso but a quick riposte from Lisbon captures Madeira and him before Felipe even reaches the Portuguese capital. Supposedly Alfonso threw himself from the battlements of his prison in shame; historians and contemporaries believe he was actually pushed.

Felipe inherits a sticky situation with Portugal’s battles with the Romans. The ire of the White Palace is up, and there are loud voices in Constantinople calling for an invasion of Iberia. At first glance, the logistical difficulties seem to make that a non-issue, but a dozen Roman fregatai are taking on supplies in Minorca and shooting up Berber xebecs off Oran as Felipe ponders the situation.

And there is Al-Andalus. Maalik Mohammed III has not contested the Castilian-Portuguese union because he lacks the strength to do so, but does not like the prospect. A strong and productive agricultural sector, plus exports of brazilwood from Al-Jahmr, give the Maalik a strong economy. That said, aside from brazilwood, most Andalusi trade is handled through foreign, mainly Carthaginian and Genoese merchants, with weak shipbuilding and gun-casting industries. With 2.5 million people Cordoba musters half the subjects of the Union.

An alliance with the Romans though would address that power imbalance. Helena however is open to negotiations and Theodora meets with the Duke of Merida at Saluzzo to try and hammer out an equitable peace. Peace is established on the status quo, both sides recognizing the other’s territories and allies. Neither side is willing to deny themselves options in Japan but it is agreed that while hostilities may be committed ‘beyond the line’ without breach of treaty, under no circumstances may said hostilities be used to justify combat ‘before the line’. The line is placed just east of Singapura.

That does leave the Roman Moluccas beyond the line, but New Constantinople has shown that it is quite capable of defending itself; four years earlier local ships had defeated a Brunei flotilla off Ternate and driven the survivors onto the shores of Halmahera. The native headhunting cannibals did the rest. But this concession (which will come back to bite the Romans) is granted in exchange for the Portuguese promise that they will provide no military or economic aid to Deva Raya III.

Helena feels the same way about her ‘Imperial brother’ as her cousin the Katepano. But any qualms about how this war was started are totally drowned out by the desire to win this, and at the same time strengthen her tenuous control over eastern Rhomania so this does not happen again. On any given year twenty to thirty droungoi (2000 to 3000 men) are stationed in the east to provide protection and to create a veteran cadre for actions in the Empire proper.

The monsoon winds of the year bring seven thousand men, including a sixteen-year-old eikosarchos just graduated from the School of War, Leo Neokastrites. It is the largest Roman force ever dispatched to the east, greater even the army sent by Nikephoros ‘the Spider’ to conquer Taprobane.

Despite the impressiveness and power of the force, it is a quite expensive expedition and thus one the White Palace does not wish to repeat frequently.
To that end, included in the expedition are orders for the establishment of ten cleisurae. Mini-themes which support only a thousand soldiers as opposed to the ten thousand of a theme, many had been established by the contenders in the War of the Five Emperors. The last were phased out by Vlad Dracula when serving as Andreas I’s Megas Domestikos.

They are being restored in the east for the same reason they were created in the west; there are resources available but not enough to maintain a full tagma. Six are to be set up in the West Indies and four in the East Indies (three are based in Pahang and the fourth is broken up into droungos-sized packets stretching from New Constantinople to Pyrgos), each commanded by a strategos. Both the men and officers are to be drawn mostly from the natives and Digenoi, although the language of command is Greek.

Recruitment of the ten eastern tourmai begins immediately, but it will take time before they are gathered and properly prepared, even with building from the irregular forces that had thus far been the bulk of Rhomania’s might. However the seven thousand go forward into action, attacking the Nayak of Bijapur’s forces that had been blockading Surat in the north. Somewhat isolated from the other landward blockaders, the Romans have only a three to one disadvantage in numbers. But a cannon volley stampedes the charge of the armored elephants, which throw the Bijapuri foot into disarray and who are quickly routed.

The blockade of Surat (siege would suggest a closer investment then the historical setup) is soon reestablished but Roman morale has been significantly boosted and Indian correspondingly declined. At the same time the Roman fleet is joined by seven Ethiopian galleons. These ships, displacing 350 to 500 tons each, are the largest and newest vessels produced by the shipyards at Zeila, and all of their cannons save the 6-pounder mikropurs are of Ethiopian design and make.

With such powerful reinforcements, the combined main fleet is comprised of the Ethiopians, eleven Imperial ships (paid and maintained by Constantinople; there are sixteen total in the east), twelve leased Imperial ships (civilian ships hired by the Katepano), and a hundred and thirteen ship-lord vessels (one-third are Roman design, the remainder native types). On October 4th, the armada successfully seizes Alappuzha. The Vijayanagara navy, unwilling to take such a juggernaut head-on, still gains some glory by destroying a squadron off Kollam two weeks later, taking four prizes and sinking or burning twelve more.

With both sides hurting, a preliminary truce and then treaty are signed in Kozhikode. First, Michael has to personally pay an indemnity of 22,000 hyperpyra. He protests at first, but his fellow ship-lords ‘convince’ him to pay up. Although he is a fellow ship-lord, they have suffered heavy losses in men and materials, ships have been sunk or damaged, and significant trading opportunities have been lost. The yearly Pepper Fleet that rides the autumn monsoon back to the Empire was 40% of the average 1560-1580 fleet.

The Romans also have to pay another indemnity of 50,000 hyperpyra and lose all their trading quarters throughout the Empire. But in exchange their control of Surat is confirmed and Alappuzha with full sovereignty is given to the Romans. Neither side is satisfied with the accord, but neither is willing to continue the bloodshed in order to improve the terms. The Ethiopians, who have a much smaller presence in India and thus a much smaller concern to Deva Raya, do not win or lose anything.

1584: The war with Vijayanagar may be over, but the eastern tourmai are still useful. Although both strategoi are heartlanders, a Greek and an Armenian, of the ten tourmarches three are Taprobani, two are Malay, one is Sulawesi, and another Ambonese. Two of the remaining three are Digenoi (Greek-Gujarati and Greek-Japanese), and the lesser officers have a similar ratio.

The far eastern tourmai are immediately put to work. The town of Hitu on Ambon’s northern coast has been a thorn in New Constantinople’s side since the port’s founding, but no longer. Meanwhile outposts are established for the first time on Sulawesi Island in the Bone peninsula, and punitive expeditions launched against the natives of Halmahera and Ceram. Sailors shipwrecked on both islands have been attacked and eaten.

Still, with the growing importance of the Roman Indies (the shrunken Pepper Fleet of last year ruined a great many minor merchants and shopkeepers in Constantinople), Helena decides that a member of the triumvirate should visit the Indies to build up Imperial control. Normally Theodora is the foreign diplomat, but she has plans for a diplomatic mission to Arles and Castile, so Alexeia will go instead. Coming with are her husband Andreas al-Anizzy and her two youngest children, nineteen-year-old Ioannes and sixteen-year-old Herakleios.

Herakleios is the last of the numerous children of the Triumvirate, who by now are spread far across Europe and even beyond. They are as follows (list excludes those who died in childhood):

The children of the Empress Helena Drakina:

Andreas: Born in 1552, executed for treason against the Empire after the end of the War of the Rivers in 1571.

Kristina: Born in 1554. Married to Friedrich von Wittelsbach, King of the Romans. Has two living sons Manfred and Otto.

Aikaterine: Born in 1557, married to Theodoros Sideros, currently third tourmarch of the Athanatoi. Has two living daughters Anna and Zoe and one living son, Alexios. Anna is betrothed to the heir to the Duchies of Verona and Padua and Zoe to the crown prince of the Empire of All the North.

Eudoxia: Born in 1557 (twin of Aikaterine), married to Ioannes Laskaris, Megas Rigas of Russia. Has three living sons, Andreas, Theodoros, and Demetrios.

Veronica: Born in 1558, married to Tewodros of the House of Solomon, crown prince of Ethiopia and currently the Negus of Sennar, one of the most important provincial governorships in the Ethiopian Empire. Has two living sons, Giyorgis and Quastantinos.

Sophia: Born in 1559, married to King Stefanoz of Georgia (he was crown prince at the time of the wedding). Has two living daughters Thamar and Anna and one living son David.

Demetrios: Born in 1560, Kaisar of Rhomania. Married to Venera Bagrationi, the younger sister of Stefanoz. Has one living daughter, Helena.

Anna: Born in 1562. Married to the crown prince of Castile-Portugal. Has one son, Miguel.

Theodora: Born in 1564, married to the crown prince of Hungary. Has one son, Bela.

The children of the Princess Theodora Doukaina Laskarina Komnena Drakina:

Anastasios: Born in 1552, King of Prussia. Married to Alexeia Sarantena, a member of the Roman dynatoi. Has one living daughter, Eirene.

Anastasia: Born in 1552 (Anastasios’ twin), married to Vlad IV Musat, King of Vlachia. Has one living son, Roman.

Alexandra: Born in 1556, married to Andreas II di Lecce-Komnenos, Despot of Sicily. No children.

Alexandros: Born in 1556 (Alexandra’s twin), married to Sophia Komnena, older sister of King Leo Komnenos of Arles. Has one living daughter Xene.

Anna: Born in 1558, married to Andronikos Laskaris, Kephale of Trebizond. Has two living sons Michael and Theodoros.

Children of the Princess Alexeia Drakina:

Konstantinos: Born in 1556, married to Maria Laskarina, the first cousin of Andronikos Laskaris. Has one daughter Maria who is betrothed to the crown prince of Arles.

Ioanna: Born in 1565, married to Andreas Asen-Palaiologos, strategos of the Bulgarian tagma. Has one son Stefanos.

Ioannes: Born in 1565 (Ioanna’s twin). Not ma
Herakleios: Born in 1568. Not married.

As can be seen, Helena has had no hesitation using her sons, daughters, nephews, and nieces as political instruments, a substantial change from both Andreas I and her father (particularly her father). The marriage ties with Georgia, Russia, and Vlachia are nothing new. But the matrimonial link with Ethiopia is unprecedented, signaling the growing importance of the Ethiopian alliance especially as the Empire expands its holdings in Asia. One o
f the reasons Princess Alexeia is taking her two youngest sons with her is to arrange marriages with Shimazu princesses whilst in the east.
But even that pales compared to the network of marriages with the various crowned heads of Europe that Helena has forged. Through Theodora’s excellent diplomacy and superb timing, her son, nephew, grandsons, great-nephews, and great-grandsons are in direct line to succeed to the thrones of the Roman Empire, Holy Roman Empire, Russia, the Empire of all the North, Prussia, Georgia, Castile-Portugal, Ethiopia, Vlachia, Arles, and Hungary.


Portrait of the Empress Helena, commissioned for her 55th birthday (a combination of good genes, excellent cosmetics, and a flattering painter are the cause of her youthful appearance).
It is with excellent justification that she is known to future generations as the Mother of Europe.
1585: The war against the Cham does not go well. Although the Chinese have an utterly absurd advantage in manpower, the Vietnamese defending their homeland under the Cham banner (Vijaya grants them substantial local autonomy in exchange for military service) are ferocious, highly disciplined, and well-armed. Using their knowledge of the local terrain, they hide in the jungles and hills annihilating any Chinese contingent foolish or hungry enough to break away from the main host. Immense blood has been shed for little Tieh gain.

While the Vietnamese fight on land, Cham ships harry the coast of southern China. The coastal defenses that have arisen to guard against the Japanese and Roman wokou see them off but the raids are embarrassing and galling to the Emperor in Beijing. They are doubly so as they cooperate with uprisings in the area which bloom rapidly and spread like wildfire. The most formidable of these by far is based in Guangzhou and led by a former Tieh general Gao Yingxiang.

Emperor Zhengde is painfully aware of the Roman connections in all this. Many of the Vietnamese troops and Cham ships attacking his domains are armed with Roman guns, and so are some of Yingxiang’s troops. One of the rebel general’s closest advisors and friends is a Sicilian named Matteo Garibaldi, an Orthodox veteran of the Time of Troubles with an interest in the Jewish Kabbala.

Alexeia is in Taprobane dining with her cousin the Katepano of Taprobane when she hears the news. From the Yalu to Hainan, the Tieh Emperor is ordering the gathering of an immense naval armament. Ships and sailors are impounded and requisitioned in prodigious quantities, and in the interior hundreds of thousands of peasants are set to work gathering provisions and making weaponry while Hui soldiers marshal along the coast.

The Shimazu, who have bedeviled the Chinese coast long before the Romans ever arrived in the east, and who are still far from recovered from the battle of Yamage and still fighting the Chosokabe, fear that the armada is directed against them. Alexeia agrees. Not willing to risk the loss of Rhomania’s most powerful eastern ally, she and her entourage move to Pyrgos to help coordinate Roman support for the Shimazu.

* * *
East of Pyrgos, April 19, 1586:

“This is hopeless,” Herakleios muttered, ducking under a branch as his horse trotted along through the wood. “There is nothing out here.”

“They’re out here,” Alexeia replied. “I’m sick of salt pork and fish. I want some venison.” They were many miles due east from Pyrgos just a short way from Pulilan, the large lake east of the bay, on the third day of a so far disgustingly boring and unproductive hunting expedition. Currently they were tracking north, planning to take luncheon along the banks of the Pasig.

“I don’t think that is how it works, Mom.”

“Fine,” she muttered, smiling at her youngest son. She wiped her brow, taking away a few beads of sweat. It was close to eleven in the morning, and the weather here could be painfully hot at midday for a Constantinople girl. Girl. The right corner of her lip crooked upward for a second.

She had not been one for a long time. Fifty four years old, crow’s feet lined her eyes, her hair was a silver gray, dignified but hardly the crown of the young woman who had turned the heads of all the Vigla, although to be fair part of that was due to her antics. She smiled, remembering that time she had snuck into that party dressed as a man.

Although the Empress was two years older, Helena had aged more gracefully and less than she had. Slimmer, with less wrinkles and with half of her hair still brown, she looked at least a decade younger than her actual age, although her appearance was certainly not as youthful as her recent portrait claimed.

‘Little Hele’ though was on the other side of the world. Twenty five or so feet to the right was her husband Andreas. Although his cute butt had gained some flab and his bald head looked like Mount Athos in summer, she still thought he was quite handsome. He had a wrinkled face, even more than usual, his brow furrowed in a look of thoughtful concentration.

“So when do they arrive?” Herakleios asked. He took after his father in looks with his dusky skin, green eyes, and long hooked nose, although his thin, fuzzy, silly-looking mustache had not filled out into the manly scruff that Andreas had had at the same age.

He was referring to he and his brother’s wives-to-be. “A week,” she replied. She felt sorry for him. She had married Andreas for love, although the political advantages of the marriage had been great. Herakleios had not even seen her yet, just a palm-sized portrait. Alexeia had not seen her either. But considering the recent disruptions in the eastern territories, she understood Helena’s desire to strengthen Rhomania’s bonds with the Shimazu.

“It’s too quiet,” Andreas said, causing her to jolt. He had not said anything in over twenty minutes.

“But Herakleios is here,” she retorted.

“He’s right,” Leo Neokastrites said. He was the eikosarchos in charge of their escort, twenty men strong, all from the Vigla. He had fought in India against the Vijayanagara, receiving the Order of the Dragon with Silver Mace for his valor during the capture of Alappuzha. “Hold,” he ordered. All of them were on horseback, and save for the whinny of a mare and the rustle of the leaves all was quiet. “No birds,” he said.

It’s also been a while since we heard from any of the beaters, Alexeia thought.

Just that second, one of them came tearing out of the brush, a terrified look on his face. Ten or eleven years old, he was one of half a dozen local boys who had joined the hunt with a promise of a couple of folloi and perhaps a little excitement. A man on a tall black horse pounded after him. The markings were those of one of the Lakan of Tondo’s men. The sword slashed down on the back of the boy’s neck, dropping him, just as an arrow impaled his throat.

“Contact right,” one of the guards said as another lowered his bow. Alexeia could see them, both horse and foot, coming through the brush from the north at a steady pace straight towards them, more soldiers from Tondo.

“We need to get out of here now,” Andreas said.

“But-” what about the boys? There were at least five of them in addition to the one sprawled next to the first horseman in a pool of blood.

“They’re already dead.”

A shout rang out; the enemy had seen them. “The village to the southeast!” Leo snapped, wheeling his horse around. Everyone turned to follow, although Alexeia took a quick glance back at the corpses. An arrow nearly took off her nose. She took off at the gallop, everyone fanning around her as a meat shield. It is me they want.

That is the only reason the Lakan of Tondo would have large search parties out combing the jungle. The Chinese must be coming here. Tondo potentially could take Pyrgos by itself, but it would be bloody, risky, and leave Tondo extremely vulnerable to Roman reinforcements. An attack with the Tieh fleet would be much less dangerous, but leave Tondo clearly the junior partner in the Chinese shadow, unless the Lakan could present some prestigious coup, such as the capture of the Roman Empress’ younger sister.

They were outrunning the enemy though. All of them were on the Kephale’s horses. An Arab Christian from Sidon, his collection had some of the finest bloodlines in Asia, superior even to the breeding stock used for the Athanatoi mounts. But even though the original group was now lost to sight, Alexeia could see another, much larger squadron angling from the left and curling around in front of them while another approached from the right flank.

“Saint Demetrios!” Leo roared. They were aiming for the gap between the two groups, but Alexeia could see that they would have to tangle with at least the periphery of the frontal group to get clear. Although ‘armored’ only in silk and leather because of the heat and hunt, her guards were heavily armed so a fight wouldn’t be completely hopeless. But there was the risk that the delay in attempting to evade the two enemy groups would allow the original to catch up.

Next to her she saw Andreas yank an arrow out of his quiver, notch it to his bow, aim, and loose while at full gallop, just like she had seen him do a hundred times. But that had been when he was younger and never in combat. The honed skill of one of the siege of Antioch’s greatest snipers sung through the decades. The arrow skewered the right eye of a Tondoese horseman, but Andreas had to drop the bow to pull out his sword in time.

The crash of steel, the crack of kyzikoi, the screaming of men and horses surrounded her. She had been in battle before, forty years ago, in the fight between the retainers of Manuel IV Klados and the supporters of Uncle Giorgios and her father. It had been a long time since then, and nothing had changed.

A hand grabbed at her reins. A second later it dropped to the ground, a man shrieking as Andreas pulled up his bloody blade to block another assailant. Not fast enough. She saw the steel, sunlight flashing off the blade, and the spurt of blood as it sliced through the bare side of Andreas’ neck.

She screamed, grabbing the boar spear still strapped to her back, which she had forgotten about until this moment. He tried to block her. Not fast enough. She rammed the barbed head into his belly, twisting as she plunged it through him, then lifted him up, still impaled, and slammed him into the ground, the spear still skewering the corpse.

A hand grabbed her reins. “Your highness!” Leo shouted. “The way is clear; we need to go!”
They were. The first group had been killed or scattered by the ferocity of the charge, but the right-hand contingent was almost upon them and the original assailants were back in view.

“But-” They couldn’t just leave him here!

“Mom!” It was Herakleios, blood streaming down his right ear and cheek from a gash on his forehead. “He’s already dead,” he rasped. He was right; the sword blow had been well placed, leaving the head attached to the body merely by a thin flap of skin. An arrow snapped past his head. They ran.

It was a quick ride to the village, even though they rode at a brisk but not frenetic pace unlike the previous gallop to spare the mounts once they saw that the enemy was just shadowing them now. Chastened, the Tondoese keep close tabs on their location and direction with scouts, while the roving patrols gathered together into an overwhelming mass. They were miles from Pyrgos, far to the west. To meet up with any potential reinforcements they would have to travel with their flanks to the Pasig River along the entire breadth of Tondo’s realm.

They rode into the village, an unimpressive collection of thatched huts, one of the poorest and smallest of the local hamlets that stood under the umbrella of Pyrgos. The few dozen locals were in town for the midday meal, along with a dozen that were most definitely not from the hovels.

“Mom, what are you doing here?” Ioannes, her second-youngest child, almost twenty one years old, asked. She almost started crying at the sight of him. He had taken after his father too in his appearance, but with his disheveled, loose turban, sweat and dirt stained forehead and hands, and smelling a little too strongly of horses and goats, he was the exact image of Andreas at that age, when they were married. “Where’s Dad? Wasn’t he with you?”

He had not gone hunting with the rest of them; it was not to his taste. Most likely he had been out collecting strange plants for his gardens at Antioch and Constantinople.

She saw that he had ten men with him, six Roman soldiers and four Japanese ronin, some landless samurai she had hired as additional security. Should’ve gotten more.

“We’ve got Tondoese on our ass,” Leo growled. He barked an order at what looked like the village headman in pidgin Tagalog, who answered back and then started shouting at the locals who immediately scattered.

“What’s going on?” Ioannes asked.

“The Tondoese attacked us in the woods,” Leo answered. “The headman says there are four militiamen in this village.”

Ioannes stared at him for a second. “Wait, what?” His eyes locked with Alexeia’s. “Why are you crying? Where’s Dad?” he asked, his voice trembling.

“He’s dead,” Herakleios said. “And we’re about to be.”

Alexeia couldn’t fault him for his pessimism. If they ran they would be cut down in the jungle long before they reached Pyrgos. Here they could defend themselves, and with the villagers they had a comparable number of bodies. But looking at the inhabitants, it was clear that it did not make the two sides even.

The Roman guardsmen and the samurai were soldiers, but they were only in leather armor, a far cry from the steel lamellar that would have allowed them to carve a bloody swathe through light troops such as the Tondoese soldiery. As it was, the at least three-to-one numerical disadvantage could easily be fatal. The villagers made up the shortfall in bodies, but that was by only including women and the older boys. The four militiamen had leather armor, a sickle sword, and an axe, but there were only four of them. The remainder were ‘armed’ with fish-spears, clubs, and wooden self-bows.

In fact, it was even worse than that. With her full retinue for the day, the actual soldiers would’ve been outnumbered three-to-one. But looking around, she realized for the first time that three guardsmen had been lost in the melee that took her Andreas.

“Here they come!” one of them shouted.

They were coming from the north, about a hundred to a hundred and twenty strong. The rice paddies sprawled south and east of the village, blocking access that way, but in the north between the village and the jungle was a wide spread of pasture. At least that denied them the advantage of surprise.

They came slow, marching in good order. They were armed no better than the militiamen, but the solid rank of soldiers coming on silently made an imposing and chilly sight. Many of the villagers took off running, the headman barking orders.

“What are they doing?” Herakleios hissed. “Cowards.”

“He’s sending the women and children to safety,” Leo answered. “And sending the boys and old men to guard them.” Alexeia saw that he was right; the men that were staying were all of the military age. But she could still hear the frustration in his voice. They were outnumbered four-to-one, and those extra bodies wouldn’t have been completely useless, just close to it.

“Your Highness, you should go inside. You will be safer there,” Leo said.

She looked at the lit torches held in a dozen Tondoese hands. “A Drakina does not die in a burning peasant hovel.” She dies under the open sky.

She wasn’t concerned for her own life; any apprehension on that score had vanished when she saw the last spark of life fade from Andreas’ eyes. She was concerned though for the lives of her sons. Both had been trained with the sword, but Ioannes had never been skilled with the blade. Herakleios was better, but only eighteen and she had learned long ago that even great skill was no sure defense in battle. But she knew that neither would run, and knew that they would be ashamed if she even suggested it.

Aside from a ten-man reserve, the Tondonese had all dismounted, tying their horses to the trees with a few men to watch them as they spread out. They were going to hit the village from both the north and west. All of the Romans had dismounted, while three of her guardsmen were lining up grenades on rocks or benches next to them.

The Tondoese were coming at a walking pace, with a row of archers in the rear that had arrows notched but who were not shooting. Some of the other guards were doing the same with their bows and arquebuses. The natives were not so disciplined; two arrows plunked down far short of the enemy to the accompaniment of jeers.

“Give them a volley,” Leo ordered.

All of the grenades had long fuses. The grenadiers cut the ends with dirks, lit them, loaded their sling staffs with them, and hurled them forward. The first fell a bit short, bouncing once and then exploding with no damage to the enemy. The other two landed right in the middle of the northern formation, exploding at face height.

She couldn’t tell how many the blasts wounded or kill, but the rest started running, disjointing their formation somewhat. A few seconds later the western squadron did the same. “Battle fire!” Leo shouted.

Six arquebuses boomed, covering the snaps of an equal number of composite bows and some self bows as well.

The guns didn’t get a second shot; they took too long to reload. But the archers did get off another three volleys as counter-arrows rained down around them. Around her men screamed.

