Part XXII: Union (Fields of Saint Eugenios) (1485-1487)
Mustafa had escaped death at Amisos only to die back in Constantinople. The battle-weary sultan had fled the city as it burned around him and retired back to his capital with the rest of the Ottoman fleet, buffeted by unseasonal storms. Upon landing back in Constantinople, he was greeted not by jubilant crowds but instead by a stony silence. When Mustafa returned to the palace, he found a page waiting, asking him to go to the throne room. He did so, and found Angelović Paşa sitting upon the sultan’s seat. The grand vizier bluntly told him that he had failed the Ottoman Empire and was unworthy to be sultan, and that his son Mehmed (at this time merely three years old) would make a better ruler. The sultan’s guards then strangled him, and a few hours later Mehmed III was proclaimed.
With the death of Mustafa, Angelović Paşa had been able to smoothly transfer the blame for the failed expedition to the late sultan. God’s anger, which had manifested itself outside the walls of Trapezous, had been satisfied, and the grand vizier was now free to go about ruling without a headstrong puppet to deal with. His first objective was the capture of Trapezous, which glittered ever more brightly in his eyes because of the failure of the previous sack. He could prove that he was superior to one of the descendants of Osman and thus secure his position, as well as the benefits that would be brought by taking such a valuable center of trade and eliminating one of his maritime rivals.
Throughout 1485, he ordered the Ottoman fleet to be expanded furthermore, with an estimated size of a hundred-and-two hulls to be completed by 1487. He wouldn’t even bother to try and attack the Trapezuntines with what time was left in the campaign season, as there was too great a risk of winding up in a position to Mustafa’s the previous winter. Instead he made preparations, drilling new recruits and casting new cannons to replace the ones lost the previous year. He was cognizant that the Trapezuntines would still be hostile but concluded that false negotiations wouldn’t work again, and so he coldly and plainly rebuffed envoys of peace that were sent to Constantinople that year.
However, he was not the only one taking advantage of the lull in the fighting to prepare for the next round. Skantarios had received word of the regime change in Constantinople only weeks after it had happened, and he had deduced that Angelović Paşa would now make a second attack on Trapezous in hopes of legitimizing himself. As such, he was making a series of hurried preparations for continued war, starting with defensive works. With the Achilles’ hell of the empire revealed by Çandarid betrayal the previous year, the line of fortresses was extended south the hill country around Mersyphon, effectively shielding the Halys Valley from further attacks after the last of the Çandarids were chased out over the summer. Most importantly, he looked abroad for foreign aid. Trapezous’ small manpower reserves had been exhausted by the previous year’s campaign and the need to disband the bandons to prevent famines, and the aftokrator could raise no more native soldiers. The usual host of mercenaries was called upon, but these too were fairly insignificant in comparison to the previous year’s. Thus, the Trapezuntines were forced to rely upon the strength of their allies.
The Kartvelians had received the Trapezuntine call-to-arms back in 1484. Alek’sandre has imprisoned the envoys in a small prison on the side of a mountain so that they could not bring word back of this refusal, and for the next few months he studiously pretended that they had never arrived, throwing further couriers into the same prison. This was entirely understandable for the mountaineers, as it looked to all the world like the Trapezuntines were going to get their teeth kicked in. However, word of the surprising survival of the capital, as well as a personal appearance by the dowager Keteon, who was too high-ranking to be simply dumped in the prison like the rest, finally pushed Alek’sandre to answer the call to arms. While the 120,000 men that Giorgi VIII had promised the Pope for his crusade in the 1450s was far too many to be realistically mustered, the Kartvelians could still field an army much larger than that of the Trapezuntines. 15,000 footmen, 10,000 skirmishers and gathered at Tbilisi in May 1485, and under the leadership of the king himself they marched eastward, reinforcing with 5,000 light horsemen from Samtskhe.
A similar appeal to the Qoyunlus had also gone unanswered, although due to far more honorable circumstances. Ya’qub Beg, the son of Uzun Hasan, had undertaken a program of wide-reaching reforms upon ascending to the throne, and these reforms had been displeasing to many. In 1482, a group of ulema in the distant Khorasani provinces, motivated by the seizure of their traditional lands, proclaimed a jihad against Ya’qub and all his supporters. This sparked a massive revolt on the eastern edge of the empire, and it took Ya’qub a great deal of time to muster a host large enough to meet these rebels. In 1484, however, he had marched east at the head of an army of nearly 50,000, thus missing the summons of Skantarios by a few mere weeks. Ya’qub Beg had utterly crushed the rebels on the field of Eshrag, and now busied himself with the pacification of the province. A second call-to-arms reached him mid-1485, and he sent the envoys back with a promise to join the Trapezuntines the following campaign season, once he had finished his domestic business. Thus, a large and potentially tide-turning ally was securing for Pontos, if they could last long enough for the cavalry to arrive.