Between the huts the soldiers had thrown up a very crude and flimsy barricade, made of furniture, carts, barrels and the like, in most places only a couple of feet tall. Tondoese started vaulting the ‘obstacle’. The first got a spear to the guts, the second a kyzikos ball to the mouth.

After that, she was not really sure what happened. The screams of men and horses, the ringing of steel and booming of gunpowder, the stench of blood and bowels. The past memories and present experiences flowed together as one, as Alexeia remembered that terrible day and saw another. Much had changed, and much stayed the same.

“Your Highness,” Leo said, breaking her out of her trance. “It’s over.” They had won, somehow. “They ran after their two commanders were killed.” Leo was bleeding from at least three separate wounds, but was standing firmly on his feet, which was better than many around them. Flies were already gathering on the at least twenty corpses. Practically everyone not dead was wounded, many multiple times.

“I am very sorry, your Highness,” Leo continued. “I failed.”

“What, but-”. Then she saw them, both of her sons, lying dead on the ground. Herakleios was sprawled just behind an overturned cart, a bloody gouge crossing his face from his left temple to the right of his two chins. Ioannes was propped against the wall of a hut, several seeping puncture wounds in his chest.

She looked behind them. Five men were on their knees, hands on their heads, with a blood-splattered samurai standing behind them. She looked at Leo. “I see that we took no prisoners.”

Leo opened his mouth, closed it, and then opened it again. “Yes, your highness.” He turned and started walking toward the men, hand covered in caked blood on his sword hilt. She, on the other hand, had not suffered a scratch. All her blood still flowed in her veins, the blood of Andreas Niketas.

* * *
1586 continued: Alexeia and what is left of her party safely return to Pyrgos, carrying the bodies of Herakleios, Ioannes, and Andreas (recovered from the woods although it had been stripped by the Tondoese). They are buried in the Church of the Theotokos as a cavalry column is dispatched to ravage the outskirts of the Lakan’s territory.

Despite the quick riposte it is unable to do significant damage. On that same morning a trio of caravels leaves for Okinawa. One is back two days later with news that an immense Chinese flotilla is rounding the Bataan peninsula. The next two days before its debut is full of panic and preparation, which does not include spiriting the Princess Alexeia to safety. She is not about to abandon the fresh graves of her husband and two youngest children.

The ‘Great Armament’, as it is known by the Romans of today, had been in the works for several years, even though the most intensive and extensive preparations were all in the last twenty months. Comprising almost four hundred ships, the pride of the fleet are the fifty seven ‘great ships’, each with a crew of five to six hundred and all displacing over a thousand tons, making them larger than all but three Roman vessels in the east, the 1000 tonners Argo and Halys and the 1170 tonner Thassalokrator. The latter is the sixth largest vessel under Roman registry and believed to be the fifteenth largest ship in the world at the time behind a mix of Roman, Triune, and Portuguese ships plus the two largest Chinese ‘great ships’. All three are currently stationed with the fleet at Okinawa.

The combined roll call for the Great Armament comes to eighty thousand, twenty five thousand of them soldiers, the remainder sailors and support personnel. Armed with almost three thousand cannon, the Armament’s first attack on the Roman ‘fort’ at Keelung is like using a volcano to cook an egg. With thirty inhabitants, two mikropurs, and a geriatric hunting dog, the commander surrenders immediately, but despite that the entire complement is executed as pirates and smugglers. A barque hidden away in a forested cove a few miles to the south escapes with the news.

Pyrgos has a population of 3200, although the surrounding villages south of the Pasig River that acknowledge its sovereignty add another ten thousand to the mix. The days prior to the Armament’s arrival are spent gathering supplies and reinforcing fortifications. Men of military age from the villages are conscripted to swell the garrison while ‘useless mouths’ are expelled to hopeful safety in the more remote villages.

Despite the preparations Pyrgos is hopelessly outmatched. On the day the Tieh vanguard anchors in the Pasig estuary there are six thousand souls in Pyrgos. There are five hundred men from the Opsikian and Macedonian tagmata on their rotation in the east (twice the usual number), plus another two hundred from the new eastern cleisurai. Their support comprises two hundred and fifty local militia and twenty three hundred male civilians with little to no military training. Forty two guns guard the ramparts, not including the tower guns described below.

The town of Pyrgos is situated several miles south of the Pasig River which marks the boundary between Pyrgos and Tondo territory. The initial Pyrgos had been much closer to Tondo at the site where the Brunei flotilla had placed its headquarters in 1565 but had almost immediately been moved to a more defensible location on the Ankistro (Hook) peninsula.

Despite the name, the peninsula is shaped like a snake head with its mouth open. Nine months after the Bruneian siege of Tondo, Demetrios Angelos’ tower was relocated to the tip of the upper ‘lip’ where it is known as the Great Tower, housing twenty six cannons including five fifty-pounders situated to fire on warships attempting to attack the northern shore. The main arsenal for the town is located at its base.

On the tip of the lower ‘lip’ is a smaller fortification which is known locally as the Harlots’ Tower, as the first official brothel opened up shop next door to cater to the construction crews. It is still in business today. In more polite circles it is called Aphrodite’s Pillar instead. Its seventeen guns in support with those of the Great Tower secure the Upper Harbor, the anchorage in between the two lips which prior to the Tieh attack was used solely for Imperial (in this context ships owned or leased by Roman governmental officials) vessels, although a great many of the more powerful ship lords managed to find ways to access it. In between the Harlots’ Tower and the Great Tower a large chain can be raised to protect the entrance.

South of the Harlots’ Tower is the Lower Harbor lining the peninsula’s neck and the mainland waterfront facing the ‘chin’. Here is where most ships were berthed, with the waterfront both on the mainland and the peninsula lined with wharves, warehouses, and shops. Included amongst the edifices is the Shark’s Eye, another fortification on the mainland, after a huge dead shark washed up on the beach during construction. Its purpose is to help protect the Lower Harbor with its eighteen guns and also anchor a gigantic double chain (which is kept coiled in Shark’s Eye in times of peace) that connects it with the Harlots’ Tower.

The neck of the peninsula is secured by a thick packed-earth and stone wall with only one gate situated between the two pentagonal bastions. A large trench was dug just south of the wall designed to be flooded by water from the bay to serve as a moat. When the Tieh fleet arrives at the Pasig estuary, the moat has been filled and the bridges torn down. Also torn down were all the structures on the mainland waterfront save for the Shark’s Eye.

However the first Pyrgos cannon to fire is from another key fortification on the top of the peninsula’s head opposite the Great Tower. That is where the lighthouse is placed, with another fourteen cannons, one of which is a twenty-pounder culverin named ‘Squirrel’ (no one is sure why). Now in the New Constantinople Museum of Eastern History, it fired on a Tieh junk three times on April 26, the first shots of the Grand Siege.

Child’s drawing of pre-siege Pyrgos.
As should be clear, a landward attack on the main Pyrgos town would be extremely difficult. Ironically most of the defenses were financed by loot from China. The mere presence of the Tieh armada was enough to dismantle the mainland sections, but those were far less important than the peninsula districts. Both the defense and the attack will have to pay a great deal of attention to sea power. In between the two main fortifications on the back and top is a short sea wall, but it is small and lightly armed, a far less imposing barrier than the stout neck bastions.

Both the Upper and Lower Harbor shorefronts do not have a sea wall, as the commercial activity would not have tolerated such encumbrances well. The sheer number of waterfront buildings do provide a respectable, albeit flammable, obstacle to any landings in the area, but it is considered the weakest point in the peninsula defenses if the Tieh can get past the tower and chain defenses, plus any ships defending the shore.

There are twelve ships in port at the time, all of which are seized for the defense. The most impressive is the four hundred tonner Archimedes, a Taprobani-built galleon with twenty two guns and a veteran crew who have raided the China coast, fought the Bruneians, and helped capture Alappuzha. Six other vessels are also Roman design, the remaining five native junks. These numbers do not include local small craft. The three smaller junks are stationed in the more secure Upper Harbor while the others are anchored as mobile artillery along the chin in the Lower Harbor.

Although the number of cannons in the city and ‘fleet’ is paltry in comparison to that of the Great Armament, they are well-built modern pieces, with a third of them cast in the Pahang foundries. The arsenal is well stocked with both powder and shot, and fortunately for the defenders a huge stockpile of arquebuses, the ideal weapon for the untrained civilian defenders. Drill dekarchoi from the regular soldiery immediately set to work training them how to use the weapons.

It takes six days after the landing for the Great Armament to get itself organized and marching south, although a few naval probes are sent the way of Pyrgos before then (Squirrel fired on one of them). A few Tondoese cavalry probes had penetrated south of the Pasig prior to then, but the Roman siege preparations had been almost entirely unmolested.

Not so the Chinese line of march. Many of the Roman soldiers on eastern rotation had done service either as cavalry or black horses, and while small in number, their exceedingly well-armed and fast flying squadrons bedevil the Chinese screen. The goal is not to bleed the enemy but to slow them down and buy more time to gather more food and water in the city and reinforce defenses, particularly those of the Shark’s Eye.

It takes four days for the Tieh army to lumber into cannon range, whose vanguard immediately sets to work building earthworks and firing pits after a call to surrender is rejected. Here they finally enjoy some peace and quiet. Two hundred Roman cavalry and mounted infantry wheel south to remain as raiders, but the rest file back into the fortifications. They are well designed to keep the Tieh out, but also keep the Romans in.

On May 3 the first attack is launched, a three-pronged assault on the neck wall, the Shark’s Eye, and a naval attack on the Great Tower. All three are heavily repulsed with serious loss of life, with the landward attacks suffering greatly from Roman ship borne artillery from the vessels in the Lower Harbor. An attempt at gunnery support for the boats running at the Great Tower leave a war junk at the bottom of the bay, another three badly shot up, and one of the great ships without one of its masts.

Realizing that he is in for the long haul and seeing the lethality of the Roman ships in the Lower Harbor, the Tieh commander decides to focus his initial efforts on the Shark’s Eye. It had been proposed to wheel in some of the smaller ships overland into the harbor to bypass the great chain, but any current attempt would suffer from enfilading fire from the eastern neck bastion, the ships, and the Shark’s Eye. Taking the latter would render the chain useless and free a section of the bay where ships could deploy out of range.

The loss of Shark’s Eye wouldn’t be fatal to the survival of Pyrgos. The Lower Harbor would still be covered by the guns of the ships and the Harlots’ Tower, but it would make the task significantly harder. The effective commander of the Pyrgos garrison, Tourmarch Basil Syrbanos, has four hundred men guarding the fort, mostly regular soldiers with some local militia. The inexperienced conscripts are kept to the less vulnerable and more secure neck wall.

Despite serious efforts to reduce the number of ‘useless mouths’, there are still two thousand women, children, and men too old to fight in the town. Basil sets them to work strengthening the sea wall defenses which had been somewhat neglected in the earlier rush. There is only a short space between the water and the sea wall, but spikes are thrown in the water to tear out the bottom of boats and to prevent them from coming closer on high tide, and caltrops laid at the wall’s front, which is also increased to a usual height of seven to ten feet. The weakest section is the center stretch on the west between the neck wall and the Armed Lighthouse, where there are less heavy guns that can be brought to bear on any naval attack.

After the dramatic and bloody debut, the siege soon sets into a steady rhythm. In the southeast, Chinese guns continue to shell Shark’s Eye, steadily drawing closer as the trenches grow under fire. Underground there are Chinese efforts at mining, which are met by Roman counter-mining, neither side gaining an advantage although both distinguish themselves in bravery and ingenuity.

Just to the west the main Tieh effort is to fill in the moat. Boating across it in the initial attack, grenades hurled by sling-staffers on the walls had wreaked terrible carnage when landing in such cramped areas. Gunnery duels are quite common as Roman artillery fires on the Chinese dirt-movers and the Chinese guns respond in kind, and there are also numerous night scraps as Roman parties try to clear away the Tieh piles made during the day.

There are also numerous Tieh probes against the sea wall, mainly to draw off defenders when efforts are made to push forward against the moat or the Shark’s Eye or to wear down the supply of powder and shot, which is being consumed quite rapidly. There are also a few runs at the chains trying to break them with heavily loaded ships, but none are successful.

The ships serve almost entirely as extra artillery, although the smaller craft do see work ferrying nocturnal raiding parties across the Lower Harbor to attack the lines investing the Shark’s Eye. Attempting to sally out past the range of the Tower guns would be near suicide considering the huge Tieh superiority in numbers. On May 22 however an attempt is launched to assail both the west sea wall and the Great Tower simultaneously, the latter supported by four of the great ships.

They get some good shots in, wrecking one culverin and exploding one small magazine, but the Tower retaliates by putting an oven-heated shot into the powder store of one of the great ships, blowing it sky high. Working southeast because of the wind, the Harlots’ Tower drills one of the others below the waterline. As the pumps set to work, the third ship takes it under tow and gets it just outside the Harlots’ Tower’s range before it slips its cable.

Meanwhile the fourth ship, trying to cover the pair, veers too close to the Shark’s Eye and takes three hits that rake the entire length of the vessel. The damage is by no means fatal, but the crew is shaken and demoralized as the Archimedes and three other Roman vessels storm out of the harbor. There is a huge size difference as the Archimedes is less than half the size of the smallest Chinese great ship, but they run more heavily armed and are fresh and undamaged.

Two of the Roman ships tack north to fend off the smaller Tieh warships that had been participating but had been driven off by the forts’ guns while the Archimedes and the 270 ton Tenedos take on the great ships. All three are moving sluggish at the helm (the third has some cannonballs lodged in its mainmast so taking on more sail is not an option) so the pair are able to engage each one separately.

The third ship is bracketed and pounded to kindling and the fourth driven aground and set afire from a distance. Meanwhile the crew of the second abandon ship in the boats, but are forced at gunpoint to return and start pumping again as the hulk is taken under tow. A Tieh counter-attack tries to liberate the great junk, but before it can close the Romans and the prize reenter gun range of the forts. Patched up, the war junk enters Roman service as a gun platform anchored off the Harlots’ Tower.

It does not take long for the fleet at Okinawa to hear of the attack on Pyrgos, but the sheer size of the armament shocks them. A combined force of Roman, Shimazu, and six Ethiopian ships, it numbers seventy one ships, with only nine comparable in size to the Chinese great ships. Demetrios Angelos, Bane of Cathay and one of the greatest of the ship lords, is in favor of going to Pyrgos’ aid, but the numerical odds are enough to make even him blanch.

Obviously they need more ships. But the Shimazu are still licking their wounds after Yamage and the Roman ship lords active in the East Indies also took heavy losses in that battle that they have yet to make good. The ship lords of the West Indies have a great number of hulls at their disposal, but most of them have little involvement in the China Sea and are thus not interested in getting into another major shooting war so shortly after the war with Vijayanagar.

Although the immediate threat to them has dissipated, the Shimazu are well aware that if Pyrgos falls, they are likely to be the next target of the Great Armament. So they are willing to join in an attack, provided that the odds can be lessened to something more reasonable. Fortunately for allied cooperation, the Shimazu commander is Shimazu Yoshihiro, the younger brother of the current ‘Dux of Japan’. A resident in Constantinople for four years as a student at the University of Constantinople, he is a devout Orthodox Christian, a fluent Greek speaker, and a firm supporter of the alliance.

He and Demetrios decide that the ten fastest and handiest ships in the fleet will go to Pyrgos, loaded with supplies, armaments, and Shimazu samurai. Another squadron peels off to retake Keelung, this time for use as a base to watch the Chinese coast; there are rumors that the Zhengde Emperor is preparing a second support wave for the Armament. The rest scatter, attempting to enlist reinforcements of their own.

One possibility is the Cham. Beijing’s focus on the Romans has eased the pressure on the ancient kingdom and facing the Great Armament alone is just as scary a prospect for the Cham as it is for the Shimazu. But all of their strength is still needed at home, as the Fourth Banner Army is still ensconced in the northern territories of the kingdom.

Amongst the nations farther south that are significant naval powers are the Sultanates of Sulu, Brunei, and Semarang, the latter the state responsible for delivering the coup de grace to the Majapahit state. Semarang is a quite young Muslim sultanate, the result of expanding Islamic influence in the region which had been given an impetus by Muslim refugees fleeing Vijayanagara/Roman counterattacks in India earlier in the century. All three are on bad terms with the Roman East Indies.

Beyond them are the Wu, a most secretive state despite the long relationship between the Wu and the Daqin. The Romans have a small trading quarter in Nan, the first settlement of the Wu. Centered on the northern coast, it is the Wu’s ‘window to the world’, but no foreigner has been allowed to ply the waves southeast to Xi Wang, where the heart of the Wu state is located.

The Empire of the Great South maintains a small fleet of large ‘black ships’, junks painted that color and weighing in at 700+ tons that can be used both for trade and war. Building from the maritime traditions of China’s southern coast, at their debut they had been the wonder of the area, but with the growing numbers of large Roman ships and now the Tieh great ships built in response, they are far less unique.

Although the black ships elicited a lot of commentary both from contemporaries and modern students, the restriction of foreigners to Nan has led to an unbalanced view of Wu being a predominantly maritime power. The city of Nan itself certainly exists only for trade. Wu exports are mostly gold and iron, but earlier attempts to produce steel tools for export have been ruined by Roman competition.

Part of the reason is that Wu has precious little to trade. Gold is obviously useful, but raw iron is a bulky, low-value good, and Wu steel and wool textiles cannot hope to impress Asian merchants or compete with Roman trade goods. The ability to produce silks or porcelain has been almost entirely lost, and what little is made in the Great South is of poor quality and mainly used for the Imperial Court’s consumption.

The other reason is that less than 10% of the Wu population live in the Nan area. The capital Xi Wang is eight times larger than Nan, and most of the people live in the surrounding towns and villages living off agriculture, fishing, and animal husbandry. Many of the aboriginal tribes are in the Wu orbit, varying from full-fledged members complete with intermarriage to client clans on the periphery who maintain herds in exchange for textiles and tools. Aside from mining, local production is geared for local consumption and for maintaining the exchange networks with the aborigines.

In theory the Wu should be implacable enemies of the Tieh but they were driven from their homeland a hundred and fifty years ago. They had looked to stretch the tendrils of power back towards China by using their large ships to monopolize the carrying trade between the islands of Indonesia, but in that regard they had also been stymied by Roman competition even though it had not been a conscious policy on the part of the ship lords.

Perhaps the most powerful and likely ally is closer afield. In southern China unrest and revolts continue to spread like wildfire, and as the great ship is towed into the Lower Harbor, Gao Yingxiang in Guangzhou proclaims himself the Emperor Yongzheng, first of the Zeng dynasty. However the Zhengde Emperor in Beijing is not being idle during all this. Several armies are dispatched south to deal with the rebels, while a reinforcement flotilla is assembled to support the Great Armament at Pyrgos.

* * *
September 14, 1586, somewhere off the coast of Fujian:

Demetrios Angelos leaned over the railing, chewing on an Afghan melon. A couple of drops rolled down his now mostly-white beard, the wind flicking them south as the fleet tacked northward. The squadrons under his command numbered forty three sail strong, the bulk of Roman might east of Malacca. Probably only ten to fifteen percent of the crews of those ships had even seen the Roman heartland. The vast majority were Malays, Taprobanis, and the peoples from the Moluccas under the Roman banner, and the rapidly growing ranks of the Digenoi.

The Portuguese and the Triunes on the Malabar Coast would have called this a native fleet, not a Roman armada. They didn’t trust the locals, and while they had mixed offspring by them they certainly did not trust the results with significant power. In contrast, six of his captains were Digenoi and another eighteen were Malays and Taprobanis. But then, equating nations with races sounded like something Latin barbarians would do.

He was ‘pure’ heartlander, the eldest grandson of Andreas Angelos and so a great-grandson of Andreas Niketas himself, a mix of Greek, Armenian, Georgian, Turkish, and who knew what else. His dusky Saracen-esque complexion would have barred him from being anything more than a boatswain on a Triune tub. Here the only inherited ‘stain’ on his character was that he was a bastard, but illegitimacy had little stigma in the east.

That was why he had made his way east. After four years as a cabin boy on a carrack plying the Alexandria-Constantinople run, at the age of fourteen he had hired on to a Red Sea runner, one of the merchant galleys that traversed that treacherous sea whose currents were the bane of sailing vessels. At Zeila he joined one of the Surat galleons. That was fifty years ago; he had not been west of the Indus since.

One of the boys was turning the glass, chanting the prayer that indicated the change to the midday watch. He had just finished it when one of the lookouts in the crow’s nest shouted “SHIPS ON THE HORIZON!” Demetrios glanced to the northeast; he thought he saw black specks. Calmly he strolled back to the helm.

“Dalnovzor,” he ordered. His second mate pulled out the case and opened it, Demetrios pulling out the instrument and putting it to his right eye. The long tube was of Russian origin, the name translating as ‘long sight’. The black specks immediately grew into Chinese junks, at least a hundred plus strong coming straight at him, the wind at their backs, well positioned to pin the Romans between them and the Chinese coast sprawled to the west. That’s probably the relief fleet we’ve been looking for. The idea though had been to find it once they had linked up with the Shimazu; he had not expected to find the Tieh this far south so soon.

But none of that mattered right now. “ALL HANDS TO STATIONS!” He looked at his flag eikosarchos, the one responsible for signaling his orders to the fleet. “Order the fleet to battle stations.” As the banners flapped, sails unfurled, gun ports opened, he thought to himself. Three to one odds. Eh, I’ve seen worse.

* * *
November 1, 1586, Pyrgos:

Alexeia swallowed. It was the last piece of horse meat in Pyrgos, unless one counted the gelatinous glop that was boiled horse hooves. She’d rather have the boiled leather with a pinch of garlic and salt.

She was seated on the balcony of a wine merchant’s home, on the second story facing the Lower Harbor. She had been staying in the Kephale’s Palace, nestled near the Great Tower, but it had been hit by several Chinese cannonballs flying wide and was currently uninhabitable. For the interim she had appropriated this house; it was amazingly undamaged and its former owner wouldn’t need it anymore.

A Malay, both he and his Taprobani wife had been killed in the last major attack, just three days earlier, the same that had wrecked the Kephale’s Palace. The Lower Harbor was in ruins; most of the waterfront had been burned either by Chinese cannon fire or in the fierce shore fighting that had followed between the landing troops and the garrison. The proud, valiant Archimedes hung at anchor just below the Harlots’ Tower, mostly intact, but the captured Chinese junk had been burned to the waterline, along with two of the local ships and a Roman galleon.

She lifted her eyes a bit further. There was finally no longer any smoke rising from the ruins of the Shark’s Eye which had fallen ten days earlier. The immense chain, fourteen months’ labor of the greatest foundries of Pahang, the buckler of Pyrgos, had been blasted from its mountings.

The attack that followed had been greater than any other seen since the beginning of the siege. Over sixty ships had charged into the Lower Harbor, many pounded into kindling by the shore and ship batteries as they grounded on the beach, their salvation and their doom. Salvation from sinking, and their doom as every single cannon and gun and rocket and grenade that could be brought to bear fell on them. Six months ago the smell of corpses would have made her retch, but now she wolfed down her ‘lunch’ even as the breeze carried the stench of three thousand ripe and still unburied corpses.

She had seen and smelled a great many of those as she toured the ramparts. It boosted the men’s morale, although she wondered how much of that was from the fact that her tall frame drew Tieh fire away from them. She had not been hit yet, but if she did, she was prepared. A Drakina dies under the open sky. A clean death, like Andreas or Ioannes or Herakleios.

Below her a troop of about twenty arquebusiers and siderophagoi marched along the quay. The latter, the ‘iron-eaters’, were grenadiers, a troop type that had proven most useful in defending the wall guarding the neck of the peninsula. Two of them were women. Even though the Tieh had finally managed to fill the moat and that at least a fifth of the soldiers guarding the half-collapsed earthen ramparts were of the ‘weaker’ sex, it was reported that the soldiers attacking the bastions three days ago had to be whipped forward by their dekarchoi.

Leo Neokastrites entered without announcement, as he usually did; it was time for her midday briefing. The nineteen year old Pontic was finally managing to grow a beard, a scraggly, light brown boyish thing that on his right cheek surrounded an angry red slash four centimeters in length. A recent nick from an arrow, it was his eighth or ninth battle wound. The two of them were the only ones still alive from the members of that fateful hunting trip. His face was worn and tired, the eyes that of a man thirty years his senior.

“The last of the dog was eaten today,” he said as way of preamble. Leo may have been the one to do that. As the commander of her bodyguard, he had a few perks. Everyone else was eating rats, and those were going alarmingly fast. “Tourmarch Syrbanos has forbidden the firing of cannon on targets more than a hundred meters away, unless they are in groups of ten or larger.” Alexeia had already guessed that. She could still hear the occasional deep roar of the Chinese great gun, but the growl of the lighter Roman pieces was absent.

The eight Shimazu and Roman ships that had managed to fight their way through the blockade in June had been a godsend. The fifteen hundred Shimazu samurai had been a welcome boon to the garrison’s strength, but their supplies of food and powder were even more valuable. Unfortunately those were all gone now and even the great magazines of the Tower were almost spent.

Now would be the time to surrender. That is, if they were fighting someone else. But one does not surrender to Chinese. They had heard of Keelung from the reinforcements, and that was the thin end of the wedge. The Chinese thought of them as pirates and brigands, and thus were not inclined to show them mercy. But any thoughts of capitulation had been destroyed by the events of August.

Incensed by attacks from the interior, the Tieh had rounded up close to two thousand villagers, many of them women and children evacuated from Pyrgos prior to the siege in the hopes of keeping them out of the fighting. They threatened to use them as human shields. The response from their menfolk on the walls had been…unexpected. Expert sniper fire picked off several of the guards and a vigorous sally rescued over a hundred before a Tieh counterattack drove them back behind the battlements. The remaining captives were slaughtered in the open, although outside arquebus range.

Villainous and stupid. The Tieh should have driven them up against Pyrgos’ walls. They would have been brought inside. Extra mouths would have meant the food went faster, and the men would be more willing to surrender if they could save their wives and children. Instead, the next day a Tieh soldier received the first ‘Malay medal’, his throat cut and his manhood chopped off and stuffed into his mouth. After two months of that, there was no chance the people of Pyrgos would get any mercy.

“But it could be worse,” Leo said. Alexeia realized he had been talking the whole time, but she had not heard a word he said.

“What? How so?”

“I lost a horse in a bet.”

“There are no horses in Pyrgos. We ate them all.”

“Exactly. So I just threw up on him instead.”

She blinked, staring at his deadpan expression. She snorted, then start bawling, her whole body shaking as she laughed and cried simultaneously. She didn’t know how long it lasted, but when she finally stopped she wheezed as she drew air into her empty lungs. With a grin on his face, Leo looked like a boy. “Thank you,” she said.

“You’re welcome,” he replied. There was no ‘your highness’. Those things seemed pointless in the midst of this siege, and Leo was a Trebizondian. They had never forgotten that they were once the capital of an Empire and so even at the best of times were more inclined to skirt the boundaries of lese-majeste.


Both of them immediately froze, as did probably everyone else within the walls of Pyrgos. That was the great brass bells of the Church of the Theotokos, silent since the beginning of the siege, to be awakened in one event and one event only, the sighting of another great fleet on the horizon. They had heard rumors, both of another Tieh fleet gathering, and of a joint Roman-Shimazu relief force.


Two bells. Two bells meant it was another Tieh fleet. Two bells meant that they were doomed. The Tieh were suffering, from dysentery, hunger, and battle losses. But two bells meant those losses would be made good. Two bells meant slaughter and rape and death.

But if there were three…Three bells meant a relief fleet. That did not guarantee salvation, but that did give hope. If there were three bells, then they might not be doomed. Alexeia lifted her face toward heaven, praying, as all the souls of Pyrgos prayed, praying to the Virgin, to the warrior saints, and to Saint Jude, that special benefactor of the Roman people in times past, he, the patron saint of lost causes. Praying for one last bell.

* * *
From A History of the Roman Fifth Era by Theodora Komnena Drakina, notes and English translation by Dr. Henry Oxley, University of Isengard, 1913:

The people of Pyrgos had fought well in the shade of Chinese arrows, but as the stones and smoke of Pylos know, not even Spartans can stand against everything(1). As the soldiers manning the ramparts of the north saw the sails winding the wine dark sea, they gave shouts of such joy as has not been voiced since the hoplites at Thekes(2).

Fifty prows belonged to the Roman nation(3), tall and mighty, a great wooden wall advancing across the deep. As when some great forest fire is raging upon a mountain top and its light is seen afar, even so as they marched the gleam of their armor flashed up into the firmament of heaven(4).

Another fourteen were those of the beautiful, long-lived Ethiopians, long of arm and strong of bow(5). Six and twenty ride under the red banners of the King of the Cham, that venerable kingdom, the Nestor amongst the council of kings(6). Eight more are those of the black, servants of the Lord of the Great South.

Thirty seven fly the standards of the great Shimazu, all lusty lions brave and terrible to behold. And none were greater than their commander, Shimazu Yoshihiro, beloved of Saint Michael and Saint Theodoros. As when baneful Mars sallies forth to battle, and his son Panic so strong and dauntless goes with him, to strike terror even into the heart of a hero(7), so is his entry upon the field of battle.

Yet beside such sons of mighty Achilles and scions of wise Odysseus were many whose ancestry was that of base Thersite, the vile dog of the Danaans(8). Two hundred and thirty ships were those of the Cathay, the wretches of a wretched nation, made formidable only by their numbers(9). At least their sheepish hearts would stop the arrows aimed for better men.

1) Reference to Thucydides, the battle of Pylos during the Peloponnesian War saw a Spartan force surrender to Athenian troops.
2) Reference to The Anabasis, specifically the famous sighting of the sea.
3) What Theodora leaves out is that of the fifty prows, at least a quarter of them were captained by eastern races, and over seventy percent of the crews were easterners or mongrels. But then Greeks have never been concerned about ethnic purity.
4) Homer, The Iliad.
5) Reference to Herodotus.
6) Proof that the Greeks and the Cham have always felt great affinity with each other. Both are ancient states who are still medieval in that they have no concern for modern considerations of racial cohesion.
7) Homer, The Iliad.
8) Thersites was a rabble rouser and coward in the Iliad, who is literally beaten for his pains by Odysseus.
9) The fleet provided by the Zeng.

1586 continued: Theodora Komnena Drakina’s history of her era is an invaluable source of information on the period, insightful, detailed, penetrating in its analysis and broad in its understanding of the factors that move men and nations. That said, at certain moments, the War of the Rivers, the second battle of Maynila Bay, and the beginning of the Eternal War, she does have the tendency to lay the classical allusions on rather thick.

The fleet that Demetrios Angelos sighted off the coast of Fujian was a Zeng flotilla, and in combination with them and a Shimazu squadron he destroyed the Tieh reinforcement fleet in an afternoon battle off Dongtai. With those laurels, he manages to impose his command on the heterogeneous fleet cobbled together by Roman diplomacy which then sails to the relief of Pyrgos.

With three hundred and sixty five warships the relief fleet has a slight numerical advantage over the Great Armament after its losses during the siege. The David versus Goliath theme that still colors narratives of the battle is the result of both Roman and Shimazu chroniclers being reluctant to admit that they owe anything to the Zeng. Theodora, writing after the Four Incidents, is merely one of the first.

However the fact is that with the Zeng providing almost two thirds of the relief fleet, the second battle of Maynila bay bears much more resemblance to the great battles of the various Chinese interregnums than a straight Chinese-foreigner dichotomy. Manpower-wise the disparity between the Zeng contributions and those of everyone else is even more stark.

That said, there is more to war than just numbers of ships and men. The Zeng and Cham ships charge into a brutal, massive melee with the Tieh armada, but the Romans, Shimazu, Ethiopians, and Wu rely instead on their gunpowder armaments, standing off at range and pouring in volleys of fire.

But they too engage in their share of close-quarter fighting. The Thassalokrator, the largest warship present and Demetrios Angelos’ flagship, is seen looking as if it is on fire. It is the constant thundering of her broadsides which cripple at least ten war junks, but not before one brings down her main and mizzenmast with her own salvoes. Wallowing, she immediately becomes the center of a tremendous, murderous scrum.

Grappled by three junks, she is boarded and stormed, the Tieh soldiers taking all of the deck except the aft castle. Demetrios and twenty marines and sailors keep the Roman banner up long enough for the Ithaca, a four hundred tonner Taprobani galleon captained by a Greek-Malay Digenos, to come up. Storming parties from the Ithaca drive the Tieh back.

Then a Tieh great ship rams and grapples the Ithaca. Vastly outnumbered, the crew retreats to the Thassalokrator where a seesaw battle takes place. The decks of the two ships are exchanged at least five times as both sides pile into the fray. After two hours of carnage, Shimazu grenadiers and a crack Ethiopian company finally clear the pair. There is not a single bit of either deck that is not covered in corpses, in many cases three or four deep.

The Ethiopians are led by Dawit of Zeila, a descendant of one of Saint Brihan’s battle companions. Standing six feet, seven inches tall, he supposedly wields a pair of twelve-pound zweihanders, one in each hand. Demetrios Angelos after the battle claims he saw Dawit cleave three men in a single blow. Carrying the battle to one of the great junks entangled with the Ithaca, he and his men take the ship despite being outnumbered five to one. Tieh soldiers dive into the sea, to drown amidst the feeding frenzies of the hundreds of sharks drawn to the bloodletting. It is better than facing that man.

The first battle of Maynila Bay between the Romans and Bruneians lasted six hours and involved seventy ships. The second battle is of the same duration but ten times larger and proportionally much bloodier. Coming to a close at sunset, shortly after Dawit’s indomitable charge, it ends with the practically complete annihilation of the Great Armament.

Yet this signal victory comes at a heavy cost. Out of the three hundred sixty five allied ships that sailed into the battle, only two hundred and seventy one sail back out again. The Shimazu and Ethiopians both take around fifteen percent casualties each. The Cham come out slightly worse, the Wu slightly better.

The main losers, aside from the Tieh, are the Romans and the Zeng. The Tieh ships, recognizing the Roman vessels as the greatest threat, had concentrated their fire on them. Although not as formidable individually, the sheer number of Tieh cannon wrecked eleven Roman ships, with an equal number moderately or severely damaged. More serious are the losses in manpower, with horrific casualties taken especially in the fierce scrum over the Thassalokrator. By itself the casualties are just painful, but when combined with the Indian wars and the Great Uprising they do much to explain the First Moluccan War.

One out of every three Zeng soldier is a casualty. Many of them were trained, disciplined, professional soldiers from the Banner units that had flocked to the Emperor Yongzheng, losses that cannot be replaced quickly.

The destruction of the fleet still leaves a powerful army investing Pyrgos, but that army is tired, demoralized, and now has no chance of averting mass starvation. They capitulate immediately to the Zeng, who grant them lenient terms. The Romans are outraged, especially the denizens of Pyrgos who want revenge for all their suffering. Thus the Zeng admiral is the only allied commander not to personally receive a Roman court title (with associated stipend) and medal of thanksgiving personally from Alexeia. He gets merely a cold shoulder from the princess.

The Wu, Zeng, and Cham all return home at this point to lick their wounds, but the Romans, Shimazu, and Ethiopians all stay. There is one more score to settle. As the Lakan of Tondo is overthrown in a coup by his younger brother, Alexeia stages a mass reward ceremony where sixty Orders of the Iron Gates and thirty five Orders of the Dragon are given to those deemed worthy (It is at this time that the Order of the Dragon officially takes the position as the highest decoration that can be bestowed in the Roman military, a position it holds to this day; the Iron Gates maintains its status as second in the hierarchy).

Then they march on Tondo. As soon as they ford the Pasig River, Alexeia receives a delegation from the new Lakan. Apologizing for the actions of his brother and predecessor he offers to recompense the Romans ‘with anything they want’. Alexeia replies that she wants her husband and her sons. Two weeks later the city of Tondo is destroyed. The news spreads rapidly. As January begins Alexeia receives more envoys, from the Pansipit River valley, Bay, Taytay, and Bulacan, all offering tribute to the Roman Empire.
1587: Although its loss would have had negligible consequences for most of the inhabitants, the successful defense of Pyrgos and the great victory of Second Maynila (still named after the minor village that had been the original site of Pyrgos) Bay are celebrated throughout the Imperial heartland. Inspired by the exploits of the garrison, Kaisar Demetrios pens the famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God”.

Given the near total absence of his biological father Nikolaios Polos, the primary adult male influence on the Kaisar was the Patriarch Matthaios II. Metropolitan of Trebizond during its siege by the Ottomans, he died seven years ago, but not before significantly shaping the personality of his protégé, with important consequences for the Empire.

All of the members of the Laskarid and Second Komnenid Dynasties were faithful sons and daughters of the Orthodox Church (with the possible exception of Herakleios II) but none had been particularly renowned for his piety. Demetrios is another matter. He has gone on pilgrimage to Jerusalem four times, amongst other excursions, and has a sizeable collection of relics and icons.

Some of the icons he has painted himself. Since a young age he has taken an interest in painting, starting with landscapes. However the Patriarch’s influence led him to the traditional handiwork of the icon painter, although he still sometimes creates landscapes and religious-themed paintings. Some are of quite impressive technical quality, but modern audiences certainly find them duller than the sensual creations of Smyrna studios of the era.

An Afternoon in Caria, one of the tamer paintings to come out of Smyrna during the ‘Drakinan Flowering’. Demetrios called it ‘A Prologue to Debauchery’.
The ‘Drakinan Flowering’ is a term not invented until the 1710s, used by Roman historians to cover the period between the end of the War of the Rivers and the beginning of the Eternal War, a golden age sorely missed. While golden ages are much more apparent in hindsight, and the Flowering is no exception, it was clear even to contemporaries that this time was special.

In the east warfare was a constant, even if intensity and enemies varied from time to time. But in the heartland itself, peace and prosperity had been near universal. The War of the Rivers briefly interrupted the pleasant pattern, but compared to the Time of Troubles it was a minor irritant. Even on the eastern frontier, the tribal raids that have been a commonplace since the days of the Seljuks have been unusually low. Many of the would-be raiders were killed by Timur II and their potential patrons in Hamadan are focused on the east.

The result is the preindustrial equivalent of a population boom. In the almost forty years since the accession of Empress Helena Drakina, the population of the Imperial heartland has grown from eleven and a quarter million to fifteen and three quarters. Close to four hundred thousand of the increase is due to Georgian, Vlach, and Russian immigrants. Only now is the growth rate beginning to slow.

The Despotate of Sicily is in a similar position, receiving several tens of thousands of German immigrants, most of whom settle in Calabria. With 2.7 million, it is far smaller than the Empire but has become preeminent amongst the Despotates. Its glass and soap industries have customers as far away as Iceland and Sicilian merchants have warehouses along the Thames. Such would be lucrative targets to the Barbary corsairs but the Sicilian navy is building and manning its own fregatai, adding their weight behind the Roman warships patrolling between Minorca and Trapani.

As impressive as that growth is, it pales in comparison to the steady increases in productivity of the Roman ironworking and textile industries, whose output relative to the Roman population has increased by almost twenty percent since the accession of Empress Helena. It is hardly a revolution but quite impressive by preindustrial standards. Financed by low-interest loans from the Imperial Bank for this specific purpose, groups of merchants have banded together to form small factories with more concentrated and streamlined production methods.

It is a glimmering of an industrial future, but it is quite easy to make too much out of it. Most of the factories never get beyond a few dozen employees and traditional methods still make the majority of Imperial products. Also agriculture fails to keep pace with the improvements. Access to cheap and plentiful Scythian and Egyptian grain, plus the large expanses of fallow arable land upon its establishment, mean that the Imperial Bank, and through it the Roman government do not see the need to patronize new farming techniques. Aside from chocolate, foodstuffs from the New World are practically unknown in the Empire, although corn is starting to make rounds as animal feed.

Although much of the government’s money goes to funding the powerful, organized, disciplined and large military, there is still a great deal left for the Imperial court. All of the many daughters wed to the royal houses of Christendom came with sumptuous dowries, all burdensome sums to the exchequer but calculated to impress with the magnificence of the Roman court.

It is not just through royal marriages that the prestige of the Roman Empire has spread throughout Europe. The Empire’s manufactures are highly valued across Christendom. Its silks and jewelry have been a staple of Roman exports, but ceramics from the kilns of Bithynia and Thracesia have entered the lists, and one of the riches looted from China was the secret of how to make porcelain. Controlled directly by the crown who maintains a strict monopoly, there are porcelain factories in Constantinople, Antioch, and Smyrna.

There is growth and innovation in more mundane areas as well. Rhomania has regularly sold munitions to the Orthodox world since the days of Theodoros IV, but for the first time the Romans are selling significant amounts of arms and armor in Western Europe. The Triumvirate shares some disquiet over armaments going into the hands of heretics, but just like the Far East, they realize that enforcing a ban on arms sales would be hopeless. Helena contents herself with a higher custom duties, with preferential treatment given to merchants selling to countries in the good graces of the White Palace.

Clocks, watches, and navigational instruments accompany the weaponry, but the Roman market absorbs most of the Empire’s more limited production in those areas. Books on the other hand are a growing export. Just like the Serene Republic in her final decades, Venetia is a center of printing, and many of the works off her presses are traveling west and north. With the grecophobia of the previous century fading (although it does not vanish and definitely retains the capability to revive), the Latin west is much more receptive to ancient Greek literature and even some of the works of their modern descendants.

This also facilitates the spread of the Greek language. In the Orthodox and Coptic sphere, Greek is the language of culture, spoken by all with any pretensions to refinement. In the Italian states, after the conquests of Andreas Niketas placed three-fifths of the peninsula under Constantinople’s sway, knowledge of Greek was considered essential to diplomats and merchants. With the retreat of Roman power to the indirect and rather light control of a quarter of Italy via the Despotate of Sicily, it no longer retains such primacy, particularly in Lombardy. That said, it is still considered a useful skill.

Greek’s greatest successes in the west lie in Hungary and Castile. Hungary’s close proximity to the Empire and need to maintain clear communications with the Orthodox world has meant that senior diplomats have had to know Greek since the late 1300s, but now most of the Hungarian and Croat nobility have at least a halting knowledge.

Castile’s situation is less natural, greatly pushed by King Felipe. As the most powerful state in the Mediterranean, Rhomania is a potential rival to his ambitions, especially regarding Aragon. However it is also a potential counterweight to both the Barbary corsairs and the United Kingdoms, the former’s biggest trading partner. On both accounts he considers it necessary to develop closer relations with the Empire.

Relations between Rhomania and Castile are maintained by sea, on ships mainly of Roman built. The yards of Trebizond are rebuilt, the yards of Sinope are growing, and works at Thessaloniki, Corinth, Smyrna, Attaleia, Alexandretta, and Dyrrachion are smaller producers. There are also the arsenals at Constantinople and Venetia, although they build only warships. With a merchant marine of seventeen hundred registered vessels, the Empire’s is the second largest in the world, second only to the Lotharingian Dutch, although that of the United Kingdoms is not far behind.

While the Empire exports mainly finished goods (wine, olive oil, alum, and mastic are exceptions), most of the imports are bullion, obviously the preferred payment, and raw materials. Naval stores, leather, iron, copper, lead, grains, salt, and coal make up the vast majority.

One manufactured good that is a regular import are eyeglasses. Although they have been known in Flanders over a hundred years and spread quickly across France, Germany, and northern Italy, for some reason they have been scarcely noticed or used in the Empire until now. They are an expanding industry in the Empire with shops in most of the major cities, but the upper class orders theirs from Ferrara. Dalnovzors are ordered from Chernigov, their city of origin.

Through such diplomacy and pageantry and the industry of their subjects the Triumvirate has succeeded in reestablishing the Roman Empire as the preeminent power in the Christian world. Practically every state in Europe has ambassadors in Constantinople, and they are usually people of great seniority in the homeland. The Castilian ambassador is the younger brother of the king; the Arletian is the brother of the queen.

Amongst the diplomats in Constantinople in September is Kristina, eldest child of Helena and wife of the King of the Romans, with her children in tow. A tall, dark-haired beauty now in her early thirties, she has been a formidable and vigorous agent in building a rapprochement between the Roman and Holy Roman Empires. It is a process that began in a most unlikely time and place, the dusk over the blood-stained fields of Cannae.

Frederick III was the one opponent Andreas Niketas faced on the field of battle that he respected both as an opponent and an individual (he acknowledged Julius II as a dangerous foe, but openly expressed his desire to kill the Venetian prelate). It is a fact known and cherished by the Germans who consider it a compliment. Kristina’s sons Manfred and Otto are both highly conscious of their blood descent from both Frederick III and Andreas Niketas and have been raised on the tales of their exploits.

They are there mainly as Kristina wishes to visit her mother but she also hopes to see a new nephew. Kaisarina Venera, wife of her only living brother Demetrios, is nearing the end of a term and it is rumored that the child is male, although how anyone would know that is anyone’s guess. On September 19 she goes into labor, the people of Constantinople holding their breath and awaiting the news from the White Palace.

It is not until September 21 that she delivers after an agonizing two days that leave her totally spent. The child is indeed a boy, but he dies four hours after his birth, too weak to taste milk before the end. Venera’s condition does not improve and by the 24th it is clear that she is failing as well. A distraught Demetrios alternates from her bedside to his private chapel, where he spends hours on the cold stone floor praying.

On September 26 Venera Bagrationi, Princess of Georgia and Kaisarina of the Romans, dies. That night Demetrios is taken to bed with a fever, which soon rages alarmingly hot. Barely conscious, the Kaisar is delirious, shouting at imaginary apparitions. It shows no signs of abating, getting worse as the days go by, and the Roman court prepares for the worst. At sunset on October 2 the Patriarch of Constantinople personally administers the Last Sacrament; Demetrios is not expected to last the night.

At five in the morning the people of Constantinople are awakened by an immense pealing of bells, and then the roar of cannons and rockets. Demetrios’ fever has broken. He is extremely weak for several weeks afterwards, but is strong enough to attend a thanksgiving service two weeks later in Aghia Sophia where the Patriarch praises God for the miracle, a sentiment Demetrios resoundingly shares.

With such a blazing reminder of mortality and starting to feel her fifty-eight years, Empress Helena elects to take a major step in securing the succession. She had been reluctant to do so earlier. Having grown up in the anarchy of the Time of Troubles and further burned by her own husband’s and son’s treachery in the War of the Rivers, she has been most wary of abrogating any of her power.

On November 8, the then feast day of Saint Demetrios of Thessaloniki, Demetrios is officially christened Demetrios II, Emperor of the Romans, Co-monarch with his mother. His daughter and only child Helena, who is seven years old, is proclaimed Kaisarina in the same ceremony.

1588: Orthodoxy has come a long ways since the dark days of the early 1200s. Rhomania and Russia are two of the world’s great powers and its adherents stretch from Sicily to Kyushu. Although the fierce resistance of the Chosokabe and the steady unification of Honshu cast a pall over the prospect, there are still many who hope that the Shimazu will be the vehicle to the conversion of the ‘countless’ Japanese people.

However there is one significant concentration of Orthodox believers under the rule of the ‘faithless’, in the lands of Serbia. Although most Orthodox bishops are not evicted outright from their sees, Buda does block the appointments of new ones as sees become vacant. Many Serbian clergy in King Vukasin’s day received their theological training in the seminaries of Ohrid or Serres, both capitals of Roman kephalates. That too is blocked by the Hungarian administration.

In Serbia, Orthodox believers suffer sumptuary restrictions and are limited in their choice of professions (some regulations are copied practically verbatim from Roman anti-Muslim edicts). It requires two Orthodox eyewitnesses to counter the testimony of one Catholic in court cases, and in any case involving a Catholic, the judge by law has to be Catholic. Needless to say, the Serbs are becoming restless, and Demetrios II, believing God spared his life for a reason, has some things to say about the situation.

To the fury of the Hungarians, Serbian dissidents are trickling into Macedonia to escape Hungarian officials and to set up conduits through which Roman coin and weapons can trickle into Serbia. Demetrios ignores the protests from Buda, even a letter from his younger sister Theodora, Crown Princess of Hungary, who execrates his support for ‘the vile and unwashed Serbs, who only speak in lies and excel only in perfidy’. Helena acts as a restraint upon her son, curtailing the amount of aid and comfort provided but she is surprised by his increased assertiveness.

At this time Her Serene Highness Princess Alexeia returns from the east, paying a brief visit to Constantinople but soon retiring to one of her personal estates, a seaside villa near Sinope. She never leaves the kephalate of Sinope for the rest of her life and never again plays an active role in politics.

Meanwhile in the western Mediterranean, the activities of the Roman fregatai have temporarily stymied the predations of the Barbary corsairs but the peoples of North Africa have not been idle. They have fregatai of their own now and immediately show they can use them just as well as the Romans. On July 16 off Cape Mahan, a Barbary flotilla under the command of Ibrahim ibn Husayn al-Izmirli destroys a combined Hospitaler-Roman-Arletian fleet. It is his first action as an admiral.