However, word of this reached Angelović Paşa in Constantinople in mid-August and he was forced to accelerate his plans of invasion, as the intervention of the Qoyunlu could easily spell disaster for his, I mean, Mehmed’s realm. He sped up the training of the new soldiers, even going so far as to purchase a few thousand mamluks from the Mamluks that autumn. The galleys would not be completed in time, and thus the Ottomans would be forced to operate with a fleet roughly on par with the newly-expanded Trapezuntines. Conventional wisdom held that newly-built galleys were almost worthless for their first two years, but this was still far from a happy prospect. In late September, Angelović Paşa consorted with several of the mystics who had settled in Constantinople and concluded that this winter would be far milder than the previous one, and thus he resolved to shoulder the many risks inherent in winter campaigning. He mustered his men on the fields of Bithynia as the harvest was being collected, bringing together a host of 30,000 infantry, 5,000 light horsemen and an infernal amount of cannons.
The grand vizier and his army turned and marched westward along the coast of the Black Sea. Scouts ranged far ahead of the army to make sure that they were not ambushed in the rough terrain and rougher weather of the coast. Contact was made with the Çandarids, but Suleyman, fearing that he may have backed a losing horse, made empty promises of support while planning to abandon the Ottomans as soon as possible. Satisfied and believing that his flanks were secure, Angelović Paşa continued on into hostile territory. The many traps and snares that had been set along the coast road had been mostly abandoned after the previous winter, and so the Ottomans were able to make swift progress into Paphlagonia. By the end of November, they had reached a crossroads only twenty miles west of Sinope. The grand vizier, however, had no intention of besieging the city, as he had no desire to bog himself down in a winter siege like Mustafa had. Instead, he hoped to bring the Trapezuntines to battle and defeat them decisively, then set about reducing their fortresses over the rest of that year and the next.
However, he had made the foolish mistake of trusting the word of a proven traitor. As soon as he had recieved word of the Ottoman arrival, Suleyman had sent horsemen to shadow their progress along the coast road. He then contacted Skantarios, whom he had concluded would be victorious with the aid of the Qoyunlu the following year, and offered detailed information on the whereabouts of the invading Ottoman force in exchange for clemency for his previous betrayal. News that there was an invading Turkish army shocked the aftokrator, who believed that no more fighting would occur that year and had already entered winter camp at Mersyphon, and he reluctantly agreed. The Kartvelians had camped nearby, and within a few days a mighty host of nearly 50,000 had been assembled. The Trapezuntines began a desperate countermarch, moving along the smaller side roads of the interior in hopes of waylaying the Ottoman force. Their supply situation was actually much worse than that of the invaders, as the previous years’ depredations had stripped much fodder from the normally fertile Pontic hills. However, the possibility of an ambush was not lost upon the king and the aftokrator, and many of the Samtskheote cavalry ranged ahead along the coast road like their Turkic counterparts. These riders were commanded by the vassal bey of Samtskhe, Qvarqvare II, who had revolted against Giorgi several times in the preceding years.
The snows were beginning to set in by the time the two armies met. Samtskheote out-riders made contact with the Ottomans on 19 December near the town of Saint Eugenios, on the eastern edge of the Halys delta. They were swiftly captured by the Turks before they had time to report their sighting, and were brought before the Grand Vizier. Angelović Paşa asked what they were doing in the service of the kafirs, and what they thought would happen to their souls if they fell in the service of the infidels against the House of Islam. The Turkmen who lived on the plains of Samtskhe were recent converts to Islam and were thus shamed for seemingly forsaken their newfound faith. Either swayed or executed, the Samtskheotes then returned to the camp and gave false reports of an Ottoman foraging expedition spotted several miles north of Saint Eugenios. Alexandros concluded that they were attempting to secure an anchorage for a fleet bringing reinforcements, and thus they had to stopped as soon as possible. Thus, the allies broke camp and marched north-eastward on 21st December, the shortest day of the year.
The snow had turned the air into a grey-and-white haze that made it nearly impossible to see more than a few hundred yards (essentially meters) in any direction and muffled the sound of marching feet. As such, the Orthodox were caught unawares when a volley of arquebus fire suddenly came from their left flank. The given report and marching plan had sent the Trapezuntines and Kartvelians off in such a manner that their flanks were left open to enemy assault, a fact which Angelović Paşa made good use of. Before the allies could turn about to face their attackers, a wall of timariote cavalry thundered into their flank, trampling through the outer ranks and crushing men beneath their hooves. The heavy horsemen wreaked havoc in the ranks of the allies before Skantarios appeared at the head of a formation of eleutheroi and drive them off with a bristling pike hedge. However, this attack had cost the allies the time they needed to maneuver into position, and before the footmen could do anything but about-face another volley of arquebus fire shattered the sudden quiet of the darkened day.