However Constantinople pays little attention to the opening gust of the oncoming hurricane, for all of Asia is in the middle of its own storms. The Khan of the Uzbeks, Mohammed Amin, had seemed poised to unite the entirety of the steppe under his rule. While the conquest of Transoxiana from the Timurids had been destructive, he quickly made good the damage. Under Uzbek rule Samarkand continued its role as a major center of trade along the Silk Road and the intellectual capital of the Islamic World.

But since his death three years ago his empire has been wracked by civil war as his four sons all fight it out over who will inherit his realm, tearing it apart in the process. The White Horde, which a decade earlier may have had the ability to fill the vacuum of power, is also suffering from weak leadership plus a fierce array of Cossack and Russian attacks. Megas Rigas Ioannes I Laskaris, who naturally favors the Trans-Volga territories where he can be an autocrat, is strongly pushing Siberian expansion.

Helena views the chaos in central Asia with disquiet and her fears are confirmed as an Ottoman host storms across the Kopet Dag Mountains, flattening all resistance in its path. On September 14, the city of Merv, birthplace of Shah Rukh’s greatest general, is besieged. With the largest Ottoman artillery train ever seen hammering at the ramparts and no hope of relief from the would-be Uzbek Khans, Merv capitulates after a mere week’s bombardment. Because of its quick surrender, the town and populace are well treated, but Galdan of Merv’s tomb is demolished with explosives, although not before his body is exhumed. Surprisingly well preserved, it is torn to shreds.

The man who personally sets the detonation charges is none other than Shahanshah Iskandar I Komnenos. The grandson of Osman Komnenos and Aisha, daughter of the last Osmanli Sultan, he is only twenty years old but has already gained a reputation for both bravery and ruthlessness. His grandfather died just two months after Mohammed Amin and was initially succeeded by Iskandar’s cousin, the grandson of Osman the Great via another of his wives. Iskandar did not think much of that and overthrew him in a palace coup, during which he overawed the janissaries by sheer force of personality.

For now the campaign stops at Merv but the Shah immediately sets to work transforming the city into a forward operating base. Arsenals, warehouses, and barracks are built across the suburbs while work gangs reportedly numbering almost a hundred and fifty thousand strong toil building roads. Roman spies declare the finished product the equal of any Roman highway.

1589: Helena does not like the way things are progressing in Central Asia but is reluctant to commit Roman forces against Persia without allies, and there are none to be found. The Sultanate of Oman is worn out by its long struggle with Sukkur. Ethiopia sees no benefit from intervening and even if they were willing, they would require Omani logistical support to project their power into the Persian Gulf.

The best anti-Ottoman ally would be the Kingdom of Georgia, but kings are dying like flies across Asia. A plague epidemic ravages the Kingdom, killing over a quarter-million people including both King Stefanoz, his son Prince David, and his granddaughter Princess Thamar. The only survivors of the immediate royal family are Queen Sophia Drakina and her youngest daughter Anna. While the Georgians do have provision for female lordship (after all, their greatest monarch was Queen Thamar) in these troubled times it is not considered ideal.

Enter Konstantin Safavid, head of that powerful family, Megas Domestikos of the Kingdom and son of Stefanoz, the conqueror of Tabriz who fought Timur II to a draw. Tall and well-built, with a bit of distinguished silver in his beard, he can trace his lineage back to the father of Empress Venera (wife of Herakleios II) and to Theodoros II Laskaris Megas via his youngest son Alexios. With the support of the army, he is able to coerce Sophia into accepting him as co-regent for the five-year-old Princess Anna.

His next goal is a dual marriage, between himself and Sophia and between Anna and his ten year old son Vakhtang (from his first marriage; his mother is four years dead). To that end he employs his considerable charm on both women. Sophia continues the Roman tradition of educated Imperial women and he showers books on her while both he and Vahktang, cut from the same mold as his father, become Anna’s closest friends.

While most of the Georgian people support such a union, Konstantin knows that Sophia’s powerful mother must be appeased as well. Charming Sophia is part of that. With the still raw wound from the death of her grandnephews at Pyrgos, appearing to threaten members of the Roman Imperial family is highly unlikely to end well. But the Empress of Rhomania wants more, specifically Georgian military intervention against the Ottomans.

Konstantin, whose position is not as secure as he would like, is unwilling to go that far. As Megas Domestikos, in a full scale war he is expected to be at the front, far away from Tbilisi and any intrigue aimed at unseating him. As a compromise he does order several border raids along the frontier. Just like the Roman-Ottoman border, occasional cavalry squadrons poke and nip the peripheries of the empires, both nations ignoring the pinpricks.

They serve as reconnaissance/spying expeditions and ways to gain a little combat experience for their troops, and are nowhere near serious enough to warrant a significant response. Konstantin’s raids, similar in scope although faster in tempo, do nothing but miff Iskandar. Helena, sensing that is the best she is going to get, does not push for more and writes off any Roman intervention.

With his western frontier free, Iskandar continues his push towards Samarkand. All those in his path who submit quickly are confirmed in their positions and are rewarded greatly with gifts of cloth and slaves. Those who do not are expunged. Unsurprisingly he faces little resistance in his march until he nears the Amu Darya River.

At this point, one of the four Uzbek ‘Khans’ is dead, and two of the remaining three unite to drive back the Ottomans. At the town of Amul the armies clash. Although the Uzbeks do have some infantry gunners and cannons amidst their ranks (many had been lost in the fall of the Timurids and the Uzbeks had done little to replace them), it is very much a steppe army that Genghis Khan would find familiar that faces the magnificent array of arquebuses and cannons that Iskandar has assembled.

The Uzbek troops are mowed down in droves, with one of the two Khans killed during the battle. Iskandar establishes Amul as his new forward base and settles down for the season. He does not want to campaign in winter. Besides, the Khan who did not fight at Amul is now busily pitching into the one survivor, further lessening the forces the Shah will face come spring.

1590: Exactly why it started there and then is unknown. The Muslims claim that the landowner was attempting to enforce his ‘privilege’ of first night with the bride of one of his serfs (per Coptic law he is not denied that, and a small bribe to a judge would easily take care of any Muslim suit against it). The Copts assert that a swineherd had merely been passing by the mosque with his herd during the Friday morning prayers and the Muslims vastly overreacted.

What is clear is that on the night of February 19 three Coptic landlords and their families are slaughtered by their Muslim serfs near El-Idwa. As soon as word reaches the town a small party of Coptic militia sets out for payback but is ambushed and chopped to pieces in the fields of millet. Arming themselves with the captured weapons, the serfs spread out, easily encouraging the other tenants of the region to follow suit in killing their masters.

Four days later an army fourteen hundred strong attacks El-Idwa, defended by a pitiful Copt garrison of seventy men. The leader of the Muslims is a short (five feet two inches) but immensely strong peasant known only as Hassan. He cannot read or write, but he has a sharp mind and wit plus a back lacerated with scars from repeated whippings. Pious and charismatic, he is a natural leader. His position is furthered strengthened when three bullets from the Copt garrison go clean through his turban and another through his right sleeve, but he is completely untouched. The garrison is massacred after a resistance of less than thirty minutes.

News of the revolt spreads rapidly, sparking similar uprisings all along the Nile River. Those to the north are scattered, small, and easily put down as Alexandria immediately dispatches five tourmai south. In Suez order is maintained by the Roman authorities by the immediate imposition of martial law and the prompt execution via long knife of half a dozen Muslims who attempt to instigate riots.

It is in the south where the rebellion blossoms. The Coptic presence in the south of Egypt is few and far between. With 95% of the population oppressed and Muslim, there is nothing to stop insurrection save the threat of reprisal from the Delta. That is still present but Hassan’s victory at El-Idwa removes that one step. It is enough. By the end of April every Copt south of Hassan’s base is either dead, enslaved, or in hiding.

It is not restricted to Egypt either. The northern reaches of the Ethiopian Empire bear a great similarity to southern Egypt. The hot river valley is inhabited primarily by a huge, repressed underclass of Muslims, and here many are outright slaves of their Ethiopian owners. There are also semi-nomadic tribes dotting the region. Although more free than the agricultural workers (which is a low bar), they are mostly Muslims or pagans and have little love for the Ethiopian government.

The ‘King of the North’, also known as the Negus of Makuria, has his capital in Dongola and rules over the lands stretching from the Egyptian border to the village of Soba, near the confluence of the Blue and White Niles. A large but poor realm (trade to Rhomania is done by galleys on the Red Sea), it is usually ignored by Gonder. It is also the site of a crushing Mameluke victory over the Ethiopians in 1450, the year of St. Brihan’s birth. For his support he relies mainly on the few remnants of Christian Nubia, destroyed by the Mamelukes two centuries earlier, along with contingents of Shilluk infantry and Oromo cavalry.

Practically the entirety of his domain is swept up in the revolt except for the few ‘towns’ in the region. Dongola, the largest, has only four thousand inhabitants. Those towns, although placed under siege, successfully resist the rebels who lack any artillery or knowledge of how to conduct sieges. Starvation though is another matter and one by one they fall, save for Dongola itself. There the deadlock is broken only by the arrival of a few cannon from Hassan, who wants a secure southern front. Although field pieces, the rebels successfully intimidate the Negus into surrendering. He, his family, and his court are butchered in violation of the surrender agreement.

To the south of Makuria is the Kingdom of Sennar. The Negus of Sennar is Crown Prince Tewodros, husband of Veronica Drakina, daughter of the Empress Helena. The title held by his father Andreyas, Negusa nagast, literally translated as King of Kings, the same as the literal Roman title. But while the Roman monarch can properly be styled as Emperor (or Empress), King of Kings is a more correct description of the sovereign of the Ethiopian Empire.

The Empire of Ethiopia stretches from Luxor to the outskirts of Mogadishu, itself a vassal of Oman, a territory comparable in size to that of the Roman heartland. But compared to the Roman state, it is underpopulated, undeveloped, extremely rugged, and poor. Gonder does not have the extensive highways and sea lanes at Constantinople’s disposal, and despite immense improvements its administration is not up to the task of controlling all that land directly.

The heart of the Ethiopian Empire is the Ethiopian highlands where Gonder and the ancient city of Axum are located. This area is controlled directly by the Negusa nagast, who also controls the Red Sea coastland from Massawa in the north to Zeila in the south. The latter, linked by highway to Gonder, is the main seaport for the Empire.

The Kingdom of Gonder and Axum, the official title for the region, is the most highly developed and populous of all the Ethiopian realms. It is home to most of the kaffos plantations, whose wares are exported via Zeila, and its comparatively thick road system also funnels ivory (both raw product and finished artwork) and slaves from the interior into that port for shipment to the Roman Empire. The provincial governors are appointed directly by Gonder, supported by clerks, tax collectors, and inspectors paid in silver, salt, cattle, and grain.

The capital city itself has 70% of all the printing presses and schools in Ethiopia, although those who have the money prefer to gain an education in Rhomania. It is a surefire ticket for preference and advancement in the Ethiopian bureaucracy. Paper and powder mills, cannon and glass foundries, and brick kilns are other facets of the economy.

The remaining five-sixths of the empire is divided into fourteen different kingdoms, each ruled by a Negus (king). The one bordering Gonder and Axum just to the south is Kaffa, where kaffos originated. They have almost complete local autonomy, connected to Gonder primarily by tribute arrangements and even have the authority to manage their own foreign affairs amongst sub-Saharan African polities. Gonder does possess and enforce a monopoly on relations with states outside of that set.

The foremost of these kingdoms is the Kingdom of Sennar, which separates Makuria from Gonder and Axum. It is ruled by a member of the royal family, although this is the first instance where it has been occupied by the heir to the throne of Gonder and Axum. In size it is one of the smaller kingdoms, but in wealth and population it is second only to Gonder and Axum.

Normally it would be expected that the Sennari troops would be responsible for restoring order in Makuria. However the Negus of Darfur, the kingdom on the far western periphery of the realm, is in rebellion. The most distant from Gonder it has always been kept on a very loose leash, many of the kings conducting vigorous campaigns against local tribes with great success, the loot staying in Darfur.

That is tolerated but it has given the Darfuri a potent assemblage of battle-hardened troops and the current Negus no longer feels like paying tribute. With the support of the Sultan of Yao, whose dominions are centered on Lake Chad, his son-in-law, he is in open revolt. With the armies of Gonder and Axum and Sennar crossing the Darfuri frontier, the few troops available are able to do no more than prevent the rebellion spreading from Makuria into Sennar.

In contrast, in central Egypt the Copts enjoy great initial success. Although gory (it is estimated close to ten thousand Muslim peasants are killed in the spring and summer), the five tourmai do stamp out several brushfires. The garrison in Cairo is reinforced and the defenses of the Citadel improved as well, showing that while the majority of the inhabitants of central and northern Egypt are quiescent, the Copts do not trust them.

However that has taken precious time and unfortunately for the Copts the Nile floods begin a bit earlier than usual, completely stalling the tourmai’s advance. Hassan puts the reprieve to good use, organizing the creation of workshops to maintain his weaponry and to build more. Cannons are out of the question, but small numbers of arquebuses and crossbows are made. He also sets to work organizing his men into companies and squadrons, drilling them meticulously. For the Muslims to win, he knows that they must be capable of more than guerrilla warfare and ambuscades.

He also makes alliances with both the Sharif of the Hedjaz and the Emir of Yemen. The House of Saud, still lords of the Najd and the Hedjaz, were loosely aligned with Rhomania during the reign of Andreas Niketas. However tribal disputes between the Saudis and the Anizzah have steadily alienated the former from Constantinople. Openly going against the Empire is still more than the Sharif can stomach, but a steady stream of arms, horses, and volunteers make their way to Hassan’s arms.

The Yemeni, who have most of the Arabian Peninsula between themselves and the Romans, are bolder. They send supplies to Hassan, but also to the rebels in Makuria who at the moment are independent actors. Yemeni vessels also harry the coasts of Ethiopia with considerable success, with only the major ports of Massawa and Zeila immune to the forays. The Ethiopian navy, although advanced, has only a small base of support and took considerable losses in the war with Sukkur that have yet to be made good.

Smelling blood with the rebellions in Makuria and Darfur, the Yemeni do some intriguing of their own with spectacular success. By fall, both the Negus of Majeerteen, who controls the Horn of Africa, and his neighbor to the southwest, the Negus of Ajuran, are in revolt against the Negusa nagast. The ranks bolstered by Arabian ghazis, they invade their western neighbor the Negus of Harer, the buffer between them and Gonder and Axum.
1591: China has seen many bloody wars throughout her long history, but few of them can match the carnage wreaked in Sichuan and the Yangtze River valley as the armies of the Tieh and the Zeng clash. The grim stalemate is slowly but steadily tilting in favor of the Zeng, but whoever wins will certainly pay a terrible price for the Middle Kingdom.

Up until now there has been no outside intervention. The Romans do raid Shandong, but the few pitiful forays are a far cry from the glorious and mighty raids of old. This is a time for the licking of wounds, which the Romans are finding difficult. The Sultanate of Semarang is getting more assertive, spreading its sway steadily over Java. As of yet the Romans have little involvement or interest there, but the budding threat to their position in the Spice Islands is of concern.

More immediate though is the threat from the Portuguese Viceroyalty of Malacca. Although only united with the Kingdom of Castile in the person of their shared monarch, the two kingdoms already have strong ties that are only being strengthened. With the resources of Castile behind her, Portugal is also flexing her muscles in the east. The ships flying the Portuguese banner have increased almost 30% in the last decade while the Roman amount has decreased by a comparable amount. With forts in Makassar and Bali, the Portuguese are also uncomfortably close to the Roman Spice Islands.

In Bengal Portuguese power is also waxing. With the collapse of Bihar, there is a power vacuum in the Lower Ganges. Portugal is incapable of filling it entirely, but the western half of the delta is at this point a patchwork of minor states paying tribute to the Portuguese Viceroy of Sutanuti. That said, the Roman description of it being a small fish in a pool filled with midgets is accurate.

The town was originally granted to the Portuguese Africa and India Company by the King of Bihar as a jagir, a feudal-style land grant that gave the recipient tax collection and magisterial power. It has since grown into a trading center of respectable size, despite the high death tolls from disease of the Portuguese who live there.

The other major Portuguese base in India is Diu. With its closer proximity to the Kephalate of Surat and much more importantly the Emirate of Sukkur it has not increased much in size or power under Portuguese occupation. It is commanded by a Captain-General who reports directly to the Board of Africa and India in Lisbon, but who does not have the prestige of a Viceroy although a similar latitude of authority considering the distance of his erstwhile superiors. He also controls the Portuguese outposts in the Maldives.

Sutanuti is the oldest of the Viceroyalties, Malacca the most prestigious. However the largest and most powerful is the new Viceroyalty of Zanzibar, replacing the former main Portuguese base at Malindi. Both Ethiopia and Oman have been unable in recent years to pay significant attention to the Swahili coast, enabling the Portuguese to expand their network of client states. At this point half the region is under Lisbon’s sway, Gonder and Muscat splitting almost evenly the remainder.

The latter two will not be able to do anything about that anytime soon. The Omani, concerned about the potential collapse of their Ethiopian ally, pour weapons into Harer, trading fire with Yemeni vessels. The situation almost immediately devolves into an all-out shooting war. However with that support, the Negus of Harer is able to stall the Majeerteen-Ajuran advance, although he is unable to throw them out of the third of his kingdom he has occupied.

Normally there would be concerns over the Wilayah of Hormuz, an Omani outpost surrounded on all landward sides by the Ottoman Persian Empire. A major port with a population just shy of forty thousand, it allows the Omani to dominate the entrance to the Persian Gulf, a most lucrative position but one which draws the hostility of the court in Hamadan. The Turco-Persians have not forgotten that Hormuz was once the third city of the Empire.

However Shah Iskandar’s campaign has reached its long awaited finale as his army digs its siege lines around that great city, Samarkand the Wise, Samarkand the Golden, Throne of the Great Khans, the capital of the Lords of Asia, whose sons bestrode the world as colossi. It is a solemn, almost sacred, moment for the host encamped outside the wall. The Shah washes himself, sprinkling dirt on his turban as a gesture of humility, and proceeds accompanied by all the army officers to the cannon selected as the first to fire the shot of this holy siege.

It is a culverin forged in Khuzestan, thirteen years old, firing a twenty two pound shot. Its name is Vengeance. Iskandar loads the powder and shot himself without any assistance, also sighting the gun, and at noon exactly on June 8 fires the weapon. The echoes just finish fading when two hundred artillery pieces take up the call, pounding the ramparts of Samarkand.

They continue firing for nearly a month, reducing those once proud, terrible battlements into rubble. The bombardment’s sheer size is a testament to the Ottoman efforts in organizing their logistics, which to the dismay of Roman spies is every bit the equal of the Romans themselves. The Uzbek ‘khan’ cornered in Samarkand attempts to surrender, but Iskandar refuses. For this city there can be no surrender, only death.

On July 13 the assault is launched. The defenders, knowing that they are doomed, resist to the last, throwing every bolt and body into the fray. The first three waves are thrown back, until finally the Shah commits the Janissaries. The defenders’ hearts may still be strong, but their bodies are bled and exhausted and the fatal wounding of one of their most renowned section commanders who retires to the city center to die does not help. The Janissaries break through the defenses, although to their disgust they discover that an urban azab contingent from Mazandaran has their banner flying from one of the inner ramparts. They had discovered a sally port accidentally left unlocked and poured into the opening.

For three days Samarkand is given over to slaughter. The city is thoroughly looted and the populace sold into slavery, their Muslim faith notwithstanding. The skeleton of Shah Rukh is torn from his tomb and smashed to powder, but there are none in that great host, not even the Shah himself, who dares desecrates the tomb of Timur himself. That demon is asleep; best to leave him that way.

What is left of Samarkand becomes the capital of the new Ottoman province of Transoxiana but it is a pale shadow of its former glory. The observatory which has been at the cutting edge of astronomy for almost a century and a half loses most of its instruments, books, and personnel and shuts down. The population is reduced to a third of its former level, as is its prosperity. Central Asia, deprived of the Great Khanate centered on Samarkand that has kept order in the region since the days of Timur himself, dissolves into a welter of fighting tribes into which the Cossacks harry with increasing frequency and strength.

In Egypt the Copts finally get their forces into position to challenge the rebels in the south. Due to reports of the large numbers available to Hassan, Despot Demetrios III Komnenos had reinforced the five tourmai. The Army of Pacification, as it is styled, now consists of thirteen professional and four militia tourmai, well over half of Egypt’s established might. One of the four militia tourmai is made up entirely of Nile Germans.

Debouching from Cairo, which is left with a small garrison, the Copt Army is raided periodically by light cavalry, primarily Hedjazi volunteers mounted on camels, but faces little opposition or loss (although significant frustration) until they reach the small town of Beni Suef. The town, known for both its linen and alabaster in Mameluke days, has fallen on hard times, its wares unable to compete with Roman goods. But the inhabitants, who were one of the first to join Hassan’s rebellion, have reinforced their walls with piles of packed earth, making them immune to the light artillery in the Copt train.

An initial attack is repelled with heavy losses, necessitating a siege. Attacks on days 5 and 13 are equally bloody failures, demoralizing the Copts. On April 3 Hassan arrives with the main rebel army, which has been reinforced with six thousand volunteers from the rebels in Makuria. The bulk of the Coptic forces move to engage Hassan, two thousand remaining behind to cover Beni Suef.

The opening artillery duel quickly develops to Hassan’s dislike and he orders an all-out attack. The initial Copt volley flays the heads of the attacking forces, sending them back in disarray. A prompt counterattack on the part of the Copts could have sparked a rout, but the same dilatoriness that on a strategic level allowed Hassan to assemble such a force is present on a tactical level as well.

Hassan regroups his soldiers, invigorates them, and sends them once again into battle. The Copt volleys hammer the rebels but this time they stay firm. Their screaming enraged charge routs two of the militia tourmai on impact, who fly back, disordering some of the professional soldiers. A quick countercharge by the Nile Germans stalls the Muslim advance, but at murderous cost. At least a third of the company is shot down.

The battle is by no means lost but the Copts are jittery as the Beni Suef garrison sallies. The covering forces, well protected in their trench works, stop them hard, but the sound of fighting spooks many of the militia still in the fight, and their cries of betrayal and impending doom only serve to unnerve their thematic comrades.

The Copt commander, Mikhail of Rashid, launches an attack on his right wing with four tourmai. The Second Alexandrian and the Fourth Damiettan, both elite tourmai, with their precise volleys of gunnery supported by a pair of well-handled batteries of mikropurs, stave in the Muslim left wing. It retires in poor order, badly damaged and barely avoiding a rout.

Those two tourmai were at the far right of the line. The advances of the Sixth and Eighth Damiettan on the other hand did not go as far as the elites, opening a gap in the Copt lines. Mikhail, spotting the danger, orders the 2nd Alexandrian and 4th Damiettan to retire as he dispatches reinforcements.

Unfortunately for the Copts Hassan is quicker on the march. He attacks just as they begin their withdrawal. The pair beat off the attacks on their positions, but they are pinned in placed as the Muslims wedge open the gap further. Attacked from the front and flank simultaneously the 8th Damiettan breaks, piling into the 6th which breaks as well. Their rout demoralizes and disorders the Copt center just as Hassan commits all of his reserves in a do-or-die assault all along the line.

On the left the Nile Germans, savaged beyond endurance, flee as the center disintegrates. Mikhail personally launches a doomed counter-charge to try and stall the Muslim attack as the 2nd Alexandrian and 4th Damiettan launch isolated but ferocious attacks of their own to try and draw off some of the pressure on their compatriots.

They succeed but at terrible cost. Mikhail is knocked unconscious by a spent bullet and taken prisoner. When he awakes, he is flayed, and what is left of his body is smeared with honey and staked out in the middle of the hot Egyptian day. Mercifully a Turkish advisor to Hassan slits Mikhail’s throat at nightfall. Meanwhile, despite promises of fair treatment, four hundred prisoners taken from the two elite tourmai are beheaded by Hedjazi ghazis.

The monstrous treatment can be explained by the wretched and vile treatment of the Muslims under Copt servitude. However in Constantinople there had been some currents, particularly amongst the Greek Muslims but not limited to them (even including all the members of the Triumvirate), that considered the Muslims to have legitimate grievances even if the political implications of the rebellion were distasteful. All that vanishes now.

In the short-term, Constantinople’s opinion is irrelevant. The military power of Coptic Egypt has been largely destroyed with the remaining tourmai far away in the Delta, unable to intervene. Hassan’s forces were severely handled; the battle was far from the one-sided Coptic debacle that some Roman chroniclers present it as, although criticisms of Coptic reconnaissance efforts, flank security, and subpar inter-tourmai cooperation are justified.

However Hassan still has an army in the field, albeit reduced, unlike the Copts who only have scattered and demoralized remnants. After a week’s convalescence, the Muslims drive north for Cairo, brushing aside the threadbare resistance they encounter. As they move, the populace rises up in support of them. The city of Cairo capitulates without a fight, the hopelessly outmatched garrison, reinforced by the remnants of the Army of Pacification, retreating to the Citadel.

Knowing they have no chance of mercy, the Copts put up a terrible resistance. The Muslim use of captured Coptic women and children as human shields is answered by midnight raiders distributing Malay medals to the besiegers. When finally the Muslims breach the walls and storm into the fortress, the last defenders on the ramparts clutch grenades to their chests and hurl themselves into the assault columns as the Coptic wounded blow the magazines.

The siege of the citadel of Cairo is another heavy blow to the army Hassan has gathered together, but he has new recruits coming in by the thousands from the environs of Cairo. Alexandria, with one Copt or Nile German to every three Muslims, cannot keep pace even with the Cairene bloodbath. With more secure access to Hedjaz and the Yemen, his mounted forces are growing in size and boldness, spreading fire and death northward, rousing the Nile Germans to full fury. To the depredations of the horsemen they answer with the impalement of every captured prisoner.

1592: In the western Mediterranean, the Barbary corsairs are growing in strength once again, having recovered from the debut of the fregatai. At this point they have more of the ship type than anyone other than the Romans. Fast and maneuverable even with a respectable armament of twenty guns, they are perfect for the corsairs’ needs. The coasts of Provence and Liguria, largely immune to the pirates earlier in the century, are also coming under attack. Fortified watchtowers spring along the coast to warn the inhabitants of the raiders and to protect them, but the raiders are not seriously stymied by such efforts.

The best defense is a seagoing fleet, but Arles has both an Atlantic seaboard and a long land frontier with the Triple Monarchy to defend as well. The corsairs are painful, but the Triunes are an existential threat. Genoa also has to watch its landward side against a Lombard Kingdom desirous of restoring its pre-Dantean War boundaries and its position as a major trade power has been declining steadily, particularly as Venetia has reestablished itself as a major seaport as well, equal to that of the Serene Republic in her glory days.

The Kingdom of Lombardy has been through some rough times since the end of the Dantean War in 1577. The Romagna, restored to Lombard control by German arms, has been continually restive. The Commune of Ravenna has on three separate occasions appealed to Constantinople (via the Kephale of Venetia) for support, but not even Demetrios is interested in getting involved.
To the west, it has been a hard century for the Kingdom of Aragon. First there was the Emperor Andreas’ debut onto the field of Mars and the loss of the Kingdom of Sicily, shortly followed by the loss of the Kingdom of Valencia to Al-Andalus. Then came the devastating Barbary raid of Barcelona in 1534. In between and since those disasters Aragonese political history has seen continual disturbances in Roussillon, Sardinia, and the Balearics. The cession of Minorca to the Hospitaliers was not only to be an anti-corsair measure but also a means to help stabilize the outlying territories of the Aragonese realm.

King Martin IV the Ceremonious (or the Lazy, depending on which chronicler is followed) is dead. His two children are his legitimate daughter Joanna, twenty one years old, and his bastard son Alfonso, who is twenty six. Joanna is already a widow, her husband, one of the Aragonese grandees, died in a fire less than three months after the consummation. Famed for her piety, she is popular amongst the nobility, especially as many aspire to marry her and gain the crown.

Alfonso, on the other hand, is a classic rogue, fond of fights and women, and typically the latter are lowborn, although at twenty one he did have a spectacular affair with the stunning Countess of Foix, then fifteen to the Count’s sixty six years (it is the inspiration for The Mountain Pasture, probably the most famous poem in Arletian literature), plus at least two more affairs with highborn and married ladies. Reportedly he already has sired half a dozen bastards in towns across the Kingdom. Disdained by the nobility, he is immensely popular with the middle and lower classes who delight in his exploits of cuckolding the nobility.

He is especially popular in both Majorca and Sardinia, since after the affair with the Countess of Foix the mainland has gotten too hot for him. One of his key allies and friends is Cesare Colonna, preeminent amongst the Sardinian émigrés. Fabulously wealthy already from the plundered wealth of Latium, he has invested in Sardinian silver mines and also gained the trust and respect of the native Sards, who still live around their nuraghi, watchtowers who were already centuries old when the Carthaginians first set foot on the island.

Joanna is proclaimed Queen to the outrage of Alfonso and the artisans of Barcelona. Both half-siblings utterly despise each other, and although Alfonso knows he cannot count on any support of the nobility from the mainland (the native aristocracy of the islands are another matter, since they share his disdain of mainland nobility) he declares himself King, currently basing himself out of Palma, the chief city of Majorca.

The Balearics and Sardinia rally to his banner, giving him a respectable fleet with which he starts harrying the Catalan coast. That support does not give him the strength to invade Catalonia itself; for that he will need foreign allies. The Hospitaliers back him as he personally aided them in forays against the Barbary corsairs, and although they cannot provide an army they do provide references for him to acquire loans on the Roman money market.

Arles is another matter. King Leo is willing to put fifteen thousand men into the fight, in exchange for Roussillon. Alfonso agrees, the Arletians responding with alacrity. The Arletian army has improved substantially since the end of the Arletian Civil War, largely through Roman influence channeled via retired Roman officers lured through generous salaries as advisors. Arles is now divided into eight themes, each district responsible for the pay and provision of one thousand troops.

After serving seven years as active troops, the soldiers then pass into reserve status for another fourteen. They pay less in taxes but are subject to recall in times of need as well as periodic training reviews, although the Romans consider such exercises too spread out and short to be truly effective. Payment for this army is maintained largely both through export duties and the head tax, administered by tax farmers, which naturally is a cause of significant corruption. Wine, cheese, dried fruit, and salt are the main exports but Marselha itself is renowned for its ornate carved furniture (the Triumvirate are all frequent customers) in which Jews feature prominently as cabinet makers.

On June 27, two months after her coronation, Queen Joanna is beset in Barcelona by an insurrection of the lower classes. Angered over low wages, high food prices, and rampant corruption they have been stewing in discontent for years and the sight of their champion Alfonso waging open war against the nobility which wantonly exploits them brings that stew to an open boil. Four days of open warfare in the streets end with the expulsion of Joanna and her partisans.

Alfonso quickly comes to claim his prize. Although it is no longer the great mart of the western Mediterranean as it was in the 1300s and early 1400s, Barcelona is still a city of great importance with forty five thousand inhabitants, the largest in Iberia after Lisbon, many engaged in candle and soap making, plus fishing and shipbuilding. However that success ends at the city walls.

Joanna retreats inland to Lleida but a small army of her supporters begins a blockade of Barcelona’s landward side. At first it is quite loose but as reinforcement of men and guns arrive it gets steadily tighter. Still Joanna cannot threaten Barcelona from the sea as well, so the odds of her taking the city back in the current situation are minimal. Alfonso knows this and taking advantage of his sister’s forces being tied down at Barcelona he intensifies his attacks along the coast, seizing several seaside villages and towns.

That said, those victories are more impressive on a map than they are in actuality. With his limited manpower resources, he cannot hold any of those positions save Barcelona against even half-serious resistance, but his apparent progress coupled with the swift advance of Arletian troops in Roussillon is alarming in Toledo, where King Felipe has been following the Aragonese succession issue closely for some time.

However now with the war going Alfonso’s way, Castile openly intervenes in support of Joanna. Alfonso promptly pulls out his forces from his coastal enclaves, but Barcelona is reinforced by companies of German and Hungarian mercenaries hired with loans from Rhomania. Soon financial institutions in the Triple Monarchy begin offering their support as King Henry sees Alfonso as a means to keep Felipe occupied.

Felipe’s intervention also has the effect of turning the Aragonese War of Succession into an Iberian war. Maalik Mohammed III of Al-Andalus is terrified by the prospect of all the rest of Iberia coming under Felipe’s wing, so he takes the drastic step of openly intervening as well on the side of Alfonso. Anything else, Mohammed feels, would not suffice in these desperate times.
Mohammed only intervenes directly against Joanna, but it is only a matter of weeks before Andalusi and Castilian cavalry are skirmishing in the environs of Tarragona. Shortly afterwards Felipe formally declares war on Al-Andalus.

Rhomania is apathetic and uninvolved in these matters, but that is decidedly not the case in Egypt. Reinforced by the remaining tourmai, the Copts and Nile Germans have stopped the Muslim advance, although the latter’s land remains a battleground and they are clearly incapable of pushing them back. Suez is blockaded on its landward side, the local Muslims expelled by the Kephale as a security risk.

A year after the rebellion began, Hassan is now lord of three-fourths of the Despotate of Egypt, ruling from Cairo. The rebels in Makuria, though formally independent, are strongly susceptible to influence from what comes to be known as the Idwait Sultanate, especially after attempts to break into Sennar prove to be bloody failures. He has his own court complete with officials, ceremonies, and coinage (most taken directly from the Mamelukes) and has local governors appointed to oversee the provinces.

Away from the battlefields in the north, the countryside is largely peaceful and well-ordered with the local peasantry taking over the possessions of their former masters. Most of the land is divided into small or moderate-sized holdings over which the farmers have complete ownership, with villages sharing common land such as pastures, orchards, fishing holes, and wells. Discounting the regional differences, it is highly reminiscent of the rural landscape of the Aegean themes.

No irony however is present in the Roman response. Constantinople had initially been slow to recognize the severity of the crisis, expecting the Copts to handle the matter themselves. Only in October does Helena summon Despot Demetrios III to Constantinople to explain himself. It is the first serious and explicit assertion of suzerainty by Constantinople over one of the Despotates since their formation, but Egypt is in no position to protest. Sicily and Carthage are other matters, but with escalating attacks from the corsairs, plus the stirring of a reviving Lombardy, mean that neither are inclined to jeopardize good relations with the Empire.

1593: The Roman reaction to the Great Uprising, as it is called, has been long delayed, a fact that Theodora frankly admits in her history. Part of that is simply a slowness on the part of the Romans to realize the severity of the situation. The vivid reports of the vigorous defense of Cairo and the casualties wreaked on Hassan’s army obscure the Copts’ own serious losses and the fact that Hassan is making good his own.

Another part of that is due to the Roman schadenfreude at the Coptic predicament and a desire to make them sweat before moving to aid them. After all, if Rhomania is going to bail them out the Romans want to be sure the Copts are properly grateful in the end.

Another is Demetrios’ desire to keep some pressure on Hungary where his actions have borne fruit. Buda has grudgingly issued an Act of Tolerance for its Orthodox subjects in Serbia. Some of the sumptuary restrictions are lifted, Orthodox clergy are allowed to travel into and learn from seminaries in the Empire, and the Serbs can repair or replace old churches provided the result is no more than half the height of any local Catholic church.

Demetrios is barely satisfied with the result but he needs no prodding from his mother or aunt to be alarmed by the developments in Africa. Four thousand men are sent to the Delta to help provide security, along with arms, supplies, and trainers to get the Copts back into fighting form.

But that is only a tithe of the forces that the Empire is marshaling. The White Palace, now that it is paying attention, is well aware of the support the various rebels from Cairo to Ajuran are receiving from Arabia. If the rebels are to be truly defeated and a repetition avoided, that lifeline must be smashed. The port of Aqaba is enlarged, new roads built to bring in supplies stored in equally new warehouses, granaries, and magazines, and galley squadrons begin to assemble. Galleys built in the Imperial arsenal sail down to Acre, are broken up into their fabricated and labeled components, carted down to Aqaba, and reassembled. Since the Taprobane expedition Roman naval strength has been practically nonexistent in the Red Sea, relying on the Ethiopians instead but that is no longer the case.

The Anizzah and the other tribes in the rolls of Roman feudatories are directed to raid the Najd and Hedjaz. Demetrios is well aware of the House of Saud’s clandestine support for the rebels and he is in no mood to overlook it. More troops are garrisoned in Suez, whose new sallies so discomfit the blockaders that it is soon broken up although no attempt is made to follow up on the victory.

One of the reasons is that Ibrahim ibn Husayn al-Izmirli is rapidly moving up the ranks of the corsairs. In June he practically annihilates the Carthaginian fleet at Cape Teulada on Sardinia’s southern coast. It is said that there is not a single household in all of Carthage that did not lose someone. Clearly the fregatai sweeps are not enough. Supplies and another thousand soldiers are diverted to Malta where the provincial squadron is joined by a dozen warships of the Imperial fleet.

Meanwhile in Guangzhou, one Zeno Pachymeres is arrested by Zeng authorities on the charge of raping a thirteen-year-old girl. Zeno admits to having an affair with the girl’s mother, his laundry woman, but denies the allegation. Whether true or not, it is certain that Zeno is one of the biggest opium smugglers in the region and a middle-tier Ship Lord and many of his compatriots view this as a clandestine attack on their position.

That suspicion is increased when Zeng officials impound all of Zeno’s property and staff in Guangzhou. His Malay secretary escapes to a Roman galleon loading up a cargo of porcelain and tea for shipment to Java. The ship submits to a Zeng customs inspection as is usual but the officials discover the secretary and attempt to take him back to shore. The secretary defends himself with a dagger, severing half a thumb on one of his assailants. The crew grudgingly acquiesce in this but only after seeing three Chinese junks closing on their position.

Both Zeno and the secretary are executed despite letters of protest from the Kephale of Pyrgos. Another missive on their behalf from the Katepano of New Constantinople only arrives after their deaths. Zeno’s friends and fellow Ship Lords react with more than just words. Three months after his death, the Joshua captures a Zeng junk carrying two hundred and six tons of silver, a thousand sets of armor, fourteen cannon, and eighty three tons of gunpowder, pay and supplies for the Zeng armies fighting in Fujian. The cabin boy’s share of the prize money is six hundred pounds of silver.

How much effect this has on the series of Zeng defeats in Fujian that follow is unknown and still fiercely debated amongst historians. More serious is the Tieh counter-offensive in Sichuan, spearheaded by massive contingents of Tieh gun infantry recruited from the Hui, Chinese Muslims who are significantly more orthodox in their beliefs than most of the Tieh family. It would seem the tide is slowly turning in the Tieh’s favor, although it is the hope of the White Palace, the governors of the east, and the Ship Lords that it will take a long time. Anything that weakens China is good in their book.

China has far worse things to worry about than Roman cynicism. Tieh gains in the south are won at the expense of the north, where a nightmare from the past returns to haunt the present. As September dawns, a Mongol Khan is once again lord of Beijing.
1594: The great host that terrorizes China will be the last time the peoples of the steppe will make the more advanced empires around them tremble at their approach. But that does nothing to allay the deadliness of their assault. Tieh interference has only served to infuriate the steppe peoples and Mongol forces are joined by Manchu and Uyghur riders all along the frontiers.

Korea, which neglects to pay its yearly tribute to the Tieh court at this time, is left alone for now but the Joseon kings are feeling isolated. There are three powers to which it can turn for aid. The first are the Shimazu but the thought of allying with the hated wokou is sickening. The second choice, their Roman friends, are just as unpalatable although their cannons are handy. The third choice is the Azai clan, lords of Honshu. In the past decade under the leadership of Azai Hideyoshi, for the first time in almost two centuries the entirety of that great island is united. The Shimazu and Chosokabe, their teeth locked in each other’s throats, are too distracted to react.

In Indonesia the Roman position is weakening. Ships from the Sultanate of Semarang are harassing Roman ships as they pass Java, the Sultan disclaiming responsibility for the pirates. The Katepano of New Constantinople is less than convinced but cannot do anything to respond. In a surprising but concerted attack, vessels from Brunei are mopping up the various Roman trading posts on Sulawesi. None are particularly large or wealthy but the organization and vigor displayed by the Bruneians is unnerving.

Meanwhile in Ethiopia Negusa Negast Andreyas has written off Darfur as an Ethiopian protectorate. He cannot stomach putting that into writing but his forces are pulled back, allowing the Negus of Darfur to renege on his tribute. Freed from that distant theater, the forces of Gonder and Axum and Sennar finally begin counterattacking the Majeerteen and Ajuran rebels. With the northern rebellion contained in Makuria the southern front is the greater concern. However the royalist forces took heavy casualties in the Darfur campaign and neither side can gain an advantage.

The land fighting is fierce but it is equally matched by that at sea. Aside from a few raids across the frontier neither Oman nor Yemen have tried grappling with their opponent on land but both emirates are throwing their full naval forces into the fray. The most ambitious gambit though is an attack on Aden, the chief port of Yemen, by the Ethiopians and one of the new Roman galley squadrons. Unfortunately ambition is not backed by success. Ethiopian troops storming ashore are swamped by the defenders while three Roman galleys providing fire support are pounded into splinters.

In Egypt itself Hassan has stopped trying to conquer the Delta. In the rest of Egypt he had overwhelming popular support and weak Copt garrisons. In the Delta the few Muslim peasantry who might have supported him have been slaughtered and the Germans and Copts certainly aren’t about to capitulate. Attacks on the periphery continue, the Germans bearing the brunt, but they repay in equal measure.

Attack squadrons of light German cavalry, armed like the Reiters of their homeland with two kyzikoi and a sword (typically made in the Opsikian arsenals) with a helmet and cuirass (some steel and others cotton, Egyptian grown but weaved in Thracesia) issue forth weekly. Sometimes they are supported by droungoi of Roman turkopouloi. Their orders are to keep the rebels off-balance by destroying everything of value and killing everyone in sight.

Aware that behind the Nile Germans and the Copts is the far more dangerous Roman foe, Hassan is keen to find ways to divert Constantinople. Intrigues with the Emir of Tripoli, a reluctant Roman vassal, do not go well. The Malta squadron pays a little visit to the Emir, deposing and carting him off to Constantinople while his more compliant cousin takes his throne.

More successful are Hassan’s overtures to the lands of the Marinid dominion. The Sultan in Marrkesh is no longer the supreme master of North Africa, but he does maintain a ‘first amongst equals’ status with the other lords of North Africa. Hassan though is not interested in the Sultan who sees little profit in antagonizing the Romans.

The Emir of Kairouan is the first to be wooed. Enticed by Idwait subsidies, he tightens his halfhearted blockade of Carthaginian Mahdia although without ships of his own he has little hope of taking the city. More credible support is provided by the Emirs of Tabarka and Skikda who invade the Despotate of Carthage. It is a great raid, not a grab for territory, but the Emir of Maktar, one of the chief Carthaginian feudatories and a holder of the Roman title Hypatos, is killed and his capital destroyed.

If Hassan wishes to widen the conflict, Demetrios II is happy to reciprocate. Thus far Rhomania has put only a miniscule fraction of her might into the struggle and thus far only in support, skirmishes, and peripheral actions. That changes overnight. On October 11 Roman forces seize Jeddah. Within a week eleven Roman tourmai are garrisoned in the city. On October 19 a scratch Hedjazi force is annihilated at Bahrah. Four days later Roman guns begin shelling Mecca.

The defenses of Mecca have not been improved since the Ethiopian occupation of Jeddah in 1486-87. They were already in poor shape a century ago and the Roman force closely investing the holy city is far more powerful and advanced than Brihan’s soldiers who loosely blockaded Mecca. According to one of the Roman battery commanders, the cannons wouldn’t be necessary provided one could ‘line up all the Roman horses with their rumps pointed at the city and have them fart simultaneously’. That option not being available, more conventional tactics are used.

Mecca has no professional soldiers to defend it but hosts of students and imams man the ramparts, trusting in their utter dedication to prevent the infidel host from entering. The Romans are not impressed. Cannons pound at the battlements, mikropurs sweeping them to prevent repair work as snipers reap a bloody harvest of the inexperienced defenders.

After just three days of punishment the fortifications of Mecca are in ruins. Two demands for surrender are ignored although Mecca gains a day’s reprieve as Droungarios Leo Neokastrites, formerly Princess Alexeia’s chief bodyguard at Pyrgos, mauls a Hedjazi relief column, killing the Sharif’s second son and oldest nephew in the process. A third and final demand for surrender, despite being accompanied by the catapulted heads, is also rejected.

On October 27 the assault is launched. No one can doubt the Meccans’ courage and dedication but the Romans are far better disciplined, organized, led, and armed; there can only be one outcome. Leo Neokastrites, one of the first over the walls, describes what follows as pure butchery. Reports of the Muslim dead vary from eight to eighty thousand but Roman casualties are less than a hundred and fifty. Mirroring the Qarmatian sack of 930, the Zamzam well (amongst others) is fouled with the corpses of pilgrims. Every single mosque is ruthlessly ransacked, including the Kaaba itself.

The news spreads rapidly, its effects felt almost immediately in Somalia. Many of the Yemeni pull out, reinforcing the fleet which sails north to confront the Romans. Andreyas takes immediate advantage, surprising the Majeerteen-Ajuran army outside the town of Aw-Barre. Many of the rebel cannons had gone to reinforce the Yemeni fleet while the Ethiopian battle line is sporting five new mikropur batteries just delivered from the Empire. The rebel cavalry has some success on the right wing before it is pinned in place and shattered by the Royal Guard while the Ethiopian artillery breaks up the reserve.

The collapse of the cavalry spills back, panicking the rest of the army. The Negus, eager to consolidate his victory, calls out in a stentorian voice “For St. Brihan! A Roman hyperpyron for every rebel foreskin!” Howling with delight the Oromo cavalry set to work. As a gift, Demetrios II later pays Andreyas the amount the Negus spent on this decree. In the catalogue of the Imperial exchequer there is a line item that reads ‘9,833 hyperpyra to the Basileus of Ethiopia for post-battle operations, Aw-Barre’.

The Omani are in a very awkward position. Omani envoys arrive in Jeddah just three days after the fall of Mecca and the Roman commander, Alexios Gabras, offers to turn over the Black Stone to their custody. After all, six centuries earlier the Qarmatians had sacked the city and carried off the Black Stone. He even hints that the Romans might be willing to hand over the city itself as well to Omani control. However the Omani are hesitant to accept it from the hands of a Christian power and thus Alexios drops the matter.

Still Muscat is well aware that antagonizing the Ethiopians and Romans is not an option; they are the only friends the Omani have and the best glacis against the Ottomans. Thus on November 22, it is a combined Roman-Ethiopian-Omani fleet that confronts the Yemeni off the Farasan Islands. The four hour melee that follows is fierce and bloody but completely decisive; Yemen is finished as a naval power.

In India, the Emir of Sukkur is outraged, arresting all Roman merchants in his domain and dispatching a fleet to invest Surat. However further south Deva Raya III is ecstatic. “Somnath is avenged!” he shouts. In 1025 the great Hindu city of Somnath was sacked by Mahmud of Ghazni with an immense slaughter of Hindu pilgrims, the sacred lingam of Shiva smashed to pieces by Mahmud himself and carted away to be trampled on by the Muslim faithful.

Despites his disagreements with Rhomania, when he hears of the siege of Surat he orders a fleet to the relief of the Kephalate. Reinforced by ships from Taprobane and also Portuguese Diu, the Sukkuri fleet wisely gets out of the way of the juggernaut rather than suffer the fate of Yemen. The Indus delta is ravaged, the Vijayanagara extracting an immense tribute from the Emirate. The Emir vents his frustrations by executing his prisoners, while the Katepano of Taprobane and the Ship Lord relatives of the slain reply by placing a bounty on the Emir’s head.

An attack on Roman Pahang by some of the petty Malay states bordering it ends about as well for the perpetrators. Now home to three tourmai recruited locally, plus hosting one on rotation from the Imperial heartland, Pahang’s frontiers are barely breached before the invaders are thrown out minus a sixth of their numbers. It does not work out so well for the Romans further east though. The attacks from Brunei and Semarang intensify, finishing the expulsion from Sulawesi, while the Acehnese, formerly cautiously friendly, turn openly hostile as well.

In Cairo, Hassan is stunned by the news and is equally mortified by the fallout from the Farasan Islands. Demetrios has completely succeeded in cutting the Arabian lifeline and securing the Red Sea, meaning that not only he has lost allies but now he must guard against the possibility of naval landings in his rear. Aw-Barre is only cause for more apprehension and thus he is quite receptive when Roman envoys ask for an audience.

As Hassan figures out how to react to the new situation, the Black Stone is on its way to Constantinople. The Muslim inhabitants of Roman Syria and Palestine are irate but the Roman buildup over the last two years quickly put down the few outright disturbances with liberal use of steel and powder. In the town of An-Nabek the Muslims attack the Syriac Christians living nearby as they have the virtue of being close and poorly armed. The attack succeeds but a week later a combined Hospitalier-Anizzah column burns An-Nabek to the ground. Villagers fleeing the flames are ridden down.