The Ottomans advanced stiffly, almost robotically, envigored by the presence of their commander and their heavy training but still nervous about facing the men whom they believed had already destroyed a similar army. The Trapezuntines and Kartvelians, for their part, were gripped by a mixture of confusion and fear, none of them having expected to face battle that day. Quick prayers were said by the rank-and-file of both armies before they locked horns. The Ottomans were packed densely together, in contrast to the more dispersed Trapezuntine soldiers, and they quickly began to push them back. The white snow was stained the crimson red of blood as the shouts and scream of battle were wicked away by the fierce and gusting winds. The Trapezuntines were in poor order along many sections of the line thanks to the timariotes, and were struggling to push back against the Turkish spears. The Kartvelians, however, had been mostly spared this assault and were in much better order. Alek’sandre galloped down the line to the thick of the fighting to ascertain what was going on, only to be nearly run through and sent back to the front of the column in a flurry of arrows. However, Vamaq the Mingrelian, the Duke of Mingrelia, saw this and believed the king’s flailing to avoid being shot was the signal to advance and so ordered his men forward. The Mingrelians swung into the Turkish flank, taking many of the Ottomans by surprise and quickly rolling up the Turkish flank as the pikemen struggled to turn about and face the new assault. Alek’sandre, seeing this, ordered the rest of the Kartvelians to do likewise, and 15,000 Kartvelian highlanders piled into the vulnerable side of the Turkish formation. Angelović Paşa attempted to drive them off with an assault by the janissaries, but was unable to muster the forces to do so, having sent most of his reserves to follow the Turkish cavalry in their assault on the allied left. The following movements were strange, and would have looked like a bizarre dance from above. The Kartvelians forced the Ottomans back, bringing enough of a reprieve for the Trapezuntines to pull back and reorient themselves to face south, towards the attacking Turkish forces. The Ottomans, meanwhile, regrouped and rallied around the grand vizier, facing north into the allied ranks. The fighting had rotated nearly 90 degrees around the battlefield.
The two lines rejoined each other here, but the fighting was noticeably less fierce. The footmen were tired, exhausted by wounds, the cold and several hours of fighting. The Ottoman horse, which may have turned the battle in the Turks’ favor had pursued the loyal Samtskheotes off the field and lost all contact with the Turkish command. With no decisive factor, the battle slowed to a halt as the cold and disspirited men lost the will to fight. The onset of the early night provided the perfect opportunity for both armies to retire from the field in good order. The battle, the bloodiest of Notaras’ War, had lasted a mere four and a half hours.
That night, in their makeshift camps, the three rulers counted their losses. The allies had lost nearly 10,000 men either dead or crippled, while the Turks had lost 8,978. The loss to the Turks had been much greater due to the smaller size of the army, but there was still the Ottoman cavalry that was currently in the wind and could easily turn the tide of battle. No-one was confident that they would be able to win the following battle, and in such a precarious war a single defeat could mean the loss of it all. The next morning, the aftokrator, the king and the sultan rode out to the space between their armies to sue for peace. The greatest concern for Alexandros was the retention of his realm as an independent state, while Angelović Paşa needed a victory to shore up domestic support for his regime. These goals weren’t entirely conflicting, and after a brief negotiation the three rulers concluded a peace. The Trapezuntines would become tributaries of the Sublime Porte, to pay a yearly sum of exactly one Venetian ducat every year. The overlordship of the Çandarids would also be transferred to Constantinople. The grand vizier had come to suspect that Suleyman had betrayed him and wanted no foreign interference in his destruction of this upstart realm. The Kartvelians would also receive trading rights in the ports of the Ottoman Empire (one of Alek’sandre’s chief ambitions was the enrichment of his kingdom by the expansion of trade with the Latins) and a truce would be conducted between the three states to last the next quarter-century.
The so-called “Snowy Peace” was agreeable to all parties, and the next day the two armies decamped. The allies would shadow the Ottomans out of the Empire but never attack, merely wanting to be sure that they had truly left the rainforests of the Pontic coast. After the Ottomans were escorted beyond Abana, the Trapezuntines and Kartvelians turned for home. The ancient alliance between the two states had saved Trapezous, as without the aid of their brothers in faith they would have been surely destroyed on the fields of Saint Eugenios. The Trapezuntines would repay this debt a decade later, but for now their rapprochement was limited to a number of gifts given to the Kartvelians by Alexandros during their stopover in Trapezous.
The losses of Notaras’ War had devastated the Trapezuntine Empire, causing tens of thousands of death, the destruction of thousands of neahyperpyras worth of goods and livestock and the enslaving of thousands. It would take years to fully recover, but the Empire itself still stood. So long as the fires of Rome still burned, the Empire of old was never truly dead….
 Angelović Paşa was unwilling to crown himself sultan, as this would cause a succession crisis that would tear the rump Ottoman Empire in twain.
 Bad pun completely intended,
 Butterflies mean that Vamaq never revolts and is subsequently not killed, preserving his considerable military skill for Kartvelia.
 The Turks kept much more precise records that the Trapezuntines.