Demetrios has absolutely no patience for the insurgents and his opinion is held by the rest of the Roman literati. It is Princess Theodora Komnena Drakina, now the owner of the Black Stone housed in her collection of rare artifacts, whose writings epitomize their feelings. In her pamphlet The Desecration of Holy Cities she castigates the Muslim reaction, arguing that they have absolutely no right to complain about the invasion and devastation of their most holy site. They have attacked and desecrated numerous Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist holy sites. As such they have no grounds to complain when the same is done to them.

Meanwhile the reactions of the Anatolian Muslims are substantially different from their co-religionists (most though would argue that connection). There are two types of Anatolian Muslims. The most common are typically Kurds or Turks living in the Taurus Mountains who in practically all cases have substantial Armenian or Greek ancestry. Their faith is largely syncretic, little different from the Christianity practiced by their neighbors. Linked by a common pastoral lifestyle in the tough climate of the east Anatolian plateau, sharing the same songs and shrines, the Anatolian Muslims much more closely identify with their Christian neighbors and the Basileus of Rum (Andreas Niketas, the great warrior king, is very popular amongst them) than with the rest of the House of Islam which usually mocks them for their backwardness (Arab Muslims) or steals their livestock and kills their womenfolk (the Ottomans).

The other are the Greek Muslims concentrated mainly in Caria. They speak Greek both in public and in the home, eat and drink the same foods as their Christian neighbors, wear the same clothes, read the same books, and play the same games. Culturally they are practically identical to their neighbors and also share a similar loyalty to the Emperor of the Romans. Muslims in much of the rest of the world are looked down upon as rustic and violent primitives. Several Greek Muslims who had gone on the hajj in the last two years were in the employ of the Office of the Barbarians, using the pilgrimage as a cover for scouting Hedjazi defenses.

North Africa, once home of the Almoravids and Almohads, has continued the puritan trend with the Hayyatist brand of Islam currently dominant in the region. Highly distrustful of anything not originating directly from the Koran or Hadiths, Hayyatism has sanctioned corsair attacks on the Andalusi as their Islam is decidedly less ‘pure’. Just like his fellow Hayyatists, Ibrahim al-Izmirli is horrified by the desecration of Mecca.

Thus far he has generally avoided going after Roman targets. The Catholic powers are much softer targets with less protective warships and heavily armed merchantmen. But fueled by the ghazi spirit, he leads an immense fleet, made possible partially by the support of the Marinid Sultan, to ravage the shores of western Sicily. According to Sicilian chroniclers at least fifteen thousand villagers are carried off for the slave markets in Algiers, four hundred of them captured sailors from a Sicilian squadron destroyed off Trapani.

The reaction from the Second Ottoman Empire is an icy silence. Shahanshah Iskandar makes no public comment on the matter other than stating that a letter of protest would be pointless. Still Constantinople is wary as he is the one Muslim potentate who poses a credible threat to the Imperial heartland. The Army of the East is fully mobilized in Egypt, Arabia, and Syria but the War Room issues preparatory orders for a mustering of the Army of the Center. Georgia meanwhile receives a subsidy for the strengthening of her southern border fortresses.

The reaction of Christendom on the other hand is absolutely ecstatic. News of the victory spreads rapidly, Demetrios sending special envoys to the courts of Georgia, Russia, Hungary, the Holy Roman Empire, the Triple Monarchy, Arles, Castile, and both Papacies. All agree that it is a tremendous victory. Celebrations are held in the streets of Munich, Marselha, and Buda, culminating in Te Deums and prayers for the Roman soldiers.

There are other shows of common Christian solidarity. In Arles and Hungary the Hospitaliers receive several new bequests and volunteers. One tourma at Mecca had been composed solely of the Knights and support personnel where they distinguished themselves for bravery and initiative. They were second over the wall after Leo Neokastrites.

The Droungarios is quite surprised when he receives word that he has been proclaimed a Knight of the Holy Roman Empire. In gratitude he sends plunder from the Masjid Abu Bakr, where most of it can still be seen today in Munich Cathedral. Despite their allegiance to the Avignon Pope the Hospitaliers also do well out of Germany. The ire of the German nation is already aroused against the House of Islam because of the Idwait attacks on the Nile Germans. Many join the Order, whilst others are encouraged to travel to Egypt to serve as volunteers.

The Pope in Rome, Pius II, is beside himself with joy. Forgetting for the moment the Great Schism and the Emperor beyond the Alps, he writes a letter to Demetrios calling him “Most Blessed and Mighty Augustus! All of Christendom rejoices at the might and prowess of Roman arms, at the power wielded by her most illustrious sovereign. You have struck a most grievous blow against the Mohammedans, the likes of which the defilers of Christ and the cross have never suffered. Know that God smiles upon you above all others.

“But do not rest your great arm. Do not hold back your forces. For it is clear that God, creator and lord of all, has given you a task equal to your might and majesty, the destruction of the Saracen and the removal of their foul false creed from this earth.”

1595: As Rhomania rampages through the center hall of the House of Islam, Castile is setting fire to the back porch. Despite some hard fights and much bravery, Andalusi troops cannot stand up to the disciplined tercios. Sea battles against Portugal off the Algarve run in the Christians’ favor, while in the center only the immense citadel of Alarcos defies the Castilian artillery.

In those theaters Al-Andalus is holding on though, albeit by its fingertips. In the east the situation is that of utter collapse. Valencia has fallen and Castilian troops are driving hard on Alicante while a razzia terrorizes Murcia. Barcelona is ringed tight on its landward side. It is said that not even a mouse could get through the siege lines unchallenged, but the sea approaches are firmly in Alfonso’s hands.

There is no hope from the north. Arletian troops desultorily duel with Joanna’s partisans amidst the Pyrenean crags but Leo’s heart is not in the matter. He has what he wants and now is looking for a way to back out while keeping his gains. Felipe, well aware of this, begins negotiations through Sicilian intermediaries. In the treaty of Montpellier Arles receives Roussillon in exchange for a payment of 350,000 ducats over the next eight years. Joanna will also renounce all claims to the province in return for Leo recognizing her claim to the throne of Aragon.

Technically Felipe has no right to sign away Aragonese territory, but he manages to ‘convince’ Joanna to acquiesce. In the south Alarcos falls on September 20, two months after the treaty of Montpellier, leaving Castile in complete control of La Mancha. The contest is now concentrated in the Sierra Morena. If the hilltop forts here fall, the Guadalquivir river valley, the backbone of Al-Andalus, will be completely exposed.

Mohammed III is well aware of the danger and that future resistance is most likely to imperil his position further. He cannot rely on aid from North Africa. At least a quarter of his forces are tied down in the south defending against their raids, which he has noticed that the fall of Mecca has not slowed one bit. King’s Harbor is sounding proposals of alliance but Mohammed sees little reason to trust Henry’s overtures, suspecting that all he is interested in is the use of Al-Andalus as a meat shield to absorb Castilian blows.

Thus he signs the humiliating treaty of Alarcos. The Algarve is ceded to Portugal and Valencia and Alicante to Aragon, restoring both kingdoms’ borders to their pre-Marinid state. The latter cessions help palliate the loss of Roussillon. Castile advances southward to the Sierra Morena, gaining all of the La Mancha, including Alarcos. In exchange for an one-time payment of 800,000 ducats plus another 6 million to be paid in installments over the next eighteen years (the combined total is comparable to six months’ revenue for the Roman government), Al-Andalus retains the border forts, a quarter of which had already fallen by the time of the capitulation.

Four weeks after the treaty is signed, Queen Joanna is married to Prince Fernando, Felipe’s second son (his eldest, Juan, is married to Anna Drakina, the second youngest daughter of Empress Helena). In the marriage contract it is explicitly stated that the offspring of this union are disbarred from inheriting the crown of Castile.

The Barbary corsairs are benefiting greatly from the distraction of Catholic sea-power. Husayn al-Izmirli leads another formidable raid on Sicily, ravaging the southwest coast, even carrying off the equestrian statue of Andreas Niketas at Selinus where as a teenager he defeated the combined forces of Castile and Aragon and gained Sicily for the Empire. The bronze is later melted down into cannon.

Izmirli does not stop at Sicily. Swinging past Malta he heads east, falling with complete surprise on western Greece. Modon, Navarino, Arkadia, Pontikokastro, Chlemoutsi, Glarentza, and Patras are all sacked, while Zakynthos, Cephalonia, and Ithaca are ravaged. The area, which has been untouched by battle since the Orthodox War, has rich pickings and weak neglected defenses. Thousands are carried off into slavery, along with rich hauls of gold, jewels, silks, and livestock.

After the fall of Patras he makes the mistake of overstaying his welcome. An assault on Naupaktos is met by local units of the Hellenic tagma and driven into the sea with much slaughter while a Barbary contingent attacking Leukas is itself ambushed and destroyed by the Corfu provincial squadron. But Izmirli is able to dodge the efforts of the Corfu and Crete squadrons to link up and attack him, while a similar effort at interception by the Roman naval units at Malta also fails. Despite the checks at the end, the raid is a tremendous success, highly profitable for the corsairs and highly embarrassing for the White Palace.

There is some debate about whether the raid was done at the instigation of Hassan, but the raid does have the effect of drawing Roman forces and attention away from Egypt. Both Malta and Djerba are reinforced while Carthage receives seven tourmai which immediately begin attacks on the emirs harrying the Despotate’s frontier. This does nothing to stop the corsairs save as a potential distraction though. Meanwhile the War Room begins putting together plans for another Algiers expedition.

In Egypt, the Copts are being reinforced by a small trickle of German volunteers. The manpower, in theory, is useful. But unlike the Nile Germans who have had a generation to acclimate to Egypt and the Copts, these Germans are mistrustful and resentful of Copt attempts to impose discipline and order on them. The Copts are content to maintain a holding action along the Delta until such time as an overwhelming blow can be made.

But the volunteers came to strike a blow for Christendom, to lay low Islam. They are not inclined to wait on the defensive. The majority, banding together into a force, attack the Muslims in northeast Egypt and are roundly trounced. Fleeing back into the Delta, they are reinforced by several Coptic tourmai. The combined force is engaged at Hihya, the largest battle of the war since Beni Suef.

The result is largely the same. The inexperienced Germans are quickly routed, disordering the Copts in the process, and the whole disjointed affair is smashed by the Idwaits. The effect is also similar to Beni Suef. Several Coptic tourmai are obliterated on the field, leaving a vacuum in the defenses of the eastern delta. The Muslims are quick to take advantage. Hassan, much to his surprise, seems to be on the verge of driving the Copts entirely out of Egypt.

Thus far, there are comparatively few Roman boots on the ground in Egypt. The large troop movements have been in Syria, Arabia, and now Carthage although the Romans have been involved in supplying, equipping and training Coptic soldiers. The upper-tier Coptic tourmai at Beni Suef were comparable to Roman tourmai, but the majority did not reach that caliber. By Hihya, the majority has achieved that level but they are fewer in total numbers while at the same time the Muslims have improved themselves and are far superior in numbers.

The spirited defense of the Nile Germans, the remaining Copt tourmai, and the Roman troops in the delta keep the western half of the delta secure. But Demetrios III of Egypt writes Demetrios II of Rhomania, asking for direct and massive Roman military support. With Syria subdued and Persia drowsily absorbing its conquests in central Asia and parrying raids from the Emirs of Tashkent (supported by the Emirs of Ferghana and Kokhand), Balkh, and Khiva, Demetrios concurs. Three tagmata and all their support and stores are to be transferred to Egypt.

These are pulled from Syria and Palestine but Demetrios makes no move to pull soldiers from Arabia. With attacks on their supply lines, the Romans pull back from Mecca after an occupation of one hundred and two days, leaving the city in ruins and completely deserted. Saudi forces quickly occupy it and press on to invest Jeddah which the Romans are fortifying.

The morale boost by the reclaiming of Mecca immediately evaporates with the Roman riposte. A sally spearheaded by Leo Neokastrites shreds the Saudi line and continues on to Mecca. The city is seized and sacked again, the garrison wiped out. It had been in Muslim hands for twenty seven days. He pulls back, the Saudi move back in, and four weeks later he returns and destroys the garrison. By this point Mecca has been almost completely and literally leveled and after Leo pulls out the third time both sides steer clear of the site.

Looking at Roman foreign policy of the period, one could be forgiven for forgetting the existence of the Empress Helena. Certainly her influence has declined since she proclaimed her son co-emperor. Alexeia has retired from Constantinople and public life. Theodora remains in the Queen of Cities but is also largely withdrawn from politics, spending most of her time on her writing, which at this stage is mostly dictated.

Helena is almost seventy and naturally slowing down, although for her age she looks remarkably well and her mind has not dulled. But her biggest concern is an orderly succession, which considering her childhood is not surprising, so despite some of her concerns with Demetrios’ policies she does not intervene. She feels that a steady retirement on her part will help to create a tradition whereby emperors gradually withdraw as their successors mature and grow. In theory, this will help avoid senile emperors and ensure a stable succession.

But Helena is still active. Although never put in writing, Helena and Demetrios have largely divided the responsibility of government into internal affairs, managed by Helena, and foreign affairs overseen by Demetrios. The steady growth in manufacturing continues, although the budding cotton textile works of Patras were ruined by Izmirli. It is fortunate though that he did not try to attack the eastern Peloponnesus or other parts of the Aegean basin. The damage there he could have caused would have been far worse, although it would have put him at a far greater risk of running into the Imperial fleet.

At this time the Roman government is giving more attention to agriculture than it did earlier in Helena’s reign. With the population of the Imperial heartland nearing 16 million, adequate foodstuffs are more of a concern. The Great Uprising has massively disturbed Egyptian grain production and Russia’s political difficulties make Scythian shipments less than reliable.

Rice production expands in Greece while the Vlach landed magnates see business for their grain expand. Sicily is also tapped to help feed the Empire. Cotton too also appears in Cyprus and Crete to feed the looms of Opsikia and Morea. Of concern though is the fall in access to eastern goods. With Yemeni naval power broken ships can carry them to the Red Sea, but shipping them by road from Aqaba to Acre, the nearest good port as opposed to the open roadstead of Jaffa, is far more expensive than the old Suez-Cairo-Alexandria route. The Portuguese have noticed.

1596: In the west Alfonso’s toehold at Barcelona is growing increasingly tenuous. His fleet keeps the city supplied with armaments and victuals, but Castilian pressure is making it more difficult. Fortunately for him the Portuguese grandees have little interest in Mediterranean affairs but Castilian siege works and artillery terrorize the landward side. The commoners whose economic situation has deteriorated are growing rebellious.

Alfonso is a realist. With both Arles and Al-Andalus withdrawn from the lists, there is no one interested in helping him and he cannot defeat both Joanna and Felipe on his own. A major naval victory over a Castilian squadron off Alicante in May gives him his opening. Negotiating with Felipe but completely ignoring his half-sister, he comes to an agreement. Alfonso agrees to abandon his claim to the crown of Aragon and the city of Barcelona. In exchange he is credited the old titles King of Majorca and Duke of Sardinia, although without claim to the mainland holdings associated with the first title. The lease of Minorca, held by the Hospitaliers, is transferred to him as well. The domain soon becomes known as the Kingdom of the Isles.

The main event that winter in Constantinople is a massive funeral for Alexios the Humpback, the last grandson of Andreas Niketas outside of Mexico. He died just three months short of his ninety-ninth birthday. The main event of the spring is the marriage of Kaisarina Helena the Younger, granddaughter of the Empress. Her spouse is Alexios di Lecce-Komnenos, son of the Despot of Sicily and Alexandra Komnena Drakina and grandson of Princess Theodora. Alexios is thirteen to Helena’s sixteen.

After the bells of the wedding come the drums of war as Africa is meant to feel the lash of the Empire’s displeasure. The bulk of the Imperial fleet along with the complete roster of the Bulgarian tagma are newly arrived in Carthage, not including the previous reinforcements dispatched to Malta, Djerba, and Carthage.

Columns march from Mahdia and Carthage, the main goal to cow the petty emirates that have been harassing the Carthaginians. Maintaining logistics, especially an adequate supply of water for men and animals, is extremely difficult and the Bulgarians are not well acclimatized for the North African terrain. Even so, the Berber attempts to stand up in open combat end disastrously for them. Raids and ambuscades are more effective, but the turkopouloi (the name has lost all ethnic connotations) are quite capable of playing that game as well.

Along the coast the Imperial fleet is in action as well. Several powerful squadrons sweep the Algerian coast, driving the corsairs into their ports but catching practically none. Although the Emir escapes to the west, Tabarka is sacked and a fort erected on the offshore island of the same name for use as a naval base. The Carthaginians agree to undertake its provisioning while the Sicilians provide most of the laborers and materials, but like Malta and Djerba it will be under direct Roman control.

At this point forty thousand Roman troops are massed around Alexandria. Even prior to the Great Uprising the Despotate could not have mustered such a host in either size or quality. The repeated raids into what remains of Coptic Egypt have ceased as Hassan prepares his defenses. Unfortunately for him the Roman control of the Red Sea means that he can expect no help from Arabia.

In southern Ethiopia the war is going well for Andreyas as he steadily reclaims Majeerteen while Ajuran is kept off-balance by repeated raids. Cooperation between the two rebels is wearing thin as the two argue over limited supplies. An attempt to heal the breach by the marriage of Ajuran’s eldest daughter to Majeerteen’s second son ends up blowing it wide open. Majeerteen scorns the offer as the daughter’s mother was herself the daughter of a Roman armorer. Ajuran, incensed by the insult, turns around and defects to Andreyas. The only punishment the Negus suffers is a 10% increase in his yearly tribute.

In Makuria, the rebels are almost frantic with what they see. From Jeddah Roman forces have been raiding the coast and they are quite aware that once Majeerteen falls it is only a matter of time before Andreyas turns his gaze to them. While Majeerteen turns to Sukkur for succor, Makuria looks to the north. While previously the Idwaits and the Makurians had cooperated, there had been no formal connection between the two. But now the Makurians submit to the suzerainty of Hassan. The illiterate Egyptian peasant now rules an empire stretching from Damietta to Soba.

He needs it for now he faces by far his most formidable challenge. Considering the logistical challenges of campaigning in central and Upper Egypt, forty thousand men is definitely overdoing it. Yet the huge concentration is not for the Muslims, but mainly for the Copts’ ‘benefit’. The White Palace is not impressed by the entire Copt handling of the situation yet at the same time is highly reluctant to take complete control over territory peopled almost entirely with groups upon whom it does not place much trust.

So Helena (Demetrios defers to her in this matter) declines to re-absorb the Despotate as many insist. She strongly suspects that the Copts, while quiescent for now, would probably prove rebellious in the future under direct Roman administration. There is also the matter of how Sicily and Carthage would react. Instead she favors tightening the authority of Rhomania over the Despotate while still leaving it mostly autonomous. The new arrangement, far more detailed and intricate than Andreas Drakos’ rather rushed agreement, is as follows.

One: The city of Alexandria in its entirety is to be transferred to the direct control of the Empire three months after Cairo is restored to Despotic control. Appointment of its officials shall be the purview of the Imperial authority or appropriate representatives.

Two: All positions in Alexandria, including that of Kephale, shall be open to Copts. Except for that position, Copts shall be guaranteed to hold at least half of all positions at each level. If the Coptic population becomes less than half the registered population of Alexandria this clause shall be considered void.

Three: Supervisory and managerial positions will require proficiency in Greek, both spoken and written, in addition to the regular professional requirements. Failure of the Copt population to provide requisite individuals to fulfill this clause shall exempt the Roman government from clause two until such time as the deficiency is rectified. Proficiency in Greek shall be determined as meeting the ‘pass’ standard of the current advanced course at the University of Alexandria.

Four: All those retaining property in Alexandria shall be subject to Imperial law and taxes save those exempted below. There shall be no Copt-specific taxes or levies. Those who withdraw from Alexandria shall not be subject to any departure levies if they leave within six months of the transfer of Alexandria to Roman control.

Five: All privileges and properties, including leases and monopolies, assigned to the Coptic Church in Alexandria shall remain under their control and fall under the authority of the Coptic Patriarch and the Despot of Egypt.

Six: The Copts in Alexandria shall have the right to practice their religion with all private and public rites, ceremonies, and festivities. The Copts shall have the right to maintain, repair, and rebuild their churches and monasteries without prejudice. All bequests of property to the Coptic Church in Alexandria past the issuance of this agreement will be permitted but shall be subject to Roman tax levies consistent to their value.

Seven: The same rights given to the Coptic Church shall also be received by the University of Alexandria.

Eight: Roman law shall be used for court proceedings for inhabitants in Alexandria not exempted by clause five and seven. Translation of Roman law into Coptic will be provided at appropriate public locations and venues. Creation and maintenance shall be the responsibility of appropriate Roman authorities.

Nine: In the event of a court proceeding with an Alexandrian Copt defendant, it will be the responsibility of the Roman government to provide and maintain a translator. In the event the defendant loses the case, it shall be the defendant’s responsibility to reimburse the government appropriately in addition to any other punishments levied by the court. If the prosecutor is a Copt, it is his responsibility to provide a translator if needed.

Ten: In the event of a court proceeding between individuals or corporations under Despotic and Imperial control, the proceeding shall be conducted under the law of the defendant. The exceptions are in the cases of murder, rape, and disputes regarding goods or moneys of a value over 4000 hyperpyra or properties yielding an average yearly income half that. Those shall be conducted under Roman law.

Eleven: Roman subjects shall be accorded all rights in Despotic law granted to Copts.

Twelve: Roman subjects in Despotic territory that are not accredited representatives of the Roman government shall be subject to Despotic law unless the situation meets the exceptions in clause ten.

Thirteen: The assessment and collection of Alexandrian port duties shall be the purview of the Roman government. The Despotic government shall receive 25% of the annual levy and may retain a representative assessor in Alexandria. If so, it shall be the responsibility of the Despotate to pay said assessor.

Fourteen: The Despotic government may not place any duties on goods or persons passing in between Alexandria or Suez and the Despotate. The Roman government may not do so as well except on those leaving Alexandria after six months after the transfer as specified in clause four.

Fifteen: The Despotic government may maintain a mint for copper coinage at its capital. The currency, subject to the suitable exchange rates, shall be accepted as legal tender in the Empire. The mint is not allowed to issue silver or gold coinage.

Sixteen: All Roman coinage shall be accepted as legal tender throughout the Despotate. All credit certificates issued by the Imperial Bank shall also be accepted. To facilitate, the Imperial Bank will open a branch office in Alexandria.

Seventeen: The Roman government shall provide a garrison of one thousand men for the Despotic capital, one thousand men for the citadel of Cairo, and two thousand men for other garrisons as the Imperial government sees fit. The Roman government shall provide initial outlays of equipment, arms, armaments and transportation costs to and from Alexandria. The Despotic government shall be responsible for all replacement equipment, arms, and armaments, as well as the provisions and pay of the troops while stationed in Egypt. The Roman government will maintain direct command of the garrisons at all times.

Eighteen: When outside their barracks unless participating in approved military exercises, maneuvers, or operations Roman garrison troops shall be subject to Coptic law. The exemptions in clause ten shall not apply to them.

Nineteen: Five years after the transfer of Alexandria to Imperial control, the Despotic government will be required to put into the field as many as twenty two tourmai. The tourmai will be required to meet Roman army quality standards as laid down in the 1575 Rule. The Roman government reserves the right to change the rule standard provided it gives the Despotic government one year’s notice.

Twenty: To ensure compliance of the quality standards, the Roman government reserves the right to send observers and advisors. Prior to the enactment of clause nineteen, their provision, pay, and transportation shall be the responsibility of the Roman government. Afterwards it shall be the responsibility of the Despotic government.

Twenty-one: When clause nineteen goes into effect, the Despotic government shall also be required to maintain twenty galleys in the Mediterranean and eight in the Red Sea meeting the Navy Rule of 1588. The provisions for adjusting the Rule and for observers shall be the same as for the tourmai.

Twenty-two: The Egyptian galleys shall be made available for Roman campaigns. It is the responsibility of the Despotic government to provide equipment, pay, and provision for the first two years of operations. After that it shall be the responsibility of the Roman government. The time will commence when the galleys arrive in theater.

Twenty-three: Responsibilities for all parties shall be the same for the tourmai as for the galleys.

Twenty-four: The Egyptians may provide additional forces above those specified in clauses nineteen and twenty-one. In that case the Egyptians shall provide equipment but the Romans will provide pay, provisions, and transportation from the beginning of the campaign.

Twenty-five: Egyptian forces used in the defense of Egypt itself shall have their equipment, pay, and provisions provided by the Despotic government, regardless of the length of the campaign.

Twenty-six: The equipment and pay of the Alexandria garrison shall be the responsibility of the Roman government. The Despotic government shall provide provisions for men and beasts required to maintain a garrison of five thousand, but provisions for further forces shall be the responsibility of the Roman government.

Twenty-seven: The Despotic government will be required to set aside a first levy of grain for the Roman government each year. The amount determined shall be negotiated between the Roman and Despotic government each year. The Despotic government shall be responsible for their transportation to Alexandria and the Roman government undertakes to pay the then current grain price in the market of Cairo.

Twenty-eight: The Despotic government may not receive, entertain, or negotiate with a representative of any power save the Negusa nagast of Ethiopia, the Despot of Sicily, the Despot of Carthage, and the Megas Kyr Anizzah. All such events with those representatives must be announced to and attended by a Roman representative. The Despotic government shall cover the transportation, food, pay, and lodging costs of the Roman representative.

Twenty-nine: The Despot shall be required to spend at least eleven weeks of every two year period in Constantinople. A stipend for his time in Constantinople shall be provided by the Roman government but he must cover transportation costs. Transportation time shall not be considered part of the eleven weeks.

Thirty: All Despotic children shall be required to spend their seventh through fifteenth year in Constantinople. Their expenses, including transportation, shall be provided by the Roman government which will also oversee their education. The Despotic government may provide Coptic servants and priests to service them, but must cover their expenses and pay if it wishes to do so.

Thirty-one: The Despotic children shall not be pressured to convert to the Orthodox faith. It will be the responsibility of the Despotic government however to provide them teachings in the Coptic faith.

Thirty-two: The Roman government shall arrange the marriage of the youngest Despotic child and will provide the dowry if it is a daughter. The child shall be considered youngest if it is not followed by a still alive legitimate full sibling within four years of birth. The child’s faith may not be comprised by such arrangements.

Thirty-three: In addition to the children, a member of the family within three degrees of consanguinity of the Despot shall be resident in Constantinople at all times, along with a member of the Despoina’s family of similar kinship. The Roman government shall make the selection but may not keep the heir of the Despotate as the resident for more than four years, not including the requirement stipulated by clause thirty.

Thirty-four: Any powers not specifically granted to the Roman government shall be considered to be the purview of the Despotic government.

As can be seen, it is a far-reaching agreement significantly strengthening the Roman presence and control in Egypt. Yet at the same time, the Copts are mostly left alone except in times of war, allowed to maintain their Church, their Court, their culture, and their laws. It is highly unlike they would have been allowed to do the same in the Imperial heartland. Across the centuries Rhomania has historically tolerated much more in its vassals than it would in its direct subjects.

With the new agreement in place, Roman forces set to work. A thrust to the south secures the Nile German territory while the main force clears the eastern delta. It is slow work, the Muslims contesting each plot of ground, and the Romans are unpleasantly surprised at how well they do so. But at year’s end the verdict of Hihya has been reversed.

To the east, Rhomania’s assaults on the House of Islam have been met by silence in Rayy but not inactivity. A direct attack on Rhomania is not practical. Georgia’s conquests from Timur II make it loom menacingly on the flank of any such advance. It must be taken out first. As Roman warships bombard Tabarka and Roman soldiers occupy Damietta, the assembled might of Persia storms across the Georgian frontier. Within two days the word reaches the easternmost Skopos tower. Seven hours later the news is in Constantinople. Two hours after that the Roman Empire declares war on the Second Ottoman Empire.
1597: It is a sleepy February afternoon on the shores of Lake Como when there are a sudden flurry of shots and then silence. A week later Theodoros Doukas is crowned King of Lombardy. Ringleader along with his younger brother Alexios, both grand-nephews of Andronikos Doukas the veteran fighter in both the Time of Troubles and the Dantean War, they had engineered the assassination of Amadeus, the last Visconti king.

Amadeus, a porcine man 27 years old, always had the specter of illegitimacy around him. His mother had been having an affair with the Arletian ambassador a year before he was born. It had been the biggest scandal of Andrea I Laskaris-Visconti’s reign, but on his death two years later Amadeus was his only child, possibly. Amadeus might have been able to overcome that if he did not have a habit of getting drunk and then trying to force himself on the wives and daughters of the Lombard nobility. Those self-same nobility, who themselves weren’t exactly faithful practitioners of chastity, found the reports of Alfonso’s activities titillating, but Amadeus’ less debonair and more importantly close efforts weren’t amusing.

The Laskaris-Visconti over the last couple of generations have had a problem with weak sperm. The next in succession is an abbess in Brescia. The other somehow is the current only inhabitant of Mecca where he proclaims himself the “Grand Purple and Magnificent Mahdi, Supreme Lord of the Camels, High Autocrat of the Smelly Rocks, and King of Scotland.” Both the Hedjazi and the Romans consider him a sorcerer after twice seeing a building collapse on top of a patrol trying to bring him in. It is doubtful his story will ever be explained.

Naturally the Lombard nobility are not in favor of having the Mad Mahdi of Mecca as their King. Theodoros Doukas does however have a very weak claim since through his mother he can trace his ancestry back to a third son of Nicia Laskaris-Visconti, the eldest daughter of Thamar. She was the daughter of Thomas Laskaris, the last Laskarid Emperor, whose marriage to the Visconti dukes gave them their claim on the Laskarid patrimony. More importantly he is quite rich which helps compensate for the better legitimacy of the other Lombard nobles.

Naturally Theodoros wants to boost his legitimacy. Any trouble from Rome is cut short by a gift of 17000 ducats and the following papal affirmation helps. There is no issue from the north from the dying Holy Roman Emperor but while Helena recognizes him as King she insists, to Theodoros’ intense annoyance, on calling him Theodoros Prodotes.

Constantinople has far more important concerns than the King of Lombardy. In the east both the Sultanates of Tidore and Ternate repudiate their vassalage ties to the Empire. Roman rule had been fairly light, but merchants and farmers are upset by the Roman demands to get the first cut of spices and for a very cheap rate, one which barely covers the expenses of the producers. There is also the matter of the desecration of Mecca. In Ternate the inhabitants of the Roman factory are slaughtered. In Tidore the Sultan forcibly expels the residents, confiscating all their property save for one week’s provisions and sticks them on a ship for New Constantinople.

The Portuguese at Diu had helped the Romans against the Sukkuri but the Portuguese in Indonesia are ecstatic at this opportunity to deal a serious blow to the Roman dominance in the clove and nutmeg market. A respectable Roman fleet, the most powerful assembled since Pyrgos, is mustered at New Constantinople but is routed by a Portuguese flotilla with heavy losses at Ambelau.

In retaliation troops from Pahang begin raiding the outer districts of the Viceroyalty of Malacca and a scheme is hatched to use Zeng junks to ferry in several hundred Roman soldiers secretly into the city. It seems to work beautifully, the ships and their deadly cargo slipping past customs. The plan is to wait until nightfall to disembark the troops but a half hour before sunset a trio of Portuguese galleons pull up alongside and blow the junks out of the water. According to the Office of Barbarians (OoB) agents in Malacca the Zeng captains sold the Romans out for a rather hefty bribe.

Most of the hidden soldiers had been from Pyrgos while the Pahang troopers would have attacked the city from the outside. It is estimated that one in every four married women in Pyrgos is made a widow on that night. Within a day of the news hitting the city the Zeng merchant district is burned to the ground and every inhabitant fleeing the flames, except for a few children, is cut down without mercy.

The Emperor Yongzheng can do nothing to retaliate. The Tieh, attacked on two fronts, have executed a brilliant fighting retreat into Sichuan. They may have lost the rest of their empire but in Sichuan they have a large, wealthy, and populous territory and their armies are largely intact. And now Yongzheng has a long border with the Mongols who are attacking him all along the line. Ship Lords, still spiteful over the execution of Zeno Pachymeres, are more inclined to sell the Mongols guns than the Zeng.

Here in the north Roman interests are going more smoothly than in the south. The Shimazu, after a hard campaign, have conquered Shikoku and eliminated the Chosokabe. The power of Azai Honshu is a looming sword over the Shimazu domain but the Azai are not a maritime power. The Shimazu, with suzerainty over the Ryukyus, outposts in Kiponissi (Taiwan), and communities in Singapura, Pahang, and New Constantinople, decidedly are.

The strengthening of their Shimazu ally is the only good news the Roman government receives that year. In Egypt a grand offensive towards Cairo is launched, initially with great success. Hassan wisely does not challenge the Romans head-on but instead bedevils them with pinprick raids on their flanks. Most are parried with at most moderate difficulty but just as Roman engineers are beginning to pick out the positions for the heavy guns in the siege of Cairo, Idwait cavalry carry out a spectacular coup. In a daring night attack almost the entire Roman siege train is wiped out although the Muslims are forced to spike most of the guns rather than capture them. Without heavy guns to challenge the reinforced battlements of Cairo, there is no chance for a siege and Roman forces pull back to Nile German territory.

The war against Persia follows a similar pattern. Persian advances in the fall campaign last year were limited and cut short by an early and brutal winter and then lack of forage in the spring. However Roman efforts to field an army to support the Georgians were similarly hampered. Winter on the Anatolian plateau was unusually brutal as well and spring rains wiped out several sections of the highway, including multiple bridges. It took the Thrakesian tagma two days just to ford the Halys river.

Furthermore the harvests in eastern Anatolia and northern Syria have been mediocre the last few years. The yields are not famine level but reserves are low, making provisioning hungry soldiers from local sources more difficult. Supplying them from further afield is hampered by the damage to the Anatolian highways and the need for ships to support the campaigns in North Africa and Egypt. Nevertheless in August a Roman force twenty-five thousand strong debouches from Edessa and blasts its way through the frontier.

In discussions held in Trebizond, the Romans and Georgians have decided that the former will focus on Mesopotamia and the latter on Azerbaijan. This will help alleviate logistics and ensure that the allies will not step on each other’s toes. The Kingdom of Georgia, which is more powerful now than even in the days of Queen Thamar, is capable of putting more than forty thousand men into the field, well equipped and well disciplined. Ships from Baku are launching attacks on the coast of Mazandaran and supplying fortresses in Gilan invested by Ottoman troops. The Cossacks, in response to appeals and bribes from Tbilisi, are launching raids into Ottoman Transoxiana. From the hard-pressed Great King though there is no help.

Meanwhile the Roman forces encounter little opposition until the town of Ras al-Ayn where they are challenged by a Persian army, slightly smaller at 22,700 men but under the direct command of Shahanshah Iskandar himself. The initial cavalry maneuvers run in the favor of the Romans but a fierce Janissary assault backed by a dozen batteries wrecks the Roman left and allows Iskandar to roll up the Roman line. A well-placed use of the reserve allows the Romans to retire in good order and unmolested but many of the wounded and a quarter of the artillery are captured by the Persians.

The Roman line of retreat forced them away from the most direct route back to Rhomania and Iskandar again engages them at Al-Hasakah. The initial Ottoman attack slams against the 3rd Thrakesian Guard and 9th Opsikian Guard, both tough tourmai considered to be amongst the best in the Roman army with veteran contingents bloodied in the east. They blast the heads off the attacking columns and the Roman kataphraktoi sally, a brilliant panoply of steel that sweeps down the hill in a titanic rush. The Ottoman columns cease to exist.

The few panic-stricken survivors flee back, disordering their compatriots just as the Roman counter-attack bowls into the Ottoman lines. The impetus is massive, the wave reaching out and ensnaring even the Shah’s Guard. Many of his staff urge Iskandar to retreat for his own safety, who does have the left ear of his mount blown off by a bullet. Recognizing that his army’s morale is tenuous, Iskandar refuses.

He is amply awarded for his valor. The Romans are naturally focused on this grand attack. Tasting victory if he can manage one last push, the Roman commander throws in his reserve. Shortly afterwards, four thousand Persians whose existence of which he had been entirely ignorant (they had joined Iskandar after Ras al-Ayn) roll up his right flank.

The very success of the Roman attack thus dooms them as they are too deeply embedded to withdraw quickly. Ras al-Ayn ended with a roughed-up but intact Roman army retiring. Al-Hasakah ends with a general Roman rout. What is left of the Roman army is not able to reform until the scattered tourmai coalesce under the guns of Edessa almost a month later, and what remains is clearly in no position to take the field.

Ironically the War Room is sanguine about the re-gathering of the army at Edessa. Isolated units led by junior officers scattered in the rout formed together in larger groups and fell back upon their initial base of operations without orders from superiors. Aside from the initial chaos of the rout the Roman units in retreat demonstrated impressive discipline and order. Several squadrons of Ottoman cavalry trying to harry the retreat were practically wiped out, the survivors scattering to the winds, when they pressed their attacks too far.

In those two battles plus associated operations, Iskandar has taken close to 2700 casualties, at least half of them inflicted in the first fifteen minutes of the Roman counter-attack at Al-Hasakah. However in exchange he has inflicted three thousand Roman casualties and captured forty one hundred more, including nine tourmarches, the strategos and stratopedarchos (quartermaster general) of the Opsikian tagma, the Strategos ton Archiatron (surgeon general) of the Macedonian, and the youngest son of the Megas Kyr Anizzah. In addition he has gained sixty one cannons, over three hundred and thirty tons of powder and shot, and enough rations and medical supplies to sustain his army for at least four months.

* * *
October 20, 1597, Al-Hasakah, Sanjak of Al-Jazira:

“Even in defeat, they know how to march with pride,” Iskandar said, looking down on his Roman captives as they marched past his pavilion. They looked tired and worn, many of them walking wounded, but their march was in step. As they passed his left hand rubbed the plain leather cover of the thick book resting on his thigh. On it gilt in gold was writ The Shatterer of Armies, the complete collection of Andreas Niketas’ military treatises and his biography written by his daughter Simonis.

He looked over at Aliquli Jabbadar, commander of the Shahsevan, the “Friends of the King”, the new Persian equivalent of the Janissaries. “I’m putting them in your charge for now. Make sure that they’re decently fed. I’ll make arrangements with the Bey of Basra to take over their custody so they can be used as labor for improving harbor fortifications. But you’ll be responsible for getting them there.”

“Yes, your majesty.”

“Why are you doing that?” Nasher Hotak asked, turning to look at him. “Just stuff them in that encampment and then blast it with cannon, or chop all their heads off. It’s what the Christian scum deserve, especially for what they did to Mecca.”

“If you wish to not be treated like a dog, it is best not to act like one,” Iskandar replied, looking at the mufti.

“Yes, the Christians have acted like dogs. So kill them like ones.”

“It is not they who I was saying were acting like dogs.” Nasher blinked at him, a confused look on his face. “Why do you think the Romans attacked Mecca? It’s not a military target. If they just wanted to cut off supplies to Hassan Jeddah would have been enough.”

Nasher still looked confused. Why am I trying to explain strategy to him? He couldn’t fight his way out of a latrine without the entire Roman artillery train. “They did it because they wanted revenge. They were tired of Muslims killing and torturing them, tired of seeing all their possessions and homes burned for the crime of being both close and weak.”

“They were justified!”

“Hassan’s rebellion was justified. His massacres and his tortures were not. I can understand why he did it, but I will not condone them. It is because of actions like that that the Romans destroyed Mecca.”

“It doesn’t matter! They should die for their sins.”

“Yes, it does,” Iskandar growled. “Because I want this stupidity to end, because I want Mecca to be safe and filled with pilgrims, because I want the Kaaba restored. Saladin was respected by the Christians because he showed them that Muslims had honor. Because of idiots like you they have forgotten that. If we treat them like men, they will treat us like men. I have actually read the Koran and they are also people of the Book. They deserve respect. We will commit many atrocities against each other in this war. That is the nature of wars and empires. But there is no reason to compound them.”

“They should-”

Iskandar held up his hand. “I am tired of this conversation.” He looked at one of his guards. “Orhan, if he opens his mouth in my presence for the rest of the year, pull out his tongue.”

“Yes, your majesty.”

* * *

While he is in favor of treating his captives well, Iskandar is not the type to let the favorable military situation go to waste. The Roman fortresses of Maskanah, Manbij, and Jarabalus are all captured, completely blowing a hole in the Euphrates fortress line protecting Syria. Sipahis raid up to mikropur-range of Aleppo bringing in a huge haul of livestock and over eight thousand captives. One party pushes even past Aleppo but is ambushed by Antiochene militia, cutting its way out at the cost of all their loot and a quarter of their number. The reforming of the army at Edessa, plus a swift march north by the bulk of the Syrian tagma stop the hemorrhaging after that, but in the absence of the Syrian soldiery the cities of Hama, Shaizar, and Homs, along with the Beqaa river valley, the Golan, and the Hauran all rise up in revolt.

1598: The situation in the east is extremely serious but the Empire still has resources that can be brought to bear. Of the eleven tagmata ten are active, three between North Africa and Arabia, four in Egypt, and three already in northern Syria. The last, the Thracian, is being kept as a reserve by the War Room and is thus not available for operations. However the three guard tagmata, fifteen thousand total, are transferred to northern Syria. They are under the direct command of the strategos of the Varangoi, Theodoros Sideros, son-in-law of Empress Helena and the son of Timur II himself.

There are more forces that are not on the regular army rolls. The Kephalates of Cilicia Trachaea, Cilicia Pedias, Tarsus, Adana, the Amonos, Antioch, Lattakieh, Kyrrhos, and Aleppo can each put into the field at least a thousand militia equipped as mauroi and relatively well disciplined. They are the sons and grandsons of those who defended their homes with such vigor and dedication during the Time of Troubles and are highly motivated. By themselves they make for a powerful defense. However they are not alone. The eastern fortresses are garrisoned by kastron troops, old veterans of the tagmata.

Fortunately for the Romans the gaps in the fortress belt are quickly plugged by the reinforcements, all three citadels retaken. Iskandar is unavailable to interfere as at the instigation of the Emir of Tashkent a large Afghan army is pouring into Khorasan, having already defeated one Ottoman army with huge casualties. Taking encouragement, the always restive Baluchi are taking up arms as well.

South of the rebellion is the Ajloun, dominated by the Christian Owais and Haddad tribes, both on good terms with the Empire and the Megas Kyr Anizzah. As soon as word reaches them of the revolt they send riders to Jerusalem and Damascus, meeting messengers on the way who they escort back to their chiefs. In the possession of the Kephales of Antioch, Tyre, Acre, Damascus and Jerusalem are premade orders that require only a signature and a date to make valid. These orders, preapproved by the Imperial government, give the Kephales the ability to call on the tribes in putting down Muslim revolts. The orders authorize the tribes to pillage, plunder, and enslave all Muslim rebels against the Empire and gives them the right of first sale when and where they wish to sell their loot. They are also to receive a regular retainer payment in addition to their regular stipend.

The tribes of the Ajloun immediately assemble, dispatching flying columns into the Hauran which is soon in flames as Anizzah riders also pitch in from the east. Further north the Hospitaliers dispatch raids that terrorize the environs of Homs. This eases the pressure a little on the Saudis which encourages them to try and place a garrison in Mecca. In so doing they do not incur the wrath of the Romans but do gain the ire of the Mad Mahdi when he is evicted. However no one is quite sure what is meant when he calls upon the king of the cows to avenge him.

One of the reasons that the Saudis are able to successfully occupy and keep Mecca this time is that the situation in Syria is necessitating other theaters to be drawn down, although Demetrios is unwilling to abandon them entirely. Two tagmata, half of the forces in Egypt, march northward along the coastal road. In Jerusalem they are joined by five tourmai fresh from Jeddah, including the 4th Chaldean under the command of the newly promoted Tourmarch Leo Neokastrites.

The garrison of Jeddah has been halved. Considering the new fortifications the remaining troops are more than enough to hold the port but offensive actions have been put on hold. Both Demetrios and Helena concur that it would not be wise to just abandon the city as it makes for a useful bargaining point with any Muslim powers, along with the continued threat hanging over Mecca. With the Romans securely ensconced the Sharif maintains the Holy City as a military camp aside for a few small crews repairing some of the more venerable mosques.

A holding action may be in play in Arabia but Roman forces are on the move in Egypt. Nineteen Roman and eight Coptic tourmai march on Egypt, this time with significantly enlarged flank and rear guards and a new strategos. Numerous Idwait attacks batter themselves to pieces on the outposts with little effect, the assaults becoming more desperate as the vanguard approaches Cairo.

Many of his officials urge Hassan to challenge the Army of Egypt in the field. He has a field army of thirty two thousand, most bloodied veterans that are well disciplined and under the command of officers who have proved their valor and wisdom on the battlefield. However Hassan pays more attention to the fact that the Romans have many more armored soldiers and at least a seven to one advantage in handguns and an eleven to one advantage in field artillery.

The loss of Cairo would be painful but Hassan suspects, with good reason, that the loss of his main field army would be fatal. He would still have manpower available in such an event but he knows that throwing waves of untrained peasantry at Roman tagmata is unlikely to end well for him.

Hassan withdraws from Cairo two days before the Roman vanguard arrives on the outskirts of the city, taking with him the government he has set up and the majority of the army. A garrison of thirty five hundred holds the city along with the populace in arms. Behind stout ramparts their disadvantages vis-à-vis the Romans are not so prominent and there are some old but still powerful Mameluke cannons stored in the Citadel that can be put to use defending the walls, although much too heavy to be practical in the field. Still the Romans have a six-to-one advantage in artillery including three batteries of fifty-pounders that outrange everything in the Idwait arsenal. Partly to allay discontent over his withdrawal both of Hassan’s sons stay in the city.

The Roman commander is Stefanos Monomakos (no known relation to the 11th century Emperor), an expert in artillery and siege warfare. He helped design the upgraded citadel of Theodosiopolis and is the author of a book on the use of gunpowder artillery in both defending and attacking fortifications. Well regarded, it has been translated into Russian, German, French, and Castilian with copies in the personal libraries of Emperor Henry I of the Triple Monarchy and Shahanshah Iskandar.

Considering his background it is not surprising the siege work is expertly and rapidly done. Eight days after the digging of the first parallel Roman batteries are seventy meters from the walls and two breaches opened. Morale in the city is low because of the rapid advance and the miserable failure of two sallies which did nothing save wipe out desperately needed soldiers and make Hassan’s eldest son a Roman captive.

It is at this point that Stefanos demands a surrender. The Cairenes brace themselves, expecting the worst, and are staggered by the terms. The garrison, all those wearing the red band that is the insignia of the Idwait army, is to be allowed to march out freely to the south, provided they relinquish their arms although officers may keep their swords. The civilian populace is also free to go provided they can pay a ransom of five hyperpyra per head for a man, three for a woman, and two for a child above the age of six. Children younger than that can go free.

To ensure their sustenance, all occupants leaving the city may take five days’ rations with them and if the city stores cannot guarantee that amount the Roman army stores shall make up the shortfall, on condition that Roman quartermasters can survey the granaries to ensure no attempts to cheat. The city elders, concerned that many of the poor cannot afford the price, ask if a lump payment can be made for the poorest. Stefanos agrees to let the six thousand poorest inhabitants go in exchange for a sum of 13,100 hyperpyra.

There are some who want to fight it out, to make the Romans pay for every street and house of Cairo. Stefanos replies that if he has to assault the city he will exterminate every single living thing inside Cairo, level the city, and sow the ground with salt. Whether he is serious or just indulging in a rhetorical flourish, the Cairenes talk him at his word. They accept his terms.

Stefanos has taken Cairo in ten days. The following morning a long column files out of the city, trudging south. Cairo had thirty one thousand inhabitants at the beginning of the siege, discounting the garrison. Even with the lump payment it turns out there are forty five hundred who still cannot make the ransom. Stefanos is willing to let them go for another 13,100 hyperpyra but the Idwaits are five thousand short. He does agree to release them in exchange for taking four hundred and fifty of the garrison into custody as surety for future payment.

The general lenience and respect offered to the Idwaits is a stark contrast to the Roman response in the Levant where flying columns wreak slaughter upon the rebels. The general attitude in the Roman government can be summed up by a comment of Theodora Komnena Drakina: “There are three types of Mohammedans in the Roman realm. The first are the Anatolians, who have proven their dedication and bravery. Though they will have to answer for their sins before God, on this earth they have been good Romans. The second are the Egyptians, a once great people, now sorely ravaged by cruel oppression. Capable of incredible savagery, there is no excusing their bloodthirstiness but it cannot be denied it was done in a just cause. And then there are the Syrians. They lack the dignity and wisdom of their brothers. They are a vile, loathsome people, cowards and brutes. They demand that they be lords of the earth, but can only stomach torturing the helpless rather than fighting like men. There is honor and dignity in the house of Islam and the Arab race, but not in this branch. They obstinately and repeatedly rebel against the munificent rule of the Roman Empire and therefore warrant no mercy.”

Five weeks later ten horsemen with a chest arrive at Cairo. It contains the money and a personal (albeit dictated) letter from Hassan personally thanking Stefanos for his clemency, to which Stefanos responds by thanking Hassan for his fair dealing as well as that of his men. He goes on to point out several members of the garrison that had distinguished themselves during his siege of Cairo and recommending them for citations. The note is entrusted to the care of Hassan’s captured son who is released along with the garrison soldiers, even though that was not required in the surrender agreement which said nothing regarding prior Roman captives.

Also carried by his son is another letter.

From Helena Doukaina Laskarina Komnena Drakina, Empress of the Romans, to Hassan, So-Claimed Malik of Upper Egypt,

It is apparent that our two peoples cannot exist under the same roof. It is a fact of law and human nature that in any state there are the rulers and the ruled. Neither of us can accept the other as Lord and Master. As the matter stands, this course will only end when one side is dead or gone.

However all of us are the creation of God and we who rule shall have to answer for the slain when it comes our time to stand before the throne of God himself. To have not done our utmost to ensure the safety and prosperity of our people in peace shall place our souls in mortal jeopardy and bring the wrath of a just God upon our heads.

To that end we send this missive to offer peace between our peoples. We cannot live under the same roof in peace. But we may be able to live as neighbors in peace. Perhaps we may not, but it is our duty to God and our peoples to try.

If you wish to accept this offering, we have instructed and empowered our general Stefanos Monomakos to negotiate on our behalf. What he decides we shall ratify. If you reject this offering, we will regret the danger posed to your soul. As for ours, we will reflect on the words of the Good Emperor, “If the Emperor’s soul must be forfeited for the good of the Empire, then so be it.

1599: The pressure on the Idwaits had faded after the fall of Cairo. Although cavalry patrols probed southward with some vigor, the bulk of the Army of Egypt remained ensconced in the shell of the once great city. The rising of the Nile would come soon and there was the need to oversee the transfer of Alexandria to Roman control and the moving of thirty five hundred Nile Germans to the city. Clustered around the ruins of the Citadel which is rebuilt with packed earth embankments by the army, they call their new home Marienburg am Nil.

Leaving the Coptic tourmai behind to protect Cairo and the supply lines, Stefanos marches south in the spring, more than a little irritated that Hassan has not tried to negotiate. Unbeknownst to him Hassan’s political status is rather shaky after Cairo. The quick loss of the city and his unwillingness to defend it with the Idwait army have many hard-liners skeptical of Hassan’s continued leadership, too many to purge without crippling his administration. In the current atmosphere Hassan expects any peace overtures to quickly culminate in his own assassination.

Meanwhile the Romans, entering territory long controlled and loyal to Hassan, advance cautiously and slowly but also very methodically. Villages that surrender promptly are well treated. A few hostages, usually the family of the headman, are taken to ensure there is no trouble, but all requisitions are paid for in Roman folloi and no reprisals taken.

Villages that do resist (and Stefanos does have a low bar for what qualifies as resistance) are wiped off the map but after a few examples most choose to surrender. This is much to the disgust of Hayyatist imams who execrate those willing to treat with the defilers of Mecca. The Shahanshah, when he hears of them, notes that it seems like none of them have put themselves into a position where they might actually fight the Romans.

Because of the inability to aggressively forage in the fields of the surrendered villages, progress continues to be slow even with the lack of resistance. Cavalry attacks nip at the Roman supply lines with some success and some failure but Stefanos agrees to a proposal of Hassan. Provided the raiders are not supported by the villagers with men, arms, or intelligence Stefanos will undertake no reprisals against the Muslim peasantry for the raids. Both sides keep to their agreement.

In the south the Ethiopians have made more progress. Despite shipments of arms and money, plus a few volunteers, from Sukkur the defection of Ajuran back to Andreyas has pulled the rug out from under Majeerteen’s feet. The bulk of his kingdom has been overrun and he is holed up in his capital of Alula, not far from the Horn. The landward siege lines are tight but Sukkuri ships regularly run the Ethiopian naval blockade which is supported by 5 Roman galleys and a Taprobani galleon.

The Ethiopians’ cannons (two thirds Ethiopian made, the remainder bought from the Romans) do good work on the fortifications but the scorching weather makes it impossible for the gunners to keep up a good pace and overheating guns are a serious problem. Much of the fighting is at night, bloody but indecisive.

On the thirty-eighth day of the siege a Sukkuri pinnace slips into the harbor under cover of night. The next night, a new moon, a squadron makes landfall ten miles to the east. At daybreak the garrison launches a vigorous sally aiming to spike two batteries that have been punishing the ramparts in the west. Coming as a surprise since it is the first time in two weeks that the defenders have attacked in force the Majeerteeni manage to reach the guns, a fierce scrum erupting around them.

As the Ethiopian reserves deploy into the fray, a Sukkuri army slams into the Ethiopian rearguard aiming straight for the Imperial banner. The Majeerteeni were a major surprise; the Sukkuri are a total one. An absolutely murderous battle rages around the person of Negusa Nagast Andreyas himself, his own sword slashing at his assailants. As his bodyguard are cut down, although not before wreaking a fearful slaughter, he is ordered to surrender. His response is to decapitate the Sukkuri demanding such. Another demands his surrender, this time carefully staying out of reach. According to legend, he answers with “You foul and perfidious people, who have crossed an ocean to wage war and slaughter upon a people who have never done you any harm, you will not get off that easily. Kill me and be damned.” A moment later he is cut down by a hail of gunfire.

The resistance of the Negus and his bodyguard had heavily bled the Sukkuri and now Crown Prince Tewodros enters the fray with his crack Sennari troops. They push the Muslims back until a flank charge breaks their resistance. Routing, they are cut down without mercy. Those few unlucky enough to be captured are tortured for information, impaled, and left out in the sun to die.

Andreyas had fumbled with his outermost territories but amongst the Ethiopians he was immensely popular. His soldiers looked on him as their father and he looked on them as his children. His concern for justice and fair treatment earned him the accolades of the poor and while the rich had oftentimes been squeezed for taxes, they admit that the money had always been used for its promised purpose and for the good of the realm. His main weakness, his sometimes excessive fondness for Roman wine and sweets, was one shared by many of his subjects.

The Majeerteen sally is driven back into the city although not before they wreck two of the Ethiopian cannons. That night the main officers of the army, along with the Neguses of Kaffa, Ajuran, and Harer who are with the army commanding their contingents, recognize Tewodros as the new Negusa nagast. It will not be official however until he is crowned in Axum.

In the camp is also Tewodros’ wife Veronica Drakina. There is some question in his mind over whether he should break camp for Axum immediately or try and take Alula first. His younger brother Yohannes is in Gonder along with the treasury and regalia and the road system between the two chief cities of Ethiopia is the best maintained, the Overseer of the Royal Road the eighth highest in the bureaucracy. It is Veronica who convinces him to take Alula. Such effrontery must be punished and punished immediately. It will do much to assert his authority and support in the army and be a warning to the vassal kings.

An hour before sunup the attack begins, heralded by a wave of rockets and cannon fire. Desperate resistance pushes the first wave back, disordering the troops stationed for the second attack. To encourage their spirits Veronica rides up and down the lines promising three thousand Roman hyperpyra to the first man over the walls, a thousand to the second, and five hundred to the third.

Despite such inducements the second and third assaults are repulsed. The fourth however, supported by three mikropurs that move close enough that a third of their crews are killed by snipers, manage to gain a narrow toehold. The Majeerteeni reserves almost throw them back out again but in murderous hand-to-hand fighting the Ethiopians hold their position as rivulets of blood flow down the ramparts.

By this point it is 10 AM and Tewodros commits the reserve. With those, plus a pair of captured cannons turned on their former owners, the Majeerteeni resistance finally breaks and the Ethiopians pour into the city. It is doubtful that Tewodros planned to show any mercy. The Majeerteeni were traitorous rebels whose allies had just killed his father and king. But the death of Andreyas and now their heavy losses have the Ethiopians enraged, an incandescent fury not seen since the wounding of Brihan before the walls of Cairo.

Every living thing in Alula down to the cats if found is killed on the spot. Gold seems to have no appeal to the Ethiopians, only blood. The Ethiopian ships on blockade force their way into the harbor. There ships crammed with refugees trying to escape are shot down at point-blank range. A few are so heavily-laden that they sink without the help of cannon fire. The Roman galleys join in the killing frenzy as well although they do evince a desire for gold.

One of the few to survive is the Negus of Majeerteen himself, albeit just barely. On the verge of being tortured by some Roman soldiers for the location of his valuables he was recognized by an eikosarchos of the Royal Guard (they use Roman ranks) and brought to Tewodros. His execution is postponed until he can be brought to Axum although for now he forfeits his tongue, his foreskin, and his right hand.

Leaving a small garrison in Alula with orders to repair the fortifications, Tewodros marches with the bulk of the army to Gonder. He does not make it very far before riders from the capital tell him that his younger brother has seized the treasury on the news of his father’s death, a report Tewodros had futilely tried to repress before he could return to the capital. Using the money Yohannes won the loyalty of the garrison and is now marching north towards Axum with the Imperial regalia.

Tewodros immediately sets off towards Axum with the bulk of the army but six thousand men return to Alula, along with Veronica. The ships that blockaded the port are still in the harbor and helpfully four Roman galleys. While the Ethiopians cram themselves onto their ships, the four Roman galleys make for Jeddah at their best speed with Veronica aboard. Technically she has no authority to order the galleys to do anything but none of the officers are willing to contravene a daughter of the Empress.

Once she arrives at Jeddah she demands to see the commander, still Alexios Gabras, and insists that he dispatch the Red Sea fleet and three tourmai to Massawa. That is the destination of the Ethiopian seaborne troops. Their job is to ensure the loyalty of the Negus of Medri Bahri and keep the back door open to Axum while Tewodros smashes down the front. She also wants a hundred and forty thousand hyperpyra to help insure the loyalty of the Ethiopian army to her husband. The loot and prestige was a useful boon in that direction but a golden sweetener is always helpful.

Alexios Gabras is made of sterner stuff than his galley captains and he is most certainly not going to give up his pay chest. Moreover his orders are to hold Jeddah and Veronica is asking for half his strength. He is willing to provide a dozen galleys and one tourmai, with eight field guns, to take Massawa, but they are not to be used to either garrison the city after its capture or proceed inland. He gives strict orders to that effect, threatening to charge any officer who disobeys with desertion, a crime punished with death.

Veronica, although disappointed, takes what she can get. Because of her speed the Romans meet up with the Ethiopians just before they proceed to Massawa. To compensate for the Romans’ small numbers she goes for drama, arranging the Roman ships to come within eyesight of Massawa’s coastal fortress with their biggest banners flying and their bands playing The Shatterer of Armies.

The Negus, plied by Yohannes’ gold, had been inclining in his favor but the sight of Roman ships bearing down on his capital changes his mind. After the quick fall of Cairo Roman prestige in this part of the world is extremely high, regardless of reverses elsewhere. The Negus welcomes the troops into his city, Veronica confirming his position on behalf of her husband.

Yohannes expected his eldest brother to come after him from the south but he is disconcerted when he discovers that his rear is exposed. Nevertheless he hunkers down in Axum, figuring that the soldiery, tired and weary of sieges, will defect to his cause provided they are given proper incentives. In a bidding contest Tewodros is at a disadvantage since his army pay chest was exhausted by the Alula campaign.

To help win the troops’ loyalty Tewodros heads for Gonder carrying the remains of his father to be buried alongside his royal ancestors. The garrison stands down when they see the royal corpse. It is a chance both for Tewodros to showcase himself as Andreyas’ successor and to collect tax receipts from the southern provinces but it does come at the price of giving Yohannes more time to fortify his position in Axum. Fortunately the presence of Veronica and her soldiers in Massawa keeps the Negus from backsliding. Sennar meanwhile is firmly in Tewodros’ camp.

Finally Tewodros places the religious and cultural capital of Ethiopia under siege. Yohannes has however reinforced its respectable defenses with packed earth embankments and laid in significant supplies of armaments and foodstuffs, stripping the countryside. The siege looks to be a long and difficult one, even with reinforcements and supplies dispatched from Medri Bahri.

Two weeks into the siege Veronica finally rejoins her husband. She carries with her two hundred thousand hyperpyra, a loan floated from the Imperial Bank-Alexandria office, and news that eight heavy Roman siege guns also on loan are on their way. The Ethiopians can make light and medium cannons but do not build heavy cannons, although that is due to the huge difficulties in transporting heavy weaponry across the rugged and underdeveloped stretches of the Empire and a lack of serious fortifications requiring their need rather than inability. It is a welcome boon. The money ensures that Yohannes cannot buy the loyalty of the army and the cannons are a boost in prestige and fighting power as well as an implicit Roman recognition of Tewodros.

The news dampens the spirits of Axum’s garrison even though it takes another twenty four days of toil before the Roman guns lumber in position. To troops used to at most twelve-pounder demi-culverins the fifty pound shot of the Roman ‘elephants’ (the Roman name used for their heavy guns) is terrifying and only partly compensated by their slow rate of fire. But what the Romans lack in rapidity they make up in accuracy. With a week’s work they open a seventy-foot-wide breach in the walls although much credit also goes to the Ethiopian mikropurs for hampering repair crews.

With the opening of the breach the garrison surrenders, handing over Yohannes. He is executed just after Majeerteen although without any previous mutilation, but not before seeing his brother crowned with the imperial regalia who then in a Roman gesture personally crowns Veronica as Empress of Ethiopia.

The rebellion in the east has finally been quelled but Makuria still remains defiant, although now the southern reach of the Idwait realm. However Ethiopia is bankrupt (helped by Yohannes’ acts of generosity) and exhausted. Tewodros is thus highly open to a joint Roman-Idwait delegation that arrives in Axum shortly after his coronation.

Despite his slow progress Stefanos had managed to make it as far as Beni Suef, site of the first major battle of the Great Uprising. Held by a strong garrison Stefanos immediately besieges it, making quick progress despite a spirited defense. Hassan himself comes up with the main field army. The Roman army is coming increasingly close to El-Idwa where this all began. Also his authority is weakening the closer the Romans approach and the unpopular Fabian strategy continues.

Stefanos marches out from his siege lines to challenge him, both sides disposing of twenty five thousand soldiers. Roman artillery, although contested by Idwait guns, soon gain battlefield dominance (they have an eleven to two numerical advantage). Taking serious punishment Hassan launches his assault columns before they are fully ready. Three separate attacks break against the Roman lines, although they retreat in good order, beating back a Roman cavalry charge that tries to take advantage.

Stefanos refrains from pressing the offensive more than that, concerned about leaving the siege train unguarded, especially considering the humiliation heaped upon his predecessor. Three thousand men remain in the trenches protecting the guns, but there are three thousand troops in Beni Suef and cavalry reports suggest that there are more Idwait troops about (there are not). The day ends with about nine hundred Idwait and five hundred Roman casualties but particularly no change in the armies’ disposition.

The next day Stefanos has more accurate reconnaissance reports and so opens with a dawn offensive. The cannon fire is still punishing but the Idwaits are brave and veterans and the first shock has worn off. They are pushed back but do not break until Stefanos manages to bring two tourmai down on Hassan’s left flank, smashing through the flank guards. Quickly reinforced they start to roll up the Idwait line. Hassan keeps his cool, organizing the reserves in a counterattack which averts a collapse. However with another seventeen hundred casualties to twelve hundred Romans, Hassan retires to lick his wounds.

He does not go far though but Stefanos spies an opportunity. Wheeling back to Beni Suef he parades his two hundred captives and six standards before the walls, announcing that he has destroyed the Idwait army. The captives, taken in the flank assault, assume he is right and corroborate his story. Promising clemency if they surrender and total annihilation if they continue their reportedly futile resistance, the garrison capitulates.

The fall of Beni Suef is a harsh blow to Hassan, but it is somewhat made up by the fact that his authority in the army is now more secure with his earlier Fabian tactics vindicated. But Stefanos is now situated for a descent into the Idwait heartland and Hassan is aware that at this point Majeerteen is holed up in Alula. So he sends over a rider under a banner of truce, requesting a meeting with Stefanos.

The end result, two weeks later, is the Treaty of Beni Suef in which the Roman Empire recognizes the Idwait Sultanate as a free and independent state. Its northern frontier is at Beni Suef although the town itself remains under Roman control. As compensation for the losses in territory Hassan also agrees to pay 950,000 hyperpyra, half to go to the Romans and half to the Copts, within the next six years and after that pay a yearly tribute of 70,000 hyperpyra (all to the Romans). In addition he pledges that he will not build a navy for the next twenty years and also use the title of Malik rather than Sultan, the Roman argument being that the lesser title will make it harder in the future for an Idwait monarch to lay claim to Egypt. On his part, Stefanos promises to mediate between the Idwaits and Ethiopia.

There is much protest in Tanta, the new Despotic capital, since the agreement does represent the loss of a significant portion of the old Despotate. Stefanos, when he hears of it, merely replies that this is a foreign affair matter and therefore entirely out of the Despot’s jurisdiction. Another clause of the treaty is that any Muslim seeking to emigrate from the Despotate to the Idwait Malik-dom may do so with all their possessions provided they do it within a year. Later Stefanos states that he is not sure if a single Muslim was willing to stay behind.

The delegation that reaches Tewodros is the Romans fulfilling their part of the agreement. Although the new Negusa nagast is not enamored of the prospect, he agrees to recognize the Idwait control of Makuria in exchange for 450,000 hyperpyra in the next six years, plus a yearly tribute of 35,000 hyperpyra. Veronica consoles him by pointing out that Makuria, while the largest of the Ethiopian vassal kingdoms, was extremely poor, rugged, and filled with rebellious peoples that were expensive to keep quiet.

So ends the Great Uprising. Although not as large as was hoped for, Hassan from his new capital of Asyut still rules a large kingdom stretching from central Egypt to the confluences of the White and Blue Nile. His goal now after freeing his people is to forge a strong and prosperous state in peace.

His former opponents are not so fortunate. With the promise of heavy subsidies, Tewodros declares war on the Second Ottoman Empire and agrees to convince the Omani to do the same. Ideally the Roman Red Sea, Ethiopian, and Omani fleets can then attack the Ottomans’ ‘soft underbelly’, the Persian Gulf. Meanwhile Stefanos is to be transferred to the Syrian front which is in strong need of reinforcement. Iskandar in a rapid campaign has utterly smashed the Afghans and Baluchi. Returning west with tremendous speed, he flattened a small Georgian army and took Tabriz, the chief Georgian city south of the River Aras.

* * *

Mount Yosifon, Kephalate of An-Nabek, May 16, 1599:

It was a highly inappropriate time to need to pass gas. In fact Leo Neokastrites was hard pressed to think of any more inappropriate time. To the northeast, a huge plume of dust was rising from the Syrian plain, the three droungoi of cavalry in full flight, hotly pursued by at least twelve times their number of Muslim horse. The sun to the west was not far above the horizon, dazzling the eyes of both pursued and pursuer alike.

Leo glanced around at the other droungoi of the 4th Chaldean, hunched down on the reverse slope of the scrubby hill that had pretensions of being a mountain. They were behind the lower northern slope. Six hundred and fifty strong, not counting the two hundred and seventy down in the valley, they were covered in dirt, their eyes tired.

Two days of night marching will do that. The bulk of the tagmata were needed north near Aleppo where ghazi forces whose combined strength was close to ten times larger than this band were pillaging the Muslim villages on the Roman side of the border and slaughtering everyone they could find. Thus it was Leo’s lone tourma that was available to curb this force with its southerly inclinations. It had been hard to keep ahead of it.

Leo looked again through his dalnovzor, the horsemen increasing in size by an order of 10. The Muslims were deploying a prong of horsemen to the north, forcing the Romans to maneuver south, their advance further west blocked by the mountain. With the Romans veering southwest it was the easiest direction in which the Romans could be cut off. It was clear they were tiring although the turkopouloi still kept a steady fire of Parthian shots back at their foes.

Leo looked down at Kostandin Thopia, standing about twenty five feet below the crest. He was a tall Albanian with a disturbing amount of nose hair, but who was also his simamandator, ‘signal messenger’, the dekarchos in charge of signaling his orders. “Number 6,” Leo said.

Kostandin nodded, looking at his assistant and then picking up a twelve foot long pole that had a solid crimson banner, three feet square. His assistant picked up an identical pole but one with a bright orange flag instead. Holding his flag at a 30 degree angle while his assistant held the other at a 60 degree, Kostandin raised his as his assistant lowered his own, until ten seconds later the flags had reversed position. The flags were then set on the ground, picked up again, and the process repeated. That was not part of the signal, but a repetition of it to ensure that it was received. It meant “all guns deploy forward”.

The four cannons, which had all been loaded ten minutes earlier, had their wheels wrapped in cloth to dampen the sound. The rocket forks did not need such precautions. Looking like two-tined forks four and a half feet tall with a spiked base, there was a plate in between the tines, the idea being the spike was placed into the ground and the plate struck with a hammer to sink it. However the plate was indented in the middle; if looked from the side it would look like a V. There were two holes also punched in the plate, one on each side next to the V. Metal rods with a hook on the end would be placed in the holes, and the other spiked end placed in the ground. These were to guide the rocket, the indentation to accommodate the delta-shaped guiding fins. They were a pain to lug around, but could be set up in less than a minute, with a couple of different length guiding rods to help accommodate different ranges and the lay of the ground. The 4th Chaldean had twelve, each fork equipped with three rockets.

Leo waited thirty seconds as they moved forward toward the crest, then held up his palm towards Kostandin. Up snapped a banner, diagonal black and red. ‘Hold’. The Romans were now riding south-south-west, their right flank facing Leo. Leo pointed his right fist at Kostandin, then lifted his wrist. The simamandator waggled the standard to the right once, and then left once. ‘Proceed with previous order’.

The cannons slowly rolled to the top of the crest, two horses pulling and six men pushing, but the Muslims, now riding right in front of them, were too fixated on their quarry. The battery commander looked over each gun quickly, looked at Leo and stuck his left arm straight out, palm facing the tourmarch, and raised his forearm until it was parallel with the rest of his body. ‘All guns ready’.

Leo smiled and then bellowed at the top of his lungs. “SAINT DEMETRIOS AND NO QUARTER!

All four guns roared simultaneously, hurling their cannonballs down below. Leo could see them skipping along the ground, plowing into the ranks of horses at the height of their waists. The rocketeers ran forward, cresting the hill and slamming their forks’ spikes into the ground fifteen feet down on the reverse slope. A hammer strike on the plate, the rods placed, a rocket set, a fuse lit, and twelve rockets added their shriek, nicely covering Leo’s own release.

The mauroi were at the crest now, hurling their bullets into the Muslims, now roiling in confusion as their ‘quarry’ wheeled around and counter-charged…and four hundred Owais riders slammed into their rear.

* * *
Leo walked through the carnage, disemboweled horses lying atop men with their legs and faces blown off. Some of them were still alive, bleeding out through their wounds. Flies were gathering in great clouds to feed and phalanxes of vultures were gathering. The sun had dipped behind Yosifon, the western horizon a sheet of blood. It was doubtful any of the enemy wounded would survive the night. It would probably be a mercy to kill them now. Those vultures do not look inclined to wait until they’re dead. Therefore they would not be killed, save for those with golden teeth. Several of the Owais were picking their way through in search of such boons. Ottoman regulars might have been treated with some respect, but bashi-bazouk vermin get none, for they deserve none.

About half the enemy force escaped the jaws of his trap because of their smallness, which was disappointing, but even the number destroyed outnumbered his entire command by three to two. It’s a start.

He had lost sixteen men.

* * *
Map Legend:
1) Kingdom of Lotharingia
2) Kingdom of Aragon
3) Kingdom of Arles (possesses Roussillon contrary to map depiction)
4) Counties of Saluzzo and Nice
5) Republic of Genoa
6) Kingdom of Lombardy
7) Duchy of Florence and Commune of Pisa (pink in corner)
8) Commune of Siena
9) Papal States
10) Duchy of the Marche
11) Duchies of Ragusa and Split (Roman vassals)
12) Despotate of Sicily
13) Despotate of Carthage
14) Taking a vacation in Bermuda
15) Territories ceded to the Megas Kyr Anizzah at the Treaty of Van
16) Kingdom of Prussia
17) Kingdom of Poland
18) Kingdom of Vlachia
19) Kingdom of Majorca-Sardinia (Kingdom of the Isles)
20) Despotate of Egypt
21) Georgian territories currently occupied by Ottomans